May 14, 2019

Susan Sontag ghostwrote her ex-husband’s most notable book


The forthcoming biography by Benjamin Moser, Sontag: Her Life, details extensive evidence that Sontag may, in fact, be the author of her ex-husband’s biggest book, Freud: The Mind of the

Susan Sontag photographed in her home 1979 ©Lynn Gilbert, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 

Moralist. It was long assumed that Sontag had co-authored and aided in the research of the book, but Alison Flood reports for the Guardian that the biography might prove the extent of her aid went much further.

Some background: Susan Sontag married Philip Rieff when she was 17 years old. She helped Rieff with the book right from the start, so much that early editions of the book mention her name, “Susan Rieff,” with “special thanks.” After they divorced in 1961, any mention of Sontag was dropped from subsequent editions of the book. It was reported that they both agreed that Rieff would claim to be the sole author of the book.

To complete her biography, Moser was given access to her archives (housed at UCLA) and spoke to her acquaintances—the results of which produced the aforementioned evidence. You bet her acquaintances produced both rumors and spicy leads. One of her friends, Minda Rae Amiran, spoke with Moser and stated that “[Rieff] almost certainly did not actually write the book upon which his career was based … Susan was spending every afternoon rewriting the whole thing from scratch.”

Moser told the Guardian that although Rieff most certainly conducted a lot of the research found in the book, it was Sontag that wrote it:

“In the course of my research, I discovered that she had indeed written it, only agreeing to sign it over during an acrimonious divorce, in order to keep her ex-husband from taking her child … it was a ‘blood sacrifice,’ a friend told me.”



Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.