Adam Gopnik

Author, The Table Comes First
New Yorker staff writer

Best-selling social commentator full of wisdom and elegance.

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Biography

This award-winning journalist speaks with singular wit, eloquence and insight on modern life and culture. He has a rich trove of delightful stories and revealing observations about people and places and everyday life.

Adam writes long essays on big thinkers for The New Yorker. He has a genius for bringing these people and their ideas to life in and for communicating the emotions behind these ideas, the feelings these ideas evoke in us, and their relevance to modern life.

Adam also writes in another genre, which he calls ‘comic-personal essays’ — funny and touching stories about how families live (especially his own family) in the storied cities of Paris and New York. In these books and in the talk based on them, Adam shows tremendous gentleness and wisdom in opening our hearts and showing us who we are through our relation to place.

His most recent book, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, is a strong example of this comic-personal style. Adam goes on a quest to find the meaning of food and discovers that what matters the most isn't what goes on the table, it's what gathers around it: family, friends, lovers and conversation.

"Adam Gopnik brilliantly weaves together the history, philosophy, and culture of food with his deep passion for cooking and the shared pleasures of the table. Anyone who roasts a chicken at home or eats chocolate mousse in a restaurant will be forever changed by this book. I loved it!"
— Ina Garten

"Gopnik’s take on what makes eating glorious is at once sweeping and intimate."
The Daily Beast

"Adam Gopnik is the nearest thing there is - in the English-speaking world, at any rate - to a philosopher of food."
— William Skidelsky, author of Gourmet London, in the New Statesman

His previous book is Angels & Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. In it, Adam displays his gift for using historical biography to explore the way we live today. He looks at the birth of the modern era through the lives of Lincoln and Darwin, two extraordinary people born within hours of each other 200 years ago.

Among his many other books is Through the Children's Gate, a meditation on hope, as his family, his city and his country live through and past the events of 9/ll.

In Paris to the Moon, Adam gave us the romance that is Paris through the everyday adventures of his own American family living there from 1995 to 2000.

Adam has been writing for The New Yorker since 1986, and his work for the magazine has won both the National Magazine Award for Essay and the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. He has broadcasted regularly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and wrote the article on American culture for the last two editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In 2012, the French government named Adam a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Adam is a remarkable speaker and consummate storyteller—warm and charming, very genuine and very good at connecting with audiences.

Books

The Table Comes First

Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Adam Gopnik

Winner of the International Association of Culinary Professional
Literary Food Writing Award.

From the author of Paris to the Moon — one man’s quest for the meaning of food in a time obsessed with what to eat.

Never before have we cared so much about food. It preoccupies our popular culture, our fantasies, even our moralizing — “You still eat meat?” How could the land of Chef Boyardee have come so far overnight? And where can we possibly go from here?

Locating our table ancestry in France, Adam Gopnik traces our rapid evolution from commendable awareness to manic compulsion and how, on the way, we lost sight of a timeless truth: what goes on around the table — families, friends, lovers coming together, or breaking apart; conversation across the simplest or grandest board — is always more important than what we put on the table.

Gently satirizing the entire human comedy of the comestible, The Table Comes First seeks to liberate us from the twin clutches of puritanical guilt and cable TV glitz. It is the delightful beginning of a new conversation about the way we eat now.

Knopf (October 25, 2011)

Reviews

Tasty mains, but unsatifsying entremetsThe Globe and Mail
Book ReviewThe Washington Times
Good EatsPittsburgh Post-Gazette
ReviewMinneapolis Star Tribune
The Meaning of FoodThe Atlantic
ReviewThe Guardian
The Table Comes FirstEntertainment Weekly
The Table Comes FirstNew Statesman
New Yorker writer examines our complex relationship with foodNews Times
The Table Comes FirstTreehugger
Paris on the PlateThe Daily Beast
The Table Comes FirstThe Telegraph

Praise'

"Adam Gopnik brilliantly weaves together the history, philosophy, and culture of food with his deep passion for cooking and the shared pleasures of the table. Anyone who roasts a chicken at home or eats chocolate mousse in a restaurant will be forever changed by this book. I loved it!"
— Ina Garten

"I need to read anything that Adam Gopnik writes, and this book on food, eating and — it follows — life is a particular feast. His acuity, grace, sensitive intelligence (in short, his brilliance) are, as ever, dazzlingly displayed and yet with the lightest of touches."
Nigella Lawson

"Gopnik would surely be the world’s greatest dinner guest; he can make any subject fascinating, and always backs up his curiosity with unhurried research and an acute eye for the telling detail. As the number of TV cooking shows piles up faster than the empty Pop-Tart wrappers in my kitchen, it’s time to ask: Why is the world so fixated on food? Gopnik explores the origins of restaurants, recipes and other grub-centered rituals."
— Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

"The perfect book for any intellectual foodie, a delicious book packed with so much to sink your teeth into."
— Padma Lakshmi, author, actress, model and host of the Emmy-winning Top Chef

"Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First: France, Family, and the Meaning of Food indulges gourmands everywhere . . . In Gopnik’s distinctive style, it is encyclopedic yet personal and funny, and it drives at deeper truths . . . His story is more ambitious than a history of restaurants — it’s about how we taste, dream, and argue about food. He explores the extremes of strict localism (exhibit A: Brooklyn tilapia). He gets into the heads of apparent adversaries — the meatless crowd and the whole-beast fiends, the Slow Food and molecular movements, the New and Old World wine advocates — and gives each its place in the grand foodie pantheon . . . Gopnik’s take on what makes eating glorious is at once sweeping and intimate."
— Tracy McNicoll, Newsweek

"Adam Gopnik’s writing about food is highly intellectual and profoundly witty, while also being warm and personal and rooted in common sense. He thinks hard about the routines of the table, and makes you think too."
— John Lanchester, author, The Debt to Pleasure

And praise from the UK:

"As a dauntless Francophile, a doting father, and a dedicated foodie, Gopnik joins a distinguished corps of essayists who have dedicated themselves to the important subject of gastronomy . . . He possesses the happy knack of combining intellectual curiosity with a quotidian interest in humanity and writes with intelligence, wit, and grace about culinary quiddities and contradictions. From the first restaurants to appear in 18th-century France to fast-food joints, Gopnik unfurls his napkin and tucks in."
— Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)

"Adam Gopnik is an admirably versatile writer . . . The writing is light and bright throughout, the learning deep but informal."
— Ed Cumming, The Daily Telegraph

"The Table Comes First is a pleasantly odd, heterogeneous book that never allows itself to be confined by the boundaries of its gastronomical theme. It presents a lavish buffet of history, autobiography, reportage and philosophy, among various other forms . . . One of the main pleasures of The Table Comes First is the way in which Gopnik continually manages to write about food while also gesturing towards larger themes and concerns: family, economics, philosophy, literature, ideas of justice and what it might mean to live a good life . . . Wonderfully eloquent and insightful . . ."
— Mark O’Connell, Sunday Business Post (Ireland)

"A compelling read about how cooking practices change with every generation, The Table Comes First should be on the shelves of all food enthusiasts. Gopnik explores culinary history, from 19th-century Parisian fine dining to our modern concern with sustainable food."
Stella magazine

"He has a voice that is by turns conversational and dandyish, fancy about everyday pleasures (sport, food) and defiantly unawed about those subjects that are supposed to matter more (art, philosophy) . . . These are personal essays in the fullest sense of the word, sieving the big subjects of the book’s subtitle — family, France, food — through one man’s well-furnished mind."
— Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

"Adam Gopnik is the nearest thing there is — in the English-speaking world, at any rate — to a philosopher of food . . . [T]hese essays blend enormous erudition with great elegance of expression, and pack intellectual firepower too . . . Gopnik wants us to take food seriously, to believe that the table comes first. At the same time, he wants us to remember that food matters only in so far as we connect it with the broader project of living well, of staying at home with ‘our pleasures as much as our principles’ . . . These essays are a reminder that gastronomy, in order to be profound, must also know its place."
— William Skidelsky, New Statesman

Winter

Five Windows on the Season

Adam Gopnik

A taste for winter, a love of winter — “a mind for winter” — is for many a part of the modern human condition. International bestselling author Adam Gopnik does for this storied season what he did for the City of Light in the New York Times bestseller Paris to the Moon. Here he tells the story of winter in five parts: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter. In this stunningly beautiful meditation, Gopnik touches on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from the German romantic landscape to the politics of polar exploration to the science of ice. And in the end, he pays homage to what could be a lost season — and thus, a lost collective cultural history — due to the threat of global warming. Through delicate, enchanting, and intricate narrative detail, buoyed by his trademark gentle wit, Gopnik draws us into another magical world and makes us look at it anew.

House of Anansi Pr (September 30, 2011)

Reviews

Winter: Five Windows on the SeasonPublishers Weekly
Winter: Five Windows on the SeasonQuill & Quire

The Steps Across the Water

Adam Gopnik (Author), Bruce Mccall (Illustrator)

Ten-year-old Rose lives in New York, the city of bright lights and excitement, and a seemingly endless variety of people, architecture, and food — where extraordinary things happen every day on every block. But Rose wasn't born in New York; she was adopted as an infant from a far-away country. Though Rose loves her home and her adopted family, sometimes she can't help but feel different, like she's meant to be somewhere else.

Then one day in Central Park, Rose sees something truly extraordinary: a crystal staircase rising out of the lake, and two small figures climbing the shimmering steps before vanishing like a mirage. Only it's wasn't a mirage. Rose is being watched — recruited — by representatives of U Nork, a hidden city far more spectacular than its sister city New York. In U Nork, Dirigibles and zeppelins skirt dazzling skyscrapers that would dwarf the Crysler building. Impeccably dressed U Norkers glide along the sidewalks in roller skates. Rose can hardly take it all in.

Then she learns the most astonishing thing about U Nork. Its citizens are in danger, and they need Rose's help, and hers alone...

In a masterful new fantasy evocative of Alice in Wonderland, the brilliant novelist, essayist and critic, Adam Gopnik, explores the powerful themes of identity and the meaning of home, with stunning illustrations from Bruce McCall.

Hyperion Book CH (November 23, 2010)

Angels and Ages

Adam Gopnik

On February 12, 1809, two men were born an ocean apart: Abraham Lincoln in a one-room Kentucky log cabin; Charles Darwin on an English country estate. Each would see his life’s work inspire a stark change in mankind’s understanding of itself. In this bicentennial twin portrait, Adam Gopnik shows how these two giants, who never met, altered the way we think about death and time — about the very nature of earthly existence.

Each man had stirred a moral cataclysm. With Lincoln, the great tide of blood he released to save the Union left Americans reeling from violence that seemed senseless. Meanwhile, Darwin’s revelations of evolution and deep time, contradicting biblical history, had revoked the promise of eternal life and final judgment. But each man would also use his singular genius for words to offer refuge from the unbearable thought of a life without meaning. Together, through their writings, Lincoln and Darwin would become midwives to a new kind of hope and faith that sustains us to this day. Filled with little-known stories and unfamiliar characters, Angels and Ages reveals these men, whom we think we know, in a new, shared light, a light that also makes plain the unacknowledged origins of our modern vision and liberal values.

Knopf (January 27, 2009)

First ChapterThe New York Times

Reviews

'Angels and Ages'Financial Times
'Angels and Ages'San Francisco Gate
Darwin, Lincoln and the Modern WorldTIME
'Angels and Ages'Los Angeles Times
'Angels and Ages'Rocky Mountain News

Through the Children's Gate

A Home in New York

Adam Gopnik

Following the best-selling Paris to the Moon, Through the Children’s Gate follows the Gopnik family’s adventures against the panorama of a different though no less storied city as they attempt to make a new home for themselves.

Autumn 2000: After five years in Paris, Adam Gopnik and his family move back to a New York that seems, at first, safer and shinier than ever. Here in the wondrously strange “neighborhood” of Manhattan we observe the triumphs and travails of father, mother, son, and daughter; and of the teachers, coaches, therapists, adversaries, and friends who round out the extended urban family. From Bluie, a goldfish fated to meet a Hitchcockian end, to Charlie Ravioli, an imaginary playmate who, being a New Yorker, is too busy to play, the Gopniks’ new home is under the spell of the sort of characters only the city’s unique civilization of childhood could produce.

Not long after their return, the fabric of living will be rent by the events of 9/11. But like a magic garment, it will reweave itself, reviving normalcy in a world where Jewish jokes mingle with debates about the problem of consciousness, the price of real estate, and the meaning of modern art. Along the way, a beloved teacher and coach who radiates a distinctively local light even when he faces death embodies the impermanence and the transcendence of life.

Elegant and exultantly alert to the minute miracles that bring a place to life, and written with Gopnik’s signature mix of mind and heart, Through the Children’s Gate is a chronicle, by turns tender and hilarious, of a family taking root in the unlikeliest patch of earth.

Knopf (October 2006)

The King in the Window

Adam Gopnik

In The King in the Window, one of America's most celebrated writers turns his talents to a fantasy novel for children and grownups that is part Madeline, part Matrix — an intelligent and charming adventure story set in the city Gopnik writes about so magnificently. Oliver Parker is a ten-year-old American boy miserably stuck in Paris. Intimidated by his French school, Oliver longs to return home. Until one January night, wearing a paper crown and looking out the window, he sees an amazing vision — the reflection of a boy in an ancient French doublet gazing back at him. Oliver's pursuit of the boy leads him to a terrifying secret. He learns he has kingly powers and with no weapons other than his mind, must take on an extraordinary mission . . .

With wonderful characters, high comedy, and a thrilling narrative, The King in the Window is an intelligent fantasy adventure embodying the battle between good and evil.

amax Books (October 2005)

Americans in Paris

A Literary Anthology

Adam Gopnik

From the earliest years of the American republic, Paris has provoked an extraordinary American literary response. An almost inevitable destination for writers and thinkers, Paris has been many things to many Americans: a bastion of old-world traditionalism, a hot-bed of revolutionary ideologies in politics and art, and above all a space in which to cultivate an openness to life and love impossible at home. Through stories, letters, memoirs, poems and journalism, Americans in Paris distills three centuries of vigorous, glittering, and powerfully emotional writing about the place that Henry James called "the most brilliant city in the world" and that Ernest Hemingway characterized as "a moveable feast."

Library of America (March 2004)

Paris to the Moon

Adam Gopnik

In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of Paris. In the grand tradition of Stein, Hemingway, Baldwin, and Liebling, Gopnik set out to enjoy the storied existence of an American in Paris — walks down the paths of the Tuileries, philosophical discussions in cafes, and afternoon jaunts to the Musee d'Orsay.

But as readers of Gopnik's beloved and award-winning "Paris Journal" in The New Yorker know, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with la vie quotidienne — the daily, slightly less fabled life. As Gopnik discovers in this funny and tender account, the dual processes of navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent are not completely dissimilar — both promise new routines, new languages, and a new set of rules by which each day is to be lived. With singular wit and insight, Gopnik manages to weave the magical with the mundane in this wholly delightful book that Entertainment Weekly deemed "magisterial."

Random House (July 2001)

Topics

Adam tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Humanities as the Basis for Scientific Inquiry

In the past few years, no question has been more loudly agitated than the question of why we should study the humanities, the liberal arts, at all. And one of the ways that the humanities have been dismissed is by people insisting that the sciences — engineering in a practical level, theoretical physics and evolutionary biology at a higher one — have dislodged them completely from our civilization as sources of wisdom. The humanities may be a lovely ornamental frosting — or a touching vestigial remnant — but that’s about it.

But if you actually look at the history of the way that humanities and sciences intertwine — and if you try to study the psychology of the way new ideas arrive, become potent and spread, the way creativity really happens — you see that the reality is different. From the beginning of the scientific revolution, the intertwining of the humanities and sciences has been fundamental. And if you study what it is we really know about the way new ideas arrive you find out that it’s through the entrance of very powerful new aesthetic visions of possible worlds — and psychological ideas about human possibility, too — that innovation takes place.

You could begin with two men born in the same year, exactly four hundred and fifty years ago —Shakespeare and Galileo: the greatest of all Western writers, the originator of Western science. You’d expect that their lives would flow at completely opposite angles, or in completely opposite direction– but in truth Galileo’s father, far from being an early scientist, was a lute player — and not just a lute player but a lute theorist, a master of the new art and craft of tuning. And there’s a very real sense in which the Florentine Galileo, who studied the liberal arts long before he mastered the budding natural sciences, drew on the great Italian Renaissance artistic accomplishment of progressive achievement as a model for learning. The way that the conquest of the visual world took place in Italian Renaissance painting — so that the art of Masaccio in 1420, wonderful as it is, looks stiff and archaic in comparison with that of Michelangelo only eighty years later — preceded the conquest of the natural world, and Galileo fed on the optimism, the sense of possible progress that those accomplishments in the liberal arts had offered.

In the same way, Shakespeare’s expansion of the poetic resources of literature drew on what some people have called a newly ‘empathetic ‘expansion of his curiosity. Along with great writers like Montaigne in France and Cervantes in Spain, Shakespeare understood that there was a complicated, conflicted, ambivalent and often contradictory self in all of us that could be dramatized rather than apologized for. We weren’t simply stuck with the neat labels of medieval pageants: Good, Bad, Mr. Morality, and Mr. Immorality — in order to understand ourselves. In that way, he was applying as a kind of intuitive psychologist the same ideas of seeing for yourself and imagining new possibilities that was pregnant in the era’s science. One might say that Galileo’s genius for empirical curiosity is matched by Shakespeare’s genius for empathetic curiosity. Both engage not in a dutiful catalogue of observations nor a pure act of poetic imagination: both men were free to imagine, and thought that imagination was strongest when it was held to the discipline of nature, of the way things really are. They imagined nature in new ways, and then held a mirror to it, to see if it matched.

They arrive in different places: one of the truths about empathetic curiosity is that while the motions of the planets are, relatively speaking, simple, the motions of our minds and hearts are too dense, too sticky with human ambiguity, to be neatly explained. The motions of the planets, on the other hand, can be explained and predicted. But the central activity of making up powerful poetic models of the world, and then testing them against our experience, are remarkably alike between the birth of science and the birth of the modern idea of man. And it’s in that double movement, the freedom to imagine, the readiness to test — that the originality of Shakespeare and Galileo rises and provides a model of how the humanities can reimagine our lives but our worlds. It’s the same likeness I exemplified in my book about Darwin and Lincoln — so that the great founder of evolutionary biology drew on the power of lucid writing as much as his power of exemplary seeing, on the force of the eloquence of explanation, just as his spiritual soul mate across the water showed that it was possible for liberalism to be a fighting but constantly self-defining creed. This intertwining and underlying likeness — and mutual dependence — between liberal civilization and scientific advance is a theme that can be traced from its first appearance into our own day. (Including Einstein’s new vision of time and its relation to that of the Cubists, and right up to Steve Jobs’ aesthetic imperative.)

The Table Comes First

Locating our table ancestry in France, Adam Gopnik traces our rapid evolution from commendable awareness to manic compulsion and how, on the way, we lost sight of a timeless truth: what goes on around the table—families, friends, lovers coming together, or breaking apart; conversation across the simplest or grandest board—is always more important than what we put on the table.

Angels and Ages

Lincoln and Darwin: their genius – their legacies – their humanity. Born on the same day 200 years ago, these two men and their words reshaped modern consciousness.

On a memorable day in human history, February 12, 1809, two babies were born an ocean apart: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Together they became midwives to the spirit of a new world, a new kind of hope and faith. Searching for the men behind the icons of emancipation and evolution, Adam Gopnik reveals them as both ordinary family men with ambitions, faults and loves and as great thinkers who helped shape the modern world—a world increasingly governed by reason, argument and observation, by the verdicts of time and history. As writers, they invented a new language to express that understanding, the liberal voice we now use both at home and in public. This presentation is a meditation as only Adam Gopnik can deliver it on how we got where we are and how we became who we are as children of robust democracy and science.

Through the Children’s Gate

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux gave names to all the entrances of their most famous work of genius, Central Park. The Children’s Gate is the entrance on the east side at Seventy-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue; and it’s the metaphor for why, after five years in Paris, his family came back to New York: so their children could "grow up in New York, to be natives here, as we could never be, to come in through the Children’s Gate, not the Stranger’s Gate" (which is high on the West Side). From Bluei, a goldfish fated to meet a Hitchcockian end, to Charlie Ravioli, an imaginary playmate who, being a New Yorker, is too busy to play, Adam’s book—and his presentation—are full of characters with extraordinary resonance for parents and children, for city-dwelling lovers of place, and any audience eager to pass through the Children’s Gate with him.

Videos

Feedback

A county-wide library services system:
I wanted to let you know that Adam was WONDERFUL at the event. He speaks so eloquently, and is quite witty. Everyone enjoyed his speech.

A town hall:
An event where Adam Gopnik and Malcolm Gladwell spoke for 25 minutes each and then a Q&A on the subject of the internet, politics and social media.

They were the best of the season, awesome, incredible...the audience was laughing, ooohing and ahhhing. They got a huge response from the morning audience (who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat!).
They also loved the format of the program and both of you were in sync.
They were both 'on fire' for the evening event.

A major university:
He was scintillating and brilliant. One of the best talks I've heard in many years. I was especially pleased that four of our undergraduates joined us for a small dinner after the talk. Conversation ranged from Michael Jordan to John Updike, to modern physics, to film, etc. etc.

A Jewish cultural organization:
The event on Thursday was wonderful. We had an audience of 175. Adam was charming, engaging, funny, thoughtful, and smart, and nice, both on and offstage. My colleagues in the other […] cities and I agree that he was one of our best speakers ever. The audience was thrilled, and he really liked them, too. They asked great questions, and he kept the Q&A going until nearly 9pm.

An educational center and museum:
Adam's lecture was indeed a hit. The combination of Adam, Manet, and [...] was perfect, resulting in an audience of over 500 people, the most for one of our lectures this year. Adam's lecture was very engaging and erudite. His characteristic mixing of wit and insight kept the audience engaged for a challenging and sophisticated presentation.

A Canadian museum:
Dear Adam — Wonderful to meet you, and your charming parents, and for you to give the first [...] Lecture. While I mentioned it at dinner, it's worth repeating, it was a masterful job and the response has been universally ecstatic. If your ego is ever at a low ebb, call me, and I'll forward some of the glowing emails I've already received.

A civic forum:
He was beyond wonderful, and the audience really responded to him. He got rave reviews from all quarters.

The Seattle Arts and Lectures series:
Best speaker all year.