Paris, 1902: Renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin has just completed The Thinker. Rainer Maria Rilke is a delicate young visitor from Prague, broke and suffering from a case of writer’s block. When Rilke is commissioned to write a book about Rodin, everything changes. . . . You Must Change Your Life reveals one of the great stories of modern art and literature: Rodin and Rilke’s years together as master and disciple, their heartbreaking rift, and ultimately their moving reconciliation. In her vibrant debut, Rachel Corbett reveals how Rodin’s influence led Rilke to write his most celebrated poems and inspired his beloved Letters to a Young Poet. She captures the dawn of modernism with appearances by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Lou Andreas-Salomé, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean Cocteau. And she recounts the remarkable friendship of two extraordinary artists whose work continues to reverberate a century later. (September 2016, WW Norton)


CBC Radio's "Writers & Company" with Eleanor Wachtel

The Poetry Magazine podcast

The Library of Congress podcast "The Poet & The Poem"

The Approval Matrix, New York Magazine

WABC's The John Batchelor Show

Excerpt in Poetry magazine

Excerpt on Literary Hub

Artnet on the 2016 Marfield Prize


"This empathetic and imaginative biography, deeply researched, is anchored by the friendship between two of the twentieth century’s greatest artists." —The New Yorker

"Corbett, as any fine artist, has produced a work of great effect, and leaves a lasting and indelible mark on the reader." —NPR

"A beautiful exercise in compact, interwoven double biography." —The Times Literary Supplement

"Spectacular . . . a layered and lyrical inquiry." —Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

“Pacy and vivid . . . An enjoyable biography of the brief, intense relationship between Rilke and Auguste Rodin.” —Financial Times

"Penetrating and teeming . . . a vibrant, clear, and intelligent work." —Harvard Review

"A must-read.” —New York Observer

"An enthralling exploration of the complex relationship between two creative giants." —The London Magazine

“A riveting study of friendship.” Library Journal (starred review)

“Writing in a lively, fluid style, Corbett deftly . . . draws an evocative picture of Paris at the turn of the century.” —Art in America

"Engagingly written . . . warmly recommended." Ritchie Robertson, The Art Newspaper

"At long last . . . the book this story deserves." —Hyperallergic

“Corbett's deep knowledge of her subjects accessibly reveals the strong connections—and various differences—between [Rilke and Rodin]. . . . An excellent look at two men of incredible talent.” Kirkus Reviews

“A smartly written biography.” Publishers Weekly

"Corbett proves a clear-eyed explicator of both sculpture and poem, unburdened either by jargon or lusciousness... an enjoyable and informed raconteur." —The Washington Free Beacon

"How should an artist live?' Corbett’s penetrating story does not—as Rilke or Rodin would have—offer instruction. She relies instead on the rich examples that emerge when an artist’s life is examined with great care." —Jonathon Sturgeon, Artnet

"Splendid . . . Where does inspiration come from? Corbett looks into life as deeply as is possible for answers." —Pac Pobric, The Art Newspaper

"What Corbett discovers in her expansive research . . . is an examination of the gritty how and why of artistic creation, as well as an acknowledgement of the costs of such a life." —Brooklyn Rail

"Corbett’s original book stands as an urgent invitation to revisit both Rilke’s poems and Rodin’s sculptures." —World Literature Today

"Corbett's storytelling is outstanding . . . You Must Change Your Life is an intriguing network of ideas and movements, a companion that makes for hard parting." —The Quarterly Conversation

"Corbett’s well-researched biography will doubtlessly appeal to anyone who’s interested in learning more about Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, or the Belle Époque de Paris." —Portland Book Review

“In honeyed, knowing prose, Rachel Corbett twines two great serpents of art: the suppleness of Rodin’s malleable flesh and eroticism and Rilke’s endless lyrical rivers. New portals of aesthetic intonations open; invisible elements come into sight.” —Jerry Saltz, senior art critic, New York Magazine

“In telling the story of what Rilke and Rodin shared, Rachel Corbett reconstructs the dramas of an entire past world, with its characters and customs, epiphanies and heartbreaks. At the same time, she has managed the neat trick of producing the rare work of intellectual history that reads as a vital guide to what it means to be a thinking, feeling artist in the present." —Ben Davis, author of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class

“The old master, grizzled, unforgiving, daunting; a young man, neurasthenic, brilliant, full of feeling. You Must Change Your Life is the story of the unlikely friendship between Auguste Rodin and Rainer Maria Rilke, two men grappling with questions of life, art, and modernity in early 20th century Paris. Rachel Corbett has written an elegant and moving account of what was a cultural turning point, seen through the eyes of two very different artists.” —Luke Barr, author of Provence, 1970

“Charming and funny, Rachel Corbett renders turn-of-the-twentieth-century Paris in all its gritty glory, illustrating how the same place that saw ‘Baudelaire charge through the streets waving a gun and Balzac nearly starve to death’ could foster a magical artistic relationship like this one.” —Ada Calhoun, author of St. Marks Is Dead