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DOWN AND OUT IN PARADISE by Charles Leerhsen


The Life of Anthony Bourdain

by Charles Leerhsen

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-982-14044-1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Like its subject, this razzmatazz biography zips along nicely.

After writing successful biographies on such colorful personages as Ty Cobb and Butch Cassidy, Leerhsen takes on “crash test dummy extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018), who “didn’t hide his scars and other imperfections as most celebrities do.” With zesty verve and material from more than 80 interviews, the author dramatically unfolds an entertaining, ultimately tragic tale. A “comic book obsessed nudnik,” Bourdain was born in Manhattan on his literary hero’s birthday (George Orwell) and grew up in New Jersey. Deeply influenced by Hunter S. Thompson, “Angry Anthony” was raised in a household under the “smothering chokehold of love and normalcy,” as he wrote in Medium Raw. Traveling with his parents in France, he had his “Madeleine moment” when he ate his first oyster. Or did he? According to Leerhsen, Bourdain was quite adept at tweaking his own bio. After spending summers in Provincetown working in restaurants, the college dropout attended the Culinary Institute of America. Though undisciplined and often drug-addled, he learned discipline at CIA as well as a “bare-knuckled philosophy of human relations.” In 1978, he went to New York City to write fiction and got a job cooking at the Rainbow Room. Leerhsen deftly works his way through Bourdain’s many cooking gigs as he climbed up the ladder while developing his belief that he could “perform a kind of alchemy that would somehow meld cooking with the twangy-angry punk music he held so dear.” On April 12, 1999, the New Yorker published Bourdain’s popular article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This: A New York Chef Spills Some Trade Secrets,” which “hit all the tetchy talking points that would make him first a best-selling author” and a star with Kitchen Confidential. There followed his many popular TV shows, which “would get richer, more nuanced, and also sadder as time passed.” Pair this with Tom Vitale’s In the Weeds and Laurie Woolever’s Bourdain.

A chatty, quick-witted portrait of a complicated, tormented man.