Ackroyd writes of his enigmatic subject, “he did not want anyone to come too close.” Alas, readers of this book will not get...

A celebrated biographer adds to the tall pile of biographies about cinema’s master of suspense.

As a baby, Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) never cried, yet he would react in terror whenever a female relative leaned into his cradle and made baby sounds, which may explain why, in his films, “he enjoyed devising the rape and murder of women.” From a modest upbringing as the son of a greengrocer, he went on to become one of the most recognizable film directors in the world. In the latest in his Brief Lives series, Ackroyd (Charlie Chaplin, 2014, etc.) traces Hitchcock’s career from his early years designing title cards for the film distribution company Famous Players-Lasky to his Hollywood years working with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and lots of blonde actresses with whom the married director was obsessed. But Ackroyd’s book suffers from the same deficiency that marred his Chaplin biography: we get to know Hitchcock as a legend but not as a person. After early attempts to define Hitchcock’s character, the author then delivers a laundry list of career events: the films he directed, the anthology TV series he presented, the lighting techniques he used, and so on. It’s a sketchy, by-the-numbers book, with a few pages on each film, and this material has been documented many times before. Fans already know that Psycho was referred to during filming as “production 9401” or “Wimpy,” and those who don’t can learn such facts from the better and more comprehensive biographies Ackroyd frequently cites. Still, there are juicy, inside-Hollywood tidbits that will keep readers entertained, such as the revelation that, on the wet set of Lifeboat, Tallulah Bankhead had a habit of not wearing underwear. “Hitchcock, when told of the situation,” writes the author, “said that it was a problem for a barber and not for a director.”

Ackroyd writes of his enigmatic subject, “he did not want anyone to come too close.” Alas, readers of this book will not get as close to that subject as they might like.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53741-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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