Next book



If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

A biography of the making of Chinatown, which scriptwriter Robert Towne called “a state of mind.”

In his latest, Los Angeles–based film chronicler Wasson (Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art, 2017, etc.), who has written about Bob Fosse, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, and Paul Mazursky, undertakes a multifaceted dissection of the infamous noir film starring Jack Nicholson. Produced by Robert Evans and written by Towne, Chinatown was directed by the “brilliant tyrant” Roman Polanski. Throughout the book, Wasson treats the film as a masterpiece, an arguable but reasonable assessment, and delineates his biographies of Nicholson, Evans, Towne, and Polanski in the context of the film specifically. The author adeptly illustrates how each man brought his own experience of contemporary Hollywood to the film though the story is arguably a more accurate depiction of 1930s Hollywood than any noir film recorded in that time period. Wasson portrays drugs and crime in a matter-of-fact manner befitting the movie itself, and he doesn’t minimize or romanticize any of the less-than-savory elements involving the principals of the narrative; this applies especially to Polanski. The author weaves into the text details about the Tate-LaBianca murders and their effects on not only Polanski, but the city as a whole. He shows how the phrase “That’s Chinatown” was not just a memorable motif in the movie, but also a reflection of the visceral emotions roiling LA at the time of the film’s release. “Since the murders,” writes the author, “the communal dream of social and political reformation that had illumed the sixties had blackened, almost on cue, at the decade’s turn.” As Towne said, “there are some crimes for which you get punished, and there are some crimes that our society isn’t equipped to punish, and so we reward the criminals.” Through Wasson’s thorough research, this book clearly illuminates that concept.

If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30182-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Next book


A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Next book



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

Close Quickview