A complex, intimate, and illuminating inquiry into and defense of Brando.



A new biography of a legendary actor who “used his fame to draw attention to racism and injustice.”

It has been 25 years since Peter Manso’s 1,000-page Brando: The Biography, and award-winning biographer Mann (The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family, 2016, etc.) believes Manso (and “conventional wisdom”) incorrectly portrays Brando (1924-2004) as “eccentric, erratic, narcissistic and hypocritical.” In this meticulously researched book, bolstered by access to the Brando estate, Mann “attempts to see Brando’s life, career, choices, and actions in a new light.” The author describes him as a “thinker, an observer, an examiner of himself and the world, with the goal of figuring out both.” He sympathetically portrays Brando as a survivor of childhood trauma, the only son of alcoholic parents: an abusive father and a distant, neglectful mother Brando loved dearly. Mann begins in 1943 in New York City, where the impoverished high school dropout studied at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop. He was insecure about many things but not sex, and his womanizing would always be a problem. The gifted teacher, Stella Adler, took “her young student under her wing.” She wanted to make him great, but for Brando, acting would always be a “lark, a game of pretense.” Although he was in a dark place, Brando did A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway primarily because of director Elia Kazan, whom Brando greatly admired. After its success, Mann writes, he “knew his life was no longer his own.” In 1963, he walked with the Congress on Racial Equality—he believed that “if more people knew about the reality of racial discrimination, they wouldn’t stand for it”—and he was furious over what the studio did to his directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks. Throughout, Mann balances Brando’s reluctance to act with excellent insights into his finest performances. Brando enjoyed the improvisation he brought to The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris; it made acting seem “fun and creative.” For Mann, Brando was always a “searcher” who “spent his life trying to become ever more conscious.”

A complex, intimate, and illuminating inquiry into and defense of Brando.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-242764-9

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A slim, somber classic.


Didion (We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006, etc.) delivers a second masterpiece on grief, considering both her daughter’s death and her inevitable own.

In her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the much-decorated journalist laid bare her emotions following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The same year that book was published, she also lost her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, after a long hospitalization. Like Magical Thinking, this book is constructed out of close studies of particular memories and bits of medical lingo. Didion tests Quintana’s childhood poems and scribblings for hints of her own failings as a mother, and she voices her helplessness at the hands of doctors. “I put the word ‘diagnosis’ in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a ‘diagnosis’ led to a ‘cure,’ ” she writes. The author also ponders her own mortality, and she does so with heartbreaking specificity. A metal folding chair, as she describes it, is practically weaponized, ready to do her harm should she fall out of it; a fainting spell leaves her bleeding and helpless on the floor of her bedroom. Didion’s clipped, recursive sentences initially make the book feel arid and emotionally distant. But she’s profoundly aware of tone and style—a digression about novel-writing reveals her deep concern for the music sentences make—and the chapters become increasingly freighted with sorrow without displaying sentimentality. The book feels like an epitaph for both her daughter and herself, as she considers how much aging has demolished her preconceptions about growing old.

  A slim, somber classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26767-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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