Meticulous research informs a brisk biography of an entertainment icon.



A life of the Great Stone Face.

Film historian and biographer Curtis draws on abundant archival sources as well as interviews, memoirs, and previous biographies to create a comprehensive, warmly sympathetic life of iconic entertainer Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (1895-1966). Born into a family of traveling performers, Keaton made his debut as a toddler, featured along with his parents as one of The Three Keatons. “Broadly acrobatic,” he quickly discovered the power of a deadpan expression to elicit laughter, and his porkpie hat, rumpled clothes, and sad eyes became as well-known and beloved as Charlie Chaplin’s bedraggled Little Tramp. In 1917, he ventured out on his own; by 1920, he was hailed by a studio head as “the greatest comedy sensation since the heyday of Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle in two-reelers.” After serving as Arbuckle’s assistant director, Keaton moved into directing and producing, setting up his own studio to make shorts and feature films. In lively detail, Curtis—biographer of Spencer Tracy, Preston Sturges, and W.C. Fields, among others—recounts the highs and lows of Keaton’s prolific career, tracing “the development of gags, the logic of gags, the mechanics of gags” as he acted on stage and in silent movies, talkies, and TV, including being cast in a film by Samuel Beckett and performing with Chaplin in Limelight. Outside of work, Keaton experienced “personal chaos,” including his marriage to fellow actor Natalie Talmadge, which lasted 10 years and ended in acrimonious divorce, incited, in part, by his heavy drinking. His second marriage, to a woman who nursed him through a regimen of drying out, lasted only a few years, as did his abstention from alcohol. In 1935, he ended up in a “psychopathic ward.” Finally, in 1940, he married happily. In this authoritative portrait, Curtis portrays his subject as “a gentle soul, so quiet and unassuming,” sometimes startled by acclaim and happiest when he was working. A chronology of films and TV appearances is appended.

Meticulous research informs a brisk biography of an entertainment icon.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-35421-9

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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