Authoritative and exhaustive—another jewel in Lee’s literary crown.



The celebrated playwright gets the Lee treatment.

Stoppard (b. 1937) asked award-winning literary biographer Lee to write his biography, giving her “access to a wealth of materials and permission to quote from them.” In this thorough, sympathetic, and eminently readable text, the author tracks his early years in Czechoslovakia through his time in Singapore, India, and England, where he met his stepfather, Maj. Kenneth Stoppard. Interestingly Lee notes that Stoppard, who dropped out of college, didn’t show much interest in the theater until he was a reporter for a Bristol newspaper. The city’s vibrant arts scene motivated an “anxious, eager, ambitious, shy and unworldly” young man who became friends with Peter O’Toole. A job with another paper had him writing film and play reviews, covering “everything that came out, from new European cinema to Hollywood romances, from Westerns to film noir, from musicals to disaster movies.” As she has done in her previous top-notch books, Lee carefully unwinds autobiographical links between her subject’s life and works. Despite his newspaper work, Stoppard knew that plays were “his business” and “theatre was where he might find rapid success.” His first play, A Walk on the Water, was produced in 1963, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which began as a one-act play, debuted in 1966. Though the “first reviews” were “terrible,” most were “ecstatic,” making Stoppard “all at once successful and famous.” As Lee masterfully explores both her subject’s life and work, she portrays a uniquely talented writer fully in tune with a wide variety of influences. She pays close attention to his screenplays, as well, including Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, Shakespeare in Love (“one of his best-loved pieces of work”), and a TV adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End. He enjoyed doing films but noted that they weren’t a “continuation of one’s life as a writer” but rather “a detour.” Ultimately, this expansive portrait of a significant 20th-century artist is a biographical masterpiece. Stoppard chose his biographer well.

Authoritative and exhaustive—another jewel in Lee’s literary crown.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-451-49322-4

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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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 refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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