biography / history / nonfiction

Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

With the push towards memoir, biographies almost seem quaint in 2021. I feel like I used to read lot more them years ago. As biographies go, this one had an impressive amount of citation and the level of work that went into must be staggering. That said, I felt like it was a little flat.

The book truly is an exhaustive account of Nichol’s projects but not very much is explored or explained about his personal life. It really read more like a history of his work and not a biography to me. Aside from his childhood and some of his work with Elaine May, his personal life, habits, thoughts are a mystery. I never got a sense of who he was as a person. Oddly, I got a solid sense of what many actors he worked with were like but not Nichols. I’ve never read a biography with such little insight or depth given to the subject’s personality.

A lot of the book was just a recounting of the minutia of his various projects (not all projects got equal billing and some that you thought would be the most in-depth were not—and I’m still wondering how he got into television exactly) and then suddenly he was getting divorced or married or it was mentioned he was doing crack regularly or hadn’t seen his child for most of her childhood. What? No mention on how his interpersonal or professional life was affected by his apparent heavy substance abuse or what his personal relationship with pretty anyone was really like.

Very odd take on a biography, it would have been better if they had not pretended it was a biography and focused what it really was about, the work of Mike Nichols, not Mike Nichols the man.

I would say that it was an interesting look at how movies and plays get made but it really wasn’t about that either now that I think about it. It really was more about the thoughts and behavior of people on set and the dates and times things occurred.

Not bad writing, and very well researched in some aspects but the omission of any insight into him as a man and honestly, the nitty gritty of getting a movie made was frankly staggering. I think the author dazzled with quotes from famous people and sheer length but at the end, I felt like I had read an exhaustive timeline and not a biography.

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