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Capote: A Biography Paperback – October 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this riveting biography, Clarke, former Time writer, depicts the sad sequence of sparkling achievements and overwhelming despair that marked the life of Truman Capote. Between the publication of his short stories in the late 1940s and the success of In Cold Blood in 1966, Capote, Clarke demonstrates, was a supreme writing talent and an intimate of the rich and famous "swans"Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Lee Radziwillwhose names, with his, filled the gossip columns. But the uneasy stability of that glittering schizophrenia crumbled with pressures brought on by years of researching and writing In Cold Blood. His complex relationships with Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers whose crime he detailed in that book, drained him; witnessing their executions seemed to destroy his emotional equilibrium. The last 20 years of his lifehe was 59 when he died in 1984were shattered by a series of debasing love affairs, and he was haunted by the reawakened demons of a lonely Southern childhood. In Clarke's sad portrait, Capote fatalistically succumbs to alcoholism and drug addiction, as if he felt compelled to kill himself. Unable to concentrate on Answered Prayers, he became paralyzed by fears of failure. There are plenty of juicy stories in the booknot only about Capote but also his gossip about friendsand Clarke painstakingly recreates both the highs and the lows of Capote's life without judgment, foreshadowing the decline with contemporary comments from the letters and journals of friends who were unsettled early on by his eccentricities. But Clarke seems to acknowledge that, as unflinchingly close as he is able to bring us to the man and the writer, there always will be an unfathomable mystery behind the willful decline and fall. Readers will be dazzled both by the life lived and the compelling skill with which Clarke brings it before us. Photos not seen by PW. First serial to Vanity Fair; BOMC featured alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Clarke breaks Capote's life into four sections: a childhood spent mostly with relatives while his self-absorbed parents staggered through their disorderly lives; his years of discovery, when he had the two great romances of his life, traveled the world, and found his voice as a writer; the writing of In Cold Blood ; and the destructive obsessions with drugs, alcohol, and lovers that followed. Clarke's analysis tends to be superficial and his research, though impressive, has gaping holes. He is strongest in his portraits of Capote's first lover, the literary scholar Newton Arvin; the parade of men who disrupted the last 15 years of his life; and Capote's "swans," the very wealthy women who became addicted to his seemingly magic touch. Paradoxically, Clarke fails to produce a full portrait of Capote himself. The chaotic figure will need to be studied from many angles: Clarke provides a point of reference. Rob Schmieder, Boston
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 636 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (October 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786716614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786716616
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,957,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Graham on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I ran across this book and hadn't thought about Capote in years and got it on impulse. It is just a wonderful bio and captures what Capote was and why he attracted such attention. It is hard to imagine what a youngster he was when he came on the scene and how he was so very loved. The book is full of lovely stories and famous people. The chapters on the "swans" was my favorite but his relationships, the accounts of his writing, his amazing ambition and ability to have devoted friends and ultimately his terrible end are written like a novel. Capote was generous, brilliant, kind, warm, seductive,vicious at times and utterly captivating. I now want to reread his books. But the accounts of his travels abroad, his long stays at wonderful quaint places and the "moveable feast" of his early life made me long to have been there. I loved this bio.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Vivek Tejuja on June 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am almost completing "Capote: A Biography" by Gerald Clarke and my head is still reeling from the after effects. I loved the book. I haven't seen the movie yet but I know that it is bleak considering the book is not a light read either. Capote's life has been contained marvelously in this book. It has character and a lot of substance.

I wonder why every genius's life is so melancholic. Capote's life was no exception either. Abandoned by his parents at an early age he was forced to stay with his old cousins at Monroeville, Alabama and kept fantasizing about the day his parents would come and take him away. The day did come and Capote met his first love: New York City. Mr. Clarke's description of the New York Capote grew up in and flourished as a writer is simply outstanding. You can almost see all the sights and inhale its smells. Capote - the name was that of his step-father who eventually adopted him and who Truman grew close to.

One would think that "homosexuality" would run strong in the book considering Truman's preference; however that is not the case. What is captured brilliantly is his rise from working as a copy boy for "The New York Times" to becoming one of the famous twentieth century writers. His flamboyance, wit, anger, a streak of bitchiness, lavishness, fastidiousness and ultimately is downfall. Everything that Capote stood for is interestingly written about. Right from his affairs to his one-liners to his impulsive behaviour and his kindness [which wasn't known to all] to the torture a writer goes through while working on a book [it took him six years to finish "In Cold Blood" which is now heralded as a modern classic] and the frustration when the accolades aren't enough.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Lloyd Nolan on March 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
By far, the best Capote biography to date. Clarke has a talent for giving us the facts, presented in such a way as to be entertaining and enlightening. He obviously knows his subject well and shows us this without pretension or the usual prestidigitation that so often accompanies biographies such as this. What strikes one first and foremost is the wonderful arc the book has. It is true that Capote's life had this arc already, but to be able to translate that from life to a book is not as easy as one would imagine.
Given the incredibly spotlight life that Capote led, much of the information in this book is axiomatic: the incidents of early life in New Orleans and Alabama, his mother's bi-polar if not manic travails, the uprooting at an early age to live in Greenwich, Connecticut, the infamous New Yorker job he held but for a short while; his elbow-rubbing with the jet set, ultimately culminating in Answered Prayers; the resulting fall from grace; the drugs, the alcohol. But it is the nuances, the small findings in this book, that make it unique and give it an edge over others. Clarke relates at one point how ill read Capote was, standing up in the middle of a film of a Dickens novel, shouting, "They've stolen my plot." Or his sad and telling description of Capote's last days at the home of Joanne Carson. His last words? "I'm cold." And he was gone.
This compelling biography is full of photographs that speak volumes as well: Capote as a child--innocent, a tabla rasa; Capote on the set of a movie; Capote vacationing. And a desperate-looking Capote clinging a little to hard to Marilyn Monroe. Wonderful and telling pictures that are enhanced by Gerald Clarke's troubling, wonderful, and ultimately entertaining look at Capote, the writer, and Capote the man. All-in-all a great read about one of America's greatest writers.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By billy c bowden on January 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
Give Gerald Clarke, the senior former Time Magazine contributor and author of Capote, a hand for manuevering his ethereal subject, Truman Capote, into a bear-hug, and pinning him decisively on the mat, in this immensely readable and well written expose/biography..I literally laughed out loud on numerous occassions, at bitchy quotes from Capote, particularly when asked about Jacqueline Susann, at that time the author of the best selling book in the world, "Valley Of the Dolls"..Not surprisingly, Capote was confounded and chagrined at the avalanche of her success, moreso when Johnny Carson popped the question on The Tonite Show what Truman thought about it's author Ms. Susann, and Capote snidely weighed in on her noteably dark, exaggerated, masculine features.."Well, to me she rather looks like a truckdriver in drag."..Capote always understood the head-line value of a zinger, and knew the public cherishes the over-the-top one liner long after all else is forgiven, or forgotten!..And Capote traded on his New Orleans bred "queenie" charm to barter his way into a clubby-high society world inhabited by his "swans", the wives of the wealthiest tycoons of that era..Clark debriefs in scholarly detail exactly how Capote trafficked on his wit and wile to move up the ladder, both professionally and personally, despite his miniaturish staure, baby-talk voice, and fey Oscar Wildeian mannerisms, he was a firecracker..And a dead-eye for exquisite, ante-bellum detail, with a musical, melodic ear for phrasings, reminiscent of F.Scott Fitzgerald, except possibly more refined, more psychological..Read more ›
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