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Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain Hardcover – September 13, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


It's a gripping and illuminating tale, a peculiarly American saga of loneliness, sometimes misguided determination, luck, perseverance, marital failure and the life of a touring player in pre-interstate America. (San Francisco Chronicle)

[Holbrook] tells his life story beautifully, moving smoothly from being a young boy abandoned by his parents . . . to enjoying a celebrated career on stage and screen. The reader is hooked right from the book's opening lines . . . Looking back with remarkable objectivity, Holbrook seems to be writing--with considerable sensitivity and insight--about another person entirely, someone who used to exist but has been overwritten by age and experience. This would be an unusual approach for any autobiography, and especially for a 'star bio,' but it works remarkably well here, perhaps because, in Holbrook's case, his professional career is an important part of his life but hardly the only thing worth talking about. (David Pitt, Booklist (starred review))

If I were to conjure an image of an individual who best fits the phrase 'a real American,' it would be Hal Holbrook. This book shows him as a complete person. You will be compelled by the wit and wisdom of this beautifully composed story of self-determination and survival. (Robert Redford)

Harold is full of humor, pain, and depth. I love this man and was enthralled with his riveting life's journey. A great story from one of the great actors and storytellers of our time. (Woody Harrelson)

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote to Mark Twain that he had just finished rereading Huckleberry Finn, 'and am quite ready to begin again tomorrow.' The final page of Harold will have you echoing Stevenson's words. (Mark Dawidziak)

That one of America's greatest actors should prove to be one of its great storytellers shouldn't come as altogether astounding; after all, he's been channeling the thoughts and nearly breathing the same creative air as the great Mark Twain for most of his life! But Hal Holbrook's beguiling yarn exhibits its own spark of divine fire. His recall is as meticulous and honest as his acting, and the result is a page-turner. Mr. Clemens himself would surely approve. (Jack O'Brien)

All those years he has spent inhabiting the persona of America's greatest storyteller left their mark: Hal Holbrook is a gifted storyteller himself--a master of the pause, a deft painter of the vivid detail that makes a scene come alive, a writer capable of recording with perfect pitch the voices that the fill the echo-chamber of memory. Whether he is evoking the loneliness of a child abandoned by his parents, the hunger of an aspiring actor, the anguish of a husband and father worried that he is failing his wife and his child, or the satisfaction of a man who overcomes obstacles as big as Mount Shasta, Hal Holbrook's eloquence and searing honesty make this riveting book impossible to put down. (Shelley Fisher Fishkin)

Renowned stage and screen actor Holbrook recounts his early life in this stirring memoir . . . While Holbrook's career stretches on for another half century, this encapsulation of his first 34 years is a movingly honest account of a life spent searching for meaning and purpose. (Publishers Weekly)

Like Mark Twain, the alter ego he portrayed on the stage, actor Holbrook (All the President's Men; Into the Wild) has a knack for weaving delightful anecdotes with painful true stories . . . An insightful glimpse into Holbrook's personal and professional life, retold with amazing detail and written with intelligence and raw humor. (Richard A. Dickey, Library Journal)

Noted actor Holbrook serves up a charming but unsentimental memoir of his early life . . . The events in this book end in [1959]--meaning, one hopes, that a sequel will appear in short order. (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Hal Holbrook is a celebrated actor who has starred in such films as All the President's Men, Wall Street, and The Firm. He has won five prime-time Emmy Awards for his work in television, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008 for his role in Into the Wild.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281014
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Cindy Lovell on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When this long awaited book was delivered I thought I would read a chapter or two right away and finish it later in the week. It's simply not possible to put this book down. The first sentence takes you by the hand and sits you down beside Mr. Holbrook, no, Hal, and as the pages fly by you hear his voice telling you his story without drama or hyperbole or one whit of self-pity, which can't be said of most memoirs. I've seen Hal perform in Mark Twain Tonight (Original Cast) in six different venues, and he IS our Mark Twain. It has been his gift to the world for roughly six decades, and it's what I have always loved best about him. Until now. Until now, I have been grateful to Mr. Holbrook for bringing my favorite author to life on the stage, for letting me hear Twain and see Twain pacing the stage, all fire and humor and cigar smoke. This legacy alone has assured Hal Holbrook a place in my heart and the hearts of all those who know and love Twain. He could have rested on those well-deserved laurels and basked in the adoration he has inspired. But he did not rest. He picked up the pen and opened his heart, and in so doing he touched ours. This books is rich in detail and history and conjures nostalgia where we don't quite expect it. His childhood was not merely troubled, it was cruel. Yet, like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes: A Memoir, Holbrook is matter of fact, eschewing sentimentality while simply laying out the facts unashamedly. Harold DID become Mark Twain, and better still, he became Hal.Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Keith Burris on January 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Master storytelling from an American treasure
By Keith C. Burris
Robert Redford once said he wanted Hal Holbrook to play "Deep Throat" in "All the President's Men" because he needed an actor of stature to play that part. Now Holbrook, perhaps one of the last American actors of real stature, has published the first of a two-volume autobiography. It is entitled "Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain."

If you are interested in the American theater, or have followed Holbrook's career, you will want to buy this book. It is master storytelling from an American treasure.

The book ends in 1959 when the author is 34 years of age and he scores his great success in New York with "Mark Twain Tonight!," which he has been performing up and down this country for 50-odd years since. The joke is that Holbrook has now been doing Twain's standup-public lecture routine for many more years than Twain did. And he has also outlived his subject. Twain died at 74; Holbrook is 86.

Last year Holbrook did a raft of Twain performances on the road, appeared in continuing roles on two TV shows, made three movies, and published this book, in addition to promoting it and working on Volume 2. He says he is sorry he had to give up his motorcycle and his sailboat, but since age has forced those concessions, he might as well work.

But what makes Holbrook so singular is not just his stamina. It is his intellectual honesty, his truthfulness, and his bravery. This book is as unsparing and as real as his acting. If you have seen the recent film "Into the Wild," or the even more recent "That Evening Sun," you will realize what a large claim this is. A friend who saw those films said of Holbrook: "That's a soulful dude. No veneer." And that's how the book is too.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Randall on November 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. Lacking the narcissism, superficiality, and self-promotion of so many, its honesty hit me between the eyes, the emotion leaped off the pages, and not knowing much about Mr. Holbrook's life, it was full of suspense. By their nature, autobiographies contain a lot of "I's" and "me's", but somehow he has made them relatively scarce and always unobtrusive.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ima Consumer on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Hal Halbrook's ever since the early 1970s, after watching his captivating performance as Sen. Hays Stowe, in the TV show "The Senator," which was a segment of "The Bold Ones."

Years later, I spoke to him when he was a guest on an L.A. radio talk show, a few weeks prior to the release of "All The President's Men," where he played the role of Deep Throat. He was very gracious and humble and I thanked him for his work.

When I heard Mr. Holbrook talk about this book on NPR, I knew I had to read it. Not only is he a great actor, but he is a fine writer, as well. He certainly had more than his share of problems growing up, but he never tries to sugar coat or glamorize any of his experiences. I've never been an actor, but I would think this book would be invaluable resource for anyone who is thinking of pursuing that dream. It was mind boggling to read about the struggles and sacrifices he had to make in order to feed his family and to advance his career.

My only regret is that this book only covers the first 34 years of his life. When I got to the end, I wanted to keep on reading this fascinating story. Mr. Holbrook, you have your work cut out for you--keep on writing the next volume while you make more films. Also, please come back to Southern California at least one more time so I can enjoy your Mark Twain performance again. Thanks for choosing good material and for sharing your work with your fans.
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