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Julia Child: A Life (Penguin Lives) Paperback – July 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shapiro's biography of Julia Child—one of America's most beloved personalities—is a short but comprehensive book, and the newest in the Penguin Lives series. Born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, Calif., in 1912, Child attended college and worked for the OSS in Asia during WWII, where she met her future husband. After marrying, they moved to Paris, which led her to cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu. Child had an appetite for learning as well as eating, one that soon developed into a desire to pass on the knowledge and skills—the love—she was acquiring. And in her late 30s, she found her calling. With two women who later coauthored her first book, she started her own cooking school; her class notes led to the cookbook, which eventually led to the television show. Her husband provided steady support, and Child learned of the value of trial and error and an ability to laugh at her mistakes. She was also patient: the cookbook was nearly a decade from conception to publication and the television show started equally shakily. In this wonderful short bio, Shapiro doesn't skimp on less-flattering aspects of her subject's life and personality (Child found homosexuality to be "a rude disruption in the natural order of things"). (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Laura Shapiro's life of Julia Child packs the oft-told story of the gregarious giantess into 181 taut pages. Raised in a wealthy family, Julia McWilliams chafed at the stuffy pastimes of her social set, joined the OSS, and, while working in Ceylon, met her husband, Paul Child. In 1948 the newlyweds moved to France, where Julia sampled a famously mind-blowing sole meunire - ''handsomely browned and still sputteringly hot under its coating of chopped parsley'' - and found her calling. What followed is legendary: the Cordon Bleu courses, the contentious work on the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the popular TV shows. Shapiro digs beneath the familiar milestones, unearthing Child's shortcomings (she once called for the ''de-fagification'' of American cooking) and, more importantly, the source of her phenomenal appeal. People loved Julia because she was exuberant and unpretentious. Because when her tarte tatin collapsed, she patched it up and said, ''I think that actually makes a more interesting dessert.'' Because she licked the spoon, relished U.S. supermarkets, and did not reflexively sneer at McDonald's [indeed, she deemed the fries ''surprisingly good'']. A- -- Entertainment Weekly<br /><br />Julia Child was a witty, mesmerizing and authoritative writer. Laura Shapiro has written a life in every way worthy of this formidable woman. All who enjoy food or simply relish strong personalities should read it. -- Barbara Kafka, author Vegetable Love<br /><br />Laura Shapiro has written a gift of a book, a true love poem to our beloved Julia. Her prose is lively, elegant, tactile, and she perfectly captures all of Julia's memorable traits. We feel that Julia is there at our side, cooking, coaxing, being as blunt and honest as can be. -- Patricia Wells, author The Provence Cookbook<br /><br />Laura Shapiro's biography of Julia Child is as bright, smart, funny, charming and companionable as Julia herself. I read the book from cover-to-cover with a smile on my face, remembering my friend and reveling in the stories that are so quintessentially, quirkily Julia - then I read the book again. --Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking with Julia and Baking, From My Home to Yours --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Lives
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143116444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116448
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Did you know that Julia Child had an eye job and three face lifts? That's not the only surprise that lurks inside this deceptively small book. Author Laura Shapiro has written a biography that is mostly sympathetic to its subject, but doesn't shrink from showing Child's less attractive qualities. She was opinionated and rarely shrank from saying what was on her mind. She had no patience for people who didn't agree with her about food. She had no use for vegetarians, organic food, or California cuisine. To friends, she made some homophobic comments. In public she did not.

Shapiro has managed to fit a lot of fascinating information into 181 small-format pages. Unfortunately, the Penguin Lives publishers didn't see fit to include an index, let alone notes. Shapiro addresses this in a note at the end of the book, offering to provide sources for anyone who requests them. It seems likely that most of the quotations she provides in the book were from letters Child wrote to friends or from published interviews.

Even if you've already read about Child's spy days, her introduction to French food, and the first TV shows, here's your chance to read about her breast cancer, how she coped with her husband's decline after a stroke, or what she really thought about McDonald's.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Ann M. Altman on August 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having recently re-read "My Life in France" by Julia herself, I was disappointed that most of the information in this book is taken from Julia's book, with the exception, for example, of the fact that Julia was initially (and in common with American cultural norms of the time) an open homophobe and that she was against the emerging organic food movement, being more in sympathy with mass producers of meats, fruits and vegetables. While it might be important, for the historical record, to present a more rounded picture of Julia than she presents herself (and than we gained from watching her on TV), the effort to "bring her down a peg or two" seems almost contrived.

If you haven't read "My Life in France," buy it instead of this book. If you have, buy one of Julia's cookbooks that you don't already own. Both give more and longer-lasting pleasure.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By L. Lukaszewicz on June 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Did you know that Julia Child was a devout atheist? There are many details about Julia Child's life that her adoring public did not know. This small but comprehensive biography is an excellent overview of her long life and successful career. I had heard about her work during World War II, but I didn't know the details of her training, how her acclaimed first cook book came to be, or what went into the success of her TV shows. All these things and more are included here.

What shocked me the most was her siding with the food industry when radical changes in production came to be. She was against organic food, calling it "even worse than health food," and was quoted: "There is no room for the cult that regards `natural methods' as good, and all improvements on nature as bad." She called the genetic engineering of food "one of the greatest discoveries" of the 20th century, and spoke out in favor of irradiation while calling opponents "nervous nellies." She supported the food industry on changes such as pesticides, hormones in beef, and antibiotics in chicken. I would have imagined someone so enamored of food in its natural state would have been at the very least leery of such radical changes

To her credit, she encouraged new young female chefs, and did all she could to advance their careers through publicity and by funding scholarships for these female culinary students. As she advised all her students, she believed love for the food that went into preparing it is what made an exceptional meal. Interestingly, later in her career, she turned to more convenient methods, such as using frozen foods. She was a great fan of the American supermarket, and believed a good cook could create fine meals with all ingredients from a supermarket.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Reader on April 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
I thought this was a charming, delightful book. Nothing deep, just well done. I disagree with the reviewers who say that this was taken from "My Life In France." I have read both and Ms. Shapiro obviously had other sources as her book includes very different information, and I thought this book filled in many gaps left by Julia herself. There are DOZENS of quotes taken from Julia's letters to "Simca" which are clearly not in "My Life in France." Even better, there are quotes from Paul's letters to his twin brother--even about his initial friendship & courtship of Julia, including poems he wrote. There are quotes from Julia from magazine articles, from fan letters from the moment "The French Chef" went on the air, some delightful stories about when "The French Chef" first went on the air, and my personal favorite--Julia blowing up a duck in the oven when she's first learning to cook.

I found it much more charming and enjoyable than other Julia Child biographies, and was a bit shocked to see the harsh reviews it has been given on Amazon. I enjoyed Ms. Shapiro's writing, and laughed at such sentences as "Julia's mother used to say that she had raised eighteen feet of children." My Oh well, to each their own. BUT, had I listened to any of the bad reviews, I feel like I would have missed a delightful little book that I enjoyed immensely.
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