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Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee [Kindle Edition]

Charles J. Shields
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.99
Kindle Price: $8.89
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Book Description

The colorful life of the remarkable woman who created To Kill a Mockingbird—the classic that became a touchstone for generations of Americans

To Kill a Mockingbird, the twentieth-century’s most widely read American novel, has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite the book’s perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles J. Shields has brought to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature’s most unforgettable characters—Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout—and who contributed to the success of her lifelong friend Truman Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

At the center of Shields’s lively book is the story of Lee’s struggle to create her famous novel. But her life contains many other highlights as well: her girlhood as a tomboy in overalls in tiny Monroeville, Alabama; the murder trial that made her beloved father’s reputation and inspired her great work; her journey to Kansas as Capote’s ally and research assistant to help report the story of the Clutter murders; the surrogate family she found in New York City.

Drawing on six hundred interviews and much new information, Mockingbird is the first book ever written about Harper Lee. Highly entertaining, filled with humor and heart, this is an evocative portrait of a writer, her dream, and the place and people whom she made immortal.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Few novels are as beloved and acclaimed as To Kill a Mockingbird and even fewer authors have shunned the spotlight as successfully as its author. Although journalist Shields interviewed 600 of Harper Lee's acquaintances and researched the papers of her childhood friend Truman Capote, he is no match for the elusive Lee, who stopped granting interviews in 1965 and wouldn't talk to him. Much of this first full-length biography of Lee is filled with inconsequential anecdotes focusing on the people around her, while the subject remains stubbornly out of focus. Shields enlivens Lee's childhood by pointing out people who were later fictionalized in her novel. The book percolates during her banner year of 1960, when she won the Pulitzer Prize and helped Capote research In Cold Blood. Capote's papers yield some of Lee's fascinating first-person insights on the emotionally troubled Clutter family that were tempered in his book. Shields believes Lee abandoned her second novel when her agents and her editor—her surrogate family in publishing—died or left the business, leaving her with no support system. There's a tantalizing anecdote about a true-crime project Lee was researching in the mid-'80s that faded away. Sputtering to a close, the final chapter covers the last 35 years in 24 pages. It's also baffling that this affectionate biography ends with three paragraphs devoted to someone slamming her classic work. (June 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Shields takes on the elusive writer in this first-ever biography of her. Without direct input from his subject, the author's extensive research combines sources in local-history collections, interviews and correspondence with Lee's acquaintances, and Internet resources to piece together the details of the writer's life. Starting with Lee's childhood in Monroeville, AL, Shields depicts the people and events that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird's characters. A picture develops of a girl who would face down any bully, a nonconformist whose sorority roommates kicked her out after one semester but who made an impact on the campus with her presence, a woman with a wicked sense of humor and a writer with a voice and themes of prejudice and justice that resonate. Students and curious fans alike will find material here to further their understanding of her work and life. Extensive source notes and a student-friendly bibliography are included.–Charlotte Bradshaw, San Mateo County Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 664 KB
  • Print Length: 372 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 080507919X
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; Reprint edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003JH8M3S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,311 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare look into the life of Harper Lee June 7, 2006
Since its initial publication in 1960, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and continues to sell almost a million annually. It is taught in 74% of schools across the country. Its film adaptation is heralded as one of the finest movies of all time and its lead character, Atticus Finch, was hailed by the American Film Institute as the "greatest hero in a hundred years of American film history" in 2003. With this enormous success, why then is so little known about its author, Harper Lee? And why has she never published another book? Through much research, journalist Charles J. Shields attempts to illuminate the enigmatic woman born Nelle Harper Lee in this extensive new biography.

Delving into Lee's early years, from her beginnings in Monroeville, Alabama, we begin to see her earliest influences that would shape her career-defining work. Life at home included her father, A.C. Lee, the venerable attorney and newspaperman (he was the model for Atticus), her depressed and remote mother, a brother who would die in the war, and her headstrong older sister, Alice, who worked as an attorney at the family firm. Many long afternoons were spent making up stories with her pixie-like neighbor and playmate, Truman Persons (later Truman Capote). Lee was to join the family firm as well, but once she worked on the literary magazine at the University of Alabama, she knew her greatest dream was to go to New York, much like her friend Truman did, and become a writer.
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77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clears up a lot of mistaken impressions. June 26, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having taught TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD every year for sixteen years, I had to read this new biography of the seclusive author. The author, Charles J. Shields, who wrote it without Lee's cooperation, cleared up several mistaken impressions for me.

For one thing, I had always thought that Harper Lee was a lawyer and that was one of the reasons she hadn't written anything since TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She did go to law school, but dropped out with a semester left to go to New York to write full time.

Shields focuses on several questions. Why did Lee not follow up the amazing success of TKAM with another novel? Did Truman Capote really write the book? Why did Nelle Harper Lee never marry?

To answer the first, she had a hundred pages of a second novel before TKAM was published, but several factors intruded on its completion. One was her obligation to promote the novel and later the movie. The second was her collaboration with Truman Capote on IN COLD BLOOD, which also answers the second question. Nelle Harper contributed more to IN COLD BLOOD than Truman Capote did TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Why she never married is inconclusive; Capote said she had a love affair with a law professor during her college years; Shields also hints that there may have been a romantic relationship with her married agent, Maurice Crain, but there's no doubt she was a tomboy and an eccentric well into her college years and never had much interest in men.

Personally, I found the section on IN COLD BLOOD most compelling. The people around Garden City and Holcomb, Kansas, found Truman Capote about as easy to like as an alien from another planet. Nelle made friends and smoothed the way for his interviews. She also took copious notes.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Visiting Harper June 17, 2006
Shields claims througout his new "portrait" of Harper Lee that her stand alone classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" is second only to the Bible when people talk about what books have affected their lives.

Truth be told, I easily fall into that category as well. First assigned to me as a high school reading requirement in my sophomore Honors English class, little do I remember of the intial experience of first entering Maycomb, and spending some quality time with her residents. I remember a 50 question test at the end of the book which nitpicked certain details to death to prove whether or not we read it. It wasn't until I turned 30 again that I revisted this book, and reread as an adult, without a looming test in my mind, that I truly entered Maycomb, and met Scout, Jem, Atticus, and I daresay, felt the book. Now, I reread Mockingbird about once a year, re-watch the film once a year (it, too, is one of my all-time favorite flickers), and let its lessons wash over me like the mighty Mississippi.

I've always been hungry for information on Harper Lee, real name Nell. I knew she lives life in Monroeville, AL, doesn't talk to anyone about her book, and never wrote another. I knew about a possible law school background, and a few short stories. I thought that Atticus was modeled on her own father. Beyond that, I yearned to know more about this very private woman, possibly just to know how she produced the most important book written in the twentieth century. Charles Shields' new book attempts to do that, in a not necessarily biography, but portrait, of Harper Lee.

Shields' task is daunting, as he readily admits early on. Little information exists that is new on Lee, and Sheild's takes from whatever he can to compose his book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting biography
This biography gave insight to the times when to Kill a Mockingbird was written even though the book was not approved by Harper Lee.
Published 13 days ago by Florence
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about a book, yes... but not the book you might think.
The title leaves you thinking the book will be about "To Kill a Mockingburd." It also lets you think it will be mostly aboout Harper Lee and why she never worte another... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Fred Monroe
3.0 out of 5 stars Mockingbird: just right
Charles Shields' biography of Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird", is a finely detailed study which firmly puts to rest the idea that Truman Capote actually wrote... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mary Riordan
5.0 out of 5 stars Harper Lee Demystified with Love and Affection
I read somewhere that Harper Lee slammed this bio. I don't know if it's true: rumor-mongering where Ms. Lee is concerned runs rampant. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amos Moses
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must.
My favorite book and movie. A lesson to be learned, a family to be remembered. Is it required reading for schools? Surely it is.
Published 14 months ago by J. Dickson
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Background Information Uncovered
Initially, I was displeased with the repetitious nature of quotes from people the author, Charles J. Shields, either talked to or culled from his research. Read more
Published 14 months ago by N. Reinking
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost interest
Only read the first few chapters. I lost interest because the book read like a school text book. The subject was very interesting, but the style was not what I was looking for.
Published 17 months ago by D. LaViers
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Feel Necessary
Did I learn anything about Harper Lee? Yes. was it formation that changed how I viewed To Kill a Mockingbird or added to it? No. Read more
Published on November 18, 2011 by T. Dotts
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unconventional Life
Nelle Harper Lee, whose TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD became a classic upon publication, has been all her life an intensely private person, so author Shields was handicapped by not having... Read more
Published on October 4, 2011 by L. M Young
5.0 out of 5 stars Tell me more about Harper Lee
Because of my interest in To Kill a Mockingbird, I am eager to learn more about its author. However, the famed and private Harper Lee also refused to be interviewed for this... Read more
Published on September 24, 2011 by Peggy Rice Wright
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More About the Author

Charles J. Shields was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on the Delaware River but raised in Park Forest, Illinois, a community for veterans and their families, an experiment in post-war planning described and critiqued in William H. Whyte's The Organization Man. Shields later attended the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where he received degrees in English and American history.

Shields published his first biography for adults in 2006, and Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee went on to became a New York Times bestseller. "This biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself," wrote Garrison Keillor in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. "As readable, convincing, and engrossing as Lee's literary wonder," said the Orlando Sentinel.

Two years later, Shields followed-up his biography of Lee with a young adult version: I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee, which received awards from American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults; Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year; Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.

In 2009, with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris, and Debby Applegate, Shields co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO), a non-profit organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners. As of July 2011, BIO has members in 43 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

Shields is also associate director of the Great Lives Lecture Series at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia which brings prominent biographers and historians to campus. In November 2011, Shields published the first biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life.

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I still Truman Capote re-wrote Mockingbird
I love Capote, but read enough of his work and you see that he had a very definate voice that is completely different Harper Lee's. She may have had editorial feedback from Capote; indeed, that is likely, but it's very different from saying that he did the re-write.
Aug 30, 2007 by Anne McPhee |  See all 17 posts
Oct 11, 2009 by coalpuss |  See all 2 posts
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