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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "But what about the king?"
It's always frustrating when something that you know you're supposed to like disappoints you. I'm a lifelong Peanuts fan, charter member of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and an avid reader of biographies, so this book seems like it should be tailor-made for me. I'd been eagerly waiting for it ever since it was first announced in 2000, although the various objections of...
Published on November 9, 2007 by Christopher Lee

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107 of 133 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A golden opportunity wasted
Michaelis had the opportunity of a lifetime. The family, friends and business interests related to Sparky Schulz gave Michaelis unfettered access to their archives as well as to themselves, everything a writer could possibly want. There was one major exception; Michaelis never met the man and he formed many opinions from the ashes of a former marriage, a recipe for...
Published on November 26, 2007 by Lanny Julian


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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "But what about the king?", November 9, 2007
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
It's always frustrating when something that you know you're supposed to like disappoints you. I'm a lifelong Peanuts fan, charter member of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and an avid reader of biographies, so this book seems like it should be tailor-made for me. I'd been eagerly waiting for it ever since it was first announced in 2000, although the various objections of the Schulz family in the weeks before the release tempered that a little bit. So, I have to say: this is a worthy but deeply flawed biography.
The title is "Schulz and Peanuts", but a more accurate title might be "Some Aspects of Schulz and How They Relate to Some Aspects of Peanuts". For an exhaustively researched 600-page book about a man who lived to be 77, Michaelis has written a curiously narrow book. Obviously, there's an incredible amount to cover in Schulz's life (Michaelis' rough draft was almost 1200 pages long and he briefly thought about dividing the book into two volumes), but Michaelis just keeps hitting all the same notes over and over: Schulz was unhappy, Schulz had a chip on his shoulder, Schulz never recovered from his mother's tragic death, Schulz used shyness as an excuse to avoid taking risks, Schulz had dysfunctional relationships with women, and on and on. And for a book about a humorist, there's very little humor in here, although some of the situations Michaelis describes play out like Peanuts strips involving adults. As for the complaints of Schulz's family, I'm obviously not in a position to say what's accurate in the book and what isn't. But I certainly can see where, as Schulz's son Monte has claimed, Michaelis might have ignored facts that went against his thesis. This isn't a Kitty Kelley/Albert Goldman hatchet job bio, but I think Michaelis' approach is a bit misguided.
I found this a somewhat difficult book to get through. Michaelis approaches his biographies like novels. But, in this case, it reads like a first novel by a talented-but-obtuse writer: heavy-handed, full of show-offy prose that ultimately doesn't do much for the story. When he shuts up and sticks to telling the story (Schulz's army years, his early years in California, his final days), it's a brilliant book. When Michaelis decides he's writing a book-length New Yorker essay, then we have problems. I just got the feeling after a while that Michaelis ultimately didn't understand Schulz, and held him to an impossible standard. The "Peanuts" part of the book comes into play with reprints of hundreds of strips that reflect the events of Schulz's life. It's a great idea. So great that Schulz himself already used it (in the 1985 book You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown). While you get a sense of how Schulz converted his life into his art, Michaelis doesn't deal with the strip much beyond that. We only get a few token paragraphs discussing how the strip evolved over time, and notable characters like Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Sally and Rerun barely get mentioned at all. Michaelis sees Peanuts as a direct reflection of Schulz's life, but he doesn't allow for the idea that Schulz used his own life as a starting point for his art, but then allowed it to evolve on its own. Meanwhile, Michaelis devotes pages and pages to painstakingly detailed accounts of Schulz's various merchandising deals.
Still, I give it 4 stars for a simple reason: if the goal of a biography is to make you understand the subject, I feel like I got a better sense of what made Schulz tick than I had before. But I would recommend reading Rheta Grimsley Johnson's "Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz" before you read this book, since it gives you the basic outline of the story, and gives you more or less the "official" version of the Schulz story. Actually, I guess the "official" version would be any random collection of Peanuts strips. While the life of its creator is fascinating, we must never forget that it's "Peanuts", not "Schulz" that matters in the end.
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125 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good grief! What a trove of insight and information!, October 18, 2007
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This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
Growing up in a relentlessly secular home in the '60s, "Peanuts" was my true north, providing and deconstructing my own ongoing puzzlement about how people felt and thought. I read the comic in the daily papers, hoarded my pennies to buy the collected volumes, and even then, thought that Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz must have shared many of his characters' quirks, dilemmas, joys, and despondencies.

After reading this absorbing biography by David Michaelis, I now know that as a child I'd chosen the right person to provide a daily guide to childhood and the mysteries of adulthood. Michaelis provides a comprehesive back story, having spoken to amd corresponded with hundreds of Schulz's relatives, friends, neighbors, buddies from his childhood in Minnesota and during his stint as a "foot soldier" in World War II. After syndication made Sparky world-famous, writers, artists, and performers sought to meet Schulz, but his innate shyness made it difficult to reach out to other people. Michaelis hesitates to play snap psychologist with his subject, but does conclude that a lifelong unhappiness--despite his cataclysmic success--and intermittent agoraphobia encouraged Schulz to stay where he felt most comfortable: at his drawing board in his home studio.

Some of Schulz's intimates have expressed disappointment at the finished product, but any public exposure of mostly-private persons is difficult, no doubt about it. This author's sensitive eye waded through bales of information (some never-before published, such as several days spent visiting and talking with novelist Laurie Colwin), and fifty years of daily cartoon strips to create a balanced, fair portrait of a man, his romances, marriages, work, and the situations that molded Sparky (his lifelong nickname) as well as his characters, known and loved throughout the world. Dozens of strips and drawings are reproduced here to illustrate their relation to the cartoonist's private struggles as they were drawn. And when Schulz died of colon cancer just as his final strip was published, the synergy between timid Sparky and the media empire he created concluded. Hollywood certainly couldn't top this painfully true saga.
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107 of 133 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A golden opportunity wasted, November 26, 2007
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
Michaelis had the opportunity of a lifetime. The family, friends and business interests related to Sparky Schulz gave Michaelis unfettered access to their archives as well as to themselves, everything a writer could possibly want. There was one major exception; Michaelis never met the man and he formed many opinions from the ashes of a former marriage, a recipe for disaster.

My wife, Donna, and I knew Sparky for many years. We began the relationship from a business perspective and it evolved into a personal friendship. Over time, we met most of his family and several of his close friends. Sparky exhibited the traits of a tremendous creative talent but often wondered why people liked this strip. Yet, no one worked harder or did a better job of delivering a final product that touched people and made them reflect, ponder or laugh. Underneath it all was a warm and generous heart. He gave so much to the world beyond a comic strip and his philosophy. By example, he sponsored an annual golf tournament in Santa Rosa from which all proceeds went to the Santa Rosa Hospice. After the tournament each year, he opened up the Redwood Ice Arena as a fund raiser, giving much of himself and his signed work, signing autographs, doing whatever he needed to do to ensure success. He and Jeannie were prime movers and donors for the Santa Rosa chapter of Canine Companions for Independence (acquiring and training assistance dogs then matching them with their new masters). The CCI campus would not exist without his contributions. An incredible number of people have been touched by his generosity over the years never knowing Sparky was the benefactor. There isn't enough room here to begin to list his benevolent deeds.

One of the things we loved about him was his humorous side. He possessed a sharp wit and could laser through a social situation with few words that would have you in stitches. Sparky was a "kidder" and could take it as well as give it. None of this warm and funny side of Sparky shows up in the book.

This is a book that does not portray the warm, kind-hearted and loving man that we knew as Sparky Schulz. Apparently, Michaelis had another agenda and it did not include a balanced representation of the life of Charles Schulz. Too many assumptions were made and, consequently, too many falsehoods were generated that leaves a golden opportunity wasted. In time, there will be an authentic biography that accurately depicts the life of this incredible man.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but off the mark, December 13, 2007
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This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
This biography is rightly controversial, I can understand why the Schulz family is angry with the author for his depiction of Charles "Sparky" Schulz. However, this book is a very compelling read, the author really dishes out the facts on Charles Schulz, and this book is thoroughly researched. Any interested fan will gain a lot of insight into Schulz and his work, there really is a lot going on behind the scenes in the world of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Michealis' juxtaposing Peanuts strips with the biography's narrative is extremely clever and insightful, the strips and biography resound in a way which is extremely unique, and makes this biography special. However, I feel that the author's desire to portray Schulz as a brooding and suffering artiste gets in the way of showing a complete person. Michaelis misses the mark and doesn't quite capture the person of Sparky Schulz.

Charles Schulz, gave speeches and numerous interviews and he always talked about his life's tragedies and setbacks, and he often hinted at his psyche's dark side, This book tries to uncover Charles Schulz's dark side, to the exclusion of most everything else, and that is where this book fails. (And why, I believe, the Schulz family is so upset.)
Most of the biography focuses on Schulz's early life struggles, and his unhappy first marriage. In terms of the world of Peanuts, this book focuses on the first 20 years of Peanuts, and basically ignores the last 30 years of the strip.
It skims over the later years of Charles Schulz's life, in which it seems he found a sense of happiness and was at the top of his profession (and was the undisputed king of comic strips!) To give Peanuts fans an idea, the book mentions Rerun Van Pelt and Spike only once or twice, but anyone who's read the last 25 years of the strip knows Rerun and Spike become major characters, at times overshadowing Charlie Brown and Snoopy!

This book makes a good read and makes a compelling psychological portrait of Charles Schulz, however, the book fails to get Schulz's opinions on politics and other important issues. How did Schulz Vote? What was his opinion on the Vietnam war, the turbulent 60's, the me-first 80's and just about anything else? Why did he start featuring Rerun, Spike, Andy, Olaf so predominantly? Why did Schulz basically abandon Linus the last 10 years of the strip? These are questions Peanuts fans want to know!
Michaelis leaves out a substantial amount and paints an incomplete picture of Charles Schulz.

The best way I can explain it is by recounting my reaction when I recently re-watched the interview of Charles Schulz on Charlie Rose. Having read Michaelis' book, and knowing what I know about Sparky Schulz, I just felt that the Charles Schulz I read about and the Sparky Schulz I watched on Charlie Rose were not the same person. I feel that he knew many of the facts about Schulz's life, but I feel Michealis ultimitely didn't understand Sparky's character and personality.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Do not let this be the only Schulz biography you read, April 29, 2008
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
I was very disappointed with this very skewed and incomplete biography of Schulz, especially given its length. Being a collector of Peanuts books and other memorabilia since 1965, I had looked forward for several years to reading this book.

People who have not read other books about Schulz, not to mention the late cartoonist himself, are ill-served by this work. Michaelis has placed excessive emphasis on Schulz's melancholy and lack of social ease and has all but ignored his subject's joys (which included golf, skating, hockey, reading, and charity work such as Canine Companions for Independence.) As Linus scolded Lucy, I feel inclined to say to Michaelis about Schulz's shyness and sensitivity, "these aren't faults, these are character traits." Schulz is painted too much as a dark and stormy cartoonist, who never learned how to live life.

Instead of this book, I would suggest the Rheta G. Johnson biography, as well as the books Schulz wrote for the 25th, 35th, and 45th anniversaries of Peanuts.

I also suggest that the prospective reader or those who have already read Michaelis's book should search the Internet and read about the Schulz family's beefs with the author. They describe the problems better than I can. Michaelis spent a lot of time researching and writing this book, but has let down the family, his subject, and the public.

STRONGLY RECOMMENDED ADDITIONAL READING for any reader of "Schulz and Peanuts"
The Comics Journal #290
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Did I really need to read this?, January 20, 2008
By 
Donald Hargraves (Munster, Indiana United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
First, the good stuff about the book: In giving the background of his family life it showed how some of his habits and concerns came from his family. It also did a good job of reflecting how the turmoil from the first marriage seemed to enliven his strip during the earlier part of the strip, with a special focus on the years during the divorce (and the part on the stomach ache was a sharp insight).

Now onto my misgivings:

First off, in short-selling the post-1972 era of his work (222 pages deal with life until the first Peanuts comic strip, 260 deal with the era of his first marriage, and LESS THAN A HUNDRED PAGES deal with the rest of his life) we miss a lot. There was more to Peanuts than Lucy, and I can list a few post-1972 storylines off the top of my head: Sally learning to write (and her running battle against school), Rerun on the back of the Bicycle, Schulz's changing of the strip from four squares to a more fluid setup, Lila, the Snoopy siblings, and more about Rerun's artistic desires (which, considering the tone of the book, could have been added in very easily to effect). Instead, we are treated to a six-page essay on why we should dismiss the Post-Joyce strips (Lucy is neutered, in short) and cursory glances at "Peanuts the Phenomenon" and "Schulz as both Elder and Kid-wannabe."

Second, it appears that the guy had in mind a book he wanted to write, and when he came across stuff that went counter to his thesis (or didn't help), he ignored it. He sticks to the "Like Parent, Like Child" motif a bit too rigidly for my own tastes. Not only that, but by sticking to his motifs made him miss that sometimes stuff just happens. Every psychologist since Sigmund Freud has had to deal with that ("Sometimes a Cigar is just a cigar. A mighty fine smoke."). Michaelis's attempts at making biography fit the motifs misses the truth for a workable fiction.

Third, there seem to be many statements which are false to begin with, even for a story with an obvious bent. Even if the work is fictionalized in the service of a higher truth, it's best to make sure you get the facts right and let the sins be merely of omission.

There's enough insight in the pre-Peanuts years to make that part of the book worth reading. However, that would make for a much shorter book than what we now have. Check it out of the library (or if you must buy it, get it used and cheap).
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dubious Portrait, November 19, 2007
By 
Kjforjen (United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
About two/thirds through this book I started to doubt its credibility. The contrast between the cold, distant and unloving creator and his much loved creations does make for an intriguing hook, but after a while I was thinking, come one, there had to be more to the life of Charles Schultz than this grim one-note depiction. Michaelis' unrelenting and repetitive focus on bitterness and sadness made it hard for me to 1) stay interested, and 2)suspend my disbelief. Given the access Michaelis had to records, family members, and friends, it is disappointing that he has taken such a one-dimensional approach to his subject.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too long? Depends on who's reading it., November 6, 2007
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This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of David Michaelis's SCHULZ AND PEANUTS is how well he uses Schulz's cartoons to show how his life influenced his art. No character illustrates this better than Lucy. She originated as a toddler based on his daughter Meredith who fell on her head trying to get out of her crib. Later she morphed into his first wife Joyce who was a handful to say the least. After his divorce, Lucy becomes much more docile and not as interesting.

Schulz's time working at the art school also influenced the strip. There were three Charlie Browns but probably the most pertinent was Charles F. Brown who was also an instructor at the school. Brown was so sure he was the model for Charlie that he wrote a book about it, trying to show how he impacted the cartoon character. Schulz insisted that all the characters were based on his own life. The inspiration for Linus, name wise, was Linus Maurer, another art instructor and the last name for Linus and Lucy came from some Colorado friends of Schulz.

Michaelis spends an inordinate amount of time trying to show what a lonely man Schulz was. This doesn't always hold up. For instance, when he entered the service during WWII he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant, pretty good for a man who, according to his wife, didn't know how to turn a key. Michaelis also argues that Schulz may have been agoraphobic. He missed his father's funeral, and he didn't show up for the National Cartoonists Society Award dinner when he won the Reubon for the second time. Anybody who has written anything longer than a term paper can understand Schulz's reluctance to leave his studio. Writers and (cartoonists) establish a certain rhythm and any disruption can throw you into a funk it's hard to get out of. It's pretty evident nothing was more important to Schulz than the cartoon strip.

It's also pretty evident Schulz developed a persona as a lonely, humble person that was important to the strip. He even has Linus say "I've decided to be a very rich and famous person who doesn't really care about money, and who is very humble but who still makes a lot of money and is very famous, but is very humble and rich and famous." The real Schulz could be very competitive. For instance when "Garfield" began to rival "Peanuts" as the most popular comic strip he had some unkind things to say about the tone of that strip.

Some would say Michaelis's biography is a bit long, going on 600 pages. I've read one other biography about Schulz and I thought that one was too short, so I guess you just can't win.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Narrow Portrait of the Artist, January 5, 2008
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
For those of us who knew him, even if only in passing, this book is a big disappointment. Pretending to write a "warts and all" account - which would be welcome - Michaelis foregrounds Schulz' emotional conflicts, but does so without giving us a rounded portrait of the man. At times it is almost voyeuristic, devoting well over a hundred pages to the breakdown' of Schulz' first marriage without telling us anything new after the first ten; the second, very satisfying marriage gets little more than a factual account. More importantly, there is nothing to explain how Schulz took his anxieties and conflicts and translated them into such engaging and enduring humor. There is the pro forma suggestion that pain gives birth to art, but most of the discussion of the work is, sometimes infuriatingly, limited to the obvious, or to explications of how it illustrated the conflicts in his daily life. The author often embellishes on material to make it fit his "thesis," exposing the fact that the book is a "reading" of Charles Schulz' life, and a rather hackneyed and even gossipy one at that. Schulz,Peanuts and their serious admirers will have to wait for a real plumbing of the depths of the man who created Charlie Brown and the world they all inhabited.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating Portrait Exposes Personal Flaws But Effectively Highlights His Unique Brilliance, October 30, 2007
This review is from: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography (Hardcover)
It should come as no surprise that Charles Schulz was a more complex man than he always described himself to be, and author David Michaelis digs deep in his comprehensive, incisive biography to explore the legendary cartoonist's psyche which so successfully informed all the characters in his Peanuts strip. In fact, it's difficult to think of Peanuts as just a comic strip since Schulz accumulated over $1 billion dollars in merchandising revenue by 1989. Even after his death in February 2000, he remains among the top ten highest-earning celebrities who happen to be dead. However, of far more importance to the reader of this book is the legacy he leaves behind in introducing characters who were both naturally contemplative and shrewdly observant, a unique combination that highlighted the universality of their yearning humanism.

Peanuts (a name, by the way, Schulz apparently detested) may have started life as a simple daily newspaper panel in 1950, but his life up to that point was certainly no cartoon. Michaelis details a childhood fraught with personal grief and emotional isolation. His father was the local barber and his mother a housewife, genealogical facts that Schulz would apply to Charlie Brown. Unlike his cartoon counterpart, however, the subject grew highly dependent on his mother who died of cervical cancer when he was twenty, and his emotionally distant father was too preoccupied to fill in the gaping hole she left behind. According to the author, this tragedy left Schulz feeling highly insecure and shaping an idiosyncratic perspective on the world that is best described as half-empty. The key distinction in Schulz's situation, however, is that he deliberately constructed a public image as a boyishly shy and rather dull loser in order to insulate himself from further emotional pain. He was determined to protect himself from others whom he felt could destroy his sense of personal and later professional self.

For all this self-effacement, Schulz had a keen ambition and a healthy ego. How else could one explain how he sustained such a massive personal fortune from his work? Schulz confessed at one point later in his life, "I suppose I'm the worst kind of egotist...the kind who pretends to be humble." Even he realized that this was not a self-contradictory state but one that fueled him toward sometimes harsh decisions that confused others around him. How this internal dynamic manifested itself is what Michaelis carefully documents in the book, for example, how someone with such a close affinity to children never showed much affection to his own children. His deep-seeded faith reflected the same personal conflict as Schulz viewed himself as an evangelical Christian, one who made a habit of giving ten percent of his hefty income to his church. At the same time, he turned his back on organized religion and embarked on an indiscriminate affair with a magazine photographer well into his marriage to a woman already subjected to the delusional torch he carried for the "Little Red-Haired Girl" from years before. Even his inarguable professional stature was not enough to prevent him from threatening to ruin a competitor late in his career.

Regardless, through his relatively objective narrative, Michaelis is far less interested in providing a gossipy tell-all than describing in penetrating detail the psychological impetus which pushed Schulz to excel at his profession like no one else before or since. The author more than counterbalances the negative revelations of his subject by describing Schulz's generosity toward the next generation of cartoonists, in particular, Cathy Guisewite ("Cathy"). For all that, the most important aspect of Schulz's talent was his unerring sense in economically capturing the zeitgeist of the times in which the characters inhabited from the post-WWII prosperity felt in the 1950's through the existential questions raised in the 1960's and the subsequent evolving need to find a deeper meaning of life. Michaelis is smart enough to focus on that particular gift by way of 240 Peanuts strips carefully chosen to illuminate his points. Like any good biographer, he lets Schulz speak for himself through his work.
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Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis (Hardcover - October 16, 2007)
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