Customer Review

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very smart book, only one drawback, February 6, 2011
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This review is from: Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (Hardcover)
The main strength of Stefan Kanfer's Bogart biography is its intelligence. Kanfer synthesizes cultural trends, long-term changes in the film industry, and arcs in Bogart's life and smoothly moves from presenting details about the subject to bringing out an intelligent context in which to understand the man. The impression I gathered from reading his book is that Kanfer has been thinking about these ideas for the better part of his life (the importance of Bogart and what he represents, such as for one thing, the importance of character and professionalism) and that Kanfer's insights on Bogart have been deepening and resonating for decades. He is effortless at showing their importance. A good example can be found on page 36, where Kanfer presents background for understanding Bogart's last stage vehicle, The Petrified Forest, by alluding to recent literature (paragraphs on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald) and politics (the Tea Pot Dome scandal) to place Robert Sherwood's jaded play in its cultural context. The high ratio of ideas to words on this page reflects the tack of the whole book: it's a somewhat brief biography but consistently rich in food for thought.

I have also read the long biography of Bogart by Sperber and Lax and the Bogart biography by Jeffrey Meyers. The 700-page (or so) book by Ann Sperber and Eric Lax is better than Kanfer's on details, weaker on the ideas they illustrate. That book, if it is still in print, would make a great companion to Kanfer's.

The one drawback about Kanfer's book is the lack of endnotes or footnotes, which may sound unimportant but isn't. He includes an acknowledgment listing libraries and people and includes a bibliography, but there is no section of endnotes pairing the quotes and facts on a specified page with their source(s). The curious reader wanting the source of some detail is often at a loss. For example, Kanfer, as expected, quotes Bogart every page or two throughout the book with his various reactions, but whether these comments come from letters, interviews, a diary, or what is not revealed. On the other hand, Kanfer does put attribution in the text for many other sources (e.g., "As Jeanine Basinger notes in The Star Machine, 'The effect of World War II on shaping the new hero . . .'"), so this lapse is not as frustrating as it might have been. In the fine print, Kanfer thanks his two editors at Knopf (Peter Gethers and Claudia Herr) for being "alert and demanding," but in at least this one way, they (or the author) could--should--have gone further.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 10, 2011 10:57:33 AM PST
Peterack says:
I cannot imagine a better bio that the fully researched (with footnotes, endnotes, etc.) book "Bogart" by Sperber and Lax.

Posted on Sep 1, 2014 9:07:02 PM PDT
transponder says:
Cripes, though. How much detail do we really have to know??
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