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The Richard Burton Diaries Hardcover – October 23, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Nearly three decades after his sudden death, Burton is experiencing a pop-cultural rebirth. Most people remember the Welsh-born actor as the heavy-drinking fifth (and sixth!) husband of Elizabeth Taylor, with whom he made several films (most memorably the 1966 classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the expensive 1963 fiasco Cleopatra) and whose combustible, extravagant, and scandal-ridden relationship with her will be dramatized later this month in the Lifetime television movie Liz & Dick. His personal musings about Taylor (plus scorn and praise for a plethora of his Tinseltown peers) are sure to be the most talked about here, but these diaries also provide a rounded portrait of a smart, witty, and doting husband and father. Burton squandered his once brilliant acting career, taking mediocre paycheck roles in later years, and battled enough demons to fill several lifetimes. For a true glimpse into the heart and mind of this wildly talented yet conflicted man—who garnered no less than seven Academy Award nominations, with no wins—this mammoth, unsanitized, and handsomely presented collection of Burton’s innermost thoughts, along with the fascinating minutiae of a huge star’s day-to-day existence, should restore his reputation as one of the most original Hollywood stars of all time. --Chris Keech


"Come to this volume for the love story, stay for the lit talk. . . .Burton’s diaries, published now for the first time, are filled with . . . pocket-size delights. . . But I admired this complicated and fairly remarkable book for its deeper and more insinuating qualities as well.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

(Dwight Garner The New York TImes)

"The Richard Burton Diaries. Just great fun, and written out of an engaging, often comical bewilderment: How did a poor Welshman become not only a star, but a player on the world stage that was Elizabeth Taylor’s fame? As a kind of celebrity Pilgrim’s Progress, it is very tender without missing the fact that show business is hard."—Hilton Als, NewYorker.com 
(Hilton Als NewYorker.com)

“Of real interest is that Burton was almost as good a writer as an actor, read as many as three books a day, haunted bookstores in every city he set foot in, bought countless books on every conceivable subject and evaluated them rather shrewdly. . . Apt writing abounds. . . His love of language is also displayed dazzlingly in the recurrent loving tributes to Elizabeth. True, he also records their fights, but these are quickly forgotten by him after a good walk, and by both of them after a night’s sleep. Much more frequent and pertinent are the love declarations.” —John Simon, The New York Times Book Review 
(John Simon The New York Times Book Review)

“The Richard Burton who emerges from these diaries is a far better man than even his wildest fan might have expected. He’s so sensitive, intelligent, deeply well-read and supremely well-informed that you can almost kid yourself he’d have been fun to have to dinner. It would be absurd, of course, to call his a model life. But nobody who has read this book could call it a wasted one.” —Christopher Bray, The Wall Street Journal 
(Christopher Bray The Wall Street Journal)

“These diaries offer a delightfully unvarnished glimpse at the actor's life, from his reading habits and jet-setting to his tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth Taylor.” —The Los Angeles Times 
(The Los Angeles Times)

"Diaries? Autobiography? Time will tell, and may surprise."—Emlyn Williams, at Richard Burton's Memorial Service, London, August 1984
(Emplyn Williams)

"Full of surprises and revelations."—The Bookseller
(The Bookseller 2012-07-13)

“Fun, fascinating, and sad.”—Liz Smith

(Liz Smith Newyorksocialdiary.com)

"The inspiring, salacious, sad, materialistic, insecure, arrogant, hilarious and dull ruminations of a most gifted actor. . . . A text that thrums with life and assures the rest is not silence."—Kirkus Review, starred review
(Kirkus Reviews)

"The words reveal someone who is reflective and thoughtful and someone who engaged intellectually with the world around him. It's not just the ale-and-women kind of image… His diaries reveal a man who thought deeply about the world - past, present and future. Richard Burton was in search of 'what it all meant', but found little comfort in the lessons of history… In 1970 he wrote: 'I love the world but if I take it too seriously I shall go mad.'"—Simon de Bruxelles, The Times (London)
(Simon de Bruxelles The Times 2012-08-15)

"Richard Burton's private diaries are being published for the first time, including passionate descriptions of Elizabeth Taylor as 'a wildly exciting lover-mistress' and 'beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography.'"—Sam Marsden, Daily Mail (London)
(Sam Marsden Daily Mail 2012-08-15)

"Richard Burton diaries reveal actor's passion and shame. He was the boy from the Welsh valleys whose rugged looks and voice of gold made him a star of stage and screen… He is frank about his drinking, his ambivalent feelings towards his own talent and the career that brought him such success."—londonwired.co.uk
(londonwired.co.uk 2012-08-15)

"Stand back! Sally Burton just lit a literary firecracker and tossed it into the room. The widow of Britain's greatest film actor is presiding over the long-awaited publication of her late husband's diaries and they are beyond explosive."—Christopher Wilson, Daily Telegraph (London)
(Christopher Wilson Daily Telegraph)

“One might well suppose that Mr. Burton had no interests other than gossip, money, drink and sex. In fact, there's quite a bit more to ‘The Richard Burton Diaries’ than that. Among other things, Mr. Burton turns out to have been an exceedingly literate man who had shrewd opinions about the many books that he read.”—Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal
(Terry Teachout Wall Street Journal 2012-09-28)

“I have to say that, even in this culture when we seem to get too much information on celebrities, there’s something about the words on these pages that’s really fascinating.”—Matt Lauer, NBC TODAY
(Matt Lauer NBC Today 2012-10-15)

“How many other working actors, epic drinkers and chronicled jet-setters would have offhandedly used the word “sanguicolus” (living in the blood) in a diary? Here in what is, hands down, one of the great entertainment books of 2012, you’ve got the enthralling results of more than two years of hard labor by editor Chris Williams melding the on-again, off-again diary of his era’s most fascinating failure, a man almost universally lamented by peers for never fulfilling his extraordinary gifts, simultaneously a genuinely poetic intellectual and just as genuine vulgarian.”—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (Editors Pick)
(Jeff Simon Buffalo News)

"So many lurid and appalling books have been written about Burton and Taylor that it’s hard to see them plain. The Richard Burton Diaries is, however, true to why tabloid writers flocked to them: It’s a love story so robust you can nearly warm your hands on its flames."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

(Dwight Garner New York Times)

“Unpretentious and aphoristic.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times 
(Dwight Garner The New York TImes)

“It’s hard to imagine a midcareer actor working today whose diaries will be half as literate or lemony.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
(Dwight Garner The New York TImes)

“Burton kept a private journal for four decades; the entries show him to be smart, kind, slyly funny—and utterly besotted with costar and wife (twice) Liz Taylor.”—Good Housekeeping, December Book Pick
(Good Housekeeping)

“[Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor] made ‘a lovely charming decadent hopeless couple,’ as Burton notes, in a characteristically wry and graceful phrase. . . . A captivating story of misplaced success: Burton was a voracious and astute reader who nurtured unfulfilled literary ambitions. Even his greatest acting triumphs were a blow, representing ‘the indignity and the boredom of having to learn the writings of another man.’”—The New Yorker 
(New Yorker)

"The broody Burton was ambivalent about acting and really wanted to be a writer. He was.” —Judith Stone, More magazine
(Judith Stone More magazine)

“A natural storyteller who didn’t care much for getting dates or punctuation exactly right, [Burton] offers a heartfelt inside view of the glamour and tumult that was Liz and Dick.” —People magazine 
(People magazine)

“He left just this partial, riveting diary, one of the great book left behind by anyone in the acting profession, and piercing evidence that the very famous, the very rich, the men with jewels and yachts may be haunted outcasts who recognize their own type.”—David Thomson, The New Republic 
(David Thomson The New Republic)

“His diaries are not those of a man afraid to take a harsh look at himself . . . he is much more likely, in dealing with his fights with Taylor, to record his own bad behavior than hers. Conversely, the diaries are remarkably free of self-congratulation, either for his achievements as an actor or for his great generosity with money.” —Fintan O’Toole, The New York Review of Books 
(Fintan O’Toole The New York Review of Books)

"What was [Burton] thinking, this man widely considered his generation's pre-eminent interpreter of Shakespeare? His thoughts come alive in The Richard Burton Diaries, an epic of erudition;” —Carrie Rickey, The San Francisco Chronicle 
(Carrie Rickey The San Francisco Chronicle)

"Burton's charisma comes across clearly in The Richard Burton Diaries, a lively collection of the star's diary entries written between 1939 and 1983 and compiled by Chris Williams. . . . The daily musings of Taylor's hubby Nos. 5 and 6 also reveal a profound thinker who read as heartily as he drank, was devoted to his family and loved politics.” —Daniel Bubbeo, Newsday 
(Daniel Bubbeo Newsday)

“This mammoth, unsanitized, and handsomely presented collection of Burton’s innermost thoughts, along with the fascinating minutiae of a huge star’s day-to-day existence, should restore his reputation as one of the most original Hollywood stars of all time.” —Booklist, Starred Review 

“The most salient part of The Richard Burton Diaries (now out in paperback from Yale University Press and a far superior 'beach read' to any Revenge Wears Prada folderol) is not the great Welsh actor’s fabled love of language, his stage fright or his splurges on private airplanes and pedigreed jewels for the love of his life, Elizabeth Taylor.”—Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times (Alexandra Jacobs The New York Times 2013-07-15)

“In these pages—which Burton began when he was fourteen and continued until the year before his death—he strips away the larger-than-life abstraction that he became for the public to reveal a human dimension more complex than any biographer could ever hope to capture. He is sensitive, intelligent, literary, outwardly and inwardly curious, tender, sometimes boorish and spiteful but conscious of fair play, wickedly discerning and funny, surprisingly modest, wildly generous, a delightful gossip, and virtually never boring—something that would have frightened and appalled him.”—Mary Hawthorne, The New Yorker’s “Page-Turner” blog
(Mary Hawthorne The New Yorker’s "Page-Turner" blog)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300180101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300180107
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the title states, this is a collection of Richard Burton's Diaries, annotated and presented in book form. It is not a biography, but does have autobiographical elements. The diaries have not been prettied-up, nor is the editor even certain that Burton intended to publish them. If you're expecting a smoothly written biography you will be disappointed. If you'd like a peek at Richard Burton's introspection you are in for a treat.

Credit must be given to Burton's widow Sally. She generously donated the set of diaries to Swansea University and made this book possible. She knew how much of the content referred to her husband's (in)famous marriages to Elizabeth Taylor; a lesser woman might have destroyed the diaries out of jealousy. Sally receives the editor's highest praise for her donation and her "wonderfully supportive" assistance. Many members of the Jenkins-Burton-Taylor families are also credited, and the list shows what a work of love this book is.

Chris Williams, a professor of Welsh history and former director of the Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales, has taken on the mammoth task of making the diaries more accessible to the general reader. He footnotes the first mention of people, places and things, providing dates of birth (and death) and a brief line or two of biography; locations, full titles, dates of publication, translations, etc. Burton was extremely well read, and the footnotes provide detailed info about the books Burton casually refers to. Williams admits uncertainty in a few spots, but his devotion to the task is unquestionable. He usually corrects Burton's spelling, but there are a few very minor blips (e.g. Burton refers to "Barbara Streisand" in April of 1969 and Williams' footnote also has "Barbara"...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Richard Burton Diaries are feast for the senses. Unlike the preceding heavily edited version contained in Bragg's Richard Burton: A Life, here you get the full diaries edited only to remove repetition. There is not a great deal of "biography" here, which was the focus of Bragg's book. These pages are the diary entries that give you an inside look in the most private form of Richard Burton's life. Nothing or no one is too insignificant to be mentioned. Burton writes with equal passion regarding a simple meal at a trattoria as he does regarding his life with the late great Dame Elizabeth Taylor. His writing style varies with his mood as will yours while reading this. If you have an appreciation for Burton's movies, or Taylor's for that matter, or if you are a fan of the "Liz and Dick" marriage of the century, buy this book!
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Format: Hardcover
Outside it is drizzling, sleeting, raining. It is January in New England, a winter full of discontent, and therefore the perfect season for reading and escaping. And this is the perfect book with which to do so. Escape, that is.

Reading the diaries of the peripatetic Burton -- actor, icon and bon vivant -- I am transported to the sunny coast of Italy, to a trattoria in Portofino, a movie set in Rome, a late-night cabal with film and stage luminaries; and to a quiet beach in Puerto Vallarta on which to stroll with pet dogs, nannies, children and wife -- "en famille," as the great orator might say. I can almost hear his voice.

Speaking of that voice, Burton's command of the language, in fact, many languages (Welsh, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, to name a few) is marvelous. Readers are treated to snippets of classics from Shakespeare to Pepys to The Bible served up as commonly and elegantly as rich, homey soup. Good enough to eat and to keep warm by. (Did I mention the weather outside?) But let me get back to Burton -- when he sizzles.

As he does with his various nicknames for Elizabeth, which are marvelous, too, and hilarious. To wit: Cantank, Shumdit, Quick Take, Short Take, Bon Apetito, Booby, Milady, Glorious, to name but a scant few. I fell out of bed laughing.

Here is a man in love with his wife, his children, his animals. He has the charm and innocence of a boy, not quite grown up, who continually takes himself to task for not doing a better job as husband, father, caregiver. One loves him all the more for it.

He is exceedingly honest about his vices, as when he mentions how much he drinks (3 bottles of vodka one day, which was often par for the course), what diet he's on, whether E (Elizabeth) is looking fat.
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If you are expecting intimate, passionate details of making love to Elizabeth Taylor you will be disappointed. Richard Burton was too much of a gentleman and a guarded personality to share intimate details. Also, when his life was falling apart, he didn't care about capturing that for his diaries.
I was surprised at how calmly he could talk about living through air raids as a boy. It was as if this was just ordinary stuff and nothing to get upset about. He and his buddies just lived and played as if nothing bad was going on.
Richard's absolute passion for reading started young and stayed with him for his entire life. He read to learn and most of his reading was pretty heavy. He did take streaks of reading just for entertainment.
He seemed to battle with his darker, moody side and the booze definitely didn't help. He seemed happiest when he was alone with Elizabeth and his books on the Kalizma away from the public scrutiny that was so much a part of their life. He would have loved to stop working and just live with Elizabeth and his books.
It is very clear to me that he loved Elizabeth Taylor very much, even after they were divorced. Without booze, who knows, they might have made it. With booze, the relationship was too destructive.
I enjoyed this book partly because as I am reading Burton's words, I can almost hear him speaking them. In spite of his wealthy life style, it is interesting to read the mundane details of life such as all of the commotion that would attend the arrival of the children. Even though he loved them, he was usually glad when they left and life would return to normal.
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