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Tolkien: a Biography Paperback – November 4, 2003
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White's Tolkein is a quick, vivcaious gifure, laughter-loving and prey to the most petty of human foibles... [an] engaging biography. INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Michael White is a former science editor of British GQ. In a previous incarnation he was a member of the Thompson Twins pop group, and then a science lecturer in Oxford. He is the author of twenty books including the international best-seller, Stephen Hawking: A Life In Science (with John Gribbin). Since then he has written an alternative biography of Isaac Newton, Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, which was nominated by four British newspapers as "biography of the year" in 1997 and awarded "Book of the Year" in the science category by Bookman Associates in the United States.
His latest books are the international best-seller Leonardo: The First Scientist and Michael White's personal account of the '80s and his time in the music industry, titled: Thompson Twin: An '80s Memoir. His latest is Acid Tongues and Tranquil Dreamers-a study of scientific rivalry from Newton to Gates published in 2001. He lives in Kent, England with his wife and three children.
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Top customer reviews
(1) This book is in every respect inferior to Humphrey Carpenter's "J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography" (1977) -- a much better place to spend your money. If you're looking for a shorter read which nonetheless covers the highlights accurately, then I would recommend Michael Coren's "J.R.R Tolkien: The Man Who Created The Lord of the Rings" much more readily than this book.
(2) While the other reviewers have quite properly judged the book for its contents rather than its cover, I think it's nonetheless useful to point out that White's laziness (he actually admits that most of his research came from 'googling' Tolkien websites) and his essential disinterest in (and consequent lack of respect for) Tolkien's work are all tellingly revealed in his treatment of Tolkien's invented writing systems in the cover art.
On the cover of this edition of the book (see picture above), the author and/or his publishers have added runes and script which are clearly meant to evoke the title pages of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, where such texts could be meaningfully deciphered (with the help of Tolkien's opening note on runes in The Hobbit, and of Appendix E to the Lord of the Rings) to disclose a longer title and additional details about the books. Here, though, Tolkien's angerthas runes appear in the background in random order, while a photograph of Tolkien is encircled by an equally meaningless inscription in Tolkien's tengwar script. Elsewhere, I've written a review of an earlier edition of this book, where the cover eschews Tolkien's scripts in favor of a repeating series of 24 characters from the "futhorc" (i.e., the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet). Equally meaningless, but at least not quite as disrespectful to an author who lavished great time and attention on these invented scripts and the languages they recorded.
As far as I can tell, this book was written solely to capitalize on Tolkien's popularity. The introductory material makes clear that the author, White, wrote this with no independent knowledge of Tolkien's life. He admits that before starting this, he hadn't even read the Lord of the Rings since being a teenager. This book was written for one reason: to take your $$$$$.
If you're familiar with Carpenter's authorized biography, it quickly becomes apparent that this author has simply rearranged the material from Carpenter's book. The only information not lifted from Carptenter, from what I could discern, is a few bits lifted from another source: Tom Shippley's literary analysis of Tolkien. A wrinkle in the copyright laws (which gives less protection to biographies than to works of fiction) allows this sort of thing to happen. In schools everywhere, there's another name for it, which begins with a "p."
Moreover, Carpenter's biography is far stronger. Carpenter had access to Tolkien's papers, had met Tolkien, and studied at Oxford. He has also penned a biography on C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings. White, on the other hand, apparently had access only to Carpenter's biography; there is no evidence he did any independent research. Further still, Carpenter's authorized biography is charming and a pleasurable read, but this copycat version doesn't even offer that. And Carpenter's biography is only 250 pages, so this turkey isn't even more concise. Don't get suckered by this....
See the amazon.canada reviews for further exposure of White's many errors.