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Summary

An instant New York Times best seller!

A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges - some of the worst largely unknown until now - by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back.

Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: While still in his 20s, he was half of a hit improv duo with Elaine May that was the talk of the country. Next he directed four consecutive hit plays, won back-to-back Tonys, ushered in a new era of Hollywood moviemaking with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and followed it with The Graduate, which won him an Oscar and became the third-highest-grossing movie ever. At 35, he lived in a three-story Central Park West penthouse, drove a Rolls-Royce, collected Arabian horses, and counted Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Avedon as friends. 

Where he arrived is even more astonishing given where he had begun: Born Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish couple in Berlin in 1931, he and his younger brother were sent to America on a ship in 1939. The young immigrant boy caught very few breaks. He was bullied and ostracized - an allergic reaction had rendered him permanently hairless - and his father died when he was just 12, leaving his mother alone and overwhelmed.

The gulf between these two sets of facts explains a great deal about Nichols' transformation from lonely outsider to the center of more than one cultural universe - the acute powers of observation that first made him famous; the nourishment he drew from his creative partnerships, most enduringly with May; his unquenchable drive; his hunger for security and status; and the depressions and self-medications that brought him to terrible lows. It would take decades for him to come to grips with his demons. In an incomparable portrait that follows Nichols from Berlin to New York to Chicago to Hollywood, Mark Harris explores, with brilliantly vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion. Among the 250 people Harris interviewed: Elaine May, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Tom Hanks, Candice Bergen, Emma Thompson, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Lorne Michaels, and Gloria Steinem.

Mark Harris gives an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike; the portrait is not always flattering, but its ultimate impact is to present the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen. It is a triumph of the biographer's art.

©2021 Mark Harris (P)2021 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Mike Nichols

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A BIG CREATIVE LIFE.

The narration is perfect, and not annoying in anyway.

Sometimes Mike Nichols work was very successful, sometimes not.

This book is a useful guide to those wanting a life in the arts.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 14-02-21

Loved the book, but driven nuts my mispronounced names.

I knew Mike and worked for him twice and always admired and loved him. Mark Harris’ deep dive into his life is full of the truth of this amazing man. But how is it that the producers allowed George Newbern to mispronounce so many names. Since all of those people are important parts of the story I found it enormously distracting. I wonder if Mark Harris had listened to the recording: Alan Pecula, Elia Kazan, Rosemary Tischler, and many more. It is sloppy and not up to the high standard of this book.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Michael R. Millercoast Services
  • 30-03-21

George Newbern is a moron

The reader has no cultural frame of reference. It’s as though he lived in an impenetrable bubble before looking at the text. His mispronunciation of names - from Bertrand Russell’s to Alan Pakula’s with dozens in between - was shocking and horrifying.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Lucky Guy
  • 22-03-21

Well written, well researched - but boring

When Mike Nichols died, I noticed many people he worked with said incredibly nice things about him. I wanted to find out why, so I bought this book. Although this book is very well researched and written, it did not really help me to understand Mike Nichols the human being that so many people seemed to venerate. It's mostly a tedious recitation of the many projects Mike Nichols worked on.

I read many biographies; this one seemed thorough yet dull. I respect the great amount of work that obviously went into compiling all the information presented in this biography, but I would not recommend it to others unless you want an exhaustive catalog of Mike Nichols' projects in theater and film.

An added note: Someone who knows proper pronunciation of English words and famous names should have listened to the narrator and corrected his various pronunciation errors before this audio book was released (e.g., "monologist").

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  • appreciative reader
  • 02-03-21

Disappointed

I was interested in learning about this very talented man. He made such an impact in theater and movies. Although the book was well researched, it left this reader tired of the neurotic, vain, and selfish man that was revealed. Mike Nichols, as portrayed, was so unlikeable. His low self esteem battled publicly with his narcissism. I was so tired of Nichol’s whining and complaints that I just wanted the book to be over. C

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  • Mark D.
  • 05-05-21

Mispronounced names abound

Many of the names of actors/writers/critics, etc. are mispronounced. This is my industry. I had the great honor of being directed by Mr. Nichols, so I found this extremely disappointing.
No the less. A great man. A stunning artist. A great life lived.

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  • SARA HANNA
  • 15-04-21

Great bio and understanding of Mike Nichols

Loved this book. Such an intimate look into the life and works ok Mike Nichols. Gives an understanding of how complicated making movies and producing ays can be. Great narration also.

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  • BWS
  • 14-07-21

Superb Theater Bio

This is a deeply researched, well written and incredibly rich biography of Mike Nichols.
The narration lived up to the quality of the writing and I stayed enthralled all the way to the end.

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  • Mina Loy
  • 07-07-21

The first half is fab

The first half is fascinating, gossipy, and revealing. The second half is a litany of Nicola productions with palliative summaries. No probing, no questioning and no revelations about what was driving Nichol’s behavior. In fact, after a chapter or two later in the book, the author says (spoiler alert) Nichols was smoking crack. No mention of this in the previous chapters,when it was actually happening. And might have been worthwhile to know.

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  • Kat M.
  • 06-07-21

Amazing biography!!

The performance is good but mispronunciation of names is grating. Otherwise absolutely brilliant. Highly recommend.

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  • E.J. Scott
  • 09-06-21

What a life!

I was already a casual Mike Nichols fan, but by the end of this I felt really invested in him and his life. His failures, successes, lives, losses, passion, mood swings, addictions, triumphs. It’s all there. Can’t recommend this high enough. RIP Mike