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The Standing Rabbit

Richard Burton: A Life by Melvyn Bragg

Richard Burton: A Life by Melvyn Bragg

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Richard Burton:  A Life by Melvyn Bragg is a 533-page hardcover published in 1988 by Little, Brown and Company, and is a stated first US edition.  The dust jacket has some chips and tiny closed tears along the edges.  The book appears to have a mild damp stain along the top cloth edged spine but overall the book is in good condition, with crisp clean pages.

Book Summary

Few actors in modern times have come close to the fame and glory enjoyed by the late Richard Burton.  His formidable talent, his golden voice, his two marriages to Elizabeth Taylor--acted out against a spectacular material excess--his drinking, his womanizing, his infectious delight at outraging society, made him the number-one box office attraction in the world, and guaranteed for years that his every turn would be front- page news.  Now, this legendary public and private life has found the perfect chroniclers--not only the biographer Melvyn Bragg, but also Richard Burton himself, whose personal notebooks are a key part of this extraordinary book.

In addition to the life of the celebrity, there were many other lives of Richard Burton, and what elevates this biography above all others is that Bragg has discovered and summed up a man hidden until now from all but a few close friends, and even to them a mystery.  From unpublished letters and memoirs, from interviews with those who have never before spoken, above all from the extraordinary cache of diaries kept by Burton--some 350,000 words never read by anyone before--there emerges a portrait of a man whose inner life was astonishingly different from the public image, but one that is in every way as fascinating and compelling.

What Burton's "notebooks" in particular reveal is that Burton was as gifted a writer as he was an actor.  Here we see a man of extraordinary brilliance, wit, and learning, who read omnivorously but deeply, and who wrote with remarkable insight on such topics as his craft as an actor, his meetings with such luminaries as Kissinger, Tito, the Windsors, and Dylan Thomas, his daily life, and, with great passion and frankness, his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor.  Here too we see a man of crippling melancholy and illness, of grand ambitions, of a reckless, restless, combative spirit, tortured by self-awareness of his own immense flaws. 

This fascinating portrait is filled out by fresh insights from those who knew him best.  From the man who adopted him, Philip Burton, and from his closest family we have new material on the boyhood of this twelfth child of an alcoholic Welsh miner.  From such professional collaborators as John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Alec Guiness, and John le Carre and from his widow, Sally Burton, we learn of Burton's great generosity, loyalty, and good humor, as well as the ugly fits of temper and irresponsibility, often under the influence of liquor. 

But this book is more than a collection of fresh information on the public and private lives of Richard Burton, for, as with the best biographers, Melvyn Bragg has probed the depths of his complex and contradictory subject and brought him to life again.  In that sense, his work is a revelation.

ISBN:  0-316-10595-3
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