Monday, November 17, 2014

Review of Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life"

Over 600 books have been written about Charlie Chaplin.  Most are simple regurgitations of other books.  As one author put it, "People will read five books and publish a sixth".  Peter Ackroyd's book is pretty much a compilation of many other books.  I have read over 30 books on Chaplin so far, picking and choosing from the the best out there, as well as hundreds of journal articles on him and seeing every movie at least twice.  Ackroyd's book has a few small details I had not seen before and a few minor mistakes of fact.

It is so hard to separate fact from fiction on Chaplin due to the quantity of books published, but when only one book states something, it is immediately suspect.  When I see something in book after book, I begin to take it as fact.  Ackroyd's book does offer some juicy tidbits on Chaplin's personal life when it comes to his female conquests as well as the controversies therin, but not much new about his work life or movies.  This is not meant as a criticism as there is little out there new to find unless one of his children decides to write a book or one of the few people left alive who worked with him. Sophia Loren or Claire Bloom might decide to talk on the record about their time with Chaplin, but there are a precious few others, and those would be distant spectators rather than principal players.

The book is pleasant reading overall and well written.  Ackroyd's style of writing makes it comfortable to just sit and read.  Many other books on Chaplin are not.  His son Sydney wrote a book that was hard to read and Georgia Hale's book was a pain due to her lack of time references.  I could not always tell from the context when things were happening even though I consider myself well read on the subject.

Details like Chaplin painting his private parts with Iodine are not relevant to the genius that he was. Bedroom details never make for a good book unless an author is writing a book about what goes on in the bedroom.  These details don't help us to understand his genius or his talent, but are meant to be salacious tidbits for shock value.

That being said, I enjoyed the book.

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