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Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl

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In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children's literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year. But the man behind the mesmerizing stories has remained largely an enigma. A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Dahl was In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children's literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year. But the man behind the mesmerizing stories has remained largely an enigma. A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Dahl was better known during his lifetime for his blunt opinions on taboo subjects—he was called an anti-Semite, a racist and a misogynist—than for his creative genius. His wild imagination, dark humor and linguistic elegance were less than fully appreciated by critics and readers alike until after his death. Granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate's extraordinary archives—personal correspondence, journals and interviews with family members and famous friends—Donald Sturrock draws on a wealth of previously unpublished materials that informed Dahl's writing and his life. It was a life filled with incident, drama and adventure: from his harrowing experiences as an RAF fighter pilot and his work in wartime intelligence, to his many romances and turbulent marriage to the actress Patricia Neal, to the mental anguish caused by the death of his young daughter Olivia. Tracing a brilliant yet tempestuous ascent toward notoriety, Sturrock sheds new light on Dahl's need for controversy, his abrasive manner and his fascination for the gruesome and the macabre. A remarkable biography of one of the world's most exceptional writers, Storyteller is an intimate portrait of an intensely private man hindered by physical pain and haunted by family tragedy, and a timely reexamination of Dahl's long and complex literary career.


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In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children's literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year. But the man behind the mesmerizing stories has remained largely an enigma. A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Dahl was In his lifetime Roald Dahl pushed children's literature into uncharted territory, and today his popularity around the globe continues to grow, with millions of his books sold every year. But the man behind the mesmerizing stories has remained largely an enigma. A single-minded adventurer and an eternal child who gave us the iconic Willy Wonka and Matilda Wormwood, Dahl was better known during his lifetime for his blunt opinions on taboo subjects—he was called an anti-Semite, a racist and a misogynist—than for his creative genius. His wild imagination, dark humor and linguistic elegance were less than fully appreciated by critics and readers alike until after his death. Granted unprecedented access to the Dahl estate's extraordinary archives—personal correspondence, journals and interviews with family members and famous friends—Donald Sturrock draws on a wealth of previously unpublished materials that informed Dahl's writing and his life. It was a life filled with incident, drama and adventure: from his harrowing experiences as an RAF fighter pilot and his work in wartime intelligence, to his many romances and turbulent marriage to the actress Patricia Neal, to the mental anguish caused by the death of his young daughter Olivia. Tracing a brilliant yet tempestuous ascent toward notoriety, Sturrock sheds new light on Dahl's need for controversy, his abrasive manner and his fascination for the gruesome and the macabre. A remarkable biography of one of the world's most exceptional writers, Storyteller is an intimate portrait of an intensely private man hindered by physical pain and haunted by family tragedy, and a timely reexamination of Dahl's long and complex literary career.

30 review for Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mary McCoy

    When I was 10, and a huge fan of books like The BFG and The Witches, my mother sat me down and explained, in rather age-inappropriate detail, the saga of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal, her near-death experience, how he'd nursed her back to health, and then had the nerve to cheat on her and leave her for a younger woman. At the time, I had no idea why my mother was following the love life of my favorite children's author. But then I read Sturrock's biography, and learned about the caref When I was 10, and a huge fan of books like The BFG and The Witches, my mother sat me down and explained, in rather age-inappropriate detail, the saga of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal, her near-death experience, how he'd nursed her back to health, and then had the nerve to cheat on her and leave her for a younger woman. At the time, I had no idea why my mother was following the love life of my favorite children's author. But then I read Sturrock's biography, and learned about the carefully choreographed press campaign that Dahl waged during Pat's rehabilitation, and the dozens of articles that portrayed them as the perfect family. In reality, their marriage had been rocky from the start, and the split not such a surprise. But to hear about it in the Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, theirs was a love affair for the ages, and I can see how the reading public (mom included) might have been inclined to feel a little betrayed. In the book, Sturrock goes into tremendous, though highly entertaining, detail about Dahl's early life, his family, his relationships with women, and even the Dahl family obsession with healthy bowel function. However, even with all this detail, I wish that Sturrock had spent a bit more time on the work itself. While the early short fiction gets ample treatment, most of Dahl's children's books are glossed over fairly quickly, while Dahl's many squabbles with his publishers are enumerated in full. Still, the book is a must-read for Dahl fans and completists like me. Those who have already read Jennet Conant's The Irregulars will not be disappointed by redundant content either. Sturrock's take on Dahl's time in the U.S. is shaped very differently, and though I expected to skim these chapters, I hung on every word.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    I always find it difficult to rate and evaluate biographies. I feel as if I would need to read two biographies of the same subject, side by side, to properly judge what use each had made of the life given to them. Roald Dahl is a multi-dimensional subject, for sure, and even at nearly 600 pages I felt that many years and important matters in the man's life were left untold - or merely hinted at. The biographer Donald Sturrock makes it clear that Dahl's surviving children (Tessa, Theo, Ophelia an I always find it difficult to rate and evaluate biographies. I feel as if I would need to read two biographies of the same subject, side by side, to properly judge what use each had made of the life given to them. Roald Dahl is a multi-dimensional subject, for sure, and even at nearly 600 pages I felt that many years and important matters in the man's life were left untold - or merely hinted at. The biographer Donald Sturrock makes it clear that Dahl's surviving children (Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy) were responsible for much assistance, but I felt that his relationships with not just them, but also his second wife Felicity ('Liccy') were handled very carefully - perhaps to the point of being too careful. Above all, Sturrock emphasises Dahl's pleasure in being the paterfamilias - head of both his birth family (his own father died when he was a toddler), and the large family he created for himself. Generous but controlling, fun-loving but provocative to the point of causing pain, Dahl is a study in contrasts. No matter how enamoured you are of the Dahl who created the beloved children's classics, you cannot read this biography without feeling a complex mix of respect and dislike for this truly original, inimitable man. He was an iconoclast who longed for mainstream approval, but his own perverse character was his worst enemy. At the beginning of the biography, Sturrock goes into some detail about Dahl's Norwegian ancestors - and there is one particular family incident which is referred to more than once. One of his ancestors on his mother's side was a Lutheran minister who escaped his own burning church by piling up Bibles and throwing himself out of a window. Apparently, nearly all of the congregation were burned, but Pastor Hesselberg was both pragmatic and cool-headed (and perhaps somewhat ignoble) in the crisis. Throughout his life, Dahl was able to respond to some pretty dramatic events with this same detachment and quick thinking. He had more than his share of tragedy and drama: his own nearly fatal aeroplane crash in the desert, his young's son nearly fatal accident, his wife's completely debilitating stroke, but on each occasion he exerted his own strong will and bent his analytical brain to the crisis. There was rather too much detail about Dahl's publishing highs and lows for my taste - not to mention his financial wheeling and dealings - but there were wonderful details about his unusual family, his time in boarding school, his years as a fighter pilot and then later as a spy in Washington, and his delight in the "gypsy" life. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Dahl and I shared something in common: he was operated on, more than once, at the Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas. This is the same small town that I grew up in, and the same hospital that I went to for several small operations. His description of Temple in 1945 was pretty unrecognisable to me - he definitely had lent his own creative and exaggerated touch - but then, according to Sturrock, neither of his own memoirs (Boy and Going Solo) were all that accurate, either. He never let truth get in the way of a good story. One final thing, and this is a highly personal note: I was just finishing up this book on the day that my own father died. September 16. There is a particularly moving scene of Dahl's death, involving both humour and pathos, and I cried and cried when I read it. Later, I learned that my father had died at the approximate time I was reading Dahl's deathbed scene. Like many others, I honoured the 100th anniversary of Dahl's birth by reading many of his books. I believe that what we read often parallels our life in strange and unexpectedly meaningful ways, but even so, I don't think I will ever forget reading this particular biography.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sophie Crane

    I never usually leave reviews at the end of books. I'm an avid reader and have always had a love of story telling. This is the tale of the ultimate storey teller. I can't imagine a more gripping account of another man's life; riveting, truthful and moving. Unlike so many biographies that place the subject on a faultless pedestal, this tale tells both of the magic and the wicked, the faultless and the flawed, the lonely boy and the imperfect Man. One of the best books I've ever read, a I never usually leave reviews at the end of books. I'm an avid reader and have always had a love of story telling. This is the tale of the ultimate storey teller. I can't imagine a more gripping account of another man's life; riveting, truthful and moving. Unlike so many biographies that place the subject on a faultless pedestal, this tale tells both of the magic and the wicked, the faultless and the flawed, the lonely boy and the imperfect Man. One of the best books I've ever read, and anyone who admires those who live interesting lives will enjoy this book. To read it is to embrace the subject's message: "My candle burns at both ends/It will not last the night/But ah my foes, and oh my friends/It makes a lovey light."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim Dooley

    I am not sure what to say about this one. It is rare that I have had to work so hard to finish a book. Many times I thought of stopping, then something interesting would be reported that would keep me going. Here were my frustration points: This is a huge paperback edition and the print is very small. Physically, reading it wasn't pleasant. Roald Dahl tended to manufacture different versions of his life, apparently as the mood took him. So, the writer will provide details ... a I am not sure what to say about this one. It is rare that I have had to work so hard to finish a book. Many times I thought of stopping, then something interesting would be reported that would keep me going. Here were my frustration points: This is a huge paperback edition and the print is very small. Physically, reading it wasn't pleasant. Roald Dahl tended to manufacture different versions of his life, apparently as the mood took him. So, the writer will provide details ... and then sometimes share multiple alternate versions explaining that he doesn't know which is the true version for certain. Roald Dahl wrote many, many marvelous stories. Given the title of the book, I was especially interested in the thought process behind creating them. This is not explored. The Reader is told that he had an idea book in which he kept his ideas for future stories, but these ideas are almost presented like tag lines for movies. (And speaking of movies, I would really like to have known a great deal more about his writing of the screenplay for the James Bond film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.) Why is this worth reading? He seems to have cultivated a strong writing interest following a near fatal accident that involved a head injury. Was there a Dahl family curse? Horrific things happened to multiple family members. Somehow, he kept his sanity through it all. He married Patricia Neal who was an excellent actress. The story of their life together is intriguing and sometimes heartbreaking. During WW II, he almost secured a deal with Walt Disney for an animated film of Dahl's Gremlin creations. That would have been a fascinating movie. The various battles with librarians and critics who found his books for children to be in poor taste was understandable and amusing. Okay, I'm speaking as an amateur psychologist here, but it seems to me that Roald Dahl suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder. He was very often pretentious, he frequently controlled conversations (sometimes with inappropriate outbursts), he belittled those that he thought were beneath him (yet was humbled if later convinced that he had been unfair or had unknowingly caused harm), and he became impatient and angry when he didn't get his way. He sure could connect with children, though, even though he longed to reach adult readers. Creations like Willy Wonka and the BFG will be forever delightful. I suppose that my overall recommendation would be to the Reader who wanted to know, "What was Roald Dahl really like?" For everyone else, it is likely to be rough going.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Prior to reading this book the only thing I knew about Roald Dahl's personal life was that had married Patricia Neal. His fame as a children's author did not fit with this nor my image of him (from book jackets) with his aloof aristocratic bearing. This book describes the reality of his amazing life. Now I see how it all fits. The book, in covering Dahl from his roots in England and Norway to his death in 1990, is excellent. Author, Donald Sturrock, assembled a lot of known and new ma Prior to reading this book the only thing I knew about Roald Dahl's personal life was that had married Patricia Neal. His fame as a children's author did not fit with this nor my image of him (from book jackets) with his aloof aristocratic bearing. This book describes the reality of his amazing life. Now I see how it all fits. The book, in covering Dahl from his roots in England and Norway to his death in 1990, is excellent. Author, Donald Sturrock, assembled a lot of known and new material and put it together in a highly readable fashion. That these 500+ pages hold your attention, and mostly keep you page turning, is a real credit to this first time biographer. Dahl, whose father died when he was 3, was sent to Repton School at the age of 14. It's described as the proverbial nightmare British boarding school, where hazing from peers equals the sadism of the teachers and administrators. This school completed Dahl's formal education, and probably his emotional development as well. World War II arrived for Britain while Dahl was working in Africa. He joined the RAF which was formative or him in that he received pilots' training, was in aerial combat and had a debilitating accident. This led to a desk job in the British Embassy in Washington DC. As a war hero with a successful free lanced story, he was catapulted into the highest ranks of politics and entertainment. Not yet 30 years old and he is dining with FDR, playing tennis with the vice-president, boxing with Hemingway and dating Clair Boothe Luce. We don't know how he achieved such extraordinary access, but we do know that he was, like Ian Flemming, a spy. It helped that he was handsome. He had affairs with rich and beautiful women; He filed reports on some. From the Washington days he made a good and lifelong friend, Charles Marsh. Sturrock takes the reader through all of this, his two marriages, family life and tragedies and his frustrations as a writer before his success with children's books. Both Dahl's loving/generous side and his prickly/dogmatic sides are presented. His two marriages cannot be more different; his first seems almost accidental and might have ended in divorce sooner were the couple not bound by tragedy. His attitude towards Pat's role as a wife, and his treatment of her in general, is appalling. He is not often kind to agents and editors and is capable of casting off the most helpful ones abruptly. He is happy in his second marriage and by this time he is also successful in his career. He has lifelong health problems and his last days, as was a lot of his life (6 spinal operations to name just one health problem), are painful. If you read this book, you will either love him or hate him, or both; you will not be indifferent. You will come away with total respect for this author, Donald Sturrock, who has digested a lifetime of work and life and made it accessible.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I love Roald Dahl's books for children, so this was fascinating reading. His life is as interesting as his books, and reveals the roots of many of the themes you notice recurring in his work - orphaned children, adults that range from the malevolent, to the benign and childlike. But it's a 500-pager, so I would not necessarily recommend reading this book unless you're a big fan. But in its defense, it's also a wonderful memoir that has shades of the expat life, world war II tales in the RAF, Was I love Roald Dahl's books for children, so this was fascinating reading. His life is as interesting as his books, and reveals the roots of many of the themes you notice recurring in his work - orphaned children, adults that range from the malevolent, to the benign and childlike. But it's a 500-pager, so I would not necessarily recommend reading this book unless you're a big fan. But in its defense, it's also a wonderful memoir that has shades of the expat life, world war II tales in the RAF, Washington DC OSS style high jinks, NYC and Hollywood and back to rural England and his writing life. Finally, I don't think I can overstate the impact of the tragedies in his life - prepare yourself, it will make you reel and wonder at what an inspiring, if odd, and cantankerous character that Roald Dahl was.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Howard

    An overly forgiving and generous biography of a difficult and misanthropic literary giant. Sturrock was able to provide a very personal and loving perspective on the cranky yet charismatic Roald Dahl. Always fascinating to speculate about the inspirations to any authors writing--maybe even more so with a fantasy-driven creator like Dahl. I loved Dahl's juvenile fiction growing up, and now realize that much greater darkness drives these tales than I had realized. Dahl used his stories An overly forgiving and generous biography of a difficult and misanthropic literary giant. Sturrock was able to provide a very personal and loving perspective on the cranky yet charismatic Roald Dahl. Always fascinating to speculate about the inspirations to any authors writing--maybe even more so with a fantasy-driven creator like Dahl. I loved Dahl's juvenile fiction growing up, and now realize that much greater darkness drives these tales than I had realized. Dahl used his stories to escape his life and give some voice to the emotional life he never quite developed: or dealt with. Inspired me to reread his children's stories and explore his earlier short-stories.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) If you're anything like me, you mostly only know British author Roald Dahl through his deliciously dark children's tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as maybe a handful of other Young Adult titles like James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and The Witches, all of which have been made into major Hollywood movies i (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) If you're anything like me, you mostly only know British author Roald Dahl through his deliciously dark children's tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as maybe a handful of other Young Adult titles like James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and The Witches, all of which have been made into major Hollywood movies in recent years. But as this first-ever authorized biography from veteran journalist Donald Sturrock shows, both Dahl's life and career were a lot more dramatic and event-filled than that; a dashing and adventurous fighter pilot in WW2 Africa, he eventually married an Oscar-winning actress, developed the most notorious Disney Golden Age cartoon to never actually get produced, briefly hosted a "Twilight Zone"-style creepy television series, and had an entire career as a subversive adult author before turning to children's stories in middle-age, along the way incidentally co-inventing a new type of medical valve that would save thousands of lives, and co-inventing a new type of rehabilitative stroke therapy that's now the industry standard. And to the family's credit, this engrossing book doesn't shy away from the dark parts of Dahl's life either, despite it being endorsed by them; he was a fatally egotistical philanderer as well, a mean drunk who would often pick fights at dinner parties with strangers just to liven up the evening, who played hardball over royalties with a series of publishing companies and who famously declared in the '80s that Salman Rushdie deserved the Islamic fatwa that had been issued against him. But as this balanced look at a topsy-turvy life shows, Dahl was also charming, quietly generous with his time and money, and apparently truly amazing when it came to interacting with children, a passionate advocate of YA literature in his later years who helped legitimize that genre in the first place. A fascinating and surprise-filled bio, well worth your time if you've ever been a fan of any of his books. Out of 10: 9.4

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    As a big fan of 'Boy' and 'Going Solo', it was fascinating to read more about Roald Dahl's adult life, including his work in the United States during World War 2, particularly his espionage work for the British government alongside his pal Ian Fleming. Donald Sturrock has created a meticulously researched biography, where he disputes long-held truths about Dahl's life, often stories spun by Dahl, the master story-teller himself. Even though it is a commonly-held assumption that Dahl w As a big fan of 'Boy' and 'Going Solo', it was fascinating to read more about Roald Dahl's adult life, including his work in the United States during World War 2, particularly his espionage work for the British government alongside his pal Ian Fleming. Donald Sturrock has created a meticulously researched biography, where he disputes long-held truths about Dahl's life, often stories spun by Dahl, the master story-teller himself. Even though it is a commonly-held assumption that Dahl was a bit grumpy and difficult, it was pretty shocking to read some of his thoughts about women's roles in society. Here's a sample from a letter written from Dahl to a friend about Dahl's new wife. Would this have been a 'commonly-held truth' in the 1950s? "To have a career and to be a wife at the same time is goddam hard work and I've noticed that the few who do it successfully (and it can be done), seem to double their efforts to be a wife in order to compensate for the other. A woman cannot get by saying to herself, 'I am a successful career person and therefore I do not have to be much of a normal wife. My husband will not expect me to be a normal wife because I have this great career to look after.' She can't say that, because, unfortunately, and although he makes allowances, he still expects her to be comparatively normal - certainly when she's not working." This biography has definitely made me eager to read more of Dahl's adult fiction, which never really caught my interest. Perhaps the idea of such dark and disturbing narratives residing in the head of my favourite childhood author was too difficult to deal with...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Florian

    I flew through the 568 pages of this book, and will probably read it again at some point. Although this biography is "authorized," I don't feel that Sturrock pulled any punches in giving an accurate picture of Dahl, warts and all. Roald Dahl comes across as a complete paradox.He could go from being the warmest, kindest, and generous of fellows, writing long detailed responses to letters from fans for instance, to displaying a cruel and disloyal behavior to his family, friends, and business I flew through the 568 pages of this book, and will probably read it again at some point. Although this biography is "authorized," I don't feel that Sturrock pulled any punches in giving an accurate picture of Dahl, warts and all. Roald Dahl comes across as a complete paradox.He could go from being the warmest, kindest, and generous of fellows, writing long detailed responses to letters from fans for instance, to displaying a cruel and disloyal behavior to his family, friends, and business associates. So while he was totally devoted to his wife Patricia Neil after her stroke, relentlessly rehabilitating her back to health and her acting career, a short while later he abandoned her for another woman. While one must admire his courage and fortitude in overcoming severe physical injury and pain, as well as great personal loses, to go on and create legendary works of children's literature, at the same time it amazes how mean-spirited and callous he could be. Perhaps his war injury, where he suffered severe head trauma, did something to neurologically diminish his sense of shame. In any event, what Dahl did have was a great inventiveness, even if it meant distorting, exaggerating or even inventing the truth in regards to his narrative about his life. He was a true storyteller in every sense of the word.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Reviewers welcomed a new biography of Dahl on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Even though Sturrock's is not the first, his access to the Dahl family and their archives helps him to deliver a more thorough book on the children's author than has yet been attempted. Critics tended to agree that Sturrock has made great use of the new material, balancing the daffy, avuncular Dahl of the books with the very dark man he proved to be in real life. But some reviewers felt that the book's prose wa Reviewers welcomed a new biography of Dahl on the twentieth anniversary of his death. Even though Sturrock's is not the first, his access to the Dahl family and their archives helps him to deliver a more thorough book on the children's author than has yet been attempted. Critics tended to agree that Sturrock has made great use of the new material, balancing the daffy, avuncular Dahl of the books with the very dark man he proved to be in real life. But some reviewers felt that the book's prose was only so-so and that Sturrock treads on eggshells when it comes to certain (more lurid) aspects of Dahl's life, suggesting Storyteller may not be the best read for those who are not already interested in Dahl or children's literature. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Hoyer

    Roald Dahl’s life kept reminding me of Forrest Gump, in the way that a fairly ordinary man repeatedly found himself in the most high-profile, stranger-than-fiction sort of circumstances. His father dies when he’s three years old, he’s raised by his mother, he attends an intimidating boys’ boarding school, becomes a WWII pilot, works for British Intelligence in DC, befriends the Vice President of the United States, hangs out with the Roosevelts, works on an adaptation of his first novel with Walt Roald Dahl’s life kept reminding me of Forrest Gump, in the way that a fairly ordinary man repeatedly found himself in the most high-profile, stranger-than-fiction sort of circumstances. His father dies when he’s three years old, he’s raised by his mother, he attends an intimidating boys’ boarding school, becomes a WWII pilot, works for British Intelligence in DC, befriends the Vice President of the United States, hangs out with the Roosevelts, works on an adaptation of his first novel with Walt Disney, marries a movie star, helps to invent a new medical valve/shunt used to relieve pressure from fluid on the brain after his sun is hit by a cab, becomes a beloved children’s book author. This is not at all a “and then he wrote” sort of biography. Perhaps what surprised me most about Dahl’s life is that the thing he is best known for – writing children’s literature – was really sort of a third act in his life. For a while I was impatient while reading the book, wanting to hear about the creation of the works that I knew best, but the rest of his life was just so improbable and fascinating that I eventually became drawn in, and almost forgot that such a development was on the horizon. This biography paints a very complex portrait of a tough man, a mass of contradictions, and someone not easy to love. But he feels very real, even while also feeling larger than life. It was a long read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ilana Waters

    Needless to say, at 655 pages, this is an extremely thorough biography. However, Sturrock seems a bit too much in love with his subject, preventing any real objectivity. He seems so enamored of Dahl that the emotional devastation the latter surely wreaked during his lifetime is glossed over. And it could just be my oversight, but I never heard the term “borderline personality disorder” mentioned once, though Dahl exhibits many of the classic symptoms. The word “subversive," however, is frequentl Needless to say, at 655 pages, this is an extremely thorough biography. However, Sturrock seems a bit too much in love with his subject, preventing any real objectivity. He seems so enamored of Dahl that the emotional devastation the latter surely wreaked during his lifetime is glossed over. And it could just be my oversight, but I never heard the term “borderline personality disorder” mentioned once, though Dahl exhibits many of the classic symptoms. The word “subversive," however, is frequently used when describing Dahl’s activities and humor--perhaps too frequently. We never hear adjectives like “sadistic” or “cruel;" arguably, many of Dahl's actions were, such as his routine public outbursts and inclination to humiliate others. Sturrock also credits Dahl with staging a complete recovery of his wife Pat’s stroke. But did her husband's draconian measures help or hurt? Perhaps she would have had a miraculous recovery anyway, owing to a combination of genetic factors and her own indomitable will. Sturrock also makes light of Dahl’s numerous affairs, which could not have been anything less than devastating to his wife and family—as well as those of his lovers. Sturrock romanticizes Dahl's cheating on his wife with Felicity Crosland, who would become his second spouse. This all but ignores the hurtful behavior by both Dahl and “Liccy” (Felicity), as well as the affair’s catastrophic effects on Dahl’s children. Sturrock comes far too close far too often to demonizing Pat, while ignoring the fact that Dahl was certainly less than an ideal husband. Don’t get me wrong; I’m in love with Dahl’s work as much as the next fangirl, and the biography was well-written. Sturrock manages to tackle an enormous and complex subject, all the while making it entertaining and stylish to read. But as far as painting a true picture of the esteemed author, it falls a bit short.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mike Smith

    I had no idea Roald Dahl led such a fascinating life, fighting in the air battle for Athens, mixing with the most powerful American politicians, and circulating amongst the Hollywood gliterati. For most of his life, it seems he was least famous for writing children's books. It's no shock that he had a challenging childhood given his kids vs. adults approach to children's lit, but his life was full of more trials than imaginable. Yet he approached many of them with such directness and intensity I had no idea Roald Dahl led such a fascinating life, fighting in the air battle for Athens, mixing with the most powerful American politicians, and circulating amongst the Hollywood gliterati. For most of his life, it seems he was least famous for writing children's books. It's no shock that he had a challenging childhood given his kids vs. adults approach to children's lit, but his life was full of more trials than imaginable. Yet he approached many of them with such directness and intensity that it often seems his life was best when he needed to struggle the most. His life also presents an enthralling dichotomy of an extremely generous soul with a personality that struggled to truly connect on a personal level with anyone beyond puberty. He struggled to connect even with his own children once they became teenagers. Tragically it says he didn't fall in love until late in life, most unfortunately after he had already been married. This flaw is especially hard to accept, but also illuminates the struggle of his day to day life, the unacknowledged loneliness he must have certainly battled. He overcame far more than I realized. The far-reaching effects of his fighter pilot experience should include him amongst the casualties of WWII, except his overwhelming determination led to such great successes. Ultimately this is a wonderful tale of a man, with all his flaws, who shone very brightly and created a lot of joy for children of all ages, 2-102. I must also mention that the book is beautifully and lyrically written in a manner that I would imagine would make Dahl quite proud. By the time Sturrock was describing his death, Dahl felt like an old friend and the loss was painful. It is an amazingly well researched and assembled biography, an achievement even more notable because in his extensive correspondence, Dahl remained a storyteller.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ardea Smith

    Title / Author / Publication Date: Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl/2010 Format: Hardcover Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography Plot summary: So many children love Roald Dahl and his fantastical stories, it seems imperative that such a classical biography was written to chronicle his own amazing life. Donald Sturrock, the author of Dahl's biography, begins the book with his first meetings with Dahl, a notorious grump. Gradually, Sturrock gains Dahl's Title / Author / Publication Date: Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl/2010 Format: Hardcover Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography Plot summary: So many children love Roald Dahl and his fantastical stories, it seems imperative that such a classical biography was written to chronicle his own amazing life. Donald Sturrock, the author of Dahl's biography, begins the book with his first meetings with Dahl, a notorious grump. Gradually, Sturrock gains Dahl's trust and is allowed into his writing shed, to talk to him and review all of his personal correspondences. As Sturrock uncovers, Dahl endured a crash in the desert as part of the British Airforce, had dealings with Disney over his story Gremlins, and suffered a string of misfortunes, from his daughters death to his marital issues. Most of all Sturrock uncovers the depths of Dahl's creativity with a pencil, his motivations for writing beloved childrens stories, and how his overbearing personality often stood in the way of his success. For a Dahl fan, its magical reading about the inspiration behind some of his greatest books, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Considerations or precautions for readers advisory: Subject of death and marital issues. Review citation: Ives, N. R. (2010). Storyteller (Book Review). Library Journal, 135(15), 74. Section source used to find the material: Senior High Core Collection, Supplementary Title Recommended age: 14 and up

  16. 4 out of 5

    Girl with her Head in a Book

    A very wise man (my Dad) once told me that a good way of knowing if you liked someone was to think about how you would feel about getting stuck in a lift with them. If the idea would not phase you or you think that you would get on quite nicely, you probably think they're ok. If on the other hand, the idea makes you shudder, then he or she is most probably someone you would prefer to avoid. I loved pretty much all of Roald Dahl's children's fiction growing up but having read his biography, I thi A very wise man (my Dad) once told me that a good way of knowing if you liked someone was to think about how you would feel about getting stuck in a lift with them. If the idea would not phase you or you think that you would get on quite nicely, you probably think they're ok. If on the other hand, the idea makes you shudder, then he or she is most probably someone you would prefer to avoid. I loved pretty much all of Roald Dahl's children's fiction growing up but having read his biography, I think that I would not like to get stuck in a lift with the man himself. Given that he has been dead for twenty years though, it's not something to worry about. As a child, I had no idea that he was anything other than the wonderful author of The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory etc but growing up, you realise that there was an awful lot more there, Roald Dahl was a pilot, a screen writer, an author and a spy who married a movie star and invented a life-saving piece of medical apparatus. Roald Dahl was an undoubted genius but to put it simply he was 'not a nice man'. For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspo...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Johnson

    I sure know a whole lot more about Roald Dahl! From simply being a looming character who brought forth some of my favorite stories growing up, the Roald Dahl I know of now is more real, but not any less extraordinary. Anyone who picks this up will, I'm sure, begin this 600 page saga hoping very much to like the man its about, and, with a few bumps in the road, they'll not be disappointed. Roald Dahl led an exciting life, but he was by no means perfect. I liked reading of his strong p I sure know a whole lot more about Roald Dahl! From simply being a looming character who brought forth some of my favorite stories growing up, the Roald Dahl I know of now is more real, but not any less extraordinary. Anyone who picks this up will, I'm sure, begin this 600 page saga hoping very much to like the man its about, and, with a few bumps in the road, they'll not be disappointed. Roald Dahl led an exciting life, but he was by no means perfect. I liked reading of his strong personality, albeit sometimes relieved to be experiencing it from the shielded protection of a book. ;) Sturrock gives a well-rounded account of Dahl, not criticizing his rough spots, but not embracing them either-- Sturrock presents a picture of Roald Dahl. Although I would have liked more anecdotes scattered throughout the book in the spirit of Boy or Flying Solo (even if I've learned some of it was less than true...), I set down this book seeing Dahl more than just a writer of a few good children's books, but rather a powerful force who overcame great personal obstacles, experienced life in many arena's--politics, RAF, film, invention, espionage, etc., and just knew when to say, "F*ck off."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I have loved Roald Dahl's children's books since Mr. Preston read us The BFG in 2nd grade. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all have the fantastical story lines and imaginative narration that keeps both adults and children reading and wanting more. You identify with his characters and want to live their amazing lives. Unfortunately this biography was nothing like Dahl's stories. Somehow Donald Sturrock was able to take the life story of a very interesting man I have loved Roald Dahl's children's books since Mr. Preston read us The BFG in 2nd grade. Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all have the fantastical story lines and imaginative narration that keeps both adults and children reading and wanting more. You identify with his characters and want to live their amazing lives. Unfortunately this biography was nothing like Dahl's stories. Somehow Donald Sturrock was able to take the life story of a very interesting man, a man who had lived through personal tragedy at a young age, who fought in WW2, who ran in the circles of celebrity, and Sturrock managed to turn all of this into a very boring story. Not only was the voice dull and uninteresting, but the timeline was often scrambled causing the reader to not really know what year or circumstance was being discussed. If you are interested in learning more about Dahl's life, which I encourage as it is actually very interesting, please don't read this book. Check out the Wikipedia page instead.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    This book has monopolized my reading for the past month. But well worth the time. The biography itself is very well researched and well written. Facts and anecdotes and snippets of correspondence are weaved together into a real work of the highest quality, a fascinating story. As to the man himself. How do you judge a life? Yes he could be very mean, but his life was not immune from horrible tragedies and challenges. Is the measure of a man the incredible life affirming wri This book has monopolized my reading for the past month. But well worth the time. The biography itself is very well researched and well written. Facts and anecdotes and snippets of correspondence are weaved together into a real work of the highest quality, a fascinating story. As to the man himself. How do you judge a life? Yes he could be very mean, but his life was not immune from horrible tragedies and challenges. Is the measure of a man the incredible life affirming written works, the tenacity of love for his family? A complex life story with great moments of insight, and finally a deep loss at the end.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Several years ago, I picked up a different biography of Dahl (by Jeremy Treglown), assuming I would enjoy it. I was a HUGE fan of Dahl's work as a child, and as a teenager I loved his creepy "adult" stories. But Treglown's biography, despite having a fascinating subject, was not enjoyable. It wasn't well-written at all, and I was extremely disappointed. I hoped that someone else would come along and do Dahl justice in bio form. Little did I know, Donald Sturrock was doing just that.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    What I love about biographies is the tiny glimpse you get of the author as a person and not necessarily a writer (for the most part I only read the biographies of writers, I don't know why). For that reason I prefer to read them after the subject has already died :-) Dahl was an intriguing character-bigger than life at times, and incredibly, horrifically petty at others. I guess these biographies help remind me to not place my writer idols on a pedestal-they are only human and have the same foib What I love about biographies is the tiny glimpse you get of the author as a person and not necessarily a writer (for the most part I only read the biographies of writers, I don't know why). For that reason I prefer to read them after the subject has already died :-) Dahl was an intriguing character-bigger than life at times, and incredibly, horrifically petty at others. I guess these biographies help remind me to not place my writer idols on a pedestal-they are only human and have the same foibles as any of us. I don't think I actually have anything of real value to say about this book, just that the author did a pretty good job of portraying Dahl as a man, and not a superhuman.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    This is a great and detailed look at a fascinating author. My only quibble is that it is SO detailed. As in, every detail. ALL of them. Together. Which can be useful, but is also a bit of a slog to get though at times. It took me ages to finish, even though it was an interesting story, and I'm pretty sure that is solely because there were days where I was reading only about a family member's health issues. Which is relevant to the overarching story, but not always riveting in the moment.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Tossing and tumbling through this book, I felt as if I had journeyed with the amazing author, crashing my plane into the Moroccan desert, stumbling through my first novels and playing the intellectual bully. Clocking in at over 800 pages, this does not appear to be a quick read, but it was surprisingly light and lively reading!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adysnewbox

    This was a good, occasionally great, biography of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating and beloved authors. Although Roald Dahl is probably best known today for his children's books, he wrote numerous other works, including a few adult novels, dozens of adult short stories, and a few film screenplays. I had NO IDEA that he had written the screenplay for the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and also the James Bond movie "You Only Live Twice," not to mention the screenplay for "Willy Won This was a good, occasionally great, biography of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating and beloved authors. Although Roald Dahl is probably best known today for his children's books, he wrote numerous other works, including a few adult novels, dozens of adult short stories, and a few film screenplays. I had NO IDEA that he had written the screenplay for the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and also the James Bond movie "You Only Live Twice," not to mention the screenplay for "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (a movie he never really liked much!). It was very interesting for me to learn about these other works, and the real-life events that inspired many of them (although some of his later novels, like "The Witches" and "Matilda" are stories whose backgrounds I would have liked to have heard a bit more about). There was a wealth of autobiographical data that made it into Mr. Dahl's stories; he led an incredibly eventful life, filled with spectacular highs and terrifying crises, and always turbulence, due to his proud, comabtive, prickly nature. Did you know Roald Dahl was a World War II pilot, credited with multiple combat kills? Did you know he had to crash-land a plane in the African desert and barely survived? Did you know he hob-nobbed with prominent American politicians (he played tennis with the VP of the United States, and took tea with FDR on numerous occasions), and schmoozed countless Hollywood celebrities (he became friends with Walt Disney, who wanted to adapt one of his stories into an animated film; he later married Patricia Neal, who would go on to win an Oscar)? Did you know he spent several years working undercover for British intelligence, and often reported to his government on the same politicians and celebrities with whom he partied? Did you know that his youngest daughter died unexpectedly from complications with measles, and just a few years later his wife Pat suffered a major stroke, from which he tirelessly nursed her back to health? Did you know he was also a serial cheater, having affairs as a young man with rich women twice his age, and ultimately carrying on a 10-year affair with a family friend while still married to Pat? Did you know that Dahl's children's books were big hits in America (in some cases) years before they were ever really acknowledged in his home country of Britain? I didn't know most of that stuff either...and that's just some of the amazing facts about Roald Dahl I learned while reading this book. The guy really got a lot done in his life!! I was impressed at the amount of correspondence & interviews Donald Sturrock conducted in order to piece together Dahl's psyche based on those who knew him, as well as using much of Mr. Dahl's personal correspondence to deepen the picture. The first few chapters did a fine job of tracing Dahl's ancestry as well (his family came from Norway), and while reading I learned many aspects of European history with which I wasn't previously familiar. At times I felt the author was a bit too forgiving of some of Dahl's more glaring defects (his anti-Semitism, for example, or his many many affairs...I felt that Pat may have received too much blame for the divorce). In addition, I wish that Dahl's twilight years had had a bit more research; they felt more fragmentary than his years of peak writing production. But these are nitpicks; overall, it was an illuminating, captivating, thoughtful portrait of a complicated, talented artist. I highly recommend it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eva Kristin

    My two-star review has nothing to do with Donald Sturrock’s writing. He writes very well, and the amount of research that has gone into this book is staggering. The two stars are for my experience reading this book. When I was a child Roald Dahl’s books were some of my favourites, especially “Matilda”. Finally some stories where the bad guys were actually bad, and not just misunderstood and in need of a hug! When I started this biography I was curious to learn more about the man who c My two-star review has nothing to do with Donald Sturrock’s writing. He writes very well, and the amount of research that has gone into this book is staggering. The two stars are for my experience reading this book. When I was a child Roald Dahl’s books were some of my favourites, especially “Matilda”. Finally some stories where the bad guys were actually bad, and not just misunderstood and in need of a hug! When I started this biography I was curious to learn more about the man who created all these wonderful reading hours for me. I was very surprised when the more I read about him the less I liked him. Sturrock admits himself that he was very impressed by Dahl’s personality, and he does his best to show him in a good light, but reading between the lines I get the impression that Dahl was not at all an easy person to be around. He comes across as manipulative and condescending even as a child, especially towards the women in his life, his sisters, his partners, his daughters, even his mother! No respect for rules, self-important and arrogant. Even when he does things that you might argue are good deeds, I get the impression that deep down, he did it to feel good about himself. He did have a difficult life. Again and again his family and himself were the victims of accidents and diseases. I’m sure this shaped his personality in many ways. But still, I don’t think I would have liked him if I had met him. I’ll keep celebrating his books, because they really are wonderful!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    The image I had of Roald Dahl, prior to reading this book, is of the older, benevolent looking chap, with an often irreverent sense of humour and a furtive imagination that coloured all his fiction writings for children. This biography is an interesting read - in earlier life he experienced far more than most and seemed to fall into the social circles of the 'movers and shakers' of the day. Dahl enjoyed controversy and was a favourite invitee to many a party for his contentious and argumentative The image I had of Roald Dahl, prior to reading this book, is of the older, benevolent looking chap, with an often irreverent sense of humour and a furtive imagination that coloured all his fiction writings for children. This biography is an interesting read - in earlier life he experienced far more than most and seemed to fall into the social circles of the 'movers and shakers' of the day. Dahl enjoyed controversy and was a favourite invitee to many a party for his contentious and argumentative streak. Other behaviours (no spoilers in here) captured by the biographer make him less easy to like, but all shaped the man and subsequently the writer he became. The tragedy of the loss of his daughter is well known, but other family tragedies struck - almost relentlessly over the years. His response to investigate (and succeed) with medical devices that would benefit many others is less well known. His attitude to his own children when coping with tragedy and the shabby treatment of his first wife just reveal the complexity of his character - he could be generous with relative strangers but harsh on his nearest and dearest. I'm uncertain I would have liked the person but now understand how his life defined his creative output.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Felicity

    This is a really informative biography about Roald Dahl. After reading Boy and Going Solo I wanted to find out more. I certainly learned a lot! I had no idea he had helped to invent a device to help children with head injuries and that he had been a sort of spy in the USA. Sturrock portrayed a vivid and human side to Dahl. It felt like a real and honest account. He even put right slight fabrications Dahl had written in his autobiographies. Roald Dahl had a very eventful life which mak This is a really informative biography about Roald Dahl. After reading Boy and Going Solo I wanted to find out more. I certainly learned a lot! I had no idea he had helped to invent a device to help children with head injuries and that he had been a sort of spy in the USA. Sturrock portrayed a vivid and human side to Dahl. It felt like a real and honest account. He even put right slight fabrications Dahl had written in his autobiographies. Roald Dahl had a very eventful life which makes it easier for it to be an interesting read He fought in the RAF in the second world war and was nearly killed. Unfortunately this gave him injuries which would plague him for the rest of his life. I thought Sturrock did a good and through job. Sometimes it was almost too thorough. Especially in the first half of the book. If I wasn't such a fan of Roald Dahl I could have easily lost the momentum to finish this book. The second half flew by. A well researched biography with plenty of anecdotes of Dahl's mischievous exploits.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nidhi Mathew

    This was a long time coming. I've been a fan of Roald Dahl's work since I read Charlie and the Chocolate factory when I was 10. Reading "Boy" got me hooked on the man. The more I read about him, the more he fascinated me, perhaps even more than his books. And that is saying something, considering his short stories are some of my all time favourites. Of course, this extremely thoroughly researched( I can't emphasis this enough) work debunks many of his self proclaimed boasts from "Boy" but noneth This was a long time coming. I've been a fan of Roald Dahl's work since I read Charlie and the Chocolate factory when I was 10. Reading "Boy" got me hooked on the man. The more I read about him, the more he fascinated me, perhaps even more than his books. And that is saying something, considering his short stories are some of my all time favourites. Of course, this extremely thoroughly researched( I can't emphasis this enough) work debunks many of his self proclaimed boasts from "Boy" but nonetheless, the portrait of the man is no less colourful. A balanced story of a larger than life figure who stumbled into an extraordinary life, Dahl's numerous flaws aren't swept up under rug. Sturrock did a stellar job in analysing a highly complex personality, relationships and life

  29. 5 out of 5

    PJ

    As a life long Roald Dahl fan, I relished the opportunity to read his official biography. I have to say, this was one of the best. It was not only entertaining, concentrating equally on Roald’s personal life and professional writing life, it was also unbiased, highlighting both the bad and the good; he was a highly complex man, with many extremes and contradictions. The book did a great job of balancing these aspects, which is no easy feat. I’d recommend this book to not only fans of Dahl, but w As a life long Roald Dahl fan, I relished the opportunity to read his official biography. I have to say, this was one of the best. It was not only entertaining, concentrating equally on Roald’s personal life and professional writing life, it was also unbiased, highlighting both the bad and the good; he was a highly complex man, with many extremes and contradictions. The book did a great job of balancing these aspects, which is no easy feat. I’d recommend this book to not only fans of Dahl, but writers, entertainers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kitty

    An interesting biography - well written. Full of surprises for someone not acquainted with Dahl's life. Whoever knew his first book was made into a Walt Disney movie - with Dahl being quite a pain in the ass for everyone? I Read this as an audiobook on Storytel, months ago, so it's not fresh in my mind. But I loved it - it was off detail, and as much about his work as about his private life.

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