Itzkoff has delivered a breathtakingly good biography, exhilarating a lot of the time, yet disturbing, too, and one of the best books ever written about anyone who sees no way out of life except by trying to make people laugh. Or is it weeping? Who can tell in a storm? ... He was 24, profuse and unmanageable, and by March 1979 he was on the cover of Time. Nothing in Itzkoff’s unstintingly readable book is as amazing as those few years — because they are possibly the ones in which Robin was most lyrically free ... He did not really write his own material or shape his projects. But when the hurricane was there, he let it vent. He was unique, and this book needs no subtitle. Just hope no one ever tries to play him.
Though Robin, at upwards of 500 pages, is exhaustively reported and doesn’t shy away from the abundant messiness in Williams’s personal life, it never crosses the threshold from critical assessment into bonkers character assassination, nor does it marinate in sordidness ... The conventional wisdom on comics, especially troubled ones, is that their funniness comes from pain. But Robin doesn’t support this thesis...So what made him tick, for better and for worse? Here is where Robin, for all its length, comes up a little short...I would have appreciated some more authorial imposition, some attempts by Itzkoff to collate what he has learned and what he thinks into some psychological insights into Williams’s character ... In fairness to Itzkoff, it’s this very will-o’-the-wisp quality that makes Williams a tricky man to pin down. Robin is as definitive an account as we’re ever likely to have of the man, but, like the shape-shifting genie he voiced in Disney’s Aladdin, Williams was not entirely of this earth, and a part of him will always elude capture.
...[an] immersive, intimate and incredibly detailed new biography. It’s a revealing, warts-and-all portrait of a man of great talent trying to design a career and a life while being buffeted around by a cacophony of contradictory voices and impulses. At almost 500 pages, the book is the result of exhaustive research and fan-like devotion ... In the end, Itzkoff describes Williams’s last act through reporting that’s detailed enough to allow us to make some sense of his despair. I guess it’s better to understand that, when he took his own life, he’d been transformed by the throes of dementia. Sadly, that doesn’t make the tragedy any easier to bear.
...the most thorough biography yet of the legendary entertainer ... Itzkoff’s research shines considerable light on what led to the Oscar winner’s unexpected suicide in 2014 and how a form of body dementia was already creeping in, a devastating diagnosis for a man whose life depended so much on being animated ... Still, Itzkoff can’t quite crack the surface, a shortcoming he admits in the book’s epilogue ... For the most part, Robin is a nimble, joyous journey down memory lane — just the way Williams might have planned it.
Dave Itzkoff’s biography gets its hands around as much of that life as possible. It's an incisive, comprehensive, very fine book ... It’s a fascinating life, and the author captures it with grace and evenhanded perception ... Robin reads smoothly and eloquently, though you wouldn’t mind a few more passages where Itzkoff’s critical intelligence takes off and leaves the organized, orderly reporter behind for a while. Biographies of famous funny people are funny that way: They require both kinds of writers. At his best, Itzkoff is both, and Robin is all the better for it.
Compiled from thousands of hours of interviews and a lifetime of research, Robin clearly represents Itzkoff’s shot at the authoritative text on one of the most important actors of the 20th century. It’s mostly successful ... Williams’s life resists the classic Campbellian hero’s narrative journey, but Itzkoff manages to keep things interesting ... All along the way, you can feel Itzkoff’s warmth for his subject shining through. He’s clearly watched every performance of Williams’s that he could find, and read every interview he could track down, and like the best biographers, he’s fallen a little bit in love with Williams. His Williams is a fundamentally decent man who occasionally falls prey to his flaws but who eventually comes out the other side a better person. Itzkoff believes in Williams’s genius, and he explains it as clearly and as passionately as he can.
...an engaging and intimate chronicle of the cultural icon who took America by storm ... Spoiler alert: This is not a funny book. Off stage, comics rarely are a bundle of laughs: As Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, 'Humor is the mistress of sorrow.' But Itzkoff has both covered here. There are moments when the reader will laugh out loud.
...[a] terrific biography ... I’m not saying that Robin is a bummer, by any means, or that it’s just another tears-of-a-clown story. Itzkoff’s a better writer than that, and he gives us a man whose life was a series of triumphs and tragedies, addiction and sobriety, marriage and infidelity, depression and stability ... an artfully shaped, fact-filled book that honors the truth of his life.
Itzkoff brings all this alive through the dogged reporting one would expect of a longtime New York Times culture writer. He knows when to use Williams’ words, from interviews by the author and others, even from Williams’ handwritten script notes. He deftly weaves in evocative quotes from friends/family/peers, and taps written research sources. Topping it off are Itzkoff’s visceral descriptions of Williams’ effervescent performances ... Itzkoff has somehow prepared us well for all of this, keeping us clued into so many aspects of Williams’ life, with finesse and foreboding, but no showy sentiment. His writing is simply imbued with Williams’ special intimate connection.
Dave Itzkoff’s exhaustive and exhausting biography of the inimitable comedian and actor, Robin, meticulously traces Williams’ life and career, his seemingly overnight success, marriages, infidelities and closest friendships, using extensive personal interviews of family and friends. Itzkoff largely allows Williams’ inner circle to supply the psychological analysis on the late creative genius.
Itzkoff can only scratch the surface of what made Williams so compelling in words; there’s a sense that he trusts readers to understand references or to at least search YouTube for themselves. Biographies like Robin, especially one written after a tragic death, unfortunately try to fill in the blanks and answer the questions that its subject left behind ... On that front, Itzkoff stumbles, even as he concludes the book talking about Lewy body disease, a Parkinson’s like disorder that causes hallucinations and paranoia that may have contributed to Williams’ terrible decision ... is as thoughtful as ever ... Itzkoff tells this story well.
Alas, poor Robin. While your star shines, your biographer shambles. Granted, the challenge of writing about someone of sparkling talent is daunting, but there’s no excuse for plodding prose ... No surprise that the best lines in the book belong to Williams, who psychoanalyzed himself better than anyone could.
Itzkoff, who knew the late Robin Williams on a personal level, gives us the biography we’ve been waiting for ... this isn’t one of those skimming-the-surface Hollywood bios. It’s a meaty, well-researched, moving story of a man who could never quite come to terms with his own brilliance.