Laurie Woolever, Bourdain's longtime assistant and confidante, interviewed nearly a hundred of the people who shared Tony's orbit — from members of his kitchen crews to his writing, publishing, and television partners, to his daughter and his closest friends — in order to piece together a vision of Tony's life and work.
... absorbing ... Woolever’s book does a much better job [than a recent documentary] of filling the void, and she’s the ideal person to tell Bourdain’s story ... Collectively, [the interviewees'] stories and remembrances are heartbreaking, infuriating, inspiring, damning, loving and sometimes even disorienting. We learn over the course of more than 400 pages that the portrait Bourdain painted of himself—tough, empathetic, quick-witted, curious, damaged, competitive, no-nonsense—was just a sketch. So many shadings had yet to be filled in. The transparency that Bourdain implicitly promised us through his writings and shows, we come to find out, was far more opaque ... The beauty of this book is its ability to balance joy and pain.
The interviews have been organized to craft a well-rounded—read: flawed—portrait of Bourdain. The narrative builds toward his inevitable suicide, as if attempting to come to terms with his decision, if not to justify it, at least to explain it. Woolever is successful at finding a narrative from these interviews, and she takes us on an emotional journey. The book offers a compelling story, and not just for fans of Bourdain unsated by his untimely end. For many onlookers, Bourdain lived an aspirational, globetrotting lifestyle, but Woolever makes clear it was less than ideal ... Woolever has gathered interviews from a wide cross section of people, including his family, his film crew, and celebrities from his time on television. Woolever’s skill as an editor is in merging these disparate voices to appear as though the whole cast is engaged in one great conversation with each other. The interviews flow together into coherent scenes...If you listen carefully, you might just hear the gentle tambour of his voice ... What is perhaps lost in the text is the individuality of the contributors. It’s difficult to assess who is truthful and who is exaggerating, who is sugar coating Bourdain and who is remembering him with greater fondness after his death. Bourdain was clearly troubled. But also loved and adored by the people in his life. Perhaps nobody wants to speak badly of the dead. There seems to be agreement among the contributors that Bourdain was loving and caring, if not always spectacular at expressing those emotions ... Creating Argento as a villain provides energy to the narrative and creates a tension we as readers want resolved. Bourdain’s death in this narrative is inevitable, but the reasons for it are a mystery. Argento provides a reason ... These interviews aren’t showing us something we didn’t already know about him, but the book does offer the opportunity to prolong the time we spend with Bourdain, a personality so many people already believe they knew ... The redundancy is reassuring. It’s the kind of book that feels like slipping into conversation with a long absent friend. It expands the Bourdain industrial complex. It’s different but familiar. If the objective is finding an answer to all the questions leading up to Bourdain’s death, of course it fails because explaining why a person takes their own life is an impossible task. But the book does succeed in showing us a more three-dimensional person, and for many fans who convinced themselves Anthony Bourdain lived an ideal life, these interviews illustrate faults many may not have realized he possessed.
... a fascinating account of Bourdain’s childhood through his untimely death ... The oral-history format makes for a rangy, sometimes self-contradictory, and roundly true-feeling portrait of a captivating person. Bourdain’s fans will find it impossible to put down.