Wunderkind Mike Nichols burst onto the scene in his early 20s as half of a hit improv duo with Elaine May, then went on to direct four consecutive hit plays, win back-to-back Tonys, and usher in a new era of cinema with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Mark Harris gives an accounting of this complicated and consequential figure.
It's difficult, of course, to write a book that seeks to know someone who seemed incapable of being known, but Harris does so perfectly; Mike Nichols is a masterful biography, and essential reading for anyone interested in theater or film ... Nichols, with his quicksilver mood and wide-ranging career, is a challenging subject for a biographer, but Harris does a beautiful job painting a portrait of a man who was as brilliant as he was enigmatic ... Harris also packs the book with his own intelligent analyses of Nichols' work ... Anyone with an abiding love for film or theater will be fascinated by Mike Nichols, but even those with only a passing familiarity with his work are likely to find themselves taken in by this engrossing biography. Harris' book is a masterwork, endlessly engaging, and one of the best biographies of an American artist to be published in recent years.
Mark Harris’s portrait of director Mike Nichols is a pleasure to read and a model biography: appreciative yet critical, unfailingly intelligent and elegantly written. Granted, Harris has a hyper-articulate, self-analytical subject who left a trail of press coverage behind him, but Nichols used his dazzling conversational gifts to obfuscate and beguile as much as to confide ... Harris, a savvy journalist and the author of two excellent cultural histories, makes judicious use of abundant sources in Mike Nichols: A Life to craft a shrewd, in-depth reckoning of the elusive man behind the polished facade ... Harris gently covers those declining years with respect for the achievements that preceded them. His marvelous book makes palpable in artful detail the extraordinary scope and brilliance of those achievements.
One way to read Mark Harris’s crisp new biography, Mike Nichols: A Life, is as a tender comedy about a man and his wigs ... Nichols was a hard man to get to know, and I’m not sure we understand him much better at the end of Mike Nichols: A Life. He was a man in perpetual motion, and Harris chases him with patience, clarity and care.