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.