The Definitive Oral Biography
If you’ve followed this blog for even a short amount of time, you know what huge fans Laura and I are of Tony. Naturally, when this was announced, I knew I was going to read it as soon as I could.
From the publisher marketing:
An unprecedented behind-the-scenes view into the life of Anthony Bourdain from the people who knew him best
When Anthony Bourdain died in June 2018, fans around the globe came together to celebrate the life of an inimitable man who had dedicated his life to traveling nearly everywhere (and eating nearly everything), shedding light on the lives and stories of others. His impact was outsized and his legacy has only grown since his death.
Now, for the first time, we have been granted a look into Bourdain’s life through the stories and recollections of his closest friends and colleagues. 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 remarkably full, vivid, and nuanced vision of Tony’s life and work.
From his childhood and teenage days, to his early years in New York, through the genesis of his game-changing memoir Kitchen Confidential to his emergence as a writing and television personality, and in the words of friends and colleagues including Eric Ripert, José Andrés, Nigella Lawson, and W. Kamau Bell, as well as family members including his brother and his late mother, we see the many sides of Tony–his motivations, his ambivalence, his vulnerability, his blind spots, and his brilliance.
Unparalleled in scope and deeply intimate in its execution, with a treasure trove of photos from Tony’s life, Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography is a testament to the life of a remarkable man in the words of the people who shared his world.
For the past three years we, as a culture, have been searching for Tony’s voice as we all navigate through this crazy world. Millions of people worldwide watched him travel the world and have authentic conversations with the people he found everywhere from Vietnam to Texas. I’d come to rely on him to tell me that there was still good in the world even when the news seemed bleak and then suddenly, unexpectedly, his voice was gone.
I finally feel like I can stop looking now that I’ve read Bourdain. He really is gone, and this book will help everyone appreciate him, but acknowledge that there will never be another like him. For his many fans, we just need to take his message, “be a traveler not a tourist” to heart and travel in his memory and finally say goodbye. For those hoping that World Travel would have allowed us to say goodbye and were disappointed, I’m satisfied in saying that this is the one that will bring closure.
A comprehensive portrait of the man by those who knew him best, Bourdain is, thankfully, not a hagiography – he was no saint. I’m also glad that the focus is not on his death but him as a person and, mostly, the twenty years of his life after Kitchen Confidential, the twenty years of his life he shared with all of us.
Included in the early years are his brother, Chris, mother, Gladys, as well as his childhood sweetheart and first wife, Nancy. The middle years feature the real people behind the aliases of Kitchen Confidential sharing their sides of the story. The television years bring us his second wife, Ottavia, daughter Ariane, best friend Eric, and crew from his various shows over the years.
The parts that are “missing” I’m glad are missing – there is nothing from Eric Ripert about his final days and his girlfriend at the time of his death is not included at all. Ariane, his daughter, has the closing reflection of the book, a fitting tribute to her dad. It’s a well organized book, but I wish Laurie had stepped out from behind the editor’s desk and added some of her own recollections as well.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon. Click the image below to add the book to your StoryGraph!