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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times Critics' Top Book of the Year 

One of our most brilliant biographers takes on one of our greatest living playwrights, drawing on a wealth of new materials and on many conversations with him.

“An extraordinary record of a vital and evolving artistic life, replete with textured illuminations of the plays and their performances, and shaped by the arc of Stoppard’s exhilarating engagement with the world around him, and of his eventual awakening to his own past.” (Harper's)

Tom Stoppard is a towering and beloved literary figure. Known for his dizzying narrative inventiveness and intense attention to language, he deftly deploys art, science, history, politics, and philosophy in works that span a remarkable spectrum of literary genres: theater, radio, film, TV, journalism, and fiction. His most acclaimed creations - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Real Thing, Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Shakespeare in Love - remain as fresh and moving as when they entranced their first audiences.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard escaped the Nazis with his mother and spent his early years in Singapore and India before arriving in England at age eight. Skipping university, he embarked on a brilliant career, becoming close friends over the years with an astonishing array of writers, actors, directors, musicians, and political figures, from Peter O'Toole, Harold Pinter, and Stephen Spielberg to Mick Jagger and Václav Havel. Having long described himself as a "bounced Czech", Stoppard only learned late in life of his mother's Jewish family and of the relatives he lost to the Holocaust.

Lee's absorbing biography seamlessly weaves Stoppard's life and work together into a vivid, insightful, and always riveting portrait of a remarkable man.

©2021 Hermione Lee (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS' TOP BOOK OF THE YEAR • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, Vogue, Kirkus

"[Tom Stoppard] is widely considered Britain’s greatest living playwright. But this triumphant tale had its origins in tragedy and dislocation, as we find in Tom Stoppard: A Life, by the empathetic, meticulous biographer Hermione Lee. . . . Mr. Stoppard’s works have always combined dazzling theatricality with heavy intellectualism and Big Subjects: the nature of knowledge in \"Jumpers\"; mathematical theorems, Romantic poetry and landscape gardening in ‘Arcadia’; textual scholarship and artistic ideals in ‘The Invention of Love.’ He has managed to reap great commercial rewards without deigning to dumb down his material for middlebrow theatergoers—a rare achievement in show business. ‘I know half the audience may not understand this,’ he remarked of one of his scenes, ‘but I’m writing for the other half.’ . . . Tom Stoppard: A Life is an authorized work; in fact, Mr. Stoppard chose Ms. Lee as his biographer and accorded the author scores of interviews over several years. Ms. Lee [is] a formidable literary scholar.”  —Brooke Allen, The Wall Street Journal

"In this near-perfect combination of author and subject, Hermione Lee crafts a biography of one of the greatest living playwrights. Stoppard’s work includes not only plays (‘Arcadia’) but also films (‘Shakespeare in Love’). The book will surely be the jumping-off point for all future studies of Stoppard."  Christian Science Monitor

"[Stoppard] emerges from Lee’s book as a magnetic figure to whom others cluster and swarm, and around whom happy accidents, chance encounters, new loves, and worldly goods are heaped like iron filings. . . . Lee steers us through each play, major or minor, with a sturdy account of the background, the plot, the production, the casting, the reviews, the transfers to other theatres, and the intellectual grist. . . . To his battalions of fans, as to his detractors, Stoppard is the cerebrator-in-chief, whose plays dispatch you into the outside world with a pleasantly spinning head. (‘Oh, do keep up!’ an actor suddenly said, addressing the audience, at a matinée of ‘Travesties.’) Part of Lee’s mission is to demonstrate that this constricted view of him will not suffice. She’s right; Stoppard is no more Tin Man than he is Scarecrow, and to treat the emotional impact of The Real Thing as an unprecedented jolt, as some critics chose to do, is to ignore the heartaches and pains that suffused what had come before.”  —Anthony Lane, The New Yorker 

What listeners say about Tom Stoppard

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great biography

A terrific biography of a charming, intelligent and playful man. Sometimes the author goes into over elaborate detail recounting the plots of Stoppard's plays (which I imagine you would have already read or seen if you're listening to a biography of him) but apart from that I enjoyed the book very much. Definitely worth checking out as the book gets you thinking and feeling inspired much like the plays of Tom Stoppard do.

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If you’re a Stoppard fan

This book is long, but it was a great listen. It made me want to revisit his old plays, and delve into ones I haven’t seen or read.

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Best bio ever!

What a fantastic bio in every way! Congrats Hermione Lee ! It is so comprehensive and educational and incite full on the great playwright and his works!

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  • 03-30-21

Amazing theatre artist

Wonderfully written, a great story, I am missing listening it after it was done. A great look at slice of the British theatre world.