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Steven Spielberg: A Biography [Paperback]

Joseph McBride
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Aug 1998
Steven Spielberg is responsible for some of the most successful films of all time: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and the 'Indiana Jones' series. Yet for many years most critics condescendingly regarded Spielberg as a child-man incapable of dealing maturely with the complexities of life. The deeper levels of meaning in his films were largely ignored. This changed with Schindler's List, his masterpiece about a gentile businessman who saves eleven hundred Jews from the Holocaust. For Spielberg, the film was the culmination of a long struggle with his Jewish identity - an identity of which he had long been ashamed, but now triumphantly embraced. In his astute and perceptive biography, Joseph McBride reconciles Spielberg's seeming contradictions and produces a coherent portrait of the man who found a way to transmute the anxieties of his own childhood into some of the most emotionally powerful and viscerally exciting films ever made.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New Ed edition (24 Aug 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571193730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571193738
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.6 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,151,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Writing a biography is tough enough when the subject is dead and the biographer must rely on a paper trail and recollections of contemporaries to relate the essence of the subject's life. When they are still alive--and especially when he is as powerful as Steven Spielberg--a whole new set of problems emerge. For one thing, it's difficult to find anyone willing to criticize a man who pulls as many strings in the film industry as Spielberg; for another, how does one evaluate a career that is still in progress? If the definitive Spielberg biography cannot yet be written, Joseph McBride's Steven Spielberg: A Biography will suffice in the interim. Though certainly affected by the aforementioned constraints, McBride still creates an impressive portrait of the man behind Schindler's List, E.T., Jurassic Park, and many, many more.

McBride is especially effective at drawing out the contours of Spielberg's childhood. Born in 1946 to Arnold and Leah Spielberg, the young Steven endured both frequent moves and his parents' unhappy domestic life. These factors, combined with the anti- Semitism he encountered as a teenager, drove the introverted Spielberg to seek approval through film-making. In addition to exploring Spielberg's private life, McBride offers some perceptive criticism of his work. Anyone interested in the film industry and Spielberg's place in it will find Joseph McBride's Steven Spielberg a valuable resource. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Film history at its best: rich in information, often dazzling in perception." --"Kirkus Reviews""Shrewd and unsentimental." --"Publishers Weekly""Compulsively readable. . . . This will get us as close to Spielberg as we can without being Kate Capshaw." --"New Times" (Los Angeles) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and enlightening 30 Jun 2003
As a huge fan of Spielberg's work, I wanted to find out as much as possible about the great man's life behind the camera. This book has all the information needed to quench my thirst for the Spielberg info I required! It is a large book exhausively researched, jam-packed with as much information as the author could lay his hands on. Overall, an entertaining read for fans - probably the best Spielberg biography available. Much reccommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Ewan
I've now read about five or six biographies of Steven Spielberg and all vary in depth and quality. However Joseph McBride book can only be described as THE most in-depth account of Spielberg's fascinating life. You simply won't read a more well-researched account of Spielberg's life unless the great man writes his autobiography. Don't be put off by the fact that Spielberg didn't co-operate with this book, virtually everyone else did including, most surprisingly, his father. A terrific read from start to finish.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Steven Spielberg's films have dominated the past 25 years of cinema, and have set the tone for the impersonal, large scale, special effects laiden offerings which fill the multiplexes. So it may come as a surprise when it is argued that these films are deeply personal, but that is what Joseph Mcbride does in this book.
The book is well researched, and goes into extreme detail about Spielberg's childhood. It is well balanced and it is not afraid to criticise (the section detailing the helicoptor accident on the set of the Twilight Zone film is very informative).
Yet the book falls down when relating these biographical details to the content of Spielberg's films. To suggest that Spielberg's films (especially those that he did not write or direct) all stem from his childhood is unconvincing and does nothing to explain why those films have been so popular and have had such an impact on Hollywood.
If you are looking for accurate information about Spielberg's life (especially his childhood) look no further. However, if you want to understand Spielberg's films better or find out how they were made, avoid this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So far, the definitive account of Spielberg's life. 28 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I've now read about five or six biographies of Steven Spielberg and all vary in depth and quality. However Joseph McBride book can only be described as THE most in-depth account of Spielberg's fascinating life. You simply won't read a more well-researched account of Spielberg's life unless the great man writes his autobiography. Don't be put off by the fact that Spielberg didn't co-operate with this book, virtually everyone else did including, most surprisingly, his father. A terrific read from start to finish.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spielberg Well-Served by a Master Biographer 7 Feb 2011
By Judy Schavrien - Published on
It is no surprise that McBride by now is the consultant critic on a host of DVDs and repeatedly recognized, especially in Europe, as a top-notch biographer. It is no surprise either that he is my favorite; I wouldn't pretend to have a final insight into a director without having read his "last word" on that person. Somehow he sees his directors in the round, covering everything from their visuals to their politics, and he sees them in psychological depth. His portrait of Spielberg is no exception. He shows movingly how Spielberg used filmmaking to compensate for his feelings of exclusion and the abuse he suffered as a Jewish kid who spent much of his youth in largely gentile neighborhoods. Spielberg needed friendship and popularity, and making films was his way of getting them. It is no insult to say that Spielberg became a great popular artist--who, however, also went beyond this: McBride captures the gist, especially in this second edition, by comparing him with Charles Dickens. Chesterton wrote that Dickens felt as one with the common people and in his work poured out his feelings for them without condescension.

Today there is no doubt about Dickens but some still cast doubt upon Spielberg's artistic status. McBride charts Spielberg's progress from that of a director characterized by critics as little more than a polished entertainer to a filmmaker of stature: Spielberg's work has grappled with subjects from the Holocaust to slavery, civil liberties, and terrorism, and handled the themes with seriousness and maturity. Like Dickens, Spielberg is an artist with a burning passion for social justice. And McBride, interestingly enough, makes a case that Spielberg was always a serious artist, from such early professional works as "Amblin'," "Duel," and "The Sugarland Express" onward, and that he remains one of our most sophisticated, versatile, and gifted directors.

The new material McBride adds to his original 1997 biography includes four chapters dealing with Spielberg's unusual dual career track in recent years as both a director and a mogul. Whatever one thinks of Spielberg's career as a producer and DreamWorks executive, McBride surprisingly argues, with some persuasiveness, that Spielberg's own work as a filmmaker has not as a result suffered, but rather the opposite. After all, Spielberg--who, by his own report, thrives on multitasking--has made some of his most challenging and artistically significant films since 1997, including "Amistad," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," "Minority Report," and "Munich."

Again, I cannot recommend too highly McBride as a biographer and critic who is at the same time minutely diligent and panoramically imaginative, catching and able to catch all sides, including the ambiguous ones, of his beloved subject. This is the kind of biography you will want to read and it updates the Spielberg material to the present moment. McBride will give you good reason to consider that a director who is a highly successful popularizer may well at the same time be a cultural treasure.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE book to understand The Master 1 Jan 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Impressive, insightful, clever (and sometimes critical) description of the first 51 years in the life of a cinematic genius. Every page is a delight. You feel like an insider in Spielbergland. It's an amazing amount of work (more than 300 interviews). Do not hesitate.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What don't you know about him after reading this book? 6 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Steven Spielberg: The most famous film director ever. Anybody knows the name, even small children. He's directed Hook for the younger ones, and Saving Private Ryan for those of us that are older. There is so many films that I could list, I won't even try. But this book isn't just about his movies. They're mentioned quite often, but the truly great thing about this book is the detail.
You learn so much about his family that you could almost be part of it. After reading this book, you could very well know more about his great grandparents than you do about your own. You learn of his childhood and how he made movies when he was young, to how he matured into making great films that we all know and love.
It's a long book, and now you know why. It gives you plenty of reading, and it'll keep you interested. It's also got pictures of him working on movies like E.T. and even him directing other thirteen year olds when he was a child. If you're considering purchasing this book, don't wait any longer. Once you sit down and begin reading, you won't know why you waited in the first place.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't do justice to its impressive research 16 Aug 2000
By Craig MACKINNON - Published on
I want to give this book 4 stars, but I just can't bring myself to do it. This book is certainly an impressive scholarly work - well researched, reasonably well referenced, and when there is analysis offered, it is thorough and insightful.
Unfortunately, the analysis is also my major complaint with the book. McBride seems to haphazardly pick pictures to analyse, while ignoring others. What possessed him to give devote more pages to 1941 than all the Indiana Jones movies combined? Further, he has a tendency to focus too much on the story of the movie - I submit that most people reading this book have seen these movies and can draw their own conclusions about the significance of the story. We'd rather hear about how they were made, etc. That is, more facts and less analysis would would make this a better book.
The first half of the book is very good, because the author takes his time explaining family connections, his amateur films, etc. It is a little repetitive (how often does McBride feel he has to tell us that Spielberg felt like an outsider growing up?), but the detail and narrative flow are very good, telling us a lot about the man behind the movies. Especially interesting is the information on S's TV work.
The second half of the book rapidly degenerates into a shallow overview of things we already know about Spielberg, and is very disappointing. It's almost like McBride had a page limit, and after spending so much time on S's childhood, he had to rush through the remaining material, save for sections on Schindler's List and Colour Purple (both deserving movies, of course). Even Jurassic Park is little more than a sideshow, wherein McBride denegrates Crichton's novel (a fate that Peter Benchley's Jaws seems to avoid, even though in my opinion JP is a work far superior to Jaws) and comments on how Spielberg worked on the effects in Poland while shooting Schindler's List. Even his fine analytical powers seem to break down. What else could possess him to comment that Raider of the Lost ark is racist and "a soulless and impersonal film", while praising Last Crusade as "a graceful piece of popular filmaking...gratifyingly free of racist overtones that blighted the two previous films." Huh? Has McBride actually watched these three movies together? Or does he really think it's okay to portray stereotyped Arabs, but not stereotyped Indians or Nepalese?
At any rate, this is an important work, recommended for anyone that wants to learn more about the early life and works of Spielberg. But I would suggest putting it down without reading the last 5 chapters.
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