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Stuart: A Life Backwards

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,789 Ratings  ·  328 Reviews
In this extraordinary book, Alexander Masters has created a moving portrait of a troubled man, an unlikely friendship, and a desperate world few ever see. A gripping who-done-it journey back in time, it begins with Masters meeting a drunken Stuart lying on a sidewalk in Cambridge, England, and leads through layers of hell…back through crimes and misdemeanors, prison and ho ...more
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published May 30th 2006 by Delacorte Press (first published 2005)
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Mar 12, 2016 Jenna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: You! Yes, you. Read this. It's amazing.
Excuse me while I go pick up the broken pieces of my shattered heart from the floor.
Sally Green
Apr 22, 2016 Sally Green rated it it was amazing
I don't read a lot of biographies and I picked this book up on a whim a few days ago when I was filling in time browsing in the bookshop because I was early for my hairdresser appointment. I bought the book because of the opening page, which I read in the shop. Hair done, magazines read, holiday's discussed (not really), I went home and ignored my teetering 'to read' pile and got stuck into 'Stuart' because of page 6. Basically, if you like pages 1 to 6 of this book then you'll like the rest. I ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 15, 2010 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
A beautiful dog, some kind of retriever probably, had a litter of puppies, every one of them a golden ball of pure joy, and this directly led to the deaths of three people in Oxford, that famous university town in England, some years ago. The people were homeless, and it's a known fact that homeless people love their dogs, because their dogs are their family. And plus, a dog will keep you warm at night. And especially they loved these little puppies and were thrilled when the owner of the puppie ...more
Aug 15, 2012 Lucy rated it really liked it
I’ve just finished this book, and honestly I’m so ineloquent with words I’m not going to even try and write a proper review, I could never do it any justice or hope to explain all the little thoughts about life it made me have - but I want everyone to read it.

It was incredibly sad, insightful, funny, heart warming and disturbing. I know Stuart had done some terrible things in his short life, that he was incredibly damaged but I thought he was also extremely charismatic and intellegent, a beautif
Mark Glover
May 25, 2013 Mark Glover rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very moving accurate and unromanticised view of the issue of homelessness, addiction and mental illness, Masters achieves something quite rare in confronting the inherent tragedy of these issues without glossing over the real life choices that led to Stuart's dilemma. There is seemingly a whole industry spawned from tragic life stories and those that have overcome great difficulties to simply have a normal existence but what Masters achieves through his telling of Stuart's story is highlight t ...more
Aug 20, 2012 liz rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
So all of the praise on the jacket seems to involve people falling over themselves. Not that there's anything wrong with that. And not that I don't get it. It's just that, well... it's not that kind of a book. Stuart is a homeless guy... except he's not, when we meet him. Who's mentally ill... except he's doing okay, when we meet him. Who's been in prison countless times. Who the system failed... except it didn't, because somebody who wasn't himself had to get him out of that parking garage. Stu ...more
Jan 07, 2008 minnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
This biography tells the life story of Stuart Shorter, a homeless knife wielding nutter, from the present back to his childhood, to explain how he went from being a happy go lucky little boy to a homeless drug addict. I loved this book, but read it with a sense of foreboding, knowing that it was going to go back to some horrible events in his childhood , and it does. The book jumps back and forth quite a bit, some of it is funny as Stuart tells of his various stints in prisons all over England, ...more
Having spent most of my life working in the human services field, this book really gave me a lot to think about. Then again, it would have done that no matter what. For years I tried so hard not to let myself become jaded or cynical about the clients I worked with, realizing that the behavior I witnessed and the personal details I knew about probably only scratched the surfaces of the sum total of their lives' experiences (full admission: ultimately, I failed). This book delves deep beneath surf ...more
Jan 21, 2013 Elisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Questo libro mi serviva proprio. E dire che l'ho scelto per il pozzo letterario di gennaio solamente perché il film che è stato prodotto dopo l'uscita di Stuart ha come attore Benedict Cumberbatch.
Non avevo idea di che cosa parlasse. Non avevo idea che fosse una storia vera.
Questo libro mi ha tirato uno schiaffo, mi ha svegliato via, mi ha tirato addosso una vagonata di realtà, quale non ne avevo mai visto prima.
Stuart: una vita al contrario narra la storia a partire dalla fine di Stuart, un tre
Jan 06, 2016 Abby rated it really liked it
Alexander Masters presents a riveting and humanizing portrait of Stuart Shorter, aka “Psycho,” an off-again/on-again homeless Brit, an ex-convict, a former junkie, alcoholic, and an all-around decent and forgivable human being. As the subtitle explains, Masters tells Shorter’s biography backward, explaining with heartbreaking detail the chapters of Shorter’s unhappy and unlucky life and the circumstances that brought them together. The little illustrations (presumably by Masters?) and reproducti ...more
Sian Wadey
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

When I found out that this was one of the 25 books I had won from Booka I was really excited. I'd seen the film and absolutley loved it thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy. It hadn't taken me long to love Stuart. When I started the book I felt that same tone. Despite the potentially depressing subject matter I found myself smiling at what Stuart said and I was eager to read the next chapter. Unlike most biographies there was real humour and w
Tara Wood
Aug 09, 2012 Tara Wood rated it it was amazing
I will admit, I saw the film first. Benedict Cumberbatch. ‘Nuff said. But I was so captivated by the story of Stuart Shorter and his subsequent portrayal by Tom Hardy (he was ace!), that I had to read the book.

This is a wonderful book. Alexander Masters captures the essence of Stuart in a way that is compelling and heartbreaking all at the same time. It is the story of a young man so embroiled in pain and tragedy, yet has such a profound outlook on life. I ached for Stuart, Alexander, and Stuart
May 29, 2012 Sophie rated it really liked it
I'm not usually the sort of person to read biographies, but this just captivated me. From this book I have learned so much about the lives of people like stuart, who we alienate from society so much. That alone should be a good reason for anyone to read this book. Stuart is a great person: logical, clever and funny, and it's enjoyable to 'be' around him in this book, which makes me all the more sympathetic towards his situation and life's events, which have stopped him from being and excellent p ...more
Apr 07, 2008 Bookmaniac70 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bookmaniac70 by: JPix
It was an unusual book. The phenomenon of homelessness has been always a mystery to me;I have been always asking myself how it happens,is it only poverty or something else; why people used to living in the streets,cannot return their lives to normal even if given the opportunity? The book says a lot about all these things but also,it doesn`t and can`t answer all the questions.

First of all,"Stuart" is a precious document of a human life. It is also a valuable document on how homeless people thin
Sarah Watt
Aug 14, 2007 Sarah Watt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literally everyone
This is a highly original and captivating memoir which has captured the hearts of readers everywhere. "Stuart, A Life Backwards", is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer and illustrator ('a middle class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander') and a chaotic, knife-wielding beggar whom he gets to know during a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Interwoven into this, is Stuart's confession: the story of his life, told backwards. With h ...more
Memoirs and biographies are usually the privilege of the rich and the famous, so it's interesting that a writer would want to nitpick through the gritty details of a homeless person's life and write a biography of sorts for them, but I'm very glad that Alexander Masters took on the challenge.

This book is a warts and all insight into the life of Stuart Shorter, told in reverse from the present day and winding its way back to his childhood, and it makes for some very difficult reading. Stuart's l
Oct 28, 2015 Jo rated it liked it
This is by no means an easy read. I had to keep reminding myself that it was a true story about a real person because the truths of Stuart's past are so disturbing I didn't want them to be real. But happen they did and as shocking as they are they affected Stuart's entire life. This book did make me think about my own life and how naive my view of the world may be because I, like many others, have never suffered in the way Stuart has. But then again, no one should have to.

The lightness amongst
May 11, 2014 Jill rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 09, 2008 Ramorx rated it did not like it
A social worker gets paid to be friends with a social basket case and then writes a novel about him. Ethical depravity.
Nov 16, 2011 Jordan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brit-lit, non-fiction
"Stuart: A Life Backwards," the biography of a Cambridge homeless man could also go by the title "Stuart: A Life Unanswered." Alexander Masters, or as his subject Stuart Shorter calls him, "middle class c***," narrates the life story of a man most of us would literally step over on the street, with no overt solution on how he may be rescued from his semi-chosen state. Unlike most of biographical heroes, Stuart's life isn't notable for what he's done, but more for the continuously terrible things ...more
S. Wilson
Jun 10, 2009 S. Wilson rated it really liked it
Stuart, the focus of Alexander Masters' book, is as enigmatic and polarizing as real people tend to get. There is a reason that Masters introduces us to Stuart now, rather than beginning at the childhood that spawned this creature.

Stuart is akin to a horrific train wreck that you can not tear your eyes away from; he is scary and depressing, repulsive and untantalizing, yet somehow silumtaneously mesmerizing and endearing. You wouldn't want to share an elevator or a dark alley with this character
Apr 22, 2009 Cynthea rated it it was ok
Shelves: nypl
i hated this book. i gave it TWO stars, because well, stuart and alexander shouldn't be punished because i work in the social services field w/ mentally ill chemically addicted offenders. it is a tough book to read - it is not funny (or, at least i didn't find it funny anywhere as other reviewers have), the lack of any british slang translation makes other things really difficult, and i mean come on, how much of a train wreck of a life can you read without getting really depressed?

i work with th
Zoë Clapperton
Aug 19, 2012 Zoë Clapperton rated it really liked it
The story of Stuart Shorter is the story of a person nobody wants to know- the homeless 'nutter', the beggar, the addict, the offender. Nobody that is, except, for reasons that aren't at first clear even to him, Alexander Masters, a hostel worker who stumbles across Stuart begging in Cambridge. Their relationship is unique in literature, one is an illiterate yob and the other is an ex-boarding-school pupil and do-gooder. Somehow they immediately connect and as their touching relationship unfolds ...more
Aug 28, 2009 Kirsten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I would urge most people I know to read this book. It was not new to me that people who go through abuse and difficult childhoods have a tendance to become pretty messed-up adults. However this book showed day-to-day details, a specific individual story, and gave - finally - a face to it. It made me hate humans and what they are capable of but then again I'm a cynical bastard so I always have done anyway. It was also personally interesting for me that this whole story took place in a town at a t
Have you ever walked past a street person and wondered how he or she got there? Every one of them has a story, but it's a story we'd rather ignore, just as we'd rather ignore them. Masters gives us the story of one man and, through it, a glimpse into a damaged life. Stuart is appallingly damaged, and the explanation for how he got to where he ended up--addicted to multiple substances, chaotic, unstable, violent, and unpredictable--is sad and awful. Masters does not romanticise Stuart or show him ...more
May 10, 2010 Suzanne rated it really liked it
"Write it like a murder mystery...What killed the boy I was?" That's what Stuart Shorter asked, and that's what Alexander Masters did. Psychopath, activist, junkie, Stuart's life is at turns harrowing and darkly comic. Masters does not romanticize Stuart's personality or actions. Over the course of the years they spent working on Shorter's life story, Masters often reaches a point of exasperation with his friend, but each time this happens, he is confronted by the fallibility of his own assumpti ...more
Jun 21, 2013 Julie rated it it was amazing
The more you read this true story the easier it is to engage with and more importantly to identify with and engage with the character of Stuart. This book truly unifies the process of how one little boy could end up growing up to living in such a chaotic lifestyle. Progressing through the book builds a darker and darker picture to trace the origins of where the chaos began. At which point the reader is able to understand what lies in the chasm of human experience that ultimately leads to the mak ...more
Roxana Dreptu
Mar 17, 2016 Roxana Dreptu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is surely the best book I've read in quite a while. It shed a new light on social issues I would have dismissed earlier. Stuart's story is fascinating, even if it comes with such deep, sad notes. And telling it backwards totally makes sense in the end.
Sep 13, 2010 Mitzi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think I was expecting a different type of book. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood, but I could never fully get into the life of Stuart, a homeless man in England. Masters writes Stuart's life backwards as a sort of mystery to figure out how Sturart ended up on the streets. That was actually Stuart's idea, and the best idea of the whole book. The rest seems sort of rambling, too much about Masters trying to write the book, and in the end, what makes Stuart homeless is pretty much what you'd ex ...more
Saoirse Sterling
[Quick review from memory before I re-read and re-review at a later date]

(Oh my goodness. I remember almost everything about this book and I can feel within my bones that it will never not be a five star book. A definite re-read but when I couldn't say. So sad, so beautiful, so ridiculous. So human. So stupid. So absolutely everything. I just wish I could remember whether I saw the adaptation first or read the book first. I imagine it was the former, since I never read real-life inspired works,
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Alexander Masters is an author and screenwriter. He is the son of authors Dexter Masters and Joan Brady.
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“Ruth once told me when I went to visit her at HMP Highpoint that it is surprising how much of what you imagine to be your innate sense of self actually comes from things that aren't one's self at all: people's reactions to the blouse you wear, the respectfulness of your family, the attentiveness of your friends, their approval of the pictures in your living room, the neatness of your lawn, the way people whisper your name. It is these exhibitions of yourself, as reflected in the people whom you meet, which give you comfort and your identity. Take them away, be put in a tiny room, and called by a number, and you begin to vanish.” 13 likes
“I don't know, Alexander, sometimes it gets so bad you can't think of nothing better to do than make it worse.” 11 likes
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