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The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  7,035 ratings  ·  1,267 reviews
"When Steve Lopez sees Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' Skid Row, he finds it impossible to walk away. At first, he is drawn by the opportunity to crank out another column for the Los Angeles Times, just one more item on an ever-growing to-do list: "Violin Man." But what Lopez begins to unearth about the mysterious street musicia ...more
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published April 17th 2008 by Putnam Adult (first published January 1st 2008)
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Aug 15, 2009 Rebecca rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Rebecca by: Genevieve
Shelves: book-club
There was a homeless guy that my dad let stay in our unfinished house when I was a kid-- Greg. He stacked up all the slate tiles neatly... and sliced apart the antique bannister poles. I fell once and he rushed over with a first aid kit and doused my knee with witch hazel and bandaged me up. Then he stole the radio and threatened to kill my dad with a baseball bat. After he got violent, cops came, and Greg didn't come back to the house. As a kid I was fascinated and terrified and curious, and to ...more
"The Soloist"'s story is so well-known at this point -- grizzled newspaper columnist befriends once-promising classical musician whose schizophrenia has left him long homeless -- that there's little need for me to recount it here. Steve Lopez's writing is less that of a top-tier author and more that of a solid reporter (today's poetry is tomorrow's birdcage liner), but the true story is well-served by Lopez's relatively unadorned and straightforward prose.

While Nathaniel Anthony Ayers's story wa
Nov 28, 2008 Josh rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Josh by: Ladies Book Club
This book is not a novel, though that is unclear from the cover of my edition. It is a true story based on investigative journalism, which eventually tells more about the author than the subject. So I tried not to judge it by the standards of a novel.

The trouble is that Lopez is a journalist, and has been for decades. So he writes like one. The tropes of newsmen get old fast, which is Ok in newspapers b/c you're probably only reading one article anyway.

But it gets pretty tiresome in a long book
Liz Dunham
I was originally skeptical of this book presenting too polished a case of "saving" a homeless man. Similar to "Have You Found Her," Mr. Lopez undergoes a personal development in essentially entering the social work field. He is naive, shocked, etc. Then he is intrigued, obsessed, dedicated. But he, too, crosses into a phase of boundary issues. He makes himself and his resources available to Nathaniel without a sense of boundaries or limits. He also begins his dedication before understanding the ...more
Steve Lopez does a wonderful job in capturing and sharing the story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers; homeless man, who, in his prime, was a musical protege in Julliard. Steve Lopez puts a face to the disease paranoid schizophrenia and mental illness as a whole. Lopez reaches into a downtrodden and forgotten community of people to help a man who was left to fend for himself out in the streets without support, family, and treatment for close to 30 years.

Lopez writes this biography in a journalistic na
I was attracted to this book when I realized it was about a subject close to my heart (schizophrenia), music and that it was the true story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. To top it off, the book is also a major motion picture starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. to be released in April. I had to read it.

I finished the book today having started it just two days ago. I could've read it quicker had I no distractions. The author, L.A. Times Columnist Steve Lopez, is not the next great American no
Review by Alan Rich

Back in September 1964, Jascha Heifetz, the formidable fiddler, was attempting an ill-advised comeback recital at Carnegie Hall. The crowd out front was enormous, and it naturally included many people with long faces hoping for a turned-back ticket to this sold-out event. I was covering it as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune of lamented memory. At that time, there was a violinist, 20 or so, nice Jewish boy, reasonably talented, who played in a regular spot in fro
Sep 01, 2014 TL rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to TL by: Heard about the movie and read the book first
Story and writing: four stars
Narrator for audiobook; four stars

Short review since I gotta work:
I'm not sure when I first heard about this but the movie trailer inspired me to go pick up the book... I was intrigued by Nathaniel's story and what happened to him.

Second time around: Still captivated :) Mr. Lopez does a wonderful job and justice to his friend's story.

Nathaniel steals your heart and you root for him to get better. His achievements, history, and low moments make you smile/cringe but y
This is soooooo good. Its so heartwarming, I guess you can say. Haha. Its a book for everyoneeee
Brenda Bissett-steinhofer
Thank you Steve Lopez for reserving us a front row seat at this symphony in the big city in "The Soloist." The story was both eye-opening and heartbreaking, a score of stunning human crescendo and stark morendo, blowing the doors wide open on the stigmas and misconceptions associated with mental illness and homelessness. We are glad that Nathaniel Ayers has emerged from the shadows and that his story has been told. Anyone who has ever passed a person sleeping in a doorway or with their belonging ...more
The Soloist reads like a book written by a columnist, which is to say it's clear, it's compelling and it's easy to read. The subject matter is not so easy. Many reviewers have said that this book puts a face on mental illness and the homeless and that's true. The mentally ill central character of the book is not just an illness, he's a real person, with a family, a history, hopes, dreams and problems. That being said, the book also shows how difficult it is to treat mental illness, and how much ...more
Jeff Grogan
This is one of my favorite music-centered books I've read in my life. Lopez perfectly blends the dizzying world of schizophrenia with the counter-dizzying world of music in a story that will charm musicians and laymen everywhere.
Being a real person, Nathaniel was not just dialogue and description on the page, but he walked and spoke and pushed his cart through the room as I read. Lopez's wording was straightforward, journalistic, and simultaneously deeply personal. Although I have never seen an
This story could be straight out of fiction -- a seasoned journalist discovers a talented, homeless, mentally ill musician, befriends him, struggles to improve his quality of life, and finds him outlets for his talent. It's no Disney movie, though, and I give Lopez credit for acknowledging the three-dimensional aspects of this story. If the schizophrenic musician resists others' attempts to offer him housing, to what extent should his wishes be respected? Is it possible to eliminate the ego appe ...more
Trixie St. Claire
I read this on flights between Raleigh, NC - Atlanta, GA and Tampa, FL. It was a very quick read, but moving and honest. Usually stories like this get sugar-coated and the "helper" becomes the hero. I am glad this book didn't turn into a fairy tale ending where everything is wrapped up neat in a bow. I was glad the book focused that mental illness recovery is not linear- that you can go two steps forward and ten steps back. I hope the upcoming movie of this book doesn't ruin the lovely story.
I love that this was a true story, for many reasons, but especially because it didn't tie up all the loose ends and put a pretty bow at the end and say, "and everyone is fantastic and reached their dreams. The end". I really connected with the story and it definitely left me pondering questions of my own (what is the best course of treatment? Should you force someone to get help? What do we do about the plight of homelessness? What is the best way to help? Who is better off--me with the stresses ...more
Usually I read a book, and then see the movie. This time, however, I happened to catch the movie first. The movie was a life changer.

The book is eloquent and goes into more detail than the movie did about the frustration the author experienced trying to help a musician who is mentally ill. The mentally ill resist efforts to help them and it can be quite frustrating when they turn down an opportunity for decent housing, preferring instead to stay on the streets. This coupled with the sheer numbe
Chris  Ibert
Book Club book pick - enjoyed it tmuch more than I thought I would. I did not vote for this book and I was initially turned off to it simply because of the movie (which I hadn't seen but thought looked too slick and "feel-goody" to me). I ended up being fascinated by Nathaniel Ayers' tragic life events and also inspired by the kindness and investment the people in this true story were willing to extend to this man. It's non-fiction and written by a journalist and reads as such, but this is not n ...more
In case you haven't seen the movie trailer: Lopez is a journalist for the LA Times whose soul is touched by the violin music of a man who's homeless. Then he discovers that the man, Nathaniel, attended Julliard, and his interest is piqued. Apparently he ran a series of columns in the Times about Nathaniel, and this book is an expansion of them, as well as the story about his telling Nathaniel's story.

Nathaniel's story is a fascinating one, and it takes us through genius. mental illness, race re
Margaret Chan
I watched the movie before I hunted the book down. Never before, both the movie and the book gave me the exact sentiments over the story of Nathaniel Ayers which was told by Steve Lopez mixing with his own reflections over his personal experience and journey with Nathaniel. These themes still stay with me after I finished this book:

1) 'Mental health expert will say the simple act of being someone's friend can change his brain chemistry, improve his functionality in the world.' (from the movie)

Lindsey #17 The Soloist - Steve Lopez

The back says

When Steve Lopez sees Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles' Skid Row, he envisions this "Violin Man" as the topic of his next column for the Los Angeles Times--only to unearth an even more extraordinary story about the mysterious street musician.

More than thirty ears earlier, Ayers had been a promising classical bass student at Julliard--ambitious, charming and also one of the few African-Americans at the
This is an interesting book, written in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. Which is to say it's not great literature, but it's good to read.

This book confirms my belief that everyone has a story to tell, and Steve Lopez found a particularly compelling one in the person of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers. It also shows how small actions can be life changing. A columnist stumbles across a story idea -- a homeless, mentally ill man who plays the violin -- and the column puts the man on the path to "home
In Lopez' memoir, he interviews a violinist on skid row thinking he might make an interesting story for his newspaper column. It turns out, that the man is a musical prodigy who dropped out of Julliard because of schizophrenia. Lopez attempts the help Nathaniel, but must fight against his mental disorder. The distrust of other people, the warped sense of what is safe and who is out to get him, the switch from anger to happiness, Lopez shows how difficult schizophrenia can be to deal with. What N ...more
Sarah Michele
Mom handed me The Soloist over Thanksgiving – one of her friends had just returned it. I started reading it and simply could not put it down. Like a lot of people, I hadn’t heard about the book until the movie (which I haven’t seen but I have heard it’s incredible) came out earlier this year.
The portrait that Lopez paints of Nathaniel Ayers is truly haunting. The glimmers of brilliance that come through the veil of schizophrenia, only to be lost again. It’s an unlikely friendship, and an interes
Sep 08, 2010 Adam rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Believers in the power of music
The Soloist is a true testament to the power of music.

Always looking for a new lead and an interesting story, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez inadvertently stumbles into the life of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a Julliard trained musician battling with mental illness on the streets of Los Angeles.

Through a series of columns Lopez writes about Ayers, the very different lives of these two men begin to grow more and more intertwined. The Soloist is the story of this unlikely friendship that developed in
The Soloist provides a glimpse into the life of a musically gifted man (Nathaniel) who is also mentally ill and living on skid row, and the newspaper columnist (Lopez) who attempts to save him from his situation. The book looks at the complexities of each man's character. Nathaniel asserts his independence by refusing most offers of help to get him off the streets. Lopez questions his own motives for wanting to help - is he helping Nathaniel or himself? Music, and the musical gifts Lopez obtains ...more
Nathaniel Ayers is schizophrenic. He is also a talented musician, having studied at Julliard before his illness became acute. When he concentrates on music, really pouring himself into making all the notes work together as a whole, he is able to make sense of all the thoughts and images flying randomly through his head. Through music, he finds focus and clarity. Ayers is homeless, suffering from an incurable and little understood disease, when he meets journalist Steve Lopez. Lopez subsequently ...more
I was mostly curious about this book, which is why I read it. (Well, isn't that why we read anyway?) A good read, and I found that in the end I was just as frustrated as the author. This true story depicts the struggles people face when mental illness takes over their loved one's life. I've learned greater sympathy for the plight of mental illness and those who take care of them. In the end, Lopez hits the nail on the head when he realizes that "curing" Mr. Ayers is not going to happen, but bein ...more
The Soloist is paired with Pay It Forward for the Concord Reads program this year. I don't know if it was the movie ads, the title, the cover art or what, but I was struggling with my "obligation" to read the Concord Reads book and my lack of any interest in this book. I picked it up on my last trip to the library, just to read the first chapter and prove it wasn't worth reading. 20 pages in and I knew I was hooked. This isn't some quaint story of a man who has made some bad choices and finds hi ...more
Lopez isn't the most adept writer I've ever encountered, but this true story is so compelling, it doesn't really matter. A journalist for the Los Angeles Times, Lopez encounters a homeless, schizophrenic musician named Nathaniel Ayers, playing his violin on the street. While Ayers is initially nothing but column fodder, Lopez takes a genuine interest in his history and well-being and the two become friends.

This is a story of recovery and progress, but also of grave setbacks and frustration. I ap
Admittedly, I came to this book with low expectations. Homeless black man redeemed by classical music? Sounds like a mash-up of every bad 80s and 90s movie about classical music. But Lopez is so in control of this narrative - and so aware of his own position as the writer - that this book really does live up to its hype. While at times the book seemed a bit too organized and safe, Lopez's well-chosen descriptive details make up for the newspaper-column-neatness of the narrative. And the accessib ...more
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“.. a friend is someone who inspires, who challenges, who sends you in search of some truer sense of yourself..” 361 likes
“It is possible to cause seemingly biochemical changes through human emotional involvement. You literally have changed his chemistry by being his friend.” 44 likes
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