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A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein

3.38  ·  Rating Details ·  381 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
Few authors are as beloved as Shel Silverstein. His inimitable drawings and comic poems have become the bedtime staples of millions of children and their parents, but few readers know much about the man behind that wild-eyed, bearded face peering out from the backs of dust jackets.

In A Boy Named Shel, Lisa Rogak tells the full story of a life as antic and adventurous as an
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2007)
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Aug 11, 2008 VegasGal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
Fascinating man, but this wasn't written very well. I enjoyed reading most of it, but it got a bit boring and repetitive towards the end half which forced me to do some skimming which I don't particularly enjoy doing when I want to learn and/or be entertained. I personally would have appreciated having a bit more information about his childhood and more detailed discussions on his children's books too since after all most of us know him as a children's author.
Also the collection of photos includ
Shel Silverstein got his start writing cartoons for the Army during WWII, and then writing more cartoons for Playboy once he left the army.

Shel Silverstein also wrote travelogues for Playboy and would spend months at a time living in the Mansion.

Shel Silverstein had a way with ~the ladies.~

Shel Silverstein was in a car crash while in Africa doing a piece for Playboy, shattered his leg, and never drove a car again.

Shel Silverstein wrote loads of folk and country music, not just "A Boy Named Sue.
Sep 06, 2012 Evan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Such a multifaceted talent as Shel Silverstein deserves a fully authorized biography, with cooperation from the estate and full access to the archives. This isn't such a book. Rogak did her homework to the extent that she could, but the interviews she managed to score weren't especially illuminating, and between that and the pedestrian prose, the book ended up reading like an especially well-annotated Wikipedia page. As Silverstein's contemporaries age and die, we're running out of time for a be ...more
This book was a tough read. Somehow the author made a book about a man with a fascinating background kind of a trial to get through. The entire book seemed unconnected with one paragraph hardly making sense with the next. I kept wondering if the author had ever looked back over her disjointed notes after first writing them down. Stories and anecdotes were repeated multiple times.
Even when she would talk about some of the famous people Shel knew, it seemed like the author was name-dropping to pr
charlotte Phillips
Mar 14, 2008 charlotte Phillips rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
While the life and times of Shel Silverstein are definitely an interesting subject, the fact that this author also wrote the "Unauthorized Biography of Dan Brown" might clue you in to the weakness of her writing style. Like Brown's books, there are a lot of cliff-hanger phrases. Unfortunately these phrases are not really followed up with dramatic reveals. Luckily Silverstein manages to still be interesting even with an over-the-top treatment.
Hilary Hattenbach
Shel Silverstein was a GOD to me when I was growing up. He and Judy Blume shaped my world view and made me appreciate the whimsy and humor of life. There was a lot of interesting info in this book, tons of things I didn't know about him, but I really wish he'd written his own memoir. The fact that this book was written posthumously doesn't allow it to really capture Shel's spirit.
Feb 16, 2008 Tanaya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never knew about Shel Silverstien's life - and it was very interesting. Not the best written book, but still fascinating. She said two websites really helped her: Carol's Banned Width ( & Sarah Weinman's Shel S. Archive (
Nov 10, 2007 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you enjoyed Shel's work during your life, this is a fantastic portrait of a man who was largely an enigma to his fans as well as those around him. The prose is a bit journey-man like, but the research and thoroughness that when into this work are impressive.
Dec 12, 2007 Alexa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous, don't-want-to-put-it-down biography of a truly interesting and inspiring character. I had no idea that Shel Silverstein was so prolific in so many different fields, but I'm excited to go read, see and hear more of his work now.
This book deserves 1 star because of the *horrible* writing, but the hugely interesting character that was Shel Siverstein automatically gave it 2 more stars. Obviously, writing a book about a man who refused to give interviews and felt his art was simply a creative job and not some profound calling is challenging, but this book was written so poorly, I doubt anyone would consider it well done.

I had no idea of the multitude of works that Shel produced (books, plays, songs, cartoons for Playboy,
Jan 27, 2015 Rj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After finishing Anatole Broyard's book on dealing with illness my next find was another book pulled from the libraries new book shelf, Lisa Rogak's (a professional biographer) A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007). Silverstein who I knew of through his children's books and irrasible cartoons turns out to be a really fascinating individual. Rogak's biography is written in a straight-forward and the often pedantic biographical style favoured ...more
Abe Kazemzadeh
This book was a good in that I learned a lot about Shel Silverstein, especially the course of his life. It whet my curiosity to read/listen to his other works, which I didn't know even existed. I was kind of hoping this would tie his works with his life a little bit better, but it didn't: there was only a couple of examples in the photo insert. If I could rewind my life a few weeks, I'd have some of Shel's books and recordings on hand while reading this book to do some of the work that I wished ...more
Sep 12, 2012 Stacey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Could not bring myself to spend the time finishing this book. It was really boring. It seemed like it was just a really boring commentary following every boring little detail of his life. Several times in the first 42 pages of the book (that's all I got through) I got really confused because the author introduced several of his friends into a particular story. Introducing so many of his friends seemed a little pointless, because I don't really care to learn anything about them. Also, the author ...more
Mar 08, 2009 Chris rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Shel Silverstein was a fascinating dude--he wrote songs, plays, short stories, cartoons, and of course, children's books. He stayed out until 6:00 AM, but rarely drank and didn't do drugs. He didn't like kids, but made truckloads of money writing children's books. He was not a particularly attractive fellow, but slept with lots, and lots, and lots of women.

I learned some interesting stuff reading this book, but it doesn't really do him justice. There's a lot left unsaid in this book. For instan
Sep 05, 2010 LeeAnn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves Shel Silverstein
As a kid, I hated reading. I was one of the last kids in my class to learn to read. When I finally started reading on my own, it was Shel Silverstein's books that I would pick up! ...and now, I love to read!
I was really excited to learn more about my favorite author. A Boy Named Shel was a fun, quick read. His poetry for children is what made him a household name, but he got his start with Hugh Hefner, making contributions to Playboy. Shel Silverstein's mind never stopped formulating his next p
You know what? I'm giving up. Shel Silverstein was, I suspect, a fascinating man, but you wouldn't know it from this biography. The author does little synthesis of the facts and quotes she collected and the whole thing sounds like an eighth-grader's report about a famous person. "X did this. Then he moved here. His friend said '________.' He agreed."

I don't read many biographies--a few memoirs, maybe, but few biographies--so I don't know if this is normal, but I suspect not. Because the writing
Jan 02, 2016 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three stars more for Shel's life than the book. I learned so much, had no idea he wrote a boy named sue... But the writing is disorganized, more a collection of short anecdotes... some extremely repetitive, than a biography. Seems sort of unfinished. Giving the author the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she was trying to capture some of Shel's style... but as she points out, about 20 times, he was extremely concerned with structure, so I don't think it works. If you want to be utterly fascinated b ...more
Oct 10, 2011 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all those who love his books.
Shelves: humor, own-copy, biography
Silverstein was a study in opposites. He was out-going and friendly, private and reserved, wanting to be with people but living alone, manic but thoughtful, a true people person but rather reclusive. Shel dressed like a slob but was a perfectionist when it came to his drawings and books. He felt a song wasn't "real" unless it was written down and anyone who loved books as much as he did would have been a friend of mine. Shel drew cartoons, wrote books, plays and music and while everyone knows he ...more
Aug 16, 2009 Giles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Saleena Davidson
Feb 05, 2014 Saleena Davidson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Shel when I found his biography I HAD to read it. I already knew he had a Playboy connection; having read a few of his X-rated poem submissions in the magazine (yeah, I used to actually READ actually does have great articles).... but I didn't realize how far back his association went. I also didn't know of his songwriting credits (which are extensive). What I liked most about this book is that I got to know Shel a bit better and the writer didn't ta ...more
Sep 11, 2009 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have to say that reading the other reviews of this book and how badly written it's supposed to be, as I did read this book, I found myself disagreeing. Yes, Rogak's style is very basic, but she wrote about Shel Silverstein like a journalist would. Just the facts with not much flourish. I didn't mins at all. In fact, I found this book so enjoyable because there was so much about his life packed in the few pages. As biographies go, this is not a long book at all.

As much as I loved reading his s
Not only as an elementary school teacher am I well acquainted with the poetry of Shel Silverstein, but as a child I fell in love with his work and received my first copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends in 1976. Reading the biography of the infamous Silverstein was fascinating! I had no idea of the darker, more twisted side of the man...that he spent much of his adult life living in Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion...that he was a "babe magnet", that he wrote songs, played in bands, wrote plays and delve ...more
Sep 27, 2012 Vickie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I love Shel Silverstein poems: kids may not remember the dates needs for a history test, or the equations for a math test. However, they will quote poems written by Shel Silverstein for the rest of their lives! Shel Silverstein was a composer, singer, cartoonist, illustrator, author -- with popular successes in all of those areas. That being said, I won't remember major portions of this book. It has a very basic writing style and the author jumps from subject to subject. That may be because the ...more
Jun 18, 2014 Lea rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-z, off-my-shelf
This biography explores the life and accomplishments of Shel Silverstein. If you only know him as a children's author then you only know one side of this complex and prolifically talented man. This book does an adequate job of painting a picture of Silverstein and all of his idiosyncrasies, however, at times I found the text a bit dry and some of the sections a bit unorganized. Worth a read if you really want to know about Shel, but if you're wanting a page-turning biography this probably isn't ...more
Laura Chorba
Jan 05, 2013 Laura Chorba rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: human-condition
It was a slow start and honestly I did not think the writer was that great but then suddenly I was reading it like mad and I CRIED AT THE END! What a wonderful job piecing together a lot of information from the people who knew him and making the real person for us to see.
The subject matter alone sells the book for me but the author was able to recreate his spirit for all of us who wish we knew him !
For those of you who are creative types the most interesting part of this book is Shel's philoso
Mar 10, 2013 Lauri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shel Silverstein was one of the fixtures of my childhood, yet I knew surprisingly little about him. Turns out he was quite the Renaissance man - a playwright, cartoonist (for Playboy!), musician and songwriter (he wrote Johnny Cash's hit "A Boy Called Sue"), and, of course, author, illustrator, and poet. He was also a complicated man, and Lisa Rogak's biography does a good job of portraying Shel sympathetically, but without sentimentality. I finished the book with an even greater appreciation fo ...more
Kara Thomas
If you come into this book only knowing the childrens author you are in for a big surprise. Shel was very diversified in his work, getting his break at Playboy magazine. He seemed very contradictory in his life and very lonely as well. He seemed like a person that was fun to observe, but I don't think he would have ever been my friend. He would have annoyed me too much. That said, I had a hard reading this book. It didn't flow well in my opinion. Knowing what I know now, I will never read his po ...more
Apr 01, 2008 Xon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting person! Probably was a tough person to write a biography on and it showed. The book jumped around a lot and didn't flow very well, much like Shel. It seems Silverstein was a very private person and this didn't allow for much detail into his life. If you want an overview of his life and some insight into all the different proffessional areas Silverstein was involved in than this book wouldn't be bad, but if you are looking for detail and a biography that reads like a story this probab ...more
Decent biograpny. Shel Silverstein seemed to live a very private life and the biography reflected that. It was on the thin side - not page wise - but material wise. I thought that it could of been written in better way. The author used a lot of "but little did he know tragedy would soon strike" phrases and they never really added up.

I like the biography because I admire and grew up with Shel Silverstein. And for that reason, I would recommend it.
Rosie Beck
The subject, the passionate, multi-talented, ADD cartoonist Shel Silverstein, is fascinating. Intersecting with his life are many different people I wouldn't have thought would connect. He came from a tough Jewish home that didn't accept his choice of being a cartoonist, to being one of the most beloved children's poets of the 20th century. Unfortunately the author wrote in a bland, slow reading style mainly based on others recollections.
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Lisa Rogak is the New York Times bestselling author of over 40 books on a wide variety of topics, from writers and their cats to sabbaticals to cemeteries in New England.
Through the years, in addition to writing books on an almost-schizophrenic range of topics, she has published newsletters and books, started a greeting card company for dogs and cats, bought and sold vintage funeral equipment, and
More about Lisa Rogak...

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