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Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  5,165 ratings  ·  605 reviews
"A fine, well-rounded portrait of Harper Lee. Mockingbird is good reading."—Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

To Kill a Mockingbird—the twentieth century's most widely read American novel—has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. Yet despite her book's perennial popularity, its creator, Harper Lee, has become a somewhat mysterious figure. Now, after years of
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Holt Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2006)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  5,165 ratings  ·  605 reviews

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Aug 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
This was probably hard to write as the author had to do so without the benefit of interviewing the subject. And without the cooperation from the subject, it seems that those closest to the subject honored the subjects wishes and did the same. So what he did was to contact anyone that he could think may have known the subject for the briefest amount of time for any anecdote. The result is probably best described by a quote from an initial edit of To Kill a Mockingbird by the publishers, Lippincot ...more
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
When To Kill a Mockingbird was first released, all "Nelle" Harper Lee hoped for was "a merciful death at the hands of reviewers." Humble expectations for a book that won the Pulitzer and is still the most popular novel of the 20th century.

It must have been quite a challenge to write a biography of someone who refuses to be interviewed and has shared almost nothing private about herself over the years. Shields did well with this book, considering the limited information. He did a great deal of r
Nov 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
I got to page 35 and I could not take it any more. The writing was poor and I would rather Ms. Lee be surrounded in mystery for me. No need to spoil anything.
Kressel Housman
It's official. I am a Nelle Harper Lee fangirl. I want to find her apartment in New York and hang out with her, talking books and writing. But since she wouldn't appreciate yet another stalker, I'll try my luck with the pre-approved method: I'll write a letter addressed to her in Monroeville and hope for an answer.

If you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, chances are, this biography of its author will cause you to react the very same way. The book makes Nelle feel like a beloved friend, which is quit
Marissa Mullins
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Author: Charles J. Shields ©2006
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
ISBN-13:978-0-7394-7846-2 324 Pages

Fifty-one years after the publication of her Pulitzer Prizewinning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, author Harper Lee is again claiming the headlines. CBS News and the Sun-Sentinel both ran stories this month about President Obama honoring Harper Lee with the National Medal of Arts. Ms. Lee, aged 84, perhaps one of America’s greatest living authors, did not atten
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird before I read Charles J. Shields biography of Harper Lee, Mockingbird. The parallels between her life and her classic novel were numerous. I enjoyed reading how the real small southern town and its characters morphed into the familiar ones from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lee values her privacy and is an enigmatic person, so Shields really had to dig to do his research. Even then, certain (private) aspects of her life remain elusive, as she wished. Her lifelong relatio
Diane Yannick
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
OK, Charles Shields, you have created a fine portrait of Harper Lee but don't get too cocky and believe that you have written the authoritative portrait of Miss Lee. Me thinks that she has chosen to keep integral pieces of her enigmatic being private from all, except maybe her sister Alice. Her reclusive non-chatty personality can be interpreted, but not with any assurance that you've reached into her soul. BUT, I liked your portrait even if I question your confidence. Interestingly, Shields was ...more
Jun 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography-memoir
Although Shields has done an admirable job of pulling together facts about Harper Lee's life from various previously published books and articles, as well as conversations with those who knew her personally, ultimately this is an unsatisfying biography. As private a person as Lee has been in past interviews, the desire of those closest to her to protect her, and her unwillingness to cooperate with Shields has resulted in a mostly factual, yet superficial account.

Where Shields attempts to mine n
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Shelves: non-fiction
In the introduction to his unauthorized biography of Nelle Harper Lee, MOCKINGBIRD, Charles J. Shields says he has “tried to balance (Lee’s) desire for privacy with the desire of her millions of readers who have long hoped for a respectful, informative view of this rarely seen writer.” In my opinion, Shields has succeeded in rendering a considerate and enlightening portrait of Lee, though she may have preferred that the book not be written at all.

Published in 2006, this is the first biography of
Mikey B.
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a straight-forward account of the life of Harper Lee - author of the famous novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The book starts off when both Harper Lee and Truman Capote investigate the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas. We can feel the way they both fed off of each other and that in many ways they were both outcasts – certainly not fitting comfortably into the strictures of Southern society.

We also sense the single-mindedness of Harper Lee to pursue her career as an author. It took a g
Called “A portrait of Harper Lee” by the author, I would call this: “A portrait of Harper Lee, but not the details people really care about”, but that’s me. Honestly, it seems to be a little bit more about Truman Capote than his friend Nelle Harper Lee. Personally, I would have liked to spend a little less time in the novel talking about her time helping Capote with “In Cold Blood” I also thought that there was too much talk about the people that surrounded Lee.

I was interested in the little det
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book goes beyond typical reference book. This is one readers interested in Harper Lee will want to read from cover to cover. Shields did a remarkable job of making research accessible.
Elizabeth K.
Mar 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007-new-reads
This is a biography of Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, and the author himself starts off by explaining that it isn't very long because there isn't a whole lot of information out there. The bulk of the information is from her research trip with Truman Capote while he was working on In Cold Blood, which makes sense because Capote cultivated any and all interest in his work and his person, and from the rush of publicity for the To Kill A Mockingbird movie, which also makes sense becaus ...more
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
I think this is a solid biographical account of Harper Lee. I don't know that I really knew much about her beyond her having written an amazing novel and then stepping out of sight. I vaguely knew of her relationship with Truman Capote and their work together on In Cold Blood but I didn't have any context or details on it. This portrait of Harper Lee was enlightening in that respect but it still didn't go very deep into her life. Although I suspect that the lack of depth is due to the extreme pr ...more
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: too-long, boring
Oh so boring. Harper Lee wrote a brilliant book and she was clearly a brilliant person but her life is not all that interesting. Charles Shields hops around from topic to topic, he's not that great a writer, and he doesn't do a very good job presenting a dull life in an interesting way.

I mean, I love To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee is clearly one of the most brilliant people currently on the planet, but you know what? Her life was really dull. And I wish I'd just read her Wikipedia article ins
J. Bryce
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Really well done and documented biography of the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

This well captures Nelle Harper Lee's life as reflected by former classmates, friends and contacts in the publishing and movie worlds of the 1950s and '60s and beyond. Everything is documented and the book is rift with interest for those of us interested in the lives of others -- especially those who have tired of publicity and have retracted their personal contacts to a bare minimum.

Nelle Lee is still alive and sp
Rick Rapp
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This books starts slowly in my opinion. Biographical information about her childhood and college years seem to drag on. Then suddenly the piece springs to life. The chapters about her assisting Truman Capote (an awful human being) and his research for In Cold Blood are fascinating. These are surpassed by the chapters on her finishing To Kill a Mockingbird and the book's reaction from the public as well as its film treatment by Universal. (I wish I had been aware of many of these facts when I was ...more
Mar 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
Our Book Club read this in tandem with Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." Worst (unauthorized) biography I've ever read, although it was interesting to learn of Nelle (Harper) Lee's lifelong friendship with Truman Capote, who wrote "In Cold Blood." ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm thinking 4.5 rather than 4 stars, but that's not an option. This biography was great summer-time-in-the-south fun reading and beautifully done, but at the same time it's a slow read. Mr. Shields has done incredibly thorough, encompassing research on Nelle Harper Lee's life and presented her as a believable and familiar intellectual Southern woman. From childhood, Nelle wanted to be a writer, and poured time (years) and painstaking effort into making her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as close ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I would give this an almost four. I tend to prefer to read autobiographies over biographies. I am usually cautious to read biographies especially if the person it is about has died. Charles J. Shields keeps this version "nice" there is no mud slinging or digging up dirt on Harper Lee. He keeps it pretty fair. I have read so many times that Harper Lee was very private. He writes of her life growing up in Alabama. Her family . Her friendship with Truman Capote. Her writing To Kill a Mockingbird an ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Thoroughly researched, sometimes overly so. Even still, he couldn’t resist falling into the stereotypical journalists’ speculation about Harper Lee. Some parts about Truman Capote were too long - I didn’t buy a Capote biography!

That being said, a picture of Harper Lee emerges, and I wish I could have known her in real life. She was feisty and stubborn and compassionate and private... all things I admire.
Hailie Roblyer
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a pretty solid biography, but a couple of things could have made it much better: cooperation of the subject (who entirely protested the writing of the book and was not interviewed) and less emphasis on Capote’s work on In Cold Blood. The former problem may not have been possible to work around, but as for the latter, Lee’s important role in the creation of the first “non-fiction novel” was just not the only emphasis (as it should have been, imo). Still a very interesting read, and I’m g ...more
A very insightful and well-researched book that gives a wonderful portrait of the writer and answers many questions, including, "Why did she never write another?" ...more
Dec 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A mysterious and elusive woman, Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)," is the subject of this portrait by Charles J. Shields.

A former English teacher, Shields set for himself the task of writing "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee," this compelling biography based on hundreds of interviews, piecing together a picture of this Southern woman who began life in Monroeville, Alabama, the child of an attorney, whose mother suffered from a condition mos
Jun 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Hardcore Harper Lee Fans Only
Shelves: biography
Charles Shields starts this book by telling us that the dearth of material he'd found on Nelle Harper Lee, author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, was such that he only had enough for a large pamphlet. We can't say that he didn't try; the interviews and bibliographic information used as research is evidence of a truly intensive effort. Unfortunately, however, he wasn't completely successful in the result.

Because there is so little to tell about Nelle's childhood (it was a typical Dep
Feisty Harriet
Dec 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
2.5 stars. I really wanted to love this, I did. And Shields does a pretty good job of talking to everyone he possibly can about Nell Harper Lee....but after reading "The Mockingbird Next Door" a few weeks ago, this book--without any input or even response from Harper Lee--just rings kind of hollow? I mean, it's a thorough and comprehensive biography, but the soul of this book just isn't there for me.

Read This Instead:

Jan 20, 2011 rated it liked it
I was encouraged to read this book by a friend when I mentioned I had just read To Kill A Mockingbird. The author decided a book should be written about Nelle Harper Lee, but she became a very private person in later years and refused all requests for interviews or to share materials with the author and never gave her approval to his project. He thoroughly researched everything written by her or about her, and interviewed many people who knew her and were willing to share memories, letters, etc. ...more
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
How many times have I wondered "What in the world ever happened to Harper Lee? Where did she go? Did she vanish off the face of the earth enigmatically without the news hitting the rest of us, or is she still out there, alive somewhere?"

This book explores all the answers, the most fascinating being that Nelle Harper Lee still putters around her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama (a.k.a "Maycomb"), the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird, at the age of 72. She's single, living with her law-practicing
oh, man. i wanted to love this books so much more than i did. i am pretty disappointed. it was okay. fine-ish, even. but it wasn't very good. the second half of the book, post-in cold blood time, was better going for me and seemed less inclined towards something i have recently discovered i really don't like in biographies: reliance upon supposition and inference in times or situations where such information couldn't possibly be known.

it's clear shields is a huge fan of miss lee and that the boo
May 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
I really, really wanted to like this book. Lee is such an interesting character, and I would love to learn more about her. Unfortunately, this book really isn't about her, since three-hundred something pages didn't happen to her. Instead, it is a random collection of facts with some semblance of a connection to Lee that the author deemed interesting enough to add to this messy jumble. So, yes, it contains information, but that information is badly organized and often irrelevant.

The writing is a
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Charles J. Shields is the author of And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, the highly acclaimed, bestselling biography of Harper Lee,I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), and The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, Stoner, and the Writing Life.

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