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Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life

(Ackroyd's Brief Lives #6)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  597 ratings  ·  111 reviews
A brief yet definitive new biography of one of film's greatest legends: perfect for readers who want to know more about the iconic star but who don't want to commit to a lengthy work.

He was the very first icon of the silver screen and is one of the most recognizable of Hollywood faces, even a hundred years after his first film. But what of the man behind the moustache? Pet
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 28th 2014 by Nan A. Talese (first published April 3rd 2014)
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Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have long wanted to read a book on Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977). I had discovered that there was a lot more to this man than I had previously known. I knew only that he was a very funny English pantomime actor famed for his slapstick humor of the silent film era. He was the "Little Tramp", with his sparkling blue eyes, and little black hat perched upon his tousled mane of dark curly hair. But who was this man?

I did not know he directed, produced, edited, and even wrote the music for the films i
May 09, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Have to say, it really felt as though Ackroyd dislikes Chaplin immensely.. He didn't have many words of praise for him, but was more than happy to point out all the terrible things he said or did. This was the 8th Chaplin biography I have read and unlike any other as it painted Chaplin in a bad light the entire way through the book. It astounds me how you can be inspired to write a book about someone who you clearly have no admiration for and put so much effort into writing a book which points o ...more
Jim Dooley
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On the recent birthday of Charlie Chaplin, I realized that I had never read a biography of his life. I knew many details from other books detailing interactions with the famous comedian, but what was it about his life that contributed to some of the most brilliant filmmaking I’d seen?

A detailed search soon exposed a new dilemma. Chaplin’s own autobiography was known for its glaring omissions and “reimaginings” of events. Other books focused on a specific aspect of Chaplin, frequently an analysi
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
With "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life", Peter Ackroyd adds another title to his excellent "Brief Lives" series. This is the perfect starting place for those who know little of Chaplin, or who only know that he was a silent film comic, or that he was the father of actress Geraldine Chaplin ("Doctor Zhivago"), or that his last wife Oona, was the daughter of Eugene O'Neill.

"Charlie Chaplin" is a lively introduction to a man who is arguably one of the biggest movie talents of the 20th century. His ear
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Peter Ackroyd shows how Charlie Chaplin was much more than a Keystone cop or a sad tramp in this overview of his full and difficult life. Chaplin was also a director, producer, distributor and the founder of United Artists. He even seems to be a crude pioneer of method acting. While famous for his silent roles, while others clung to the past, he was able to transition to "talkies". In his last film (1967) he embraced color, directing Marlon Brando and Sophia Lauren in the "Countess From Hong Kon ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Not knowing much about Chaplin prior to this book, I was impressed with Chaplin's life. The author doesn't shy away from his bad side, but I felt he made Chaplin more human. Chaplin didn't have an easy life, and he wasn't a great guy, but he was an innovator of film and acting.

In one way, I wish I'd been familiar with the movies that were described in detail, but I felt they were very well described without my knowing them. It's been a long time since I've seen a Chaplin movie, so now I am incl
Gregg Bell
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Charlie Chaplin. No doubt a genius. I figured there was much to be learned from this bio. I'd read Peter Ackroyd's novel, English Music, and so knew he is a fine writer. And I was right, there was much to be learned. But a lot of such learning was distasteful because of Charlie Chaplin, the man.

Ackroyd starts at the very beginning. Chaplin's days as a street urchin in London. Chaplin's paternity was disputed. His mother was insane. It was said he had gypsy blood. (And from Chaplin himself a ques
Chuck LoPresti
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
There are many things to dislike about Chaplin but to not like this book about some of things is inappropriate. Ackroyd in no way goes out of his way to trash Chaplin as has been claimed in more than one review here. Chaplin did that himself. Writing in somewhat of a post-Stendhal manner that entails an emphasis on psychological insight, Ackroyd tells a fairly succinct warts-and-all biography that I found enlightening as can be expected from the seemingly 100th biography of Chaplin. It would be ...more
Tom Walsh
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are in need to discover Chaplin’s life before he signed with Max Sennett, Ackroyd has the history, in great detail. Most bios are on shaky ground about Chaplin’s early life, but the author allows Chaplin’s sordid and pathetic childhood to blossom like a sad leaf on a hopeless tree. The first half of this beautiful bio alone is worth your efforts. Ackroyd shows us how he learned and sharpened his crafts, and how the training never left his consciousness. Five stars ⭐️
Jeff Shackelford
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Mostly a list of dates, events, names, and quotes. I would hardly consider this book a biography.
Glenn Hopp
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have read and appreciated at least six books by Peter Ackroyd. He writes with care and precision and excels at finding the revealing detail or quote and in attaching a convincing interpretation to it. Many of the unfavorable reviews here refer to Chaplin’s seemingly detestable personality and question Ackroyd’s sympathy toward his subject. But the author shows considerable respect for Chaplin the artist (if less for the unhappy, self-absorbed man). Reading biography only to find role models is ...more
I received this ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I am a Charlie Chaplin fan. While I'm mainly a fan of his life, his movies reach me and connect. And that reach is something I feel this book falls short on. Sure, it is packed full of information about the life of Charlie Chaplin. What it lacks is pizzazz, that spark that forms a bond between the reader and all the empathy that Charlie tried to pass on through his silent screen days.
This reads like a text book
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I finally had viewed The Dictator and was so impressed I had to know more about Chaplin. I felt this book did a nice mini overall view. Chaplin was a very complex man. With such a tough early life it’s a wonder he stayed on the right side of the law.

I may now have to check out Fred Karno, the inventor of slapstick. I did like how the author explained the film edits & speed changes that created the look of the Mack Sennett comedies. As well as how perfectly timed and rehearsed all that slapstick
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I have to admit, sorrowfully, that I never knew the amazingly huge influence Charlie Chaplin had on the genre of Movies I adore so much. To say the least, he was like "THE BEATLES", and had the same influence, but for music.

I was amazed also, how his movies that I love to watch, also were testimonies to his horrible young life in London, with his brother and his mother.

Amazing to me just how influential he was. Meeting Ghandi, H.G. Wells, and J.M. Barrie...when he returned to London after becomi
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched evidence-based material as usual from Peter Ackroyd! Warts and all. This is no fan book but gives many insights from the people who worked with him and also his family.
I was quite disappointed by this book. I had expected better from Peter Ackroyd. Didn't learn anything new. Wonder why he wrote it. ...more
A summary of the various biographies done on Chaplin.
Elizabeth (Liz)
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Meredith Allard
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
Recently, I watched Modern Times again for the first time in years and I had forgotten what a genius Chaplin was. Out of curiosity about Chaplin's life (it's been some time since I saw the film with Robert Downey Jr.) I picked up this biography. I chose this book because it's written by one of my all-time favorite biographers, Peter Ackroyd. I love Ackroyd's books. He wrote my favorite biography about Charles Dickens, and his book about London is fabulous.

It was interesting to me to see the para
Margaret Massey
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this, given Ackroyd's reputation, but was somewhat disappointed. Ackroyd gives a fairly damning report of Chaplin, which in some ways is justified, but fails to provide a balanced picture by recounting the good things that his children said about him (which can easily be found with a quick internet search).

The chapter recounting Chaplin's heyday amounts to little more than a roll call of his films and the book comes to an abrupt conclusion with little information on Chaplin'
Mary Keen
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio-overdrive
Got interested as just saw his silent movie "Circus" on television. Most of his movies have short or long summaries so just ordered print version to review them. Some interesting details, such as that boot he cooked in the Klondike was made of licorice and caused illness when they had to keep doing takes. Also amazing how many takes he insisted on.

Definitely a Rags to Riches story, but thru his genius and hard work --and maybe timing on the eve of new technology. Almost stopped listening when it
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: on-my-shelf
It took me a bit to reflect on this and decide what rating I was going to give it. I wanted to like it; I wanted to love it, really. I've always had a fascination with Charlie Chaplin and was really quite excited to finally read this biography, but in truth, I was quite disappointed. I think I was expecting more detail about his work, his impact on the film industry at the time, and the way he changed pantomime and comedy forever. Instead, this seemed to focus on speculation and gossip and rumor ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The few Chaplin films I have seen impressed me, so I was curious to learn more about this famous filmmaker. I was unaware of the magnitude of his work, and was astounded to learn the enormity of his fame. I do not understand the reason for this book's title: his life was anything but brief! But since the second half of the title doesn't show on the book cover above, perhaps that was a mistake.

Charlie was a genius in his chosen profession, and as is common among highly intelligent people, he was
Bob Cooling
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Life Story of the "Little Fellow"

I was never a real fan of Charlie Chaplin, but based on what I read in this book, I never fully realized how much he contributed to the art of cinema. A true genius in his line of work but his work was based on his tortured early life in London and in his attempt to rise above this crushing weight of horrific circumstances and memories. The Book showed that everyone has their unique burden to bear and that burden can drive you to great success despite shortco
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sometimes evoking gossip and a nastiness that coats itself in the "truth" of Chaplin, this book is a condensed biography of the great artist that attempts to dive into the personal life of the filmmaker within the context of the works that have endured. Rather than focusing on the impact, the influence, and the legacy of Chaplin in creating his pictures, Ackroyd seems adamant in describing in great details the neuroses and the sensitivity of Chaplin's perceived flawed personality while dismissin ...more
Rodrigo Quintanar
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
At some point during his life, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous man in the world. He could be easily known as the perfect representation of "a life not running towards something but away from it". His struggles and tough childhood made him acquired a never-ending hunger for success. A lot of people describe it as an "always-on" actor...a huge price that he always loved to pay in order to become the greatest.

Totally worth reading, especially if you're interested in understanding the lives of
Mar 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Chaplin has always fascinated me, and this brief biography covers all the basics from cradle to grave. Growing up impoverished in London’s south side, Chaplin gained fame as a music hall performer and shot to superstardom as the world’s first movie megastar. As the length of the book confines the narrative to brushstrokes — tales of marriages, films made, struggles had — author Peter Ackroyd portrays Chaplin as a brittle genius of an art form who was also an insufferable butthead.
Buckey Grimm
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
The title pretty much says it all, A Brief Life indeed, it seems to be the Cliff's Notes version of Chaplin's life. Nothing really new here,a lot of rehashing of well known events in his life. A bit of an attempt to analyze some of the personal pieces of Chaplin's life, but it still is pretty much a re-churn of previous stories and events.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cinema, movies
I've no idea why Ackroyd decided to write this book - he clearly has no affection for its subject. It is high on spite, low on compassion; snidey, prurient and chippy. Ackroyd's writing has something of the night about it, that vampirical side of biography where you sense a man feeding off the blood of far greater men. ...more
Darcie Saunier
Oct 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-non-fic
This was a “brief” bio. Not too detailed, but detailed enough that you now “know” Chaplin. I thought the writing was from a neutral point of view. I did think it ended kind of quick— he died, end of book. Usually, there is conclusion and commentary about the subject. This wasn’t wrong, just different. The author left all that to the reader.
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age

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4 likes · 3 comments
“somnolence, and on one occasion could not” 0 likes
“Chaplin left the Keystone studios on a Saturday night in December after cutting his last film, without bidding farewell to any of his erstwhile colleagues; he spent Sunday in his room at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and on the following day he turned up for work at the Essanay Studios in Niles, California. Of course, everyone at Keystone knew about his imminent departure, but he could not bring himself to make a speech or shake hands. He just left. Sennett said later that 'as for Charles Spencer Chaplin, I am not at all sure that we know him'. He had never really been part of the team; he would never become a member of any group.” 0 likes
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