Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Bruce Lee: A Life” as Want to Read:
Bruce Lee: A Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Bruce Lee: A Life

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  991 ratings  ·  189 reviews
“The first noteworthy treatment of its subject—and a definitive one at that...Fascinating narrative threads proliferate.” —The New York Times Book Review

The most authoritative biography—featuring dozens of rarely seen photographs—of film legend Bruce Lee, who made martial arts a global phenomenon, bridged the divide between Eastern and Western cultures, and smashed
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by Simon Schuster
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Bruce Lee, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Eddy I have seen the following quotes referenced a few times in the past several years: “When asked by journalist Alex Ben Block in the summer of 1972 what…moreI have seen the following quotes referenced a few times in the past several years: “When asked by journalist Alex Ben Block in the summer of 1972 what his religious affiliation was, Bruce Lee answered: ‘None whatsoever.’ Block then pressed him further, asking if he then believed in God. ‘To be perfectly frank, I really do not.’” This is also found in Matthew Polly’s biography of Lee.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.40  · 
Rating details
 ·  991 ratings  ·  189 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Bruce Lee: A Life
Valerity (Val)
I remember the craze about kung fu movies when I was a young teen and then hearing about Bruce Lee’s passing and I didn’t understand a lot about it. The remedy for that was reading this book about Bruce Lee’s life. It was so engrossing for me that I read it quite quickly, although it was fairly long. I found it really well researched and thorough. Author Matthew Polly spent 6 years on it interviewing everyone around Lee who would talk, as he felt a definitive biography was long overdue. It tells ...more
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I was born in Hong Kong and even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for most of my life, that has not stopped me from having a strong connection to the place of my birth. My fondness for HK runs deep and even though it is a very different place now from what it was when I first grew to know the city back in the 1980s, my affinity for it has not waned. Because of this background, I’ve always been sensitive about how HK is portrayed, especially by the Western world ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"The joke in China is kung fu is a way to trick thirteen year-old boys into meditating. Bruce Lee had started his martial arts path as a punk . . . [but now] he would speak and think more and more like a Taoist monk. This internal dichotomy and conflict between his punkish personality and monkish insights would define his adult life." - Matthew Polly, chapter 4 / page 76

Bruce Lee: A Life was easily the most engrossing biography that I've read since either Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig or Jim
Executive Summary: I found the book dragged a bit in places, but overall was a pretty good. I learned a ton about Bruce Lee that I never knew.

Audiobook: Jonathan Todd Ross does a solid job. For nonfiction I always want a forgettable narrator. What I mean by that is I don't want them to stand out because the book should do the talking. I don't want voices or dramatic flair. I also don't want to be lulled to sleep. Mr. Ross accomplished this

Full Review
I don't remember how old I was when I first
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bruce Lee was a hero to many people of all cultures. He made his moves in the movies look effortless. He wanted to be known as an actor, not just someone who did "Kung Fu. He died at an early age due to cerebral edema. No one was sure how this came about. There were pictures of his family among others that I had never seen. There was gossip and innuendo about his personal life.. His wife Linda had no idea if he was unfaithful although it was alluded to. I found this to be an interesting story of ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought I knew a lot about Bruce Lee but wow was I wrong. This biography of the martial arts great, film star and cult idol/icon is eye opening. Delving into all facets of Lee’s life, the good and the bad, this is just a fascinating portrait of a truly larger than life character and the times in which he lived. One of the best biographies I have ever read!
Ron S
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well researched, definitive, readable biography about the actor and martial arts star, separating fact from legend and myth.
CF Leung
Mar 22, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book ‘Bruce Lee, A Life’ is a poor attempt by author Matthew Polly to write a “definitive” and accurate biography of Lee. It fails miserably on all counts.

Lee passed away more than four decades ago, as an icon in martial art and movie. Polly proclaimed there were not enough books devoted to Lee, and he wrote his to correct such injustice. In reality though, 200 or so books had already been published about Lee, half in English, half in Chinese, and about one-third as biographies. Granted,
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Question: If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
My Answer: Bruce Lee

I was so excited to read this book about Bruce Lee. I grew up watching his movies. I still have a box set of his movies on VHS. I was so in love with him. Didn't matter that he died before I was born and knew nothing about him. From seeing pictures of him, I envisioned him as a quiet, introverted, family man. Boy, I was so wrong about everything. There's a saying "Never meet your heroes". Turns out, Bruce Lee
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In memory of the once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess.

I've always been fascinated by Bruce Lee. I can't recall my first viewing of Enter the Dragon but I do know it has profoundly affected my entire life.

And, yes, I was "that" guy with a Bruce Lee poster in my college dorm room:
Bruce Lee B/W Poster
I have his "Be water, my friend" quote taped up in my work cubicle. I have the "Don't look at the finger" quote as my inter-office communicator profile. I have a cloth poster tacked up at the door
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive writing on the life and times of the iconic Bruce Lee. Stuffed full of outrageous and amazing anecdotes, it is never dry. To those who like Bruce Lee, you will love him after this book. As for myself: I am going to go re-watch "Enter the Dragon" and think about all the new things I know about the late, great 'little dragon'.

**Partial List of Topics**
-Hong Kong, war history
-China, political history
-Japan, war history
-Oriental martial arts, history
Bruce Lee:
Marco G
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very entertaining biography. It's very detailed and well written. Turns out that (spoiler) the 5 finger death punch is NOT what killed the Little Dragon LOL.
Amanda Peterson
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I will state how rare it is for me to give five stars to a book but then again I have never ended up getting emotionally involved with the subject matter like I have now. While not an official biography this is a really enthralling read with interesting stories and tidbits concerning Bruce Lee. I like the humanization of his character and mythos, I like that they show his flaws as well as his attributes. Now thanks to him I have developed an infatuation with Bruce Lee.
Bryan Cebulski
Despite the fact that my largest takeaway from this biography was probably "Wow, Bruce Lee was an incredible dick!", this is still a great book. Actually maybe even because of that. Comprehensive, easy to read, and engrossing. It's an indirect dissection of Asian racial politics in Hollywood, an insight into martial arts movements in the United States, a historical context that covers everything from the Boxer Rebellion to the Tate murders, an examination of a man who, as they say, bought his ...more
Heidi Burkhart
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This could also be called “Everything you want to know about Bruce Lee.” Informative, and kept my interest. I enjoyed the audiobook format.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exhaustively researched and deeply thorough, Matthew Polly's biography of martial arts and film icon Bruce Lee is easily the most authoritative book on the late star. Including interviews with those who knew Lee best and a number of rare photographs not seen before, Polly's book covers his life from birth, to death, to his legacy, and everything in between.

Usually, this kind of depth comes only with authorized biographies - an exchange of access to personal material in exchange for approval of
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow, I knew next to nothing about the man behind the legend that is Bruce Lee. This meticulously researched, detailed accounting of Lee's life grips you and doesn't let go. You learn that the dynamic magnetism, energy, and genius of Lee was responsible for both attracting and alienating those he met. Far from perfect, Lee had a string of affairs, burned bridges, and has an enormous ego. At the same time, even his enemies couldn't deny his incredible talent, martial arts skill, and how he ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Finally, a Bruce Lee biography worth reading. My only quibble is the anachronistic use of the phrase "McDojo." Didn't exist until the 90s and likely did not apply to any karate school in the 1960s.
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Comprehensive. Definitive. Revealing. Exciting. Yes, all that and more. Update 1/20——Yes indeed it was comprehensive and thoughtful in its’ formulation and it’s made me an even bigger Bruce Lee fan than I was before reading this book. Really provides an intimate look into his ever changing philosophy that he was consistently and constantly updating as he was a voracious reader he added and subtracted thoughts as needed and always seemed to be evolving to a deeper and deeper human consciousness. ...more
Paul Read
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was just 14 when Lee died. I, like the rest of the planet didn't understand what had happened. Over the following 12 months I consumed every word, film and photo of the man. I become a Bruce Lee expert, or so I believed. Then, 45 years later, Matthew Polly, wrote this book. And I realised I knew nothing at all.

Polly delves not just into the events of Lee's life, but the social, economic and political contexts that defined his character. He places Lee not just in Hong Kong or Seattle, but in
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, biography
A skinny, frail Chinese kid determinedly self-invents to become one of the most influential celebrities ever: the father of mixed martial arts, the man who changed the image of the Chinese male, and whose "shredded" physique changed the ideal male body--and who died tragically young at the age of 32. Polly offers the first definitive biography of Lee, though he does admit it is unauthorized. The further along the book goes, the more astonishing it is, for the layer upon layer of cultural ...more
Henrik Haapala
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, biography
Bruce lee started acting at six years old and training Wing Chun with Ip Man at 13 years old (a very economical style). BL had tremendous charisma and never backed down from a reasonable fight. He came from a show business family and had acted in 20 movies before becoming famous. He was nicknamed “never sit still” and “little dragon” and could train his left or right with 500-1000 punches per day. He combines cardio and strength training in a daily cycle. In his regimen he included books. He ...more
Cullen Haynes
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In the spirit of one of my mentor's advice, Robin Sharma, who said reading Biographies of inspiring people is time never wasted, I thought it timely then, being in San Fran, I finish the Biography of one of it's favourite sons.

More than 40 years after legendary martial artist and cult film star Bruce Lee's death, at the young age of 32, author and journalist Matthew Polly goes deep to uncover the complex and humane portrait of the icon.

I am shocked that there has been a completely
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Matthew Polly's BRUCE LEE: A LIFE is the definitive and authoritative biography fans of the Little Dragon have been waiting to read for more than four decades. This mammoth, 650-page book about the martial arts film superstar who died at age 32 is packed with new information and, like its subject, moves with lightning speed and grace.

The quick-tempered but philosophical Chinese American actor is a fascinating study in contrasts. As Polly (American Shaolin and Tapped Out) writes, Lee's "internal
Trung Nguyen Dang
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the newest (released only 15 days ago) and is the definitive biography on Bruce Lee. The martial artist is the first movie star I got to know when I grew up and thus I'm quite interested in getting to know him and his life better.
The book is super well-researched, with lots of intimate details, and is also based on lots of other biography by Bruce Lee's wife and others.
The story-telling ability of the author is also good. And Bruce Lee is, of cos, amazing: extremely strong, rebellious,
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Since my teenage years, I've read most of Bruce Lee's books and articles about him in various magazines. However, this work is quite the authoritative biography on the martial arts star/legend with so much background information that nobody im aware of touched on previously. As a fan, it's wonderous stuff, diving again into Bruce's universe in his still unbelievably short time in this world, yet meteorically blazed a path in Hongkong and American martial arts, tv and film. He really smashed down ...more
Adam Cormier
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read and very informative recounting of Bruce's further development of Wing Chun Fung Fu and his eventual rise to becoming the most prolific Asian actor of all time. Also discusses details around his shocking death at the mere age of 32. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a complete understanding of the man, the myth, the legend of Bruce Lee.
Angelo G.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic biography of the great Bruce Lee with (no pun intended), no punches pulled. You definitely get to see the other side of the movie star and all the dirty laundry but you also see who he was in his private life. This was a long book but it went really quickly because it was so well put together.
Jason Weber
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Being involved in Martial Arts for almost 25 years, I am a fan of Bruce Lee. I read all the books and watched all the movies, and then I saw this book at Barnes and Noble. I read a lot and I don’t give out 5 stars that often. I wish I could give this one more. If you are a martial Artist this book is a MUST read!
That’s is, just read it!
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the thorough, even-handed and insightful biography of Bruce Lee that we've been waiting for. Matthew Polly, an admitted fan, went to primary sources to provide an authoritative and detailed account of Lee's short and world-changing life. This is neither hagiography nor expose', but a story that illuminates the subject's passions, demons, achievements and shortcomings. This is a quality work that answers all the lingering questions and shows the human side of a martial artist who broke ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: This topic has been closed to new comments. Missing synopsis 6 24 Jan 28, 2020 11:25PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Never Grow Up
  • Bruce Lee: Artist of Life
  • The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee
  • Bruce Lee — Wisdom for the Way
  • Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body
  • Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s
  • Arthur Ashe: A Life
  • Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation
  • Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story
  • Ali: A Life
  • Steve McQueen: A Biography
  • On Time: A Princely Life in Funk
  • Up Till Now
  • A Game of Thrones #2
  • A Deal with the Devil: The Dark and Twisted True Story of One of the Biggest Cons in History
  • Sweat the Technique: Revelations on Creativity from the Lyrical Genius
  • Art of Atari
  • How the Earth Works
See similar books…
Matthew Polly is an award-winning travel writer for Slate. His first book, American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch; An Odyssey in the New China, was published in February of 2007. A Princeton University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, his work has appeared in Esquire, Playboy, and The Nation. He grew up in Kansas and lives in New York City