It was with great pleasure and excitement that I began reading this new book whose release seems perfectly timed in this current revival and growing availability of silent and early films. Written with passion and in-depth understanding by a life-long silent film enthusiast, this book is exactly what everyone with a sincere interest in early cinema could wish for. It has been meticulously researched and presented in a way which provides the reader with a wealth of information at a glance and at one's fingertips, from the succinct biographies in alphabetical order, to resource references and website addresses for further personal research. Aside from being an indispensable handbook for general knowledge or for writing articles and reviews about actors, directors and other key characters of the silent era, it is also a pleasure to simply read from cover to cover. This is mainly due to the engaging style of writing, making a factual biography read more like an enjoyable story - and what stories they are! Suddenly the names of stars and behind-the-scenes crew became real, living people as I read each one's life story, beginning with the basic facts underneath their names, namely what age they lived to, and of what they died. This little bit of extra information already makes the person come alive in one's mind, and the 2-3 page biographies summarize highlights and certain traits about each individual in such a way that a solid first (or second!) impression is formed. No doubt this can be attributed to the fact that the author personally interviewed some of the people showcased in this book, or else has liaised with family members or ardent followers of the person in question. Each person's most important films are mentioned, both from the silent and early sound era, and at least one interesting photo or illustration per biography makes for enjoyable yet very informative reading.
Although essential for any novice of silent films, "Silent Lives" is also an exciting revelation for more advanced aficionados, thanks to the carefully chosen list of biographies ranging from the essential, most famous names to the obscure and unexpected silent film features such as Felix the Cat, the Model T Ford automobile and my favourite; Rin Tin Tin, the famous canine actor, whose biography reveals that he lived nearly 14 years, and unlike some of his contemporaries, made the transition into sound films effortlessly. Important behind-the-scenes people such as directors, writers, inventors and cameramen are also given worthy tributes in these biographies, which altogether gives a well-balanced overview of who contributed to the development of early Hollywood, how, and which films best represent these facets. Obviously, a medium-sized book cannot encompass the entire gamut of early cinema, but the mere fact that the one hundred short biographies in this book already provide a firm foundation is evidence of the skilful research, planning and writing required for such a book, which in itself deserves of a full 5-star rating.