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Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl Paperback – Sep 13 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (Sept. 13 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439189765
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439189764
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 5.3 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #333,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“A major literary biography…packed with intimate details, sharply intelligent commentary and surprising revelations. I can't sing its praises enough.” ―Michael Dirda, Best Nonfiction of 2010, The Washington Post

“Authoritative . . . a careful, loving outline of a difficult man.” ―Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review

“A sprawling entertainment packed with anecdote and incident . . . an engaging tale with satisfying episodes of glamour, intrigue, failure and renewal.” ―William Georgiades, The Wall Street Journal

“Sturrock captures the spirit of the man, his need to charm and entertain as well as his 'almost adolescent desire to annoy'.” ―Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has loved Roald Dahl's quirky voice in books like CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE BFG, or THE WITCHES will enjoy this biography of the classic children's author. Sturrock captures Dahl's life from childhood through war service to his romantic liaisons and his brilliant literary career. This biography uses sources that have not been previously accessed, and as a result, the volume is richer, fuller, and more comprehensive than other works on the author.

Sturrock walks alongside Dahl and shares the stories of this beloved author, deftly drawing readers into Dahl's life. One aspect of the biography that will capture attention and surprise some readers is how tragic some portions of Dahl's life were.

For example, he was only three years old when his seven-year-old sister, Astri, died; as she was their father's favorite, Dahl's father was devastated by her death and gave up on life. Ironically, Dahl's losses continued into his adulthood, culminating in his own seven-year-old daughter's death.

Other readers will eagerly read about Dahl's romances with famous women like Elizabeth Arden, the Marchioness of Huntley, and actress Patricia Neal, whom he married.

As authorized biographer, Sturrock is able to tell the tale of Dahl's life as well as share his own experiences with the author without becoming overly sentimental or judgmental about this dominant personality. The book will hold the attention of readers as it provides the fascinating, heartbreaking, and just plain interesting details of Dahl's life. This biography is an important addition to any library.

Reviewed by: Theresa L. Stowell
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
The hand that holds the pencil Sept. 30 2010
By wogan - Published on
Format: Hardcover
`Storyteller' is about a man who thought invention was more interesting than reality and in making the truth more interesting. Roald Dahl's biography sums up all of his eccentricities, his proclivities and seemingly every aspect of Dahl's personality, most of all his characteristic of the feeling of an outsider. There are astute observations, such as, "his books are a kind of imaginative survival manual for children about how to deal with the adult world around them...freed from parental controls...where everything is possible."
Donald Sturrock had interviewed Dahl for a BBC film, been to his home and was given access to Dahl's papers after his death and interviews with his children and friends. His writing captures your interest, incorporating Dahl's past with his books and stories, so that even if you have not read them, they draw you into his world. There are many helpful footnotes, including those that explain Anglicism's such as conkers.
Dahl's cynicism, "life isn't's full of foul things and horrid people" is incorporated along with his extreme generosity, his love of his family and his failings from his birth to his death.

There was so much more to Dahl's life than what is generally known; but even that would make him worthy of note. He brought to life WWII's gremlins, `James and the Giant Peach', `Charley and the Chocolate Factory`, married Patricia Neal and guided her recovery after her stroke, was instrumental in developing a drainage tech valve to help save his son's life, which also helped thousands of other patients, he was a screenwriter for `You Only Live Twice' and also `Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. Sturrock is successful in bringing out all of this and more; both the personal and professional aspects of Dahl's fascinating existence.

This biography is an excellent example of researching into someone's life and explaining it with appeal for the reader, whether they are acquainted with Dahl or not. Probably the highest praise I can give, is that it makes a reader want to pick up everything Dahl ever wrote to continue the story.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
The man behind the myth Oct. 13 2010
By Hayley A. King - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I hold Roald Dahl personally responsible for my lifelong love affair with books and when I finally held this book in my hands, I was more than a little apprehensive. Did I really want to possibly knock my idol down from his pedestal?

Ultimately, yes.

This tome is a detailed look into the life of a man whose books still enthrall and delight generations of children, even with the creation of the magnificent Harry Potter. Sturrock's writing is remarkably balanced and he doesn't shy away from showing the darker side of Roald Dahl, which, at times, is hard to swallow. I had no idea of the life that Dahl led before he became a children's author. All that I know (pieced together from Boy and Going Solo) is that he was a fighter pilot during WWII and was stationed for some time in Africa. What I did not know is that he was assigned to Washington DC after he was injured during the war. I did not know that the concept of the Gremlins could be applied to him. I did not know that he had been married to Patricia Neal or that he had been friends with FDR or that he had briedly been Hemmingway's assistant to that he had known Ian Fleming. I could on (honestly- there's more) and it's astonishing how little I really knew about the man I have idolised. In spite of the fact that Roald Dahl comes across as a hard and difficult man, there are moments in Sturrock's writing when you truly feel the heart of who he was. His love affair with his 2nd wife Liccy is very touching and the influence that he had on the hearts and minds of his young fans is a beautiful thing.

My one complaint is that in spite of the endless details about his life in Washington and all the people that he knew, in contrast there was very little about his time as the world's most famous children's author. I think the book would have been improved, particularly to those of us who lived and breathed his words as children, if there had been more focus on those times, instead of so much given to his earlier life. Not that those things were not important, because they were. It just felt that the end of the book was rather rushed and not so much time given over to his days as the reigning king of children's literature.

Finishing the book was a bittersweet experience for me, because I came away feeling that if I had known the man, I probably would not have liked him very much, but I continue to be grateful every day for the literature he has given the world.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Dec 4 2010
By Loves the View - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Prior to reading this book the only thing I knew about Roald Dahl's personal life was that had married Patricia Neal. His fame as a children's author did not fit with this nor my image of him (from book jackets) of his aloof aristocratic bearing. This book describes the reality of his amazing life. Now I see how it all fit.

The book, in covering Dahl from his roots in England and Norway to his death in 1990, is excellent. Author, Donald Sturrock, assembled a lot of known and new material and put it together in a highly readable fashion. That these 500+ pages hold your attention, and mostly keep you page turning, is a real credit to this first time biographer.

Dahl, whose father died when he was 3, was sent to Repton School at the age of 14. It's described as the proverbial nightmare British boarding school, where hazing from peers equals the sadism of the teachers and administrators. This school completed Dahl's formal education, and probably his emotional development as well.

World War II arrived for Britain while Dahl was working in Africa. He joined the RAF which was formative in that he received pilots training, was in aerial combat and had a debilitating accident. This led to a desk job in the British Embassy in Washington DC. As a war hero with a successful free lanced story, he was catapulted into the highest ranks of politics and entertainment. Not yet 30 years old and he is dining with FDR, playing tennis with the vice-president, boxing with Hemingway and dating Clair Boothe Luce. We don't know how he achieved such extraordinary access, but we do know that he was, like Ian Flemming, a spy. It helped that he was handsome and had affairs with rich and beautiful women; He filed reports on some. From the Washington days he made a good and lifelong friend, Charles Marsh.

Sturrock takes the reader through all of this, his two marriages, family life and tragedies and his frustrations as a writer before his children's books. Both Dahl's loving/generous side and his prickly/dogmatic sides are presented. His two marriages cannot be more different; his first seems almost accidental and might have ended in divorce sooner were the couple not bound by tragedy. His attitude towards Pat's role as a wife, and his treatment of her in general, is appalling. He is not often kind to agents and editors and is capable of casting off the most helpful ones abruptly. He is happy in his second marriage and by this time he is also successful in his career. He has lifelong health problems and his last days, as was a lot of his life (6 spinal operations to name just one health problem), are painful.

If you read this book, you will either love him or hate him, or both; you will not be indifferent. You will, though, come away with total respect for this author who has digested a lifetime of work and life and made it accessible.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Even more fascinating than I expected Jan. 20 2014
By Matt Post - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I grew up loving Roald Dahl and read basically everything he wrote for children. In college, I came across some of his adult fiction, and was somewhat surprised at how dark, sexual, and, well, adult it was. It planted a seed that interested me in the man himself which I didn't act on for a decade or so. I'd read good reviews of this biography, and finally got around for reading it, and it was a pure delight.

Another reviewer asks, "Was it worthwhile to have Dahl knocked off his pedestal? Yes." I agree wholeheartedly. Meeting -- and truly coming to know -- someone as an adult that one previously knew only as a child is certainly always eye-opening pedestal-removing, and that is certainly the case with Dahl, whose general nastiness seeps through throughout this book. But it's not only nastiness that comes out; the man really seemed to possess character attributes on the extremes of many spectrums.

The bottom line is that it was fascinating to learn about how complex Dahl was, and I come away with a deeper respect, admiration for, and interest in his work. Sturrock did a wonderful job with this book, and I highly endorse it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Storyteller April 27 2011
By Spider Monkey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Roald Dahl was a complex man, at times generous and humorous and at others cantankerous and difficult to deal with and this book explores all these sides of his character and more.

Written with clarity and insight `Storyteller' shares will us Dahl's unique and fascinating life. From his early days at boarding school to his career with Shell, his time flying in the RAF during the second world war and the crash that damaged his spine to his time as air attache in Washington and minor daliance in espionage, his early adult short story career to his later beloved childrens fiction and all of this is recounted with a rich smattering of his rich and varied family life. In as open a way as possible this book shares it all.

This book was authorised by the Dahl family and was written with their full cooperation and their bravery has to be commended, as although the author obviously loves Dahl and his life, he in no way shy's away from the more unsavoury sides of his life. His various affairs are touched upon, as is his notorious grumpy character that made his publishers life hell and which ruined numerous relationships.

This has three photo plates of the assorted people mentioned in the book and these help you picture the time, people and places the book speaks of. This is an extremely sympathetic and well written biography that not only recounts the life of an exceptional writer, but it manage to keep you engrossed and fascinated throughout. Dahl's dedication to his art shines through on every page and whilst he may have been cantankerous and hard to deal with, his legacy is something we are all left with to cherish and enjoy.

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