From Scout to Go Set a Watchman - A Portrait of Harper Lee

By Charles J. Shields

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jessie adams
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the bestselling book of the twentieth century and is considered to be one of the best books of all time. Almost an instant classic upon its publication, it has enjoyed almost fifty years in the limelight, and never fallen by the wayside. Yet its author remains something of an enigma, a writer turned recluse who never wrote a second novel. That is exactly what Charles J. Shileds sets out to explore in "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee".

This biography begins with an acknowledgement from the author that Nelle Harper Lee would not grant any interviews to help him with the book, as she has not done so since the late 1960s. Shields explores her early life and family backgrond, painting a picture of a workaholic father and mentally imbalanced mother, and describing the childhood friendship between Lee and Truman Capote. During college, Lee enrolled in law school, following in the steps of her father and eldest sister, but soon came to loathe the law. She dropped out and moved to New York, intent to make it as a writer, with the help of some friends. While waiting for "To Kill a Mockingbird" to be published, she accompanied Capote to Kansas to be his 'assisant researchist' for "In Cold Blood", merely a magazine article at its inception. Shields devotes a good portion of the book to Nelle's involement with Capote during his research for "In Cold Blood"; being familiar with that book is certainly a bonus, but not a prerequisite. After Lee's astonishing success, her relationship with Capote was fractured, especially after he downplayed the role she had played in the writing of "In Cold Blood".

Descriptions of turning the novel into a movie, three short years after its publication, also takes up a fair portion of the book. It was interesting to learn that Gregory Peck was not Lee's choice to play Atticus, a role very much based on her father. It was also interesting to see how much of Nelle Harper Lee's real life had been put into the novel: perhaps this is why she could never finish a second book. Shields does a commendable job of paiting a portrait of Nelle Harper Lee, the author of one of the most beloved books in American literature. He delves into all aspects of her life, and even talks about the started second novels that never materalized. For any fan of "To Kill a Mockingbird", or of Truman Capote, or of southern fiction in general, "Mockingbird" is an enlightening read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this work. Harper Lee, the author of `To Kill a Mockingbird' is probably one of the most interesting and influential authors of our time. By our modern standards; standards that seem to demand that everyone in the world wants their 15 minutes of fame or time in the sun, Harper has been a bit of an enigma, shunning the limelight, becoming what some might call a recluse and most importantly, after her triumphant entry into the literary world, never producing another novel.

Some may say that the author of this portrait, biography, sketch or what have you of Harper Lee worked under an extreme handicap as the author refused to cooperate in the least bit. I suppose from a certain perspective that may be true, but on the other hand I have read many a good biography by many a good author that had no contact or cooperation from his or her subject either. I just finished a very nice biography of Charles Darwin by a lady named Browne and I doubt seriously if she ever once interviewed Mr. Darwin face to face. That is the nature of biographies. Just because Harper Lee happens to be alive should not make that much difference. In this case, it did not.

As has been pointed out, To Kill a Mockingbird has been and is one of the best selling novels of all times. It still to this day gains over a million new readers ever year. It comes in only second to the Bible as having the most influence over the lives of its readers in survey after survey. The author makes the book, so to know the book one must or should know something of the author. What forces converged to allow this wonderful teller of tales to produce this novel at this particular and crucial period in our history? What made this author tick? What part of the novel came directly from the author's life and what part of the novel came from her total imagination? What forces or what circumstances caused this very talented writer to completely drop from the literary scene? What part did Truman Capote play in the development of Lee as an author, and what were the influences of her family and small town Southern up bringing? What influences did her many years in New York have over her writing?

Now there has always been some controversy over the part that Truman Capote played in this work, i.e. Mockingbird. He was indeed featured as one of the children in the work; there is no doubt about that, but what part did he actually play in the creation of the novel? I personally feel it was very little when all is said and done, but the author has addressed this subject and come to, for me, very logical and favorable conclusions. For me this was not the crux of this work though.

Also addressed here, more importantly than the question of what influence Capote had over Mocking bird, is what influence Harper Lee had over the creation of Capote's `In Cold Blood." To be honest, this was an eye opener for me. There is no doubt in my mind that Capote's crowning work never would have seen the light of day had it not been for Lee. I personally hold the work of both of these authors in complete awe, but I like source information and Charles Shields has given us this in spades!

This work is well written and the footnoting is meticulous. The author has treated his subject with great respect and there is almost absolutely none of the gossipy sort of snipping one is normally exposed to in works such as this during these days. My, how refreshing that was! The author as done a minimum of speculating; although due to the nature of this work he obviously was forced to do some, but even when the speculation takes place, it is done with class and full respect to Harper herself and I found not one instance where Shields went over the edge.

I have a strong preference for Southern Regional Writers and by far Lee Harper was the best of the best. It is only natural for people like me to want to know more of her. Since it is quite doubtful that we will get word straight from the horses mouth, either through the author herself, or through a close family member, this work is probably the best we are going to have access to....ever. To know more about an author who turned out one of the best novels of the past century is a good thing. I must admit that I sympathize with Harper in wanting to keep her privacy, but through the simple act of turning out a work of pure genius, and such influential magnitude, she more or less gave that privilege up, for better or for worse. I feel for her, but I am information greedy, I admit.

For a completely satisfying read where many bits of knowledge will be gleaned, it would be difficult to find a better work than the one being reviewed here. For those interested in the writings of both Harper and to a lesser extent Capote (a very complex and interesting relationship that was), then this is one of those that fall into the category of a must read.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
"Mockingbird" is a delightful read and nice sleight-of-hand. Charles Shields imaginatively dramatizes Nelle Harper Lee's life out of the oddest little scraps. Early in the book he builds a whole set-piece out of two jaywalking tickets that Nelle got the same day in 1960 at 86th and Lexington (these tickets were happily memorialized in a Saturday Review squib, and thus handy to Shields or anyone else within reach of Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature).

The technique does not always go down felicitously. For long stretches, the author has nothing to go on but notes and diaries of Lee's agents. With these as the main source material, it looks as though Harper Lee spent most of her time traveling between Manhattan and her agents' Litchfield County country house.

Occasionally Shields seems to be working with nothing but weather reports. "According to that day's newspaper, it was cold and there was a snowstorm. Nelle looked out her window and saw white things coming down from the sky. She was glad she was inside, where it was warm; her flat had had steam heat ever since it was built in 1887, nearly forty years before Nelle was born."

That is a parody, but not an extreme one. Fortunately the two key chapters at the heart of book, concerning Nelle Lee and Truman Capote at their careers' zenith (more-or-less simultaneous), are well documented in notes and letters, so Shields doesn't have to wing it.

Trifling negative criticisms: The book was inadequately proofread. There are errors of continuity, spelling ("Vutlee" for "Vultee"? even Google flags that), and punctuation. A. C. Lee, Nelle's father is once described as having been an inexperienced young lawyer of 29 in 1919; inexperienced he may have been, but he was 39. At the back of the book I was startled to a kind of teacher's lesson plan in the form of suggested questions for classroom discussion. Is this a kiddy book, I wondered? I am aware that Shields had taught the book for years as a high school teacher, and I am further aware that this novel has been embedded like a woodtick in the high-school syllabus, for better or worse, for the past 45 years. But coming across this list of questions was annoying to me, suggesting that I'd accidentally picked up the student edition, rather than some racy, foulmouthed, unbowdlerized grown-up book that Nelle Harper Lee deserved. This in turn made me wonder how much Shields trimmed his sails as he navigated his way to the safe and prosperous harbor of Bestsellerville. Did he leave out anything unsuitable for a class of 15-year-olds? I suspect he did. I'm not thinking of sex here, so much as "political correctness." This book is determinedly uncontroversial. matter how sweet-tempered and conventional Shields has made the book, he's also left enough slow-burning incendiaries in there to undermine the politically correct interpretation of the novel. In this current PC interpretation, the book is all about racial justice. A noble but crippled black man is unjustly accused of rape (by a piece of poor-white trash, naturally enough). Little white children watch and observe how cruel people (i.e., white people) can be. And they learn the virtues of brotherhood and racial equality, or something like that.

If you know the book only through the movie version or hearsay, that's probably what you think the book is about. If so, you're wrong. That is not what the book is about. Like the early part of "David Copperfield," it's about bright kids who have to suffer in a world controlled by dim and tyrannical adults. Race scarcely rears its head, and the rape plot is merely one of a series of subplots in the book. Furthermore--and I suggest this is apparent to anyone who reads "To Kill a Mockingbird" carefully--the rape plot is not an organic part of the whole. It is grafted onto the story, very artificially and precariously, and does not even make internal sense.

The rape case comprises more than half of the movie, but only about 20% of the book. Furthermore, as Shields demonstrates, it was not even present in the original draft of the book, which was little more than a collation of short-story-like episodes. Shields explains that the rape case was artfully conceived, by Lee and her editor at Lippincott, Tay Hohoff, as an overarching background element to tie the other subplots together. Later on, when asked about the factual basis of the race-rape plot, Lee always tried to have it both ways, maintaining that it was entirely fictional and yet heavily inspired by some real-life case of the period, perhaps something her father was involved with. The honest answer--"It's fiction, you fool. We wanted a best seller so we put sensational and mawkish racial stuff in, and boy did we succeed!"--just wouldn't have washed.

As for the film, the rape-case dominated because that's how the main star wanted it. Gregory Peck wanted not only to be the central character, but to make the courtroom the primary scene of the story. For a while he even wanted to change the title of the film to "Atticus Finch for the Defense," or something like that. Out went the numerous subplots--Dill and his aunts, Aunt Alexandra's family, Mrs. Dubose with her flowers and morphine; away went the notion of narrating the story from little Scout Finch's point of view, as it is in the book.

Shields's recounting of the novel's history is marvelous social and lit-crit history. Even more entertaining is the long section about Truman and Nelle working together on "In Cold Blood." This is a narrative stretching from late 1959 to 1966, familiar to anyone who's seen the movie Capote (with the principals played superbly by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener). At the beginning of this drawn-out excursion, Nelle was a likeable unknown; within two years she was more famous than Truman, and Truman never seemed to get over it. In spite of all the legwork and research on "In Cold Blood," all she got was a shared dedication. No author's or researcher's credit, no Special Thanks To, not even a nice pot of money (not that Nelle needed it by that time).

There is no single clear answer as to why Nelle Harper Lee never followed up her stupendous first novel, but I got the idea that any residual literary drive died a slow death of asphyxiation, smothered under too much money, too many wearisome lectures and interviews, and too much of a frightening object lesson in poor old Truman in his late, Jabba-the-Hut period. A more practical explanation was the loss of Nelle's support systems. Her editor and friend Tay Hohoff got old and died within a decade or so of the novel's publication, and then her agent and writer friends began to drop off too, one by one. The world of the 1950s that nurtured her was no longer there.
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★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
carol humlie
A documentary DVD entitled Hey Boo: about the life of Harper Lee is a good companion to this book. Both biographies contain zero quotes or personal interviews with Harper Lee but do their best to provide the audience with as much background information possible about this shy nonconformist with the soft, southern accent.
For some strange reason, this book also made me want to view the 2000 film Finding Forrester starring Sean Connery, again, (for about the twentieth time) as it is also about a reclusive author who only wrote one Pulitzer prize winning novel until befriending a young teen.
Like the two films, this biography does its best to provide an answer the question on everyone's mind, "Why did Harper Lee never write another novel?"
Harper Lee's sexual identity could also have been presented in a more respectful way, as the only excuse the author can think of as to why Harper Lee never married was because she didn't make herself more "marketable" in her physical appearance to the young men during her prime single years. If Harper Lee ever suffered from a broken heart, we'll never know.
Fans looking for any background information about the previous manuscripts Lee submitted that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird will be rewarded on page 114 where Go Set a Watchman is referenced as one of the working titles eventually rejected. (this book was published in 2006 and the reasons why those 50 pages were rejected are pretty obvious today)
An entire chapter is also dedicated to the novel Lee co-wrote with longtime friend, Truman Capote. You don't even need to read that book to find out how it ends, only that Harper Lee never received the credit due for all the work she put into it, yet while Capote accepted all the glory for In Cold Blood, Lee graciously stepped back and kept silent.
This wasn't a bad read. Fans of the author and her bestselling book will enjoy learning more about her early years and how she dealt with the fame her "Cinderella Story" thrust upon her. She is presented as a sympathetic person with the soul of a frustrated writer who, somewhere along the way, lost her muse.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
brittni lundie
I love a good biography and this one is right up there with the best. It's clearly written, does not waste your time with a lot of hypothetical stuff, and the author keeps his assumptions and analyses to himself - while reporting in an interesting and involving what he has heard from those who know Harper Lee. Some biographers seem to think they are junior Freuds, and this author avoids this pitfall. Thank you! I came away feeling I would like Harper Lee, I got an understanding of her and how she came to write this book - and I also get why she hasn't written another. Nothing big, or life changing - just life went along and somehow the time and attention required to write a novel just never got put together again. Makes sense to me. I liked that the people interviewed were quoted extensively and not interpreted - I realize I'm being redundant - but biographers who analyze instead of reporting give me hives. Truman Capote was not a nice man, and I'm glad that we finally got the true scoop on his involvement with "To Kill A Mockingbird" - darned little - and her input into "In Cold Blood" - a whole lot. The rumors that he actually wrote "To Kill A Mockingbird" are shown to be absurd, and really, does anyone think that self involved little twerp wouldn't have been all over the media if actually had? He never won the Pulitzer himself, and certainly would have made sure to get credit for such an important book had he actually had anything to do with it. Don't miss out on this book. It's a good read and absolutely fascinating.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
osama alshurafa
Nelle Harper Lee, whose TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD became a classic upon publication, has been all her life an intensely private person, so author Shields was handicapped by not having the input of his subject in writing this memoir, relying on articles and other people's impressions of her to form his text, and I'm sure Miss Lee did not approve.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book because I liked the woman that emerged from Shields' research: an individualist, not concerned with fashion, perceptions of young women at the time, or criticism. She forged her own path despite family disappointment in her choices, and friends, classmates, and other acquaintances who thought her odd. We learn of the real-life town, Monroeville, AL, which inspired the fictional Maycomb of the novel, of Miss Lee's childhood with an emotionally troubled mother, her college years in which she honed her writing, and the gift of time she was given by friends to write TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. A good part of the book addresses her friendship with mercurial Truman Capote, and the assistance she lent him while researching his book IN COLD BLOOD. Capote pretty much comes off as I remember him from television talk shows: aggrandizing and flamboyant, yet with a veneer of insecurity.

If nothing else, you get some interesting glimpses behind the scenes of the film version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. (Young Mary Badham sounds like a hoot!) I admired Miss Lee before reading this book and admire and like her even more now.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
amir mojiry
I enjoy reading biographies and couldn't put this one down. I have loved To Kill a Mockingbird ever since reading it in middle school.

Charles Shields did an excellent job researching Nelle Lee's life and works. It was interesting to learn about Lee's family, especially her bi-polar mother and her father who was the model for Atticus Finch.

The best part of Mockingbird was discovering just how much of Lee's sweat went into Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I think it's safe to say that In Cold Blood probably would not have been written without Lee's talent for befriending and establishing relationships with the townfolk of Holcomb, Kansas. Capote was too much of an oddball to ever get the leaders of Holcomb to open up and offer him information on the murders. Lee's notes on the personalities of the murder victims offers fresh insight into the tragedy.

Shields' theory about why Lee never wrote a second novel is a sound one. Although To Kill a Mockingbird is a masterpiece, Lee agonized over the writing and editing of it, and as the years passed her small literary support eventually dried up. It's sad she had to feel so much shame at never having written a second masterpiece. I actually felt sorry anytime a character in the book would ask the annoying question, "So, when are you going to write a second book?"

As for Lee's reclusiveness, who wouldn't get sick of answering the same lame questions about one book over and over again? I would've hidden out long before Nelle herself did.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rowan sully
The best biography I've read so far about Harper Lee, and TKAM, one of the most influential books in American literature. It was said that " 'To Kill a Mockingbird' sent a hundred thousand boys to law school." (And plenty of girls, too, of course.) Yet the book left me with as many questions as answers. What other interests did Lee have, besides golf, writing and visiting with her friends? (And what was her golfing strength--- good or a duffer?)

Why did her creative well dry up after TKAM--- there was no second novel and hardly anything else. There are sympathetic references to Jews in TKAM--- was Lee a philo-Semite or the opposite? How did Lee feel about politics? Aside from superficial coverage of her opinions on the race problem, there's nothing. So many questions about her are not only not answered in this book; they aren't even touched on.

I'd also have been fascinated to hear comments from blacks in Monroeville who knew the family and Lee when she was growing up. It's surprising that the book contains nothing from blacks.

The book, like many others, would have benefitted from far more photographs. I would have enjoyed seeing more photos of Harper Lee as a young girl, around the age she depicts Scout in the book. And of Truman Capote as a child, and others. Of the courthouse, the square, the courtroom.

I found the most interesting section to be the one about Lee and Truman Capote working together on In Cold Blood, which made TC's rep as an author and celebrity. In some ways, the manner in which Lee and Truman insinuated themselves into the murder investigation does not paint them in a good light.

Still, the best bio of Harper Lee so far.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
neil jeffery
I've read To Kill A Mockingbird many times since I was a boy growing up in Georgia in the 1960s. Although the events described in the novel took place some thirty years before my own childhood, I remember being delighted by how familiar Jem, Scout, and Dill's lives seemed, and by how much my own small town resembled Maycomb, Alabama. As I grew older and gained more perspective, I recognized how important Harper Lee's novel is in interpreting and documenting the history of the South. The author was always described as a recluse who never wrote anything else and was rarely seen or heard from. Fortunately, that turns out to be more rumor than reality, as Charles J. Shields so ably shows here.

Mockingbird reads as easily and beautifully as Harper Lee's novel itself. Nelle Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, attended college and law school, then ran away to New York City to become a writer. Throughout the 1950s she worked at various humdrum jobs while scribbling away on a set of stories that eventually grew into a great novel. After To Kill A Mockingbird's overnight success the pressure grew for a follow up novel, which she seems to have worked on in fits and starts for many years before finally abandoning it. Now she spends her time between Monroeville and New York City, not exactly shunning the limelight but certainly never seeking it out.

Shields did a remarkable job of reconstructing the life of this brilliant, puzzling, lady without ever having the chance to speak to her himself. Her millions of readers from around the world will feel that, at long last, they know her a bit better.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
linda schnetzer
I just finished Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. Mr. Shields did a splendid job, especially considering Ms. Lee's goal of protecting herself from the excessive attention which for decades now has chipped away at her wishes for a normal life. Not only was his research extensive and well documented, but the book is a page turner.

I fully understand Ms. Lee's desire and need for privacy and commend her for protecting herself and living the life she chooses. That considered, I hope she has not found this work offensive. I personally feel Mr. Shields shed welcome light (to those of us who have been facinated by TKAM and its author for more than forty years now)on a life well lived.

Without help from Ms. Lee there are, of course, questions without answers. All things considered, however, our knowledge of how the book came to be written, Ms. Lee's long-term relationship with Truman Capote, and a world of other questions have been answered.

The big question, of course, remains unanswered: Why was TKAM the author's only novel? Her answer aside ("I said everything I had to say."), the answer seems obvious to me. She could not have written a better book than the one she wrote. Without doubt a second novel would have been unfavorably compared to the first. Better to let that sleeping dog curl up by the fire, twitching now and again at dreams of catching another fat rabbit, rather than stir from that cozy place only to find the next catch criticized as scrawney.

If you are a true fan of To Kill A Mockingbird you will find Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee hard to put down.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nick marsden
Charles J. Shields got off to a slow start in Mockingbird but readers who suffered through the rather mind-numbing first chapter were rewarded with an intriguing Nelle Harper Lee biography that got stronger and stronger as each chapter unfolded. Shields managed to give insights into Harper Lee, the woman, despite the fact that her public life and career have been limited to relatively few milestones, events that her admirers find interesting even today.

Nelle grew up in the small Alabama town of Monroeville where she was much like the tomboyish character Scout who was the central figure in her masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. After high school she went on to Huntingdon College and, under pressure from her father, later studied law at the University of Alabama but did not graduate. Nelle was determined to become a writer and left law school to move to New York so that she could concentrate on that.

The events that define the public Harper Lee all started to happen around 1960 and they make up the heart of the book:

* Publication and immediate success of To Kill a Mockingbird

* Her intimate involvement in the research for In Cold Blood with her oldest friend in the world, Truman Capote

* Filming of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck

* Her disappearance from public view and lack of a second novel

Nelle Harper Lee was very fortunate to find, early on, a gifted and patient editor in the person of Tay Hohoff who worked with her through the numerous drafts required to transform Nelle's stories into the unified novel that they ultimately became. Within just a few weeks of publication, To Kill a Mockingbird was on the top ten lists of both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and had become a Reader's Digest Condensed Book (considered quite an honor in those days).

While all this was happening, Nelle was helping her childhood friend and neighbor, Truman Capote, do the Kansas research required for the creation of his own masterpiece, In Cold Blood. In fact, it is unlikely that Capote would have been able to write such a groundbreaking work if Nelle Lee had not made herself available to serve as his "assistant" in Garden City, Kansas. Truman Capote did not have the kind of personality or presence that went over well in rural Kansas and without Nelle there to open doors for him with her graceful southern personality and temperament he would have been unable to gather the inside information that makes In Cold Blood so special. Sadly enough, all of the help that Nelle gave Capote did not exempt her in later years from being treated with the same contempt and lack of respect with which he treated all of his supposed friends.

The chapter on the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird provides interesting insights into the personality of Gregory Peck and how he came to truly love Nelle Lee, remaining a friend of hers for the rest of his life, and is filled with stories and bits of gossip regarding most of the key members of the cast. Monroeville, Alabama, of the 1960s looked little like the Monroeville of the 1930s but such great care was taken to recreate the older version of Monroeville (even to taking exact measurements in the old court room) that many casual viewers of the movie assume that it was shot on location there.

The last chapters offered up by Shields attempt to explain the great mystery of why Nelle never wrote even a second book. In Shields' estimation, the lack of succeeding books was caused by circumstances as much as anything else. To Kill a Mockingbird became such a money-making machine that Nelle lost several years in nurturing it as she traveled the country making personal appearances, working on the movie and winning prizes for the book, including the Pulitzer. As she once said, before she knew it, she had lost a decade. More importantly, she seemed to feel the pressure of trying to measure up to the quality of her first novel to such an extent that she lost confidence in her ability to ever do so. She was a slow writer, by nature, and that in combination with the pressure to top one of the most popular books in the history of world literature may have been too much for her. After losing her agents and editor to death or retirement, she finally resigned herself to the fact that it was not going to happen and decided to return to the simple life she most preferred anyway.

Considering the fact that Nelle Harper Lee refused to participate in the writing of Mockingbird (as she has refused all interviews for the last several decades), Charles Shields has done a remarkable job of providing some perspective to a writer who has done her best to avoid publicity for most of her life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
derrick hodges
Harper Lee was recently honored by President Bush with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor for services to literature. Her sole classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," has been ranked second to the Bible as having one of the most impact on people's lives. It is so widely read and is considered one of America's greatest novels. Unfortunately for us, Lee has never written or published another novel. You can only imagine that creating such a first classic novel that she would try again. Maybe she has in private but she has declined interviews and avoids the limelight and publicity. She makes occasional appearances like at the White House to be honored by President Bush, the memorial service for Gregory Peck who played Atticus Finch in the movie version. Besides, she has maintained a low key image despite her childhood friend and relationship, Truman Capote. There should be a book written about their relationship. They both grew up in Monroeville, Alabama and were neighbors. Nelle Harper Lee assisted in researching his classic non-fiction book, "In Cold Blood" about the Clutter murders in Kansas. After that book's publication, Lee was pretty much offended and slighted by Capoute. It might have to do with that he was resentful of her success from "To Kill a Mockingbird." While she attended his funeral, she and Truman were never as close again. He went off on the deep end and his life ended prematurely. He never recovered. Besides the point, Lee returned to life after the book and film's success. She never attended the Oscar ceremony preferring to watch it at a friend's home on television. Lee did not own a television at the time. Lee's personal life is less exciting. The author provides a disclaimer as to why she never married or about her sexual orientation. Maybe she never recovered from the unrequited love in college of one of her male professors, it's hard to imagine that this simple woman with an extraordinary mind and ability to fight much like her father did in the courtroom but with words would not find a soulmate. She now lives with her ninety one year old sister, Anne Lee, and attorney in Monroeville, Alabama. Lee has maintained her hometown identity with trips to New York City where she also maintained a residence until recently. The author paints a loving portrait of one of America's best read authors. While we know so little about her personal life, we can see that maybe she never found the right husband or man much like her father who inspired Atticus Finch. Anybody else would have been second rate, Lee never settled on that or maybe she was too shy to ask. She is polite, Southern, responsible, and has a conscience that we would expect no less from a woman who has inspired and written "To Kill a Mockingbird." She doesn't need the limelight while she maintains a normal life. While TRuman sought celebrity, fame and money as the means of his happiness, Lee has found her own sense of fulfillment in her Methodist upbringing and faith and her hometown roots. She has never left or forgotten Monroeville, ALabama who love and cherish one of our favorite writers. Anything published as "To Kill a Mockingbird" would have never been as successful or seen in the same way. You are only as good as your last book, the critics would have said.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
emily g
Harper Lee, whose book has touch generations of readers with its wisdom without pretentions, is examined in this fine read by Charles Shields. Because Lee rarely (almost never) grants interviews or public appearances where she'll speak about her spectacular novel or her enigmic life since, Shields is left with speculating as to Lee's lack of published writing since Mockingbird.

This book is at its most interesting when reviewing Lee's life with family and early adult friendships with those who believed in her, worked in publishing her work, and of course, her contributions to Capote's book In Cold Blood.

Shields fails in some areas (like his analyzing her father's religious convictions, he tends to get categories confused, but religously, socially, and philosophically). These failures are common amoung today's writers who seem to make flawed assesments.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. His style is easy, fun, and engaging; but all in all, very little is actually revealed that is not alreday known or speculated before by others.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jackie snodgrass
I dislike biographies. In fact, I have never read a biography that I enjoyed even slightly. That all changed after reading Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. I absolutely loved this book. I loved how the stories and anecdotes were woven to tell the tale of Harper Lee, one of the most famous female authors ever. After reading this book I feel as though I know Lee on a personal level and I really like her. I very much enjoyed reading about her childhood, her friendship with Truman Capote, her journey as a writer and how fame has it's price. Mockingbird is one of the very best non-fiction books I have ever read.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Much has been said below about all of the factors that make this such a great book in terms of the factual information Mr. Shields was able to piece together about one of the most reclusive subjects imaginable. Rather than repeat any of that information, I'd just like to contribute my two cents about what a great read this book is. I read fiction almost exclusively, and biographies almost never, and I can honestly say that I could not put this book down until I had finished it. It is as entertaining as it is informative, and written in a very fluid narrative style. Although it is quite effective as a stand-alone title for those who have never read "The Book" (and does such a person exist?), it is immeasurably rewarding to those who have. Do yourself a huge favor and buy this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sue hines
One of the great mysteries of literature is why has Harper Lee never published a second novel after releasing the classic To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. Though Charles J. Shields provides an interesting look at the author's early years especially her work with Truman Capote in the 1950s that parallel what the recent film claimed as well as the success that the novel brought, he fails to obtain the answer to the key question why not a second book. Still this is a well written fascinating biography that fans of works on great writers (does one extraordinary season make you a Hall of Famer?) will enjoy MOCKINGBIRD, buts also feel a bit let down as the fundamental Lee question remains unanswered as if Ms. Lee "mocks" her biographer by forcing him to use anecdotal evidence to explain the unpublished recluse of the past four decades.

Harriet Klausner
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
matt fogel
Shields claims througout his new "portrait" of Harper Lee that her stand alone classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" is second only to the Bible when people talk about what books have affected their lives.

Truth be told, I easily fall into that category as well. First assigned to me as a high school reading requirement in my sophomore Honors English class, little do I remember of the intial experience of first entering Maycomb, and spending some quality time with her residents. I remember a 50 question test at the end of the book which nitpicked certain details to death to prove whether or not we read it. It wasn't until I turned 30 again that I revisted this book, and reread as an adult, without a looming test in my mind, that I truly entered Maycomb, and met Scout, Jem, Atticus, and I daresay, felt the book. Now, I reread Mockingbird about once a year, re-watch the film once a year (it, too, is one of my all-time favorite flickers), and let its lessons wash over me like the mighty Mississippi.

I've always been hungry for information on Harper Lee, real name Nell. I knew she lives life in Monroeville, AL, doesn't talk to anyone about her book, and never wrote another. I knew about a possible law school background, and a few short stories. I thought that Atticus was modeled on her own father. Beyond that, I yearned to know more about this very private woman, possibly just to know how she produced the most important book written in the twentieth century. Charles Shields' new book attempts to do that, in a not necessarily biography, but portrait, of Harper Lee.

Shields' task is daunting, as he readily admits early on. Little information exists that is new on Lee, and Sheild's takes from whatever he can to compose his book. As he admits, this information is hardly new, so he relies heavily on old friends, aquaintances, and people who knew Nelle to build on his story. Like the docents of Monroeville that work extremely hard to protect Nelle's privacy, that information is somewhat scant, and not very revealing.

He slowly builds his story from her childhood, as it is clear that's what the majority of his fact finding lies. By the time Nelle reaches New York, we're about almost halfway through the tome. He addresses what he can about how she came to write Mockingbird, but again, scant for this reader hungry to know more. By the time Mockingbird approaches its final form, Shields switches to Truman Capote's intial research into his amazing book, "In Cold Blood", and Nelle's role in that project. By the time you finish reading that, the remaining years of Nelle's life, up untiil her 80th birthday, fly by with a quick blink.

But you know what? I loved every minute of it. Why? Again, back to the hunger. Mockingbird affects my life daily, my interaction with people, how I view the world. Of course I want to know how this woman created the seminal masterpiece of the last 100 years. Any information is welcome, including, this sketchy portrait.

However, it's clear that Nelle wishes privacy, that's she has said all that she probably will say about Mockingbird. She believes the book stands on its own, and says what it says about what it says. I respect that. In our mass media, video dominated "standing in the eye of the hurricane", 24 hour news world we live in, that is a trait to be respected and admired. And as much as I would love to know more about Nelle and her fabulous book, in reality, all I would ever want to say to her is two simple words: thank you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tammy jeff
I picked up this new portrait of Nelle Harper Lee with some misgiving as I had no interest in reading any sort of "tell-all" unauthorized bio on a brilliant writer who I much admire. I was pleased to find that Mr. Shields doesn't pull any sucker punches, but offers a low-key, easily read background on Miss Lee's life, with theories offered on her essential mysteries, but much of her privacy left in tact, which I appreciated.

I especially enjoyed Lee's insight into the Cutter household in Kansas, and the hints that were given to the complexities of her relationship with Capote. I notice some readers have found book not enough of a tell-all, but I find this study nuanced and in keeping with the author's own wishes not to be publically flayed and dissected. I say: read and come to your own conclusions and rejoice that this modest life produced a fine woman and an enduring classic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
devy nurmala
Nelle Harper Lee is a one book wonder, and what a book she wrote. Charles J. Shields' first full length adult biography of this amazing writer is a wonder in itself. Well written, it reads a lot like a mystery, unraveling the secrets of a life made famous by one book - To Kill a Mockingbird - and delving into the personal life of an author who shunned her own celebrity. His work is respectful and insightful. My book group loved it. We also loved our "visit" via telephone with this generous and well spoken author. Buy it! Read it! You won't be disappointed.

Mary Jane Rowan, Kittery Point, Maine
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I was raised in a small town like Monroeville, Alabama, and I knew women who were as intelligent and eccentric as Nelle Lee. I knew women whose middle names were their mothers' maiden names. We had a woman attorney in the 1950's who practiced with her father. She served as mayor and even represented us in the state legislature. I believe my senior English teacher could have written a great American novel had she the mind to. My freshman English teacher was a member of the WACs and traveled around the world all her life. She was one of the most exotic creatures I've ever seen.

I believe the strong women I knew growing up would have reacted to fame and fortune much in the same way Lee did. They would have rather died than have their hometown descended upon by tourists. They would have refused interviews. They would have not spoiled the mystery. They wouldn't have liked all the fuss and bother. They would have rather been tending their flower beds or reading into the night.

Charles Shields does a good job in trying to capture the essence of Nelle Lee. I loved the backstories and the quotes and having seen the movie CAPOTE, I really appreciated his shining a light on that part of Lee's life. I can't imagine how much material he had to sift through to get 285 pages to print. His footnotes are meticulous.

However, the book is missing something. She didn't give many interviews after the book's publication, so there's not much to dig into regarding her motivation, voice, etc. Sheilds wrote it without Lee's cooperation, so it must have been difficult to get a handle on what she was thinking when she wrote her masterpiece. We will never know why there wasn't a second book. Maybe if the press and her peers had left her alone, she would have published more. Or, maybe it's like she is quoted, "I said everything I had to say."

It doesn't matter. Harper Lee has left us a rich legacy. Isn't that enough?
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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 splits her time between homes in Monroeville, Alabama, and New York City. Her first novel, Go Set a Watchman, was recently rediscovered and will be published this summer, hence the resurgence of info on Ms Lee.

This book was published in 2006 -- long before this first novel was rediscovered -- and bears no hints about the book, but reading this may allay readers' fears that this new book is being published for mercenary reasons alone. Nelle Lee is a fascinating character and the new book will add more depth to our appreciation of her as a person and a writer, even if it doesn't rival To Kill a Mockingbird as a work of literature and mainstay of high school reading lists.

I hope to be pleasantly surprised by Go Set a Watchman, but don't hold high expectations.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ashley tait
Since its initial publication in 1960, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and continues to sell almost a million annually. It is taught in 74% of schools across the country. Its film adaptation is heralded as one of the finest movies of all time and its lead character, Atticus Finch, was hailed by the American Film Institute as the "greatest hero in a hundred years of American film history" in 2003. With this enormous success, why then is so little known about its author, Harper Lee? And why has she never published another book? Through much research, journalist Charles J. Shields attempts to illuminate the enigmatic woman born Nelle Harper Lee in this extensive new biography.

Delving into Lee's early years, from her beginnings in Monroeville, Alabama, we begin to see her earliest influences that would shape her career-defining work. Life at home included her father, A.C. Lee, the venerable attorney and newspaperman (he was the model for Atticus), her depressed and remote mother, a brother who would die in the war, and her headstrong older sister, Alice, who worked as an attorney at the family firm. Many long afternoons were spent making up stories with her pixie-like neighbor and playmate, Truman Persons (later Truman Capote). Lee was to join the family firm as well, but once she worked on the literary magazine at the University of Alabama, she knew her greatest dream was to go to New York, much like her friend Truman did, and become a writer.

From her early days in New York, working many jobs to pay the bills and attempting to write on the side, a portrait of the author starts to take shape through older interviews given by Lee (she had pretty much stopped giving interviews by 1964), documented research, such as the exhaustive Capote Papers from the New York Public Library, and correspondence with friends. Had it not been for a generous gift from her friends Michael and Joy Brown, MOCKINGBIRD might never have existed. Lee had been slowly assembling a story that at times had been called GO SET A WATCHMAN and then ATTICUS, but then the Browns gave her the gift of "one year off" so she could write her book: a gift she repaid to her generous friends once her first novel, now titled TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, was accepted by the publisher, Lippincott & Company.

During this time, she accepted her friend Truman Capote's offer to accompany him to Garden City, Kansas, in the capacity of "assistant researcher" while he wrote about the seemingly random murder of the Clutter family in rural Holcomb for The New Yorker. It was supposed to be about how a small town bears up after such a tragedy, but it soon became more. Once the killers were apprehended and Capote began to interview them, it became clear that he felt some sort of strange bond with Perry Smith, one of the killers --- a bond that one could argue was the beginning of the end for Capote. Although he politely thanked Nelle for her help and shared the dedication of what became the "nonfiction novel" IN COLD BLOOD with her and his longtime lover, Jack Dunphy, many felt Capote never gave Lee her proper due. If it weren't for her down-home charm and wit, making friends with the wives of important investigators on the case, the pair never would have gained the access that enabled Capote to write such a compelling tome. And perhaps later on, when she was being heralded as the next literary beacon, there was a twinge of jealousy on Capote's part.

Even when rumors surfaced claiming Capote wrote most of MOCKINGBIRD for Lee, he never strenuously denied them. (Shields points out that the many letters between Lee and her agents and editor categorically quash those rumors as well as the simple fact that Capote was not known for keeping secrets. If he had indeed written the book, once it became a bestseller, he would have been the first to admit it. Given all the research it seems clear that Capote read it and offered some advice on where it could be edited.) After the IN COLD BLOOD years, the two remained friends but their friendship was never the same.

But nothing, not even her close friendship with Capote, could have prepared Lee for literary superstardom. Perhaps she lacked the naked ambition of her old playmate. A somewhat quiet individual to begin with (although friends say she has a wicked sense of humor), the glare of the media spotlight, the endless interviews and the pressure for a new book overwhelmed her. She bristled at the constant attention and scrutiny and retreated more and more to life as a private citizen, dividing her time between New York and her family home in Monroeville, which she still does to this day. When asked by a young relative why she had never written another book, she confided, "When you're at the top there's only one way to go."

In MOCKINGBIRD, Shields has assembled quite an informative biography of an enigmatic but truly influential writer, despite the fact that Lee herself has chronically shunned any offers for interviews throughout the years. It's hard to paint an accurate portrait when the subject won't sit for the painter. But given that fact, Shields does an admirable job of illuminating a writer who shuns the limelight. He clearly demonstrates just how much her sole work has contributed to American literature as we know it but also highlights her important contribution to Capote's IN COLD BLOOD.

Given his obvious affection for the author and the many years spent researching her, it is peculiar that Shields chooses to end the biography on a sour note, with a representative from the Equal Justice Initiative essentially denouncing the novel's importance. But since Lee has never authorized nor is likely to ever authorize her own biography, no one can truly know her. MOCKINGBIRD: A Portrait of Harper Lee is the closest we've come so far.

--- Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This is a very enjoyable and informative read, especially if you are someone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird ( I mean is there anyone who doesn't ? ). Although the biography of the reclusive Ms. Lee is very unauthorized as the author admits up front, it contains a lot of information about Ms. Lee, Capote, the writing and filming of To Kill a Mockingbird, and all of the intrigue surrounding the writing of Capote's In Cold Blood. Shields "portrait" of Ms. Lee is very favorable and positive.

It was in the "couldn't put down category" for me.

Highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee - Charles Shields
4 stars

This was a very readable, well-organized biography. Charles Shields used available information to develop a clear picture of Harper Lee. I was very interested to learn about both her childhood friendship and adult working relationship with Truman Capote. Shields does a good job of charting her growth as a young writer in college through the publication of her book. Although he offered several possible explanations why she never published another novel, he was for the most part respectful of the woman's privacy. As a reader, I felt I had enough information to draw my own conclusions
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
patrick mcallaster
Mr. Shields was quoted in the NY Times article announcing the release of "To Set a Watchman" as saying Harper Lee is an "amateur" writer. If so. she is one Pulitzer prize winning amateur who penned a piece of American classic literature. How is one to take him seriously when, as Publisher's Weekly points out, "Although journalist Shields interviewed 600 of Harper Lee's acquaintances and researched the papers of her childhood friend Truman Capote, he is no match for the elusive Lee, who stopped granting interviews in 1965 and wouldn't talk to him. Much of this first full-length biography of Lee is filled with inconsequential anecdotes focusing on the people around her, while the subject remains stubbornly out of focus." I must conclude he is one more opportunist trying to cash-in on the success of another, with no unique information or insight to contribute.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
dave tow
Sheilds Mockingbird confirms all that I felt in my heart of hearts about Lee's novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Her hometown characters speak to the heart of small town life and I am sure there are many towns who have such "miracles" in their midst. After teaching the novel for the past eleven years I long for that time in the school season when I greet Atticus, Scout and Jem on their front porch and stand strong with them on the jailhouse landing.

Sadly, his accounts of the lost Capote hurt my soul; that such a "magician" would grow up to harbor such childhood pain that pushes away even his most trusted friend...I was a teenager when Capote met his demise at the hands of drugs and alcohol but found him fascinating on talk shows. Sheilds brings all of the pain of disappointment of betrayal of a such a dear lost soul to light here.

But more importantly he has made me just as protective of Miss Lee. Okay, so she didn't write another novel, so what? What she did write was enough.

I will approach this next school year with even more excitment as the teaching of "Mockingbird" comes near and encourage our school's library to purchase this biography as well.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sarah mathys
I read this well-written and often engrossing book in a single weekend. Less, if you consider that I got it on Saturday afternoon and was done with it Sunday night. I read it because Nelle Harper Lee (I had no idea her first name was Nelle; not Harper) created To Kill A Mockingbird. Because To Kill Mockingbird is a book that stayed with me all this time even though my then-English teacher used it (in part) to teach us what the subject and object of a sentence was. But when I read this book, gulped it down really, I felt guilty. Because this act of reading it--like the act of writing and researching and publishing it--is so contrary to what To Kill A Mockingbird is about. At least to me.

At one point, Atticus tells Jem to "shoot at bluejays all you want, if you can hit `em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Charles Shields didn't listen. Because as he himself admits (not in so many words maybe but it's there) Nelle Harper Lee has become the literary equivalent of Boo Radley. A lady who treasures her past and friends as jealously as she treasures her privacy. A lady who stays at home because she does not want to come out. And so I have no doubt that by digging up her old skeletons and exposing them for all to see (and incidentally demonstrating that in the age of the Internet there is no such thing as privacy) Charles Shields caused her much pain. And was it worth it?

Do I think any less of Atticus (A.C. Lee) because he is not as perfect? Do I need to know all the less-than-pleasant details of what happened to Dill (Truman Capote) before, during and after? And do I need to see the old (and not-so-old) gossip about Harper Lee herself? For what, finally, emerges from this biography in the end? What is the Harper Lee story for whose sake Charles Shields invaded Harper Lee's privacy, friends, and family?

At the end, what emerges is the story of a decent lady who loves her family and friends, lives in the little Southern town of Monroeville and (maybe because she loves books) has a modest little apartment in New York. What emerges is a lady quick to laugh and quick of temper; a lady who wrote her book not because she believes in Causes but because she loves real people. A lady who is "just folks". But then anyone who had read To Kill A Mockingbird already knew that.

So why cause Nelle Harper Lee pain to tell us what we already knew? Because it was a challenge, maybe. But that's not a good enough reason - even if the end is a well-written, well-crafted, and very respectful book. It's not good enough because researching and publishing that book (and probably reading it too) was a bit like killing a mockingbird.

It was wrong.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
aniruddh vijayvargiya
Mockingbird drew me in from the beginning and kept my attention to the very end. Shields has done a beautiful job illuminating the real characters, themes and settings that inspired Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

With information gleaned from hundreds of interviews, letters, and even snippets of Lee's few other published pieces, this seems like a truly intimate and revealing portrait of a young writer. At times, however, it also seems a bit intrusive and overly speculative.

But after reading it, I still feel as if I really know Harper Lee. I also gained a deeper understanding about the social and political climate surrounding the novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who loved reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would especially recommend it for anyone who wants to be a writer.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
frances myers
This book has all of the elements of a nonfiction classic: It is informative, covers a facinating topic, and -- most importantly -- is a delight to read. I couldn't put it down and finished it in less than two days.

Contrary to what some other reviewers have said, the book is *not* boring. It is paced well, departing from chronological order in the right places to create narrative tension (it is obvious that this is an experienced and talented author). It also sheds very needed light on the revered but misunderstood author of one of the greatest books in American literature. I can't believe I have read To Kill a Mockingbird about 15 times, yet before this book I didn't even know the author's real first name. I was completely engrossed learning about the real-life people on which TKAM was based.

I highly recommend the book if you love a good biography, if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, or if you are just looking for a compelling nonfiction read. Well worth the time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Initially, I was displeased with the repetitious nature of quotes from people the author, Charles J. Shields, either talked to or culled from his research. There were many paragraphs where the author took creative license, but in the end, I felt like I understood Harper Lee, the person, better. Mr. Shield's meticulous research yielded some gems of information I would never have discovered myself, and I was fascinated with the back story he unearthed regarding Ms. Lee's instrumental assistance to Truman Capote's novel, IN COLD BLOOD. A worthwhile read!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
vivian carmichael
Like many readers out there, I have always thought of "To Kill a Mockingbird" as my all-time favorite book. Having first read TKAM as a curious 11 year-old, my eyes were opened to the power of great literature. Ergo, I have Nelle Harper Lee to thank for that type of experience. However, little is know about the woman behind the classic novel.

The sub-title of Charles Shields' "Mockingbird" is correct in that it's a portrait, not merely a biography. Shields paints a picture for his reader by weaving together a narrative, rather than merely stating facts. Lee is portrayed as a free-thinker with sharp wit, who was never afraid to speak her mind.

What I found most interesting about "Mockingbird" was not only the connections Shields draws between Lee's childhood and the setting of TKAM, but also the role Lee plays in the research of "In Cold Blood." Through research of his own, Shields shows how vital a role Lee played in another American classic, as well as the book's effect on the friendship between Lee and Capote.

Overall, I found Mockingbird to be a very enjoyable read. Shields clearly did his research, on a woman who purposely took herself out of the public spotlight. While many people often wonder why Lee never wrote a second book, I like how Shields shows how Lee has "forgiven herself" for not doing so and moved on with her life. Instead of judging what she hasn't done, this book should allow readers to appreciate even more what she has.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I read both the book and watched the movie, How to Kill a Mockingbird. The book and movie are a classic and rightly so. For a child actor, Harper Lee I thought she delivered just as a powerful performance as Gregory Lee did in the movie. Although this is really about the extent of my knowledge about Harper Lee. I am familiar with hearing and seeing the release of Harper's book, Go Set a Watchman but I have not read the book. Having admiration for Harper Lee I was looking forward to reading this book and learning who Harper Lee was from Scout to Go Set a Watchman. I thought that for the task that Mr. Shields had in front of him with not being able to interview his subject matter for this book, he did a fine job of gathering as much information as he could from others close to Harper Lee. Yet as I was reading this book not a lot of the details were sticking with me. It was like just reading fact cards which are fine but not that exciting. Despite my feelings about this book, I still will be a fan of Harper Lee.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hallie wachowiak
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 relationship with Truman Capote is an interesting and evolving part of the story. Rumors that Capote actually wrote To Kill a Mockingbird are put to rest. Instead, Lee's role in researching, editing and possibly writing some of In Cold Blood without much acknowledgement from Capote is probably the reason that their friendship cooled over the years. I'm left feeling that she put everything she had into her first book and was never able to write another that met her standards. How could you top To Kill a Mockingbird ?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
susan regan
I am a huge fan of Nelle Harper Lee, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, more than ten times, it is a classic book and everyone should read the story at least once. I found this book very kind to Nelle Harper Lee, I know that she shys away from the public and her privacy is very important to her, when she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, I am sure she did not realize the impact the story would have for many decades after the book was published. I am fascinated with her writing and her life, I enjoyed this story very much.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
j g keely
Nelle Harper Lee is perhaps one of the most influential people in the 20th century (it's a little early to call on the 21st, but one can hope). This biography was thorough and well-written, but limited by the fact that Miss Lee truly wants to be left alone. Not only did she not participate in the creation of this book, but most of her closest friends, family and confidantes closed ranks and refused to talk as well. It is still well worth reading, as even a limited view is fascinating.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★


What a challenge and Sisyphean task to create a portrait of Nelle Harper Lee, the best novelist of the 20th Century while she is against and insists keeping her privacy. What a mission impossible for a biographer to not even exchange a word with the one whose character he wants to describe. And what an admiration, great respect and devotion is needed to keep the work on "Mockingbird" going no matter how hard it is for each and every step.

I'm sure Charles J. Shields didn't know what he was involving himself into when he decided to write his book. After all Nelle Harper Lee is one of the most mysteriously secretive women alive and yet the one so openly self-revealed throughout her own words brilliantly knitted into her novel "To kill a Mockingbird". But Shields' passion was to create an honest tale about the persona of this exclusively talented Alabama woman that armed generations to come with the greatest idea that giving respect to the differences between ourselves as human beings is all we need. And he went to his four years journey of struggle. He fought to get to the real sources of Lee's exceptional gift, and to find out how the book was created, survived and proved itself through the years. As Harper Lee wasn't cooperating, Shields had to meet with hundreds of people from different circles who knew her personally - relatives, old friends, acquaintances. And he had to make over 600 interviews to get the actual picture he was putting so meticulously on his canvas.
Until Charles J. Shields, as Miss Lee preferred to stay out of the media lights, the only source about her persona could be squeezed only from the novel. I truly believe that Shields' book is an honest and monumental work that will help future generations to reach and easier and better understand Harper Lee in her deep human essence, and hear clearly and on a deeper level her messages.
The only thing sadly left to be desired here is the personal participation and presence of the real Nelle, with her own passions, emotions, feelings, motives and reasoning about different things and events in her own life and also about the ups and downs of the life and morality now days in general. Things that her privacy is depriving us all of and obviously creating more and more hunger for knowing her better and closer. The good news is Nelle Harper Lee is still here and with us and could change this, come back to her audience and add the missing components of her own portrait that Charles J. Shields painted with such precision, sincerity, love and ardor.
RomyAna Kaval, Texas [...]
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lauren balthrop
Readers of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird will welcome this first full-length biography of the reclusive author. Shields was denied access to his subject as well as family members and friends. He has attempted to overcome this obstacle through many years of research. However, it is impossible for anyone who has been denied such access to provide a full portrait of Lee. He sheds light on the connections between the residents and history of Monroeville, Lee's hometown, and the fictional Maycomb characters and events. With the release of Capote and the resurgence of interest in his In Cold Blood, the chapter dealing with the creation of Capote's masterpiece is of special interest. Lee's pivotal role is finally acknowledged. Shields' biography is recommended for all readers wanting to learn more about Harper Lee who gave us one of the miost beloved books ever written.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tom regan
Did I learn anything about Harper Lee? Yes. was it formation that changed how I viewed To Kill a Mockingbird or added to it? No. Sure I learned more about who the book's character's were based on and some industry bits about the film, but I didn't need any of it.

The book was just so-so and the fact that Lee didn't like it makes me wish I hadn't read it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
wendy b
Mockingbird is a fascinating book about Harper Lee. Charles Shields has done a tremendous job of researching this interesting author and presenting a portrait of her that will change your perception of To Kill a Mockingbird. The book lent itself to a wonderful discussion of our book club and was enjoyed by all (a rare feat for our book club). I would highly recommend it and am looking forward to Shields' next book on Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes...
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kurtis findlay
I think the author did an excellent job considering the inability to interview the subject. The complaints I have heard (I live 30 miles from Monroeville) have been minor and are related to things only known to the inhabitants of the community. Ages of alleged playmates; dates of trips etc. I thought it was not judgmental and fairly presented the issues which have surrounded the book since its publication.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I just finished reading this book and was delightfully surprised. The book is wonderfully researched despite Ms. Lee's refusal to be interviewed by the author. The section describing the relationship between Truman Capote and Ms. Lee and the research/writing of In Cold Blood was simply great. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jenny mitchell
I put my doubts to rest after reading Shields's book. Finally a book that answers some of my questions about Harper Lee. Shields does an extraordinary job of "revealing" Miss Lee's personality (without her help) and addressing the authorship of To Kill A Mockingbird. He also suggests reasons why she never wrote a second novel. I have been waiting a long time for this book. Thanks Charles J. Shields! I look forward to your next book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mr kate
I purchased this book last week after hearing the author, Charles Shields, speak in my small town in Louisiana. He was a delightful speaker. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Short of talking to Miss Lee herself, I think his biography is extremely thorough, thought provoking, and entertaining.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
allison the bookman
I give Mr Shields credit for a long book, but the only parts I really enjoyed were the 'In Cold Blood' chapters. It was interesting to learn about the 'real' Clutter family and to learn that ICB probably couldn't have been written without Lee's help. (It also shows that Truman should be a right little @#$% at times.) I'd probably give the book a 2 1/2 stars if I could.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jessica richards
Recently I chose this book as my selection for two book clubs. Well received by both. Despite not being authorized by Lee, we found it respectful. Especially appreciated credit given her for her contribution to In Cold Blood. Capote's success was largely due to her opening the doors for interviews in Kansas, an area totally foreign to him and his approach.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
If typographical errors and the misuse of words don't bother you, you'll probably enjoy this book. I found both annoying to the point that I didn't want to finish the book. Apparently the editors don't know the difference between the words "regime" and "regimen," and nobody but nobody proofread. Prepositions are omitted, and in numerous cases words are repeated in the middle of sentences ("the" and "the," for example). Henry Holt has done a major disservice to the author and to the subject of this work by not investing in the services of a proofreader and a good copy editor.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
What I find telling is how he's had to pull this together from old interviews and from acquaintances from her hometown and such.

Love her book so I was curious. Would I offer it to someone else? No.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I found this book to be disrespectful of Harper Lee and Mr. Shields is unknowledgeable about the real culture of her native town and region. This book is basically written with gossip, inuendo, speculation and without the approval or cooperation of Miss Lee. I would not recommend it to anyone who appreciates the beauty of To Kill A Mockingbird or the writer, Harper Lee. Mr. Shields is a gossip, as prone as Truman Capote became to this senseless activity in his last years, which only quelched his creativity and prevented us from having more of his books to savor. Mr. Shields should base his biographies on more substantial information and documentation. At this time, his writing style is more suited to National Enquirer, than nonfiction published by Henry Holt and Co. Perhaps if he wants to be known as a true biographer, he should choose a subject who is not opposed to interviews or publicity and where there is an abundance of true documentation. Old memories from interviews can be quite twisted after many decades, as most of his information about Harper Lee during her college and university periods were gleaned. Otherwise his Harper Lee biography should be classified as fiction based on a living author. I would not recommend it to anyone who enjoys biographies or enjoyed To Kill A Mockingbird or who understands the true culture of south Alabama.

Miss Lee deserves respect and her requested privacy should be observed, surely all of us can give her this. I am rather ashamed of myself for purchasing this book and it was a grave disappointment as well.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Why can't people leave this poor woman to the privacy she obviously wants? Harper Lee gave the world a gift in TKM. Lets all be grateful and leave it be. I'm sorry, but writing an unauthorized biography where in the subject refuses any participation means that any information gathered is all in question. Right now, we are at a point where Ms. Lee has lost all true protection. Everyone is trying to make a buck. This book is second hand garbage.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I have always wanted to know more about Harper Lee as her book is one of my favorites. It was not the fault of the author that the book is so dull, but rather the fact that Ms. Lee would like to be left alone, and that he probably should have allowed her to be so.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
After just finishing reading THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: LIFE WITH HARPER LEE by Marja Mills, I can hardly recommend this book although I have NOT read it and wish my book club had not selected it. Marja Mills was a journalist from Chicago that wrote for The Chicago Tribune. In the early years of the 21st Century, Chicago was promoting TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for their "One Book, One City Reading Program" Miss Mills contacted Nelle Lee and told her of the the plan and requested an interview and possibility of bring a photographer to talk it over with her and maybe get permission for an interview. The rest is history, as they say. It was to be a short stay at a Best Western, then Mills would return to Chicago. Gradually, Nelle and her sister Alice, who was a practicing attorney at the age of ninety three, slowly started telling her bits and pieces and explanations for the numerous "Mysteries" surrounding Nelle, as she is called by all who really know her. She would open up and then tell Mills what was "off the record". She was aware of Shields' book and had flatly refused to speak with him. She did read it and was furious at the inaccuracies. She even refused Oprah! He did not speak to her friends, according to her, because everyone that knew and loved her, protected her and refused to discuss her unless she gave them the "go ahead." Miss Mills moved into to a house next door to the Lee sisters and stayed for fifteen months. She had Nelle Harper Lee's full approval for her writing her biography and they became fast friends. Mills became friends with Nelle's and Alice's friends as well. Please read the authorized biography of Nelle Harper Lee. She did think Philip Seymore Hoffman had completely transformed himself into Truman Capote and predicted he would win an Academy Award for it, which he went on to do. She also said she NEVER wore white socks with pumps as Sandra Bullock did while playing her in the other movie about Truman Capote's book.
Please Rate From Scout to Go Set a Watchman - A Portrait of Harper Lee
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