New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff's biography of Robin Williams, from his lonely childhood in the Midwest to his shocking suicide in 2014, is a rich portrait of a beloved entertainer whom few fully understood. Itzkoff draws on his interviews with Williams, as well as archival research and more than a hundred conversations with the star's family and friends, to create a nuanced view of Robin Williams as a man and a performer. The book is comprehensive--it's 200 pages until Williams's first box office success, in Good Morning, Vietnam--and compelling without being salacious. It shows Williams as a manic comedy genius, a doting but flawed father, a recovering addict, a loving friend to Christopher Reeve and Billy Crystal, and a popular actor who still searched for approval. Itzkoff delves into well-known stories, like Williams's presence at the Chateau Marmont the night John Belushi died, and includes new details, like Jeff Bridges's note congratulating Williams on his Oscar win for Good Will Hunting ("Dear Rob, Man!!! You won!!").
Putting the performer in context, the book is also a look inside the worlds Williams inhabited, including the San Francisco stand-up scene, the excesses of Hollywood, and a complicated family life. The interplay between comedy and darkness is infused throughout the book, and the chapter title "Mr. Happy"--a reference to a lewd joke in Williams' early-'80s standup routine--becomes ironic and prescient. Like the man it depicts, Robin shines with intense humor and deep sensitivity. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller