Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain

In Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, Charles Leerhsen concludes that the celebrity chef wasn't so much a great cook or writer as a great personality and storyteller. Leerhsen seems to channel his subject's exuberant spirit, spiking his pages with Bourdainian swagger and a drizzle of lawlessness, starting with the biography's unsurpassed first sentence: "One day about twelve years before he started to smoke and drink, Anthony Bourdain was born."

Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) was raised in the New Jersey suburbs by parents whose doomed marriage and foodie ways probably equally influenced him. His very gradual climb up the New York restaurant ladder led Bourdain to distill his decades of experience in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, the 2000 bestseller that made him a literary star. He then became a star of the small screen across a span of 17 years as the gonzo host of various on-the-road food shows.

Leerhsen (Butch Cassidy) taps more than 80 interview subjects and pays particular attention to the women who, crucially, shaped Bourdain's life. As funny as Leerhsen is (one restaurant that Bourdain worked at in the 1980s "closed so abruptly that it's a wonder Liza Minnelli and Halston weren't trapped inside"), he's equally adept at chronicling the dark side of his subject's story. Readers will leave Down and Out in Paradise with the impression that Bourdain took his own life for a reason at odds with his alpha-male persona: he seems to have died of a broken heart. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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