A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges--some of the worst largely unknown until now--by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back

Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: while still in his twenties, he was half of a hit improv duo with Elaine May that was the talk of the country. Next he directed four consecutive hit plays, won back-to-back Tonys, ushered in a new era of Hollywood moviemaking with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and followed it with The Graduate, which won him an Oscar and became the third-highest-grossing movie ever. At thirty-five, he lived in a three-story Central Park West penthouse, drove a Rolls-Royce, collected Arabian horses, and counted Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Avedon as friends.

Where he arrived is even more astonishing given where he had begun: born Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish couple in Berlin in 1931, he and his younger brother were sent to America on a ship in 1939. The young immigrant boy caught very few breaks. He was bullied and ostracized--an allergic reaction had rendered him permanently hairless--and his father died when he was just twelve, leaving his mother alone and overwhelmed.

The gulf between these two sets of facts explains a great deal about Nichols's transformation from lonely outsider to the center of more than one cultural universe--the acute powers of observation that first made him famous; the nourishment he drew from his creative partnerships, most enduringly with May; his unquenchable drive; his hunger for security and status; and the depressions and self-medications that brought him to terrible lows. It would take decades for him to come to grips with his demons. In an incomparable portrait that follows Nichols from Berlin to New York to Chicago to Hollywood, Mark Harris explores, with brilliantly vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion. Among the 250 people Harris interviewed: Elaine May, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Tom Hanks, Candice Bergen, Emma Thompson, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Lorne Michaels, and Gloria Steinem.

Mark Harris gives an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike; the portrait is not always flattering, but its ultimate impact is to present the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen. It is a triumph of the biographer's art.
“The book is as smart and well-paced as if Mike had directed it. It’s Virginia Woolf brutal and Birdcage funny. I devoured the details of Mike’s fascinating life, but I also marveled at Mark Harris’s ability to lead us through it. The shaky wooden rollercoaster of collaboration, the serpent-tongued antihero’s path to love, an artist’s guide to not being trash, ten pounds of movie stars in a five pound bag—this book has it all!” —Tina Fey

“Mike was many things to many people, a multi-talented man of many parts, who lived several lifetimes during his long, complicated roller-coaster of a life. But above all else, Mike was a great director, and Mark Harris has produced a clear-eyed, honest, enormously entertaining, deeply moving and thought-provoking account of what a director’s life is like and of what being a director means. His particular gifts, demonstrated in each book he writes, of combining objectivity with empathy and seriousness with delight are precisely what make him Mike Nichols’s ideal biographer. I can’t think of any praise higher than to say that this book is worthy of its subject.” —Steven Spielberg
 
“There are so many lessons in Mike's nine-act tragedy and triumph of a life: the joy of collaboration, the thrill of finding collaborators and soulmates; the ups and downs of the creative process. Mark Harris introduces us to every version of Mike Nichols, and shows us how each one prepared the way for the next. It's an incredible achievement. Required reading.” —Lin-Manuel Miranda
 
“The rise and rise of Igor, the bald refugee kid from Berlin, is a Technicolor dream—a dazzling only-in-America story like something out of Horatio Alger. In this exciting biography, Mark Harris never loses sight of the sharper edges of Mike Nichols’s success or the price he paid for it. But his deep love of his subjects—Nichols and the American performing arts—makes this an essential work for understanding our culture in the last century through one of its most outstanding, and most unlikely, protagonists.” —Benjamin Moser, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sontag

“Mike Nichols, born Igor Michael Peschkowsky, was something between a man and a self-made myth. Mark Harris’s magnificent, mesmerizing biography honors both sides of the Nichols persona, conjuring his charismatic brilliance while probing the human complexity behind the impish grin. Virtuosic in style, deep in insight, at times convulsively funny, at times piercingly sad, this tour-de-force of reporting, storytelling, and analysis stands as a clear-eyed homage to an artist who willed his own golden age.” —Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker and author of Wagnerism
 
“Harris follows two outstanding works of film history (Pictures at a Revolution, 2008, and Five Came Back, 2014) with this robust biography of legendary director Mike Nichols. Harris' skill as a storyteller is on full view . . . with a novelist's feel for narrative . . . Like the best biographies, Harris brings his subject's life and work together in a perfectly unified whole.” —Booklist (starred review)