An extensively revised and updated edition of the bestselling biography of Harper Lee, reframed from the perspective of the recent publication of Lee's Go Set a Watchman
To Kill a Mockingbird—the twentieth century's most widely read American novel—has sold thirty million copies and still sells a million yearly. In this in-depth biography, first published in 2006, Charles J. Shields brings to life the woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters, Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout.
Years after its initial publication—with revisions throughout the book and a new epilogue—Shields finishes the story of Harper Lee's life, up to its end. There's her former agent getting her to transfer the copyright for To Kill a Mockingbird to him, the death of Lee's dear sister Alice, a fuller portrait of Lee’s editor, Tay Hohoff, and—most vitally—the release of Lee's long-buried first novel and the ensuing public devouring of what has truly become the book of the year, if not the decade: Lee's Go Set a Watchman.
Few novels are as beloved and acclaimed as To Kill a Mockingbird and even fewer authors have shunned the spotlight as successfully as its author. 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. Shields enlivens Lee's childhood by pointing out people who were later fictionalized in her novel. The book percolates during her banner year of 1960, when she won the Pulitzer Prize and helped Capote research In Cold Blood. Capote's papers yield some of Lee's fascinating first-person insights on the emotionally troubled Clutter family that were tempered in his book. Shields believes Lee abandoned her second novel when her agents and her editor her surrogate family in publishing died or left the business, leaving her with no support system. There's a tantalizing anecdote about a true-crime project Lee was researching in the mid-'80s that faded away. Sputtering to a close, the final chapter covers the last 35 years in 24 pages. It's also baffling that this affectionate biography ends with three paragraphs devoted to someone slamming her classic work.