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Robert Redford The Biography Book Review

Biographies are important books to read for the historical perspective and for the many business lessons found in so many of the bios - including those of celebrities. A new biography by Michael Feeney Callan, Robert Redford The Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) is a biography that includes a few lessons learned.

The book took over 16 years to finish.  It is a lengthy 445 pages including a filmography in the back. The author starts the book way back in Redford's family tree making the first few chapters a bit slow in the reading. The story quickly picks up steam and gets much more interesting around the third chapter or so.

Redford participated in the writing of the book by providing the author with his personal papers, journals, correspondence and spent hundreds of hours taping interviews. Callan writes about how late Redford has always been his entire life including being late to movie sets and ultimately costing some of his producers a lot of money.

The book also covers Redford's rebellious early and late teen years, how he got his start in acting(and that Redford really wanted to be an artist who painted), he details the time Redford spent abroad and how he met his first wife. Readers will be surprised at a number of revelations including Redford's relationship with his father, his love and respect for his mother and that Redford was born out of wedlock, which 76 years ago may have turned a head or two.

The book profiles his personal life, his marriages, his children and his attraction to politics and environmental issues. It also goes into detail about all of his 42 films including Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, The Natural, All the President's Men and his directorial films including Ordinary People and The Horse Whisperer. Another topic that is explored in depth is Redford's longtime relationship with director Sydney Pollack.

While a biography about a well known movie star may not seem to have any business benefits to be gained from reading, this is one of those biographies that offers several business lessons. First, Redford could have just made his films and made his millions and did nothing more. Instead, he got involved with political issues and continues to fight for environmental protections and other issues.

The book goes into some details about the Sundance Institute and the as the reader will learn, the first business model was much different than what the area uses now which is now to promote independent films. The last business lesson that Redford teaches us is that if you stay true to who you are, you'll be able to work through almost any obstacle.

Redford is portrayed in the book as having carefully selecting his movie roles. He seems to always embed some message in most of his films. One of my favorite Redford lines in The Horse Whisperer is, "Truth is, I help horses with people problems." Jeremiah Johnson was about living on the land while respecting and preserving nature.  Ordinary People was about family dynamics.

Of course many of his films were pure entertainment. The Way We Were and Out of Africa were about romance and relationships. The Sting was about revenge. Indecent Proposal was about sex and money.

There is so much of Redford's life covered in this book. If the reader can get past the first few chapters, the remainder of the book is highly interesting and reads kind of like a movie. Men and women will find the book worth the read. It is not all about Redford's dashing good looks, blue eyes or his drop-dead smile. Redford and the book have enough substance to make it a good read for both male and female.

I highly recommend this book for pleasure reading as well as picking up a few business lessons.


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