Read Richard Burton: A Life by Melvyn Bragg Online


A biography of Richard Burton containing his own words, through the co-operation of members of his family who made available to Bragg various diaries and letters. There are also fresh insights from Burton's peers, in an attempt to provide a frank and intimate account of his life....

Title : Richard Burton: A Life
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780316105958
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 533 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Richard Burton: A Life Reviews

  • J.P.
    2019-05-25 00:52

    The main reason to read this book---aside from gaining insight into a great actor and star---is to sample from the diaries Richard Burton kept for the last 17 years of his life. Bragg quotes from those diaries liberally throughout his biography. After a certain point in the chronology, Burton's diaries overtake Bragg's book and that does nothing but benefit Bragg. Burton's input saves Bragg's book from becoming yet another "he went here, he did this" boring life overview. Another, equally significant reason for reading this book is that it will change the way you view Burton. Through his diaries, Burton is revealed as a closet intellectual---a wide and voracious reader who dipped into everything from cheap paperback thrillers to history and poetry. The diary excerpts form nothing less than an intellectual biography and make for fascinating reading. Burton was much more than Elizabeth Taylor's besotted arm ornament. (Well, he often was besotted, but still. . .) Yes, this is also something of a "tell-all" expose. There are, for example, guilty pleasures to be had in finding that Burton considered opera diva Maria Callas "dull" and Marlon Brando odd but endearing. His accounts of his and Taylor's spending sprees and travels are also fun, in a soap opera way. But this bubble gum is balanced with more substantial fare---details on Burton's family, work and the various books he used to educate himself and enrich his life.Until Burton's diaries are published on their own---and as of this writing, I've heard they're being edited for a late 2012 publication---Bragg's book is as close as we can come to them. Once those volumes are released, they will serve as Burton's true legacy. Until then, Bragg's book will do in a pinch.

  • Judith Johnson
    2019-05-24 23:57

    I read this at the same time as the Richard Burton Diaries, as with a 24 year gap from 11 yrs old to 35, I felt I needed a narrative. Very useful, but I have to admit I found Melvyn Bragg's linking interpretations of the material and of Burton's character at times a tad flowery and portentuous. But worth reading in tandem, as mentioned above! So thanks for that, Mr Bragg!

  • Ruth
    2019-05-20 22:08

    Despite being acknowledged as an excellent actor both on stage and in films, Richard Burton is largely remembered for his tempestuous marriages to Elizabeth Burton, and his enormous capacity for alcohol. Melvyn Bragg’s excellent biography delves into his life, to reveal that there was far far more to Burton – that he was a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, a voracious reader, that he was plagued by guilt over his children, and generous to a fault.Burton’s notebooks (essentially a diary) which he started during his life with Elizabeth Taylor were released to Bragg by Burton’s widow Sally, and here they appear (albeit abridged) for the first time in print. After describing Burton’s tough but loving childhood and adolescence, and marriage to first wife Sybil, Bragg wisely lets his own writing take a back seat to Burton’s words, as he reproduces large sections of the notebooks. (It is worth noting that the notebooks have since been released in their entirety as The Richard Burton Diaries; I have a copy of this and intend to read it very soon, but Bragg’s biography is useful in that it provides context.) I thoroughly enjoyed reading Burton’s words – he was incredibly witty (I laughed out loud on several occasions, particularly when he described social situations), certainly wry, and often melancholy.The biography is clearly meticulously researched, and while Bragg is never sycophantic, he is always respectful of his subject. What I did find unusual at first, was that in many ways, it was also a study of Burton the man. Bragg would offer his own opinion as to Burton’s motivations for certain actions, and it felt as if he was trying to understand certain events in this very interesting life, rather than just relate them. However, this did not spoil my enjoyment of the book, and actually demonstrated the author’s great interest in his subject.The book was written with the collaboration of many of Burton’s family and friends, and refreshingly, does not just focus on the more scandalous areas of his life; it concerns itself equally with Burton’s Welsh family, his career, his life after ‘the Elizabethan period’ and of course, his premature death at a time which tragically came at a time when he seemed to have his life back on track.It’s a thick book – 600+ pages – but so well written, and so very interesting, that I found myself reading huge chunks at a time. Anybody interested in Richard Burton, or indeed in acting in general, should certainly read this – I strongly recommend it, and will definitely be keeping it to read again in the future.

  • Annabelle
    2019-05-20 00:53

    I never thought much of Richard Burton, except as husband (twice) of Elizabeth Taylor. Who knew, for instance, that he was this voracious, avaricious reader of books, a Shakespearean actor, and a voice that could curl your toes when reading poetry! Unfortunately, he was also a drunk and a perennial skirt chaser, something he shares with Peter Finch, whose biography I read before Burton's, which I can now glaringly compare as mediocre, never having anyone close to an ET in his life. And it isn't really until she sashays into the pages, ignites a passion and havoc in both their lives, that this book gets really interesting. For this is when Burton starts writing into his Notebooks (now there's a guy who could have done wonders with a blog!), discerning and profound, sometimes almost scholarly, what at first are snippets of life with ET, Hollywood and theater gossip, his problems with acne and boils (!), the constant grapple with drink, and hers too, along with countless illnesses (did she have a severe case of hemorrhoids?), and then it gets more personal, delving into his guilts, concern for family (his and hers), dreams for a future. Reading his Notebooks makes you conclude that this tormented, resilient Welshman from the mines, who blames his kin's blood for the alcoholism, must have spent half his life in a daze, and it is amazing he lived into his late fifties. But really, it is the Notebooks that make this book worth reading, and which makes it an autobiography of sorts. Random thoughts while reading this: - he looks like Russell Crowe, but that's just me- he and ET plus their brood of children, dogs, a cat, a parakeet and their entourage (a chauffeur named Gaston, of course) reminded me of Brad Pitt and Angelina and their brood

  • Kris Hallett
    2019-06-08 02:00

    A fascinating career, a great life, an even bigger talent but Bragg overwrites horribly. There are too many adjectives, pages pass with no progression. Though obviously a lot of the book takes the notebooks as inspiration and ET plays a substantial role in the narrative, the final years are rushed through like the clappers. Makes me want to catch up with the work though which is the main thing right.

  • Henryk
    2019-05-21 02:55

    Richard Burton is as hard as nails. A poor lad who leaves Wales and takes on the world.

  • David Czuba
    2019-05-22 21:01

    Bragg's tome is an intentionally rich (pun intended) chronology written in, for all I know, a Welsh conversational style. We see the hero Burton reach his pinnacle early and quickly and from there begin to examine those cracks and fissures that we mistook for confidence. If you've ever viewed an interview with Richard Burton, you'll see the nervousness and insecurity when not in character. As soon as Richard got into character, the world took on a heightened atmosphere. Melvin Bragg is himself such a character, flawed but flowing, full of vigor for explaining what cannot be put into words. That's the main reason Bragg's biography, like others of many celebrities, is colorful in nature, describing the indescribable personality that we see and aspire to but never attain. Burton's uniqueness on the stage and screen separate him from the other greats like Olivier and Laughton. Laughton himself is said to have said, "People don't know what they are like. I want to show them," which to me seems the quintessential point of acting, and is quite in the British method, which is to bring the character to the audience. Bragg succeeds wonderfully in bringing the unknown, unknowable Burton down from the screen and into the everyday.

  • Amy
    2019-05-19 04:02

    I had put this book aside to read fiction for some time, but once I got back to it, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. What a fascinating and complex man Richard Burton was! The author enclosed excerpts from Richard's journals, which really enriched the narrative. I have purchased the journals themselves and plan to read those soon as well. The author has a bit of a dry way of writing, which put me off at first, but once I got into the life of his subject from the time he started acting on, I found it easier to read.

  • Jo
    2019-06-13 00:08

    Lost count of how many times I have read this book. Given to me for my 20th birthday just after it was first published, when my Richard Burton obsession began. I think it started with 1984, which as a 16 year old I made an unsuspecting boyfriend take me to see.Richard Burton remains my favourite actor full stop end of story.

  • Victoria Johnston
    2019-06-15 23:12

    And now all our revels are ended ....the final full sentence written by Richard Burton in his diaries. Very poignant. The next day he was dead.This biography was written relatively shortly after Burton's death in 1984 and is a very detailed account of his life. The book is well written and gives you a real sense of its subject matter. I didn't find it hard to get into as other reviewers have stated but I have been a fan of Burton for some time and already had a base knowledge so this may account for my ease in reading about his early life.Richard Burton is one of my favourite actors and I would argue was the greatest stage actor of his generation. This biography starts with his birth in a relatively obscure Welsh mining town - Burton was always immensely proud of his Welsh origins and when you read about the village he grew up in you can understand why. A nice perhaps unremarkable village where nothing nasty or out of the ordinary ever happened. It covers extensively his theatre and film careers and I don't think too much undue focus is given to "Le Scandale" that was his relationship and later marriage with Elizabeth Taylor. You do get the sense that Burton was a man who always did what he wanted/what he felt was right but equally I never felt that he didn't harbour any guilt or remorse for hurting people along the way. It is interesting to note that in many respects his career survived his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor as he arguably made some of his best work in the years following their divorce. Her career on the other hand floundered somewhat.It is rather sad that despite his love for her - and it was certainly all consuming if his diary entries are anything to go by- they couldn't stay together.It is a little bit tragic that his demons got the better of him from time to time and it is clear that he was not a perfect man in any sense. But Hollywood is full of perfect men these days and they all - bar a few- lack the charisma and magnetism of Burton. Maybe his widow was correct when she stated that Burton had a lot of men in him but he didn't have it in him to be an old man. Lets hope his revels only ended on this earth and he is raising hell in the next life.Modern actors could learn a thing or two from not only Burton's life and works but also from his generosity to those he cared about. Whatever else he may have been this biography demonstrates that he was ultimately a good man - flawed but inherently good.

  • Paula Dembeck
    2019-06-04 23:56

    This is a rather long (over 600 pages) biography of Richard Burton’s life. Written with the help of Sally, Burton’s fourth wife and many of his friends and relatives, it leans heavily on Burton’s notebooks which he wrote on and off during his life. The notebooks give the volume its strength and Bragg quotes heavily from them.The biography begins with Burton’s life as the son of a Welsh coal miner and continues through his adolescence, his career, his four marriages and ends with his death at the age of fifty-eight of a cerebral hemorrhage. The diaries provide the details of his acting career, his social comings and goings, hint at his emotional and intellectual life and are heavy on his daily bliss and suffering with Elizabeth Taylor, who he married twice. Burton maps the downward spiral of that relationship with the woman who he called the great love of his life. It began as a great passion, moved to his concern for her health and ended when he eventually became entirely bored with their constant arguments. Burton captures the intensity of their hectic life and their lack of privacy continually surrounded by bodyguards, hair dressers, secretaries, children and dogs.Burton’s journals reveal how uninterested he was in acting, his heavy drinking and his unrelenting battle with alcoholism. But it also shows him to be an ambitious man who read widely. His need for fame seems to have motivated everything he did, but is never really discussed, although in one journal entry Burton clearly admits to his love of the audience’s applause. An interesting biography of this actor, husband, and alcoholic who was a relentless and remorseless self- destructive man.

  • Andrewh
    2019-06-02 22:11

    I was spurred on to read this by the reviews of Burton's own Notebooks, and I think I would have done better to have just gone for the latter. Aside from the fact that large parts of this book are just unedited chunks of Burton's own musings on books, drink and, of course, the divine Elizabeth (variously referred to here as 'Quicktake', 'Burt', 'Ocean' and OldSnapshot'), there is not much going on in this book other than a pedestrian litany of Burton's celeb lifestyle. On Rich's many films and theatrical performances we get precious little analysis from Bragg, though, to be fair, the early part of his life in Wales is dealt with sympathetically and well (the best bit of the whole book for me). But the main theme of the book is his, ultimately destructive relationship with Liz Taylor, which is plotted at inordinate length - as such, it is more of a celeb bio than a serious look at a serious man, which seems like a missed opportunity.

  • Clare Mullooly
    2019-05-20 22:16

    One of my favourite genres is biographies/autobiographies and I particularly enjoyed 'Rich.' The book has excerpts from his personal diary, which was before the whole entirety of his diaries had been published. It is evident that Melvyn Bragg has done his research on Richard Burton. I like the fact that his admiration for Richard is consistent through the book and makes it a joy to read. Give it a go if you're interested in Richard, the person behind the actor, like I am.

  • Tim Ward
    2019-06-09 21:13

    Wonderful book about a wonderful man. Far more engaging and serious than his reputation suggests. Give him any quote from Shakespeare and he could reel off the next few minutes. An alcoholic with huge capacity for booze, but passionate, stretched, generous, and intelligent.

  • Bonnie
    2019-06-10 22:08

    A little draggy in parts but so interesting. Not my usual type of read but just finished Beautiful Ruins with him as one of the characters so it was fun to read about making the movie during Cleopatra and his relationship with her.

  • Glynis O'halloran
    2019-05-19 20:59

    Very interesting. Well written and easy to read. It's a very thick book and I was worried that I might lose interest but the story moves along quickly and keeps your interest. A very interesting look behind the scenes.

  • Melanie
    2019-06-14 23:09

    This was fascinating at first but became a bit of a slog.

  • Natalie
    2019-06-14 20:59

    The first 100 pages were tough to get through. After that the relationship with Elizabeth Taylor pulls you in. I sad story of a tortured soul.

  • Jill Short
    2019-06-06 01:49

    One of the best biographies I have read. The excerpts from Burtons diaries are fabulously insightful

  • Stella
    2019-06-12 23:49

    Fascinating portrait of a fascinating, well-read force of life: Richard Burton. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

  • Linda
    2019-05-30 23:16

    A fascinating story about a fascinating actor (contains many of the actor's journals.)

  • Dave Morris
    2019-05-19 21:14

    There are a lot of Burton's letters and diary entries to wade through, but at his best he's absolutely brilliant. With tighter curation I'd have liked it more, though.

  • Mark
    2019-05-20 04:07

    Quite interesting but at 700 pages way too long.

  • Michael
    2019-05-28 23:01


  • Carl Smith-owens
    2019-06-06 04:04