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The Measure of A Man : A Spiritual…
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The Measure of A Man : A Spiritual Autobiography (2000)

by Sidney Poitier

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I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks and it’s very rare for me to think that a book is better listened to than read, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. The Measure of a Man is narrated by Sidney Poitier himself, and he has such a beautiful voice, that it really enhanced my experience of the book. It also worked really well as an audiobook because he is so conversational in tone – he peppers his narration with phrases like, “You follow?” or “You see?”

As for the content itself – wow! This is a wonderful autobiography and then some. While Poitier does tell the story of his life, it’s not necessarily a straightforward chronological account of events. At times it comes across more as a philosophical discussion, where he uses his own life as a starting point.

His description of his childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas was wonderful. Although his family lived in poverty, he points out that living in poverty on Cat Island was very different to living in poverty in some concrete jungle. As a child, he lived in a place with a beautiful climate, cocoa plum trees, sea grapes and wild bananas.

However, the most interesting – and in many ways upsetting – part of the book was when Poitier described his life in America which started when he moved to Florida aged 15, and then moved on to New York, and eventually started acting. This was a a time of racial segregation, and he realised exactly what it meant to be classed as a second class citizen. As an example – he recalled one event when he was already quite well known in films, and he went to a restaurant for a bite to eat. The black Maitre d’ explained that he could have a table there, but they would have to put a screen around him, for the sensitivity of the white diners. When offered jobs on certain films, he was asked to sign papers disowning those of his black friends who were campaigning for equal rights (he always refused to do so).

Throughout it all, Poitier’s dignity and strong sense of right and wrong shines through. He speaks strongly of his love for his parents, and how they inspire him in his life – whatever work he does, he does for them as well as for himself and his own family. He describes how he has always tried to be the best that he can be, his search for answers, his hopes for not only himself, but the world at large. He’s honest about himself; those parts of himself that he is proud of, and the mistakes which he has made.

This is not a revealing, kiss-and-tell autobiography, and it is all the better for it. Poitier does not delve into the subject of murky or tawdry Hollywood tales, and is respectful of those people who he does mention by name. He does discuss some of his most famous films – which made me immediately want to go out and rewatch them – and reveals his motivation for playing certain roles, and refusing certain others.

Overall, I’d say that this is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read (or listened to). I would strongly recommend it, not only to anyone with an interest in Hollywood or film-making, but also to anyone with an interest in the civil rights movement. ( )
  Ruth72 | Mar 4, 2014 |
This was a really great book about a wonderful & fascinating man. Poitier fills us in about growing up on Cat Island- where he had no perception of black vs white or racism or elitism, about life in Nassau where he encountered all those things, about life as a poor black kid in New York struggling to survive, and about the various chances and events that led to his being one of the most prominent black actors to grace the screen & stage. As the book is "a spiritual autobiography," it is filled all-throughout with his thoughts and general philosophies on life, which I believe to be quite insightful. Definitely recommended. ( )
  PolymathicMonkey | Nov 4, 2013 |
This was Oprah’s bookclub read. I did not find it anything to rave about – was an OK read. Poitier takes us from his childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas, teens in Nassau and Miami and ends up in New York in his late teens. It is a very rambling, unexciting story for the first half of the book. The reason this time is glossed over, I think, is because a lot of this was previously related in “THIS LIFE” also written by Poitier. Now he is older, and he obviously wants to pass the wisdom he has acquired over the years. I probably didn’t appreciate his pronouncements all that much. I understand he came from a dirt poor ,uneducated background, and he was a black man in a white man’s world. But he didn’t make me care.

The only thing that brought this book up to a C rating was chapter 6 “Why do white folks love Sidney Poitier so?” This has to be the most profound piece of writing on racial tensions I have ever read. This chapter blew me away and made a not very good book into an average book. If every chapter had of been like this I would have been a happy woman. So if you are struggling with this book – do yourself a favour before you put it down -flick to this chapter and read it
  sally906 | Apr 3, 2013 |
Yeah, I think we could hang out. ( )
  gunsofbrixton | Mar 30, 2013 |
It's a very general biography with lots of personal insights about his interaction with society. But it's lacking in those same explorations of his personal interaction with his family. ( )
  arning | Nov 2, 2012 |
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To my wife, Joanna Shimkus-Poitier, whose love and support has kept me steady in the wind.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061357901, Paperback)

Sidney Poitier wrote The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography because he "felt called to write about certain values, such as integrity and commitment, faith and forgiveness, about the virtues of simplicity, about the difference between 'amusing ourselves to death' and finding meaningful pleasures--even joy." Yet Poitier's book does not speak from on high; its tone is conversational and endearingly self-critical. He begins the first chapter by recounting an evening spent channel-surfing and wondering, as most of us do at one time or another, "What am I doing with my time?" The spiritual reflections in The Measure of a Man are nonsectarian; Poitier's faith is clearly influenced by his experience in Christian churches, but he is not, strictly, Christian. Though idiosyncratic, his faith is disciplined and rigorous, informed by leaders as diverse as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Poitier's love--for himself, his family, and the world--infuses his recollections of his early life on Cat Island in the Bahamas and his memories of his stage and film career (including his Oscar-winning role in Lilies of the Field). Poitier has been rich and poor; he has been popular and despised; and his extremely varied experiences have made him a wise man, as he demonstrates with statements like this one: "[W]hat we do is stay within the context of what's practical, what's real, what dreams can be fashioned into reality, what values can send us to bed comfortably and make us courageous enough to face our end with character."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:35 -0400)

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The acclaimed actor reveals the passion, spirituality, and intellectual fervor that have driven his life and career, citing the elements of his childhood that gave him his sense of worth and ethics.

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