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Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
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A Biography

A-Schulz and PeanutsIf Charlie Brown was the 20th century's most lovable loser, then his creator, Charles Schulz, was its poet of disappointment. Peanuts changed the definition of what comic strips could be, both artistically and commercially, and was a touchstone of the baby boom generation. This biography reveals that Schulz modeled his iconic Peanuts characters, from Schroeder to Snoopy, on deep sources within his own quietly turbulent life, including feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and melancholy. Illuminated with more than 100 Peanuts strips, Schulz and Peanuts presents a pensive, competitive man whose devotion to his creation (he drew by hand all 17,897 strips over almost 50 years) held even those closest to him at arm's length.
Harper. 672 pages. $34.95. ISBN: 0066213932

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"In the end, [Michaelis's] willingness to discuss his subject's faults makes the artist a real person in an era that has made him saintly. Mr. Michaelis' diligent research will make fans and historians appreciate the ambitious but tongue-tied man who produced a $1.2 billion-a-year empire all the more." Mike Peters

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"While the author gives full scope to the wit, originality and inventiveness of 'Peanuts' . . . and its enormous influence on later cartoonists, the core of his biography is how closely Schulz identified with his creation." Roger K. Miller

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Mr. Michaelis's achievement in these pages that he leaves us with both a shrewd appreciation of Schulz's minimalist art and a sympathetic understanding of Schulz the man. He shows us how Schulz's sense of vocation as a young child, fueled by a fierce ambition, led him to the career he'd always wanted, and how he gradually assimilated a host of influences to find a voice that was inimitably his own." Michiko Kakutani

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Michaelis has done a masterly job of assembling the often puzzling and even contradictory pieces of Schulz's life into a convincing whole. ... [The book] makes a strong argument that, like Charlie Brown, Charles Schulz deserves that highest of encomiums: a good man." Charles Matthews

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the book is the juxtaposition of biographical information and reproduced 'Peanuts' strips. Here we see how literally Schulz sometimes depicted actual situations and events." Bill Watterson

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Schulz's is a classic American story: the lonely, misunderstood genius who clings to his dream, finds riches and fame, and discovers that they don't make him happy after all. He was like Gatsby or Citizen Kane." Charles McGrath

Baltimore Sun 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Sorrow and stoicism certainly are at center stage in Schulz's kids-only community, where Lucy tells Snoopy to 'Live in fear and dread. ... Be sensible.' But, as Michaelis acknowledges, a bit too fleetingly, other qualities were in evidence, too." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

David Michaelis's book, the first full-scale biography of Charles Schulz, is almost as universally adored as his subject's comic strips. The former biographer of N. C. Wyeth (whose son Andrew was a hero of Schulz's) takes on America's best-known cartoonist, drawing on exclusive access to Schulz's papers and interviews with nearly every living Schulz acquaintance. Erring on the side of inclusion, the book sometimes seems too rich with detail, and one reviewer faults Michaelis's focus on Schulz's gloomier side (a criticism that Schulz's own daughter has made about the book). Otherwise, reviewers are riveted by the revelatory correspondences between Schulz's groundbreaking work and the man who brought it to life.