#bookreview – The Measure of a Man – by Sidney Poitier

Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
measurePart autobiography and part philosophical treatise, Sidney Poitier appears to use the writing of this book to take stock of his entire life — to understand who he truly is, to evaluate his success as an Academy Award winning actor, to examine his roles as father and human being, and to come to terms with some of the big mysteries of life. It’s eloquently written, intelligent, thoughtful, and subtly encourages the reader toward his or her own self-exploration.
Here were some of the most interesting aspects of the read for me:
* The reflection on Poitier’s origins on a small island in the Bahamas. Both sheltered and protected in a primitive and economically poor environment, he credits the values instilled by hard-working parents and a childhood full of free exploration and requisite risk-taking for establishing his core internal strength.
* Full of imagination and aware of the limitations of life on a small island, Poitier gets shipped off to the U.S. at the age of 15 with little education and virtually no money. How he gets himself from Florida to Georgia to New York City and finally, to earning a regular income is a story of determination anyone would be proud to share.
* Born in 1927, Poitier’s life spans most of the civil rights milestones that define the 20th century in America. And he doesn’t shy away from relaying the blatant and even life-threatening discrimination he experienced. There was also a lot I didn’t know about the myriad ways minority performers were marginalized throughout the entertainment industry.
* Poitier maintained more control over his selection of roles than many of his contemporaries, particularly for an actor of color. And I found it fascinating to learn how he came to the iconic roles he is now so famous for (Think Lilies of the Field, The Defiant Ones, To Sir With Love, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and how he was able to influence these roles to keep then authentic to the African-American experience. Even against criticism from the minority community. In fact, many of his movies reflect the evolving story of racism in America during his lifetime.
* Poitier models a real commitment to introspection. Age 72 when he published this book, he is not simply content to sit back and enjoy his success and family. Instead he appears to have an fiery need to push toward deeper and deeper self-awareness — exposing his internal demons, trying to anchor himself in the cosmos, and struggling to understand the relationship between humanity and nature.
My thoughts are not ALL positive. Taken as a whole, the book doesn’t hang together all that well. Many times it felt much more like a series of discrete chapters in which Poitier shares some of his random thoughts. But, that wasn’t much of a distraction. And at the end of the book, I came away more impressed with Poitier than I began. (I have ALWAYS been a big fan of his performances.) I came away with admiration for him as a human being.

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