The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

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In this candid spiritual memoir, legendary actor Sidney Poitier reflects on life itself as he reveals the spiritual depth, passion, and intellectual fervor that has driven his remarkable life. Poitier credits his childhood of poverty on idyllic Cat Island in the Bahamas for equipping him with the unflinching sense of self-worth, family values, and simple ethics that he has never since surrendered and that have dramatically shaped his world.

Just a few years after his ...

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In this candid spiritual memoir, legendary actor Sidney Poitier reflects on life itself as he reveals the spiritual depth, passion, and intellectual fervor that has driven his remarkable life. Poitier credits his childhood of poverty on idyllic Cat Island in the Bahamas for equipping him with the unflinching sense of self-worth, family values, and simple ethics that he has never since surrendered and that have dramatically shaped his world.

Just a few years after his introduction to indoor plumbing and the automobile, Poitier broke countless barriers to launch a pioneering career portraying important, dignified characters in some of the most morally significant films of the late 20th century. Drawing on his personal journey, Poitier explores such themes as sacrifice and commitment, pride and humility, rage and survival, and paying the price for artistic integrity. His engaging memoir spans a time in history from Jim Crow segregation through the early Civil Rights conflicts to present-day cultural struggles and spiritual seeking. Poitier shares his provocative thoughts on racism in Hollywood, consumerism and the media, child-rearing, illness and mortality, honoring a higher consciousness, and realizing how fully a part of "the grand scheme" each of us is. This book is a powerful testament to the rewards of being true to one's self, acting passionately on one's convictions, and boldly walking on the edge.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Sidney Poitier's is perhaps as influential and groundbreaking a career as any in Hollywood history. He came to New York from his boyhood home in the Bahamas and, after a rocky start, went on to star in such memorable classics as Blackboard Jungle, A Raisin in the Sun, Lillies of the Field (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, the first ever awarded to an African American man), and To Sir, with Love, among dozens of others. In his spiritual memoir, The Measure of a Man, Poitier looks back at his pioneering life and career and the lessons learned along the way.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
[Poitier's] diction is crisp and his deep, velvety voice caresses every word.
Lancaster Sunday News
Poitier...has wonderfully confiding tone as he begins reading what is subtitled his spiritual autobiography.
Richard Masur
If there was ever an actor whose life and work influenced his time, it was Sidney Poitier.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Given the personal nature of this narrative, it's impossible to imagine hearing anyone other than Poitier, with his distinctive, resonant voice and perfect enunciation, tell the story. In his second memoir Poitier talks about his childhood in the Caribbean, where he was terribly poor by American standards, but quite happy, swimming and climbing all he could. One of eight kids, Poitier was sent to live with an older brother in Miami when he started to get into difficulties as a teen. But frustrated by his inability to earn a living and by the disparaging way whites treated him, Poitier left Miami for New York. There he worked as a dishwasher, started a drama class and launched a celebrated acting career that led to starring roles in such classics as To Sir, with Love and Raisin in the Sun. Poitier's rendition of these events is so moving that listeners will wish this audio adaptation were twice as long. Simultaneous release with the Harper San Francisco hardcover (Forecasts, May 1). (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Winner of this year's Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album, this production is a delight in every way, with the narration by Poitier appropriately dramatic and mellifluous. The story of his meteoric and fated rise to fame as a successful actor respected by his peers almost belies his hardscrabble beginnings on Cat Island off the coast of the Bahamas. And the "lucky star" Poitier falls under is actually the common denominator among all successful people: a willingness to work harder, and an innate resourcefulness, including the ability to listen to one's own instincts and to move when the time is right. If this sounds philosophical, it is; the book is much more than another celebrity memoir. It is not only Poitier's reflection on a long life in the world of arts and entertainment but also a statement of his personal views on what it means to be a good man, honed in discussions with friends and fellow travelers on life's journey who were themselves of a philosophical frame of mind. Highly recommended. Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, NC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Sidney Poitier's The Measure Of A Man is the autobiography of the only black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in "Lilies of the Field" in 1963. He is also the thirty-sixth recipient of the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award for his outstanding career and humanitarian accomplishments. In The Measure Of A Man, a complete and unabridged eight-hour, 6 cassette audiobook edition narrated by Poitier, we are presented with the elements of his character and personal values that are key to his international renown both professionally and personally. His introspective examination of what the life experiences which informed his performances we are gifted with a picture of a man of truth, passion, balance, and a triumph of the spirit over a multitude of hardships and obstacles. Flawlessly produced and performed, The Measure Of A Man is "must" listening for all Sidney Poitier fans.
Poitier's second autobiography -- reflective, generous, humane -- is moving, as Poitier's memory keeps returning to the values and struggles of his parents . . ."
The New York Times Book Review
New York Times Book Review
Reflective, generous, humane . . . moving . . .[Poitier] writes with vivid emotion.
New York Times Magazine
Revealing . . . Poitier invites us to re-examine his work and, through it, our history.
In this powerful book, [Poitier] shares his touchsotnes with us and makes us question what foundations guide our own lives.
Los Angeles Times
“With the unwavering sense of dignity and worth . . .this man’s authenticity is earned by the life he describes.”
Dallas Morning News
An affecting new memoir.
Washington Post
Reading The Measure of a Man is somewhat akin to having a worthwhile conversation with a revered older relative; he doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear, but you appreciate it just the same.
American Way
Having already penned a book about his professsional life, legendary actor Sidney Poitier tackles a greater subject--life itself--with this new spiritual autobiography.
USA Today
Candid memoirs from teh actor who has starred in more than forty movies, directed nine, and written four.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061357909
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/26/2007
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Oprah's Book Club Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 133,200
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the Academy Award for best actor for his outstanding performance in Lilies of the Field in 1963. His landmark films include The Defiant Ones, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and To Sir, With Love. He has starred in over forty films, directed nine, and written four. He is the author of two autobiographies: This Life and the "Oprah's Book Club" pick and New York Times bestseller The Measure of a Man. Among many other accolades, Poitier has been awarded the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award, for an outstanding career and humanitarian accomplishment. He is married, has six daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

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Read an Excerpt

The Idyll

It's late at night as I lie in bed in the blue glow of the television set. I have the clicker in my hand, the remote control, and I go from 1 to 97, scrolling through the channels. I find nothing that warrants my attention, nothing that amuses me, so I scroll up again, channel by channel, from bottom to top. But already I've given it the honor of going from 1 to 97, and already I've found nothing. This vast, sophisticated technology and . . . nothing. It's given me not one smidgen of pleasure. It's informed me of nothing beyond my own ignorance and my own frailties.

But then I have the audacity to go up again! And what do I find? Nothing, of course. So at last, filled with loathing and self-disgust, I punch the damn TV off and throw the clicker across the room, muttering to myself, "What am I doing with my time?"

It's not as if I'm without other resources or material comforts, you follow? I've been very fortunate in life, and as I lie in my bed, I'm surrounded by beautiful things. Treasured books and art objects, photographs and mementos, lovely gardens on the balcony. After many years in this particular business in this particular town, I have a rich network of friends, some only a few steps away, dozens of others whom I could reach on the phone within seconds.

So what am I doing with my time?

Steeped in this foul, self-critical mood I lie back and close my eyes, trying to empty my head of all thought. It's late, time to sleep, so I determine to focus on that empty space in my consciousness and try to drift off. But images begin to come to me, infiltrating that darkness. Soft, sensuous images of a time very early inmy life when things were so much simpler, when my options for entertainment couldn't be counted on a scale from 1 to 97.

I'm on the porch of our little house on Cat Island in the Bahamas. It's the end of the day and evening is coming on, turning the sky and the sea to the west of us a bright burnt orange, and the sky and the sea to the east of us a cool blue that deepens to purple and then to black. In the gathering darkness, in the coolness of our porch, my mother and father sit and fan the smoke from green palm leaves they're burning to shoo away the mosquitoes and the sand flies. And as she did so often when I was small, my sister Teddy takes me in her arms to rock me to sleep. While she's rocking me in her arms, she too is fanning the smoke that comes from the big pot of green leaves being burned, and she fans the smoke around me as I try to go to sleep in her arms.

That's the way the evenings always were on Cat Island. In the simplicity of that setting I always knew how I was going to get through the day and how Mom and Dad were going to get through the day and how, at the end of it, we were all going to sit on this porch, fanning the smoke of the burning green leaves.

On that tiny spit of land they call Cat Island, life was indeed very simple, and decidedly preindustrial. Our cultural "authenticity" extended to having neither plumbing nor electricity, and we didn't have much in the way of schooling or jobs, either. In a word, we were poor, but poverty there was very different from poverty in a modern place characterized by concrete. It's not romanticizing the past to state that poverty on Cat Island didn't preclude gorgeous beaches and a climate like heaven, cocoa plum trees and sea grapes and cassavas growing in the forest, and bananas growing wild. Cat Island is forty-six miles long and three miles wide, and even as a small child I was free to roam anywhere. I climbed trees by myself at four and five years old and six and seven years old. I would get attacked by wasps, and I would go home with both eyes closed from having been stung on the face over and over. I would be crying and hollering and screaming and petrified, and my mom would take me and treat me with bush medicines from the old culture that you wouldn't believe, and then I would venture back out and go down to the water and fish alone.

I would even go in sometimes and swim by myself. I had the confidence, because when I was very small my mother threw me in the ocean and watched without moving as I struggled to survive. She watched as I screamed, yelled, gulped, and flailed in a panic-stricken effort to stay afloat. She watched as I clawed desperately at the water, unable to manage more than a few seconds before starting to sink beneath the surface. She watched as the ocean swallowed me, second by second. Then, mercifully, my father's hands reached under, fished me out, and handed me back up to my mother . . . who threw me back in again, and again and again, until she was convinced that I knew how to swim.

There were snakes on the island, but none poisonous. There were black widow spiders that were poisonous, but I doubt that my parents were fearful I would get killed by any of them. I mean, there were risks and there were hazards, but I could go anywhere, and I had myself as company. I knew from observation that the sapodilla tree produced fruit, plump, grayish brown, soft, juicy, and delectable, at least twice a year, and that's where the wasps' nests were that got me unexpectedly and repeatedly. I learned early that if I got up high in a sapodilla tree, rather than crawling out on limbs to see if the fruit was ripe enough to eat, I could rattle the top branches of the tree and ripe fruit would come loose from the weakened stems and fall to the ground. And then I could come down and pick it up and eat and get my stomach full. I would eat until I got a bellyache, and then I would get more of my mother's bush medicine-god-awful-tasting grass weeds or bitter roots of plants whose names I've never known or chunks of aloe vera I would have to force myself to swallow. And then I was off again looking for cocoa plums. Or standing on the rocks by the sea and fishing with a piece of thread and a straight pin that I'd bent into a hook. I did all those things, and it was fun, because on such an island poverty wasn't the depressing, soul-destroying force that it can be under other conditions.

The Measure Of A Man. Copyright © by Sidney Poitier. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi
1 The Idyll 1
2 Departures 31
3 The Time of Ashes 47
4 Life in Black and White 71
5 A Patch of Blue 97
6 Why do White Folks love Sidney Poitier So? 117
7 Destruction of Resurrection? 139
8 Legacies 163
9 Stargazing 193
10 The Nature of Opposites 207
11 The Measure of a Man 231
Index 245
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 53 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 26, 2011

    Good story of Sidney Poitier's life--pretty remarkable --he had to have stamina and talent and a whole lot more to get from where he was to where he is--an interesting journey

    Always admiring Mr. Poitier, I picked this up as an Audio Book. Sidney Poitier read the book himself, so you get a better sense. Had he not been a long time actor, we might have gotten a better feel--he has learned to modulate his voice and inflectons to suit his will. This makes the book real and interesting, but there are no blips to "read behind the scenes" what he's "really" like. Being a successful long time actor, I would have expected him to read well and he did.

    This book chronicled his life from early childhood hardscrabble in the Bahamas on a remote island, thru moving to Nasseau, Miami, then New York and Hollywood. He started in abject poverty and he worked his way up--it was not an easy climb and you know without him telling a single shred of detail--that he grew up with extreme prejudice--that was the era in the US--he started acting in the mid-fifties. It's remarkable what he's achieved. His acting career started out as no more of a fluke than him washing dishes in New York.

    The book is a slow read--in that Sidney's voice is slow and modulated--lovely--but still a bit slow. The last chapter or the last CD is the slowest--I kept wanting to take it out, but thougth I might miss something key. It was an interesting story, well told, and I got a sense of who this man was, and how he was shaped to become the man he did. I really respect this man's achievements, and knowing what this might have taken behind the scenes. Now that I've listened to the book, I have a much clearer picture of the man.

    This is portrayed as a spiritual book, and that I did not see. It did not seem to be a spiritual book, but one of a man explaining how he came to be who he was, and also with a bit of introspection.

    Buy it as an audio.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2011

    Excellent reading

    Should be read by all - young and old.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    Good Reads

    I am a big Fan of Mr. Sidney Poitier and it was really great to read his quest to fame.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting read

    I enjoyed this book. I could literally hear Mr. Poitier's voice as I read it, and couldn't put the book down. First of all, I read it since Oprah recommended it. It just had to be good! And I was able to use the library, so I didn't have to commit to buying it! I have since "talked it up" to anyone who asks about it, so much so, that my mother-in-law has just put in a request to have me locate a large print version for her so she can keep it forever. (Yes, my word is golden). For some, I'm sure this book will not touch them as it did me, but my first "feel" for this man was watching him with my favorite actress, Katharine Hepburn, and from then on, he was a draw. This book gives a deeper "measure" of who Mr. Poitier is in the first person.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2009

    The Measure of a Man

    ¶ The Measure of a Man, by Sidney Poitier, is an interesting autobiography about his life growing up as an African-American in a world of prejudice. He doesn't experience racism until he moves to Nassau as a boy, and soon learns that he's on the bottom of the food chain. In order to work his way up, he must leave the Bahamas and move to the U.S and find work.<BR/>¶ In the U.S, Sidney soon learns that it is also difficult for people like him to find wealth, so he eventually finds a Negro acting guild. He eventually talks to the right agents, and finds himself a few plays. <BR/>¶ To be completely honest, this book just didn't capture my attention the whole way through. It was was awfully slow for me, and was a nonstop bore for many,many pages. I love the authors tone of writing, and the story of his life, but it didn't have much of a climax. This is only my opinion, so i still recommend the book to readers interested in Sidney Poitier and his life story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    The book would have been a five star if he had not used one very

    The book would have been a five star if he had not used one very offensive word all through the book. I have always liked his movies and admired him as a person. I will still watch his movies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Awesome Book!!

    Wonderful depiction and story of how he so humbly carries himself with such dignity and a sense of humility. Reading Sidneys' story help me to see appreciation and faith through a new lense.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2012



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  • Posted February 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    you must check it out!!

    I Loved this Book.

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  • Posted August 16, 2011

    Wonderful treatment of a worthwhile subject

    Breaking through all sorts of barriers, Poitier was the first black actor to win the Academy Award. The Measure of a Man sheds light on the much admired man who was born into poverty and emerged with a grace and dignity not often seen in Hollywood or among those who "make it."
    In reading this autobiography, his tone and style are easy and pleasant. Well worth reading and might I suggest as a gift for young people struggling with their own trials and challenges?

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  • Posted June 3, 2009

    Beautiful Book!

    I loved this book! Everyone should read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2008

    I LOVE this honest book

    Since I was a boy, there was something about Sidney Poitier, a class, a real person of honor, that, when I didn't know what honor meant, drew me to him. I was too young to understand all of his movies, but, his presence, his demeanor was magnetic even to me as a young boy. And now an adult, the admiration of his words, the courage to make challenging movies of his kind at an unfriendly time, cause me to pause and wonder what kind of man could he have been to not only be bold enough to say and do what could not and would not be said and done, but to win the confidense of others to invest so much into this young black man of distinction? A man of powerful and exotic presence. I love the honesty of this book. I love that he is a real person speaking in a language that is real to him, and making his advice more real and more sincere in my heart. His point drives home for many men and women today attempting to wake up in the world day today and find the encouragement to dream, chase those dreams or even to just get out of bed and live. Sidney Poitier's measure of a man should be an example for us all to find some honorable way to measure ourselves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2008

    A reviewer

    The main conflict in the Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier is that Poitier had a hard time trying to find a job as an actor. But, before Poitier was trying to find a job owned his own business called the Rib Joint. And then one day he went down to an audition for a big part in a play and became the understudy for the part. The night of the opening the original person to play the part got sick and couldn¿t make it so Poitier had to fill in and lucky for him there was a BIG time casting director in the audience who loved him and Poitier got himself an audition on a movie called ¿Guess Who¿s Coming to Dinner¿ and he got the leading role. I really did like this book because of two reasons. The first reason is because I like the way he wrote the in the language that I can understand. And it also helps me go by his methods how he became an actor. My second reason was because his book is in Oprah¿s Book Club and if Oprah likes the book then I like the book. But really this book is amazing and everybody should read it because theirs a surprise twist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2007

    Steadfastly Sidney!

    As the consummate Actor, Mr. Poitier's body of work has always been passionate, elegant and thought-provoking. As a writer, he has made no exception with this book. What a gift to us! I must say that it was particularly enjoyable to hear him read his book to me via the audio book CD! No one could have read it better! Thank you, Sidney!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2007

    In my world spiritual people do not use such filthy language.

    Always enjoyed Mr. Poitier's movies and hearing him speak. He has always used elegant and articulate language without the use of filthy vocabulary. I was very disappointed to know in real life he uses such a nasty word. It became so offensive I was unable to finish. The book had great potential but oh so disappointing!!!!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2007

    Mr. Poitier deserves it all!

    In her attempt to erase the memory of the disgraced James Frey, then Oprah Winfrey couldn't have made a better pick for her book club than a memoir by Sidney Poitier. Winfrey ended a year-long hiatus in her club by announcing Friday that she had chosen 'The Measure of a Man,' a spiritual autobiography by one of Hollywood's most admired actors - for whom the word 'dignified'. I am rather ashamed to admit as a young black Haitian-American living in FL that I knew very very very little about Sir Sidney Poitier. I toroughly enjoyed his candid despiction of his boyhood (as he so passionately refers to it), his family, relationships and his extraordinary career. I think O. Winfrey says it best: 'It (the book) really is about what makes character, what makes you be who you are. He is the measure of one of the greatest men I think who has ever been on our planet.' It took me awhile to get to this book even after Oprah had made it her first book after resuming the O Book Club.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2007

    Uplifting Spiritual Memoir

    In this memoir, the respected actor Sidney Poitier who broke down many barriers in his life reflects on his life and career from the perspective of integrity. He asks whether he has upheld personal values and this introspection and reflection forms 'The Measure of A Man.' He measures himself in different roles, not just his public life as an actor but in his private life as a husband and father. Ultimately, he assesses himself as a man. Poitier credits his upbringing on tiny Cat Island in the Bahamas for infusing in him his moral values. Poitier offers a wonderful description of his childhood there: 'In the kind of place where I grew up. What's coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and momma's voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters...and that's it.' It was a quiet, simple life that allowed him to develop his character. His character informed the positive roles he would play as an actor. Poitier explores many important themes in THE MEASURE OF A MAN, including the importance of commitment, humility and forgiveness. He also points out the difficulties he went through in keeping artistic integrity. The final portrayal is of a man both with limits and possibilities. His humility comes through this memoir and he makes it clear the intent of his autobiography: 'I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite the contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questing. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I myself have set.' Poitier offers many insights through this reflective look at his life and career.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2007

    Enjoy learning little-known facts of a famous man and find your spirit up-lifted.

    Mr. Poitier writes in an appealing manner that held my attention and moved me on the way to an early passage where he gives his reasons why he declined a certain role at a critical, early point in his career. After his comments about the refusal - and the affects on his temporary agent, a Hollywood insider, I was glued to the book convinced I held in my hands a rare book of spirituality and humility. This promise was well kept in the remaining text. This book did not leave me feeling ho-hum or cynical about the human condition. Nor did pretend to have people's answers to deep religious issues. It left me feeling good about being a human, without pandering to my sense of self righteousness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2007

    Poitiers beginnings on Cat Island to his Hollywood Fame.

    I don¿t read a lot of biography books but I had to pick this up because he is one of my favorite actors. After reading this up I found it to be pretty good but dry in certain areas nevertheless informative along the way. This book is a incredible journey of a man I thoroughly enjoy watching. I fell in love with the man, who doesn't take credit for who he is, but gives credit to his Creator, his parents and who gave him a hand-up along the way. In this autobiography you learn what Sidney was thinking and feeling through the span of his life. From growing up on Cat Island and not having any of our modern day conveniences to Nassau, to Miami, and New York. He shares with us his thoughts and feelings and reasons why he made the decisions he did. Personally, I would love to sit and talk with and debate with Sidney for hours. He has always seemed to know who he was and never let anyone tell him otherwise. Sidney found a way to make himself as he knew himself fit into the world instead of changing himself to fit into the world. Sidney shows his thoughtful side by sharing a lot of his personal thoughts with us without dwelling on the bad things in life. He comments on today's youth and the negative benefits of our world where they are used to so many physical things. Sidney is a noble man and you can feel it through out this book. This book is also provides strength, family value and the importance of good parenting I will also say that his six daughters are lucky to have a father like him which makes this book as wonderful as he is.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2007


    I loved his movies, I loved his acting...but this book brings out a Sidney Poitier I never thought about. All too often we cast an actor as just a person who does the acting...never realizing the depth and spirituality that person contains. I truly enjoyed this book - it was enlightening to really learn about Sidney Poitier the man. We can all learn a lesson as to the joy of 'smelling the roses' as opposed to owning all the roses!

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