The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

by Sidney Poitier

Paperback(Oprah's Book Club Edition)

$16.99 View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, April 24

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061357909
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2007
Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
Edition description: Oprah's Book Club Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 100,251
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About 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.

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.

Table of Contents

1The Idyll1
3The Time of Ashes47
4Life in Black and White71
5A Patch of Blue97
6Why do White Folks love Sidney Poitier So?117
7Destruction of Resurrection?139
10The Nature of Opposites207
11The Measure of a Man231

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Measure of a Man 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 75 reviews.
AUTONOMOUS More than 1 year ago
I have given this book as gifts to young friend going off to college, new husbands and new fathers. This book is a story of character; how it is sourced, how it is built and how it is lived. It should be required reading for all high school males. It could serve as a good partial remedy to the poor character standards that seem all too common today.
DebbieAC More than 1 year ago
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.
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simply one of the most candid and revealing autobiographies ever written. I own an original hard cover edition and it is one of my most treasured possesions. I learned so much about this remarkable man. His secret love affair with Diahann Carroll made me swoon! Its a love affair that deserves its own book or movie alone. Sidney Poitier captured me with his story. I'm a fan for life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
BarmouthDragon More than 1 year ago
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?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
¶ 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.
¶ 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.
¶ 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.
bookwoman247 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sidney Poitier is one of my favorite actors, and I enjoyed his autobiography. Some of it I found surprising.I felt that this was written deeply from the heart, and that it must have been a sort of catharsis for him. It was very introspective and self-analytical.I'm glad that I read this. Poitier is an interesting guy with a unique perspective and has had a distinctive life and career.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Considering the amount of formal education Mr. Poitier had as a youth, he is a well-spoken, thoughtful man. His reflections on what makes a man were somewhat at odds with the messages we get in our culture today. The idea of working hard, of value that comes from within rather than from without, of integrity - these are all rather unpopular in today's world. Yet, truly these are the things that make the kind of man that one can admire and look up to. In a very real sense, Mr. Poitier is an individual, rather than an example of of a race or an actor or a Bahamian or whatever other group you can think of to stick him in - and that is an achievement to be proud of.
mcelhra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in this book - it was good but not as good as I thought it would be. I didn't find it to really be a spiritual biography, more just selected parts of his life. I agree with his basic point that children are overindulged these days and don't learn to appreciate the little things in life, but I disagree that whipping your children (like his parents did to him and his siblings) is a good way to command their respect. Much of the book seemed to be meandering stream of consciousnes...more I was disappointed in this book - it was good but not as good as I thought it would be. I didn't find it to really be a spiritual biography, more just selected parts of his life. I agree with his basic point that children are overindulged these days and don't learn to appreciate the little things in life, but I disagree that whipping your children (like his parents did to him and his siblings) is a good way to command their respect. Much of the book seemed to be meandering stream of consciousness and I found it hard to follow. I did love his definition of God and I will carry that with me. Overall it just wasn't as revolutionary as I thought it would be but it still held my interest.
SirRoger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sidney Poitier shares his own personal history as well as some of the life lessons that have guided him. He grew up on a small island in the Bahamas. His family was poor in the world's view, but rich in many other ways. Sidney eventually moved to the states, making his way to New York, and became an extremely successful and well-regarded actor on the stage and screen. He endured poverty, but always worked hard and learned from his mistakes. I recommend this book for the insight it gives into Mr. Poitier's life. He's somewhat of a legendary figure in American film, but he's a mortal person just like everyone else. I'm impressed most by his artistic integrity. When he began work as an actor, he did not settle for any less than the best in his own performance. He learned from his mistakes, worked hard to perfect his craft, and only accepted roles that had integrity, where there was a deeper connection and purpose. I don't agree with all of the spiritual views that he discusses, but I do think he's a good example in many ways, and people can learn those good things from his life.
Neverwithoutabook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of Sidney Poitier ever since I first watched "To Sir With Love"! Who hasn't? But is it the character? Or is it the man? I consider him to be one of our greatest actors and yet so quietly he came to greatness. Until reading this autobiography, I can't say I knew very much about Sidney Poitier. Now, I can say that my respect for him is well-placed and I'm even more a fan. From his childhood, growing up in poverty on Cat Island in the Bahamas, to his battle with prostate cancer, this book reveals the life of a man of dignity. I found his childhood filled with treasured memories growing up with a freedom most children never know and also packed with lessons that most never learn, but that stood him well in later life. I found myself agreeing with his thoughts and comparisons of that childhood with respect to today's children with their video games and need for constant outside stimulus. Times were different then, and so were the struggles he faced. He was a man who worked hard and took pride in what he accomplished. When things were difficult, he kept his focus and never gave up. I appreciated his discussions about the making of his films and his perspective relating the stories to what was happening historically. The one thing I have to respect him for is his humility. Often I noticed him giving credit to those who came before him for paving the way for him and those who came after. I recommend reading this book. We can all learn something from such a thoughtful, intelligent, respectful human being.
shadowofthewind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook. The presentation gives the impression of a candid soulful conversation that you would have late at night with a friend. He answers all the questions and goes through all the points in his life and things he has learned along the way. He has great perspective on life and the story will definitely inspire.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audiobook...narrated by Sydney Poitier.....what a voice! I enjoyed this story of trying to live a life that did not dishonor his parents in any way! And that, my friends, is one measure of a man or woman!
Rob.Larson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good book, but it got a little slow toward the end. Fans of Poitier will love it.
Enamoredsoul on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"When childhood is aborted, it's like aborted grief. In both cases, if you don't go through all the stages, giving each its due, the job never gets completed."Sidney Poitier's autobiography is one of the best autobiographies I've ever read. It has a gentle, lilting quality to its prose - but a powerful impact. His life is a true testament to the worth of God in your heart, goodness in your soul and the will to persevere. I recommend it to everyone!
JoWright on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A terrific read... to see someone come out of impoverished circumstances with such a profound depth of spirit and tenacity is amazing. That is only topped by the fact that this man was trying to make it in Hollywood... a black man in a white man's world... his story underscores his deep faith in himself that was unshakeable despite the odds. Poitier's sensitivty and philosophical approach to life and his work are beautifully captured. I would have enjoyed learning more about his wife and young family to better understand him as a husband and father.
nicky_too on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title already says it's a spiritual autobiography and the story of his life and career really do take a second place in this book.I absolutely loved it.For people interested in the racism issue this is a must read. White people will never see racism as black people do and I found it a real eye opener to read about it.Sidney Poitier has an easy style, hardly ever uses difficult words. It makes the book easy to read and understand. It's obvious this comes straight from his heart. There's an awful lot of depth in this book which consists of barely 300 pages.
txorig on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm torn about this book. Yes, it shows what that Mr. Poitier has very strong principles (now, that is)and he appears to be very likable, BUT, the writing is not very good. I can't tell if he is just a bad writer or if he has a very bad editor. I haven't really looked to see if he worked with anyone on this, but suffice it to say, it took away from the story.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A philosopher once said that the unexamined life was not worth living. In this book, which he subtitles ¿a spiritual autobiography¿, Poitier examines how he has lived his life since his beginnings in a semi-primitive (his description) society on Cat Island until his early seventies. Along the way we, the reader, get a vivid picture of many of the different problems blacks faced in the post war years of the 20th century until the present time¿Poitier was in his early seventies when he wrote this and was still planning projects to do. He is very candid about the good fortune that seemed to bless his path as well as the multitude of problems he had to surmount, both from within himself and within the society of the 20th century. I was (and still am) a great admirer of Poitier and can remember sitting by the radio waiting for the announcement in 1963 of the winner of the best actor Oscar and praying that it would be he. The elation I felt was as emotional as if I had won myself. This book reveals much about how he became a man that could inspire that kind ¿devotion¿ in his fans.
joiescire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eh, just didn't pull me in. I know it is a classic, but I just couldn't get into it. As I was reading I couldn't wait to just be finished with it.
youngerrlc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great insights into the life of a very successful actor who endured growing up black in America
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poiter takes us with him on his journey in life in a reflective and introspective manner. His art and story give us hope that we can make the be s t of our circumstances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poitier chronicles his life from a materially impoverished childhood but one steeped in values that remain with him throughout many struggles and triumphs. His self-honesty caused this reader to question and think as well.