Reviews for The Book Of Charlie

by David Von Drehle

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A journalist reconstructs the life of his neighbor before his death at age 109. Regarding his motivation for writing this book, Washington Post columnist Von Drehle writes, “I needed to find someone whose early life would have been recognizable to farmers from the age of Napoleon, or of Leonardo da Vinci.” Born in 1905, Charlie White descended from aristocratic Virginia Confederates who shared a family tree with Gen. Robert E. Lee. A boisterous child, he once accidentally set himself on fire while hopping over a flame in fringed pants in an impersonation of an “Indian brave.” After his father’s untimely death in a freak elevator accident, White’s mother designated him “the man of the house,” a responsibility that didn't stop him from traveling across the U.S. in a Model T Ford. During the journey, he remembers complimenting a Navajo man on his English only to find out the man had graduated from Harvard. After medical school, White served as a doctor in the Air Force during World War II and trained in anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic. In 1948, his wife, Mildred, an alcoholic who also suffered from an eating disorder, committed suicide. Soon after, White married a pilot who divorced him for being “a little too possessive.” White’s third marriage ended when his wife, Lois, died of cancer. Von Drehle attributes White’s survival to his adherence to stoicism, a philosophy that requires focusing on what can be controlled rather than what can’t—an approach White was partly able to take because of his race privilege. In a well-researched and often poignant narrative, the author rarely interrogates White’s privilege; maintains his subject’s insensitive language without comments; and quotes from thinkers like Theodore Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling but never women or people of color. Despite the nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout the text, these choices make it feel outdated. A story of a 109-year-old man’s life told through a White male gaze. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.