This biography, as told to David Ritz, offers a glimpse into the life of a formidable media personality. Smiley’s story is told in a clear, easy-to-read style that is at once compelling and inviting. His meager beginnings would have stymied a lesser person; instead, they fueled his resolve to ‘be somebody.’ As the oldest of his mother’s children, raised in a family of 13, Tavis carved out experiences for himself that were utterly foreign and too secular for his deeply religious Pentecostal mother, which often got him in trouble at home and caused a deep chasm with his parents. Activities that are considered a normal part of growing up in this country (going to the movies, participating in afterschool sports, etc.) had no place in the almost austere, poverty-riddled, hard-working family that was Smiley’s.
However, this book is a study in resilience and survival skills, and how sheer will and faith(often all he had) allowed Tavis to reach his goals. From a beating that hospitalized him and sent him to live in a foster home for a time, to being one of only two TV journalists to interview President Clinton extensively, this book demonstrates how a deeply-ingrained sense of self and a penchant for hard work and excellence can overcome adversity. This biography should be ‘must reading’ for teenage males, especially those considered “at risk,” as many will be able to relate to Tavis’ background. His ability to overcome his childhood experiences and achieve success makes him an excellent role model in these times when there are so few.
This book does not 'pretty-up' Smiley's past; its straightforward style allows the reader to see how this media icon developed, why he has been able to effectively interview the myriad of people that he has - from leading presidential campaign debates to speaking to hip-hop artists - with interest, respect, and humor. Biographies are not usually the first genre that I select, but this biography was well worth reading. The message comes through without being preachy.