November 29, 2021 8:16 AM EST

Mark Harris’s enthralling, extensively researched biography of Mike Nichols follows the iconic director of films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate from his painful childhood to his unlikely, meteoric success. Nichols arrived in New York in 1939 as a 7-year-old Jewish immigrant from Berlin, completely bald from a rare allergic reaction to the whooping cough vaccine and speaking hardly any English, and was mercilessly bullied for years. Harris digs into his transformation from an outsider to one of the most influential people in Hollywood, exploring the ways in which his discomfort in his own body pushed him into performance, and specifically comedy. Especially moving is Harris’s chronicling of the relationships and creative partnerships that helped Nichols develop his preternatural skills, most significantly with his first comedy partner Elaine May, with whom he experienced his first massive success. Drawing on 250 interviews with Nichols’ frequent collaborators and contemporaries—including Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks, Stephen Sondheim and Glenn Close, to name just a few—Harris paints a rich, nuanced portrait of a brilliant man and a legendary career.

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