Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu

Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu

  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780140254563
  • 688 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • 18 and up


“A splendidly entertaining, definitive work.”—Entertainment Weekly

In this first installment of his masterful biography, Simon Callow captures the chameleonic genius of Orson Welles as only an actor/director deeply rooted in the entertainment industry could. Here is Welles’s prodigious childhood; his youth in New York, with its fraught partnership with John Houseman and the groundbreaking triumph of his all-black Macbeth; the pioneering radio work that culminated in the notorious 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds; and finally, his work in Hollywood, including an authoritative account of the making of Citizen Kane. Rich in detail and insight, this is far and away the definitive look at Orson Welles—a figure even more extraordinary than the myths that have surrounded him.


“A splendidly entertaining, definitive work.”
—Entertainment Weekly
“This riveting, revealing portrait of the legendary director and star is unlikely to be surpassed.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A wonderfully readable, sharp, shrewd and evenhanded biography . . . Callow is a witty and feeling biographer.”
—Chicago Tribune
“Callow is in control all the way.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“With a keen attention to detail, he brings Welles back to life for us, and brings to his portrait the critical skill of extrapolating the artist’s personality form his work.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Simon Callow’s tumultuous, riveting, and admirably researched biography . . . has the energy of revelation.”
—The Boston Globe
“Callow touches nothing without leaving huge fingerprints of his charm, wit and superbly encompassing mind, quite equal to the wit and invention of Welles himself . . . . This is a feast whose every course is flavored with humanity and superfine intelligence.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Brilliant. . . . Other accounts of the boy wonder from Wisconsin are now rendered obsolete by Simon Callow’s massive The Road to Xanadu. . . . [Callow] has outperformed every previous biographer in the arena of research.”
—Fort Worth Star Telegram
“Exceptionally perceptive . . . not only enormously entertaining but also hugely informative. . . . Callow has us hungering for more.”
San Jose Mercury News
“[Callow] excels at what must have been his most frustrating task: analyzing theater work he could not see for himself. The book expertly evokes Welles’s wildly-inventive productions. . . . As Callow meticulously shows, George Orson Welles knew acclaim and misuse from early childhood.”
“Easily the best Welles biography. . . . Callow’s expertise as actor and director gives his accounts of Welles’s work a unique authenticity.”
“A brilliant biography, which builds on the research of its predecessors while judiciously taking the measure of this human tornado, bringing him down to earth. . . . Callow is a whiz . . . because he has a sharp-tongued, fearlessly judgmental, epigrammatic style that cuts through dithering.”
“Welles might seem a difficult subject for a new biography. The legend is already pretty much written in stone. Callow’s achievement is threefold: he embraces his subject with such gallumphing energy that the extraordinary power of his subject is conveyed as if for the first, fascinated time; he attempts a sober reassessment, trying to get an honest measure of someone who seemed larger than life without in any petty way cutting him down to size; and he provides a genuinely interesting actor’s view of the actor. . . . It is this which makes The Road to Xanadu feel, improbably, like a fresh journey rather than another weary, ironic retreading of the route.”
—The Times (London)
“A knock-down, brass-bound, copper-bottomed triumph. It is a big, fat book and it is tremendous fun to read. . . . Callow’s style has much in common with his acting: the text is full-bodied, rich, fruity and dense. . . . It is Simon Callow’s triumph that at the end of this book Orson Welles comes before us just as Oscar Wilde did at the end of Richard Ellmann’s superb biography—a towering figure, laughing . . . so generous, so amusing, and so right.”
—Daily Telegraph
“In this monumental two-part work . . . Welles at last has a life to match his bulk. Callow confirms the old truism that it takes one to know one. Himself a man of the theater, he has the literary craft, too, to make an imaginative leap into Orson Welles’s psyche, inhabit his life, not simply chronicle it. It is the best book I have read that explains a fabulous figure in terms of the reality of his own life.”
—Evening Standard
“The book is a miracle of research, and Mr. Callow writes well and with a miss-nothing intelligence. Welles is brought vividly to life; we hear and see him. It is an important book; it has resonance, it contains worlds; it satisfies.”
—The Irish Times
“A superbly wrought, aesthetically and psychologically acute portrait of Welles’s sheer, undisciplined genius. . . . Not since Francois Truffaut’s book of Hitchcock has an arts biographer possessed such a professional and intuitive understanding of his subject . . . all accomplished in a highly literate, epigrammatic style that makes this biography a sumptuous pleasure to read”
—Kirkus Reviews
“Himself a protean, larger-than-life character, Simon Callow is uniquely qualified to plumb the depths of Orson Welles. As a mere writer, it pains me to admit that it has taken an actor to produce one of the finest thespian biographies of recent years.”
—Anthony Holden, author of Laurence Olivier
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