Inside Paul Newman’s Long-Awaited Memoir

"The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir" is out now

Paul Newman
American actor Paul Newman, wearing a tuxedo and a bow tie, portrayed during a trip on a water taxi, a sailor cap on the dashboard, Venice 1963.
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

Fourteen years after his death, Paul Newman’s memoir is now available for sale wherever books are sold, as the saying goes. The circumstances under which The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir came to be published are not exactly the expected path that many authors experience when telling the story of their lives. There have been a few cases of high-profile posthumous memoirs — including those of Mark Twain — but the case of Newman’s feels especially unique.

Then again, Newman was a singular figure — an actor and filmmaker who also spent significant portions of his life racing cars and engaged in charitable business ventures — which makes that unexpected route to publication feel all the more fitting.

As The New York Times reported last year, the memoir originated with a series of recordings Newman made over the course of several years, in which the actor spoke candidly about his personal and professional lives. That, too, places it in a very particular corner of the literary landscape. As Bruce Handy wrote about the book in Air Mail, “the memoir is necessarily incomplete, even speculative — a found object of sorts that has been carefully shaded and massaged into a facsimile of what Newman might have intended if he hadn’t turned his back on the whole thing.”

But for all of that, Handy writes, the overall work remains compelling — Handy notes that “there is much to cherish here.” Given the positive reviews the book has received so far, readers seem to agree.

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