Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain

S. & S. Oct. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781982140441. $28.99. TV
Leerhsen’s (Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty) latest joins the already-crowded field of Anthony Bourdain biographies, but his well-researched, thoughtful examination of the late Bourdain (1956–2018) claims to not cede to the marketing and protection of Bourdain’s legacy but instead uncover the truths of the enigmatic chef’s troubled life. Leerhsen is unapologetically honest about Bourdain’s outright “obnoxiousness,” obsession with fame (it’s alleged that he was constantly checking social media for mentions of himself), and mediocrity as both a chef and a fiction writer (as proven by many examples of Bourdain’s early writing). Delving into Bourdain’s childhood, Leerhsen explores possible reasons for the young man’s anger issues. He also examines Bourdain’s three main romantic relationships, his complicated friendships with fellow restaurant employees, and his addictive personality. Leerhsen asserts that Bourdain remained an immature adolescent, and his relationship with actress Asia Argento fizzled due to his overwhelming neediness; the book argues that this created a perfect storm of desperation that led to Bourdain’s suicide.
VERDICT Leerhsen’s page-turner provides a well-rounded portrait of Bourdain, acknowledging his many faults as well as his empathy, work ethic, and creativity.
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