The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography

Front Cover
Harper Collins, Oct 13, 2009 - Biography & Autobiography - 272 pages
10 Reviews

"I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite the contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in selfquestioning. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I myself have set."

In this luminous memoir, a true American icon looks back on his celebrated life and career. His body of work is arguably the most morally significant in cinematic history, and the power and influence of that work are indicative of the character of the man behind the many storied roles. Sidney Poitier here explores these elements of character and personal values to take his own measure--as a man, as a husband and father, and as an actor.

Poitier credits his parents and his childhood on tiny Cat Island in the Bahamas for equipping him with the unflinching sense of right and wrong and of selfworth that he has never surrendered and that have dramatically shaped his world. "In the kind of place where I grew up," recalls Poitier, "what's coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and momma's voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters ... and that's it." Without television, radio, and material distractions to obscure what matters most, he could enjoy the simple things, endure the long commitments, and find true meaning in his life.

Poitier was uncompromising as he pursued a personal and public life that would honor his upbringing and the invaluable legacy of his parents just a few years after his introduction to indoor plumbing and the automobile, Poitier broke racial barrier after racial barrier to launch a pioneering acting career. Committed to the notion that what one does for a living articulates who one is, Poitier played only forceful and affecting characters who said something positive, useful, and lasting about the human condition.

Here, finally, is Poitier's own introspective look at what has informed his performances and his life. Poitier explores the nature of sacrifice and commitment, pride and humility, rage and forgiveness, and paying the price for artistic integrity, What emerges is a picture of a man seeking truth, passion, and balance in the face of limits--his own and the world's. A triumph of the spirit, The Measure of a Man captures the essential Poitier.


What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Sidney Poitier's life experience is worth the read. An amazing story of the tiny Island boy who went to NYC to make a new life only to become an Academy Award winning actor. How could it not be a great story?

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Sidney Poitier performs magic in The Measure of a Man. Only true nobility can write the personal history and experience of a 70-something black man from the Bahamas with such power to speak profoundly to a 22-year old white girl from Grand Rapids. The same page will draw the reader to tears both from laughter and from sorrow. At 243 pages, Measure is not difficult, which makes reading from cover to cover relatively easy in one sitting.
What’s most powerful about Poitier’s “spiritual autobiography” is that he’s not trying to manipulate the reader one way or another. It’s entirely possible to be completely changed by the end and yet leave the book disagreeing with him in some areas no less than at the beginning. He doesn’t expect his readers to agree with him, he’s simply telling his story. And an interesting story it is. As a boy, Poitier lived in intense poverty, but this poverty was nothing like anyone in America would understand. He says in the first chapter, “In a word, we were poor, but poverty there was very different from the poverty in a modern place characterized by concrete. It’s not romanticizing the past to state the poverty on Cat Island didn’t preclude gorgeous beaches and a climate like heaven, cocoa plum trees and sea grapes and cassavas growing in the forest, and bananas growing wild” (3).
Through his journey from Cat Island to Florida to New York to Hollywood, Poitier never lost the sense of self given to him by his parents, especially his father. This is possibly one of the most profound themes of the book: the identity instilled by a parent to his son. This dignity guided him through the roles that he chose, or didn’t choose, as well as how he saw his success in Hollywood and even the industry of Hollywood itself. Any reader, once reading this book, will understand the privilege just experienced from Poitier opening the door, even if only slightly, to his life and the influence his father had on him and, consequently, the entire American film industry.

All 8 reviews »



Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 57 - His assessment was like a death sentence for my soul. I had never mentioned to him that I was a dishwasher. How did he know? If he didn't know, what was it about me that implied to this stranger that dishwashing would accurately sum up my whole life's worth
Page 17 - he will travel to most of the corners of the earth. He will walk with kings. He will be rich and famous. Your name will be carried all over the world. You must not worry about that child.
Page 58 - that Sidney Poitier had a hell of a lot more to him than washing dishes. And it worked. The second time around they let me in. But it was still no slam dunk. In fact, I made the cut only because there were so few guys and they needed some male bodies to
Page 44 - where I was going to go and what I was going to do.
Page 56 - actors for its next production. My mind got to spinning. My eyes bounced back and forth between the want-ad page and the theatrical page. "What the hell," I thought. "I've tried dishwashers wanted, porters wanted,
Page 56 - I could barely read! And to top it off, I had a thick, singsong Bahamian accent. He snatched the script from my hands, spun me around, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and
Page 76 - When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Page 59 - the void was opening up once again to receive me. I didn't even go to the cast party, which meant that I wasn't around when the first reviews appeared. The critics trashed the show.
Page 57 - newspapers, trying to sound out each syllable of each unfamiliar word. An old Jewish waiter, noticing my efforts, took pity and offered to help. He became my tutor, as well as my guardian angel
Page 17 - Don't worry about your son. He will survive and he will not be a sickly child. He will grow up to be

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (2009)

Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the Academy Award for best actor for his outstanding performance in Lilies of the Field in 1963. His landmark films include The Defiant Ones, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and To Sir, With Love. He has starred in over forty films, directed nine, and written four. He is the author of two autobiographies: This Life and the "Oprah's Book Club" pick and New York Times bestseller The Measure of a Man. Among many other accolades, Poitier has been awarded the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award, for an outstanding career and humanitarian accomplishment. He is married, has six daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

Bibliographic information