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Publisher's Summary

The first authoritative biography of film legend Bruce Lee, who made martial arts a global phenomenon, bridged the divide between Eastern and Western cultures, and smashed long-held stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans.

Forty-five years after Bruce Lee’s sudden death at age 32, journalist and best-selling author Matthew Polly has written the definitive account of Lee’s life. It’s also one of the only accounts; incredibly, there has never been an authoritative biography of Lee. Following a decade of research that included conducting more than 100 interviews with Lee’s family, friends, business associates, and even the actress in whose bed Lee died, Polly has constructed a complex, humane portrait of the icon.

Polly explores Lee’s early years as a child star in Hong Kong cinema; his actor father’s struggles with opium addiction and how that turned Bruce into a troublemaking teenager who was kicked out of high school and eventually sent to America to shape up; his beginnings as a martial arts teacher, eventually becoming personal instructor to movie stars like James Coburn and Steve McQueen; his struggles as an Asian American actor in Hollywood and frustration seeing role after role he auditioned for go to a white actors in eye makeup; his eventual triumph as a leading man; his challenges juggling a sky-rocketing career with his duties as a father and husband; and his shocking end that to this day is still shrouded in mystery.

Polly breaks down the myths surrounding Bruce Lee and argues that, contrary to popular belief, he was an ambitious actor who was obsessed with the martial arts - not a kung-fu guru who just so happened to make a couple of movies. This is an honest, revealing look at an impressive yet imperfect man whose personal story was even more entertaining and inspiring than any fictional role he played onscreen.

©2018 Matthew Polly (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

Critic Reviews

"…an engrossing examination of the life of a martial arts movie star and his shocking, early death…In what is certainly the definitive biography of Lee, Polly wonderfully profiles the man who constructed a new, masculine Asian archetype and ushered kung fu into pop culture." (Publishers Weekly)

"Students of martial arts, film history, and the 1970s alike will find much to enjoy in Polly’s homage." (Kirkus Reviews)

"The first noteworthy treatment of its subject—and a definitive one at that...Fascinating narrative threads proliferate." (The New York Times Book Review)

What members say

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  • Overall
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Fantastic book about an amazing human

This review is for the audiobook version.

As someone who has been a Bruce Lee fan for his entire life, I was a little bit hesitant about buying this book. I was afraid it would just be a rehash of all of the other books written about him, many of which are just hearsay and myth. I am so happy I was wrong about this assumption.

This book presents Bruce Lee as a human being. It presents all that is good and all of his vices. Don't get this book expecting it to make him out to be a god-like figure, because he wasn't. He was a man, albeit a very self-aware and self realized one. And that is the reason I love this book. It made Bruce Lee human which is something I have been looking for for a long time and his biographies. It also showed what an amazing person he was, both as a martial artist and in general. I loved it and I love Bruce Lee even more after this book.

The audiobook version is outstanding. The reader is very expressive and presents the book in a way that is easily accessible and enjoyable. It is close to 20 hours long but I wish it was longer. That is not to say that there was not a ton of information contained in the book, but instead that I wish the book hadn't ended. I highly recommend it!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Ever Want to Meet Bruce Lee?

This is as close as we’ll ever get to meeting Bruce Lee. I’ve watched and read countless biographies on Bruce Lee and this is the only time I’ve ever come away feeling like I got to really “know” the man. This biography goes past the lengend and the gossip and show the man on his journey, warts and all.

This accounting of Bruce Lee’s life felt, real, sincere, and honest. Thanks Matthew Polly!

The narrator was no slouch either. His narration is like a great special effect, you didn’t know there was one. The biography was read simply, and I REALLY appreciated his pronunciation of Chinese words. Not try-hard, but not annoyingly English. The narrator didn’t make it about his performance, he simply performed it. Thanks Johnathan Ross!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great teacher

finally I hear the real story and not what they want you to hear. still one of the greatest martial artists in cinema.

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Best Book Ever Written about the Little Dragon

When I was 20, Bruce Lee inspired me to begin studying martial arts. Now, 45 years later, I am still studying, and Bruce Lee still provides inspiration.

I have purchased many Bruce Lee books since 1973. None of them approach Matthew Polly's book in detail, quality and entertainment value.

For the first time, I feel as if I know who Bruce Lee really was. Matthew was also inspired by Bruce, but he takes a journalist's approach, revealing the flaws, the temper, the tantrums, the infidelity, but also the intense drive and perfectionism that made Bruce Lee the ultimate martial arts symbol more than four decades after his death. Matthew's exhaustive research and the interviews he conducted reveal the real man behind the martial arts superstar.

Stories from Bruce's childhood reveal a privileged kid and a young bully who knew how to get other kids to follow him. And the stories from his adult years show a man who was pushed by his ego to defeat discrimination and become the top action star and the most famous martial artist in the world.

Bruce Lee was a complex, contradictory man, preaching Taoist and Zen philosophy while being fueled by ego and narcissism, and a quest to drive the best cars and soak in praise for his work.

Along the way, Matthew recounts details and stories that will amaze you and make you laugh, like the time "Judo" Gene LeBell carried Bruce around the set of the "Green Hornet," and how Steve McQueen made his friend want to kill him.

For 45 years, I thought Warner Brothers was crazy not to have hired Bruce to play Caine in the "Kung Fu" TV show, but reading this book, I now understand that it was a good decision. Matthew also goes into great detail on the inquest that was held after Bruce died, and the true cause of Bruce's death, in Matthew's opinion, is a revelation that made me think, "Of course!"

I am in love with this book. I highly recommend it.

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Great details into the life of Bruce Lee

I didnt know much about Bruce going into this, id seen videos of him playing ping pong with nunchucks and that famous video of him saying to be like water. This in depth book about Bruce gives great insight to who he was as a person. From his early childhood to his early death, you get to see him mature into the person we all admire now. He's human, this books shows that. He wasnt perfect like we love to think he was, but he did his best and thats what transformed him into who we know now. I also learned a lot about how people from all walks of life face certain discrimination and hardships in life, including Bruce himself. All in all this was a captivating book into the life of Bruce Lee.

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Entertaining that kept you waiting more.

As you listened to the life of Bruce Lee one could not imagine how he rose from nothing to an international super star. The story kept you intrigued wanting more with every chapter. There were lots of golden nuggets and astonishing gems about his life.

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  • Tim
  • United States
  • 12-13-18

​Mythological Legend

​The life of Bruce Lee has always been an interest for me because his movies was apart of my childhood. I'd probably watched all of his movies at least twice. Bruce Lee is almost like a mythological legend in the Asian culture. He could be your long lost ninth cousin that you never knew and will never meet. Somehow we are all related to Bruce Lee because of our ethnicity at being Asian.

Matthew Polly's autobiography of "Bruce Lee" was honest for this man of steel. Polly doesn't sugar coat anything on this star, martial artist , womanizer and role model to many. The most interesting part was how he died. Upon his death, there were a lot of rumors going on and even after decades later, all of the rumors perceived to be true until the publishing of this book.

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I did really enjoy this book, though it was long.

I did really enjoy this book, though it took a long time, to get through, that was to be expected considering it is 19 hours long. I do recommend it to Bruce Lee fans.

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An insightful look at Bruce Lee.

An insightful look into the life of a celebrated martial artist. Lots of great behind the scenes info. Gives one greater appreciation not just for Bruce Lee but for all martial artists and their struggle to improve their art.

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Great story and research, mediocre narration

The book is fantastic, giving great insight in Bruce’s upbringing, work ethic, and strengths and flaws. The exception is the narrator who has clearly done no research into any pronunciation of the Chinese names or works. He pronounces Gong Fu as Gun Foo and Shi Fu as See Fu, two errors that’s repeated over a hundred times in the book. If he bothered to watched one YouTube interview with Bruce Lee or even Kung Fu Panda, he would have found the proper way to say it.