The Book of Charlie
Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man
by David Von Drehle
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Pub Date 23 May 2023 | Archive Date 23 Jul 2023
When a veteran Washington journalist moved to Kansas, he met a new neighbor who was more than a century old. Little did he know that he was beginning a long friendship—and a profound lesson in the meaning of life. Charlie White was no ordinary neighbor. Born before radio, Charlie lived long enough to use a smartphone. When a shocking tragedy interrupted his idyllic boyhood, Charlie mastered survival strategies that reflect thousands of years of human wisdom. Thus armored, Charlie’s sense of adventure carried him on an epic journey of the Jazz Age, racing aboard ambulances through Depression-era gangster wars, improvising techniques for early open-heart surgery, and cruising the Amazon as a guest of Peru’s president.
David Von Drehle came to understand that Charlie’s resilience and willingness to grow made this remarkable neighbor a master in the art of thriving through times of dramatic change. As a gift to his children, he set out to tell Charlie’s secrets. The Book of Charlie is a “genuinely original, formula-shattering” (Bob Woodward) gospel of grit—the inspiring story of one man’s journey through a century of upheaval. The history that unfolds through Charlie’s story reminds you that the United States has always been a divided nation, a questing nation—a nation of Charlies in the rollercoaster pursuit of a good and meaningful life.
"As is true of Charlie himself, this book is not just about goodness but grit, not just kindness but courage. It is also a shining example of the magic that can happen when a master storyteller with a deeply inquiring mind finds a subject that has hidden within it a million tantalizing opportunities to learn, to question, and to grow. To say that The Book of Charlie is inspiring is a vast understatement. I am a better person for having read it." — Candice Millard, author of River of the Gods
"No one writes as well about as many things as David Von Drehle, and his excellence is fully displayed in this slender examination of a well-lived life. In an era that elicits, by rewarding, incessant disparagement, he shows the beauty of elegant praise. You will never forget Charlie White, who was 102 when he came to Von Drehle’s attention." — George F. Will, syndicated columnist
"In every era, an author writes a genuinely original, formula-shattering book. David Von Drehle has done this in The Book of Charlie, a serious history of the last 100 years. Charlie is told through the personal story of one man, an accidental neighbor in Kansas, finding joy and what matters. I don't think it spoils the ending to divulge some of Charlie's lessons learned: 'Practice patience. Smile often. Savor special moments. Be soft sometimes.'" — Bob Woodward
"There is something rather magical that David Von Drehle—one of our nation’s most gifted chroniclers of history— met up with Charlie White, who lived longer than anyone you’ll ever know. This Kansas City-set story is about goodness and the American spirit. It is also about time, and the graciousness in which a life can be lived on this green earth." — Wil Haygood, Colorization: 100 Years of Black Films in a White World
"David Von Drehle's book is a monumental achievement cloaked in the experience of one ordinary American man of his time. In this stunningly true story, 100 years worth of American eras become breathakingly intimate experiences, history becomes personal, and a neighbor becomes a figure of deep nobility. You will never look at the folks next door the same way again." — Sally Jenkins, author of The Real All-Americans
"A marvelous parable of resilience and durability, full of surprises and grace notes. David Von Drehle is among our most astute observers of the human condition, and in Dr. Charlie White—physician, centenarian, bon vivant— he has found a large character worthy of his talent." — Rick Atkinson, author of The British Are Coming
"The Book of Charlie isn't just a loving look at an astonishing 110-year life, it's a look at ourselves." — Rick Reilly, author of Commander In Cheat