Bruce Lee: A Life

Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly“The first noteworthy treatment of its subject—and a definitive one at that…Fascinating narrative threads proliferate” (The New York Times Book Review).

Bruce Lee: A Life is the most authoritative biography—featuring dozens of rarely seen photographs—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 thirty-two, journalist and bestselling author Matthew Polly has written the definitive account of Lee’s life, Bruce Lee: A 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 one hundred 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.

In Bruce Lee: A Life, 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. Bruce Lee: A Life 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.


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

“Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly is the first in-depth account of Lee’s journey from a street-brawling teenager to a global icon…Lee’s charisma, ambition and relentless appetite for combat leap off the pages.” —CNN

“Spirited celebration of the life of ‘the Patron Saint of Kung Fu,’ a stalwart of pop culture whose career is due for a revival….Students of martial arts, film history, and the 1970s alike will find much to enjoy in Polly’s homage.” —Kirkus Review

“This thorough, well-sourced biography from Polly is 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.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“The first authoritative biography of the martial arts teacher and movie star, who died mysteriously at 32 but whose films, like Enter the Dragon, still thrill decades later.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“It’s difficult to imagine a more comprehensive account of Bruce Lee’s short but influential life than this one….Polly charts the course of Lee’s life in careful, precise detail. His admiration for Lee comes through on nearly every page, but this no hagiography: the author doesn’t skim lightly over Lee’s drug use or infidelity, nor does he shy away from the sordid circumstances surrounding Lee’s death. A fascinating story of a remarkable figure in popular culture, this is the biography Bruce Lee’s legion of fans have been waiting for.” —Booklist

“Matthew Polly’s ‘Bruce Lee: A Life’ is proof that dogged research and sharp insight lie at the foundation of any successful biography. Its 600-plus pages suggest a definitive work to satisfy Lee’s fans and spark curiosity in a new generation.” —Associated Press

“Matthew Polly’s new biography is long overdue but does Hong Kong’s most famous son proud….The writer vividly describes how Lee mastered and advanced various martial arts forms, and he exercises a pleasing biographical rigor, with extensive notes and citations, as well as a 14-page bibliography….engaging, enthusiastic and empathetic.” —South China Morning Post Magazine

“This book succeeds in capturing [Lee’s] energy and achievements, a volley of incident that rarely lets up… Stories whirl past with nunchaku-like speed…Polly’s narrative rarely loses its ripped-and-shredded shape…For anyone curious about Lee’s legacy, it’s a roundhouse kick of a biography.” —Sunday Times of London

“Shockingly, the first biography of Bruce Lee (1940–73) in more than two decades….it reads quickly owing to Polly’s strength as a writer. Starting with Lee’s two funerals, one in China, and one in Seattle, the startling pictures of his immense popularity bring readers into Lee’s world immediately….The photographs are tremendous, and the concluding epilogue, Lee family tree, filmography, notes, and bibliography make this a great reference source. Fans of Lee will flock to this title, as will anyone interested in pop culture and martial arts, of which Lee’s stature is immense. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

About the Author

Matthew Polly is the national bestselling author of American Shaolin, Tapped Out, and Bruce Lee: A Life. A Princeton University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, he spent two years studying kung fu at the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Esquire, Slate, Playboy, and The Nation. He is a fellow at Yale University and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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