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Dearie

Julia Child's great success was built on both a willingness to innovate and an utter devotion to her craft.

By By Elizabeth Toohey / August 14, 2012

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child By Bob Spitz Knopf Doubleday 576 pp.

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Julia Child has had an extraordinary impact on American culture. One only need note the rise of the Food Network, the spread of celebrity chefs, the ubiquity of wine at restaurants, and the overwhelming trend of foodie-ism to gauge the depth of her influence. She was a groundbreaker, too, as a successful career-woman and a popular television personality among men and women alike, when being a housewife was the norm for women of her class.

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Bob Spitz, author of the bestselling "The Beatles," has compiled a comprehensive and compelling biography in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, that also functions effectively as a history of 20th-century American culture on topics ranging from the evolution of the O.S.S. to the quirks of public television.  At 530 pages, it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s sure to satisfy those with appetites whetted by the memoir turned film, "Julie and Julia," who crave more of Child’s early life and later success.

Julia McWilliams’ youth was remarkable only for her outsized personality and utter lack of interest in cooking. Born to a wealthy Republican Pasadena family, she was raised to be a demure debutante. The only signs of future celebrity lay in her role as adventurer, instigator, and rule-breaker, whether by claiming leads in schoolyard skits, smoking, or being rescued from the chimney of a vacant house she’d broken into. She wasn’t much of a student at prep school or at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., where socializing fueled her more.

She was rescued from a decade of empty social engagements by the war.  At 30, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she landed a job, first as a typist in the Office of War Information, and then at the O.S.S. It was this move that led to her travels in South Asia where she met Paul Childs, perhaps the greatest influence in her personal and professional development. Ten years her senior, Paul was instrumental to Julia’s exposure to other cultures and burgeoning interest in food.  Paul was also difficult in ways, as an artist with a thwarted career, stuck in a series of unrewarding governmental jobs. Their marriage makes for a moving read, in particular the balance Julia struck between her devotion to him and the practical choices she made to move forward with her career once Paul’s health deteriorated later in life.

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