Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction (Review)

Book cover for "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff.Title: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

Author: David Sheff

Narrator: Anthony Heald

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 336 (audio length: 11 hours 23 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Source: Purchased audiobook from

From the cover:

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the rehabs. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic.

Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.

I seem to be reading a fair number of books about meth addiction this year; not particularly sure why. There’s just something interesting about methamphetamines – and their abuse – that I can’t describe objectively. Maybe it’s the strength of the addiction? The difficulty of beating it? I don’t know.

Beautiful Boy is the story of Sheff’s trials and tribulations as the parent of a meth-addicted son. His son, Nic, actually has problems with more than “just” meth – he also struggles, at various times in the book, with pot, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and prescription drugs of various kinds. Usually, though, they’re in combination with meth.

The best thing about this book was the way that the author describes his inner turmoil throughout Nic’s addiction. I didn’t always think that the Sheff was doing the right thing, and I often wanted to shake him and make him realize how irrational his thoughts were, but it always came down to this: his portrayal of his deteriorating relationship with his son and of their family issues was so realistic that I couldn’t fault him for anything that he thought, said, or did. Sheff made very clearly illustrated the ups and downs of his experience, in a way that makes the reader really feel for him and Nic, and want everything to work out in the end.

At times, the story dragged a bit, but usually it was quite engaging. I think this was helped a lot by listening to the audiobook – Heald, the narrator of this edition, just seemed right somehow, using pacing and inflection to really make you believe that he was telling the story from the seat next to you. I think that the book could have been just as good on paper, but for me, there was just something about hearing the story in the “voice” of the author that worked well for me.

If you’re interested in memoirs about addiction, this would probably be an interesting book for you. Nic has also written a book telling “his side” of the story, which I’m probably going to try to find at some point. Beautiful Boy is really focused on the addiction part of things, though, so if you’re not interested in reading a story about meth abuse, this is likely not the book for you. In the end, I found it really fascinating, and hope you will, too.


9 thoughts on “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction (Review)”

  1. I read the print edition of this a few years ago. Like you, I didn’t always think Sheff’s choices were the best (but, who’s to say what I’d do in that situation).

    He was, however, honest, and told *his* story, not his son’s (respectful).

    Glad the audio worked so well for you!

  2. This does sound like a really interesting book. I think the fact that he tells his story of dealing with his son’s addiction to be kind of different, and would be interesting to read.

  3. This sounds like it might be a really sad book, but for some reason, it also sounds mighty interesting as well. I have read very little about meth addiction, but the topic does entice me. Great review. I am so glad to hear that this was a good read for you.

  4. I have read the son’s account of the story “Tweak” and I absolutely loved it! I am not sure how I feel hearing the Father’s side of the story, it might be too sad. Thanks for the good review!

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