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Extended Audio Sample The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, by Michael Sims Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (498 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Michael Sims Narrator: Nick Sullivan Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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As he was composing what was to become his most enduring and popular book, E. B. White was obeying that oft-repeated maxim: “Write what you know.” Helpless pigs, silly geese, clever spiders, greedy rats—White knew all of these characters in the barns and stables where he spent his favorite hours. Painfully shy his entire life, “this boy,” White once wrote of himself, “felt for animals a kinship he never felt for people.” It’s all the more impressive, therefore, how many people have felt a kinship with E. B. White. 

With Charlotte’s Web, which has gone on to sell more than forty-five million copies, the man William Shawn called “the most companionable of writers” lodged his own character, the avuncular author, into the hearts of generations of readers. 

In The Story of Charlotte’s Web, Michael Sims shows how White solved what critic Clifton Fadiman once called “the standing problem of the juvenile fantasy writer: how to find, not another Alice, but another rabbit hole” by mining the raw ore of his childhood friendship with animals in Mount Vernon, New York. Translating his own passions and contradictions, delights and fears, into an all-time classic. Blending White’s correspondence with the likes of Ursula Nordstrom, James Thurber, and Harold Ross, the E. B. White papers at Cornell, and the archives of HarperCollins and the New Yorker into his own elegant narrative, Sims brings to life the shy boy whose animal stories—real and imaginary—made him famous around the world.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Michael Sims’ The Story of Charlotte's Web is built on revealing glimpses of how ‘reality and fantasy make good bedfellows,’ as White himself wrote…In the best part of the book, Sims traces how much endless rewriting as well as research on spiderweb construction went into Charlotte's WebThe Story of Charlotte’s Web should encourage rereadings of Charlotte’s Web.”

    USA Today

  • “Sims offers an affectionate homage to E. B. White and his enduring trio: a spunky farm girl, a smart spider, and a remarkable pig.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • “Tells the story of a shy author who ‘€˜felt for animals a kinship he never felt for people,’€™ and who, at fifty, drew upon childhood memories of a stable in Mount Vernon, New York, to spin the iconic story of a spider who saved a pig.”


  • “Michael Sims goes back to Zuckerman’s farm to weave the story of Charlotte’s Web.”

    Vanity Fair

  • “Intriguing…Sims illuminates an era of journalism and essay-writing through the war. His style also sings in tune with White’s lyricism, especially in descriptions of nature and the farm.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “A full, engaging account…Sims includes wonderful anecdotes…The Story of Charlotte’s Web unfolds in a way that White might have appreciated: it ambles, pauses to observe the smallest details, and takes its time. Best of all, this book is likely to encourage readers to experience the pleasures of White’s novel all over again.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “A fitting echo to the resolution of Charlotte’s Web…Sims’ research is thorough, his own prose clear, direct, and concise: the ultimate homage. His book is a lovely and empathetic testament to E. B. White’s vision of ‘nature publishing herself.’”

    Washington Post

  • “Sims recounts the wellsprings——familial, psychological, environmental, historical, educational, emotional and every other ‘al’ you can think of——about the little novel that tells how a spider named Charlotte saved a pig named Wilbur from being rendered into bacon…Mr. Sims’ writing captures White’s affection for his creatures and fits the mood of his subject nicely.”

    Chicago Sun-Times

  • “In this immensely charming book, Michael Sims sketches White’s life along with that of what is perhaps his most enduring creation, the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Sims reveals the development of writer E. B. White as he created one of the most cherished and popular of children’s books…Readers of Charlotte and Wilbur’s adventure will learn just how much care and thought was put into rendering this classic work.”


  • A Washington Post Notable Book
  • A BookPage Notable Book
  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Tina H. | 2/19/2014

    " Beautifully crafted biography as sensitive and poignant as White's own writing...very evocative of a time, long ago, when childhoods had the time for creativity and quiet. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Linda | 2/18/2014

    " If I ever have a biographer, I hope he admires me as much as Michael Sims clearly admires E.B. White. Sims did an outstanding job of researching White's life. He gets (very) bogged down in the details of the research White did on spiders, but other than that, this was so interesting. If you enjoy reading White's books, you'll enjoy learning about how they came to be. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Liz | 2/13/2014

    " This was an interesting book about E.B. White and how he came to write Charlotte's Web. I enjoyed learning about his childhood and more about his work for The New Yorker. I had already read a memoir/biography about him and his wife Katharine and really enjoyed that too. They lived interesting lives. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by sharon | 2/9/2014

    " Quite a bit of interesting information about E. B. White and his wife, Kathryn, but presented in a rather dull and lifeless fashion. Too bad, such an interesting writer of wonderful books... "

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About the Author

Michael Sims is the author of acclaimed nonfiction such as Adam’s Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form and Apollo’s Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination, as well as a companion book to the National Geographic Channel television series In the Womb: Animals. He is also the editor of several literary collections, including The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, and Dracula’s Guest, the first volume of his new Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Fiction for Bloomsbury. His writing has appeared in many periodicals, including the Times of London, Chronicle of Higher Education, Orion, New Statesman, and Washington Post.