Not My Father's Son

Not My Father's Son

A Memoir

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
Publisher: New York : Dey Street, an imprint of William Morrow Publishers, ©2014.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062225061
Characteristics: 294 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Oct 09, 2019

This memoir by Scottish actor Alan Cumming is a both serious and fun look at family history and discovering the past.

Sep 26, 2019

I found this book by accident. My husband,knowing what a fan of "The Good Wife" I am, saw this in our local library and showed it to me. Without even looking at the jacket, I immediately checked it out. I knew I'd like it but I didn't expect to love it.

I learned so many things from this book. I learned about Scotland, about certain terms used by the Scottish, and I learned some fascinating history.

However, I also learned that Alan Cumming, whom I knew so little about before reading this book, is a gentle and kind man. I don't know him personally of course (unfortunately); but that's what this book conveyed about his personality.

It's more than an autobiography, which I loved because it was more like a novel that I couldn't put down, wanting to see what would happen to the character next. And that's what made this book so great; I've never read a book like this; an autobiography that reads like a dramatic novel. In it, Alan describes his monster of a father and what he went through as a child at the hand of this monster. I cringed at some of the things he went through, unable to imagine how anyone could stay so strong through such an ordeal. There are a couple of startling twists that had me on the edge of my seat, both at the onset and when the truth was revealed and I love that they were interspersed throughout the book, so just when you thought you'd forgotten all about it, it hits you in the face.

This isn't just an autobiography that describes the jagged relationship that Alan and his brother had with their father. It's also a fascinating history lesson in which he describes the challenges he went through while searching for answers about the fate of his late grandfather.

The book flips back and forth from "Then to Now" as described in the chapters but does so in a way that's not confusing. I really liked that the chapters were short which allowed me to read this quickly, since it really is a page-turner. I finished it in ten days, which is quite a feat for me. I haven't read a book that quickly in a long time.

I highly recommend this book, although it does have a fair amount of swearing and it's very raw and honest. It's definitely one of the best autobiographies I've ever read and it makes me want to see more of Alan's work on screen (TV and in movies). This had to have been an extremely hard book to write and I really admire him for doing it. I echo the sentiments of others who say they wanted to give him a big hug after reading this.

A while back I found an article in the paper that Alan wrote about hosting the Tony's and it was as though I was reading an extension of this book; I had become so used to his "voice". . Being a fan of "The Good Wife", I only get to hear Alan's "American" accent and it makes me wish they had let him speak in his beautiful Scottish accent.

Such a great book and I highly recommend it. But given how long this review is, that probably goes without saying.

Jul 09, 2019

I’ve been a fan of Alan Cumming since I was 12 and discovering my love of theatre, but that is 100% not needed to read this. Most of the book is laid out in the format of “then and now”. A scene from Cumming’s childhood that shares similar themes to or contrasts his current situation. Although it’s a biography, the book may very well be a soap opera mystery. The past that Cumming documents is intense, (here is a good place to mention that I would not read this book if physical abuse is potentially triggering to you) and the more recent contrasting story is something out of a daytime drama show. They tie together impossibly well. Cumming's writing style is highly engaging and interesting. Rating: 5/5. @Mae of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Feb 02, 2019

I first really became aware of Alan Cumming through a monologue he performed for the 2017 BBC miniseries, QUEERS; since then, I’ve seen him on INSTINCT and in BERNARD AND THE GENIE (and I hope to see more of his film and TV roles soon), have read his photographic memoir, YOU GOTTA GET BIGGER DREAMS, and I’ve recently started reading his 2002 fictional work, TOMMY. (I also happen to follow him on social media.) Having said all of this, you might think that I’ve developed preconceptions about him. Well, I haven’t.

I’m an avid reader of biographies and memoirs, for I contend that you can’t really appreciate someone’s work until you understand them for who they are, as multidimensional, complex, imperfect human beings; after all, one can’t solely be defined by their public image. Autobiographies are especially helpful in this regard, to my way of thinking, as they allow readers a glimpse into the minds and thought processes of their subjects. Having said this, what I appreciate most about NOT MY FATHER'S SON is that Alan Cumming doesn’t make any attempt to avoid covering the darkest chapters of his life (just as John Denver candidly wrote about his own personal demons and struggles in his 1994 autobiography, TAKE ME HOME), while still showing himself to be the funny, gentle, and genuinely sweet man that he is. And when you consider all that his father put him through, it’s remarkable that he came out as well as he did.

Interestingly, reading this book caused me to reflect on the relationship that I once had with my own father, which, I must say, was far from ideal. A key difference, though, is that Alan saw that his father may have had reasons for being so abusive, and made an effort to better understand those reasons, and ultimately forgave him; my own father’s actions, however, have absolutely no justifiable pretext. (As such, I haven’t spoken to him for close to a decade.)

Long story short, any Alan Cumming fan worth their salt shouldn't go without reading this. In fact, I would recommend it to just about anyone.

Oct 24, 2018

I have a deeper respect for Alan after reading this book.

He showed such bravey and strength in writing this memoir. It's not meant to make you feel sorry for him, quite the opposite really.

I will definitely be recommending this to friends and family.

PimaLib_ChristineR Aug 24, 2018

This book could easily have fallen into "my dad was an abusive git, please feel sorry for me." Yet it did not. There are several factors that saved this book.

First of all is that Cumming is as charming and witty with the written word as he appears to be on the stage and screen. Besides his life story, he has fun little asides, like talking the Eurovision Song Contest with Antonio Banderas, or this insight from a character he played in drag: "For yes, being a woman, even one with a penis and for the purposes of drama, really made me feel that women have been coerced into a way of presenting themselves that is basically a form of bondage. Their shoes, their skirts, even their nails seem designed to stop them from being able to escape whilst at the same time drawing attention to their sexual and secondary sexual characteristics."

Second is that the book feels like Cumming writing to himself: writing to try and understand his father, and the further he gets into the writing, the more clear it becomes that like so many things in life, there will be no answer. There is no explanation for or revelation about the meanings behind evil actions and Cumming comes to accept this.

Finally, his appearance on "Who Do You Think You Are?" is described in heartbreaking detail and the outcome of his search has such profound meaning for his brother and mother as well as himself.

Cumming is a master of stepping outside of himself to describe his actions and reactions, pulling the reader strongly into the emotional content while he himself is technical in his descriptions of pain, fear and shock. When speaking of his childhood he says, "Everything we liked or wanted or felt joy in had to be hidden or suppressed. I’m sad to say that this method works. If you don’t give as much credence or value to whatever it is that you love, it hurts less when it is inevitably taken from you."

I generally do not read biography or autobiography, but I can recommend this without reservation and with a box of tissues. And the ending is as satisfying as anything dreamt of in the world of fiction.

Jun 21, 2018

Gripping reading. I was so surprised. Wow. Loved the "Then" and "Now" format which points to how events in our early years shape our futures. It made me think and feel that I could write a book myself! It is approximately an 8th grade reading level - but excellent nonetheless - and hopefully will therefore attract and reach the widest possible audience. It is an extremely uplifting and helpful book.

ArapahoeTiegan Jul 19, 2017

This book gave me so many feels. I ended up finishing it in less than 24 hours - I just couldn't put it down. What a beautiful story of Alan Cumming confronting his past and his family history at practically the same time and ultimately deciding to accept what was, be happy with the truth, and moving forward to live a happy life knowing that all his experiences made him the person he is - a person he is proud to be.

Aug 10, 2016

Very deeply personal story in relation to his father (who wasn't such a nice fellow/father). The story moved quickly and related to his own personal family drama with his father and also what was going on with his search during the show Who Do You Think You Are. I was very shocked by the revelations about his father.

Aug 07, 2016

Reasonably well written (there is a good chance that this memoir was mostly written by the subject himself), and eloquent on Cumming's own feelings and history. Unfortunately the author does not go the extra mile and think deeply about the feelings and histories of his parents, or other people involved. He may be trying to preserve their privacy, but that horse is out of the barn. The tone is uneven -- Cummings stops everything to discuss the Eurovision Song contest -- but there is drama in this story, and even suspense*. I recommend the audio version, which provides more subtle shades of meaning. Cumming's voice flows like butterscotch. *SPOILERS: I half expected that both the Cumming brothers would turn out not to be related to their father, or some other shocking twist. However, this is only real life.

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Sonjahv Aug 14, 2015

What had he actually done? He was just a bit strict and prone to losing his temper, wasn't he? He hit me sometimes, but everyone's dad hits them, don't they? He told me I was useless and worthless, but I have proved him wrong, haven't I? I was okay.

Jul 15, 2015

I have often thought that if Americans were more exposed to this wonder (Eurovision Song Contest) there would not only be a huge surge in their understanding of British wit and irony, but they would perhaps be able to appreciate without shame the value of a good old-fashioned tacky pop song.


Add a Summary
Jul 15, 2015

An exploration of this well known actor's past and early family life. As he has a chance to find out more about his genealogy, he also comes to terms with his fractured relationship with a distant father. Brave, funny, fascinating. Really enjoyed it.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Library

To Top