A deeply informed history as vigorous as Wagner’s music.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of 2020



A wide-ranging, erudite examination of how Richard Wagner’s influence has extended far beyond the opera house.

Award-winning New Yorker music critic Ross places Wagner (1813-1883) at the center of a capacious, fascinating history of Western culture. Focused on Wagner’s reception by novelists, poets, artists—and Hitler—the author argues compellingly that the “staggeringly energetic” Wagner loomed as “the presiding spirit of the bourgeois century that achieved its highest splendor around 1900”—and endures still. As Nietzsche proclaimed about the man with whom he had a tense, complicated relationship, “Wagner sums up modernity.” Drawing on a prodigious number of sources, Ross examines Wagner’s influence on the famous—Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Cezanne, Gauguin, T.S. Eliot, Woolf, Joyce, and Lawrence, among many other modernists—and infamous: Otto Weininger, whose anti-Semitic writings rival Wagner’s in virulence; and Wagner’s son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a British botanist and “German racial ideologue” who served as “the bridge between Bayreuth and Nazi Germany.” Ross probes Wagner’s attraction to Jews (Zionist Theodor Herzl, for example), Blacks (including W.E.B. Du Bois), feminists, and homosexuals despite Wagner’s professed bigotry and racism. Across Europe and in the U.S., Wagner became a cult figure: “a torchbearer of the modern” for the French; “a messenger of Arthuriana” in Britain. For Americans, “Wagner harmonized with a national love of wilderness sagas, frontier lore, Native American tales, stories of desperadoes searching for gold.” Lohengrin is a staple of weddings, and from The Birth of a Nation onward, Wagner’s music has been the soundtrack of more than 1,000 films, which have used his work “to unleash all manner of rampaging hordes, marching armies, swashbuckling heroes, and scheming evildoers.” The author asks: “In the face of a sacred monster like Wagner, what power do spectators have? Are we necessarily subject to the domination of his works, complicit in their ideology? Or, in embracing them, can we take possession of them and remake them in our own image? One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

A deeply informed history as vigorous as Wagner’s music.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-28593-7

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 19

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?