As a study in creativity, superb, though as memoir, partial and a touch reluctant. Whatever the case, essential for any...

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I AM BRIAN WILSON

A MEMOIR

Everyone’s favorite musical mad scientist reveals a troubled yet hopeful life.

Famously, as depicted in the recent film Love & Mercy, Wilson stopped touring with his band, the Beach Boys, after suffering a panic attack while on a flight to Houston in 1964. He did not retreat—not yet, anyway—from music, spending the next year thinking about what kinds of songs he wanted to write and whether pop had any sonic boundaries beyond which one could not travel. “I couldn’t really think of any limits,” he writes, and so emerged “Pet Sounds,” “Good Vibrations,” “California Girls,” and other resonant wonders. At the same time, and ever since, Wilson has battled mental illness, a malady with a clear genetic lineage, as well as the effects of abuse at the hands of his father, his psychiatrist, and the less angelic voices in his head. Chasing down his sonic visions is a matter that Wilson treats with some mystery. As he writes, he saw bits and pieces of melody go swimming by like goldfish: “They dart one way and you see a little flash of orange, but you don’t really know whether they’re coming or going.” Wilson writes as he speaks, haltingly and with a kind of sideways hesitancy born, he tells it, from being deafened by a blow from his father’s fist—which has had one salutary effect, though giving him a lopsided appearance, namely that he writes in mono: “I can only hear out of one side, which means that it’s already mixed down.” Readers seeking a tell-all will find instead delicate, thoughtful reflections on how music is made as well as wistful remembrances of Wilson’s dead brothers and band mates Carl and Dennis. When the usual villain of the Beach Boys story, Mike Love, is mentioned, it is only briefly, and then usually in connection to some legal action or another.

As a study in creativity, superb, though as memoir, partial and a touch reluctant. Whatever the case, essential for any Beach Boys fan.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-306-82306-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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

NIGHT

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

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