This slender volume, crammed with good research, should be the paradigm for the contemporary biography.


A splendid and admirably concise biography of a tragically short-lived genius.

The first biography of Franz Schubert (1797–1828) did not appear until nearly 40 years after his death, `an inconceivable lapse of time for any other leading nineteenth-century composer,` notes critic and academic Gibbs (Music/SUNY Buffalo). In the interim, all kinds of myths arose about Schubert, many persisting to this day—the gist of them being that Schubert, dismissed by the Viennese cultural elite, lived a lonely life of wrenching poverty and died in obscurity. Gibbs, in quiet but elegantly persuasive prose, refutes these notions with convincing evidence to the contrary, consisting largely of contemporary music reviews as well as letters by Schubert's many friends. Most of these friends were well placed in Viennese society and vigorously championed his music, often effectively. Because of their efforts, by the time of Schubert's early demise, he was quite well known and respected in musical circles and was posed for a brilliant career. Gibbs quotes critics of respected musical journals holding up Schubert's late large works (i.e., string quartets and piano sonatas) against those of the recently deceased Beethoven. He also clears up the much discussed mystery of the lost `Gastein` Symphony by arguing that it was never lost at all, but is one and the same as the Ninth (“Great”) Symphony. Gibbs also gives strong evidence that Schubert, irrespective of earlier biographers' accounts, was acutely aware of his gifts and aggressively promoted his own cause until unexpectedly cut down, probably a result of his health being damaged by an earlier bout with syphilis. Gibbs also deals with claims made in the last decade by musicologist Maynard Solomon and others concerning Schubert's homosexuality: he does not deny it but notes that the evidence for the speculation is extremely skimpy. The meager basis of the rumors (gushing pronouncements of love in letters to and from his male friends) is, in Gibbs’s view, simply a misunderstanding of the 19th-century European male's expression of friendship.

This slender volume, crammed with good research, should be the paradigm for the contemporary biography.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-521-59426-X

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Cambridge Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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