Exemplary cogitations without a trace of jargon or better-read-than-thou condescension.

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CULTURAL AMNESIA

NECESSARY MEMORIES FROM HISTORY AND THE ARTS

The humanities are everywhere, but humanism is at a premium. So observes British writer and television personality James (As of This Writing, 2003, etc.) in this collection, mixing amateurish delight and scholarly immersion in books and ideas.

It is an uncomfortable fact that a Nazi concentration-camp commander could murder the day away and then, on returning home, weep at a Brahms recording. A mere liking for books, art and music doesn’t make a person good; even Adolf Hitler thought of himself as a humanist, though, James writes, “his connection with the civilized traditions was parodic at best and neurotic always.” James adds elsewhere that the connection was more genuine than Stalin’s and Mao’s, if bested by Hitler’s comrade Goebbels, who kept a massive library and even read the books in it. Most of James’s subjects in this sprawling, sometimes impressionistic gathering of appreciations are the real deal, though. One is the largely forgotten Viennese cabaret performer Egon Friedell, who wrote a strange and centrifugal book and then committed suicide when German troops marched into Austria. Other of James’s quite diverse heroes include Albert Camus, Stefan Zweig, Ernst Robert Curtius, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and Dick Cavett, figures who run the range of European humanism, British traditionalism and, well, Nebraskan autodidacticism. James is keen on exploring influences; his essay on Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, draws in the Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran, who admired Borges’s “world citizenship” and refusal to belong to any club that would have him as a member. (Cioran’s affiliations included the fascist Iron Guard.) James inclines to conservatism, but definitely not reaction; he admires thinkers such as the anticommunist stalwart Jean-François Revel, who “has a lively appreciation of how people can get stuck with a view because it has become their identity,” and he urges the view, quite humane, that humanism is closely bound up with ideals of freedom.

Exemplary cogitations without a trace of jargon or better-read-than-thou condescension.

Pub Date: March 19, 2007

ISBN: 0-393-06116-7

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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