More sophisticated than the typical gods-for-clods survey, but far less interesting.

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FROM OLYMPUS TO CAMELOT

THE WORLD OF EUROPEAN MYTHOLOGY

An overview, dry as the dust of the Parthenon, of the major streams of ancient European mythmaking and of modern scholarship thereon.

Leeming (English, Comp. Lit./Univ. of Conn., Storrs; Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism, 1999, etc.) is working on fertile ground here; who could fail to be fascinated, for instance, by stories of magical men who turn themselves into maggots to infest sacred cows, of giant oak trees that block out the sun, of screeching harridans whose scary hovels rest on stilts made of chicken bones? Yet, darting from one mythic tradition—Slavic, Hellenic, Celtic—to another, Leeming spends little time retelling such stories, instead offering schematic summaries of such grand tales as the Tain, the Mabinogion, and the Prose Edda, buttressed by snippets of history—a couple of pages on archaic Greece here, a paragraph on the arrival of Christianity to Ireland there. His forays into the scholarship on, say, proto-Indo-European society are similarly cursory, and they overlook the considerable controversies that have developed around such matters as the Dumezilian elaboration of that society into “tripartite functions” headed by priests and warriors (a reconstruction that, some have charged, reflects the late Georges Dumezil’s devotion to fascism more than the historical record). Leeming peppers his slender narrative with provocative remarks that bear further discussion, as when he links Adam Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand,” a metaphysical construct through and through, to “the old Judeo-Christian mythology,” adding that the modern marketplace is itself something of a mythological being. One imagines that this will be most useful for students in courses on comparative mythology. General readers certainly won’t find it a gripping read; they’ll do better to turn to The Golden Bough, whose doubtful scholarship is at least offset by good storytelling.

More sophisticated than the typical gods-for-clods survey, but far less interesting.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-19-514361-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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