Country music is America’s music—which is to say, music from every culture and ethnicity. An essential guide.

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COUNTRY MUSIC

AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY

Lucid, jam-packed, richly illustrated companion to the Ken Burns documentary series.

Was Earl Scruggs the Eddie Van Halen of his day? Quoting John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Duncan (Seed of the Future: Yosemite and the Evolution of the National Park Idea, 2013, etc.) makes the connection between the banjo master and the guitar shredder: “It was so fast. It was what excited people.” In the same way, Hank Williams was a punk rocker in his time, while Willie Nelson—well, Willie is unmistakably himself. As Rhiannon Giddens, of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, has lately been demonstrating, country music is the music of rural blacks, whites, and Native people, a style, writes the author, that “was not invented; it emerged.” Rising from the bottom up and drawing, like the blues, on black gospel, country music was popularized by the new medium of radio, becoming a staple through “hillbilly” variety shows throughout the South. As a mix of ethnic forms, it ironically slipped through Henry Ford’s racist denunciation of jazz, gaining in popularity at the same time. Some country stars came to prominence accidentally: Roy Acuff might have been a baseball star had it not been for a case of sunstroke, and had he not been abused as a child, Hank Snow might not have run away from home. And then there are the working-class strivers: the ill-fated Williams, Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline. Duncan has broad tastes and an appreciation for the many strains that feed into the musical form, so that Dwight Yoakam, the Judds, Gram Parsons, and Guy Clark get as much play as Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. He also tracks the rising and waning commercial fortunes of country, which found plenty of room for the likes of Garth Brooks and new pop-y stars while freezing out old-timers like Nelson and Cash.

Country music is America’s music—which is to say, music from every culture and ethnicity. An essential guide.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52054-2

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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