Rich in history but short on personal reflection, this book is more for Asian history buffs than fans of travel literature.

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BLACK DRAGON RIVER

A JOURNEY DOWN THE AMUR RIVER AT THE BORDERLANDS OF EMPIRES

A journalist’s account of his travels along the Amur, a spectacular but largely uncelebrated river on the border between Russia and China.

The Amur is the ninth largest river in the world. Yet for Economist Asia editor Ziegler, it remained “the longest river [he] had never heard of.” As he was to learn, part of the river’s mystery stemmed from the numerous name changes it had undergone over time. The Manchus once called it Sahaliyan Ula, or the Black River, while modern Russians call it the Amure, a name they derived from an old Daurian word (Amur) that meant “good peace.” In this book, Ziegler chronicles his travels along the length of the Amur from its Mongolian source, the Onon River, to its endpoint 2,826 miles west in the Strait of Tartary. His journey, which he made by horse, Jeep, and train, took him through difficult yet unforgettable landscapes and brought him into contact with a host of intriguing individuals. However, his narrative is far more concerned with setting forth the complex history of both the river and the two nations it separates than with his own impressions of places and people. Ziegler begins his historical account with the story of Genghis Khan, who learned to fish in the Onon. His violence and aggression not only led to the creation of the Mongolian Empire, but also permanently marked that region afterward. More than seven centuries later, Russian czars obsessed with the idea that Russian greatness depended on expanding into China fought and killed their way east while focusing on the Amur as their path to a strategic port in the Pacific. Ziegler is exceptionally knowledgeable about the Amur region and its relationship to the current tensions that define the China-Russia relationship, but more often than not, the historical and political information he offers overwhelms the travel narrative.

Rich in history but short on personal reflection, this book is more for Asian history buffs than fans of travel literature.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59420-367-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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