Informative, compelling and gleefully, unapologetically tendentious.

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JOHN HAMMOND AND THE SOUL OF AMERICAN MUSIC

Sympathetic, admiring biography of the talent scout and record producer who helped propel into popularity such legendary performers as Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

In his debut, Prial begins and ends with his sighting of John Hammond (1910–87) at a 1984 Carnegie Hall concert. The author argues that Hammond was “eerily prescient” in his recognition of talent: “He seemed to know what America wanted to hear before America knew it.” Hammond came from big Vanderbilt bucks (on his mother’s side), but he dropped out of Yale to pursue his true love—jazz. Prial portrays him as an anomaly: a dapper white man (he invariably sported a blazer and a crew cut) who hung out in Harlem and befriended musicians who would become some of the biggest names in jazz history, including Holiday, Benny Goodman and Count Basie. Hammond was also a devoted leftist; many performers recall him sitting in a studio corner reading stacks of liberal/radical magazines, and he gained early fame writing about the Scottsboro case for the Nation. The author credits his subject for integrating popular music: It was Hammond’s constant lobbying that convinced Goodman, for example, to hire gifted black musicians Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton to make his orchestra the first racially mixed band. A remarkably generous man as well, he never negotiated producer’s royalties and never expressed any subsequent regrets, despite the phenomenal success of some of his protégés. (A grateful Springsteen sang a Dylan song at his funeral.) Prial does not dwell on Hammond’s failed first marriage, nor on his reputation as “less than a doting father,” preferring to emphasize his professional achievements. He wasn’t a producer in the contemporary sense (his studio style was laissez-faire) and as a talent-meister he was occasionally wrong (the Nutty Squirrels never caught on), but the man who nurtured and promoted iconic artists from the 1930s through the ’80s gets from Prial the respect he deserves.

Informative, compelling and gleefully, unapologetically tendentious.

Pub Date: July 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-11304-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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