Some solid observations ultimately get mired in the Mississippi mud.

ESCAPING THE DELTA

ROBERT JOHNSON AND THE INVENTION OF THE BLUES

A reconsideration of the Mississippi blues singer’s legend in the context of the popular music of his time.

Wald, author of the engaging 2001 musical travelogue Narcocorridos, attempts to debunk the sizable myths surrounding Robert Johnson, today the most lionized of ’30s Delta blues singers. Most of this heavily researched work is devoted not to Johnson, but to the evolution of blues as the popular entertainment of African-Americans. Wald notes that Johnson was a minor commercial figure whose archaic-sounding solo recordings stood in marked contrast to the slick blues hits of his day. He also points out that Johnson’s handful of recordings synthesized, and often purloined, the work of such bestselling contemporaries as Lonnie Johnson, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Kokomo Arnold, as well as such important but comparatively obscure Mississippi musicians as Son House and Skip James. Wald’s central point is that the errant contemporary perception of Johnson as a haunted, “primitive” artist and the key figure of Delta blues grew out of the highly romantic conceptions of such (white) promoters and archivists as John Hammond and Alan Lomax, whose notions were accepted as gospel by the (white) audiences and musicians who made Johnson a posthumous superstar. While one can’t really argue with these conclusions, the reading is unusually heavy sailing. Those seeking fresh insight into Johnson’s music will be disappointed, since chapters about the purported subject offer no new information and little original analysis. The main thesis—which is not exactly stop-the-presses news to blues aficionados, but which could pique come-lately fans—is laboriously developed; it takes Wald, usually a briskly effective writer, more than a hundred lugubrious pages to finally arrive at Johnson’s doorstep. In the end, this is essentially an academic enterprise. Should anyone really be surprised that, at a distance of 65 years, today’s white blues listeners receive Robert Johnson’s music in a very different manner than his original black audience did?

Some solid observations ultimately get mired in the Mississippi mud.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-052423-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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