Some solid observations ultimately get mired in the Mississippi mud.

READ REVIEW

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more