Sister Rosetta deserves better than this sleepy, uncritical tome.

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SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT!

THE UNTOLD STORY OF ROCK-AND-ROLL TRAILBLAZER SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

Guitar-wielding gospel grande dame gets her first full-length biography.

Though Sister Rosetta Tharpe definitely had an impact on many rock guitarists, the book’s subtitle is marketing sleight-of-hand. Tharpe wasn’t a rock-’n’-roller—she was a holy roller, a Pentecostal shouter and refined picker who was one of the top sacred-music performers of her day. It’s true that she see-sawed between the gospel and secular worlds: 1930s releases like “Rock Me” and “This Train” were church roof-raisers, but she was soon recording with Lucky Millinder’s big band and playing decidedly ungodly venues like New York’s Cotton Club and Café Society. She returned to the gospel road in the mid-’40s, and her career didn’t recover until her embrace by European blues revivalists in the ’60s; she died in 1973, at age 58. Sister Rosetta’s fascinating experiences fail to come alive in this lugubrious narrative. Wald (English/George Washington Univ.) is madly in love with her subject and treats with rapture even such grotesque incidents as Tharpe’s 1951 wedding before a paid crowd of 20,000 in a Washington ballpark. Though based on dozens of interviews, her work reads more like a full-length mash note than a carefully researched biography. The reader learns little about Tharpe’s three husbands, even though the third—Russell Morrison—was her manager for nearly 20 years. Old rumors about bisexuality are mentioned, only to be quickly dismissed. Wald writes virtually nothing about how Tharpe learned to play or from whom, neglecting the historical roots of her dazzling guitar style. Nor does the author have anything to say about the essential, abiding conflict between Tharpe’s sacred and worldly sides.

Sister Rosetta deserves better than this sleepy, uncritical tome.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2007

ISBN: 0-8070-0984-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2006

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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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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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