The late jazz musician Sun Ra, who claimed to be from Saturn, is vividly and respectfully portrayed and defended against those who thought this self-described jester of the creator was a crackpot. Sun Ra, born Henry Poole Blount in 1914, always elicited a strong response with his music and ideas. Norman Mailer claimed the strangely horrible music cured him of a cold. One jazz critic seeing a show in 1967 wrote, ``There is no pigeon-hole for it. It is ugly and beautiful and terribly interesting.'' Sun Ra's music was well grounded in traditional jazz, but his wild sensibilities could drive the music into extreme breakdowns of noise—not to be purposefully obtuse or avant-garde, but because Sun Ra was on an all-consuming quest for truth in his music, which he once called a cosmic newspaper. He rehearsed his band endlessly and discouraged drinking, drug use, and womanizing. This rigor was a surprising backdrop to what often seemed like ``love generation'' sensibilities. The band wore wild hats, old opera costumes or African clothes, danced in the aisles, and played with improvisational abandon. As elucidated by Szwed (Anthropology, Afro-American Studies, Music, and American Studies/Yale) Sun Ra's seemingly outlandish ideas make a certain sense. For instance, the musician's claim to be Sun Ra from Saturn is placed in the cultural context of ``ritual renaming'' among African-Americans, from Malcolm X to Duke Ellington. Much space is also devoted to explaining Egyptology and other important ideas that led Sun Ra to fertile areas of thought and creativity. Readers will find some of Sun Ra's ideas hard to swallow. Listeners to his music will find some passages difficult or unlistenable. But Szwed also makes a strong case for Sun Ra as creative genius. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 28, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-43589-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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