IRONS IN THE FIRE

Nothing, it seems, is beyond McPhee's purview, and these seven essays (which first ran in the New Yorker) offer further evidence that in the right hands even the most prosaic of topics harbors an unsuspected richness of surprising facts and fancies. McPhee (The Ransom of Russian Art, 1994; Looking for a Ship, 1990, etc.) casts his net wide. The title essay describes his journey to Nevada to examine the process of branding cattle. Along the way, he turns up tales of high-tech cattle rustling and offers some typically shrewd glimpses of the lives of ranchers and cattle-brand inspectors. Lyrical to a deadpan fault, McPhee can describe a lowing herd as no other writer: "They sound like baritone whales. They sound like jets passing overhead without Doppler effect. They sound like an all-tuba band warming up." Elsewhere, on more familiar but no less startling ground for his readers, McPhee looks at forensic geology, relating how beer magnate Adolph Coors's killer was tracked down through careful study of the mineral grains deposited on a car's underside, and describes how an FBI geologist helped to solve the murder in Mexico—no thanks to the corrupt Mexican police—of Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique Salazar. Perhaps the most fascinating piece here concerns one of the most ubiquitous objects in contemporary society—tires. McPhee visits the largest tire dumps in America, interviews an assortment of surprisingly visionary entrepenuers, and emerges, as usual, with an arcane yet impressive array of statistics; for example, three billion tires sit discarded in the US, from which 178 million barrels of oil could be recovered. McPhee also profiles a blind writer who relies on a humorously idiosyncratic talking computer, describes the efforts of a mason to repair the cracks in Plymouth Rock, and in one of his more uncharacteristic essays, attends a unique auction of exotic cars in Pennsylvania. Newcomers to McPhee, welcome. For old hands, more of the unique pleasures you have come to expect.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-374-17726-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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