Despite its wealth of detail, this is a portrait left half-painted.

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ALAN LOMAX

THE MAN WHO RECORDED THE WORLD

Overdue, hagiographic biography of the folk-song collector.

Szwed (Music and Jazz Studies/Columbia Univ.; Crossovers: Essays on Race, Music, and American Culture, 2005, etc.) piles up mountains of research on the prolific career of folklorist, author, producer, radio host, filmmaker, musician and impresario Lomax (1915–2002). Son of Texas scholar John A. Lomax, he put his father’s life on a new track in 1933, when, at teenaged Alan’s urging, the pair undertook a Southern recording expedition for the Library of Congress, which climaxed with the discovery of singer-guitarist Lead Belly. The younger Lomax went on to extensively document the music of Haiti, conduct famous sessions with Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters and rescue jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton from obscurity. As the government scrutinized his leftist affiliations during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, Lomax left the United States for eight years in European exile, and he recorded a celebrated series of albums on the music of the British Isles, Spain and Italy. Upon his return, he revisited the South in 1959 to cut a storied series of albums for Atlantic Records. Lomax later developed Cantometrics, an ambitious cross-disciplinary system aimed at classifying world folk music. Szwed delineates Lomax’s work down to the last detail; even unfulfilled projects are discussed at stultifying length. But the author observes that work uncritically and tartly dismisses others’ reservations about his subject’s endeavors—e.g., his self-serving managerial dealings with Lead Belly, or the romanticism and inaccuracies of his 1993 book The Land Where the Blues Began. Mystifyingly, Lomax’s personal life gets scant consideration. His fraught, oft-competitive relationship with his father received deeper treatment in Last Cavalier, Nolan Porterfield’s 1996 biography of John Lomax. The younger Lomax’s life with two wives, lover and collaborator Shirley Collins and companion of 23 years Carol Kulig and his apparently chronic philandering are also left unexplored. Lomax emerges as a brilliant, driven and often conflicted man who revolutionized the study of folk music, but in the end the interior sources of his genius remain unplumbed.

Despite its wealth of detail, this is a portrait left half-painted.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02199-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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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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