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BECOMING BELAFONTE

BLACK ARTIST, PUBLIC RADICAL

So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?

The rise of the once-popular singer and actor (b. 1927) who used his celebrity and suasion to aid liberal causes.

Few books have a more accurate title and subtitle than this one. Smith (American Studies/Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston; Visions of Belonging: Family Stories, Popular Culture, and Postwar Democracy, 1940-1960, 2004, etc.) focuses sharply on Belafonte’s background: his boyhood in Harlem, early departure from high school, stint in the segregated U.S. Navy, experiences with Jim Crow (which outraged him) and eventual decision to become an actor in New York. Smith periodically reminds us of Belafonte’s friendship with singer/actor/political activist Paul Robeson, who served as mentor for the young man and whom Belafonte continues to credit. The author also shows how Belafonte, discouraged that there were so few acting opportunities for black performers, moved toward music, a career for which he’d had no formal training or real experience. But he had talent. He had colleagues and mentors ranging from Charlie Parker to folksingers of the 1940s and ’50s: Lead Belly, Josh White, Pete Seeger and others. As Smith points out repeatedly, Belafonte also had an electrifying stage presence and a steamy sexuality that soon rocketed him into popularity. He devoted himself to human rights causes throughout his career, using his celebrity and evincing no fear that he would hurt himself financially. He became an intimate of Martin Luther King Jr. and used his unusual (for the time) access to TV and movies to promote his agenda. Smith gives us plenty of detail about his movies (the good, bad and ugly), his recordings, his relationships with women, and his battles with the ugly racial status quo in 1950s and ’60s America.

So engaging that readers will crave a sequel: Belafonte since the ’70s?

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-292-72914-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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NIGHT

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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