Lively, opinionated, and dense with detail, Magnusson's tome belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in matters Scottish.

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SCOTLAND

THE STORY OF A NATION

Almost as weighty as the Stone of Destiny, this vast, superb history relates Scotland's past over a dozen millennia.

Devotees of BBC America and the History Channel may know Magnusson, familiar on UK airwaves as a historian of the British Isles. The Icelandic transplant, an archaeologist and prolific author (The Vikings, 2001, etc.) and translator (The Fish Can Sing, 2001, etc.), has a greater sense of Scottish history than do most natives. He is thus admirably suited to the difficult task of condensing Scotland's history—made dauntingly complicated by family rivalries, contending clans, and ceaseless tensions with sometime-conqueror, England—into a coherent narrative. Magnusson begins by promising to undo a few “cherished conceptions” about Scottish history, while advancing a few of his own. Along the way he considers such oddities as whether the tartan is a comparatively modern invention and whether Macbeth and Thorfinn the Mighty, the Norse earl of Orkney, might not have been one and the same. More seriously, he closely examines the effects of the 18th-century union with England and the cost and benefits to both countries, and the apparent inability of Scots throughout history to unite without betraying one another. Magnusson takes care to set events on the ground, giving driving directions to the remotest places, so that readers can see battlegrounds and ruins for themselves, and he lingers over curious artifacts (for instance, a box made of the wood from a great tree called Wallace's Oak and given to George Washington, “the Wallace of America”). His narrative ends in 1999, when a Scottish parliament convened for the first time in almost 300 years, and the legend-shrouded Stone of Destiny was returned to Edinburgh from Westminster Abbey—whereupon, Magnusson wryly remarks, this talisman of Scottish nationhood “lost all its potency as a symbol and became just another ordinary and undistinguished chunk of rock.”

Lively, opinionated, and dense with detail, Magnusson's tome belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in matters Scottish.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-87113-798-4

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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