An effective biographical portrait that will serve well until Lamar writes his own retrospective.

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  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of 2020

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

HOW KENDRICK LAMAR IGNITED THE SOUL OF BLACK AMERICA

The first book-length treatment of one of the decade’s most successful artists.

In July 2020, Kendrick Lamar achieved new headlines when it was announced that his 2012 album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, became the longest-charting hip-hop album in U.S. history, amassing over 400 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart. That record crowned the Compton poet as fresh royalty in the hip-hop scene, which was further underscored by a fiery, confrontational verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” In 2015, Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly, which struck a chord with a new generation of Black activists reveling in the international consciousness of Black struggle. Following the buzz surrounding Butterfly, Lamar was pushing into territory where only the timeless emcees live. In his first book, Brooklyn-based music journalist and cultural commentator Moore, who has written for the Nation, Entertainment Weekly, and the Atlantic, among other publications, shows that he’s been around the block, pulling together hundreds of sources from interviews and headlines over the years. He convincingly shows his subject’s transition from his first moniker, K-Dot, to Kendrick Lamar, as well as the development of the now-powerhouse label Top Dawg Entertainment. Early on, writes the author, “he rapped under the name K-Dot, his fire-spitting alter ego. K-Dot wasn’t about uplifting communities; he wanted to decimate everything in sight. The young man had all the technical prowess, the complex sentence structures, and the natural cadence, but he didn’t sound free.” Additionally, the author offers an insightful history of place, a narrative element that must inform any deep reading of hip-hop culture. Throughout his career, Lamar has set an impossibly high standard of confessional intimacy and passionate storytelling (his most recent album, DAMN., won a Pulitzer). In this solid introduction, Moore uses a more general approach, a wise strategy since fans already know that Lamar is the most reliable narrator of his own story. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An effective biographical portrait that will serve well until Lamar writes his own retrospective.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982107-58-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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