A textured story of human hope and hopelessness, of artistry that blossomed in the most daunting and, in some cases,...




A comprehensive and compassionate account of the intersections of jazz, race, and drugs in mid-20th-century America.

Journalist Torgoff (Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000, 2004, etc.), who has also worked in film production, focuses on a number of iconic characters, including Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Coltrane, William Burroughs, Miles Davis, and numerous others, exploring not only their artistry, but also their histories—and difficulties—with addictive drugs. Their stories are more or less familiar to fans of jazz and the Beats, but the author also tells us about Henry J. Anslinger, fierce head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Herbert Huncke (a lesser-known Beat writer and notorious junkie), Ruby Rosano (a heavy drug user who hung with Holiday), and others. Torgoff is a patent admirer of most of these artists, but sometimes his admiration soars a little too high: in one place, he notes (sans contradiction) that some compared Kerouac’s work to “Proust’s and Melville’s and Shakespeare’s.” The author is interested not just in explication of these often tormented yet astonishing lives, but in highlighting the cultural clashes that accompanied them. The early public disdain for jazz, the fierce and pervasive racism of the era, the demonization of drug users (he mentions some severe penalties for possession), the reluctance of traditional music and literary critics to recognize the value of what was slapping them in the face—these issues lie at the heart of the text, from first page to last. Torgoff’s descriptions of the music are excellent, yet many readers will probably wish for an accompanying CD. Listen and read and weep.

A textured story of human hope and hopelessness, of artistry that blossomed in the most daunting and, in some cases, demeaning circumstances.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-306-82475-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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