COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE

A CELEBRATION OF ALSO-RANS, RUNNERS-UP, NEVER-WERES, AND TOTAL FLOPS

Readers expecting an antic appreciation of laughingstocks through the ages will be justifiably disappointed by this wry, selective, and self-absorbed compilation. Steinberg, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, offers seriocomic perspectives on would-be winners consigned to history's dustbin by virtue of their second-best or unavailing efforts to reach their objectives. Cases in point range from the unsung mountaineers who stopped short of Everest's peak through Elisha Gray (whose telephone patent application was filed hours after Alexander Graham Bell's); prodigies who outlived their youthful achievements (Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Orson Welles, Thomas Pynchon, Michael Jackson, et al.); and commercial products that proved to be drugs on the market (butane candles, Corfam shoes, the Edsel, SelectaVision, the smokeless cigarette). Covered as well are impossible dreams like cold fusion and perpetual-motion machines, as well as the 1993 National Spelling Bee, which produced nearly 9 million losers. While combing the Global Village's archives for evidence of ill-fated institutions and individuals, the 34-year-old author gives himself almost equal time. Indeed, Steinberg's consciously rueful accounts of his own life and career amount to a stealth autobiography. In certain instances (e.g., when he recalls climbing the television tower of the Windy City's John Hancock Building on assignment for his newspaper), the personal recollections afford a resonant point of reference for briefings on the hapless ones who could not make it up some slippery slope or other. On balance, unfortunately, the author's inch-deep reflections on his own experiences do precious little to complement, let alone illuminate, discursive takes on the forgotten strivers whose setbacks have helped define success. Droll rather than hilarious, and more elegiac than celebratory: a dispensable example of vaulting ambition that o'erleaps itself. (First serial to Granta; Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-385-47291-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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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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