An assured hand sifting through the cultural ashes.

Music critic/biographer Tosches (The Devil and Sonny Liston, not reviewed, etc.) pens a densely informative and striking exploration of race, authenticity, and musical lineage.

The peg for it all is the author’s 20-year obsession with Emmett Miller (1900–62), a white “trick voice” singer from Macon, Georgia, who became briefly prominent with the failing Al G. Field Minstrels troupe, then recorded a series of “yodeling blues” for Okeh Records before fading into obscurity on the Southern grind circuit. Miller’s surviving music epitomized the weird 1920s-era intersections between jazz, blues, and country, despite being marginalized by the qualities Tosches finds haunting, such as its allusions to 19th-century minstrel styles and inclusion of bawdy “spoken word” routines that also were part of African-American oral tradition. Tosches alternates between his painstaking documentation of Miller’s milieu and wry commentary upon his difficult search (Miller seemingly produced amnesia in everyone who met him) as well as the necessity of such quests in our time of cultural divisiveness. He traces a fascinating portrait of pre-Depression musical ferment, with artists like Miller, Jimmie Rodgers, Cab Calloway, and Al Jolson freely borrowing ideas from one another, and little-recalled individuals like Italian-American guitarist Eddie Lang forging important links despite the music industry’s racial segregation. Miller’s best recordings (which survived via bootleg) were made in 1927 with “the Georgia Crackers,” a powerhouse ensemble including Lang, the Dorsey brothers, and Gene Krupa. Alas, the amiable Miller was evidently a profligate alcoholic, and his commercial prospects “vanished into the abyss between two times, that of the vaudeville singer . . . and that of the crooner, in which he was lost.” Like James Ellroy, Tosches uses a staccato style to make provocative points, as when examining minstrelstry and its contemporary incarnation, gangsta rap. Yet his search for Emmett Miller, which ends at the singer’s Macon tombstone, also has great poignancy, and his explication of the musical veins that run from Miller and Lang to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan is extremely striking.

An assured hand sifting through the cultural ashes.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-89507-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001


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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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