WHY SINATRA MATTERS

What a perfect match: the world’s greatest “saloon singer” eulogized superbly by the author of The Drinking Life (1993). Hamill knew Sinatra, nearly co-authored the singer’s autobiography, and in preparation for that never-to-be-written volume, the duo had many long conversations. But this slender volume, an essay really, is not the collection of revelations and self-justifications that a ghosted autobiography might have been. Rather, it’s an unusually thoughtful contribution to the growing body of literature of appreciation of Sinatra as an artist, a supreme interpreter of the great American popular song. Hamill has a good journalist’s finely tuned antenna for the Zeitgeist. In his recounting of Sinatra’s career (the author limits himself tellingly to the rise to stardom, the disastrous fall in the early 1950s and the comeback shortly after), Hamill’s antennae get a useful workout. More than almost any other of Sinatra’s critics, he understands the centrality of the immigrant experience (both Sinatra’s parents were born in Italy), Prohibition, and the Second World War to Sinatra’s career and his meaning as an icon. At the same time, Hamill is savvy enough to know what he doesn’t know; like any good reporter, he relies on well-chosen expert testimony to fill in the blanks, here mostly in technical matters of music-making. And while Hamill is clearly not an entirely objective observer, a point he addresses with candor, this is anything but a bronzing. The essay touches on Sinatra’s failings with frankness (no pun intended), and if the author dismisses the stories about Sinatra’s Mob ties a little too quickly to satisfy some carpers, he does so with a deft intelligence that brings us back to the most important point: “In the end only the work matters. Sinatra’s finest work was making music.” Despite its brevity, Why Sinatra Matters belongs in any collection of important books on American popular music of the 20th Century.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-316-34796-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

NIGHT

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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