A sometimes-sad, sometimes-humorous look at ballads that have preserved a part of America’s crazed, violent history.

CrimeSong

TRUE CRIME STORIES FROM SOUTHERN MURDER BALLADS

A law professor explores the real-life events behind old American murder ballads.

Underwood (co-author: Kentucky Evidence Courtroom Manual, 2016, etc.) delves into court records, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources to find the facts underlying popular songs about grisly murders and crimes in the South in the 1800s and early 1900s. Most readers will be unfamiliar with many of these ballads, although a few, such as “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Tom Dula” (aka “Tom Dooley”), are still well-known due to having inspired later musicians such as Bob Dylan and the Kingston Trio. Underwood explores several genres, including the “ ‘murdered girl’ ballad”—often about a man drowning his female lover—as well as songs in which women kill men for revenge, whole families are slaughtered, or bystanders lose their lives. In addition to tracing the history behind each song, Underwood comments on the actual cases’ legal aspects, such as hearsay, circumstantial evidence, or the “ ‘SODI’ defense”—short for “some other dude did it.” In all, he draws a macabre historical portrait of America, its sensationalist press, and its frequent miscarriages of justice, suggesting that things haven’t changed all that much in the modern era. The book includes each of the songs’ original lyrics along with a rich lode of grainy images and references to further readings and recordings. Overall, Underwood has written a delightful book about a gruesome subject. Even when he delves into the cases and their legal issues, he employs a light touch, sprinkling his accounts with humor: “Oh hell, don’t bother with him; he ain’t nothing but a lawyer,” one defendant advises. Besides providing a revealing look at the quirky history of U.S. criminal law, the book also serves as a testament to the sheer weirdness of American culture; in one ballad, for instance, the murder of a family in Missouri is set to the sweet, sentimental tune of “Home Sweet Home.” Underwood does have an unfortunate tendency to assert that certain topics are “interesting”—a judgment best left to readers—but such lapses are rare.

A sometimes-sad, sometimes-humorous look at ballads that have preserved a part of America’s crazed, violent history.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Shadelandhouse Modern Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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