A helpful guided tour that shows how music is the perfect art form in which to “dance between genders.”

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  • Rolling Stone & Kirkus' Best Music Books of 2020



An exploration of how “music shelters gender rebellion from those who seek to abolish it.”

Popular music has always been fertile ground for expressions of sexual nonconformity, and queer and trans musicians have often ventured well beyond the gender binary—a construct, notes Geffen, that “has always limped along in pieces, easily cracked by a brief foray into the historical record.” In her debut book, the author traces gender transgression in pop music back to its roots in the blues. In the early 20th century, blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith challenged heterosexual norms in their lyrics, which feature “coded” references to gay love. From its very beginnings, Black American music included queer sexuality, and there would have been no Elvis or the Beatles without Little Richard first. Geffen capably describes musicians' strategies for breaking free of gender expectations up through the present day, with chapters on punk; glam rock; “post-punk, goth, and industrial”; Prince (yes, his own chapter); synthpop; disco and house music; hip-hop; “women’s music and riot grrrl”; grunge; and “the formless internet.” Androgyny and the challenging of gender norms are constant themes. Some readers may quibble with the author’s selections—seven pages on arty provocateur Genesis P-Orridge but only two for Morrissey—and there are glaring omissions: The London Suede and Owen Pallett leap to mind. Nonetheless, Geffen's genuine enthusiasm for transgressive pop music is clear and infectious, and the chapters on punk and glam rock (Ziggy Stardust–era David Bowie "carried androgyny into the mainstream on the strength of his weird charisma") are true standouts. The book is full of insightful observations, such as the pivotal role that Wendy Carlos and Pauline Oliveros played in the development of electronic music. Likely because they are not considered pop music, genres such as gospel, classical, and jazz go largely unaddressed. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

A helpful guided tour that shows how music is the perfect art form in which to “dance between genders.”

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1878-2

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.


The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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