THE RIVER AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

A JOURNEY UP THE YANGTZE AND BACK IN CHINESE TIME

Winchester (Pacific Rising, 1992, etc.) depicts the central role of the Yangtze in China's long, tumultuous history in a lively narrative that ranges from the scholarly to the surreal to the truly harrowing. Winchester and Lily, his tenacious Chinese assistant, begin their voyage at the mouth of the 3,900-mile-long river, alighting first at Shanghai, where they find a city fiercely shrugging off its 19th-century colonial past and rushing to 21st-century preeminence. Farther upstream they disembark at the most odoriferous city on the river, Zhenjiang, famous for its vinegar factory; tour a tea institute at Lushan, at which a Kafkaesque meeting with ``sleepy, bad-tempered men'' yields a hilarious session of non sequiturs; visit a famous quack herbalist in Lijang who diagnoses Winchester's problems (inaccurately) at a glance: ``Blood pressure, anxiety, loose bowels.'' They get a firsthand look at the Yangtze's power, viewing the aftermath of a flood. While Winchester has his doubts as to whether the current flood is exaggerated by officials as public relations for the Three Gorges dam project, Yangtze flooding, as he points out, has had a catastrophic history; in 1931 alone, more than 140,000 Chinese died when the river overflowed. Recounting the misgivings that the world community harbors about a project that poses massive safety, environmental, and financial problems, Winchester notes that well over one million people will be forcibly relocated, their land covered by a lake 372 miles long. The project will cost the Chinese some $36 billion. Journeying past the dam site, Winchester and his cohort reach the upper Yangtze at Yibin, where the river completes its plunge from its source glacier to the sea, having dropped some 17,660 feet during its passage. The writing here, as elsewhere in this laudable account, is exact and vivid. Both scholarly and slyly observant, this is a terrific read, which should be savored slowly—perhaps with some Lushan Misty Clouds Green Tea. (maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-3888-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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