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THE LOST PIANOS OF SIBERIA

An absorbing history illuminates a bleak landscape.

Across the vast expanse of Siberia, pianos brought culture and consolation.

British journalist Roberts makes an engaging book debut with a chronicle of her travels through Siberia searching for pianos. Guided by a history of 19th-century Russian piano makers, the author was aware of the proliferation and distribution of pianos, some manufactured by Western companies, far from Russia’s major cities. By the end of the 19th century, one workshop in St. Petersburg alone had built more than 11,000 pianos, many of which were hauled by sledge to outposts in Siberia. “East of the Urals,” Roberts writes, “music teachers were paid two to three times the amount they earned in Western Russia. In these new towns of the expanding Empire, the piano played an even more important social role than it did in a Moscow drawing room.” In the town of Tomsk, for example, a place Chekhov found boring, a chapter of the Imperial Russian Music Society incited a flourishing musical culture. Its grand piano was chosen by the brother of famed pianist Anton Rubinstein. Besides forming the center of cultural life for residents who settled in Siberia hoping for fortune, freedom, or a new beginning, pianos were crucial to the region’s many penal colonies, where classical music elicited “a keen sense of European identity and pride.” In Kolyma, near the Sea of Okhotsk, Roberts recalls the “political dissidents, hardened criminals, recidivist killers, invalids half dead with dystrophy, poets, pianists, and starving women” brought by Stalin’s gulag ships. Even in that harsh colony, there was a grand piano, housed in a building constructed by prisoners. Roberts describes vividly the “bald, scarred, austere” landscapes that make up much of Siberia as well as the often eccentric individuals—many of them piano tuners—who assisted in her quest. Aiming “to celebrate all that is magnificent about Siberia,” Roberts realized that often the pianos she found were “tied up with a terrifying past.”

An absorbing history illuminates a bleak landscape. (b/w illustrations; maps)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4928-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2017


  • New York Times Bestseller


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  • National Book Award Finalist

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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HIP-HOP IS HISTORY

Questlove’s instincts as a superfan and artist take this history beyond the hype to something very special.

A memorable, masterful history of the first 50 years of an indelible American art form.

While historians often cast themselves as omniscient in their works, delivering facts and stories as important without acknowledging the impact of their own experiences on the narrative process, Questlove—drummer, DJ, music historian, and author of Mo’ Meta Blues, Creative Quest, and Music Is History—is forthcoming about the fact that he experienced music differently as he grew older. “I wasn’t sitting down for five hours listening to them over and over and over again, trying to unpack every nuance from every corner,” he writes, recalling his feelings decades into his relationship with the genre. “But I was—I am—a DJ, which meant that I had a professional interest in excavating the songs that worked.” The author’s observations spanning the entirety of hip-hop’s history are consistently illuminating—e.g., connecting its shift in five-year increments to the dominant drug of the period, from crack to sizzurp to opioids. However, it’s his personal connection to certain eras that make his latest book stand out. Questlove considers the late 1980s and early ’90s as the “golden age of hip-hop, when innovative MCs and innovative DJs seemed to spring up every few months, and classic albums regularly sprouted on the vine.” That era—filled with masterpieces from Public Enemy, De La Soul, and N.W.A.—is universally revered, but Questlove also recognizes that it coincides with the years between high school and when he officially became an artist—a time when he was immersed in finding inspiration and understanding the construction of hip-hop. While the author’s knowledge of hip-hop is as deep as any musicologist, it’s his passion for certain artists and songs that sets him apart.

Questlove’s instincts as a superfan and artist take this history beyond the hype to something very special.

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780374614072

Page Count: 352

Publisher: AUWA/MCD

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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