A bold, fresh, and informative chronicle of music’s evolution and cultural meaning.




A revisionist history highlights music’s connections to violence, disruption, and power.

In a sweeping survey that begins in “pre-human natural soundscapes,” music historian Gioia (How To Listen to Jazz, 2016, etc.) examines changes and innovation in music, arguing vigorously that the music produced by “peasants and plebeians, slaves and bohemians, renegades and outcasts” reflected and influenced social, cultural, and political life. For the earliest humans, writes the author, music-making was far more important than simply entertainment: Songs “served as a source of transformation and enchantment for individuals and communities,” embodying myth and cultural lore. Music also was indelibly connected to violence, from troops’ drums and horns to rousing anthems. “Every violent group in history,” Gioia notes, “has its motivating songs,” evidence that music “is a mighty force” for change. Disruption, however, was not limited to martial music. Once the audience emerged “as the judge of aesthetic merit during the late medieval period and Renaissance,” music changed from an art sanctioned by aristocracy and the church to one that pleased “the untutored crowd.” Popular musicians presented themselves as dramatic, artistic personalities; when they offered works celebrating “love and glory, the singer emerged as the focal point of the lyrics, the real subject of every song.” Gioia aims to overturn long-held images of many composers: Beethoven, for example, was hardly “the ultimate classical music insider, the bedrock of the symphonic tradition,” but rather a passionate personality whose “strange, peculiar, arbitrary, bizarre, mysterious, gloomy and laborious” music caused him, early in his career, to be considered “a volatile outsider whose impulses needed to be held in check.” With Beethoven, writes the author, “everything gets viewed through a prism of revolution, upheaval, and clashing value systems.” That desire to upend the status quo has invigorated music, whether it is jazz, folk music, hip-hop, or electrified bands. Despite efforts to quash innovation, “in the long term, songs tend to prevail over even the most authoritarian leaders.”

A bold, fresh, and informative chronicle of music’s evolution and cultural meaning.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4436-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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