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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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