The blues master emerges more as a cliché than a living artist.



Unsatisfying biography of the Texas blues original.

Journalist Ensminger (Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, 2011, etc.) completed the work of his colleague O’Brien after the latter’s death in 2011. Singer/guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins’ (1912–1982) prolific recorded output revealed one of the most distinctive of blues talents. Born Sam Hopkins into a rural sharecropping family, he began playing guitar at the age of 8, picking up his older brother’s instrument. He lit out from home early and was an itinerant musician by his teens, learning at the feet of legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander. He settled in Houston’s rough Third Ward; the ghetto neighborhood remained his home until he died. The trajectory of Hopkins’ career was similar to those of many of his blues contemporaries. After years of local renown, he recorded for a number of independent R&B labels in the late 1940s and ’50s. As the ’60s turned, he cut records for folk labels catering to the growing white folk-blues market; by late in the decade, he was playing Europe, colleges and the rock ballroom circuit. Hopkins’ enormous discography and improvisatory, stream-of-consciousness style led to his lionization before his death. The authors interviewed some 130 subjects and compiled a mountain of research, but Hopkins’ essence proves elusive. The authors detail the illiterate and mistrustful musician’s affection for liquor, gambling and hard cash, but they fail to plumb his inner life. Too often, the book settles into a frustrating pileup of concert itineraries and reviews, descriptions of recording sessions, nightclub back stories, musings on Southern race relations and long-winded source quotes in need of serious pruning. Hopkins’ combative relationship with his longtime producer, manager and agent, Mack McCormick, is the only interpersonal tale spun in any depth. The interior source of his remarkable and poetic gifts remains a mystery.

The blues master emerges more as a cliché than a living artist.

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0292745155

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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