Despite few groundbreaking insights, this is entertaining, vivid cultural history.



A swinging, blood-drenched history about the symbiotic relationship between jazz and organized crime through much of the 20th century.

In this steamy, noirish account of the Jazz Age and beyond, similar in spirit to English’s Havana Nocturne and other books, the author takes readers from the bordellos of New Orleans and the speak-easies of Chicago to the tropical clubs of Havana and the desert empire of Vegas. The music provides the soundtrack to a wide range of illicit activity, which generated revenues that allowed the mob to flourish and to launder money from less legitimate endeavors. Within the strictures of so-called respectable society, both the Black musicians who developed jazz and the immigrants who built an empire on vice were outsiders. The musicians often felt that they had a better shot at success and protection by aligning their professional lives with the underworld rather than with the police and authorities of the straight world. Yet as nightclubs with names such as the Cotton Club and the Plantation indicate, there was plenty of racism, as well. Black musicians were often restricted to the stage, and the audience and management of the clubs were almost entirely White. English splits the narrative into two halves: In the first, the author focuses on Louis Armstrong; in the second, Frank Sinatra, both of whom had connections with organized crime throughout their careers. By the end of the century, both jazz and organized crime had changed, with the former declining in popularity and the latter in power. The civil rights and Black Power movements, as well as the progression of the music from the dance floor to the conservatory, contributed to the severing of a relationship that had allowed both to flourish through the eras of red-light districts, Prohibition, and corrupt city bosses. Much of this story has been told elsewhere, but English capably brings it back to life.

Despite few groundbreaking insights, this is entertaining, vivid cultural history.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-303141-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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