A layered portrait of the legendary singer whose self-destructiveness came to overshadow his hits.



A biography of soul singer “Wicked” Wilson Pickett (1941-2006).

Born in the rural sharecropping community of Prattville, Alabama, Pickett was known equally for his pious upbringing and participation as a singer in his church as well as his rebellious spirit and habit for troublemaking. It would be the latter that would come to define his offstage behavior, but it was his experience singing gospel that would lead to his ascendency as one of the pre-eminent soul singers of his generation. Throughout the book, Fletcher (A Light that Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, 2012, etc.) ably explores this dichotomy in Pickett’s character. Breaking through with such hits as “In the Midnight Hour” and “Land of 1000 Dances,” Pickett was a mainstay on the R&B and pop charts during the 1960s, and he was known for his work ethic in the studio. Outside the studio, however, Pickett earned his “wicked” nickname; he was a notorious womanizer and would often brandish his pistol in anger. One of the most fascinating aspects of Fletcher’s skillful biography is the ongoing subplot of Pickett’s rivalry with James Brown. Whereas Brown evolved his style through the ’60s and solidified his identity around black empowerment, Pickett remained mostly an “interpreter” of other writers’ songs and was largely ambivalent regarding social issues. Pickett’s success would dramatically change in the ’70s following a multirecord deal with RCA. Subsequent album releases would see his sales plummet, and critical responses were unkind. Growing drug and alcohol use made him increasingly unstable, a situation exacerbated by his separation from longtime partner Dovie Hall. In one of the most damning anecdotes related by the author, Pickett insisted his teenage son partake in cocaine with him. His erratic behavior only worsened, including multiple arrests, domestic abuse scandals, and some jail time, before a mild resurrection of his career before his death.

A layered portrait of the legendary singer whose self-destructiveness came to overshadow his hits.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-025294-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?