An effusive celebration of a multitalented performer.



The story of an African American superstar who brought jazz roots to the Great American Songbook.

Music historian, journalist, and producer Friedwald offers an admiring and overwhelmingly thorough biography of Nathaniel Adams Coles (1919-1965), better known as Nat King Cole. Performing as a jazz pianist from the age of 18, Cole assembled a trio that included a guitarist and a bassist who, it turns out, gave the group its name: “I thought of ‘Old King Cole was a merry old soul,’ you know, and that’s what gave me the idea of calling him Nat King Cole.” For the next decade, the King Cole Trio was “the most popular ‘combo’ of its era,” not least because of Cole’s singing. Although Cole attributed his success to luck, Friedwald makes much of the “superlative musical intelligence” that informed his savvy decisions about genre, songs, venues, arrangers, and record companies. In 1943, Cole decided to promote the catchy original song “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which became “a late swing-era anthem” after it was heard on radio and in the Trio’s first recording with Capitol Records. That song “accelerated the Trio’s ascent into the stratosphere” and catapulted Cole to fame. Choosing that particular song “was no accident,” according to Friedwald, but a move made “with the tactical skill and ingenuity of the scientists at Los Alamos”; it “proved that he was the Robert Oppenheimer of pop music.” Chronicling Cole’s career year by year in dense detail, the author examines live and recorded performances, singles, albums, TV shows, and movies, analyzing music, lyrics, and arrangements. As far as Cole’s personal life, he recounts racist incidents against Cole (he once was assaulted onstage in Alabama), his family (residents protested when he bought a house in a wealthy white neighborhood), and his property (a devastating IRS investigation, Cole thought, was racially motivated); portrays his second marriage as deeply loving—until it wasn’t; and defends Cole’s lack of involvement with his children as a consequence of being on the road.

An effusive celebration of a multitalented performer.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-088204-4

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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?

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

Did you like this book?