Not likely to hold wide appeal, but a solid choice for scholars and folk-music lefties.

Overdue rediscovery of folk music’s great agitator.

“I was born to be a reddical,” wrote Woody Guthrie (1912–67) at age 40. His father was a socialist-hating, small-town politician, but Guthrie learned during the 1930s Dust Bowl to identify with America’s underclass, writes Kaufman (American Literature/Univ. of Central Lancashire, England; American Culture in the 1970s, 2009, etc.) in this deft exploration of the lyrics and activism of a singer-songwriter whose anti-capitalist radicalism has been buried in romantic celebration of “the Dust Bowl Troubadour.” Few Americans realize that “This Land Is Your Land,” written out of his strong dislike of Irving Berlin’s sanctimonious “God Bless America,” contains verses condemning private property and challenging the authoritarian state. The author uses many previously unpublished materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to show the singer’s efforts to expose “the system” in songs, poems and articles (his “Woody Sez” column ran for years in the People’s Daily World). A Communist sympathizer, he was not one for political theory: “His greatest artistic and critical strength,” writes Kaufman, was giving radical theory a human face. Beginning with his political awakening by California actor-activist Will Geer, who introduced Guthrie to progressive causes, the author chronicles the singer’s increasing militancy during the Popular Front and Cold War eras, including work with Lee Hays, Pete Seeger and many others in left-wing circles. By 1956, when he was committed to a psychiatric hospital with neurological disintegration from Huntington’s disease, the singer had become the “new patron saint of American folk music.” Guthrie wrote more than 3,000 songs that exist in archives; others were never written down. His political edge was lost in the mass-market folk-music revival of the 1960s, but now flourishes in the work of progressive musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Ani DiFranco and Emmylou Harris.

Not likely to hold wide appeal, but a solid choice for scholars and folk-music lefties.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-252-03602-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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