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

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WOODY GUTHRIE, AMERICAN RADICAL

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 The author uses many previously unpublished materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to show the singer’s efforts to expose “the system” in songs, poems and articles (his “Woody Sez” column ran for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. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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