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

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 The author uses many previously unpublished materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to show the singer’s efforts to expose “the system” in songs, poems and articles (his “Woody Sez” column ran for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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

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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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