Meticulous research informs a perceptive analysis.

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BEETHOVEN

A POLITICAL ARTIST IN REVOLUTIONARY TIMES

A study of how Beethoven responded artistically to chaos and disillusion.

Drawing on letters, sketchbooks, manuscripts, and abundant scholarship, concert pianist and music scholar Kinderman argues convincingly that Beethoven (1770-1827) was “far from indifferent” to political events that roiled Europe during his lifetime. Throughout his career, Beethoven “aimed to communicate teeming emotions in the here and now. The fervor of the moment, the snapshot of intense human feeling.” He was deeply influenced by the writings of poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller, who urged artists to affirm freedom through their art and exhorted composers to imbue their music with “a sense of moral purpose.” Offering minutely close exegeses of Beethoven’s works—which assume the reader’s familiarity with the oeuvre as well as with musical composition—Kinderman shows how the composer responded to the “tensions and contradictions” of the time: “the spirit of enlightened movements of the 1780s—Immanuel Kant’s critiques, liberal reforms, cultural activism” as well as the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Growing up under “patchwork German governments,” Beethoven settled in Vienna in 1792, where he experienced an oppressive, reactionary regime. Among many works discussed, Kinderman cites Beethoven’s opera Fidelio as one that conveys “a political theme of striking relevance” even today. Derived from “a gritty real-life drama from the Reign of Terror in France,” Fidelio expresses Beethoven’s disdain not for “authority as such, but the misuse of authority.” In Fidelio, explains the author, “themes of unjust imprisonment at the hands of a tyrant and heroic valor in the name of freedom are expressed in a way not merely realistic but deeply symbolic and archetypal in import.” In the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” based on a poem by Schiller, has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union, a piece that reverberates with idealism, affirmation, and hope.

Meticulous research informs a perceptive analysis.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-226-66905-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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