An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American...

KILL 'EM AND LEAVE

SEARCHING FOR THE REAL JAMES BROWN

National Book Award winner McBride (The Good Lord Bird, 2013, etc.) dissects the career, legacy, and myth of the Godfather of Soul.

One of the most iconic figures in pop music, James Brown (1933-2006) is also one of the most unknown and falsely represented figures in American cultural history. Taking the recent biopic based on his life as an example, McBride shows how Brown’s late-career downward spiral into drug abuse, erratic behavior, and jail time is exaggerated and how it overshadows his legacy as a hardworking and dedicated singer who was a positive cultural force. Part of this misrepresentation was caused by the mystery of Brown, which he perpetuated during his lifetime. As the author points out, Brown was constantly on the run from himself, careful never to reveal too much of his personality in public or private. As Brown put it to his young protégé Al Sharpton, “come important and leave important.” McBride traces Brown’s philosophy of “keeping ’em guessing” through his upbringing in rural South Carolina and Georgia and back to a telling myth of a local ancestor. As the author sums it up: “you can’t understand Brown without understanding that the land that produced him is the land of masks.” Anecdotes and digressions are the preferred narrative mode for McBride, as he eschews an overarching, linear structure in favor of the rhythm of vignettes. Through his adventures to uncover the “real” Brown, there is significantly little discussion of Brown’s musical career; instead, the author focuses on the people around him and the defining moments of his life outside the spotlight. But for McBride, the story of Brown is the story of money and greed—not on Brown’s part, who put his $100 million estate toward the education of poor children, but of his heirs and family members who have tied up that money in years of litigation.

An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American culture.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9350-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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