Despite few groundbreaking insights, this is entertaining, vivid cultural history.

DANGEROUS RHYTHMS

JAZZ AND THE UNDERWORLD

A swinging, blood-drenched history about the symbiotic relationship between jazz and organized crime through much of the 20th century.

In this steamy, noirish account of the Jazz Age and beyond, similar in spirit to English’s Havana Nocturne and other books, the author takes readers from the bordellos of New Orleans and the speak-easies of Chicago to the tropical clubs of Havana and the desert empire of Vegas. The music provides the soundtrack to a wide range of illicit activity, which generated revenues that allowed the mob to flourish and to launder money from less legitimate endeavors. Within the strictures of so-called respectable society, both the Black musicians who developed jazz and the immigrants who built an empire on vice were outsiders. The musicians often felt that they had a better shot at success and protection by aligning their professional lives with the underworld rather than with the police and authorities of the straight world. Yet as nightclubs with names such as the Cotton Club and the Plantation indicate, there was plenty of racism, as well. Black musicians were often restricted to the stage, and the audience and management of the clubs were almost entirely White. English splits the narrative into two halves: In the first, the author focuses on Louis Armstrong; in the second, Frank Sinatra, both of whom had connections with organized crime throughout their careers. By the end of the century, both jazz and organized crime had changed, with the former declining in popularity and the latter in power. The civil rights and Black Power movements, as well as the progression of the music from the dance floor to the conservatory, contributed to the severing of a relationship that had allowed both to flourish through the eras of red-light districts, Prohibition, and corrupt city bosses. Much of this story has been told elsewhere, but English capably brings it back to life.

Despite few groundbreaking insights, this is entertaining, vivid cultural history.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-303141-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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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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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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