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The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger
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The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  153 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A true American original is brought to life in this rich and lively portrait of Pete Seeger, who, with his musical grace and inextinguishable passion for social justice, transformed folk singing into a high form of peaceful protest in the second half of the twentieth century. Drawing on his extensive talks with Seeger, New Yorker writer Alec Wilkinson lets us experience th ...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published April 21st 2009 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2009)
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Bill  Kerwin

A short biographical essay about one of the most inspiring of performers and the gentlest of radicals. Song as an expression of the people was more important to him than money and fame, and this little book--based primarily on interviews with Seeger--demonstrates his sincerity and character.
Larry Bassett
Pete Seeger does not wear the mantle of ‘famous person’ very well. There have been times he has said that he would rather you sing his songs than buy his records. And a lot of us know quite a few of his song by heart.

The Protest Singer is a short book, one the author thinks you can read in one sitting. It was published in 2009.

Here is a paragraph from the book jacket that introduces the man and the author:
A true American original is brought to life in this rich and lively portrait of Pete Seege
John Pilecki

A good summary of the life of a man who has long been a hero of mine. The transcript of his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 by itself
makes worthwhile adding this book to your bookshelf: A sample, when invoking the 1st Amendment (and risking a jail sentence) rather than the 5th Amendment when refusing to discuss his political affiliations: "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political belief
Excellent. Logistically versatile - could be easily consumed in one medium-length sitting, or in snippets and snatches here and there while waiting in line at the pharmacy or in between classes, or whatever. Doesn't lose it's feel, or effect, either way. It offers exactly what it says: an intimate portrait of Seeger. There is some inclusion of the historical goings-on of the various times to give his life context and depth, but mostly it's focused on him in a way that feels like you're just ther ...more
A wonderful short biography of a great man. Mr. Seeger was brave at all costs, never compromising his principles for what he believed was right, continually optimistic, and did so much good for our planet. He was also a great musician and story teller, while managing to remain humble. This book is brief (152 pages) but somehow revealed the essence of the man. It's worth a look. A quote from the man: "These days my purpose is in trying to get people to realize that there may be no human race by t ...more
Oct 27, 2010 Sparrow added it
Recommends it for: farmers and electricians
Much as I prefer to be snide about New Yorker writers, this Alec Wilkinson -- a former cop and rock 'n roll musician (if his pithy bio on the flap is to be believed) is a heartfelt guy, not very intrusive, who occasionally finds himself in a syntactical snarl -- like most of us. And Pete Seeger is quite different than one imagines -- haunted by self-doubt and internal ridicule. "Most everything I've done has been a failure," he says, trying to explain the Clearwater sloop. He chops wood almost e ...more
The book is essentially a set of vignettes of Pete Seeger intended to be read in one sitting, like an extension of the New Yorker pieces author Alec Wilkinson is known for. The portrait represents an interesting attempt to capture a version of the man in a few brushstrokes or as a short cinema verite portrayal. For background, two appendices parallel his father's precepts for a theory of music as a language for participation with Seeger's stonewalling testimony at his hearing with the House on U ...more
Pete Seeger is one of my heroes, so this isn't a very unbiased review. I'd say that it's not a great introduction to Seeger if you don't know a little bit about him; but since I love him, I thought the author did a wonderful job of allowing me to feel as though I'm just dropping in on a conversation outside the cabin in Beacon.

“I always hated the word ‘career.’ It implies that fame and fortune are what you’re trying to get. I have a life’s purpose. In the old days I felt it should be helping the
Intimate in the title is the key to this book. The events of Pete Seeger's life are highlighted, many of which are well known, but the pearls of the book are the quotes that are included from their conversations as Seeger answered questions about his journey through life.

"People ask, is there one word that you have more faith in than any other word,"he told me, "and I say it's participation. I feel that this takes on so many meanings. The composer John Philip Sousa said,'What will happen to the
When the author asked Pete Seeger if he could write a book about him he said that too much had been written already and that all the books were too long-what was needed, he said, was a book that could be read in one sitting. I didn't quite finish this in one sitting but had we not been having my son's birthday party on the day I started it, I'm sure that I could have.

This is far from being an complete biography of Seeger's life but it hits a lot of the major highlights. It reads like a conversat
I realllllllllllly wanted to love this book. I adore Pete Seeger. This was less a biography and more a series of stories, not in chronological order. I kind of like the chronological element of biographies - you can see how a person started out, their origins, and what they do with their life etc. I suppose his life is well-known enough? The author explains very early on that Mr. Seeger said so much has been written and overwritten about him - he wanted something short that could be read in one ...more
Though I found the subject matter very interesting, the format of the book proved to be a bit confusing. Wilkinson doesn't divide the book into chapters and includes all the photo captions on a page in the appendix. At times I was confused as to whether I was reading Seeger's story or his father's. This book was based around interviews conducted near Seeger's 90th birthday. One of the highlights of the book is "Seeger's Testimony before the House of Un-American Activities Committee August 18, 19 ...more
Daniel Allen
Inspirational. Seeger's way to knit people together is to sing with them. Which he did for his entire long life. Yes, this is an intimate portrait of a man who lived his entire life with integrity.
Wilkinson wanted to write a biography of Pete Seeger that could be read in one sitting. So this one is very short with some photographs thrown in. It doesn't have chapter breaks, and felt very disjointed: first we're at a concert in the 1950s, then we're back tapping maple sap on Seeger's farm, then we're in a school where he's performing....too much at once.

I didn't realize that Seeger had been called before the Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era, but had escaped jail. An
I'd give this book more stars, but after catching an error in the first page, I can't do it. "In the late 1940s, Seeger belonged to a group called the Almanac Singers"-- it was the late 1930s to early 40s... which I guess is evident, because on the next page, it says "The Almanac Singers broke up in 1942." Whenever I see a glaring error, I worry about the other errors I am not catching.
However, this is still a worthwhile read-- it has basic biographical info (without having to slog through the D
Well done, short book. Easy to read in a day but still a very good portrait of the man who just wanted people to sing and work together.
Extended essay about Pete Seeger. Not exactly a biography.
Essentially a New Yorker profile of Pete in book form, this valuable little essay with well-chosen photos brings home the long life of our national treasure, Pete. Wilkinson tells of visits with Pete up to his 89th year; now past 90, and counting, I missed mention of Mike and Peggy in this fine retelling of Seeger family history. Quoting, "'Too much has been written about me, and at too great length,' he said. I had stammered only four or five words in reply when he added, 'What's needed is a bo ...more
Too academic.
Alec Wilkinson's rail-thin bio of Pete Seeger reads like an extended New Yorker profile. Wilkinson notes that he considers it to be a "factual novella." Even though it skips over a lot of important events in Seeger's life, this book really captures the spirit of his storied life. The narrative has the same tone as those skinny bios that you'd read about Abe Lincoln when you were in the 3rd grade, which is appropriate when writing about someone as thoroughly American as Pete Seeger.
Steve Mayer
Not as thorough as my friend David Dunaway's bio (whom Wilkinson generously and scrumptiously credits throughout), but a good introduction to a great American. Pete's made one or two political mistakes (e.g., staying in the CP too long), but he's basically remained true to his craft and his principles for more than 90 years. The book is ful of telling vignettes, and gives a good (and tantalizing) picture of Pete's personality.
Beautiful short biography of Pete Seeger. Reads like an expanded New Yorker profile (which it is) with all the semi-profound leaps/connections the genre implies. Conveys the essence of Pete--his music, his work, his optimism--without getting bogged down in the academics of folk music, socialism, or anything else. Short and quick, with an appendix of Seeger's inspiring testimony in front of the HUAC in 1955.
Not the most dynamic Seeger biography ever written, but it does (just about) fit Pete's stated goal of helping create a look at his life that can be read in one sitting. Even though it skips over everything that happened in his life between the early '70s and late '90s, we can never have too many books about this American hero -- and it includes a transcript of his HUAC testimony, which is well worth reading.
M.J. Perry
The one thing I can say for this book is that it is a fast and easy read. In fact, it could be read in one sitting. It did not give much depth into the personality of Pete Seeger, or his relationships with others. After having finished the book I don't feel I know the man any better than I did before, even though I know some of the facts of his life.
Kind of disappointing. I believe it was written in the style in which Mr. Seeger speaks, which is kind of all over the place, which is fine when being in actual conversation with someone but kind of annoying in a book. If I did not already know a good deal about Pete Seeger, I don't know that I would be patient enough to follow the drift.
Margie R-O
Authentic and engaging personal story of a singer/protester's life in the mid-20th century.
I must admit, it's a little odd to *read* about a singer instead of *listening* to them, but placing Pete Seeger in the context of history is still a wonderful and fascinating endeavor. Just turned 93 last week, he still has so much to say in a world where voices are silenced and rights are not honored.
Oct 31, 2012 Barbara marked it as to-read

Recently saw Pete Seeger on one of the late night shows. Wanted to read 'Pete Seeger: In His Own Words', but it's not available from local library yet. Picked this up instead.
Quick read and nice introduction to Pete Seeger and his music.
A wonderful, quick read and an insightful look at an important American figure. The last page of the book was particularly inspiring. If nothing else, read it for the transcript of Seeger's testimony in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Really enjoyed it, short enough to read in one sitting, and included mostly quotes and information directly from interviews with Pete Seeger. Helped me understand him as a person rather than an icon and hero.
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