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Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times
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Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  114 ratings  ·  34 reviews
A giant of American music opens the book on his wrenching professional and personal journeys, paying tribute to the vanishing Appalachian culture that gave him his voice.
He was there at the beginning of bluegrass. Yet his music, forged in the remote hills and hollows of Southwest Virginia, has even deeper roots. In Man of Constant Sorrow, Dr. Ralph Stanley gives a surpri...more
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Published October 15th 2009 by Gotham Books (first published April 2nd 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 248)
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Suzanne Moore
My daddy raised me on old-time music, and hearing the songs today makes me homesick for the mountains. I also remember hearing that Ralph was a big Dylan fan, and had recordings of his folk songs put to banjo. When this book came out, I knew I had to read it. I read this book with another Stanley Brother fan ... Mr. Garrett, a blind man the same age as Ralph. Reading the memoirs aloud, I noticed my voice began to take on a "hillbilly" twang. Ralph wrote his story the way he talks ... country, do...more
Chuck
Although Dr. Ralph Stanley describes himself as "a man who don't much like to talk unless he's got something to say", it turns out that he has a whole lot to say, as this book weighs in at 452 pages. Sure, there's a little repetition -- understandably, since the work is cast as a series of reminiscences -- but Stanley's easy conversational style (assisted by journalist Eddie Dean) works perfectly here.

Ralph Stanley is one of the original giants in bluegrass music (although he prefers other terms...more
Christine
So far this is a very interesting autobiography by one of the foremost bluegrass banjo experts. He tells about the trials and pleasures of growing up way back in the hills of Virginia during a time long gone. Good descriptions of family relationships and childhood occupations written as though he is speaking to you in his local accent.

This book is an amazing memoir of places and people from the 1930s on up to the very present time. It was written just last year. Dr. Stanley has kept up with the...more
Leslie
The NPR reviewer liked this book because Dr. Ralph Stanley talked about people way back in the history of country music, people who have long been forgotten. Yes, he did. I'm not sure that I was as interested in them as the reviewer was, though. Dr. Stanley announced up front that he was just going to talk to us as though we were all sitting around the kitchen table. He said that he could use good grammar, but he was going to talk country. And he did. And he did. After awhile, it became easier t...more
Bonnie
A fascinating, matter of fact, smooth flowing autobiography of a man who truly can be called a living legend in American roots music. The style is in Mr. Stanleys own words and it is like he is sitting on the front porch with you on a warm summers evening relating all the major events and influences in a long life well-lived to an old friend. Family, place, and faith are the major influences in his life, but always, always it is the music. Born in 1929, and major figure in bluegrass music and cl...more
Fred
There are many reasons to read this book (yet another autobiography of an iconic musician), not the least of which is my name appearing in the acknowledgements. :) Ralph Stanley's story and voice are of a type that is fast disappearing -- the story of a man who made music because he loved it and the voice that rode every mile along the way. No corporate America shaped the sound of The Stanley Brothers. If you want a clear vision of what simple-minded politicians call "the American Dream", you wi...more
Ralph
Eddie Dean was able to draw out the good Dr. Ralph like no one ever has. The quiet, reserved bluegrass legend has a quite a story to tell -- a funny, tragic, inspiring tale that takes the reader back to the mountains of Southwest Virginia and winds through eight decades before culminating at the Grammy Awards. The best parts are about his Depression-era Appalachian childhood and the early days of the Stanley Brothers during the dawn of recorded country and bluegrass music. Maybe too much bluegra...more
Rock
I was surprised at the strength of the writing here. I guess writing songs for 60 years gives you some skills that you can then transfer to writing books. This book would be notable for the way it makes the monotonous road life of an ever-touring band interesting, but it actually is most important for its portrayal of Depression-era culture in Appalachia. Dr. Stanley's home region survives today as a (the?) bastion of relatively strong regional identity in a morass of American corporate homogene...more
Sam Honeycutt
This book is an excellent read for fans of bluegrass music. Ralph and his brother Carter were pioneers of the genre of music. As most of the "old time" bluegrass There is now a third generation on Stanley and Ralph is now a Doctor. There will never be another Ralph Stanley when he goes to pick in the quartet up in heaven that has the beloved Carter waiting for him.
Garrett Cash
Much like Ralph Stanley and his music, this book is a treasure. It's just like getting to sit and talk to the grandfather you never had about his incredible life. Which means that all the repetition and dull parts are there, but you love it nonetheless because it's authentic, inspiring, and insightful.
Jack
Gotta love bluegrass, but if you do, a must read. Very skilfully told in his own words, without making the dialect sound awkward.
Shaun Davidson
Great book for anyone interested in old time music, the music business, or growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.
Brent
May 24, 2014 Brent rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: music fans
Recommended to Brent by: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
This is a joyful, heaping helping of a great life and life story.
Highly recommended.
Tim
If you like Ralph Stanley, the Stanley Brothers, or bluegrass music in general, you'll probably enjoy Ralph's story. His down-home way of writing might grate on some readers (using "borned" instead of "born," for example). It could have used a good editor -- there are numerous places where the exact same thing was said in two consecutive paragraphs, sometimes in slightly different words, sometimes in the same words. And it could have been about 100 pages shorter with no real loss of information....more
Amy Conard
Loved this book. Enjoyed reading and learning so much about Dr Ralph Stanley and the traditional music of the American South. Traditional Southern/Bluegrass/Appalachian music is a love of mine. The history of the Stanley Brothers as well as others who started playing this wonderful music on the radio in the 40's is amazing.
Monte Dutton
Why did I read this book? I love music and am fascinated by how it developed. Also, I found it at Dollar Tree. I'm glad I did.
One word for Ralph Stanley: honest. His book is plain-spoken and grammatically atrocious. It works, and it wouldn't work any other way.
It's achingly sad in some parts and uplifting in others. At times it's quite funny. Dr. Stanley's book fits his music, which fits his life, which, after all, is the whole point.
Ginny
This book is for dedicated Ralph Stanley fans who want to learn every detail of his musical career, or at least for music enthusiasts who have a particular interest in the history of old-time or bluegrass. I don't envision it having much appeal to the general reader. I enjoyed it very much myself. I have very little knowledge of bluegrass and am trying to fill in this gap in my education, so this book really served the right purpose for me. Some GoodReads members have commented that Dr. Stanley'...more
Kid
This book is usually about a two star read. Dr. Stanley is MAD CORNY. OK - brother grew up on a mountain top I reckon. That's OK. But bein' country and bein' articulate are not mutually exclusive - I'm sorry. Not gonna buy that. I'm also not gonna buy that this 500 page book was written by a reticent man. Or perhaps it was compiled by the ghost writer and OKed by Dr. Stanley.

You get the sense that Stanley has stuck to his guns and that's somehow connected with the mountains where he was "borned...more
Dana Kraft
This book is written like Ralph Stanley talks so you get the sense of listening to an old granddad from the country. I found myself reading out loud in Ralph's deadpan drawl just because I like to hear that way of talking.

Tough to pick out my favorite quote, but here's one you won't see on Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature. "One time, Duffey pulled a prank on Jimmy Martin. I reckon he probably thought it was the slickest stunt he'd ever done. I thought it was one of the worst things I've ever seen...more
Nancy
It was so interesting to re-visit all the small towns, creeks, hollers, mountains, ridges and music of my early childhood. The almost haunting "line-out" method of singing hymns a cappella is a memory I cherish, while attending a revival and "all day dinner on the ground" with my grandmother Nanny B. STANLEY Markham. You probably have to have an appreciation for mountain music, bluegrass and the Appalachian culture to love the book, which I do!
John Steinbeck
As enthusiastic as I was (I was the first to read our town's library copy), and as much as Ralph Stanley's story actually deserves 4 or 5 stars, I had to give it a 3 for all the typos. Sorry, it's the editor in me. There are lots of vignettes and stories that I'd never heard before, and the ones that have been traveling around the bluegrass world for years were told afresh through the perspective of this ancient man. How can you not love Ralph Stanley?
Evan
The title is a bit of a misnomer, though there's certainly a lot of tragedy and heartache in the book: it turns out that the reason Stanley is capable of writing a consistently interesting, distinctive, and readable 500-page autobiography at 82 is that he was a shy mama's boy who didn't get drunk, didn't raise too much hell, and generally kept his head while everyone around him was losing theirs.
Tamara
I was really eager to read this, after seeing Ralph Stanley for the first time last month at the Birchmere. But I put the book down in disgust about halfway through, after far too many "amusing" anecdotes about acts of animal cruelty perpetrated by both the Stanley brothers, both as children and in adulthood. He's an incredibly talented musician, but I've lost all respect for him as a person.
Jackie
Ralph Stanley is one of the giants of the old time blue grass music that tugs at the heart in a way that modern blue grass never will. An intimate auto biography as well as a history of early bluegrass music. If you are a fan, you will enjoy this one. The title is from the song that Stanley sings in the movie 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou'.
Barbara
I plodded through the most of the story, thinking it would improve. Sadly, it didn't. When he told about feeding the caged bear Exlax and doing the same to a friends hunting dogs, just for fun, and seeing the animals suffer, it was more than I could handle.
Jeff42
Such a fun read. Some readers have complained about the grammar and "country" talk being a little grating. But it was music to my ears. It took me back to summer nights on my grandparents front porch, listening to the adults.
Eric
I really liked this. I will be looking ofr a copy of my own to have. I'd like to go back through and read more. I skipped around a bit. Very cool book.
Sam Sattler
Interesting book, particularly because of how Ralph Stanley reveals what a petty, jealous, SOB he can be. His vanity is as amazing as his music.
Gregg
Very interesting biography of a great musician filled with recollections of some of the great names in Bluegrass.
Marilyn
I enjoyed reading it. Youtube was a great resource for photos and the music.
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