There's a fascinating tale or three in this book, but they're nearly buried beneath a ton of statistical information and exhaustively detailed descrip...moreThere's a fascinating tale or three in this book, but they're nearly buried beneath a ton of statistical information and exhaustively detailed descriptions of the operations of prisons and primitive mental health facilities of 19th-century New York and the corruption and failures of NYC's police and court systems.
In his acknowledgments, the author notes that this book took over a decade to bring together, saying that he began writing it "with two parents and no children. It ends with no parents and two children." I appreciate the time and effort he put into it so I hate to say that he overwrote it, but I think he did.
Still, I got a lot out of it and have a much better perspective of what life was like in that time and place. I do recommend this book, but be prepared for a long, slow read.
A side note: I always pull up Google Maps to pinpoint locations whenever I'm reading history, to see if any original structures remain and what the areas look like now. While looking up places described in this book, I noticed that several, such as the prison at Sing Sing and the Matteawan State Hospital, seem to be deliberately blurred because the areas immediately surrounding them are very clear. Since these places still in some form of operation, is this a Homeland Security thing, do you think? Are there terror suspects being housed there, or what?(less)
The tragic tale of Archie, the eldest of the "Astor Orphans," and his beloved Amelie was pretty absorbing, though he was a much more sympathetic chara...moreThe tragic tale of Archie, the eldest of the "Astor Orphans," and his beloved Amelie was pretty absorbing, though he was a much more sympathetic character than she was.
I am left with one nagging question. This was a young couple in their twenties when they married and they never had any children. The author never mentions whether they wanted any or not, or whether either ever expressed any feelings on the subject. They probably would've been lousy parents, but it struck me as odd that the topic was never raised in such an in-depth examination of their relationship, especially considering the lack of reliable birth-control methods of the late 19th century.(less)
Alice's politics were much further to the right than my own, but I still enjoyed reading about her extraordinary life. Ms. Cordery did an excellent jo...moreAlice's politics were much further to the right than my own, but I still enjoyed reading about her extraordinary life. Ms. Cordery did an excellent job on this biography, which is loaded with color, texture and wit; it also offers some interesting glimpses of early 20th-century politics and the Washington social scene. Although it was a long read, it was well worth my time. (less)
My heart sank when I first cracked open this book and saw how small the print was, because I knew it would take a while to plow through and, you know,...moreMy heart sank when I first cracked open this book and saw how small the print was, because I knew it would take a while to plow through and, you know, so many books, so little time, right? But the actual text was only (ha! only!) 650 pages, followed by 100 pages of voluminous notes, bibliography and index, so it wasn't as bad as I first thought.
And I really wanted to read it, because I'm a fan and because I could never reconcile how a man who seemed so polished and accomplished wound up dying such a tawdry death. Now that I've read the book I kind of get it, but it's still a damned shame.
More than just a bio of Cooke himself, the book also traces the evolution of "race" music from the blues and gospel of the '30s, '40s and '50s into the R&B and Soul of the '60s and beyond. There are glimpses of the early careers of some familiar names, like Jackie Wilson, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, as their stories interwove with Cooke's, and loads of great anecdotes.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot about the "chitlin circuit" and these artists' lives on the road, on stage and off, and how they dealt with (or were dealt with by) the predominantly white record industry, DJs, promoters and venue owners in view of the racial climate of those times.
Still, the book could have been edited down by 100 pages or so and still would've been just as good. There's plenty of stuff in there that's either repetitive, such as praise from Cooke's peers, or simply non-essential info that doesn't add much to the whole. I hate to use the word "bloated" so maybe "exhaustive" is the word I'm looking for. Because I am. Exhausted, I mean.(less)
I originally rated this book four stars (really 3.5, rounded up), but the more I think about it, the more irritated I get. I'm knocking it down to a t...moreI originally rated this book four stars (really 3.5, rounded up), but the more I think about it, the more irritated I get. I'm knocking it down to a three.
This was another of those biographies that crossed the line from comprehensive to bloated. It could easily have been edited down by 100 or 200 pages and it would have been a much better book. And since I have so many other books lined up that I'm eager to read (before they're due back at the library), the extra day or two it cost me to wade through inconsequential details and repetitive analysis of Schulz's psychological quirks really aggravated me.
I'm old enough to remember when Peanuts was a huge pop-culture phenomenon. I read the daily comic strip, bought the books, watched the TV specials, and owned a stuffed Snoopy. I came to this book as a fan; after reading this book, I still love Peanuts, but I found less to admire in Charles Schulz as a person than I thought I would. That's not necessarily the author's fault, but his incessant harping on Schulz's more annoying traits sure didn't help.(less)