Week ending January 18, 2013
Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist. Wesleyan Univ. 2012. 314p. photog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780819571281. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780819571243. MUSIC
Alonso (history, City Coll. of New York; Robert E. Sherwood: The Playwright in Peace and War) offers a biography of E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (1896–1981), an often-neglected but important lyricist of the 1930s and 1940s. Commissioned to knit together large blocks of Harburg’s quotes for Wesleyan’s “Music: Interview” series, Alonso mines published and unpublished interviews to allow Harburg to speak for himself. The author starts with Harburg’s poverty-stricken, immigrant youth, his bootstrapped rise, and his strategic friendship with Ira Gershwin, who introduced him to the Broadway crowd. She continues with his first successes, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “April in Paris,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (all written in 1932) and the subsequent scores to Finian’s Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz, the latter including the classic “Over the Rainbow” (1939). Throughout, Alonso discusses the liberal sentiments that surfaced in Harburg’s lyrics and led to his blacklisting during the McCarthy era, which severely curtailed his output.
Verdict Though interesting, this book duplicates much of the material in the excellent Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz? by Harold Meyerson and Harburg’s son, Ernie, and will appeal to a limited audience.—David P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Birnbaum, Larry. Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Scarecrow. 2012. 474p. ISBN 9780810886384. $85. MUSIC
As the subtitle implies, music journalist Birnbaum approaches the history of rock and roll like an archaeologist. Instead of cave paintings or crudely made tools, Birnbaum has records—lots and lots of records. Unlike most music histories, which tend to focus on performers and their lives, Birnbaum investigates sounds: Where did these rhythms come from? Where did this riff start? The tracing of musical and lyrical memes makes for a consuming, if at times overwhelming, journey through mid-20th-century American pop culture history. Birnbaum’s knowledge of the music of this time period is breathtaking, and will make readers wish the book came with a soundtrack. The obscurity of so many of the records Birnbaum recalls, though, and his audience’s inability to hear them, makes the reading experience feel somewhat incomplete.
Verdict Still, this corrective to what so many of music fans assume they know about rock and pop history is a necessary one and will introduce readers to artists deserving greater attention. This stunning tour de force of prerock history will inspire fans to learn more about the roots of the music they love.—Brett Rohlwing, Washington Park Branch, Milwaukee P.L.
Christie, Agatha. The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. Harper: HarperCollins. 2012. 376p. ed. by Mathew Prichard. illus. ISBN 9780062191229. $27.99. TRAV
This first published collection of Christie’s correspondence will delight the many fans of her novels. Edited by Christie’s grandson, Prichard, the book chronicles what Christie herself considered one of the most exciting times of her life: a 1922 round-the-world trip promoting the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. Her husband, Archibald, served as financial advisor, and the couple sailed from England through Gibraltar, southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada. The trip is documented in this series of letters to family and accompanying photographs. The enthusiastic Christie can’t help but create interesting characters out of her fellow travelers and resident British colonists, and the result is a very good read. (Who would have expected she was hooked on surfing?) This book is also a fascinating look at the British empire in the 1920s. Despite the saggy woolen clothes and oppressive heat, these colonies still inspired certain expectations in their British visitors: proper tea and people of one’s own kind.
Verdict Not only a contribution to biographical studies of Christie, this book is recommended for all mystery lovers, Anglophiles, and fans of historical travel narratives.—Melissa Stearns, Franklin Pierce Univ. Lib., Rindge, NH
Dougan, John. The Mistakes of Yesterday, the Hopes of Tomorrow: The Story of the Prisonaires. Univ. of Massachusetts. 2012. 144p. index. ISBN 9781558499690. pap. $22.95. MUSIC
Dougan (music,Middle Tennessee State Univ.; The Who Sell Out) tells the story of the Prisonaires, a five-piece group formed in the early 1950s from inmates in Nashville’s Tennessee State Penitentiary. This books seeks to highlight the redemptive quality of music in prisons and examines the debate over the legitimacy of it as a rehabilitative tool. A new governor in Tennessee and the appointment of a progressive warden to the state penitentiary meant a supportive environment for the Prisonaires, whose participation in the group was analogous to work on a gentle type of chain gang. Though the warden exploited them to make money, the group accepted their status and the small bit of freedom it afforded them. The surrounding locale of Nashville provided fertile ground for the Prisonaires’ success, and group front man Johnny Bragg became known as a talented songwriter. Bragg even claims that he wrote the hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and sold it to Hank Williams for $5.
Verdict Dougan’s book is an accessible read that will appeal to those interested in popular music history and criminal justice.—Carolyn Schwartz, Westfield State Coll. Lib., MA
Ebbets Field: Essays and Memories of Brooklyn’s Historic Ballpark, 1913–1960. McFarland. (Historic Ballparks). 2012. 256p. ed. by John G. & Paul G. Zinn. photogs. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786448272. $39.95 pap.; ebk. ISBN 9781476600642. SPORTS
McFarland is noted for its in-depth studies of baseball. This second book in the publisher’s series “Historic Ballparks” proves to be a masterly look at Ebbets Field, those who played baseball there, and the fans who so loved it. Editors John G. Zinn (amanlypastime.blogspot.com) and Paul Zinn—father and son—divide the book into two main sections: “History and Background” and “Memories of Ebbets Field.” The former contains contributed pieces by the Zinns and others, while the latter quotes other sources on Dodgers eras of the past. Charles Ebbets (1859–1925), his ballpark, and the games and players are profiled within the first section’s pieces, which include ones on the beloved bums’ first and last games there, and Ebbets Field understood through the stats it produced.
Verdict Although Brooklyn’s baseball team is history, there are many baseball fans enchanted by that history. They’ll gladly take on another book on the subject, especially one like this, with its perspective via the ballpark itself. [Look for LJ’s annual spring baseball roundup, LJ 2/15/13.—Ed.]—Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL
Manning, Robert & Martha Manning. Walking Distance: Extraordinary Hikes for Ordinary People. Oregon State Univ. 2012. 248p. photogs. maps. index. ISBN 9780870716836. pap. $35. TRAV
From the Inca Trail in Peru to the West Highland Way in Scotland, authors and avid walkers the Mannings present a visually beautiful and informative overview of their favorite long-distance walks around the world. The book is divided into two parts: the first discussing the basics of why and how to experience travel by walking and the second providing overviews of the hikes. The text is supplemented by photographs and some broad-scale maps indicating location of the trail within a country or region. Geared for, as the authors say, ordinary people who might consider this type of vacation, the walks do not include super-long-distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail of 2,200 miles but instead manageable trails or portions of larger ones. Length of walks included is from 11 miles to 480, as well as journeys of varying challenge listed from low to high.
Verdict This book whets the appetite for those travelers who might consider this type of journey, providing only overviews of specifics such as accommodations. References are provided for more detailed information and further reading. Highly recommended for travelers who enjoy walking as well as those considering a hiking-themedvacation.—Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins