Nonfiction Short Take: Grown-Up Anger- Daniel Wolff

Music, biography and labor history twine around Woody Guthrie’s song “1913 Massacre” as seemingly unrelated strands braid together to tell a new story about the progressive movement in 20th century America. In digging into the history of a labor strike on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a century ago, Wolff finds the roots of an abiding anger against social injustice that has passed through American generations and is finding a new voice today.

“In this bold and moving history, author and songwriter Wolff follows a path of memory and resistance through the labor struggles and music of 20th-century America. Wolff argues here that the mass murder of 74 men, women, and children (mine workers and members of their families—most of the victims were children) during a bitter strike in 1913 in Michigan reverberated through the careers of two remarkable American musicians…. Without surrendering insight or authority, Wolff spans a remarkable range of material, including 19th-century copper mining on the Upper Peninsula, the origins of folk out of traditional genres, and the ’60s counterculture. Wolff’s descriptions of Guthrie are particularly engaging, as are his forays into music criticism and labor history…. [In] a scathing finale that sends him to the postindustrial ghost town of Calumet, Wolff makes clear that by forgetting the past that Dylan and Guthrie passed down to us—and the injustices that motivated their art—we are in danger of losing our futures.”
Publishers Weekly

A masterful tale of music, social, and economic history… Wolff’s elegantly intertwined historical drama is consistently revelatory. A dazzling, richly researched story impeccably told.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“No matter how much you think you know about Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, you’re wrong… This is the best sense anyone has ever made about the connection between them, and the best reappraisal either has had in a couple of decades.”
— Dave Marsh

“Revolving around mining, music and murder, Daniel Wolff’s Grown-Up Anger explores the 1913 Calumet massacre in Michigan, Woody Guthrie’s political proselytizing beginning in the 1930’s and a young Bob Dylan, destined for musical greatness. Wolff’s narrative introduces “Mother” Ella Reeve Bloor, a revolutionary in labor circles and a witness to the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company Christmas catastrophe, where 73 people died. An angry Mother Bloor relays the devastating details to Woody Guthrie and the rest is a raging history of battling societal constraints through song. This is definitely a relevant read given the state of our current affairs.”
— Kristin Bates, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 (9780062451699) By Daniel Wolff. $26.99 hardcover. 6/1/317 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Murder in Matera – Helene Stapinski

Combining armchair travel, history and true crime, this memoir is a beach read for nonfiction readers. Stapinski is a journalist who has worked for both the NYT and NPR; her previous memoir explored her family’s criminal history in New Jersey. The Guardian said of that book that it “is not your ordinary memoir…she sews together family history, local history and personal history…. And there is never a dull moment.”

The same could be said of this new book that reaches farther back in her family’s history to a sun-drenched Italian village and the mystery of her great-grandmother and the murder she was said to have committed.

Italian-American author Stapinski mines her immigrant family’s roots to write a part memoir, part murder mystery…. The author posits that the darker side of her genealogy may have consequences for her own family: ‘All of us, I thought, are made up not only of what we know, but of all that we don’t know as well,’ she writes—as if the violence, revenge, and curses that accrued along with ignorance and poverty in Southern Italy in the 19th-century are somehow transmitted through DNA. The book—enlivened by anecdotes about Italian culture—will appeal to armchair travelers who long to visit the caves and culture of Matera.”
Publishers Weekly

“Stapinski continues her investigation into her family’s checkered past. The narrative begins as an enticing page-turner, an investigative jewel sending readers racing to the next clue…”

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy (9780062438454) by Helene Stapinski. $26.99 hardcover. 5/23/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy – Nicholas Reynolds

Just when you thought every dark nook and cranny of Hemingway’s life had been explored, military historian Nicholas Reynolds arrives with new information that suggests Hemingway worked as a spy during WWII—both for OSS and the NKVD (a precursor of the KGB)!

Reynolds has spent his career in military intelligence, including a decade as curator of the CIA Museum where he first discovered clues that suggested Hemingway’s WWII activities included some spycraft.

[An] engrossing story of Hemingway’s disillusionment with American politics, his sympathy with communism, and his attraction to adventure and subversion.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Drawing on his intelligence background, Reynolds uncovers a trove of documents that point to American novelist Ernest Hemingway’s recruitment in 1940 by the NKVD. … Reynolds ably researches Hemingway’s World War II adventures, both in Cuba and Europe, including clandestine activities supporting America’s war effort. … An intriguing study highlighting the tension between Hemingway’s Soviet sympathies and his identity as a U.S. patriot. … Recommended for Hemingway enthusiasts and for readers interested in the history of Soviet espionage.”
   — Library Journal

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 (9780062440136) by Nicholas Reynolds. $27.99 hardcover. 3/14/17 on sale.

New Biography: Krazy – Michael Tisserand

Does George Herriman’s name not ring a bell? Maybe his creation Krazy Kat does. A surreal, seemingly slapstick comic strip it was also playful, dark and subversive—a piece of 20th century pop culture that influenced everything that came after it. Charles Schultz once noted that “Krazy Kat was always my goal.” Maus creator Art Spiegelman said, “For me and my generation, Herriman loomed really large, because Herriman crossed all kinds of boundaries, between high and low, between vulgar and gentile.”

Michael Chabon contextualizes Herriman this way: “One could argue the claim, confidently, persuasively, and with an all-but-inexhaustible store of ever fresh evidence, that George Herriman was one of the very great artists in any medium of the 20th century.”

In Shelf Awareness, reviewer Bruce Jacobs of Watermark Books discusses Herriman’s work this way:

A multilingual combination of vaudeville pratfalls and violence, minstrel show imitation, the optimism and good-heartedness of Chaplin’s Tramp, and the Beckettian dialogue of Vladimir and Estragon, Krazy Kat was a precursor of the chaos and upheaval of the 20th century. An example from April of 1921 says it all:

“IGNATZ: Now, “Krazy,” do you look upon the future as a pessimist, or an optimist?

“KRAZY KAT: I look upon it as just mist–

“Herriman’s vision, sketches and dialogue influenced the epochal comic strips of Charles M. Schulz and Gary Trudeau. With substantial background fieldwork, Tisserand eloquently demonstrates that this self-effacing, mixed-race high school graduate from the streets of the Tremé, laboring for 40 years over a schedule of daily cartoons, became the inspiration of a century of artists, intellectuals, filmmakers and writers.”


“Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.”
—  Kirkus (starred review)

 “Tisserand weaves American history, pop culture, and racial politics with biography to elucidate and celebrate the life of cartoonist George Herriman (1880–1944), the creator of the Krazy Kat comic strip. Readers gain a glut of insight into the development of Krazy Kat, and the many ways the character served as an outlet for Herriman to playfully explore the human condition, which Tisserand sets against the backdrop of Herriman’s own little-known racial identity. Though Herriman passed as a white man his whole life, he was actually African-American, born during Reconstruction to a Creole family that hid its racial identity….This is a gripping read at the intersection of pop culture and American history.”
Publishers Weekly

Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (9780061732997) by Michael Tisserand. $35.00 hardcover. 12/6/16 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: The Wars of the Roosevelts – William J. Mann

This is carefully researched—and very dishy–account of the inner workings of the Roosevelt family by a biographer who reads like a novelist. Mann’s last book, Tinseltown, was an NPR Book of the Year and ET said that “Mann’s call sheet of colorful characters is so richly painted, they not only make the Roaring ‘20s come to life, they’re so bizarre they seem like they could only exist in a movie.” The Roosevelts family is just as vivid here.

A compulsively readable account of the decades long rivalries, grudges, and battles between and within the Roosevelt families of Oyster Bay and Hyde Park. . . . . Perhaps best known for his popular film biographies and histories, and thus no stranger to tales of scandal and cover up, feuds and intrigue, Mann writes sympathetically about all the Roosevelts but particularly the black sheep, the nonconformists whose births into this powerful family imposed special burdens.”
Kirkus (starred review)

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family (9780062383334) by William J. Mann. $35.00 hardcover. 12/6/16 on sale.


New Nonfiction: Moscow Nights – Nigel Cliff

Baby Boomers will remember this remarkable Cold War story of a young piano prodigy from Texas who traveled to Moscow and won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition. The Russians had no intention of giving this prize to anyone but a Russian—but when the 23-year-old American prodigy began to play he galvanized the nation finally leading Soviet Premier Khrushchev to demand that the judges give Van Cliburn the prize—music forming a bridge between the two superpowers and temporarily dialing down tensions in a world on the brink of nuclear war.

(Ticker tape parade in in NYC after the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition – NYT/file)

“Cliff brilliantly weaves together the politics, personalities, and pianism surrounding the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. This portrait of a Cold War moment focuses on two remarkable people. The first is Van Cliburn, the courtly, eager 23-year-old from Kilgore, Tex., who combined a winning American openness with a heartfelt love of Russian music. The second is Nikita Khrushchev, an eccentric peasants’ son who survived Stalin and went on to undo the worst of his oppressions….Cliburn’s mother and teachers had instilled in him a love of Russian repertoire that Moscow audiences grasped from round one….This is a well-researched, fascinating look at a special relationship between Van Cliburn and the U.S.S.R. that lasted through low points (the downed U-2, the Cuban missile crisis) and high ones, all the way up to the 1987 summit that resulted in eliminating most of the world’s strategic nuclear arsenal.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A sympathetic yet rounded portrait of the pianist…Highly recommended for readers interested in music (especially classical music and the piano) and the history of the Cold War.”
Library Journal (starred review)

A thrilling delight…compulsively readable…It’s Vanya all the way in a biography for music lovers, Cold War devotees, and all readers seeking a true feel-great story.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A rousing, well-researched biography… Throughout the author vividly reprises major historical events…Sweeping history combines with a sensitive rendering of Cliburn’s extraordinary passion.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story-How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War (9780062333162) by Nigel Cliff. $28.99 hardcover. 9/20/16 on sale.

Book of the Week: Love Wins – Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

No surprise that a major feature film is in the works for this. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of the groundbreaking AIDS film, Philadelphia. Love Wins put a similarly human face of the fight for marriage equality.

Washington Post reporter Cenziper manages a large cast of characters and nicely weaves together a number of complex plotlines. But at the heart of the story is Jim Obergefell’s struggle to have his marriage recognized by the State of Ohio after his husband’s death from ALS so that John Arthur’s death certificate would not forever identify him as single, invalidating their decades-long relationship.

Equally moving to me was the story of their attorney, Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati attorney who had spent decades advocating for civil rights. He saw in this case of a grief-stricken man whose pain was compounded by the state’s refusal to recognize the most important relationship in his life the legal opening that would lead the to one of the most important civil rights achievements of our time.


“This gripping portrayal of the pivotal moment in the fight for marriage equality in Ohio includes childhood memories and romance as well as tense moments in court. The tale is told through the life stories of the lead plaintiff, Jim Obergefell; his terminally ill husband, John Arthur; and lawyer Al Gerhardstein. Written in the third person, though Obergefell is listed as author alongside Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Cenziper, the book is so full of dialogue and personal anecdotes that it feels as much like a biography as a legal history….As Obergefell and Gerhardstein literally walk out of the courtroom into the sunlight together, readers will feel they’ve been completely guided into seeing the people behind the cases”
Publishers Weekly

Told with a novel’s narrative drive, this recounting of the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marriage, is taut, tense, and highly readable. . . . This book would make a great movie, and in the meantime, it is an excellent choice for book groups looking for exciting nonfiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

“[An] affecting, eloquent account… The authors ably create the suspense of anticipation and winnow the legal issues for lay readers. Uplifting, well-written story of personal courage and political empowerment.”
Kirkus Reviews

“If you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘how can I possibly win against these huge odds?’, this is a story for you. Because you will never forget Jim Obergefell and his lawyer Al Gerhardstein, two men who fought with every ounce of will they could muster. This book will become a classic.”
— Erin Brockovich

Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality (9780062456083) by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell. $27.99 hardcover. 6/14/2016 on sale.