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If you think life happens fast now, consider 1966, when both the Beatles and the Stones imploded, and teenage pop became what we now know as "rock." Savage tells the story of a year in pop culture by looking at 12 songs and using them as springboards for discussions of Vietnam, civil rights, the counterculture, and more. It's a Pandora's Box of a book, that will send anybody interested in pop culture to YouTube to recall the sights and sounds of arguably the most important year of the 20th century. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Lansdale was the CIA agent who during the 1950s helped save the Philippines from the Communist menace. A patriot with tremendous sensitivity to foreign cultures, his counter-insurgency strategy came unraveled in Vietnam. In this fascinating biography, Boot mines the life and work of a spy to see how his ideas still have relevance to American foreign policy. It's a book that deserves to be read by anybody interested in our place in the world. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis in 1980, the members of Joy Division reconvened as New Order. Once they discovered the drum machine, there was no looking back. The thunderous basslines of their dance-rock hybrid were provided by Peter Hook. For a decade, he was the leather-trousered rock god of MTV's 120 Minutes, anchoring hits like "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle." The second volume of his memoirs is a veritable library's-worth of rock anecdotes, with all the furniture smashing, drug-fueled tantrums and band in-fighting one could ever wish for. As well as being a veritable manual on how not to get along with your fellow musicians, Hook also litters his stories of excess with liner notes on New Order's songs and loving descriptions of the gear that went into making them. An instant classic, perfect for any fan of 1980s music or just rock star misbehavior in general. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
Is there any genre of music more reviled, mocked, sniffed at or just plain hated than progressive rock? And therefore, is there any genre more radical, alternative or - dare I say it? - "punk"? Weigel's marvelous history is a gate-fold sleeve salute to the tunes and excessive soloing that beguiled a generation of beard-strokers. For all the elfin fantasy, though, it's also a story with its fair share of rock star shenanigans and just damned memorable tunes. Weigel talks to the surviving major players from groups like ELP and Rush, uncovering anecdotes like the time Rick Wakeman decided to while away one of his band-mate's solos by ordering a curry from the local Indian takeaway. A book that will bring a smile to even the most draconian musical snob, and might even inspire the reader to blow the dust off that copy of Tales from Topographic Oceans and drop the needle for one more journey to the very frontier of music itself. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley
One of the best books I read in 2017. The story of a retired academic's involvement with African refugees could not be more timely. With time on his hands, the widowed Richard becomes aware of the community of refugees seeking asylum in Germany. As the Africans are hustled from one shelter to another and subjected to legal challenges, Richard finds parallels with his youth in a divided Berlin. He also makes a new group of friends. Jenny Erpenbeck is one of Europe's most gifted writers. She weaves an epic, continent-spanning story with simple, short chapters as elegantly wrought as a Grecian urn. She also wrings the situation for all its humor, anger and tenderness. In a year marked by debate over borders and the people who cross them, this a very human tale that reminds us of what is at stake. Magnificent. ~ Reviewed by Charles Bottomley