Is there any subject David Remnick can write about without his customary verve and insight? In this collection of 11 profiles, Remnick explores the lives and talents of popular musicians ranging from Charlie Parker to Patti Smith to Luciano Pavarotti, and in each case delivers not just a convincing case for the artist’s work but an empathetic understanding of what it means to create and survive in an often unwelcoming world. From first page to last, Remnick holds the note.
Martin Luther King Jr. is not exactly an uncovered subject, so it is shocking to learn that Jonathan Eig’s book is the first full-scale biography in decades and that it succeeds in presenting King in such a nuanced and revealing light. This is no hagiography, but neither is it sensationalistic. Eig argues persuasively and elegantly that King’s flaws were very much part of what turned his personal struggles into the struggle for civil rights, and no one can come away from this book without a freshly realized appreciation for his bravery.
Few correspondents covered the Middle East in the 1980s as Charles Glass did, so it is a pleasure to see how he uses that wartime experience to explore the friendship of the two Great War poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and the devastating post-traumatic stress disorders that were birthed in those bloodied trenches. Chance brought the two poets together at a Scottish hospital, where they were treated for shell shock, and it is thanks to the psychotherapy received there that each wrote his finest poetry. Glass brings vividly to life the carnage witnessed by the survivors of such battles as the Somme, and how doctors faced the challenges of patients with nightmares of headless torsos and falling headfirst onto rotting corpses. Sassoon died in 1967 at age 80; Owen, who was so deeply influenced by Sassoon during his recovery, returned to the front and was killed in action a week before the war ended. He was 25.