Not as much fun as Almost Famous, but fans of LP–era rock will enjoy Carlin’s knowledgeable deep dive.



The author of biographies of McCartney, Simon, and Springsteen delivers a fast-paced, overstuffed history of the storied record label.

In 1958, Warner Bros. Records began as a kind of joke, with records by pseudonymous artists and titles like But You’ve Never Heard Gershwin With Bongos. Jack Warner’s only rule was that “the company made money—and that nothing they released sounded anything like rock ’n’ roll.” Never mind that Elvis was the king of the charts. When Frank Sinatra took up with Reprise Records—whose name, writes Carlin hinted not just at the musical reprise but also at reprisal, “which appealed to Sinatra’s desire to exact revenge on Capitol Records”—the rule held until Mo Ostin and a handful of A&R men and producers seized the reins. Though Ostin’s guiding principle was “Let’s stop trying to make hit records,” everyone involved was won over by the success of a slate of 1960s acts, including the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix, for whom Ostin “offered a fifty-thousand-dollar contract for three albums, a pretty rich deal for an untested artist.” Pressing records became like minting money. In February 1973 alone, writes the author, “Of the sixteen albums Warner Bros. Records uncorked that month, ten of them had climbed onto Billboard’s best-selling album charts by April.” The good times continued long past the hippie heyday up until the era of MTV and video-friendly artists like Madonna. Alas, Ostin’s hands-off attitude, willingness to share the spoils, and demand for independence increasingly fell athwart of corporate executives as the record business conglomerated, with one particularly obnoxious corporate exec gloating, “We’re coming after all the cowboys.” Ostin and his cowboys rode off into a sunset that grows ever darker as the record business declines, but Carlin captures their glory days without sentimentality or untoward nostalgia.

Not as much fun as Almost Famous, but fans of LP–era rock will enjoy Carlin’s knowledgeable deep dive.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30156-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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