An endlessly engaging cultural history that will resonate with anyone alive in 1974.

ROCK ME ON THE WATER

1974—THE YEAR LOS ANGELES TRANSFORMED MOVIES, MUSIC, TELEVISION, AND POLITICS

Atlantic senior editor Brownstein recounts the annus mirabilis that produced some of the most memorable songs, films, and TV shows in pop-culture history.

In a book that neatly brackets William McKeen’s Everybody Had an Ocean (2017), Brownstein conjures up the Los Angeles of 1974. It was a time of endless possibility, marked by countless highlights: Chinatown, Linda Ronstadt’s album Heart Like a Wheel, the completion of the first draft of the screenplay that would give birth to the Star Wars franchise, and the political rise of former seminarian Jerry Brown. In TV, Norman Lear had cornered the market on socially conscious, sometimes controversial comedy, as when the lead character of Maude got pregnant at age 47 and got an abortion. “Though the city was not yet the liberal political bastion it would grow into,” writes the author, “Los Angeles emerged as the capital of cultural opposition to Nixon.” Some of this opposition was seemingly innocent: The Mary Tyler Moore Show was funny, but it advanced the thesis that women could work, live single lives, and be happy while Jackson Browne proved himself a pioneer of painful self-introspection. But that innocence is illusory. As Brownstein writes, 1974 also saw a tidal wave of cocaine wash over LA, the favorite party appetizer of the film set, the music crowd, and celebrities alike. Brownstein also takes in a wide swath of the world outside LA, from the denouement of the Patty Hearst kidnapping to the emergence of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda as a political power couple. There’s some nice dish, too, as when Carroll O’Connor demanded artistic control of All in the Family because the Jewish writers wouldn’t understand the mind of a working-class Christian; and shrewd cultural analysis, as when Brownstein chronicles the transition by Browne and his contemporaries “from celebrating the freedom that revolution unlocked to tabulating its cost in impermanence and instability.”

An endlessly engaging cultural history that will resonate with anyone alive in 1974.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 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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A PROMISED LAND

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.

GREENLIGHTS

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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