Book Reviews II

See all reviews By Wayne Engle

Charles at Fifty – Anthony Holden

3.0 out of 5 stars – Blatantly biased against Charles, September 6, 2007

I’ve always believed that a biographer should strive to be as evenhanded about his subject as possible: Show the person “warts and all,” as Oliver Cromwell once said, the bad with the good, and let the reader decide on the noted person’s merit or lack of same.

Anthony Holden apparently would not agree with that belief — at least, not when it comes to Prince Charles. Despite his protestation in the prologue that he has “attempted to tell the tale as objectively as possible,” he also refers to “my informed disillusion with the prince to whom I once warmed.” Holden also acknowledges that he and Charles no longer speak to each other, and that Charles’s office was not cooperative with him in the preparation of “Charles At Fifty.”

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Gene Autry – His Life and Career – by Don Cusic

4.0 out of 5 stars – Good work — but a little shallow, August 11, 2007

This biography of the Singing Cowboy, the second complete one ever written, joins Holly George-Warren’s “Public Cowboy No. 1,” which also came out this year. As such they have some obvious similarities — and also some marked differences.
I discussed George-Warren’s book in another Amazon review. Cusic’s biography is well written and researched, although I did spot a few factual errors having to do with the dates movies were released and the like. Minor things, but they hurt an author’s credibility.

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The Beatles – The Biography – by Bob Spitz

4.0 out of 5 stars –  The Beatles? Or, John Lennon and Three Other Guys?, June 13, 2007

In many ways, this is the best Beatles biography I’ve read — the most voluminous, the most knowledgeable about their music, with the most detail that I hadn’t seen before. It’s obvious that Bob Spitz put in herculean efforts in researching and writing the book.

But — and this is the same “but” I’ve had to voice in other reviews of Beatles books — his fascination with John Lennon affects his objectivity. This is especially true whenever he’s speaking of Paul McCartney, and he is not the first Beatles biographer who seems to have some type of an animus against Paul. True, he gives him full credit for his musical genius.

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Public Cowboy No. 1 –  The Life and Times of Gene Autry – by Holly George-Warren

5.0 out of 5 stars –  Gene Autry’s life story,  at last,  April 15, 2007

Gene Autry, my childhood hero and that of millions of others, finally has gotten his due, on the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday. Autry was as unmistakably American as Will Rogers or Walt Disney, and every bit as remarkable.

This book, the first full-length biography of Autry and superbly written by Holly George-Warren, explores every nook and cranny of his long, busy and productive life, telling of things that many of us already knew — but in much more fascinating detail; exploding a few myths that Autry had encouraged about himself over the years; and adding more than a few revelations about his life that will shock the more naive of his fans.

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The Young Hitler I Knew – by August Kubizek

5.0 out of 5 stars – Portrait of a unique friend, February 7, 2007

I would recommend this book to anyone who has studied the life of Adolf Hitler. It brings him to life as a real person better than any other biography of him I’ve read — even though Kubizek’s book covers only the years of their friendship as teenagers, and their meetings in the late 1930s when the talented musician August Kubizek was a minor provincial official, and Adolf Hitler — once a frustrated architect and practically penniless — was leading the Third Reich down a path of conquest that ended in massive defeat and his own suicide.

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The Worst Noel – Hellish Holiday Tales – by Collected Authors

3.0 out of 5 – stars Christmas!!?? Oy vey!!, December 15, 2006

Yes, as you might guess from the title, this book is mildly amusing in spots. But then a leopard is coal black in spots, too. Most of the essays are written by Jewish females who tend to be too arch and clever by half for their own good, and who seem to think that cynicism and pseudo-sophistication are funny in and of themselves. Often, they’re not.

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Wings Over Madison – by Clyde H. Beyer

5.0 out of 5 stars – A memoir by a remarkable man, October 4, 2005

Clyde H. Beyer tells a fascinating tale of his days as a young American pilot in the early 1930s in the Ohio River town of Madison, Ind. He relied on a journal he kept for almost two and one-half years, and which he then “fleshed out” into a full-scale narrative. While not a professional writer, Beyer proves that he is a gifted natural storyteller with his descriptions of flying and the maintenance of early planes, and of life in the small town he moved to from his native Pittsburgh.

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Adolf Hitler – The Definitive Biography – by John Toland

5.0 out of 5 stars – Most unique figure of the 20th Century, May 23, 2005

In most biographies of Adolf Hitler, the “monster of evil,” the “madman,” the “mass murderer” have loomed so large that the man has been obscured, if not completely submerged. This is one point among many where John Toland’s book parts company with most that have come both before and after. This is not just the best Adolf Hitler biography I’ve ever read – it’s the best biography of ANYONE I’ve ever read. I never would have believed such a long book could be such an enjoyable read, yet be so totally informative, well-researched and well-documented.

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What Men Know That Women Don’t – How to Love Women Without Losing Your Soul
by Rich Zubaty

5.0 out of 5  stars – Shades of Philip Wylie!, March 23, 2005

What an extraordinary book this is! Written in a white heat that yet never causes the author to descend into sputtering or silliness, this book reminds me so much of “Generation of Vipers,” a magnificently angry book about the myriad problems with the way our world was being run in 1942,written by a man named Philip Wylie. I read that book for the first time at age 21, and I can honestly say it changed my worldview – permanently, on some issues. Rich Zubaty’s book, first published almost exactly 50 years later, has done the same for my perception of my sex, distorted as the image of we men has become in recent years, due to the feminist curse. And to think I once considered myself a male feminist!

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Dixie Rising – How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture
by Peter Applebome

4.0 out of 5 stars – Well written, but extremely biased, December 15, 2004

Mr. Applebome is excellent in his writing (I am a writer myself, for whatever that’s worth) and has a good eye for appearances and a facility for describing them well. Having said that, I must add that his political prejudices stick out like sore thumbs. An earlier reviewer commented that Applebome “doesn’t like Republicans.” I’ll add an amendment to that: He doesn’t like white Southerners, unless they happen to share his northeastern liberal views.

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Blackbird – by Geoffrey Giuliano

1.0 out of 5 stars – Modified character assassination, December 28, 2003

Geoffrey Giuliano seems to be deeply conflicted about Paul McCartney. On the one hand, he acknowledges Sir Paul’s awesome musical genius by commenting favorably about a number of his songs in the book. On the other, he seems determined to trash his subject’s reputation by seeking out and quoting at great length two people he knows will “dish dirt” — whether true or not is a matter of opinion — about the ex-Beatle; that is, Denny Laine and Jo Jo Laine.

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