These two biographies celebrate the season of Seeger as he turns 90 on May 3, 2009. Because his life has been lived mostly in the public eye and there are relatively few archival materials, the authors repeat many of the same stories in almost exactly the same words. Both books chronicle Seeger's life from his childhood artistic ambitions to his growing love of music, early years as a folk musician with the Weavers, and passionate commitments to the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and environmental movements.
An accomplished storyteller, New Yorker writer Wilkinson (The Happiest Man in the World) draws on interviews with Seeger and others to present a seamless chronicle of his life and music, vivifying his passion for humanity, love of the environment, and deep curiosity about music. Although Wilkinson passes lightly over the origins of some of Seeger's songs, he shows how Seeger discovers that music can stem the tide of hatred, ignorance, and prejudice and be a force for reconciliation. Wilkinson includes two appendixes featuring reflections by Seeger's father on the purpose of music and a transcript of Seeger's testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955.
Winkler (Distinguished Professor of History, Miami Univ. in Ohio; Home Front U.S.A.: America During World War II) covers the same ground in a more workmanlike and pedantic fashion. Using the titles of Seeger's songs as framing devices, he peers into each chapter of Seeger's life at modest length, providing some details about how or why a song came to be written. In an afterword, Winkler reveals his adoration of Seeger by telling stories of sitting down with Seeger to play hissongs. All libraries will want a copy of Wilkinson's lively portrait; only large public and academic libraries should consider Winkler's treatment.
Henry L. Carrigan Jr.