"A gracefully written biography of a performing artist, composer, and folklore collector who was a powerful cultural force in twentieth-century America." Alan Jabbour, founding director of the American Folklife Center"
"In what is billed as the "first full-length biography of the 'dean of American balladeers,'" the University of Kentucky professor takes on the influential Louisville-born songwriter and folk singer."Lexington Herald-Leader"
"The enigmatic figure of John Jacob Niles, collector, songwriter, composer, and scholar, receives its due in the new biography from Pen."Library Journal"
"The University Press of Kentucky should be congratulated for publishing this fine volume on the life of John Jacob Niles. Ron Pen has done a masterful job of weaving together the various sources, beginning with Niles' own rustic memoirs, along with Rena Niles' more sophisticated recollections of events concerning the comings and goings on the concert trail both small and great. It deserves a wide audience."Br. Patrick Hart, Cistercian Studies"
"Pen covers the history and evolution of Niles' songs and those whom he collaborated; he delightfully fuses professional facts with anecdotes and gives an inside look at the great performer's personal life."Louisville Courier-Journal"
"In this carefully researched, detailed, even-handed biography, Pen . . . reveals Niles as a fascinating eccentric who 'became unable to disentangle his stage persona'as a folksy Kentuckian'from his real personality and fell victim to his own myth'of a man with a romanticized Anglo-Celtic past."Choice"
"Niles was . . . an important cultural influences, both as an musical archivist and creator, a and worthy of Pen's ardent and scholarly attention."Morning News"
"Pen writes about Niles 'warts and all,' as the saying goes, but in I Wonder As I Wander the warts are not allowed to overwhelm a telling portrait of an American original, both in his music an in the unapologetic way John Jacob Niles lived his life."Sun Chronicle"
"Pen has given us an exciting picture of a remarkable Kentuckian we should know and acknowledge for his significant contributions to American folk arts."Kentucky Libraries"
"Pen should be congratulated for providing such an insightful portrait of this fascinating individual. The book succeeds as a study of an important twentieth-century musician and composer, but it also provides a springboard for future studies on the nature of folk music and the meaning of the Appalachian region."Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association"
"The crazy-quilt pattern of American history includes few musicologists with Niles' breadth; his story is an unlikely and fascinating one. Pen tells it well it's an authoritative book that also happens to be a pretty good read." Washington and Lee University Alumni Magazine"
"As one reviewer has commented, 'John Jacob Niles was a Renaisance man who could build his own instruments and furniture and grow his own food.' . . . I Wonder as I Wander is the first full-length biography of this multifaceted performer and artisan . . ." Sing Out!"
"The life of John Jacob Niles (1892-1980) offers complexity and presents challenges to scholars of southern music. . . His biographer, Ron Pen, explores these complexitites and ostensible contradictions skillfully with subtle insight and tasteful, eloquent writing. . . The book reads well as a social history of twentieth century music performances." Arkansas Review"
"Pen does an admirable job telling the story of an important figure in the history of American music." Studies in American Culture"
"Pen has written a fine and detailed account of a collector and composer...providing not only a fine biography of a largely forgotten pioneer but also a detailed musical analysis of Niles's work, something frequently missing from musical biographies."Ohio Valley History"
"This well-crafted, highly detailed biography...presents compelling reasons for a reconsideration of Niles by those who have previously dismissed him."West Virginia History"
"The life of John Jacob Niles offers complexity and presents challenges to scholars of southern music...His biographer, Ron Pen, explores these complexities and ostensible contradictions skillfully with subtle insight and tasteful, eloquent writing."Arkansas Review"
"Rests on Pen's deft use of Nile's unpublished field notebooks, correspondence, and diaries."Journal of Southern History"
"Without Ron Pen, we wouldn't have a Niles more complete, more complex, than the outworn, dusty spite tales ever made him."Appalachian Journal"
"Reintroduces us to a figure of seminal importance in American musical history, someone whose creative energies and influences overflowed numerous boundaries and whose legacy is a constant question to prevailing standards of 'authenticity.'"Register of the Kentucky Historical Society"
"Pen excels at making history come alive: his descriptions of country and urban settings are rich with sensory detail, and his portraits of Niles and his contemporaries are well rounded and compelling." American Music"
"He tells a well-rounded story, and that surely is the best way to engage with a subject such as John Jacob Niles." David Atkinson, The Folklore Society, UK"
"Readers of this biography will recognize Pen's intimate knowledge of Niles, but I alos deem hs treatment of Niles as a remarkably accurate, generally unbiased accounting of his life. I Wonder as I Wander is valuable for folklorists. John B. Wolford, Journal of American Folklore"John B. Wolford, Journal of American Folklore
"The book is artfully written and reveals the author's wide knowledge of all kinds of music. It is one of the best biographies I've read dealing with such a complex and controversial figure as John Jacob Niles."Journal of Appalachian Studies