"A beautiful, honest portrait."--Los Angeles Times
"A slim, lucid volume . . . packs in all the key twists and turns in Seeger's very full life."--Boston Globe
"Wilkinson has done a magnificent job of creating a picture of a virtuous and principled man."--Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In prose as unassuming as his subject, Wilkinson captures Seeger's unpretentious, down-to-earth manner."--San Francisco Chronicle
"In crisp, elegant prose, Wilkinson outlines Seeger's early life, his family's influence upon his work, his activism for peace, civil rights and the environment, and his friendships with other legends such as Woody Guthrie."--Dallas Morning News
"A quick read that is both pithy and entertaining."--Christian Science Monitor
“Wilkinson's biography reads as lucidly as if we were there with him, listening to Seeger's history as he boils maple sap down to syrup and chops his daily quota of firewood.”—Publishers Weekly
"[Wilkinson] draws a picture of the folk singer not only by summoning up his history, public and private, but by giving us the man observed, in small swatches of manner and conversation.”--Newsday
…when Wilkinson, a writer at The New Yorker, approached him about yet another account of his life, Seeger replied, "What's needed is a book that can be read in one sitting." With The Protest Singer, Wilkinson has met that challenge, producing a slim, laser-sharp portrait of an artist and activist who has changed the lives of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and millions of people who have lifted their voices to join him in song.
The New York Times
In his latest book, New Yorker writer Wilkinson (The Happiest Man in the World) gives due praise to the influential American singer Pete Seeger, who humbly told his biographer that "what's needed is a book that can be read in one sitting." It is just such a spirit of humility that emerges from Wilkinson's lovely and, indeed, brief profile of Seeger (who turns 90 in May), at once social activist, environmentalist and, above all, courageous musician, the peoples' singer, who wholeheartedly believed in his father's dictum that "music, as any art, is not an end in itself, but is a means for achieving larger ends." Wilkinson's thorough research is artfully couched in his extended interviews with the singer on his wooded property in upstate New York, during which Seeger elucidates his storied genealogy, recounts his times with Woody Guthrie and describes his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955 (the full transcript of which is reprinted as an appendix). Wilkinson's biography reads as lucidly as if we were there with him, listening to Seeger's history as he boils maple sap down to syrup and chops his daily quota of firewood. In Wilkinson's writing, one can almost hear Seeger's axe splitting the logs. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
An economical, unsentimental, illuminating look at the venerable folk singer. Veteran New Yorker contributor Wilkinson (The Happiest Man in the World: An Account of the Life of Poppa Neutrino, 2007, etc.) here expands a magazine profile of Seeger, who turns 90 this May. The musician asked the journalist to pen a book that could be read in one sitting, and we see a pleasingly close-up view as he rattles around the Beacon, N.Y., cabin he built with his own hands. The author gracefully reveals the arc of Seeger's life and career. Born into a privileged, musical family, as a youth the musician gained a love for American folk music, facility on the five-string banjo and a commitment to political and social causes. He dropped out of Harvard to play with folk icon Woody Guthrie and work with folklorist John Lomax at the Library of Congress. After some time on the road, Seeger was embraced as a performer-first by the American left as a member of the Almanac Singers and then by pop listeners as part of the hitmaking quartet the Weavers, who notched a No. 1 hit in 1950 with "Goodnight, Irene." The core of the book focuses on his victimization during the Joseph McCarthy witch hunts, when his ex-Communist background led to the Weavers' blacklisting and Seeger's appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which resulted in a contempt of Congress conviction that was later overturned. Effectively shut out of performing on television for a decade, Seeger nonetheless became the dean of the American folk-music movement, thanks to his fearless and principled work on behalf of the nuclear-disarmament, civil-rights, antiwar and environmental movements. Here he emerges as a quiet,matter-of-fact yet hard-headed and courageous individual with a rare gift for drawing listeners of all ages into his songs, and a political boldness as understated as it is uncompromising. Wilkinson strikes exactly the right notes in this deft look at one of America's towering musical treasures. Author tour to Boston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle