Read Recently — March 2015 — Biography

Dizzy: the life and times of John Birks Gillespie by Donald L. Maggin

John Birks Gillespie, born in 1918, decided on a career in music when he was ten years old. It was that or pick cotton, and he wasn’t very good at that. Gillespie went on to become one of the great jazz trumpeters, influential in the creation of both Bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz styles, becoming jazz’s senior statesman after the death of Louis Armstrong and eventually dying in early 1993 (of pancreatic cancer).

The book is well-written and well-documented, drawing on the author’s own interviews with Gillespie and on other biographies. It’s marred slightly by Maggin’s apparent contempt for other forms of music than Jazz–but only slightly.

Recommended for Jazz fans and biography fans.

Farley: the life of Farley Mowat by James King

This book dates from 2002, which makes it rather inconclusive (at the time, Mowat was still alive and the book’s ending reflects that). It’s also surprisingly brief, considering it covers a life of, at the time, 8 decades. Entire years can go by in a paragraph (I actually understand and approve of this; sometimes nothing happens for a long time. You would probably have to pad things pretty badly to get my own almost-50-years into 25 pages).

Farley Mowat, if you haven’t heard of him, was one of Canada’s best-known and alternately most-beloved and most-reviled writers. For those of you who read Urban Fantasy, his book Never Cry Wolf debunked the “alpha leader” stuff in 1963. This book is his (incomplete) biography. You should read it. And then go read his books.

Recommended.

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