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Woody Guthrie, American Radical (Music in American Life) Hardcover – March 8, 2011

2.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Drawing on previously unseen letters, song lyrics, essays, and interviews with family and friends, Kaufman traces Guthrie's involvement in the workers' movement and his development of protest songs.  He portrays Guthrie as a committed and flawed human immersed in political complexity and harrowing personal struggle."--Library Journal
 
"Kaufman is an excellent guide to a tradition buried under a multi-decade propaganda campaign that buried the stories of rural and radical America."--PopMatters


"A fascinating look at Woody Guthrie's politics."--MOJO


"A vital contribution ... because of the radical inspiration it ministers during a darkly troubling time in US history when a resolute enflaming of the spirits of resistance and rebellion is urgently needed."--ZCommunications




"Overdue rediscovery of folk music’s great agitator."--Kirkus Reviews

"America, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots grow increasingly wide, Woody Guthrie, warts and all, seems more important than ever."--Nashville Scene

Book Description

Unearthing the legendary folkie's deep roots in radical politics

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Product Details

  • Series: Music in American Life
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1St Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252036026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252036026
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As so often happens with creative and performing artists whose politics are glaringly opposed to the often narrow limits of what the mainstream opinion-makers will allow in America, Woody Guthrie and many of his more radical and tenaciously anti-capitalist songs have long been whitewashed and airbrushed for general consumption. Despite the relentless best efforts of his old buddy Pete Seeger, most of those in this country who are aware of Woody know him only as "the Dust Bowl Ballad Balladeer" and the composer of "This Land Is Your Land" (which itself has been whitewashed).

Will Kaufman has gone a long way toward rectifying these gaps with this meticulously researched volume. Full access to the Guthrie Archives has afforded Kaufman the opportunity to delve into hundreds of Woody's generally unknown lyrics, poems, essays and articles. What emerges is a passionate political activist who sought always to put his art at the service of anti-racism, anti-fascism, and social and economic justice. It is not always a pretty picture we get of this notoriously mercurial figure, but it is never less than a lively and fascinating one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Based on various critics' reviews of this I was expecting a highly readable and engaging book. I seriously struggled to make my way to the last page. This is one of the most boring books I have ever read! One would think with a life like Woody's there would be enough material for the right writer to come up with something exciting and essential to read. This writer and this book are neither of those, sadly. One of the very rare books I got rid of immediately after reading it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a good book for the dyed in the wool Woody fan. Shows a side of Woody that a lot of the stuff written about him doesn't.
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Format: Hardcover
Like reading a phone book.
Just the facts but no personality disclosed. Could not even read it.
Boring!
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Format: Hardcover
This book achieves its stated goal of restoring Guthrie's credentials as a political radical, specifically as an unwavering follower of the political line of the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA). For that scholarly achievement, I might give the book five stars. However, Kaufman not only documents Guthrie's political views, he often applauds them without submitting them to critical analysis.

While the author acknowledges that the political agenda of the CPUSA was under the control of the Soviet Union during the years of Guthrie's allegiance to the Party, he is unwilling or unable to explain how an apparently smart, compassionate person such as Guthrie could rationalize the many horrors committed by the totalitarian Soviet state. Although the CPUSA was often at the forefront of the civil rights, workers' rights and anti-fascist struggles of the thirties and forties, even when and where advocating for those causes was unpopular and dangerous, it was also quick to subordinate those struggles to the political interests of the Soviet Union when Soviet policy required it (e.g. during the period of the Stalin-Hitler Pact).Couldn't Guthrie have been a progressive without being an apologist for Stalinism?

In addition, although Kaufman documents Guthrie's resistance to collective decision-making as a sometime member of the Almanac Singers, he doesn't explore the hypocrisy of a "communist" such as Guthrie refusing to reconcile his priorities to those of the group. It's clear that Guthrie wasn't much of a capitalist, but with respect to his main passion in life, song writing, he was more individualist than collectivist.

The author's failure to dig beneath the surface of the major political conflicts of Guthrie's times and his failure to explore the inconsistencies between his personal behavior and his public positions constitute major flaws. That's why I can only give it three stars.
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