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Friends of the Newark Free Library

Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Book Reviews provided by Friends.
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Sound Pictues: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin The Later Years, 1966-2016

Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on 19 September, 2019 at 14:10 Comments comments (361)

By Kenneth Womack

Reviewed by Roy H. Lopata

I would hate my disappointment to show, but Kenneth Womack’s long and winding road through George Martin’s years as the Beatle’s producer is not what it appears to be. Instead of Martin’s “life,” this volume feels like it’s a thousand pages, give or take a few, of the rehearsing, recording and re-recording; overdubbing; mixing; arranging and orchestrating every second of every single track of every record the Beatles made from 1966 until the band broke up in 1970. I don’t want to sound like a complainer but a reader of this helter skelter mess of a book would have to be either seriously musically inclined (especially interested in the recording rather than the playing of music), or a Beatles fan of epic proportions who wants to learn each twist and shout of the process involved in bringing original fragments of Beatles song ideas to fruition. And frankly, I’m going to let you down by noting that the previous sentence makes Womack’s volume sound more interesting than this very strange book actually is.

Womack begins where I presume he left off in a previous volume with the Beatles at the height of their chart-topping success by describing the work behind the recording of Revolver. Then, in the only section of the book I would suggest that is worth reading, Womack turns to describing the germination of the ideas for what many consider the greatest rock and roll album of all time -- Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Womack provides mind-numbing detail of all the fits and starts, tedium and the magical mystery tour involved in the Beatles writing the Sgt. Peppers music and Martin’s contribution to this groundbreaking LP. Martin’s subsequent role in the recording of the singles Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane also is notable as it underscores how the Beatles, even in the midst of interpersonal struggles and feuding could come together to make records that when one reads the songs names we hear the music playing inside our heads. But eventually a lengthy and sad sequence of hard days nights results in the end of the band in 1970. From here Womack describes Martin’s many years working with other recording stars including Jeff Beck, America, Cheap Trick, Elton John and Paul McCartney as a solo artist. I should have known better and left the text unread after the Beatles’ breakup since Womack’s description of Martin’s work in multiple recording studios after the end of the Fab Four continues the monotonous pace of most of the volume.

So if you see Womack’s George Martin bio on the Newark Free Library shelves I suggest you let it be and instead, if you are interested in his life story, just imagine it.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II.

Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on 19 September, 2019 at 14:00 Comments comments (0)

By: Sonia Purnell

Reviewed by Bob Taggart

Virginia Hall (1906-1982) is a name few Americans know, which is partly rectified by this account of a terrifically effective American woman spy in Vichy France during World War II. Virginia came from a wealthy Baltimore family and attended Radcliffe and Barnard, where she studied French, Italian and German. After refusing several marriage proposals, the adventurous Virginia travelled the Continent, then worked in the consular office of the American Embassy in Warsaw by 1931. Unfortunately, she shot herself in her leg the next year in a hunting accident, causing the amputation of one leg below the knee, which ended her diplomatic career. Retaining her sense of humor, she later named her wooden leg "Cuthbert"!

Seeking adventure, she served as an ambulance driver in France when the Germans invaded in 1940. Virginia fled to southern France and moved on to London where she joined the new SOE ( Special Operation Executive) to be trained for British intelligence operations. She was quickly sent to Toulouse and Lyon to set up underground contacts with Resistance fighters. For 15 months, using such aliases as Germaine, Camille and Diane, Virginia achieved more than any other British operative in an incredibly perilous situation. She had to make and expand contacts, guarding against double-agents, while organizing numerous cells. She gathered money and armaments through couriers from Switzerland, and directed air drops of munitions and supplies in numerous operations. Virginia was so successful, the Gestapo called her the " most dangerous of all Allied spies." The Germans never captured her as she used various disguises and frequent moves to stay free, unlike many of her less careful British colleagues.

This account is at times nerve-wracking to read because one becomes convinced she will be caught by German and Vichy cars, airplanes and counter-intelligence agents, especially when she helped with radio transmissions.

By late 1942, the Germans took over all of France, and Virginia had to escape. Despite her wooden leg, she walked 50 miles in two days over the Pyrenees into Spain where she was captured by Franco's police but freed due to U.S. Embassy intervention. She returned to a desk job in the London SOE office but was so valuable she was sent back to Lyon to direct larger clandestine operations, training three battalions of Resistance fighters. She had great success despite local chauvinists who did not like Americans or women bosses. Virginia continued her career in the SOE, the American OSS, and in the CIA until 1966.

Virginia was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre MBE, but was often shamelessly ignored in the CIA. The CIA eventually recognized her work by naming a building after her at Headquarters, but that was years later. Still, she is now recognized for her superlative work by the British, French and American intelligence community. I think you will agree with them after reading about this amazing and courageous woman. If you liked this book, you might also like the author's recent work, Clementine, The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill.