Mother Jones – The Most Dangerous Woman in America. By Elliot J. Gorn. Hill and Wang. $27.
Mother Jones, union organizer, pint-size hellraiser, and namesake of this magazine, was a self-made woman. In fact, according to Elliot J. Gorn, the legend of Mother Jones was the creation of Mary Harris Jones, a real woman with an obscure past. This is not fresh news to anyone familiar with her story, but Gorn, in an attempt at a definitive biography, does an admirable job puzzling together the pieces of her life.
Jones was already an elderly woman when she burst onto the labor scene in the 1890s. Little is known about her life before that time, beyond what she wrote in The Autobiography of Mother Jones, published in 1925, five years before her death. Gorn does his best to fill in some of the gaps in Mother Jones’ story, sifting fact from myth. He uncovers a few new nuggets of Mother Jones lore, such as the fact that one of her brothers was a prominent Catholic clergyman in Toronto.
Gorn is at his best in placing Jones in the context of her times, and he offers a thoughtful examination of her controversial stance of opposing women’s suffrage as a bourgeois cause. But, however well researched, this biography falls short of being definitive. Mary Harris Jones guarded her private life too carefully for that. What remains is the legend, just as she had planned. —Maryanne Vollers
Money Makes the World Go Around By Barbara Garson. Viking. $24.95.
Starting with the principle that money, in the fast-paced world of international finance, “can’t just sit,” journalist Barbara Garson undertook to follow some of her own for a spell. She started with her book advance — one half of which she placed in a conservative small-town bank, the other in a high-yield mutual fund — and chased her dollars around the globe. The twisted journey takes her from a pizza parlor in upstate New York, to Chase Manhattan’s “fed funds” desk, to a seafood distributor in Brooklyn, to shrimp farms in Southeast Asia — even to a few IMF cocktail parties. Intent on humanizing the vastly complicated flow of international capital, Garson interviews everyone along the way: Thai street vendors, Malay fishermen, Wall Street bankers, and the factory workers laid off in corporate “restructuring” spurred by the very fund managers who ably increased her investment by 50 percent.
The resulting account, a sort of picaresque of worldwide capital, is vividly written and evenhanded, almost to a fault. Money Makes the World Go Around provides an excellent primer on the dynamic and too-often sinister machinations of the global economy. —Ben Ehrenreich
Pinochet and Me. By Marc Cooper. Verso. $22.
“Part reporter’s notebook, part diary,” Pinochet and Me provides a passionate firsthand chronicle of Chile’s transformation from socialist democracy to brutal, militaristic regime to problematic poster nation for free-market capitalism.
Marc Cooper first ventured to Chile as an idealistic 20-year-old in 1971 and found work as the translator for new socialist president Salvador Allende. He was soon forced to flee the country when General Augusto Pinochet’s CIA-backed coup took the life of his mentor, dashing his — and a nation’s — dreams. Cooper vividly recounts those days, as well as subsequent returns in 1975 to “a Chile in the grip of a homicidal spasm”; in 1983, when opposition reawakened in the slums of Santiago; and in 2000, when he reported on the country’s presidential election for this magazine. He finds that “the bewildering glitter of a new credit-driven consumerist culture” has all but erased the memory of the “seventeen-year-long night of dictatorship, death and terror” that replaced Allende’s vision of social justice. It’s this memory that Cooper honorably attempts to stir. —Ben Ehrenreich
Martyrs’ Crossing By Amy Wilentz. Simon & Schuster. $24.
Having reported for two years on Arab-Jewish conflict as the New Yorker’s Jerusalem correspondent, Amy Wilentz has turned to fiction to explore the bitter struggle. This page-turning political thriller centers on an Israeli checkpoint commander who belatedly disobeys his orders and allows a dying Palestinian toddler to receive medical attention. The child dies nonetheless, and the ensuing political firestorm forces the Israeli soldier to choose between patriotism and a sense of humanity that crosses ethnic lines. —Andrew Rosenblum
Dorchester Days. By Eugene Richards. Phaidon Press. $39.95.
The rooster alone seems contented. He’s cradled in the hands of a girl who lies supine across a disheveled mattress. In the foreground, a younger girl looks blearily up from the floor; in the background, an undressed boy is hunched over in a posture of childhood anguish. The image, from the cover of Dorchester Days, suggests the tone of this powerful collection: uncomfortably intimate, compositionally direct — and grimy. Eugene Richards, an acclaimed documentary photographer whose work is on exhibit at the University of California, Berkeley, through April, shot these pictures while unemployed in his childhood hometown — a mixed-race, Massachusetts city going to seed. Much of the visual drama is in the props: Toy guns. Pigeons. Racist graffiti. Cigarettes. Wading pools. Bloodstains. Viewed at a remove of some 20 years — Richards first self-published a shorter version of the book in 1978 — the portraits still have the scent of gin and arson smoke to them, the characters still quivering with life. —Michael Tortorello
Angels and Cigarettes. Eliza Carthy. Warner Bros.
The daughter of British folk vets Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, Eliza Carthy bridges the traditional and the trendy. Her mournful vocals and haunting violin suggest ancient tales of misfortune, while hip-hop undercurrents and startlingly frank lyrics add a timely edge. The brooding “Train Song” captures lust inspired by a stranger, while “The Company of Men” frames angry verses with glittering harp and swanky strings. Eloquent and unsentimental, Carthy understands the dark obsessions of the heart.
You Had It Coming. Jeff Beck. Epic.
Guitarist Jeff Beck has never suffered the need to be loved, and he continues to neglect commercial concerns to follow his own willful muse. This album finds him coaxing startling noises from his ax. He makes the guitar squawk and chatter gleefully on “Roy’s Toy.” The poignant “Nadia” is a reminder of the emotive power he can generate when he chooses, and the jagged licks of “Left Hook” exude swagger and menace. Beck’s showboating would be hard to take if it weren’t so damn enjoyable.
The Houston Kid. Rodney Crowell. Sugar Hill.
Rodney Crowell may not be slick enough for modern-day Nashville, but The Houston Kid is a thoughtful album that transcends categories. Ranging from jaunty rockabilly to delicate ballads, this memoir of childhood is anything but sugarcoated: His vignettes give life to petty criminals, lost souls, and unflinching scenes of domestic violence. But however grim his vision, Crowell voices it with compelling, youthful tenderness.
Blues Dream. Bill Frisell. Nonesuch.
Unassuming jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and his tasteful crew blend roots styles on Blues Dream. Greg Leisz’s twangy steel guitar provides the perfect foil to Frisell’s sweet ‘n’ salty licks, while the horn play of Ron Miles (trumpet), Billy Drewes (alto sax), and Curtis Fowlkes (trombone) bathes it all in a warm glow. The seductive, elusive Blues Dream is the ideal tonic for an addled world.
—Music reviews by Jon Young
Roll on Columbia: Woody Guthrie and the Bonneville Power Administration. Michael Majdic and Denise Matthews. 56 minutes. University of Oregon Media Services.
Fans of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie’s life and legend may be unaware of the month he spent on the federal payroll. In the spring of 1941, a penniless Guthrie traveled with his family to Portland, Oregon, for a job with the Department of the Interior’s Bonneville Power Administration. The feds needed a folksinger to write songs for a documentary film about the construction of two dams on the Columbia River, and Guthrie was hired to spread the message that cheap electricity meant power for the people. Guthrie wrote 26 songs during his 30-day stint — the most prolific period of his life — including such chestnuts as “Roll on Columbia,” “Jackhammer Blues,” and “Grand Coulee Dam.”
Combining footage from the original government film with present-day interviews, filmmakers Majdic and Matthews reconstruct this unlikely union of social activist and massive government project. Predictably, Guthrie’s music provides the backbone of the film, helping to bridge together commentary by son Arlo and Pete Seeger with crackly black-and-white construction scenes and scenic panoramas of the Columbia River basin. —Suzanne Boothby
The Return of Paul Jarrett. Clark Jarrett. 74 minutes. Jarrett Entertainment Group.
Living to be 102 is an accomplishment under any circumstances, but given that Paul Jarrett spent a chunk of that time dashing through no-man’s-land to capture German soldiers in the trenches of World War I, his longevity is something of a miracle. At the age of 93, the Purple Heart recipient decided to return to the site of his heroics in France, and his grandson Clark transformed the 1992 trip into this highly personal documentary.
The result is a homegrown blend of historical narrative and family photomontage. The elder Jarrett regales viewers with harrowing recollections of hand-to-hand combat and tales of evading barbed wire and machine-gun fire on the way to German bunkers. Equally compelling are the interviews with other nonagenarian veterans, who soberly recall the horrors of the trenches — poison gas, rats, massacred comrades, decaying corpses, freezing cold, and the ever-present fear of death. While the return to France has a vacation-photo quality at times, the vividly narrated history makes for a chilling memorial of the War to End All Wars. —Andrew Rosenblum