Rave4ColumnsUp Jumped the Devil is at once welcome and unnerving. A clear-eyed assessment of Johnson’s life and career—starting with the fact that it was a career, not some demonic compact—it aims to strip away, like old varnish, the many layers of inaccuracy and romanticizing that have accreted over the decades ... One of the biggest surprises of Up Jumped the Devil, in fact, is that there are so few surprises. But that’s no reason to ignore it, for what Conforth and Wardlow do provide, for the first time, is the connective tissue that had been lacking between the established episodes, giving them greater depth and context. Having mined census records, school records, period maps, and birth and marriage certificates, in addition to reading widely, conducting numerous interviews, and drawing on their predecessors’ unpublished insights, they offer much to satisfy the cognoscenti. Among the book’s virtues are the most complete picture to date of Johnson’s childhood and early years, including many new details about his time in Memphis; a nuanced account of his interpersonal relationships—with family, with fellow musicians, with women; and a resonant portrait of the life of an itinerant musician, its freedoms and its fug.
Ian S Port
Positive4Columns\"... the most comprehensive account to date of [Les Paul and Leo Fender], while mercifully avoiding gearhead-level doses of minutiae. Written in pleasantly workmanlike prose, the book features some nice turns of phrase, though occasionally it also suffers from a rather breathless tone... and—a pet peeve—sloppy editing ... Where I find the book most valuable is in its first-hand details, many of them culled from the author’s interviews with key figures, and in its debunking of some long-held myths...\
MixedThe Wall Street JournalOne strength of Ms. Moorehead’s book is that it offers a neat capsule history of Italy in the first half of the century, particularly Mussolini’s rise to power. She is especially good at conveying the atmosphere of Florence, where the fascist movement gained traction, and the blend of intimidation, inertia, fractured opposition and populist resentment that offered it such fertile ground ... one problem with A Bold and Dangerous Family is that its heroes don’t often seem as admirable or as capable as we might expect. Apart from their chronic obliviousness to the welfare of their nearest and dearest—Carlo never seems to have considered, for instance, that his escape from Lipari would entail the retaliatory arrest of his wife—there is their exasperating capacity to trust all the wrong people ... nother problem is in the narrative itself. Ms. Moorehead has a novelistic feel for setting and character, but she often stumbles on the biographer’s pitfall of not being able to separate the relevant detail from the factoid ... Where A Bold and Dangerous Family does hit home is in its inescapable parallels to our current situation. Ms. Moorehead never makes the point explicitly, and she doesn’t have to.