Good Reads: Reviews on Jack White, Becoming Amish, Heaven Was Detroit

New and Notable Books


Jack White: How He Built an Empire From the Blues

In this unauthorized biography, British journalist Nick Hasted charts the rise of Jack White, who along with ex-wife/”big sister” Meg achieved status as rock ’ n’ roll icons The White Stripes. Jack White: How He Built an Empire From the Blues (Omnibus Press, $29.95) is billed as the “first major biography” of White (ignoring 2004’s Fell in Love with a Band by local scribe Chris Handyside). Noticeably absent: new interviews with Jack or Meg, leaving Hasted to largely rely on stitching together quotes from other authors’ interviews, with few new interviews with fellow scenesters that fail to reveal much more lore than diehard Jack White fans probably already know. But they might appreciate having it all collected in one place. — Leyland DeVito


Becoming Amish

Jeff Smith says his book isn’t a how-to guide, but it might as well be. He documents experiences that led a childhood friend to go from disaffected BMW-driving, punk rock-listening architect living in Indian Village to assimilating with his family into a rural Michigan Amish community. In Becoming Amish (Dance Hall Press, $17.99), Smith paints a sympathetic portrait of a mysterious and misunderstood subculture. He probes the Amish’s shifting high-tech boundaries in the modern era: a spartan world of horse-and-treadmill-powered washing machines, solar panels, cellphones, and Internet use. His friend explains that what drew him to the Amish was not just shunning modern technology, but rather to “create a life where work, recreation, family, and religion were all one, a whole, not so fragmented.” As Smith observes, the Amish are all-American: entrepreneurial and independent, yet conformist and communal. Amid today’s partisan culture wars, it’s not hard to see the appeal. — Leyland DeVito


Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip Hop and Beyond

Detroit’s music has wide-ranging impact. So it’s fitting this anthology of essays includes authors from inside and outside our region. Heaven Was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip Hop and Beyond (Painted Turtle, $34.99) covers a lot of ground. Poet and professor M.L. Liebler edited the book, and he tagged a gaggle of respected writers and recording artists for takes on genres from jazz and hillbilly to rap and techno. Big names from publications like Rolling Stone and Creem weigh in, including Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, and Lester Bangs. Local media have their say, too, including Susan Whitall, Gary Graff, Hobey Echlin, and Brian McCollum. There are essays by John Sinclair and Marsha Music. And don’t forget music’s impact on society. There are notes from the underground, from an essay by Dan Carlisle on “The Day I Saved WABX” to Motown’s connection to the civil rights and Black Power movements.— Steve Wilke

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