Kill 'Em and Leave by James McBride
Searching for the Real James Brown

72%

6 Critic Reviews

Rendered in such skilled hands, the many Brown catchphrases—including the book’s title—take on a moving testament of survival rather than just remaining catchy aphorisms.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FINALIST

Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown’s rough-and-tumble life, through McBride’s lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown’s family and thousands of others were displaced by America’s largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin recounts, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown’s sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and interviews Brown’s most influential nonmusical creation, his “adopted son,” the Reverend Al Sharpton. He describes the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown’s first wife, and lays bare the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown’s estate, a fight that has consumed careers; prevented any money from reaching the poor schoolchildren in Georgia and South Carolina, as instructed in his will; cost Brown’s estate millions in legal fees; and left James Brown’s body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin in his daughter’s yard in South Carolina.

James McBride is one of the most distinctive and electric literary voices in America today, and part of the pleasure of his narrative is being in his presence, coming to understand Brown through McBride’s own insights as a black musician with Southern roots. Kill ’Em and Leave is a song unearthing and celebrating James Brown’s great legacy: the cultural landscape of America today.

Praise for Kill ’Em and Leave

“Thoughtful and probing . . . with great warmth, insight and frequent wit.”—Rick Moody, The New York Times Book Review

“[McBride] turns out to also be the biographer of James Brown we’ve all been waiting for. . . . McBride’s true subject is race and poverty in a country that doesn’t want to hear about it, unless compelled by a voice that demands to be heard.”—Boris Kachka, New York

“The definitive look at one of the greatest, most important entertainers, The Godfather, Da Number One Soul Brother, Mr. Please, Please Himself—JAMES BROWN.”—Spike Lee

“A feat of intrepid journalistic fortitude.”—USA Today
 
“This is an important book about an important figure in American musical history and about American culture. . . . You won’t leave this hypnotic book without feeling that James Brown is still out there, howling.”—The Boston Globe
 
“Illuminating . . . engaging.”—The Washington Post
 

About James McBride

See more books from this Author
James McBride is an accomplished musician and author of the American classic The Color of Water and the bestsellers Song Yet Sung and Miracle at St. Anna, which was turned into a film by Spike Lee. A graduate of Oberlin College, he has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. McBride holds several honorary doctorates and is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.
 
Published April 5, 2016 by Spiegel & Grau. 257 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Kill 'Em and Leave
All: 6 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
on Jan 26 2016

An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American culture.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Aug 13 2016

McBride’s storytelling is heavily impeded by clichés and trite metaphors, but the power of his subject matter nevertheless shines through in this solid work of journalism.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Aug 13 2016

Rendered in such skilled hands, the many Brown catchphrases—including the book’s title—take on a moving testament of survival rather than just remaining catchy aphorisms.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Rick Moody on Mar 28 2016

...none of these biographical facts are as manifestly obstructive as the single greatest impediment to writing about James Brown...that Mr. Brown did not, in fact, much want to be known...James McBride’s welcome elucidation of these points is clear, deeply felt and ­unmistakable.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from NY Times

AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Ryan Vlastelica on Apr 04 2016

But the tone is a deliberate choice, used for a serious purpose: McBride’s subject isn’t just one of the pivotal figures of 20th-century culture, but the proud black man, in his estimation.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from AV Club

National Post arts

Above average
Reviewed by Mike Doherty on Apr 11 2016

McBride’s advocacy for Brown’s music is stirring; he writes of children he teaches who are delighted when they hear the Godfather’s songs.

Read Full Review of Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching... | See more reviews from National Post arts

Reader Rating for Kill 'Em and Leave
85%

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