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Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul Paperback – November 1, 2016

4.5 out of 5 stars 304 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

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Praise for Kill 'Em and Leave:


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

“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.” —New York Magazine

“Masterly . . . powerful . . . McBride provides an invaluable service to the history of R&B.” —Los Angeles Review of Books 

“A feat of intrepid journalistic fortitude.” —USA Today 

“An important book about an important figure in American musical history and about American culture.” —The Boston Globe

“Illuminating . . . engaging.” —The Washington Post

“A gorgeously written piece of reportage that gives us glimpses of Brown’s genius and contradictions.” —O: The Oprah Magazine

“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

About the Author

James McBride is an accomplished musician and the author of the National Book Award–winning novel The Good Lord Bird, the bestselling American classic The Color of Water, the novels Song Yet Sung, Miracle at St. Anna, and Deacon King Kong, the story collection Five-Carat Soul, and Kill 'Em and Leave, a biography of James Brown. The recipient of a National Humanities Medal, McBride is also a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House; Reprint edition (November 1, 2016)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0812983734
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0812983739
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.4 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.25 x 0.55 x 7.95 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 304 ratings

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James McBride is the author of the award-winning New York Times bestseller, The Color of Water. A former reporter for The Washington Post and People magazine, McBride holds a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. from Oberlin College.

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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5
304 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on March 31, 2019
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much McBride, Too Little Brown
By P Jaeger on March 31, 2019
I loved James Brown, and it's clear from page one that James McBride also loved James Brown. However, my impression of his book is that there's too much of the author and not enough of the subject. I was keen to read more about JB, but found my reading time being hijacked by the author's personal story when I was hoping to gain enlightening new insights about the Godfather of Soul.
The beginning of the book is loaded down with too many attempts at establishing black credibility. While I understood the author's anger over an inaccurate TV show about Brown, I disagree that one needs to be black to write credibly about James Brown. I wasn't wowed by cliches like "growing up in the projects", "eating pork, grits and collards" nor by the name-dropping of formerly tough neighborhoods in New York City like St Albans and Red Hook. Finally, I'm suspicious about the author's claim that all black artists are consumed with deep foreboding fear of whites at every moment of their lives. I'm not sure all black artists would agree, but I am sure that black artists don't have a monopoly on feelings of fear and insecurity.
There's altogether too much hyperbole. Yes, James Brown was a phenomenal artist, a true originator, musically brilliant and perhaps even a genius. But was he in fact "the most misrepresented African-American figure of the past 300 years"? Should he be lionized so extravagantly as to claim that he is "perhaps as influential" as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas? And did he really "overshadow every single major black star of the 50s, 60s, and 70s" -- including artists McBride lists like Ray Charles, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, and the nearly divine Aretha Franklin? Such comparisons are forced and have no place in a serious biography.
After the first two chapters I couldn't take it any more, so I skimmed through the rest of the book looking for salient information about the hero. There is some, but not enough to justify the book as a new or important biography. It seems more an entreaty to the reader to believe that in the process of sniffing out the faded trail of James Brown's life, the author has gained some unique insights into the human condition and race relations in America. Whether he has or not, I will leave up to you to judge.
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8 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States on November 21, 2016
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18 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States on September 8, 2016
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Top reviews from other countries

sw sarah
5.0 out of 5 stars really down to earth reading
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 23, 2021
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One person found this helpful
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Nick Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars If any idiot doesn't understand why or how 'Black Lives ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 1, 2016
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3 people found this helpful
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TeeCee
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but slightly marred
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 3, 2016
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2 people found this helpful
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Very involved and researched, if slightly biased piece which ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 15, 2017
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Susan Pickard
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 29, 2018
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