Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

2016 Staff Favorite

Where most biographers and reporters gloss over the life of James Brown in all of its musical glory and drug-conflicted shame, James McBride digs deep to find what made one of the hardest performers in show business tick. What we get is a soul-searching portrait of a private and conflicted man, the character of his birthplace of the American South, and a meditation on the creative spirit -- and the loneliness it often travels with.


"You won't leave this hypnotic book without feeling that James Brown is still out there, howling."--The Boston Globe

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction, Deacon King Kong, and Five-Carat Soul

Kill 'Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown embodied the contradictions of American life: He was an unsettling symbol of the tensions between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. After receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth, James McBride goes in search of the "real" James Brown. McBride's travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown's never-before-revealed history, illuminating not only our understanding of the immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated Godfather of Soul, but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown's enduring legacy.

Praise for Kill 'Em and Leave

"A tour de force of cultural reportage."--The Seattle Times

"Thoughtful and probing."--The New York Times Book Review

"Masterly . . . powerful."--Los Angeles Review of Books

"McBride provides something lacking in most of the books about James Brown: an intimate feeling for the musician, a veracious if inchoate sense of what it was like to be touched by him. . . . It may be as close [to 'the real James Brown'] as we'll ever get."--David Hajdu, The Nation

"A feat of intrepid journalistic fortitude."--USA Today

"[McBride is] 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

"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

Publication Date: 
November 1, 2016