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A-OnMichaelJacksonWhat, take Michael Jackson seriously? Margo Jefferson believes we should. Her new book-length essay argues that the Gloved One deserves our sympathy because his curious transformation into a reclusive Peter Pan simply reflects our own pop culture. With chapters that explore his fascination with P. T. Barnum, the mutability of his dancing style and his face, and his Sisyphean legal struggles (not to mention his dysfunctional upbringing), On Michael Jackson is less a biography than a rumination on the perils of being the King of Pop and the people who once called themselves his fans.
Riverhead. 146 pages. $20. ISBN: 0375423265

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She’s nonjudgmental when it comes to characterizing Jackson, refusing to rip him as a slimeball on the one hand, or label him a misunderstood martyr on the other. What Jefferson lyrically and skillfully does here is give us fleeting, disconnected scenes from Jackson’s life and background, putting together her volume impressionistically. While biographical, her book is not biography, but interpretive." Harvey Pekar

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With On Michael Jackson we have a book closer in spirit to a performance by the King of Pop himself—something graceful, capable of moves both liquid and percussive, dancing across the rooftops of cultural history rather than digging in the basement." Scott McLemee

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gathering Mr. Jackson’s files in one place has a cumulative effect: We are in the presence of grandmaster-level bizarreness, not just showbiz posturing. As she, um, ‘deconstructs’ her subject, she builds, with almost prosecutorial efficiency, the case that wacko Jacko is more deserving of our pity than our scorn." Kyle Smith

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"Though Jefferson is interesting on the intersection of race, sex, gender, and America, the subject of pedophilia does not lend itself to free-floating riffs. … Still, because Jefferson explores Jackson as a cultural icon rather than as a ratings/sales media booster, the book seeks to explain rather than exploit the pop star." Deirdre Donahue

Chicago Sun-Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Her intellectualizing of Jackson’s cultural context often prattles on around her subject without seeming to actually grasp it. Jefferson’s critical arsenal is impressive, but she never quite hits a bull’s-eye. Her analysis elicits more ‘hmmm’ than ‘a-ha!’" Thomas Connor

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"This meditation arrives years late, at a time when the story of the child star who became the world’s biggest star and then became a freak has been told in so many books, articles, TV movies, and documentaries that we know it by heart. Jefferson has a hard time finding new information that doesn’t sound like fanzine factoids." Touré

Critical Summary

It’s a high-wire act to admire and defend someone as genuinely bizarre and embattled as Michael Jackson. Most of the public has long come to a conclusion about him, so much so that his name rarely grabs tabloid headlines anymore. That Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning culture and theatre critic for the New York Times, is able to tease out some new insights into Jackson’s relevance is something of an accomplishment. That she provokes some sympathy for her subject is even more impressive. Not that the praise is universal. Her own home paper finds that fanaticism blurs her judgment, something we’ve all been guilty of from time to time.