Nearly as tragic as Michael Jackson’s untimely death is the fact that he’s mostly remembered as a punch line, not as one of the most influential entertainers of the last century. MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson seeks to remedy our amnesia. Steve Knopper, a Denver resident and a contributor to 5280 and Rolling Stone, interviewed more than 400 people to track Jackson’s entire life. But more than rehash the well-known arc of the dysfunctional Jackson clan, Knopper targets the details that turned a child star into the King of Pop. Jackson spent hours studying Fred Astaire; his music matured under Quincy Jones. The MJ Knopper depicts is a talent who turned himself into the world’s biggest pop icon. When the narrative meets Jackson’s legal, financial, and drug problems, Knopper plumbs his sources to give you the full measure of the singer’s naiveté. (Despite having only about $660,000 on hand in 2007, Jackson was plotting to open “a Wizard of Oz–style ‘leisure kingdom’ in the Middle East.”) MJ can feel dense with detail at times, but that’s necessary to create a portrait of Jackson that’s anything but black and white.

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