This new, slim, beautifully thought and written book on John Cage is the first book anyone interested in Cage's life and work should turn to. It's also a model for what a 'critical life' should be.
Haskins explains in his introduction that he finds the experience of playing Cage's music beautiful, and then goes on to elucidate the path to and means of that beautify in Cage's career. He loves Cage, and out of that love is willing to think critically about the man and the composer, an essential feature. There was no one like Cage, and he was one of the most important artists in the history of civilization, but that does not mean that every though he had was good, nor that every piece he made was successful, that made sense even on his own terms, and Haskins is clear about this.
Haskins depth of knowledge is impressive, but the book is not weighty. He expresses important and difficult concepts clearly and ties them in directly to Cage's actual practice and experience. The biographical details are cogent but brief, and Haskins emphasizes the flow and change of Cage's musical output. He doesn't fetishize "4',33"" and the "Sonatas and Interludes," but identifies the truly fertile periods of Cage's work, and makes lucid critical judgements on what pieces stand in the first rank of achievement. Throughout, he has great intellectual and emotional affection for Cage, but it never clouds his thinking or his writing. The best single book on Cage that has been published.