Choosing Sides

  CENTER FIELD By Robert Lipsyte  HarperTeen/ HarperCollins Publishers (Ages 12 and up) 280 pages   Robert Lipsyte’s superb young adult novel Center Field makes you wonder if it’s possible to be neglected and smothered at the same time. Mike Semak, the hero, is basically home alone. His parents, at once overly solicitous and absent, fret over every detail of his high school career while spending all their time at their new flooring store. A passing altercation in a hallway with another student draws threats of lawsuits and criminal charges. Mike’s baseball team, and apparently much of his school, Ridgedale High, Read More

Blood on the Streets

THE DAY WALL STREET EXPLODED A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror By Beverly Gage Illustrated Oxford University Press 400 pages   At the stroke of noon on Sept. 16, 1920, a bomb exploded along Wall Street, killing 38 people and maiming hundreds more. It was the worst terrorist bombing in the United States until the Oklahoma City attack in 1995, the worst in New York until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The bomb was an immeasurably cruel device, most likely dynamite tied to iron sash weights that acted as shrapnel. It blew people apart Read More

A League of Their Own

WE ARE THE SHIP The Story of Negro League Baseball Written and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson Jump at the Sun/Hyperion (Ages 8 and up) 88 pages    SATCHEL PAIGE Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm Illustrated by Rich Tommaso The Center for Cartoon Studies/Jump at the Sun/ Hyperion  (Ages 10 and up) 89 pages No more tragic or romantic institution emerged from the Jim Crow era of American life than the Negro League. African-Americans were banished from the majors in 1884, and a few seasons later from the minors as well, under a “gentleman’s agreement” between white owners and players. Read More

Waiting to Exhale

  The Air We Breathe By Andrea Barrett W.W. Norton & Company 320 pages   FICTION is dead, or so we are told, ad nauseam, often by those who are supposed to be its advocates. It’s not dead, of course, but its readers have been balkanized almost to the point where it has become irrelevant. Through niche marketing, the novel has been drained of its importance. A case in point is Andrea Barrett’s latest work, The Air We Breathe. Set from late July of 1916 to the winter of 1917-18, and technically a historical novel, it might better be described Read More

Modernist Times

  From a Cause to a Style Modernist Architecture’s Encounter with the American City By Nathan Glazer Princeton University Press 320 pages   The recent death of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was a sad reminder of how the public intellectual is passing from our midst. That is to say, the individual still bold enough to put his mind and his knowledge to use in analyzing the world around us, in language that most of us can understand, and with an eye toward effecting practical improvements. This is apparently a rarer skill set than most of us might once have imagined. Fortunately, Read More

Ship To Shore

  Thunderstruck Erik Larson Crown 480 Pages   Erik Larson has done it again. In Thunderstruck, just as in his last book, The Devil in the White City, he has taken an unlikely historical subject and spun it into gold. The formula is simple enough, though the finished books verge on alchemy. The only question is whether we’re getting true magic or mere sleight of hand. In The Devil in the White City, Larson started with the story of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago and mixed in the tale of a ghoulish serial murderer. In Thunderstruck, he has Read More

The Model President

  LINCOLN A Life of Purpose and Power By Richard Carwardine. Illustrated Alfred A. Knopf 394 pages    LINCOLN IN THE TIMES The Life of Abraham Lincoln as Originally Reported in The New York Times Edited by David Herbert Donald and Harold Holzer Illustrated St. Martin’s Press 413 pages TODAY we look to television for our presidential ideals. Practically the only programs on network TV that are not yet “reality based” are those weighty dramas set in the White House. The presidents and would-be presidents, portrayed by the likes of Martin Sheen, Geena Davis, Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda, are fantastically Read More

Vanished Americans

  1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann Illustrated Alfred A. Knopf 462 pages     Most of us know, or think we know, what the first Europeans encountered when they began their formal invasion of the Americas in 1492: a pristine world of overwhelming natural abundance and precious few people; a hemisphere where — save perhaps for the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of Central America and the Incan state in Peru — human beings indeed trod lightly upon the earth. Small wonder that, right up to the present day, American Indians have usually been presented Read More

Iron Horse Power

  Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig By Jonathan Eig Illustrated Simon & Schuster 420 pages   HE remains the elusive hero. In a city where sports superstars have rarely tried to hide their light under a bushel, Lou Gehrig assiduously ducked publicity throughout his truncated life. And yet in the end the tragic circumstances of his death, along with a few words from the heart, would etch his legend across the firmament as indelibly as any other’s in the history of American sport. Standing before more than 61,000 hushed fans in Yankee Stadium on a muggy Read More

On 9/11, Before the Horrible Became the Unimaginable

  102 Minutes The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers By Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn Illustrated Henry Holt and Times Books 322 pages Perhaps the strangest thing about the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, for many of us who lived through the attack and its aftermath in New York, is how unreal it all seems now. Already, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, often feel as if they took place in the distant past. And yet all it takes is the smallest reminder—a low-bearing plane, a National Guardsman patrolling Grand Central Terminal, Read More