Displaying articles for: October 2008

The Hurricanes: One High School Team's Homecoming After Katrina

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, Cyril Crutchfield Jr. decided to stay in lower Plaquemines Parish, a peninsula south of New Orleans that had about half of the Gulf's oil supply coming through it as well as hundreds of millions of pounds of shrimp, crabs, and oysters annually. The state championship–winning high school football coach clearly had no idea what he was in for, fearing for his life as the water rose quickly up the gym bleachers he sat atop and the windows blew out. He managed to catch his championship trophy when it was floating by. "If it was a choice between saving a person and the state championship trophy, it was a no-brainer. I was saving that trophy," Crutchfield told Longman. When the storm was over, his part of the parish was devastated. One bit of stability people learned to look for throughout the region was high school football. Jeré Longman, a sportswriter for The New York Times who wrote the bestselling Among the Heroes: United Flight 93, grew up less than 200 miles northwest of New Orleans, in Cajun country. Here he carefully chronicles the story of Crutchfield and many of the players on his new team, the defiantly named Hurricanes -- a combination of three high school teams from the parish -- as they battle toward a state championship. From incredible lows (recruitment violations were committed in the hours after the storm by rival high schools) to the reunion atmosphere of Hurricane games as people returned to the region, Longman's story is way more than one about football. It's a fascinating microcosm of the overarching Katrina story with a twist: Poverty may be a cycle that many Americans can't find their way out of, but hope can be found in all sorts of places, including a high school football game.


Who ever heard of a serial killer story where you root for the murderer? Dexter, which began its third season on Showtime this September, turns its viewers morally upside down -- but it's weirdly compelling. What makes the show work? First, Dexter is no ordinary sociopath. Taught by his policeman foster father to channel his urge to kill, he grows into a vigilante who kills only other murderers. We identify with the power of revenge -- and rationalize the fact that Dexter's victims are worse than he is, even as we witness the kills and participates in Dexter's blood fetishism. Second, Dexter has humility. Rather than feeling superior to emotionally frail human beings (à la Hannibal Lecter), Dexter describes himself as "hollow" and "damaged." Disguised, in effect, as an ordinary human being, he tries to figure out what regular people do in regular situations -- like cuddling on the couch with his girlfriend. Jeff Lindsay keeps his monster at an ironic distance in the 2004 novel that gave rise to Dexter, but the television series humanizes him. The first season chips away at his icy image, and the second finishes the job. Dexter protects his girlfriend from her violent ex-husband and effectively takes his place (he's just great with the kids). And revelations of his own family origins literally stun him with their emotional power. In the end, Dexter makes sense not so much as an emotionally isolated serial killer as a family man with an odd hobby. It's a tribute to this unusual saga that he can somehow be both.

Road Shows, Vol.1

It is almost received truth among Sonny Rollins's legion of fans that the isolated environment of the recording studio inhibits the man known as the Saxophone Colossus from scaling the Olympian heights to which he often ascends when playing for an audience. Consider, for example, Without a Song (Milestone), a 2005 document of a Rollins performance at Boston's Berklee School of Music five days after the collapse of the World Trade Center (a quarter mile south of his Manhattan apartment), which captures about 20 minutes of improvising that is as transcendent as anything in the 78-year-old tenor saxophonist's entire oeuvre. For Rollins connoisseurs, however, Without a Song, which concluded Rollins's contractual relationship with Milestone, was a kind of tease, representing only one of hundreds of privately recorded concerts on which Rollins fully accesses his muse. On these, he reveals himself to be the most Proustian of improvisers, able to download at Pentium speed deeply embedded fragments of musical memory that span the entire jazz timeline, and to morph them into stunning, spur-of-the moment theme-and-variation disquisitions, shaping cogent, poetic musical architecture while navigating the highwire, always swinging with ferocious joie de vivre. On Roadshows, Vol.1, the first of a projected multi-disc release on his imprint label, Doxy, Rollins presents material from this heretofore untapped mother lode. He cherry-picks three tracks from the '80s and four from the '00s and sequences them into a virtual meta-concert, juxtaposing rompers with ballads, varying key signatures and beat structures, taking the bulk of the soloing yet making sure to represent his band members. His time feel is unparalleled, his tone heroic without excessive vibrato, and he unfailingly goes for the sound of surprise, exploring motifs from every conceivable angle, imparting to his phrases vivid splashes of timbre with balladic nuance at the fastest tempos. It is the strongest Rollins recording since the '60s, which is also to say that it is a must-buy, one of the most thrilling recordings in the entire jazz canon.

Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861

Historian Holzer describes in amazing detail the four-month period between Abraham Lincoln's November election victory and his March inauguration, describing it as "the most dangerous transition period in history" as Lincoln was "forced to confront the collapse of the country itself, with no power to prevent its disintegration." Holzer makes it clear that Lincoln, compelled to wait until an overwhelmed President Buchanan left office, chose a policy of silence, especially regarding slavery and southern secession: "hatever he might say would unavoidably alarm at least part of the country," writes Holzer, "Saying nothing was preferable to saying too much." Yet Lincoln never wavered from his principles, especially his strong opposition to the extension of slavery. As southern states began leaving the Union and a compromise plan wended its way through Congress, "Lincoln continued to hold his ground," writes Holzer, and even lobbied Congress against any compromise that would permit the extension of slavery. He wrote to one vacillating Pennsylvania Republican, typically declaring that "if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government." As Holzer skillfully shows, Lincoln faced a slew of other problems, including constant assassination threats, the nonstop demands of pushy office seekers, the challenges of selecting a Cabinet, and the difficulties of composing an inaugural address that would be both conciliatory and firm. Holzer has exhaustively researched extant accounts of Lincoln during this period, from journalists, friends, and Lincoln's own staff. Lincoln's good nature and his inexhaustible commitment to the country come across on every page of Holzer's finely crafted, impressively researched historical account.

The Wasted Vigil

Nadeem Aslam (Maps for Lost Lovers, Season of the Rainbirds) delves into the conflict-ridden reality of modern Afghanistan. From the Soviet invasion of 1979 to the U.S. war effort in the aftermath of September 11th, Afghanistan has been a battleground of opposing ideologies for decades now. The story takes place in the house of Marcus Caldwell, a British doctor who has made his home in Usha, a town near Jalalabad, since marrying an Afghan doctor. Both Qatrina, his wife, and Zameen, their daughter, have been lost to the tyranny of the Taliban, yet Marcus continues to live there like "a prophet in wreckage." Over the course of the story, several people will visit his house -- a Russian from St. Petersburg searching for her soldier brother, a young Islamic fundamentalist taking cover for a few days, a former CIA man much disillusioned with his role as a spy, and others. Aslam's writing gradually unravels the histories of the cast of characters and takes us into a civilization that, even though we learn more and more about it with every passing day, is still inscrutable to the Western eye. A pragmatist, Aslam takes no sides in the fight between Islam and the West, even as he approaches a rigid stance against terrorism. The softly gleaming beauty of his prose is immediately reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje, and the moral clarity of his concerns heralds a brave new voice in the mold of Salman Rushdie.

Don't Look Now

Ahem, Poe: You might not want to check over your shoulder. Just in time for Halloween -- Daphne du Maurier, the British writer who penned such classics as "Escort," "Don't Look Now," and "The Birds" reappears in a new collection of the odd, eerie and macabre. Du Maurier's output was classic stuff of the 1950s and '60s: Hitchcock used her stories for several films, for instance. She was extraordinarily prolific, but a great deal of her work has been out of print for decades. This collection showcases her cult and not-so-cult classics in all their chilling, uneasy glory. Du Maurier is a master of the peaceful beginning gone wrong -- her stories often launch with would-be landscape paintings of sea or scenery, behind which some awful pressure builds, threatening, like birds' beaks, to puncture. Other times the tales begin with the too-tidy house or the too-foggy night. Yet all her beginnings are full of delicious forebodings: In "Split Second," Mrs. Ellis, the finicky housewife, can't serve her jam to guests without feeling "a little stab of disappointment: it would mean a gap upon the store cupboard." Larger confusions and chaos are in store for her as the world she believes she lives in upends and becomes nightmarish: No amount of domestic order can keep that chaos at bay. Again and again, du Maurier's characters are helpless against the sudden and relentless power of another, more sinister dimension, one that enters through peripheral vision and then encroaches. Best not to look now, or really, ever: Like the evil that rears at the end of the titular "Don't Look Now," it is always too late when seen head on.

Have You Seen?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films

Allow an expert in his or her field to go to town on a favored subject, while keeping it all short, sweet, and accessible, and pay dirt is usually just around the corner. Fording the rivulet that divides the short essay collection and the "list" book, Have You Seen?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films is the kind of brief-attention-span read that leaves one not only free of guilt for having dipped into it but edified, itchingly eager to engage a fellow cineaste in aesthetic battle. Agree with him or not on his assessment of a given film, one can?t argue with the fact that David Thomson knows his stuff and then some. Author of the equally addictive Biographical Dictionary of Film, the San Francisco–based critic and author has seen -- and evidently pondered -- more movies than most of us will likely encounter in a lifetime. Have You Seen? considers those he deems particularly essential despite any faults his spot-on prose so clearly reveals. Thomson?s taste is refreshingly broad -- he kicks off with a critique of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein -- but far from down-and-dirty populist. Recognized Hollywood and international classics from Gone with the Wind to Persona are the norm here, sprinkled with intriguing personal choices (Went the Day Well, Rumble Fish) that reveal Thomson?s basically urbane taste -- look to his critical grandchildren to find the best in Grindhouse and the like. We turn to Thomson to pinpoint why a film works or not, ("Don?t try telling the picture business, or the audience, that The Sheltering Sky was just another version of The Sheik with a white woman swept off her feet, her camel and her existential worldview by a glorious Arab"), and for the most part, he nails it.

The Curious World of Drugs and Their Friends: A Very Trippy Miscellany

The Curious World of Drugs and their Friends does not endorse its subject matter, per se. Some of the more frightening consequences of drug use revealed in its pages include the guy who allegedly gouged his own eyes out under the influence of PCP and the drug dealer who went on a 13-day trip after swallowing his entire LSD stash during a drug raid. Nevertheless, this compendium justifies a place for intoxicants in literary, philosophical, political, and pop culture through the ages. Those who received a career boost from drugs include Ken Kesey, Andy Warhol (who combated weight gain and fatigue with the equivalent of Adderall), and Sigmund Freud, who recommended cocaine as a therapeutic treatment for morphine and alcohol addiction -- the use of all three undoubtedly influenced both the spectrum of his dream life as well as his sense of its importance. Rock stars, of course, inhabit a place of honor, from David Bowie (whose cocaine use, according to a Berlin transvestite, caused him to give off a particularly foul odor) to Amy Winehouse to the seemingly immortal Keith Richards (whose admission that he once tried to snort his father?s ashes mixed in with a line of cocaine is as inscrutable -- and hilarious -- as ever). Those looking for alternatives to drug use might investigate fasting, running and hyperventilating; or, much less advisably, trepanation (the act of drilling a hole in one?s head). This slim volume is quite useful as a guide to the state of altered states -- though what use one makes of it is, of course, entirely voluntary.

Dodsworth in Paris

Dodsworth and the duck, those popular world travelers, sail straight from last year's Dodsworth in New York into their second adventure, Dodsworth in Paris, written and illustrated by Tim Egan. Dodsworth and the duck are a classic duo, somewhere between Frog and Toad and Laurel and Hardy. Dodsworth, the responsible one warns: " 'You can't cause any trouble here.' 'I wouldn't dream of it,' said the duck." Chaos, of course, ensues. The duck imitates a Parisian mime, rings Notre Dame's bells, and launches some unusual paper airplanes -- with comically catastrophic results. Egan's art is beautifully funny, in the spirit of Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, and Felicia Bond. His watercolors portray gentle, realistic versions of wildly unrealistic romps -- Paris streets filled with animals strolling, juggling, carrying umbrellas. Egan is a master of simple language and deadpan humor. "One painter had a beret on his head. The duck liked the beret. The duck picked up an acorn cap. He put it on his head. It looked like a beret, sort of. 'Very debonair,' said Dodsworth." Dodsworth in Paris will engage pre-readers and readers, with plenty to amuse the adults. (The animal ringing the bells at Notre Dame, for instance, is suitably hunchbacked.)

The Irregulars

This breezy, gossipy, beautifully written book traces the early life of the writer Roald Dahl as he made the rounds and unmade the beds in 1940s Washington as one of His Majesty's dashing spies. Intent on bringing the United States into World War Two, England established a clandestine agency called British Security Coordination, which undercut American isolationist sentiment and monitored domestic politics. For talent, BSC looked to men like Dahl and Ian Fleming, who had good ears and clever conversation. With his polished brass buttons and natural swagger, Dahl encouraged glamorous confidences over morning tennis with the vice president, at poker with Senator Truman, and in bed with actresses, heiresses, and congresswomen (a friend crowned Dahl "the biggest cocksman in Washington"). While Franklin, Eleanor, and the Hyde Park weekend set contemplated another dip in the pool before cocktails, Dahl was "scribbling notes on the backs of matchbooks and dinner napkins" and also writing his first short stories. He reported to William Stephenson (code name Intrepid), the BSC chief whom author Jennet Conant apparently admires but whose secrecy and ferocious territoriality call to mind Dick Cheney's one-lipped snarl. Conant's narrative is so effortless and entertaining that the reader largely forgets the war that raged while Dahl drank champagne and penned silly letters impersonating the ambassador. Nevertheless, it's hard to suppress a mild discomfort with a story about back-slapping, there's-a-good-chap intelligence antics when our own spies these days are doing things we'd rather not know about. The book also chronicles one too many a divorce, showing that dish about the private lives of yesterday's or today's celebrities is pretty much the same thing, and always a little distasteful. But the latter objection also applies to the latest steamy romance novel, and so does this rejoinder: deep down, we love the stuff.

The Art of the Public Grovel

John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Ted Haggard -- another day, another high-profile leader publicly admits to a sexual transgression. Susan Wise Bauer argues persuasively that unspoken but strict rules of etiquette surround these confessions and that getting it right can make the difference between being permanently shunned or -- as in the case of Bill Clinton -- emerging from a scandal more popular than ever. Apologizing -- merely expressing regret -- doesn't cut it, says Bauer. What's required is a full-fledged confession: "I am sorry because I did wrong. I sinned." And forget trying to treat contrition as a private matter. A grovel isn't a grovel unless we all get to watch. Bauer, who holds a Ph.D. in American studies, traces the expectation that leaders beg our forgiveness for sexual sin to the influence of an American evangelicalism that preaches public confession an essential step toward redemption. She makes a strong case. But whether a reader accepts her premise or not, this exhaustively researched book offers a fascinating trip through more than a century of America's top sex scandals -- from Grover Cleveland's bastard child to Cardinal Law's protection of pedophile priests. The sex is the least of it. What's most intriguing is the history of arrogance, dissembling, bizarre self-justification, and, on occasion, canny political maneuvering. In the future, disgraced politicians and clergymen could use Bauer's book as a primer on the dos and don'ts of rescuing a career. Do: Confess and ask for forgiveness (Clinton, eventually). Don't: Confess in the pages of Playboy (Jimmy Carter). Really Don't: Claim you were "wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends?with the aid of a female confederate" (Jim Bakker). It's a safe bet that sometime very soon yet another leader will find himself needing to practice the "art" described in this book.

Bona Makes You Sweat

This recording documents a 2007 concert by Cameroonian singer-songwriter-bassist Richard Bona, one of more than 150 that he performed that year with his road-tested working band -- a drummer (Ernesto Simpson) from Cuba, a percussionist (Samuel Torres) from Colombia, a keyboard player (Etienne Stadwijk) from Surinam, and a guitarist (John Caban) and trumpeter (Taylor Haskins) from Brooklyn. The program spans several musical tributaries of the African diaspora, reflecting Bona's own experience during the '90s -- before bandleading became his full-time job -- with such one-world-oriented artists as Harry Belafonte and Joe Zawinul, not to mention the more under-the-radar French-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Lê. To be specific, Bona drives his songs with rhythms and melodies drawn from West African pop ("Kalabancoro" "Sem, Sem, Sem," "Te Dikalo") and traditional music ("Samaouma"), from Afro-Caribbean rhumba and salsa ("Kivu," "Suninga"), and from American soul and rhythm-and-blues (the medleys "Indiscretions/Please Don't Stop" and "Djombwe/I Wish/Trains"). He's a superb singer, elaborating his stories with an enviable range of voices and attacks, transitioning fluidly from a resonant tenor to a keening, onomatopoeic falsetto that can evoke a wood flute at one moment and then, at the next, transition to the microtonally tuned, percussive thwacks of a talking drum. Bona presented similar repertoire on his four previous albums, all nuanced, meticulously produced studio affairs on which he recruited such stars as Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Salif Keita, and John Legend to augment and detail the proceedings. Here, without benefit of the layering techniques and do-over options that exist in the studio, he projects the charisma, energy, and craft to which his in-person audiences so palpably respond.

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury

Ah, Bloomsbury. Virginia Woolf soulful in white linen, T. S. Eliot popping in for tea, Bertrand Russell staying for dinner. Truth, beauty, and the life of the mind. But what about the body? Who washed Virginia's clothes, cooked her food, scrubbed her floors? Other women, from the other class; servants without whom "there would have been no art, no writing, no 'Bloomsbury,' " as Alison Light superbly illustrates in Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury. Light, a scholar and critic whose grandmother worked as a domestic servant, wants to restore to such women "the respect they deserve." In this engrossing, elegantly written social history, however, she does far more than that. By examining the largely ignored yet critical relationship between Woolf and her servants -- most notably Nellie Boxall, Woolf's cook for 18 years -- Light brilliantly reveals the complex nature of British domestic service and the daily preoccupations of a writer who was both formed and oppressed by the role she inherited. "Won't be dictated to," Woolf wrote in her diary in 1924, referring not to the patriarchy but to Nellie after yet another emotional tussle with her cook. "I wanted to live my own life," a servant declares in 1938. Woolf's writing enshrines that very sentiment -- but not for the servant class whom she regarded as alien and often repulsive. Light neither demonizes nor sanctifies the writer, portraying her instead with fresh insight and compassion. The servants materialize just as vividly, with rooms -- even lives -- of their own, however cramped, in below-stairs Bloomsbury.

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats

Certain select individuals actually do live lives that only Hollywood could have invented. Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Nica to her many friends, was a rich, aristocratic French émigrée who embodied both cultured sophistication and street-level bohemianism. Whether holding court from her palatial apartment or frequenting Manhattan's nightspots with her Bentley parked outside, this Rothschild heiress became the jazz musician's best friend, opening her home and pocketbook to the artists she passionately admired. Charlie Parker is said to have died in her living room; Thelonious Monk lived his last years as her guest; and the list of significant musicians who enjoyed her hospitality is innumerable. (Koenigswarter, who died in 1988, is immortalized in nearly two dozen titles of original jazz pieces composed by grateful pals.) This romantic figure -- she and her former husband were active members of the French Resistance to boot -- was also skilled at taking off-the-cuff Polaroid shots, and, starting in 1961, she engaged in the charming habit of chronicling her acquaintances' three main wishes. The results can be found in Three Wishes, one of the most revealing portraits of the jazz life to date. Taken at home or in clubs, Nica's photographs posses a soulful spontaneity in keeping with the music itself, catching a deeply personal view of musicians whose reverential stature can often obscure their quotidian humanity. As for the wishes, some are prosaic, some poetic and philosophical -- all give us special insight into the person behind the instrument. A typical beauty is attributed to saxophonist Charlie Mariano, who compresses his dreams in terms of his idol, Charlie Parker: "I wish I had Bird's heart and technique. But who needs the technique? If I had Bird's heart that would be enough."

The Physics of Christianity

Readers of such recent volumes as The Physics of Star Trek and The Physics of Superheroes -- lighthearted attempts to buttress fantastical literary conceits with the rigorous findings of logic and science -- will be taken aback by this new book. Dr. Frank Tipler is dead serious about mapping physics, cosmology and biology onto the entire past, present, and future of the Christian faith, maintaining that its prophecies and revelations are verifiably consistent with laboratory results -- and in fact a blueprint for research. He sets out to prove that "the Cosmological Singularity is God," that Jesus worked His miracles by "the electroweak baryon-annihilation process," and that consecrated bread and wine are "in a coherent quantum state with the Second Hypostasis of the Singularity." The author does offer a useful capsule tour of the Standard Model of physics, but this innocent springboard quickly launches the reader into the murky end of the intellectual pool, as concepts as the Virgin Birth, the miracles of saints, and humanity's Fall into sin are subjected to convoluted scientific proofs. The result exhibits the hypnotic yet ultimately unconvincing pirouetting of a Velikovsky or von Daniken. While Tipler does fashion coherent, half-plausible scientific arguments about how parts of the Bible could jibe with science, he never answers the most important unstated question: Why is Christianity the template? Why not voodoo or Scientology? He does dismiss Islam as a rival and uphold Judaism. But of Buddhism and its vaunted tallying with science, he speaks not. The fact that an identical book to his could be constructed around that Asian belief system would seem to invalidate his whole thesis, rendering it no more consequential than a "proof" of Superman's powers.

A Day at elBulli: An Insight into the Ideas, Methods and Creativity of Ferran Adria

Hibiscus paper, beetroot jelly, a giant salt sphere, and pistachio foam are just a few of the dishes that were on offer last season at elBulli, the Spanish coastal restaurant run by head chef Ferran Adrià. Part artist, part mad scientist, he works out of a "secret laboratory" and derives inspiration from "local hardware stores," -- useful for new tools -- "museums and art galleries, and walks in the country" (he once made a dish inspired by the Australian bush). The ideal guest at elBulli resembles an ideal reader or gastronomic scholar more than mere eater. To truly take pleasure in his fanciful creations, Adrià says, requires a "sixth sense," the capacity for "an intellectual stimulation that can be derived from appreciating irony, a sense of humor, decontextualization or cultural references in a dish." Most of us will have to be content with exercising our intellectual appreciation of his wit on the page, minus the other senses typically involved in a meal. With over 2 million requests for 8,000 dinner slots per season -- a statistic that is actually printed on the cover, as if to taunt us -- Phaidon's new monograph is the closest most of us will get to the restaurant voted best in the world a record four times. But it gets us pretty damn close. Lavish, full-color photographs depict the drive up the Spanish coastline to Cala Manjoi (a few hours out of Barcelona) and the restaurant's grounds, kitchen, interior, and staff itself, in such detail that an unscrupulous person could probably use the knowledge in the book to fake out their friends. Cooks, too, can re-create a full tasting menu at home, provided they have the wherewithal to obtain liquid nitrogen, a freeze-dryer, Xantana, Lecite, a candy floss machine, and something called a SuperBag.


I was born because a man came to kill my father. That's the opening sentence in Pharmakon, Dirk Wittenborn's novel about a family buffeted by tragedy, psychology, and pharmacy. It's an engaging opening to a saga that never quite finds its way through the author's dense plotting and habit of "telling not showing." Nonetheless, that opening line propels the reader through the story of the Friedrich family from the 1950s to the 1990s. Everything spirals outward from the moment troubled student and psychology guinea pig Casper Gedsic shows up at the Friedrich household with murder in his eyes. Casper is upset because Dr. William Friedrich, a Yale professor, has put him on an experimental "happiness drug" he hopes will send patients into states of chemical bliss. Instead, Casper cracks and goes on a rampage. Fast-forwarding several years, Pharmakon picks up with Zach, the youngest son of the Friedrich brood, who details the busy and troubled life of a family ruled by a distracted patriarch and a mother suffering from severe depression in the wake of tragedy. Zach, along with his brother and sisters, is "overdosed with family," and so, too, might be readers as they find themselves tangled in a novel that bears similarities to early John Irving and his cavalcade of zany characters. Wittenborn is at his best in the scenes where Dr. Friedrich is convinced his "synthetic joy" will cure postwar America of its unhappiness, all the time unaware that the saddest family is his own.

American Lightning

The October 1910 bombing of the offices of the Los Angeles Times, which killed 21 people, seemed to portend that the vicious battle between capital and labor would escalate into the United States' second civil war. Howard Blum, bestselling author and contributing editor for Vanity Fair, examines the crime and its aftermath from the perspective of three legendary men of the period, each of whom would "permanently transform the nature of American thought, politics, celebrity, and culture." The first, detective William Burns, led a painstaking investigation that revealed a conspiracy by the Iron Workers Union to set off bombs around the country -- the Times was targeted for its fierce anti-labor campaign. The second, famed attorney Clarence Darrow, reluctantly agreed to represent the defendants despite his belief that an acquittal would be impossible; in the low point of a distinguished career, Darrow, seen passing money to an associate who then bribed a juror, was subsequently tried for jury tampering. The third, director D. W. Griffith, had no real connection to the case, but Blum argues that his epic Birth of a Nation was informed by the events in L.A. While he doesn't provide ample evidence for that assertion, Griffith's inclusion still seems somehow fitting: Blum's true-crime drama plays out like an old movie, complete with complex heroes, mustachioed villains, and lusty dames. It doesn't always read like history, but it is great fun nonetheless.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

There was one little baby, who was born far away.
And another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies, as everyone knows,
had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

Two internationally acclaimed figures -- Australian writer Mem Fox and British illustrator Helen Oxenbury -- have collaborated on a book that is sure to become an instant classic. The topic appears so obvious, one would think that it had been done before many times over -- but no. When reading it aloud again and again, as books for the little ones must be, not only does one not get tired of the words but also finds joy anew. Like a great rock song, the rhymes become embedded in the brain, and one finds oneself reciting them at odd moments -- perhaps standing in a grocery line entertaining a baby strapped to a cart, ?and this little baby as every one knows?" Oxenbury has created a diverse cast of sweet, round-faced, pudgy-limbed toddlers from around the world who populate the oversize white pages as Fox?s rhyming words flow effortlessly. A master watercolorist, Oxenbury plays with light and dark, composition and line, down to the finer details of a stickily snotty baby who suffers from ?sneezes and chills? -- and doesn't slight the texture of his velvety soft green blankie. The story could go on forever as we would never run out of babies with fingers and toes, however Fox cleverly finishes with one little baby -- held this time by a doting stand-in for every mother -- who (as everyone knows) has ten little fingers and ten little toes, ?and three little kisses on the end of its nose.?

The Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido

This very beautiful edition of Japanese prints, arranged by Sebastian Izzard, a well-known Asian art dealer, and bound into an art book format by printer George Braziller, is a loving micro-record of one of Japan?s most significant art-making moments: the 19th-century tradition of ukioyo-e, or woodblock ?pictures of the floating world.? The prints were one artifact of 18th- and 19th-century Japan?s burgeoning cosmopolitanism, and of a moment when the countryside beyond Tokyo was newly accessible along internal trade routes. A nascent merchant class, hungry for books and material goods, used the woodblock press to capture (affordably) the bedazzlements of urban life and of travel. The Sixty Nine Stations of the Kisokaido is one painterly account of the voyage along Japan?s second-most-important road. During the 1830s and 40s, Utagawa Hiroshige and Keisei Eisen, two of the day?s leading printmakers, crafted scenes of each of the route?s 69 postal stations. In contemporary America, such a venture might result in a bizarre collection of photographs taken from rest stops along I-90. This book results in a 19th-century cross between a narrative scroll and a book of postcards. The artists, and the art form, revel in images of daily life: travelers ford streams or rest in thatched huts under mountains, postmen sleep in the heat of day, boaters row across lakes, and prostitutes and geisha fill the road at night. In fact, these are the kinds of views that inspired Van Gogh and the Impressionists to urge themselves into a more immediate mode of painting, and European modernism into greater relationship with dailiness. Yet for all their immediacy, these works are also about time. Like haiku, they distill moments, even while hinting that the apparent stillness is fleeting. In each, there is a reference to distance traversed: A mountain looms or draws nearer, while the road leads through a corner of the picture. And references to season and slant of light -- fall or sunset, spring and dawn -- remind us that like the road, time also moves both these places and these travelers on.

When We Were Romans

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale is narrated by a precocious nine-year-old boy, Lawrence, and is reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, another adventure story in which adult situations are filtered through the eyes of a child. Unlike the autistic Christopher in Mark Haddon's 2003 novel, Lawrence is not disabled; rather, he's preternaturally mature. When his erratic mother, Hannah, takes him and his three-year-old sister, Jemima, on an adventure from London to Rome, where they hope to escape the murky menace of the children's father, Lawrence is the steadying hand. "Mum is really clever, she can always help me with my home work, she makes funny jokes, she knows just what everybodies thinking, even strangers shes never met before, but sometimes its like she just gets stuck and doesn't know what to do next, so I have to help her and give her a little push." The story is replete with Lawrence's spelling and grammatical mistakes, but that's part of its charm. The boy reads history books about popes and emperors (he especially enjoys the stories of Nero and Caligula), and it's soon apparent that Lawrence is drawing parallels between these mentally unhinged leaders and some of the people in his own life. In Rome, his mother relies on old friends for places to stay and possible work. But these friends, whom she met as a student, were friends with her ex-husband as well, so she's not sure whom to trust -- and neither is Lawrence.

City of Refuge

Tom Piazza has emerged as a leading eulogist for pre-Katrina New Orleans. After being displaced by the storm, he wrote Why New Orleans Matters, a bluesy wail that voiced both grief and outrage. In that book, which was published only months after the August 29, 2005, storm, he argued passionately for the city to be rebuilt. His novel City of Refuge further illuminates the brutality of Katrina and the monumental government failure to respond. Piazza follows two New Orleans families, beginning the week before the hurricane. In the early chapters, he establishes the baseline of home, family, and routine that is lavish with New Orleans detail. SJ Williams, a second-generation carpenter and Vietnam vet, his older sister, Lucy, and her son, Wesley, lifelong residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, enjoy a Sunday parade and SJ's fried chicken. Midwestern transplant Craig Donaldson, editor of the local alternative weekly, prepares a crawfish boil to celebrate his son Malcolm's birthday with his wife Alice, daughter Annie and friends. Then comes the news of a storm in the Gulf. It is a measure of Piazza's artfulness that the familiar story unfolds with unrelenting suspense and a mounting sense of Katrina's human cost. Craig and family evacuate, expecting to be away a few days, and find themselves living for months with relatives in Illinois. SJ and Lucy stay put until the waters rise to the second floor. After paddling Lucy to safety, SJ rescues neighbors until he collapses. It is weeks before he, Lucy, and Wesley find each other again. Both families face hard decisions: To return and rebuild, or start over in exile? By focusing on individual choices people were forced to make moment by moment, day by day, City of Refuge becomes as powerful as the television images that kept us glued to the screen during those terrible August days.

The City?s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York's Destruction

In the seven years since 9/11, New York has been treated to periodic threats from a wide assortment of pious lunatics, promising death and destruction to Gotham equal to 100 World Trade Centers. In City?s End, Max Page beats them all walking away: chapter after chapter, the reader watches a city reduced to rubble magically regenerate itself with the turning of the page, only to be smashed to pieces again on the next -- though the devastation is usually confined to Manhattan between the Battery and 59th St., few artists or directors having troubled themselves to imagine the effect of an ultimate ruction in, say, Park Slope, Brooklyn. The book records nearly instance of New York in ruins from film, radio, television, and fiction of the last two centuries. The authors of catastrophe range form Stephen Vincent Benét to Steven Spielberg, and their agents include -- but are not limited to -- fire, water, Germans, something called a wolven, Gene Hackman, and the moon. It?s an extraordinary Domesday book of doomsdays, even if there?s little methodology to its madness; this is a flat-out catalogue, illustrated throughout with prolapsed Statues of Liberty (seven in all) and ravaged Wall Streets (three), but Page doesn?t sort through the wreckage long enough to find much meaning. What he does do, however, is commendable: like I. N. Phelps-Stokes? Iconography of New York in reverse, City?s End is the definitive chronicle of New York?s unmaking.

Ken Russell at the BBC

For a film director whose very name could stir up fistfights among cinema enthusiasts during the 1970s, it?s striking how little remembered Ken Russell has become. Although he?s still active in his native Britain, Russell hasn?t had a Stateside hit since 1980?s Altered States, and in that time a new generation or two of cinematic bad boys has stepped into the rebel slot that must perennially be filled. Still, anyone of an age to have experienced Russell?s flamboyantly over-the-top, socially contentious, and sexually forthcoming work on release, or those who brave viewing it on DVD, know that this was a director, who, for all his glaring self-indulgence and slam-bang provocation, is not to be simply dismissed as merely a product of his time. If the relatively staid Women in Love remains the ?safe? masterpiece, the visual and narrative tumult of films like Tommy and Lisztomania retain the power to polarize audiences today. Large budgets were part and parcel of Russell?s grand mature vision, but to see what he could do with restricted means, turn to Ken Russell at the BBC, a three-disc set that collects six of his made-for-television biographies of celebrated artists. With a touch that grew ever more assured following the convention-bound Elgar of 1962, Russell skillfully employs lush lyricism, self-conscious experimentation, overt emotionality, irreverent humor, and high seriousness in absorbing portraits of such iconic figures as Isadora Duncan, Henri Rousseau, Claude Debussy, and Frederick Delius. Outrageous stuff? Not yet, but Russell was just warming up.

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).