THE DEVIL PROBLEM by David Remnick

THE DEVIL PROBLEM

(and Other True Stories)

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Pulitzer Prize winner Remnick (Lenin's Tomb, 1993) turns his attention to . . . Reggie Jackson? This collection of Remnick's New Yorker pieces runs the gamut from Reggie to Alger Hiss, from Michael Jordan to theYiddish daily, the Forward. Stories, Remnick asserts in his preface, are the heart of journalism, and as readers of his prize-winning book on Russia know, he is a very capable storyteller. With the exception of the essays on Alger Hiss and USA Today's Al Neuharth, the pieces in this collection are recent, having been published between 1993 and February 1996. The topics are varied, but two elements do unify them. The first is Remnick's penchant for telling detail and for the slightly offbeat variation on an ordinary interviewer's question. The second is the way he balances his passionate commitment to a vision of morality with the necessities of objective journalism. At its best, these two constants can produce a masterpiece, as in his lengthy examination of the forces that drove Marion Barry's campaign to return to the mayoralty of Washington, D.C.; one watches, fascinated, as Remnick comes to understand and even (a little grudgingly, as you might expect) to like the ex-con ex-mayor. At its worst, the result is the book's opening piece, a portrait of Gary Hart in 1993 that, because its central figure is unforthcoming about the most obvious topic of interest, feels hollow at the center. Happily, the book has many more examples of the former than of the latter. Remnick is particularly good on his enthusiasms: a warm tribute to the late Joseph Brodsky, and affectionate portraits of Ralph Ellison and Murray Kempton. He is less effective when venting his spleen, as in his slightly shrill attack on the cold new sports arenas that opens his profile of Jordan. On the whole, though, this is a superbly entertaining collection.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-45255-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996




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