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WINCHELL

GOSSIP, POWER AND THE CULTURE OF CELEBRITY

A dauntingly complete portrait of the one of the most powerful and significant figures in American journalism. Walter Winchell was all but forgotten at his death, but he created the modern gossip column and spearheaded the rise of the culture and cult of celebrity. Gabler (An Empire of Their Own, 1988) explains that Winchell uniquely understood that gossip ``was a weapon of empowerment for the reader and listener.'' Born to a Jewish family at the turn of the century, Winchell was an unlikely candidate for national power. After a childhood of Dickensian poverty, he escaped to vaudeville and then moved into journalism. Possessor of a slang-riddled prose style all his own, he was catapulted to fame covering Broadway for the Daily Graphic, a tabloid even more sleazy than any imagined in the mind of Rupert Murdoch. From there he moved to the slightly more legit Mirror, where he gradually switched from covering the demimonde of show folk and the night-clubbing rich to pontificating on national and local politics as a staunch New Dealer. But when FDR died, Winchell began an inexorable shift to the right, eventually falling in with the most scurrilous of red-baiters. A vindictive, selfish man, he died almost forgotten by the world of the famous that he had once terrorized. Gabler tells his rise-and-fall story in almost exhausting detail, recounting Winchell's constant feuding with colleagues and subjects, his army of sycophants, and his troubled family life. The result is alternately riveting and enervating, but Gabler makes a convincing case for Winchell's central role in the transformation of mass media in the middle years of the century. Clearly, the ghost of Walter Winchell is abroad in the land at a time when the O.J. Simpson preliminary hearings merit network coverage and a Supreme Court confirmation hearing does not. Gabler's book is timely, incisive and, for the most part, a good read.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-41751-6

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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