What’s gained here is the pleasure of watching exemplary reporting illuminate a fascinating crossroads of American popular...

THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND

A CENTURY OF PLEASURE AND PROFIT IN TIMES SQUARE

On the hundredth anniversary of the naming of Times Square, journalist Traub (City on a Hill, 1994, etc.) traces the colorful history of America’s premier theater district and appraises its most recent makeover by Disney and other global corporate brands.

From the days of Diamond Jim Brady and George M. Cohan in the 1910s through the reign of Irving Berlin in the ’50s, Times Square was both a veritable factory of theatrical magic and a real-estate mogul’s dream. Ever-changing and ever-increasing in value, its restaurants, arcades, theaters, and flashing billboards were a beacon to the world. The Great White Way always also had a seamy side; Traub quotes Jack Kerouac to the effect that it is the natural home of both the gentleman in the well-cut suit and the drunk in the gutter. By the ’70s, the drunk—and the drug dealers, pimps, and porno houses—had won the day and driven out all but the most persistent suits. At that point, the real-estate interests rose up in a bid to reclaim their lost cash cow. Traub trenchantly examines the warring commercial and government factions that at first promoted reconstruction, then stymied it for 20 years, and finally created what critics describe as a brand-name theme park ringed by outsized office buildings, again a real-estate mogul’s dream. The author visits the participating moguls, the corporate brand managers (including the boosterish head of the world’s largest Toys ’R’ Us), the famous architects and hip billboard designers, the theater owners, the street people, and the few remaining proponents of arcade games and experimental theater (including the rebellious daughter of Times Square tower builder Douglas Durst), to tell us what’s been gained and what’s been lost.

What’s gained here is the pleasure of watching exemplary reporting illuminate a fascinating crossroads of American popular art and commerce.

Pub Date: March 23, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-50788-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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