Three journalists present a sequel to their Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns (2011) with a motley collection of pieces dating back to the 19th century.
Avlon, Angelo and Louis divide their collection into three major topics (see subtitle), each of which they arrange chronologically. The editorial apparatus is light—some introductions, a bit of information about the background of some of the stories—but for the most part, the stories stand on their own. In the “Scandals” section are pieces about long-ago murders and other depravities (the execution of Mata Hari makes for grim reading), including the liberation of Dachau, the Zodiac killer, Watergate and Bernhard Goetz. Included with these tales are pieces about Dennis Rodman, Monica Lewinsky and Bernie Madoff. The “Tragedies” range from the death of Lincoln to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (reported here by Jack London), Franco’s atrocities, the RFK assassination and a George Will piece about the difficulty of being a Cubs’ fan. Among the “Triumphs” are numerous sports pieces—victories by Joe Louis and young Cassius Clay, a perfect game by Don Larson, the maturation of Joe Namath, a key home run by Kirk Gibson—along with the bombing of Nagasaki, the anniversary of the Normandy invasion and pieces about a favorite teacher, a battle with cancer and 9/11. If the pieces seem incongruously chosen and juxtaposed (a baseball game, the atom bomb—both triumphs?), it’s because they are. Moreover, columnists from New York and Washington, D.C., are heavily represented, and the definition of “column” itself seems generous—a number of the pieces are clearly feature articles.
Engaging eyewitness pieces—often very oddly grouped together—that nonetheless elicit admiration, wonder and gasps of surprise.