Narrative nonfiction in the mode of A.J. Liebling and Ernie Pyle, from bestselling journalist Bowden (Black Hawk Down, 1999, etc.).
Diverse pieces in varying lengths, drawn from his files over several decades, range from quite proficient to excellent. The author’s prowess as a fly-on-the-wall police reporter is showcased in his story of a huge coke deal in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and in the longest piece here, the tale of a whoremaster informant and cops on the take in Philadelphia, Bowden’s longtime beat. (Formerly with The Philadelphia Inquirer, he is now national correspondent for The Atlantic.) The City of Brotherly Love is also featured in a Runyonesque yarn about an effigy of Rocky Balboa (Sly Stallone’s alter ego), and in first-rate profiles of Mike Schmidt, Phillies third baseman of 20 years ago, and recent Eagles center Hank Fraley. Bowden’s sportswriting talent extends to high-school football and basketball with equal verve and understanding, and even those unfamiliar with the fine points will enjoy his story of baseball’s great potato pick-off play. Moving overseas, the reporter provides a solid public-affairs backgrounder in a profile of Saddam Hussein before his capture. Bowden is also proficient in domestic political matters. His report on Al Sharpton’s feckless run at the Oval Office is pointed and current, though a dispatch from the Republican convention of 2000 seems slightly out of date, and a 1984 profile of Norman Mailer has whiskers. More substantial and current is Bowden’s considered analysis of the art and science of interrogation and the need to coerce information from prisoners. His reportorial range is wide, indeed, including coverage of the world’s oldest gorilla, the inelegant problem of bladder relief for female fighter pilots, charging elephants in Zambia, and charging linemen on the line of scrimmage. Throughout, Bowden’s reporter’s gut instinct serves him and this collection well.
Astute character reading and solid research combine with ingenious and stylish prose: a superior portfolio from a journalist who stays at the top of his game with remarkable consistency.