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Inspiration to the World

by Peter Golenbock

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-125381-2
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Oddly structured yet satisfying oral history from sportswriter Golenbock (7, 2007, etc.).

The inspiration for his book, the author explains, came when he asked himself, “Why did Brooklynites love Jackie Robinson when everyone else hated him?” Trying to find out what makes Brooklyn so tolerant, so special, Golenbock produces a portrait of the borough that is often fascinating, wholeheartedly adoring and entirely lopsided in its political views. He begins in the 1640s, when a small group of Anabaptists fled Puritan New England to found a more tolerant religious society on Coney Island. According to the author, their leader, Lady Deborah Moody, “displayed an idealistic socialist bent,” dividing the land equally among all the settlers. How this tiny utopia became first a freewheeling Sin City for the wealthy, then a summer pleasure palace for the immigrant masses, then a run-down beachfront slum, is a story unto itself. But Golenbock mostly uses it to establish two major themes: socialist tendencies and political corruption in Brooklyn. After the first few chapters, which outline the history of Jewish immigration to the States and the subsequent political persecution of Bolsheviks and radicals, the author turns to the meandering personal histories of various Brooklynites. They range from idealistic young Jews who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the man who was almost the first black player in the National League, to the Irish who settled Windsor Terrace and Brill Building singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka. Loosely organized by decades, ethnicity and sometimes by neighborhood, the individual oral histories are frequently meandering and sometimes repetitive, but many of the narrators are compelling storytellers.

Colorful individual tales, woven together to paint a collective portrait of an extremely liberal, vibrant, exciting and deeply beloved borough.