A must-read for anyone interested in the environment—shouldn’t that mean everyone?

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PLACES

HABITATS OF A HUMAN LIFETIME

Environmental writer Shabecoff’s (A Fierce Green Fire, 2003, etc.) memoir is informed by his passionate, decades-old interest in the natural (and sometimes urban) environment—what it means to us and how humans have worked assiduously to destroy it.

Each essay describes and comments upon one of the many places where Shabecoff has resided or at least visited in a long career as a writer for the New York Times. These chapters include the summer place he and his wife built in the Berkshires (“The Best Place”), the Bronx neighborhoods where he grew up, the Catskills where, every summer, young Shabecoff and his family escaped the sweltering city, and his sojourns as a journalist in Germany, Japan, Washington, D.C., and many other locales. Toward the end of his career at the Times, he became interested in ecology and continued that interest into his pseudo-retirement. Now nearing 80, he finds it’s time to look back, sometimes fondly, sometimes angrily. Shabecoff is neither a fanatic nor a purist: “I like my wilderness not too wild,” and “I believe in the sanctity of life, but I make exceptions for biting insects.” Over the years, “civilization” encroached on his Berkshire retreat, but he accepts that inevitability with good grace. He is, however, often nostalgic for the environments of his childhood. He now sees the Bronx as a dysfunctional slum, although in his childhood, it had lively ethnic neighborhoods, good schools and clean streets. Set mostly in Washington, D.C., “Every Place” tells the story of the author cutting his teeth as an environmental writer, and he describes the often bitter journalistic wrangling, beginning with the Reagan administration. There’s no love lost between him and conservative administrations whose goal was to privatize everything and give powerful industries free rein. In fact, Shabecoff—who’s rubbed elbows with numerous movers and shakers over the years—never pulls his punches, calling out those he sees on the side of the angels and those not. Readers will also enjoy 10 pages of black-and-white family photos, including Philip and Alice at their beloved Berkshire getaway, which gives the book an extra human touch. As expected from a man who’s dealt with words his whole adult life, the writing is consistently graceful, with rarely a false step. “The Last Place,” for instance, begins on an elegiac note related to mortality, then slowly builds into as bracing a jeremiad against greed and stupidity as readers are likely to find anywhere.

A must-read for anyone interested in the environment—shouldn’t that mean everyone?

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0615686189

Page Count: 282

Publisher: PLACES

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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