Veteran journalist Oney (And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, 2003, etc.) pulls together 20 magazine features from three decades of his career.
In an insightful introduction, the author explains why all of the pieces, published from 1977 to 2011, focus on “fascinating” men rather than other topics. Oney decided it would be useful for readers to explain how men become strong, resilient, and compassionate in contemporary American society. After all, he writes, “no one taught me how to be a man,” so maybe male readers would end up better informed and able “to create” and “to explore their inner darkness.” Oney divides his profiles into four sections. First comes “Fighters,” which includes profiles of Herschel Walker and his post-football life, the combat death of young Marine Chris Leon, the techniques of professional basketball coach Hubie Brown, Hollywood security consultant and former Israeli warrior Aaron Cohen, and veteran police reporter Jake Jacoby. Section 2 features “Creators,” including novelist Robert Penn Warren, architect John Portman, musician Herb Alpert, TV executive Brandon Tartikoff, and Hollywood gossip columnist Mark Lisanti. In “Actors,” Oney covers Harrison Ford, Dennis Franz, Nick Nolte, Harry Dean Stanton, and Bryan Brown. The final section, “Desperadoes,” focuses on professional baseball star–turned–cocaine addict Bo Belinsky, musician Gregg Allman, political provocateur Andrew Breitbart, interior designer con man Craig Raywood, and novelist Harry Crews. In the afterword, Oney illuminates how researching and writing the features taught him lessons about journalism and about developing confidence to make his way as a man—fighting, creating, acting, and embracing danger. Throughout, the author displays his strong reporting skills and engaging prose.
Although every piece focuses on men, the variation of subjects and the different writing styles combine in a journalism anthology more satisfying than most.