Tag Archives: A Civil Action

Alex Kotlowitz’s Non-Fiction Favorites, Part II

 

Here is the second installation of some of Alex Kotlowitz's non-fiction favorites.

Here is the second installation of some of Alex Kotlowitz's non-fiction favorites.

 

On Saturday I posted a list I had come across of some of Alex Kotlowitz’s favorite non-fiction books, circa 2003. 

Here are the rest of the books on the list, along with his short comments.  Again I will star the ones that I have read. 

 

 Turning Stones by Mark Parent The personal story of a former worker with a child abuse agency.

 

A Hole in the Heart of the World by Jonathan Kaufman Five tales of Jews in Eastern Europe after the second world war.

 

Death at an Early Age* by Jonathan Kozol  Kozol’s first book, an account of his year teaching in a Boston high school.

 

Homicide* by David Simon A year with a group of homicide detectives in Baltimore. (The TV show is loosely based on the book.) 

 

The Power Broker by Robert Caro The biography of Robert Moses, the mega-developer.

Parting the Waters* by Taylor Branch The best book out there on the civil rights movement; his second volume is due out next year. 

The Amateurs by David Halberstam A year with a group of rowers.
 
The Best and the Brightest* by David Halberstam The best book on the Vietnam war; about the architects of the war.

The Promised Land* by Nicholas Lemann About the mass migration of blacks from the south to the north; and, recounts the successes and failures of the War on Poverty.

Common Ground* by Anthony Lukas The bible for my generation of non-fiction writers; the story of the fight over bussing in Boston.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer Krakauer’s account of what happened on Everest. He was there on assignment from Outside Magazine.

The Perfect Storm* by Sebastian Junger About a fishing boat that goes down off the coast of Nova Scotia.

 Working by Studs Terkel This is the book that most defines Terkel. If you like this, look at his other oral histories. They’ll teach you a lot about listening.
 
Boss* by Mike Royko On the first Richard Daley. A fun read.

Which Side Are You On by Tom Geoghegan A personal essay on the state of the union movement.

The Teamsters by Steven Brill Written two decades ago, still relevant today. 

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans Written in the 1940s about rural poverty. Essential reading for anyone interested in non-fiction writing. When it was published it flopped. But when it was reissued in 1960, it became a classic.

In Cold Blood *by Truman Capote  About a murder in a small Kansas town. Nobody can write like Capote. 

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe About the original astronauts. 

The Broken Cord by Michael Dorris The personal account of the author’s adopted son; he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.

A Civil Action* by Jonathan Harr A lawyer takes on a big corporation which contaminated the water in a small Massachussetts town. Riveting. The author worked on this book for ten years.

 Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People by John Conroy Recounts three tales of torture, and how it is democratic societies can so easily turn their heads to such barbarity.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson   A tale of a devestating turn-of-the-century hurricane, and the hubris of the nation’s then-most respected weather forecasters.

 

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Best Boston Resources for John Myers and Liza Weinstein.

 

This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.

This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.

 

Buddy John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein are moving to Boston.

It’s one of a series of major changes in their lives.

On Friday she received her doctoral degree in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

On Saturday they finish packing up and celebrating with both sets of parents.

And on Sunday they drive to Boston, where Liza will soon start working for Northeastern University. 

She also will have their first child in a few short months. 

John and Liza are both Michiganders who have never lived in Boston, so I’m putting together this list of Boston resources for them. 

Debate and amendment are welcome.

I. Best Boston Dictionary: The Boston Dictionary, by John Powers.  While just a tad dated-the book has an image of Michael Dukakis reading an article about Swedish land management technique under the term “furma govna”-this illustrated work is a perfect introduction to the much imitated Boston accent. 

II. Best Book about Boston Busing: Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas.  One of my all-time favorite books, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the story of three families during the decade that started with Dr. King’s assassinations, with individual chapters about Boston’s then-Mayor Kevin White, Boston Globe Editor Tom Winship, activist and mayoral candidate Louise Day Hicks, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, and Judge W. Arthur Garrity

III. Best Boston Memoir: All Souls, A Family Story From Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald.  Friend MacDonald brings it in this coming of age story that has vivid scenes of a community’s member going to funeral after funeral for its murdered youth, all the while saying that drugs and violence are the exclusive province of black neighborhoods.  The busing chapter is particularly memorable. 

IV. Best Boston Sports Memoir:  Drive: The Story of My Life, by Larry Bird.  The self-proclaimed “Hick from French Lick” restored Celtics glory in the 80s after an embarrassing downturn in the late 70s, leading the team to three titles and helping, along with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the league reach unprecedented heights.  This straightforward book, written toward the end of his glorious care, tells the story of his hardscrabble youth.

V. Best Local Historian: Anthony Sammarco.  This well known local historian has published a series of beautiful books, many about specific Boston neighborhoods, that combine well-written text with attractive pictures that effectively convey the feel of each area.  

VI. Best Bookstore/Record Cafe: Rhythm and Muse.  Got to give the love to dear friend and former roommate David Doyle, who’s been operating in Jamaica Plain for more than a decade now.

VII. Best Medical Thriller Set in Boston: Coma, by Robin Cook.  Ultimately turned into a film by a pre-Jurassic Park Michael Crichton, this chilling novel of death in a hospital may not be the best choice for John and Liza as I imagine her pregnancy will require her to take quite a few hospital trips.

VIII. Best Children’s Book Set in Boston: Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, and The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White.  It’s too hard to distinguish between these two classics, which are geared toward slightly different audiences.  Both are wonderful, though.

IX. Best Legal Book Set in the Boston Area:  A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr.  This book takes place in Woburn, which is just outside Boston, and the story of the fast-driving Jan Schlichtmann’s efforts to hold polluter W.R. Grace to account makes for gripping reading in Harr’s capable hands.

X. Category and book determined by readers:  I’m leaving this one open for suggestions.

Institute of Justice and Journalism a force to reckon with.

 

Getting to know Frank Sotomayor is just one of the many positive aspects of being part of the Institute for Justice and Journalism's network.

Getting to know Frank Sotomayor is just one of the many positive aspects of being part of the Institute for Justice and Journalism's network.

 

Steve Montiel, Bobby Kirkwood and this year’s crop of environmental justice fellows from the Institute of Justice and Journalism were in town last night-a fact that generally means three things: lots of eating; lots of drinking; and plenty of animated conversation. 

Founded close to a decade ago, the institute has sought help encourage the development of a critical mass of journalists committed to covering social justice issues.  Through its fellowships on racial justice, the environment, and immigration, IJJ has provided hundreds of journalists with stimulating intellectual experiences and helped cultivate lasting friendships. 

My brother Jon and I participated in the racial justice fellowship two years ago for our project about undocumented Latino immigrants who become disabled on the job.  

During our week alone, we met Nick Ut, photographer of the classic image of a naked Vietnamese girl running along a road after having been hit by a blast of napalm, Father Greg Boyle, maverick priest in East Los Angeles, founder of Homeboy Industries and subject of Celeste Fremon’s very personal book, G-Dog and the Homeboys, and LAPD Commissioner William Bratton.  

A Boston boy at heart, Bratton and his accent were on full display when he talked about a gang report written by Connie Rice and released while  we were there.  He said, in essence and in phonetic cadence,  “I have not yet read the whole repoht, because not only is Coh-nie an excellent wri-tah, she is a very prolific one, too.” 

Bratton’s wife is Rikki Klieman, who worked and had a minor dalliance with Jan Schlichtmann in Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action.  She also was the prosecutor in the case of the 1980 murder of an Iranian university student in my hometown of Brookline-an experience she writes about in her book, Fairy Tales Can Come True (I have not read the entire book.).

An IJJ-related book that I have read is Senior Fellow Joe Domanick’s Cruel Justice, which tells the story of the origin of California’s ‘three strikes’ law that became a national standard bearer and that he argues has had highly negative consequences for the legal system and community at large.  

After close to a decade, IJJ is shedding its affiliation with the University of Southern California and going independent.  Montiel is moving to Oakland, where he will both be a “media relations specialist” and direct the new version of the institute.  

Wherever it is located, the institute promises to continue to support the work of socially conscious journalists.  I recommend it to all journalists interested in these issues and to philanthropic folks looking to support a worthy cause who have already donated to Kuumba Lynx, Facing History and Ourselves, and Community Renewal Society.