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Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels Paperback – March 1, 1999


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Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels + Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son + The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin
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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A collection of magazine articles and time-bound reportage by the estimable Hochschild (The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, 1994, etc.), cofounder of Mother Jones magazine. Hochschild is a thoughtful, discerning reporter and a solid writer, but some of this material may seem a little stale, like picking up a decade-old newsmagazine and reading about life in the Soviet Union. Still, he's quite good in pieces such as ``Aristocratic Revolutionary,'' a 1985 profile of Patrick Duncan, a white South African who was editor of an anti-apartheid paper in the early 1960s. One of his best pieces is a 1978 profile of Jan Yoors, a Belgian youth who ran away with the gypsies in 1934; Hochschild found the renowned author of The Gypsies and Crossing residing near Washington Square, a double amputee who made his living designing and weaving tapestries. Another visit finds the author in the French Alps with novelist and art critic John Berger, whom he liked ``because he was the first writer I've run across who could explain why so much fine art is boring.'' Hochschild traveled extensively for these pieces: Mississippi, the Soviet Union, Senegal, El Salvador, South Africa, the Amazon. One 1995 article finds him in Colombia to witness the Indians' ``startling migration in reverse'': They were leaving the towns and missions and ``rebuilding their traditional dwellings deep in the forest.'' A few literary essays are included, most notably a penetrating search for the young, sensitive Hemingway who existed before the myth, the ``Papa'' persona, the compulsive braggart, took over. And charmingly, this redoubtable peacenik of the '60s and '70s confesses to a lifelong addiction to war novels and books about combat. These pieces speak clearly to the times in which they were written, but not to the ages. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"The vivid and searching portraiture, social history, memoir and reportage contained in Adam Hochschild's Finding the Trapdoor are informed by a passion for justice and a resistance to the facile in all its guises. These qualities quicken Hochschild's lucid and self-ironic prose as much as they do his choice of subjects. . . . The most eloquent essays explore the intersection of Hochschild's quest for a voice--his trapdoor--with the experience of his complex and imperfect heroes. This thirty- year voyage of a book challenges the reader to share the risks of an examined life." -- From the judges' citation awarding Finding the Trapdoor the 1998 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815605943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815605942
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,744,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Hochschild (pronunciation: '''Hoch''' as in "spoke"; '''schild''' as in "build") published his first book, "Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son," in 1986. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called it "an extraordinarily moving portrait of the complexities and confusions of familial love . . . firmly grounded in the specifics of a particular time and place, conjuring them up with Proustian detail and affection." It was followed by "The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey," and "The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin." His 1997 collection, "Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels," won the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay. "King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa" was a finalist for the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award. It also won a J. Anthony Lukas award in the United States, and the Duff Cooper Prize in England. Five of his books have been named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. His "Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves" was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in Nonfiction and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History.

"To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918," Hochschild's latest book, was a New York Times bestseller. It was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction and won the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction.

The American Historical Association gave Hochschild its 2008 Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, a prize given each year to someone outside the academy who has made a significant contribution to the study of history.

"Throughout his writings over the last decades," the Association's citation said, "Adam Hochschild has focused on topics of important moral and political urgency, with a special emphasis on social and political injustices and those who confronted and struggled against them, as in the case of Britain's 18th-century abolitionists in 'Bury the Chains'; 'The Mirror at Midnight', a study of the struggle between the Boers and Zulus for control over South Africa in the 19th-century Battle of Blood River and its contentious commemoration by rival groups 150 years later; the complex confrontation of Russians with the ghost of Stalinist past in 'The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin'; and the cruelties enacted during the course of Western colonial expansion and domination, notably in his widely acclaimed 'King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa', among his many other publications. All his books combine dramatic narratives and meticulous research. . . .

" 'King Leopold's Ghost' had an extraordinary impact, attracting readers the world over, altering the teaching and writing of history and affecting politics and culture at national and international levels. Published in English and translated into 11 additional languages, the book has been incorporated into secondary school curricula and appears as a key text in the historiography of colonial Africa for college and graduate students. But it is within Belgium that Hochschild's work has had the most dramatic impact, demonstrating the active and transformative power of history. The publication of 'King Leopold's Ghost' forced Belgians to come to terms for the first time with their long buried colonial past and generated intense public debate that so troubled Belgian officials that they reportedly instructed diplomats on how to deflect embarrassing questions that the book raised about the past. The book offered welcome support for others in Belgium who sought acknowledgment and accountability for Belgian actions in the Congo. . . . Few works of history have the power to effect such significant change in people's understanding of their past."

Hochschild teaches narrative writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. He and his wife, sociologist and author Arlie Russell Hochschild, have two sons and two granddaughters.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Lou Ford on August 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
I fell in love with this book's well-written and passionate articles a year ago and decided to teach it in my second-semester English composition class. My students, working-class youngsters from New York State, found it their favorite: it taught them about style in writing without being too abstract or introspective. They had energetic discussions about the issues Hochschild raises and the people he portrays: "Fishhooks and Chickens" led to some strong opinions on U.S. foreign policy, "Summer of Violence" prompted them to discuss their own civil-rights heroes, and the piece on ex-racist Floyd Cochran elicited opinions on reform and forgiveness. And their own writing showed that they learned a great deal from Hochschild's stylistic grace. This book will be a great document of its times for many, many years.
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