Rotella, a Boston College professor, undertakes to draw a connection between four people who are good with their hands ("a deceptively unsimple virtue"). Concentrating on cities in the Rust Belt, he profiles a female boxer in Pennsylvania, a blues musician in Chicago, a New York cop-turned-movie-producer, and a Massachusetts landscape artist. But these aren't merely biographies of interesting people; they're portraits of the environments that produced them. The author's profile of bluesman Buddy Guy, for example, includes a capsule history of the Chicago music scene. His profile of Sonny Grosso, the cop-producer, includes a long look at the making of The French Connection
, the gritty film in which New York itself is a major character. In each case, the author uses the notion of being good with one's hands to suggest an ability to interact with the landscape. It's a tricky conceit, but in Rotella's hands, it helps us understand the way that music, art, film, and even sports reflect both the participants and their environments. A smart, straightforward, and wholly engaging book, delightfully free of jargon. David PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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"This is a brilliant study, warm and frequently thrilling, of an inspired combination of subjects, Postindustrial American urban culture has found its great poet-theorist in Carlo Rotella." - William Finnegan, author of Cold New World"