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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City Paperback – March 21, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

New York City in 1977 was in the middle of wild upheaval on all fronts, from the hunt for the Son of Sam killer and the citywide blackout to a brutal mayor's race and the rise of punk rock and the zenith of disco. In Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning, journalist Jonathan Mahler revisits all those storylines through another drama, which grabbed tabloid headlines all summer long: the outrageous--and pennant-winning--New York Yankees. The Yankees weren't the greatest baseball team ever assembled--they weren't even the greatest of the era (the talent-laden Cincinnati Reds were superior player for player). But no modern team has earned more type than the "Bronx Zoo" Yanks of the late '70s, thanks in no small part to such characters as meddling owner George Steinbrenner, firebrand manager Billy Martin, and flashy slugger Reggie Jackson.

But what more is there to say about a ball club, even one as stormy and successful as the '77 Yanks? Mahler wisely strays out of the dugout and into the chaotic city to give his chronicle breadth and shape. Mahler deftly brings together a host of characters and developments--from doomed old-school catcher Thurman Munson to congressional hellraiser Bella Abzug, from media kingpin Rupert Murdoch to battling politicos Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, from downtown punks to the glittery decadence of Studio 54. The result is a lively read that will entertain readers who wouldn't know an RBI from CBGB. --Steven Stolder --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The strange life of New York City in 1977 is recounted in this kaleidoscopic history. Arguing broadly that that year can be read as "a transformative moment for the city, a time of decay but of regeneration as well," Mahler, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, constructs a fast-moving, multilayered narrative that puts the city itself in the starring role. While the argument is not wholly persuasive, Mahler smartly chooses a time frame overflowing with drama: the seemingly endless hunt for the serial murderer "Son of Sam"; the citywide blackout in mid-July that led to devastating arson and looting; the opening of Studio 54 and the disco craze; the bitter mayoral derby featuring the incumbent, Abe Beame, Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, and the eventual victor, Ed Koch; and the Yankees' first World Series victory in 15 years, despite the collective histrionics of owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin and outfielder Reggie Jackson. In many ways, this book is a fascinating prelude to Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Mahler points to "a new era" after 1977 of idealized capitalism and the subservience of the public good to private interests (one omen: the first Concorde touchdown in New York occurred the day after the '77 World Series victory). Mahler, like Wolfe, understands how characters ranging from a dispossessed arsonist to the titans of business, sports and politics can come to represent an entire city--in its madness, its depravity and its glory. B&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312424302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312424305
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Steve Iaco on May 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Mahler has hit a home run with this excellent examination of New York City politics, baseball and social life in 1977. The dual narrative focuses primarily on the titanic, four-way struggle for Gracie Mansion involving Koch, Cuomo, the incumbent Abe Beame and Bella Abzug, as well as the incendiary Steinbrenner-Martin-Jackson triangle of animus in the Bronx.

The sweltering summer of 1977 also featured the Son of Sam serial murders and power-failure-induced rioting - the City's worst civic disorder since the Civil War - and Mahler skillfully weaves these compelling events into a captivating, past-faced narrative. Ground-zero of the rioting was the Bushwick section of Brooklyn - less than a decade before a stable, working class neighborhood - and Mahler provides a vivid portrait of the chaotic mayhem that took hold there (as well as in other poor communities) when the lights went out on July 13.

Mahler also shows how the ghetto rioting transformed the Mayoral race. In mid summer, Ed Koch, then a relatively low profile Congressman, was fourth in the polls, mired in the low single digits. However, the erstwhile Greenwich Village liberal recognized that New Yorkers were ripe for a stern, law-and-order message. In particular, Koch's embrace of capital punishment and his get-tough policies generally found resonance with an electorate that had grown weary of the culture of lawlessness that increasingly pervaded their lives. The long-shot candidate - David Garth, his campaign guru, placed Koch's odds at no better than 40 to 1 - rode voter outrage to a first-place finish in the Democratic primary, and after besting Cuomo in a runoff, to City Hall.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you lived in New York in 1977, then you lived in heaven and you lived in hell. It's so different now that it might as well be a different city, but all of its denizens who are over thirty remember the old days well. Jonathan Mahler's book goes over some of the same territory as Spike Lee's fantastic movie SUMMER OF SAM (1999) with Adrien Brody and John Leguizamo, and has some of the same feeling, but he adds baseball to the mix in a big way and of course, the piece de resistance, the inside scoop on the big mayoral contest between Koch and Cuomo. If you like the second volume of Caro's life of LBJ, I think you'll like this book for it has some of the same down to the wire excitement. However, unlike Caro, there are no real heroes in LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING, just real people who fight for their lives in real situations.

In hindsight it's easy to see why David Berkowitz became the poster boy for everything that went wrong in New York, but back in the day, before we knew who he was, it was a scary time for all of us, not only the women with long hair who were said to be his primary targets. (Women cut off their hair or wore it up in scarves or turbans, even in the shattering heat.) Fear of Son of Sam was the other side of the disco experience that reached its glorious peak on the dancefloors of two dozen giant nightspots, of which Studio 54 was the most sought after. Way up in the Bronx, the Yankees were enduring what seemed to be a giant power contest between ownership, management and a few cocksure players, and yet the string of wins they produced buoyed New Yorkers' feelings as had few other resurgences in baseball. (Recent Red Sox World Series win is a parallel.) The streak united a city which had been falling apart almost literally.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Burlingame on April 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If only history was like this in high school!

Incredible behind-the-scenes baseball reporting capturing, among others, a racist, envious but somehow still-sympathetic Billy Martin, a preening, calculating, self-defeating but heroic Reggie Jackson, and a cast of unvarnished Yankees stars that tells you more about what the majors were like (and presumably still are) than 5,000 made for the ESPN-age interviews about just trying to help the team win.

Add to the mix the real, untold story of how the Son of Sam was caught, the minute-by-minute account of how one Con Ed employee's personal meltdown in front of a switchboard led to the system-wide meltdown known as the Blackout of '77, and the frank reminiscences of two Bushwick beat cops who tried to keep the peace that night, billy-clubs in hand, and you get a taste of what's in store.

Mahler has an incredible nose for what's interesting and, like Tucan, he follows it to the unknown behind-the-scenes stories that give you a visceral sense of what happened. Forget spin, this is like listening to history across a dinner table from the folks who drove it. And with this cast of characters -- from Billy and Reggie to Cuomo and Koch to the Son of Sam and the detective who finally brought him to justice -- the tales are far better than anything I'll ever hear over a meal.

A fascinating book that's also a quick, lively read. If you have any interest in baseball, politics, criminal investigation, the 70's, the Black Out or NYC in general, you will love it.
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