From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this collection of previously published stories by Harper's
contributing editor Samuels, he claims writing for magazines is like playing sports. Whatever the journalistic game—Samuels's subjects range from Woodstock 1999 to a Goodyear blimp pilot, among others, plus a few personal essays—Samuels is a solid player who sometimes hits home runs. Every building begins as a dream, he states in Bringing Down the House, a profile of a demolition company, but [d]estroying a building... [is] a slow, almost biblical reckoning. Behind the scenes at such places as the Sedan Crater nuclear test site; the antiglobalization Mecca of Eugene, Ore.; and Super Bowl XL with Stevie Wonder, Samuels's reportage is at its best. He wryly flays false constructions of American reality on the right, left and places in between. Ideologically, what Chad Sweet has in common with his newfound friends in the Republican Party is that nothing he says makes any sense, Samuels writes about a new Republican at a $2,000-a-plate Bush-Cheney '04 fund-raising party. Samuels could give a little Bush-bashing wink here; instead he observes that politics isn't about coherence anymore. Neither is much of life in our Golden Land of Mini-Moos, according to Samuels, who captures this free floating weirdness with clarity. (Mar.)
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In this first collection of his magazine pieces, journalist Samuels, whose work has been featured in Harper’s and the New Yorker, among other venues, well captures the end-of-millennium fervor of the late 1990s—7 of the 19 pieces collected here were originally published then. From his disillusioned take on the greedy capitalism marring Woodstock ’99 to the colorful profiles of a ragtag group of radicals from Eugene, Oregon, Samuels is acutely aware of the chasm between idealistic aspirations and more mundane reality. He alternates between social critiques, such as his touching depiction of the sad-eyed customers of a dog-track betting operation in Florida or his hard-hitting profiles of the workers who handled nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site, to more personal pieces on how his peers’ search for connection manifests itself through career ambition, antidepressant medication, and musical taste. And it is in his profiles of and musings on musicians—rap producer Prince Paul, Detroit native son Stevie Wonder—that Samuels’ writing is at its richest. An eclectic collection most notable for its spot-on depiction of the late 1990s. --Joanne Wilkinson
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