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Only Love Can Break Your Heart Paperback – May 26, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; Reprint edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582435030
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582435039
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On the surface, this collection offers dependable entertainment with its blend of sharp reporting and compassionate, good-humored storytelling. But woven throughout the stories is a provocative concept ignited in the reader's mind by Samuels' preface: that perhaps we owe it to ourselves to re-configure our notions about identity, and all the goals that follow.

"My story has something to do with our national gift for self-delusion and for making ourselves up from scratch, which is much the same thing as believing in the future," Samuels writes, noting younger generations' struggles to find a sense of self when traditional mainstays like family dinners are less prominent.

To suffice, we grasp for concrete systems to help us feel in control -- it may be a Florida greyhound bettor who feels invincible in the face of chance. Or Oregonian anarchists who think they're making a difference when reality suggests otherwise. Or a Woodstock 1999 organizer who's lost sight of what really matters so much that music and togetherness get trumped by four-dollar water bottles and corporate detachment.

The truth is, Samuels suggests, that in trying to define ourselves amid the tumult of modern America, we all get lost in the mire to some extent. "The fact that we lie like crazy while pretending to always tell the truth is such a common narrative strategy in American literature and American lives that we frequently confuse our wishful imaginings with reality." Or, as Neil Young says in the song that lends this book its name, "I have a friend I've never seen/ He hides his head inside a dream..."

Samuels' writing has an intelligent, approachable eloquence that brings the traditions of literary journalism to a new level.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first came across David Samuels' work after reading his story on Britany Spears and the tabloid media in "Atlantic Monthly." I found his take quite original, his writing very strong, and his conclusions thought-provoking. His entire essay collection 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' was equally enjoyable.

I can't think of a writer to compare Samuels too and I say that as a compliment. He is very original. If I was pressed, I would compare him to a more intellectual - and darker - Chuck Klosterman. There are some fascinating essays in this book, esp. the pieces on Woodstock 1999, the Super Bowl in Detroit, and the leftis lunatics in Eugene.

One minor quibble with the book is his personal essays. This is the reason I can't give 5 stars to this book. With all due respect to Samuels, I really don't care about his failed relationships or why he decided to move to Miami to be with some gal. These essays belong in another book and they detract from his investigative pieces. But they are a small portion of the book.

Overall, this is a very good book. I truly hope Samuels keeps writing articles, as a voice like his is much needed in contemporary non-fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
A terrific collection -- pulls the world apart, weighs the cogs, looks at the gears, then puts it back together again. Samuels is wrong: it's not only love that breaks hearts; the right word can do it, the perfect thought can do, and Samuels demonstrates this again and again.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best collections I have read in years. It really reminded me of the old school New Journalism days of Wolfe and Didion. I had read a few of these pieces in Harper's (I'm a big Harper's reader) but I didn't know most of them. Nearly all were funny and stylish and hold up to repeated reading.
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Format: Paperback
A fantastic collection of essays by one of the finest living American non-fiction writers. After I finished reading this, I turned to the front and started over. There's just so much to learn from how Samuels frames scenes and characters. His essay on Woodstock 1999, in particular, has changed how I'll look at writing about music festivals in future. Like John Jeremiah Sullivan's `Upon This Rock', it's barely about the bands who played, but the scenes he witnessed and the people he met. 'The Light Stuff', his essay on blimps, was inspiring, too: Samuels manages to mine extreme depths of technical information and minutiae while still ensuring that the story is never less than engaging and compelling. The essay about nuclear warhead testing grounds, `Buried Suns', was another standout. A few of the shorter pieces were forgettable, but the long stuff for Harper's and the New Yorker is just brilliant. I highly recommend this book to any writer who works in non-fiction.
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