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James Kaplan idolizes the brilliant essayist John McPhee, and at times, this book approaches the work of the master--especially the second chapter about "the Birdman of Kennedy" (whose job is to protect human life and metal wing against the astonishingly potent threat of seagulls).
The following passage illustrates Kaplan's reportage and writing at it's best:
Down a hallway, toward passport control. "Human ingenuity is endless," Fingerman is saying. "People hide sausages in bandoliers around their body. I've seen a man trying to bring an entire fig tree on his person. The roots were in his shoes, the branches were in his sleeves. One lady tried to hide her pet bird between her breasts. Another was wearing a big hat, with a whole hatband full of little finches"... Now his restless eyes pick out two men having their passports processed nearby. One is Italian, the other Venezuelan; they look as if they have on at least three sports jackets apiece. They have huge fake-Vuitton suitcases, and Fingerman leans on one of the bags as he says, in his carrying voice, "How are you gentlemen doing today?"And how delightfully ironic that this customs inspector's name is Fingerman!
I leave a little while later. Fingerman, who has forgotten all about me, is contentedly removing dozens of pieces of fruit and wrapped sausages from the men's bags as they gesture and shrug.
My only gripe is that the publisher should have spent more time editing this otherwise worthy volume--and Kaplan (like me several years ago) suffers from a dreaded syndrome I've dubbed "commatosis", the tendency to overuse commas. Otherwise, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants a good peek at how airports work--and how they sometimes fail so spectacularly. Two aerilons up! --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Having worked at JFK airport for almost 40 years, I really wanted to read this book. Since it is out of print I had to settle on a used book. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Peter Stagnitta
This book is a very interesting, very well-worded, literary look at a non-literary, quantitative fact of late 20th century life. Read morePublished on July 12, 1999