From Publishers Weekly
What happens when you set one of the worldÖs most renowned violinists at the entrance to one of the nationÖs busiest subway stations during rush hour to play some of the worldÖs most beautiful and haunting music? Will harried commuters, enchanted by the music, linger for a few moments and let the music wrap their souls in peace? Will they appreciatively toss a few coins or dollars in the violinistÖs case? Conspiring with violinist Joshua Bell, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Weingarten discovers that BellÖs virtuoso performance of several classical pieces does little to stop commuters in their tracks, and he reports on this conundrum in the column from which this collection of previously published newspaper columns takes its title. With his incisive wit, Weingarten ranges over other topics, from the possible affair of Woodrow Wilson and Mary Hulbert to the childrenÖs entertainer, the Great Zucchini, whose often squalid personal life contrasts dramatically with his life on stage entertaining three- and four-year-olds at Washington, D.C., area birthday parties. Weingarten travels in search of a town worthy of being called the "armpit of America" and discovers it in Battle Mountain, Nev., a town whose defining image for the journalist is a 40-foot-high neon Shell gas station sign with the "S" burned out. Entertaining and funny, WeingartenÖs stories depict the poignancy of the human condition.
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It’s no surprise that a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner would have something useful to say about writing, but Weingarten exceeds expectations in his passionate, irreverent, and instructive introduction to this superb retrospective collection. And the essays themselves prove that this former editor and feature writer turned columnist and “investigative humorist” is one helluva storyteller and a master “stunt” reporter. A troublemaking truth-seeker, Weingarten set out to determine which town truly deserves to be designated “the Armpit of America.” He tracked down the girl he had a crush on in second grade, rode a bus in Jerusalem to get a sense of what it feels like to live with terrorism, and convinced virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell to pose as a street musician in the Washington, D.C., subway. But Weingarten is more than a provocateur. Each of his cockeyed adventures, thanks to his narrative skills and intellectual ethics, yields genuine feelings and discoveries. And for all his daggered humor, Weingarten never condescends. His curiosity is a form of empathy, his cadenced writing testimony to his caring about life, clear thinking, and beauty.Per Simon & Schuster’s Web site, change title and subtitle in bib data to: The Fiddler in the Subway: The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts. . . AndOther Virtuoso Performances by America’s Foremost Feature Writer? --Donna Seaman