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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collected For A Purpose
I love This American Life on NPR and was excited to discover this collection of essays assembled by the intelligent and original Ira Glass. I have always loved the viewpoint in Ira's broadcasts and looked forward to discovering the essays and writers he considered worthwhile.

This is an excellent collection of non-fiction. I won't use the term "literary...
Published on February 21, 2008 by SORE EYES

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Fan of Ira Glass
There were several memorable stories here, but they are from Ira's cold files. Some didn't age that well. The story about the NY socialite and the story about British football are still in my brain!
Published 19 months ago by Sonatina


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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collected For A Purpose, February 21, 2008
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
I love This American Life on NPR and was excited to discover this collection of essays assembled by the intelligent and original Ira Glass. I have always loved the viewpoint in Ira's broadcasts and looked forward to discovering the essays and writers he considered worthwhile.

This is an excellent collection of non-fiction. I won't use the term "literary non-fiction" because Ira Glass hates the term. (...I'm a snob when it comes to that phrase. I think it's for losers. It's pretentious, for one thing, and it's a bore. Which is to say, it's exactly the opposite of the writing it's trying to describe.)

I will agree with other reviewers here that complained that they came across some of these essays before and therefore the collection did not seem fresh. Ira writes that "some of the stories are very well known" but were included because the writers were trying to document remarkable experiences and the stories were "built around original reporting of one sort of another." You should view the stories in this book as a whole, even if you might have come across a few of them before. There is merit in assembling these stories in a collection which becomes evident after you finish the book. This story collection works because Ira is able to spot that certain something in a story or style or reporting that is original-but not novel, entertaining-but humane. You're purchasing the vision of Ira Glass in The New Kings of Non-Fiction and it's worth every penny if it were quadruple the price.

Stories included:
Johnathan Lebed's Extracurricular Activities - Michael Lewis
Toxic Dreams: A California Town Finds Meaning In An Acid Pit - Jack Hitt
Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg - Malcolm Gladwell
Shapinsky's Karma - Lawrence Weschler
The American Man, Age Ten - Susan Orlean
Among The Thugs - Bill Buford
Crazy Things Seem Normal, Normal Things Seem Crazy - Chuck Klosterman
Host - David Foster Wallace
Tales of the Tyrant - Mark Bowden
Losing The War - Lee Sandlin
The Hostess Diaries: My Year At A Hot Spot - Coco Hensen Scales
My Republican Journey - Dan Savage
Power Steer - Michael Pollan
Fortune's Smile: World Series of Poker - James McManus

I'd also recommend The Best American Essays 2007 (The Best American Series (TM)) edited by David Foster Wallace. Another good collection of stories by an editor with excellent taste.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to understand the power and allure of nonfiction narrative, READ THIS BOOK!, November 27, 2007
By 
Amazon Customer (Scottsdale, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
This is a phenomenal collection of short works of nonfiction, compiled by Ira Glass of NPR's THIS AMERICAN LIFE. Every one of these pieces is a treasure, from Michael Lewis's attempt to figure out why the SEC accused a 15 year-old boy of manipulating the stock market, to Jack Hitt's description of the biggest, weirdest lawsuit in history, to Mark Bowden's attempt to answer the question "What's Saddam Hussein really like?" This will introduce some of you to a new genre, others to some new writers, and many of you to at least three books, Bill Buford's AMONG THE THUGS (about rabid English soccer fans), Malcoln Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT (based on his chapter about Lois Weinberg, the women who knew everybody), and James McManus's POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET (which grew from the article "Fortune's Smile," which concludes this collection). The richness of these stories and the authors' joy in developing them and sharing them, will encourage you to read AND write.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Collection of Essays On Diverse Topics By Top Writers, August 30, 2010
By 
Jennifer "Jennifer" (Sicklerville, NJ, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
In my review of Sloane Crosley's latest book, How Did You Get This Number, I confessed my love for essays, particularly personal essays with a humorous bent. But I like harder hitting essays too, and this collection of non-fiction writing chosen and introduced by This American Life's Ira Glass was a real treat for an essay fan like myself. In my mind, it is also a good introduction to non-fiction writing--a genre that so many readers shy away from (for reasons that elude me).

What makes this book so wonderful is that Glass has cherry-picked some of his favorite non-fiction writing and put them all together so you get good writing on a wide range of topics--from profiles of Saddam Hussein to Val Kilmer, from soccer hooligans to a "typical" 10-year-old boy, from where a steak comes from to what is feels like to make the final table at the World Series of Poker. As you know if you're familiar with Ira Glass's work, he has diverse interests and a innate curiosity about the world around us--and this sensibility is reflected in his choices for this book. Perhaps the best way to get a sense of the diversity of the stories in the book is to provide a brief description of the various pieces (with a little bit of commentary on what I liked and didn't like).

* Michael Lewis kicks off the book with a piece called "Jonathan Lebed's Extracurricular Activities,"which was a fascinating look at a 15-year-old high-school boy who gets in trouble with the SEC after he makes a lot of money (like a half a million dollars!!) via day-trading and promoting various stocks on the Internet. In the SEC's mind, Jonathan has done something illegal, but his offense is one that even the head of the SEC is unable to clearly articulate. In the end, it seems that the "offense" was simply figuring out how to make money on the stock market at a young age.

* Jack Hitt's contribution, "Toxic Dreams: A California Town Finds Meaning In An Acid Pit," reads like a satire of the legal system--except that the case he writes about (Stringfellow) is an actual case that is ongoing to this day. I suspect that a writer couldn't come up with a mockery of what legal proceedings can turn into--or how they can take on a life of their own--that sounds more ridiculous than what the Stringfellow proceedings involve.

* Malcolm Gladwell makes an appearance with a story called "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg," which is about how some people are people who seem to know everybody--a kind of living embodiment of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. (In fact, Gladwell alludes to this game and makes a pretty good case that it might be easier played with Burgess Meredith.) By the end, I guarantee that you'll be looking for the Lois Weisberg in your life!

* "Shapinsky's Karma" by Lawrence Weschler is one of the longer pieces in the book--chronicling the unlikely rise to fame by an obscure painter named Harold Shapinsky due to the tireless and almost maniacal efforts of an Indian fellow named Akumal Ramachander, which turns into a story as much about Akumal as it is about Shapinsky. A fascinating look at the art world and what one persistent person who believes in another can accomplish.

* Susan Orlean's contribution, "The American Man, Age Ten," was probably my favorite in the book. After her editor at Esquire asked her to write a profile of Macauley Culkin for a piece he planned on giving the same title to, Orlean asked if she could instead write about a "typical" American ten-year-old instead, which is how she ended up shadowing a New Jersey boy named Colin Duffy. The result is a fascinating, humorous and engrossing look into Colin's world--and what a wondrous place it is.

* "Among the Thugs" by Bill Buford was particularly timely as I read it while the World Cup was going on. The piece in the book (which was an early chapter from Buford's book of the same name) is a first-hand account of shadowing British soccer hooligans as they travel to Turin to watch their team (Manchester United) play. It was a glimpse into a scary world that I don't think I would want to get near.

* Chuck Klosterman writes about his interview with Val Kilmer in a piece called "Crazy Things Seem Normal, Normal Things Seem Crazy," which includes writing like: "The worst thing I could say about him is that he's kind of a name-dropper; beyond that, he seems like an affable fellow with a good sense of humor, and he is totally not f**ked up. But he is weird." As you can see, this isn't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill celebrity profile.

* David Foster Wallace's piece, "Host," was my least favorite piece in the book--probably due to the excessive use of footnotes (printed in the most unusual way) that kept distracting me from the main story, which is a profile of a radio talk show host named John Ziegler. I almost skipped this piece entirely but ended up powering through just so I could write this review and honestly say I read the entire book.

* "Tales of the Tyrant" by Mark Bowden is an extensive piece on Saddam Hussein, which I wish I'd read way back when the U.S. first started getting involved with Iraq. It was quite eye-opening and enlightening and shed a little more light on the country of Iraq and its long-time dictator and what kind of person he was.

* "Losing the War" by Lee Sandlin is an interesting piece in which the author asks various people what they know about war, specifically World War II. And what does he find? "Nobody could tell me the first thing about it. Once they got past who won they almost drew a blank. All they knew were the big totemic names--Pearl Harbor, D-day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima--whose unfathomable reaches of experience has been boiled down to an abstract atrocity. The rest was gone."

* One of the few pieces I felt didn't fit in was "The Hostess Diaries: My Year At A Hot Spot" by Coco Henson Scales. Although an amusing enough look at what really goes on behind-the-scenes at an exclusive nightclub, the piece felt too slight in comparison to the other pieces in the book.

* I really loved "My Republican Journey" by Dan Savage because it reminded me how much I enjoy Dan Savage's writing. (I used to read his sex column in The Onion and just loved his books The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant and Skipping Towards Gomorrah.) In fact, it reminded me that I really should get the rest of Savage's books that he's been writing while I was doing other things. Shame on me!! This particular story chronicles Savage's attempt to infiltrate the Republican Party during the 1996 presidential elections in an effort to change the Republican's view of homosexuality from the "inside." If you've never read Savage's biting, hysterical point of view, this essay is a wonderful introduction. (But not if you're a hard-core, conservative Republican ... cuz' my guess is that you won't really care for Savage's worldview. I love him though.)

* "Power Steer" by Michael Pollan is almost guaranteed to put you off red meat for awhile. The story follows the short life of steer No. 534, which Pollan buys in an effort to "find out how a modern, industrial steak is produced in America these days, from insemination to slaughter." What he finds was eye-opening and probably more than I wanted to know. But if you eat meat, you should probably understand where it comes from the effects of the modern meat industry on the environment. After reading this essay, it made me want to read Pollan's longer books, like The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals or In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

* I particularly enjoyed James McManus's story, "Fortune's Smile: World Series of Poker," as Mr. Jenners and I went through a Texas Hold 'Em craze a few years back (along with much of America). Chronicling the author's unlikely journey to the final table at the World Series of Poker (back before it was a well-known and a regular fixture on TV), the piece has a "you are there" quality to it that I really enjoyed. If Mr. Jenners hadn't already consumed almost every anecdotal book on gambling and casinos, I might have even had a shot at getting him to read this one.

My Final Recommendation

If you're looking for a diverse collection of non-fiction writing that differs wildly in topics and style but that all share a foundation of good writing that involves the reader, look no further. This collection had everything you could want--and will probably lead you to seek additional works by the authors represented in the collection.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying Collection, December 19, 2007
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
I bought this book based on the teaser I heard on "This American Life" -- the teaser was for "The American Man, Age Ten." It sounded like just the kind of quirky story that usually draws me into the radio show. I'm happy to report that not only did that turn out to be as good a short as the teaser suggested, but that most of the other stories in the compilation were equally good.

I found the most compelling story to be "Among the Thugs" by Bill Buford in which the author tags along with a band of English soccer hooligans who, despite their initial behavior and contrary protestations, turn out to be some of the most wildly violent "fans" imaginable.

One warning, though. Some of the pieces in this book are not, contrary to the title, recent. One story, "Shapinsky's Karma" was written back in the 1980s.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yay for Ira, December 30, 2007
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
Ira Glass knows how to pick and choose. I am a huge fan of This American Life, and this book has great stories, stories I may not have found or paid attention to, but since they're recommended by Ira, I have read and appreciated them. The stories are very interesting, and give insight into our world, from a boy's dealings with the stock market . . . and the law, to what it is like to be around Sadaam Husain, to the outlook and feeling of being a 10-year-old boy from the subburbs.

And it's fun to read Ira's introduction to the stories - he kind of psyches you up for them, so you're excited and ready to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Reading, January 14, 2011
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This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
Tons of solid essays in here. This is a great collection that is at once amazingly informative and wildly entertaining. On multiple occasions I have stopped myself to read large portions aloud to my wife. All the while, I find myself becoming an expert on topics as varied as the World Series of Poker, the SEC, talk radio, and much more.

If you enjoy "This American Life" you will thoroughly enjoy this book. If you do not enjoy "This American Life," head over to the website now and have a listen!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great light reading, November 15, 2007
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
As a new mom who enjoys This American Life, I found this collection of stories to be great reading for those times when my baby falls asleep in my arms and I'm stuck in the glider. It's light, funny, smart, and stylistically diverse. If you enjoy TAL, you'll like this book...a great gift for family and friends who like TAL as well!
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5.0 out of 5 stars This is a perfect collection for a literary journalism course, December 21, 2009
By 
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
I am using this as a text for a literary journalism course on the college level. It is wonderful to have Ira Glass' fresh and non academic voice explain in the introduction why this kind of nonfiction writing is so powerful. And having such a great collection of works by many of the well-known writers currently publishing is a gift. The fact that some of these works have been published elsewhere is a good thing for me. The whole collection captures a certain type of writing that I haven't found in such a concise well edited collection anywhere else. THANK YOU IRA!!!!!
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a particularly fresh selection., January 27, 2008
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
It's deja lu all over again.

This is not the superb collection I would expect from Ira Glass. In fact, it's an odd collection all round - the puzzling question is why it exists at all.

Don't get me wrong. The quality of most of the contributions to this anthology is very high. But most of the pieces are not new. Glass describes his selection criterion: "most of the stories in this book come from a stack of favorite writing that I've kept behind my desk for years". What does this yield?

Michael Lewis on Jonathan Lebed (the 15-year old who was sued for white-collar crime by the SEC).
Malcolm Gladwell: Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg.
Chuck Klosterman interviewing Val Kilmer.
David Foster Wallace on right-wing talk radio.
Michael Pollan on buying a cow.
Susan Orlean: The American Man, Age Ten.
James McManus on playing in the World Series of Poker.
Mark Bowden on Saddam Hussein.

and stories by Jack Hitt, Dan Savage, Lawrence Weschler, Lee Sandler and Bill Buford.

The problem is that most of the pieces in the book have appeared in print before, not once, but twice. For instance, Gladwell's piece - which is indeed a delight to read - first appeared in The New Yorker, then again in his book "The Tipping Point". Similarly, the pieces by Orlean and Weschler first appeared in The New Yorker and were subsequently republished in books by their authors. David Foster Wallace's story was first published in The Atlantic, and subsequently appeared again in the collection "Consider the Lobster". Pollan's work first appeared in The New York Times, and then again in his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma". And so on. I haven't checked, but given the general proliferation of anthologies these days (each year there are the 'best essays', 'best business writing', 'best nonrequired reading', 'best science and nature writing', and The new Yorker has taken to publishing its own anthologies as well), it wouldn't surprise me if some of these pieces have been further anthologized.

Thus, operationally, Ira's selection criterion seems to amount to choosing pieces that have been published at least twice before.

My favorite pieces: the article on Jonathan Lebed, Gladwell's piece, Foster Wallace on right-wing radio, and Klosterman's interview of Val Kilmer. At the other end of the spectrum, the article about poker was a tedious, self-indulgent bore. Finally, and this says more about me than about the quality of the essays, I couldn't manage to make myself finish Lee Sandlin's article about World War II, nor could I bring myself to care about Bill Buford's exploits with British soccer hooligans.

4.5 stars for the quality of the entries, 2.5 stars for their originality. I've rounded the resulting average of 3.5 up to 4 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Gift: An Introduction to Contemporary Non-Fiction, December 12, 2009
This review is from: The New Kings of Nonfiction (Paperback)
This is an excellent compilation of some of today's most noteworthy writers. While this doesn't necessary hold their signature stories, I think it does justice as a sampler.

A long-time fan of Michael Lewis and Malcolm Gladwell, I found this to be an excellent bite-sized introduction to authors I had not experienced. A perfect traveling companion or bedside read.
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The New Kings of Nonfiction
The New Kings of Nonfiction by Dan Savage (Paperback - October 2, 2007)
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