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The Last City Room Hardcover – November 13, 2000

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The turbulent politics of the 1960s hasten the demise of an old-fashioned San Francisco newspaper in this entertaining but hollow fiction debut from Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez (Dancing Under the Moon; City of Angles). Twenty-four-year-old Vietnam veteran William Colfax leaves a smalltown paper to join the staff of the San Francisco Herald just as the Herald begins its precipitous decline, ravaged by the clash between radical community leaders and the paper's reactionary publisher, Jeremy Lincoln Stafford III. His first night on the job, Colfax covers a bombing at the Federal Building. He goes on to make his reputation by following the career of Vito Minelli, a charismatic campus radical who masterminded the crime, finally winning a Pulitzer for his coverage of Berkeley activism. While Stafford attempts to recruit Colfax as a lieutenant in his personal crusade against moral decay, Minelli casts the stodgy Herald as a fascistic foil to aggrandize his own revolutionary rantings. Stafford only fuels the fire with the bombastic editorials he runs on the front page. Soon Colfax's colleagues begin to fall victim to the paper's dwindling circulation, as Colfax finds himself caught in the middle, groping for some balance of personal loyalty, integrity and professionalism. Martinez paints all of this with a broad brush, fashioning a lively melodrama. But the novel is peopled more with types than characters. If Colfax fails to take on much depth, despite rote recollections of a failed romance and his dysfunctional relationship with his father, the others remain mere cartoons. Nor is the well-worn '60s milieu seen from a fresh perspective in this largely forgettable drama of remembrance, likely to be of most interest to West Coast readers and journalism junkies. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

As The Last City Room opens, in 1965, the once-great San Francisco Herald is a newspaper in serious decline. Aspiring reporter William Colfax joins the paper after a tour in Vietnam. He lands an "above the fold" byline on his first day covering the bombing of an FBI office by antiwar radicals. The ensuing public outrage dovetails with the extremely conservative beliefs of the newspaper's slightly unhinged publisher, Jeremy Stafford. As Stafford veers farther to the racist and anti-Semitic right, he loses both readers and advertisers, leading to budget cuts, layoffs, and labor unrest and sealing the newspaper's fate. Martinez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has an excellent ear for dialogue and an insider's knowledge of the workings of a major metropolitan newspaper. In true journalistic fashion, neither the right- nor the left-wingers come off particularly well. His characters, though, are too familiar, some of them seemingly transported directly from The Front Page and Lou Grant. Even so, there is much to enjoy in this novel, which will have its strongest appeal among journalism junkies and students of the 1960s. George Needham
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (November 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312209010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312209018
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,514,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Roseanne Montgomery on November 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those whose knowledge of how newspapers work begins and ends with television series, Al Martinez sets the record straight in "The Last City Room," the story of a fictional San Francisco newspaper on its last legs. Against the growing drumbeat of campus radicals opposing the Viet Nam War, Martinez pits a fiercely independent right-wing publisher against the "trust-nobody-over-30" students of the 1960s. His dysfunctional "family" of reporters and editors create a fascinatingly true picture of the pre-corporate newspaper business, a time when editorial judgements, love lives and the failures of the world in general were dissected in gin mills across the street from the city room. I feel I knew every one of those characters, and maybe I did. If you lived through that era, you need to read Martinez' book to tweak your memories. If you're younger, it will make you wish you had been there. It will leave a tear in your eye and a smile on your face.
Gayle B. Montgomery, Retired Political Editor, Oakland (California) Tribune
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Westheimer on October 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have been a novelist for many years and before that a journalist. As a novelist and former journalist I assure you "The Last City Room" affords you the best of both worlds--fiction and how a newspaperworks. ... You needn't have set foot in the swirl of a metropolitan newspaper city room in the 1960s or lived through those turbulent times of violent anti-everything fervor in San Francisco to be caught up in Martinez's passionate evocation of those days and times. "The Last City Room" takes you there. It's a marvelous book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Flem Snopes on November 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
William Colfax returns from Vietnam to find a society in turmoil, and his new job as a reporter for the San Francisco Herald lands him smack in the middle of the action. From his unique vantage point as a member of the hard-drinking, fast-living crowd of reporters and editors at the Herald, we see the escalating war between the old-line Establishment represented by publisher Jeremy Stafford III and his cronies on one side and the young men and women of the emerging new order on the other...
When it comes to a writer's infusing a book with authenticity, there's just no substitute for experience, and Al Martinez has it. A newspaperman for more than four decades, Martinez knows that world, and every page of The Last City Room rings with truth. But Martinez brings more than experience to the table, much more. As readers of his bi-weekly Los Angeles Times columns know, he doesn't just observe the human condition, he sees right into it and serves it up in a style that melds humor, irony, compassion, outrage, affection and pathos, often all in the same piece. It's his unique combination of experience, a keen eye, and the ability to render what he sees in clear and affecting prose that makes The Last City Room such a wonderful read. Before the story is over, the bay area Movement will be nearly torn apart by intrigues from both the right and the left, a great metropolitan daily will topple, and Colfax, like the society itself, will be changed forever.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roseanne Montgomery on November 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For those whose knowledge of newspapers work begin and end with television series, Al Martinez sets the record straight in "The Last City Room," the story of a fictional San Francisco newspaper on its last legs. Against the growing drumbeat of campus radicals opposing the Viet Nam War, Martinez pits a fiercely independent right-wing publisher against the "trust-nobody-over-30" students of the 1960s. His dysfunctional "family" of reporters and editors create a fascinatingly true picture of the pre-corporate newspaper business, a time when editorial judgements, love lives and the failures of the world in general were dissected in gin mills across the street from the city room. I feel I knew every one of those characters, and maybe I did. If you lived through that era, you need to read Martinez' book to tweak your memories. If you're younger, it will make you wish you had been there. It will leave a tear in your eye and a smile on your face.
Gayle B. Montgomery, Retired Political Editor, Oakland (California) Tribune
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michele M. Yepiz on October 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As all accomplished artists know how to use colors correctly to shade for effect, Al Martinez knows how to use his rich prose to write an eyewitness description of a doomed newspaper in San Francisco during the '60s. In this novel, William Colfax, a 'Nam veteran, starts as a cub reporter, and during the telling, evolves into an experienced, cynical journalist from his observations of the campus revolution and the corruption in all strata of the city. Colfax introduces the reader to the turbulent Berkeley activists, the scandalous police, the ant-Communist, fanatic power brokers, and the hard-drinking, quirky city room's staff-his family at the San Francisco Herald. For years I've read Mr. Martinez's column in the LA Times and through those columns have learned a little about the man. He saw action in the Korean "conflict" and was a reporter on a Bay area newspaper, so he wrote a story that he knows well. I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates excellent writing while reading a sound story about newspapering and complicity.
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