From Publishers Weekly
Here's the century, or at least the post-WWII century, as seen not panoramically by an anchorman and photographers but impressionistically by a polished prose stylist with an eye for how detail can open up even the briefest of essays or sketches. From a 1939 article on the Bettmann Archive to last year's appreciation of New Yorker colleague Brendan Gill, these pieces (which appeared as New Yorker "Profiles," "Talk of the Town" bits and "Letters" from all over the world) show Hamburger to be a classic practitioner of literate understatement, clearly a disciple of his exacting editor, William Shawn. There's a chilling essay called "The End of Mussolini," in which Hamburger concludes by wondering, amid the bombed-out rubble of Milan's church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, about the fate of Leonardo's Last Supper. In a 1945 "Letter from Berchtesgaden," Hamburger focuses on the banality, indeed the tackiness, of evil made manifest in Hitler's mountain retreat: "And into this room he crowded forty-six chairs, one more ugly than the next?low-slung chairs covered with sickly blue imitation needle point." Readers will also find portraits of Harry Truman, Oscar Hammerstein II and others, as well as delightful diversions?like the one about Louie the Waiter, a New York delicatessen legend renowned for "his ability to sell War Bonds in large amounts to customers who enter the store with nothing more in mind than a plate of chopped liver." Readers who fell in love (sometimes for the second time) with Hamburger's close friend Joseph Mitchell when Up in the Old Hotel was published will be just as happy to have their fill of Hamburger.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A mainstay of the New Yorker staff since 1939, Hamburger has written everything from Talk of the Town entries to casuals and profiles; he even served as music critic and movie reviewer. Dozens of pieces are collected here, arranged chronologically within each category. The few comments provided by Hamburger are helpful: A ``Stanley'' essay was written, for example, to explore ``small, little-known islands in the East River and New York Harbor,'' and was authored by none other than the self-styled Our Man Stanley. Much of the material is dated; some of Hamburgers observations appear comically off the mark. For instance, in 1950 he became the first New Yorker writer to venture into the ``cultural minefield'' of television. He describes the early Candid Camera TV series as ``sadistic, poisonous, anti-human, and sneaky''; he dismisses Frank Sinatra and his singing on the October 1951 debut of his show as being either ``asleep or else . . . quite ill.'' Hamburger fared a bit better as an amateur'' music critic in the late 1940s, although Toscanini demanded that he be fired. Hamburger wrote many fine profiles over the years, with the best a 1986 piece on Vartan Gregorian. His parodic profile of then-popular J.P. Marquand may be lost on many readers today. A 1944 profile of Louie the Waiter at the Sixth Avenue Delicatessena man noted not only for his service-oriented doggerel, but for selling $4 million worth of war bondsis a prime example of New Yorker writing at its finest. Uneven, but what writer's 60-year output wouldn't be? There's great stuff here, representative of a kind of writing and reportage that, sadly, is passing. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.