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A Man's World: Portraits Hardcover – May 2, 2017
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As a longtime reader of Steve Oney's magazine pieces, I admire his storytelling abilities and applaud his journalistic ambition. His work never fails to impress me. --Gay Talese, author of THE KINGDOM AND THE POWER
Taken separately, these are superb and acute accounts by a truly perceptive journalist. Taken together, they're a piece of social history that might be read a hundred years from now. For better or worse, this is what we were, guys. --Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series
The profile is a particular genre of magazine journalism. The talent most required is empathy--the ability to feel the soul of another person, despite the evasions and the performance--to actually get inside the skin of another being and understand the human creature within. Steve Oney has that singular talent, and he brings these figures alive with love and honesty. This is journalism at its peak. --Lawrence Wright, author of GOING CLEAR and THE TERROR YEARS
Veteran journalist Oney pulls together 20 magazine features from three decades of his career. In an insightful introduction, the author explains why all of the pieces, published from 1977 to 2011, focus on "fascinating" men rather than other topics. Oney decided it would be useful for readers to explain how men become strong, resilient, and compassionate in contemporary American society. After all, he writes, "no one taught me how to be a man," so maybe male readers would end up better informed and able "to create" and "to explore their inner darkness." Oney divides his profiles into four sections. First comes "Fighters," which includes profiles of Herschel Walker and his post-football life, the combat death of young Marine Chris Leon, the techniques of professional basketball coach Hubie Brown, Hollywood security consultant and former Israeli warrior Aaron Cohen, and veteran police reporter Jake Jacoby. Section 2 features "Creators," including novelist Robert Penn Warren, architect John Portman, musician Herb Alpert, TV executive Brandon Tartikoff, and Hollywood gossip columnist Mark Lisanti. In "Actors," Oney covers Harrison Ford, Dennis Franz, Nick Nolte, Harry Dean Stanton, and Bryan Brown. The final section, "Desperadoes," focuses on professional baseball star-turned-cocaine addict Bo Belinsky, musician Gregg Allman, political provocateur Andrew Breitbart, interior designer con man Craig Raywood, and novelist Harry Crews. In the afterword, Oney illuminates how researching and writing the features taught him lessons about journalism and about developing confidence to make his way as a man--fighting, creating, acting, and embracing danger. Throughout, the author displays his strong reporting skills and engaging prose. Although every piece focuses on men, the variation of subjects and the different writing styles combine in a journalism anthology more satisfying than most. --Kirkus Reviews
A MAN'S WORLD, published by Mercer University Press in May, gathers a feast of magazine profiles dating from Oney's first days writing for the lamented Atlanta Journal-Constitution Magazine to his years writing for Los Angeles and California magazines and national publications Playboy, GQ, Esquire, Premiere, Time, and The New York Times Magazine. In his introduction, Oney says that in handling the world "men must be adept at fighting. Second, they must create. Third, the presentation of a public presence--call it acting--is all important. Finally, men must be willing to explore their inner darkness." Oney states his writer's philosophy, which drives his pieces. "But just as actors must bring themselves to the characters they portray to make those characters come alive on-screen, writers must bring themselves to the persons they write about to make those persons come alive on the page. If, by so doing, the writer learns something about himself, the payoff is twofold: A work animated by a life and a life animated and deepened by the work." Applying this credo, Oney excels at portraying his subjects' personalities and the environments in which they live. He is especially strong at capturing their way of talking and conveying identifying gestures. Each piece is written in a limited third person technique, with the writer hidden, but the reader senses his constantly observing presence. One of the strongest pieces is one of Oney's earliest, a profile of novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren and his wife, Eleanor Clark, also a noted writer. The piece, published in The AJC magazine in 1979, captures Warren's exuberance for life. A MAN'S WORLD gives us Oney's world, and that is a very illuminating place. --Louis Mayeux, Southern Bookman: A Literary Blog for All Seasons
Across forty years, Steve Oney has written numerous articles for national magazines concentrating on the challenges that men face. Consider this book, carefully curated into "fighters, creators, actors, and desperadoes," a celebration of the lives of twenty such men. But there's another aspect to this collection: Oney's own enlightenment. The author suggests that his duty is to make his subjects come alive on the page. "If, by so doing," Oney writes, "the writer learns something about himself, the payoff is twofold: a work animated by a life and a life animated and deepened by the work." That learning extends from the author to the reader in each wonderfully drawn portrait. Some aspects of these individuals' lives would otherwise be hidden from public view. Former college/professional football star Herschel Walker, for example, had a dissociative disorder and exhibited multiple personalities after retiring from his sport. Despite this challenge, Walker built a highly successful post-football career in the food business. A biographical vignette of Aaron Cohen, the head of a Los Angeles security firm that protects numerous Hollywood luminaries, tells a different story. Cohen is a seemingly hardened, highly competent security professional who inhabits "a hyperaware world." Still, he has a softer side, making him "an amalgam of a counterterrorist and a warm, caring person." Then there is the story of Andrew Breitbart. Published in 2010, this piece is highly relevant today, given former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon's prominence in the Trump administration. "The second I realized I liked being hated more than I liked being liked, that's when the game began," says Breitbart in what may be the most telling quote in the entire book. Some individuals here are well known, and others are probably not known at all, yet each person's life is illuminated by Oney's descriptive writing. Every sketch is a literary pearl unto itself. With proper amounts of intimacy and poignancy, Oney's portraits variously feature humor, tragedy, failure, and success. They are a sometimes raw reflection on humanity and on the lives of men. This makes A MAN'S WORLD, by Steve Oney, a special gift to every reader. --Barry Silverstein, Foreword Reviews
About the Author
Steve Oney is the author of AND THE DEAD SHALL RISE, winner of the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, the Southern Book Critics Circle Prize, and the National Jewish Book Award. Oney was educated at the University of Georgia and at Harvard, where he was a Nieman Fellow. He lives in Los Angeles.
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So-called entertainment journalists often dream of having their archived celeb profiles amassed between hard covers, but alas their subjects’ fame is either too fleeting to warrant sustained interest, or, if they're still in the limelight, current events overshadow and make moot musty old clips. And if the scribe’s subjects are, God forbid, not famous, then authors stand almost no chance of surviving a pitch when confronted with book publishers’ uncomprehending vacant stares. (And indeed, roughly a third of these profiles are of men whose tales are inarguably worthy of examination, but unfamiliar to the public.)
Steve Oney’s distinctive portraits embrace more enduring qualities.
Oney weaves prose narratives that read like page-turning novels, but are both factual and true. Good lord, look at how much telltale revelation he packs into one perfectly turned protagonist description: “At 70, he's lost the hearing in one ear, his hair is a memory, and he’s forsworn Scotch whisky, the drink that sustained him during the many years in which he covered L.A. from a phone booth at a now defunct police bar called the Stake-Out.” A thousand similar examples abound.
What Oney additionally brings to the table is an unsurpassed ability to not just tell complex stories simply, but to provide background, context and, most of all, significance. Why are this person’s life and adventures important? What do they tell us about our society, our world, ourselves? How is his journey connected and meaningful to our own? Why should we care?
Oney has clearly absorbed the lessons of the magazine masters who influenced and energized the generation of writers who came of age in their thrall — our heroes Talese, Wolfe, Ephron, Mailer, et al. (Indeed, Talese was among the heavyweights who provided enthused blurbs that any writer would kill for.)
Unlike the current crop of scribblers, Oney is compelled by curiosity — not just latching on to the latest hot new thing, but willing and able to roll up his sleeves and explore significant individuals who define our age and emblemize the zeitgeist.
What especially intrigues me is that Oney captures some of his subjects during the prime of their careers, and others long afterwards — giving us a glimpse of what it takes to not only attain a level of excellence but also to sustain it in the long run, which you’ll see here that some succeed at far better than others. In Oney’s case, his own formidable talents , as charted on this journey that so far spans five decades, started strong out of the gate and just keeps galloping.
One of these pieces earned a well deserved slot in an annual collection of “The Best American Magazine Writing,” but they all are worthy of preservation, and, though they represent only a fraction of Oney’s prodigious ouevre, we’re fortunate to have them at last collected here. The torch of writing artful in-depth profiles has passed to Oney from the “Smiling Through the Apocalypse” Sixties practitioners (spearheaded by legendary Esquire editor Harold Hayes, who shepherded at least one of Oney’s profiles herein). May they serve as a beacon to current and future journalists who will pass it along unscathed to the next generation.
I enjoyed a delightful trip down memory lane revisiting old faves from Esquire, Playboy, GQ, California, Los Angeles , Premiere — along the way encountering for the first time a few I had abashedly missed from Los Angeles mag and especially a couple that date back to his formative years at the Atlanta Journal & Constitution Magazine, where he made his bones and trumpeted his fresh voice to the world. We’re treated to visits with famous actors and athletes (from Harrison Ford to Herschel Walker), but equally fascinating are the prominent but less familiar entities (cop reporter, con artist, architect, fallen Marine).
But I’ve buried the lede. This is far more than a compendium of literary snapshots. As the title suggests, the connective tissue of these glimpses of masculine strength and frailty illuminates what it means to be a man today in American society. One might cynically dismiss this as a ploy to stitch together a greatest-hits collection, but instead Oney has masterfully woven a rich tapestry — comprised in equal parts of Fighters, Creators, Actors and Desperados — that invites us to rethink contemporary masculine roles. To his credit, the author shares his own insights and lessons he has absorbed along the way, as he met and introduced these gents to us through the years. Readers of all genders — and there are admittedly more today than when he embarked on this illuminating journey — are invited and encouraged to join Oney as he extracts wisdom from his interactions with these colorful characters.
Highly recommended! Delicious and nutritious fare to nurture our minds and souls as we eagerly await his massive tome on the history of NPR.
Oney researches so thoroughly and writes so beautifully that he leaves nothing for anyone who might later want to write on the same subject. He burns out the underbrush, plows up the ground, and scatters salt over it all.
This collection will be taught in journalism courses as an example of what writing a magazine profile is all about. It is a splendid work.