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June 09 - July 09 Book Reviews

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No One Was Killed: The Democratic National Convention, August 1968 by John Schultz. (University of Chicago Press, $17). University of Chicago Press recently released a new edition of Schultz’s Chicago classic, with a new forward by Todd Gitlin and a new afterward by the author. It’s August of 1968. Johnson is president, Robert Kennedy has been assassinated, the Vietnam War is escalating, the Democratic National Convention roars into Chicago, and thousands of youth demonstrators flood the city. Demonstrators are beaten and tear-gassed in clashes with police. A turning point in the country’s history has been reached. Among the bedlam is Schultz, an “eye of history, and no cop was going to knock me out of it.” This book is a gritty, first-person account of the events of Sunday through Friday of DemCon ’68. Though Schultz supports Senator Eugene McCarthy—running on an anti-war platform—for the Democratic nomination, Schultz’s sympathies unite him with the protestors in Lincoln and Grant Parks. He takes cracks on the head and tear gas to the eyes and throat to capture sights unique to demonstrators. “[We] went in all directions, some plunging right through the cop lines, through the gas thick as milk.” While No One Was Killed covers some of the blow-by-blow political maneuvering within the convention, reminiscent of Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, Schultz, advance guard of the put-himself-there new journalism, realizes sides must be taken and lines drawn.—Jon Gugala

Drood by Dan Simmons. (Little, Brown and Company, $26.99). Based upon a real-life incident, this novel examines the impact of a train accident involving Charles Dickens and his mistress in the summer of 1865. The narrator, Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone and The Lady in White, is fueled in equal parts by professional jealousy and his opium addiction. In the aftermath of the accident, Collins informs the reader, Dickens became obsessed with the oddly frightening figure who introduces himself as Drood. This figure continues to shadow both Dickens and Collins and may pose a real threat to both men. Dickens even begins his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on the imagined life of Drood, while Collins slowly begins to lose his grip on reality. Drood is crammed with Victorian characters and images, such as opium dens run by quasi-criminals, foggy streets where travelers may or may not be safe, cemeteries, gas lights that serve to barely illuminate a home and
more. Simmons is a master at setting the stage for this Victorian
novel.  Simmons, who wrote the well-received The Terror, has captured life in Victorian England and neatly wraps up a mystery within a mystery.—Susan E. Zinner

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. (Penguin Books, $17). With the headlines heralding the swine flu story, there is no time like the present to read this book. With chapters alternating between heart-wrenching human tales and a detective-like scientific story, Barry weaves a storyline that is both riveting and enlightening—and a reminder of why the public health service is not just another political boondoggle. It was 1918, a time when America and President Wilson were focused on the war effort, an effort that resulted in large numbers of potential soldiers gathered in overcrowded camp conditions. They were mere brush for the forest fire that this influenza made of humanity—a disease that exploded into a pandemic as any visitor to cemeteries of the time may see today, killing as many as 100 million—more than World War I. It was an influenza that would kill the young and healthy in far larger proportions than the very young and very old. Why? In amazing detail, Barry brings to life the so sad story of an American population unprotected by the virtually non-existent public health service. On the other side of the equation were the researchers who toiled to find what this virus was and how to fight it, resulting in the vaccines we have today. Although a world
pandemic, Barry focuses on what happened in America. In one
terrifying chapter, Philadelphia is the epicenter to a nightmare that
even Stephen King might not have imagined. A political appointee
ignores warnings to cancel a public parade, and within a fortnight,
the influenza epidemic has torn through the city, with corpses
stacked in the morgue like cordwood. In one week, 4,597 are dead.
There aren’t enough hands to bury the dead. It reads like a horror
story with the two caveats. It was based on real events that changed
the world, and it does pay to know what pandemic can mean. Don’t be afraid, be knowledgeable.
—Candace Drimmer

Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards. (Broadway Books, $22.95). This book is a collection of reflections and fantasies that Edwards says helped her through life’s darkest hours—her father’s and son’s death,
her mother’s dementia, her husband’s infidelity and her own battle
with breast cancer. Those who question her motives for writing this
kind of book may later find themselves struggling with life’s blows
and find this book comforting, not sensational. Edwards ends the
compilation with the picture that her children may someday remember: “When the wind did not blow her way —and it surely has not—she adjusted her sails.”—P. B.

Published: June 07, 2009
Issue: Summer 2009 Urban Living