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American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane

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  • Posted February 3, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Sketch is a Sketch

    This work is very informative - filled with a journalist's eye and a biographer's ability to look at connections and see things across time.

    This one has a little something for everyone in the profiles that the author chooses. The writing is direct and lucid while the author's introduction to each piece provides clarity and reflection.

    Maybe when I get done with this one - I will read other Isaacson titles - because I like his writing style. And I do think he is very fair as a writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I loved the last chapter ... which made the whole effort truly rewarding.

    I loved the last chapter ... which made the whole effort truly rewarding.

    Now I am not a usual fan of the "cut-n-paste" nonfiction genre where we get a journalist's "best" articles or columns repurposed as a stand alone book. This dislike has its roots in my disappointment at "Boss," Mike Royko's Pulitzer Prize winning 1972 book on Mayor Richard J. Daley (the father of the present hizzonor). Not only had I read most of the columns, but viewed together -- rather than over a significant span of time -- I saw how repetitive and "small" they were.

    Walter Isaacon's "American Sketches" on one level fails in a very similar way. BUT, in the last chapter, almost as an editorial afterthought, the entire effort is enobled and sanctified. The true beauty of this book is not the sketches of the famous (the Woody Allen column should have never been repeated) but the portrait of New Orleans pre and post Katrina.

    The central problem with the chapters of the famous -- the one on Bill Gates is a pleasant exception -- is that we begin to see the scaffolding of Isaacson's "style" and begin to see how he repeats himself figuratively (George Plimpton and Benjamin Franklin seem mass produced) and literally (by my count, the thought experiment Einstein uses to explain Relativity appears four times).

    BUT all is saved and enriched as Issacon offers loving tributes to his hometown of New Orleans. In an anecdotal and personal way he moves from the lower Ninth Ward to Louis Armstrong to the community leadership of Scott Cowen the President of Tulane to rebuilding the public school system in a new-old juxtaposition that is as rich and spicy as gumbo and as mournful as a blues musician's funeral. At one point, Isaacon explodes the imagination and deftly brings logic to a chaos of emotions that New Orleans has always triggered for me by using a word (perhaps best recognized as the title of Lillian Hellman's autobiography): pentimento.

    Pentimento refers to the reappearance in painting of an underlying image that has been painted over. For me, my first experience with this effect was on a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and on first seeing Pablo Picasso's The Old Guitarist. Far more powerful for me than the slightly deformed looking man was the mysterious image of a woman painted underneath. I always placed more faith in the artist's intent as being more than simply recycling a cheap panel ... her haunting eyes visible just above the line formed by the guitarist's arthritic neck gave power and rebirth to this bent man. The new and transcendent was in fact the old and transitorily covered. Like The Old Guitarist, in Issacson's passion, New Orleans is our cultural pentimento where rich and textured will never be covered by safe and homogeneity. In remaking itself, New Orleans is as it was and never will be.

    I think this dualism of never and always is best described in one of my favorite poems. There is no doubt Wallace Stevens was ruminating on Picasso when he wrote "Man with the Blue Guitar." Here is the opening stanza which in many ways is why I see the work I do in communities -- not unlike New Orleans -- as "my blue guitar!"

    The Man With the Blue Guitar
    Wallace Stevens

    The man bent over his guitar,
    A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

    They said, "You have a blue guitar,
    You do not play things as they are."

    The man replied, "Th

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I thoughy enjoyed this book

    After reviewing Isaacson's section on Einstein I bought a second copy for a friend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2010

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