books

The Last Liberal Republican: An Insider’s Perspective on Nixon’s Surprising Social Policy

“The Last Liberal Republican” is a memoir of my decade in politics, especially the first three years in Richard Nixon’s White House. As special assistant to the president, I worked with him on his universal health insurance proposal, his overhaul of the Food Stamp program and, most significantly, his Family Assistance Plan (FAP), to place …

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This Johnstown Mob Story Is Business and Personal

The gangster has long stood as an outsized figure in America’s 20th-century mythology, ranging from the brutal Al Capone to the fictitious Tony Soprano. “The Godfather Part I” and “Part II,” as well as “Goodfellas,” rank in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Movies of all time, while several others deal in mob tropes. …

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Neighborhood Academy to Host Author and Candidate Wes Moore

On Sept. 29, The Neighborhood Academy’s Nancy and Paul O’Neill Speaker Series will feature Wes Moore: best-selling author, combat veteran, social entrepreneur and former CEO of Robin Hood — one of the largest anti-poverty forces in the nation. Moore recently announced his run for governor of Maryland in the 2022 elections. His book, “The Other …

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Pittsburgh Philanthropy

Ask a person from Pittsburgh to define philanthropy and they’ll most likely mention an industrialist such as Andrew Carnegie, or a patriarch named Heinz or Mellon. These economic titans loom large in Pittsburgh. The word “Pittsburgh” and its Gilded Age bequests are so intertwined that some think these industrialists invented philanthropy here. Experiences at Carnegie’s …

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A Different View of the Neighborhood

In 1968, when Fred Rogers pushed through his famous front door for the first time, he brought with him more than kindness, compassion and a cardigan sweater. He brought more than Daniel Tiger, more than X the Owl, more than all the puppets who lived in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. What Rogers brought was less …

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Looking at the Block Family’s Record on Race

Book reviews traditionally talk about what’s in a book, but almost never about how a particular book came to be. This one has an interesting and unusual beginning. Nearly three years ago, following a controversy over an editorial called “Reason as Racism,” Allan Block, the chair of Block Communications, Inc., the parent company today of …

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On a Pedestal: Festival of Books, Contemporary Craft, Pitt’s Homewood Project

For the past couple of years, pandemic or not, Marshall Cohen has been meeting people and gathering support for his idea: the creation of a Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books. A literate city with the history of erudition that Pittsburgh has should have such an event, he reasoned. And after gaining some key support—from sponsors …

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Lee Gutkind on Writing His Memoir, “My Last Eight Thousand Days”

My memoir, “My Last Eight Thousand Days,” published in October 2020, had been a work in progress for at least 10 years—just as my life had been a work in progress for 70-plus. I think of the book and the process of writing it, digging deeply into my life, as a bridge from the Lee …

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Fairest of Them All?

Following the results of the historic November 2018 midterm elections, I found myself, at times, both amazed and appalled. My reaction was not as a result of the outcome of the midterm elections. Rather, it was the increasingly sharp divisions between the Republican and Democratic parties, which became even more strident over the next several …

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The Art of Peace

More than 25 centuries ago, a fellow known as Sun Tzu (an honorific rather than a name—it means something like “Master Sun”) wrote a long treatise on military strategy and tactics that has come to be called “The Art of War.” “The Art of War” is only one of the Seven Military Classics assembled during the Sung …

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Murder, She Wrote

In 1980, three women hitchhiked to an outdoor peace festival in West Virginia called the Rainbow Gathering. Only one survived. Accusations and mystery swirled in the nearby town for decades. This juicy setup is perhaps the most obvious reason to recommend Emma Copley Eisenberg’s first book of nonfiction, “The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life …

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America 2.0: An Old Novel Idea

When I was serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s, I spent a lot of time patrolling in my Military Police Jeep and boring myself silly. Being a cop is a bit like being an airline pilot: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. To relieve the boredom, I wrote a …

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Varied Characters, Settings Lift Robert Yune’s “Impossible Children”

In the creative writing classes I teach, scene often becomes an early point of emphasis, especially when it applies to fiction. Hemingway’s classic “Hills Like White Elephants” stands as an exemplar, as the brief story relies on little more than setting and dialogue. According to Nancy Pagh, author of the thoughtfully written “Write Moves: A …

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Appalachian Reckoning: An Antidote to Hillbilly Elegy?

Tasteless jokes abound on the internet, including one I recently read: “Did you know the toothbrush was invented in West Virginia? Anywhere else and it would have been called a teeth brush.” I chuckled before considering the misguided notion that it’s still OK to trash poor whites. Writing for NPR’s “Code Switch,” Leah Donnella explains …

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Short Takes: “The Secret History of KGB Spy Cameras,” “Threads Around the World”

Deep in a secret location cloaked by trees and rolling hills—well, to be precise, inside a home in the leafy suburb of Upper St. Clair—exists a notable collection of Soviet spy equipment. It belongs to Michael M. Hasco, a former Heinz executive whose interest in photography blossomed into full-fledged expertise in the history of espionage …

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An Uncommon Life in an Ordinary Place

It would be a shame if this strange and glorious book set in Greene County becomes pigeonholed as “a voice from the heartland” or “a rare glimpse inside the Other America.” Sarah Elaine Smith, a Greene County native now living in Pittsburgh, has surely drawn on observed experience for her first novel. But the Carnegie …

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Close to Home: Local Poets Get Personal

If all politics is local, perhaps all good poetry might be considered local, as well. Consider how setting and description flavor the Homestead poems of Robert Gibb and the Detroit poems of Jim Daniels. In his seminal essay collection on poetic craft, “The Triggering Town,” poet Richard Hugo asks writers to ground their work, saying …

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Short Takes: “Imagining the Modern,” “The Best Seven Years of My Life”

“Imagining the Modern” is a gorgeous book about a period that not everyone thinks is beautiful: the postwar design of Pittsburgh. It is a truth universally acknowledged that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and the popular consensus holds that East Liberty, the Hill District and a key part of the North …

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Poetic Mission

With its deep pool of talented writers, Pittsburgh punches well above small-city status, especially among poetry circles. Reasons for this embarrassment of riches include the exposure many local poets receive for work that wins them awards, ample workshops, university writing programs with strong reputations and a vibrant scene that features readings nearly every night of …

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Treating Patients As People

Healthcare often gets treated as if the only issue is economic: Health insurance-Goliaths Highmark and UPMC are in a coverage standoff; a “Medicare-for-all” bill that could cost up $32 trillion is unveiled in the U.S House of Representatives; insurance rates tick upward. But what about the emotional plight of flesh-and-blood patients facing uncertain outcomes while …

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Short Takes: “Engineering Pittsburgh,” “American Dinosaur Abroad”

Without civil engineers, our world would fall apart. They are hidden brains behind what we civilians take for granted—all the marvelous methods for getting us from here to there, safe and sound. To observe its 100th anniversary, the Pittsburgh section of the American Society of Engineers has produced an indispensable survey of what has been …

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An Eye-Opener About Living Black in Pittsburgh

Damon Young recently bought a rather nice house a block away from me. Yet I don’t expect to be invited over, although I am about to lavish praise on his brave, incisive and witty memoir about growing up and living while black in Pittsburgh. Even a blurb-ready assessment—Damon Young is not only the city’s most …

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