Reading Room

Literary Pittsburgh

Kathleen “kit” McCafferty, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, has never discussed her trauma with anyone, and its residual rage and pain have left her estranged from her shell-​shocked husband and grown children. Now approaching death, Kit is determined to complete and bequeath to her family a series of confessional…

The Power of the Pelt

Behold the beaver! Beady-​eyed, snubnosed and bucktoothed, it is hardly a thing of beauty, yet the pursuit of this oversized rodent across North America launched more ships (and keelboats, rafts and canoes) than the lovely Helen of Troy, for all her charms.

A Checkered Past

Renaissance, schmenaissance. To read Joe W. Trotter and Jared N. Day’s new book, “Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh Since World War II,” is to realize an inconvenient truth. The skies above our city may have cleared, but racial inequities of generations past still cast a pall on the…

The City Revisited

After a year-​long anniversary celebration in 2008 and two national championships and a global summit in 2009, one might think that the city’s appetite for tributes would be pretty well sated. But there is always room for a little something more, particularly when the fare is as lovingly prepared and…

Anatomy of a Tar Baby

Move over, David McCollough and make room for Ken Gormley, another native son who brings honor to Pittsburgh as a narrative historian of the highest order. Gormley, the new dean of Duquesne University’s law school, clearly shares McCullough’s belief that “history is the story of people,” and manages to transform…

Medicine, Murder and the Mon

Corporate histories commissioned by the client are seldom (read never) impartial, and UPMC’s “Beyond the Bounds” is no exception. Author Mary Brignano lays on the praise in this glossy tribute to UPMC founder Thomas Detre, M.D., and his protégé, current President & CEO Jeffrey Romoff.

Of Untimely Corpses

Surely one of our region’s most colorful anomalies is the phenomenon of a celebrity coroner. Where else but in Pittsburgh would proximity to corpses carry such cachet? Of course, these corpses are media sensations, and the high-​profile pathologist who enjoys their reflected glory is rather sensational himself.

Steel City Jews

Kudos to historian Barbara Burstin for producing “Steel City Jews: A History of Pittsburgh and its Jewish Community, 18401915.” For 10 years the author toiled alone, without a publisher, to create a labor of love that relates the early history of our city in the context of the Jewish experience.

Clan Destiny

You don’t need to love football in order to enjoy Art Rooney Jr.’s glowing tribute to his famous father. “Ruanaidh: The Story of Art Rooney and His Clan” is first and foremost about people — the odd and irascible, the magnificent and flawed, the drunk and devout — in the orbit of one of…

The Pied Piper of Pittsburgh

I’d like to punch Richard Florida in the nose. Not only for the deliberate misuse of pronouns in his latest title (although that’s reason enough in my mind), but also for his brazen urban infidelity. After nearly two decades of professing to love and respect his “adopted hometown,” the self-​proclaimed…

The Revolutionary Frantz Fanon

This “novel” is novel indeed; a variform narrative incorporating, among other things, letters to a dead man and a tentative tale of a severed head. It’s a curious brew, heavily laced with impressions, observations and fantastic, almost hallucinatory images. (How else would one describe the author’s elderly mother giving birth…

Bittersweet Heiress

One of the most interesting historical sites in the Laurel Highlands is the Fort Necessity National Battlefield. And a new destination for hiking and exploring in the region is a property currently owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and about to be added to Forbes State Forest, adjacent to the…

The Oldest Trick in the Book

With an estimated 2,000 new and reissued titles entering the book market each week, no one can read everything. Now, thanks to Pierre Bayard, a French critic and psychoanalyst, no one actually has to read anything. The author of How to Talk About Books One Hasn’t Read? (Comment Parler des…

Almost Human

Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?! In his new book, “Almost Human: Making Robots Think,” Lee Gutkind, the guru of creative nonfiction, does just that; using his literary skills to transform prosaic material about machines into an exuberant celebration of human creativity.

The Lay of the Land

Have you ever stopped to ponder to what extent anatomy — or more correctly, topography — is destiny in the historical development and popular perception of Pittsburgh? Martin Aurand has. In an ambitious, new publication from the University of Pittsburgh Press titled “The Spectator and the Topographical City,” he endeavors…
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