Books

Bridging Ayn Rand and Pittsburgh

While conducting research for “Atlas Shrugged” during a cross-​country train trip in 1947, Ayn Rand wrote in her journal what she saw when she came upon Pittsburgh while traveling east:

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.

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…

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…

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…

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…

A Meditation of Life in Twilight

Certain Pittsburghers could read Stewart O’Nan’s “Henry, Himself” just for the satisfaction of having their world described by a masterful writer. The Pittsburgh native’s novel, his 17th, takes place largely in the pleasant precincts of the East End, from well-​tended houses in Highland Park to the Phipps Conservatory Flower Show…

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…

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…

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…

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…

Short Takes: “Thank Your Lucky Stars” “Asia Ascending”

The pleasures of “Thank Your Lucky Stars” are doubled in the re-​reading. The 50 stories tucked into 189 pages encourage a binge. Most are short short, sometimes just a few paragraphs; about 10 are traditional-​length short stories (if size matters). But when you return to browse through the collection, images…

The Bad Old Days

You won’t get depressed by reading Richard Gazarik’s “Wicked Pittsburgh.” The retired Tribune-​Review reporter does not seek to darken the name of our fair city. He merely wants to gather, in one handy and readable volume, key stories of corruption, crime and skulduggery stretching back to the turn of the…

An Elegy of the Marcellus Shale region

When U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited Pittsburgh on October 24 last year, his first order of business was to visit a Range Resources well-​pad outside Washington, Pa., announcing that the EPA would continue “removing regulatory barriers and leveling the playing field for American companies.”

On Children’s Literature

“Why do we give children the illusion of a world that doesn’t exist and which all their lives they will compare with a harsh reality?” –Georges Simenon
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