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In With Malice Aforethought, Ted Grippo, a very accomplished and now-retired Chicago trial lawyer, demolishes the government’s case against Sacco and Vanzetti. That case is truly one of the most egregious government-orchestrated injustices of the 20th century, in which bias against immigrants, manipulation of evidence by the trial judge and the prosecutor, and institutional corruption condemned two innocent men to death. Grippo has scrutinized every word of the trial transcript and all the pre-trial and post-trial filings and appeals and has built a case that highlights some of the most serious violations of due process I have ever seen. Even though the outcome is well-known, this book reads like a fast-paced thriller that will leave you breathless. It made me weep.
Mike Riggs, associate editor
John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead has only been out a month and already earned a comparison (courtesy of The New Yorker's James Wood) to David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. The latter book is the gold standard for modern essay writing, its navel-gazing pop cultural theorizing is often imitated (see: Chuck Klosterman), but seldom matched (see: Chuck Klosterman). Sullivan's Pulphead, a collection of essays and reported features that span the topic spectrum from Michael Jackson to a Christian rock concert, doesn't deserve the comparison. Quite simply, Pulphead is a better book—infinitely more pleasurable to read than Wallace's long-winded (and allegedly fabricated) anthology, and featuring more elegant prose and tear-inducing insights.
Damon Root, senior editor
Nick Tosches has written indispensable books about country music, Dean Martin, blackface minstrelsy, and organized crime. He doesn’t cover all that stuff in Save the Last Dance for Satan, but he comes close. His focus here are the “hipsters and hoodlums” who created the business of rock & roll in the rowdy decades after World War II, a time when “numerous little labels were founded by men and women who smelled money in what was happening.” Among those on the scent was the velour jumpsuit-wearing Ewart Abner of Vee-Jay Records, whose roster included John Lee Hooker, The Dells, and, for a brief spell in the early ‘60s, The Beatles. At the other end of the spectrum was the Emby Distributing Company, which held an exclusive license to sell Wurlitzer jukeboxes, and which also just happened to be secretly controlled by mafia kingpins Frank Costello and Meyer Lanksy. And what history of American lowlife would be complete without Jack Ruby? As Tosches reveals, the Dallas nightclub owner and future slayer of Lee Harvey Oswald was also an occasional promoter for rhythm and blues singer Joe Johnson, who gifted the world with his 1959 song “Gila Monster,” helpfully characterized by Billboard as a “novelty blues” that “describes the Gila monster, looking like he wants to do the rock and roll.”
Thaddeus Russell, author of A Renegade History of
the United States
While politicians of the left and right prattle on about the glory of the American family and the state continues to prop up the institution with myriad marriage-supporting policies, Louis CK gives voice to all our dark and dirty thoughts about the home front. Though CK is a master of the comedic craft, his FX television series Louie is funny not because of timing or delivery but because, like all great comedy, it sets free our most illicit secrets.
Michael Moore and all the liberal gun-control moralists should be forced at the point of a sawed-off shotgun to read Adam Winkler's Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. They'll find that they are the political descendants of the Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and a long line of reactionaries who regulated guns to keep the people—especially black people—down.
Lucy Steigerwald, associate editor
Kate Beaton’s web comic Hark! A Vagrant has been turned into a proper paper book and thankfully her Quentin Blake-esque lines are as funny in ink as in pixels. Beaton is best known for making her deadpan jokes through the mouths of historical figures, and some characters do necessitate a research trip to Wikipedia. More familiar faces like the Bronte sisters, Teddy Roosevelt, and Napoleon also appear, as do affectionate jabs about Canadian niceness and American square-jawed hunks being solely responsible for the Allied victory in World War II (says a dying soldier: “You tell old Hitler…you tell him I was pretty”). Beaton’s sly feminism also comes out when she draws a weary Louis Lane unable to investigate thanks to Superman’s constant rescuing, as well as when Beaton mockingly reimagines the suffragette movement for the Sex and the City crowd. (“True friendship is more important than any vote,” one woman tells another as they tearfully embrace.) Beaton’s deceptively simple art, humor, and sincere love of history come through in every panel. She’s another reason not to mourn the death of the newspaper too much.
Peter Suderman, associate editor
Tired of your own life? You can have a new one, or 10, in Skyrim, almost certainly the most expansive open-world, single-player role-playing game ever released for a console. Even in the choice-and-openness obsessed world of contemporary video game design, Skyrim embraces open-ended, practically aimless gameplay with unusual vigor. Sure, there are missions and objectives and bad guys to kill—good guys too, if that’s your thing—as well as a labyrinth of side-quests to get lost in, many involved enough to count as separate games. But mostly the game offers endless exploration and experience, immersion, and incident; you can play for 100 hours, maybe more, and not run out of sights to see, people to meet, places to go. Indeed, it’s a game that sometimes seems designed to provide evidence to hecklers who ridicule gamers as losers with no lives. But that’s the point. With Skyrim, you’ll hardly need one.
Jacob Sullum, senior editor
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created shows that globalization has been going on much longer than WTO protesters seem to think, accounting for such once-novel phenomena as apples in America, tomatoes in Italy, coffee in Colombia, and hot peppers in China. Journalist Charles C. Mann does not paper over the destructive aspects of the "Columbian Exchange," such as the deadly microbes that fostered the African slave trade and devastated America's indigenous population. But he also shows how much richer the world is as a result of intercontinental trade in goods and biological material, which has created the very patterns of life that today's localists seek to protect against outside influences.