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Personal Takes

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Exposes and Excess

Muckraking in America, 1900 / 2000

By Cecelia Tichi

From robber barons to titanic CEOs, from the labor unrest of the 1880s to the mass layoffs of the 1990s, two American Gilded Ages—one in the early 1900s, another in the final years of the twentieth century—mirror each other in their laissez-faire excess and rampant social crises. Both eras have ignited the civic passions of investigative writers who have drafted diagnostic blueprints for urgently needed change. The compelling narratives of the muckrakers—Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker among them—became bestsellers and prizewinners a hundred years ago; today, Cecelia Tichi notes, they have found their worthy successors in writers such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Eric Schlosser, and Naomi Klein.

In Exposés and Excess Tichi explores the two Gilded Ages through the lens of their muckrakers. Drawing from her considerable and wide-ranging work in American studies, Tichi details how the writers of the first muckraking generation used fact-based narratives in magazines such as McClure's to rouse the U.S. public to civic action in an era of unbridled industrial capitalism and fear of the immigrant "dangerous classes." Offering a damning cultural analysis of the new Gilded Age, Tichi depicts a booming, insecure, fortress America of bulked-up baby strollers, McMansion housing, and an obsession with money-as-lifeline in an era of deregulation, yawning income gaps, and idolatry of the market and its rock-star CEOs.

No one has captured this period of corrosive boom more acutely than the group of nonfiction writers who burst on the scene in the late 1990s with their exposés of the fast-food industry, the world of low-wage work, inadequate health care, corporate branding, and the multibillion-dollar prison industry. And nowhere have these authors—Ehrenreich, Schlosser, Klein, Laurie Garrett, and Joseph Hallinan—revealed more about their emergence as writers and the connections between journalism and literary narrative than in the rich and insightful interviews that round out the book.

With passion and wit, Exposés and Excess brings a literary genre up to date at a moment when America has gone back to the future.

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Musically Speaking

A Life Through Song

By Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer

"Music, I have come to realize, is for me a kind of golden thread running through my life. It has helped maintain my connection with the past that otherwise might have been severed by catastrophe and time. I am often asked—indeed, I often wonder myself—why it is that I should always have had such joie de vivre in the face of the losses and dislocations I had to endure in my early years. The answer I always gave was that the warmth and security of my early childhood had a remarkable power and influence. This is certainly true. But now I have realized that there is another part to the answer. And that is music."—from the introduction

Who among us does not have a song that triggers vivid memories—of jubilation, of belonging, of sorrow, of love? In Musically Speaking, Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, one of America's most beloved personalities, has written a warm and contemplative book about the role music has played in her life and the ineradicable traces it has left on her thoughts, emotions, her very being.

In this memoir through song, Dr. Ruth invites us to share her story from a uniquely musical perspective. By the time she was thirty, Ruth Westheimer had lived in five countries, each with a distinctive musical culture, each with a different hold on her sensibility. For the first ten years of her life, the comforting melodies of childhood helped drown out the anthems of Nazism to be heard elsewhere in her native Germany; as an adolescent refugee in Switzerland, she came to be aware that, however loudly she sang the patriotic songs of the land that gave her shelter, she could never truly be at home there.

Present at the creation of the modern state of Israel, she sang and danced to the new music of a new nation; as a young woman eagerly absorbing all that Paris had to offer in the way of romance and worldliness in the early 1950s, the songs of Edith Piaf, Mouloudji, and Yves Montand were her tutors. An almost accidental emigration to America brought new challenges and new stability, as she became a wife, mother, and professional; tremendous and unforeseen celebrity came later, and with it the giddy opportunity to indulge her love of music as never before.

Always, the classical repertoire of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms has drawn Westheimer to a German culture that has belonged—and not belonged—to her throughout her life. And always, the music of the Jewish tradition has given her strength and comfort beyond words.

Affording a view of Dr. Ruth from a rare private vantage point, Musically Speaking offers wondrous testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. This is a book full of color, verve, humor, and wisdom, unfolding gracefully through the beloved music of the Jewish holidays, the lullabies of childhood, the songs that sustained an orphan and roused the courage of a young woman, the melodies that enable a widow grieving for her husband to recall, from deep within the years of love, companionship, and happiness.

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