Synopses & Reviews
A brilliant journalist takes us on a skewed odyssey through an american populated by idealists and outsiders in his first book, reminiscent of the classic new journalism of Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion.
Writing for Harper's magazine and the New Yorker over the last decade, David Samuels has penned a disillusioned love song to the often amusing and sometimes fatal American habit of self-delusion, reporting from a landscape peopled by salesmen, dreamers, radical environmentalists, suburban hip-hop stars, demolition experts, aging baseball legends, billionaire crackpots, and dog track bettors whose heartbreaking failures and occasional successes are illuminated by flashes of anger and humor.
Including profiles of disillusioned Pacific Northwest radicals and Nevada nuclear test site workers alongside coverage of Pentagon press conferences and the Super Bowl in Detroit, Only Love Can Break Your Heart proves Samuels to be a wonderful inheritor of the great journalistic tradition established by Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion in the 1960s. This first collection of his painstakingly reported and wildly inventive writing reveals the full spectrum of his talents, as well as an unusual sensitivity to both the tragic and comic dissonances bubbling up from the gap between the American promise of endless nirvana and the lives of ordinary citizens who struggle to live out their dreams.
"In this collection of previously published stories by Harper's contributing editor Samuels, he claims 'writing for magazines is like playing sports.' Whatever the journalistic game Samuels's subjects range from Woodstock 1999 to a Goodyear blimp pilot, among others, plus a few personal essays Samuels is a solid player who sometimes hits home runs. 'Every building begins as a dream,' he states in 'Bringing Down the House,' a profile of a demolition company, but '[d]estroying a building... [is] a slow, almost biblical reckoning.' Behind the scenes at such places as the Sedan Crater nuclear test site; the antiglobalization Mecca of Eugene, Ore.; and Super Bowl XL with Stevie Wonder, Samuels's reportage is at its best. He wryly flays false constructions of American reality on the right, left and places in between. 'Ideologically, what Chad Sweet has in common with his newfound friends in the Republican Party is that nothing he says makes any sense,' Samuels writes about a new Republican at a $2,000-a-plate Bush-Cheney '04 fund-raising party. Samuels could give a little Bush-bashing wink here; instead he observes that 'politics isn't about coherence anymore.' Neither is much of life in our 'Golden Land of Mini-Moos,' according to Samuels, who captures this 'free floating weirdness' with clarity." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With an intelligence and unsparing lucidity reminiscent of Joan Didion's work circa Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), Mr. Samuels has written some of the best long-form literary journalism of the past decade." Michael Washburn, the New York Observer
"From his disillusioned take on the greedy capitalism marring Woodstock '99 to the colorful profiles of a rag-tag group of radicals from Eugene, Oregon, Samuels is acutely aware of the chasm between idealistic aspirations and more mundane reality." Booklist
"[A]n excellent essay collection covering topics including Pacific Northwest radicals, demolition experts and Woodstock '99." Nicole Tourtelot, Time Out New York
"Samuels deftly covered Woodstock 1999, Super Bowl XL and Donald Rumsfeld's news conferences at the Pentagon, among other surreal events, with an eye for the disconnect between an ideal and what actually happens. His preface mourns the slow death print magazines are facing, but the collection shows how much life he found in long-form journalism." Jennifer Kay, the Associated Press
"Samuels has a wonderful feeling for the weirdness and truths of self-contained worlds....Joseph Mitchell-meets-Elmore Leonard." Richard Rayner, the Los Angeles Times Book Review
"He's a savant when it comes to scene reporting and has a nearly autistic command of minor details and facts. Armed with minutiae, he achieves the glorious breadth and detail of a mural painter." James Hannaham, the Village Voice
About the Author
David Samuels is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.