Harlem -- The Unmaking of a Ghetto by Camilo Jose' Vergara, foreword by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, UChicago Press '14, in oversized format on glossy stock, $55, 364 pages, ASIN #0226853365. Bibliography, notes, scores of color images, many full-page.
Those readers with a special interest in the deterioration of urban America and, where appropriate, the rebirth of cities will find inspiration in this coffee table-book by photographer Camilo Jose' Vergara. Which is not to say that Vergara takes on this project with rose-colored glasses, but he does focus on the myriad ways our urban population centers can find their way out of desperate poverty.
Vergara's volume isn't primarily a history of Harlem; to be so, it would have text and photos on the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century, which for millions of Americans helped erase the notion of Harlem as "just another slum." Instead the author concentrates on the last four decades, not incidentally, the scope of his photographic career.
Vergara started in 1970 on a mission "to document the gradual collapse of this inner-city community. But the neighborhood refused to play the role he expected. Instead, the residents of Harlem taught him that the destiny of depopulated, decaying neighborhoods is not simply a story of continuous decline, culminating in a return to nature:
"In today's Harlem, luxury co-ops and condos stand on what were recently empty lots serving as unofficial junkyards and garbage dumps. Blocks long characterized by violence and the illegal drug trade are now among the most prosperous, safe sections of Harlem."
The community the author reveals is one of "constant evolution -- some areas decline as longtime businesses give way to empty storefronts, graffiti, and garbage, while others gentrify with corporate chain stores competing with local mom-and-pop enterprises."
Author Camilo Jose' Vergara is a photographer and writer, a MacArthur fellow, and the author of many books. In 2013, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.
Moonshine by Jaime Joyce, Zenith Press '14, $25, 224 pages, ASIN #0760345848. Index, photo and music credits, notes and sources..
The author wishes to disabuse the reader of the notion that moonshine -- shine to the initiated -- originated with hillbillies in the American South. Actually the home-distilling techniques associated with shine originated in Scotland and Ireland and continued with the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700s.
The comely author (What is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?)discusses at length the taxing of liquor and defiance of the law in the 1800s, what happened to shine before and after Prohibition, the renaissance of the beverage, and its effect on popular culture.
"Moonshiine runners were NASCAR's first marquee drivers," writes Jaime Joyce, "white whiskey was the unspoken star of countless Hollywood film and TV productions; and numerous songs inspired by making shine have come from such musicians as Dolly Parton, Steve Earle, Metallica, Ween, and others."
The selling of moonshine -- once available only in the backwoods at night, by the light of the moon, to avoid detection by law enforcement -- is now legal in some states and illegal in others. My home state of Connecticut allows it, and some packies feature sipping sessions for those unfamiliar with the taste. For myself, I've tried white lightning, like it, and plan to buy some more.
Author Jaime Joyce earned her master's degrees at Bank Street College of Education and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is an editor at Time, Inc. and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
American Spring -- Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution by Walter R. Borneman, Little, Brown '14, $30, 469 pages, ASIN #0316221023, Index, bibliography, notes, grouping of b&w glossy images, b&w maps.
From the dust jacket:
"When we reflect on our nation's history, the American Revolution can feel almost like a foregone conclusion. In reality, the first weeks and months of 1775 were very tenuous, and a fractured and ragtag group of colonial militias had to coalesce rapidly to have even the slimmest chance of toppling the mighty British Army.
"American Spring follows a fledgling nation from Paul Revere's little-known ride of December 1774 and the first shots fired on Lexington Green through the catastrophic Battle of Bunker Hill, culminating with a Virginian named George Washington taking command of colonial forces on July 3, 1775.
"Focusing on the colorful heroes John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry, and the ordinary Americans caught up in the revolution, Walter R. Borneman uses newly available sources and research to tell the story of how a decade of discontent erupted into an armed rebellion that forged our nation."
Author Walter R. Borneman has written eight works of nonfiction and lives in Colorado.