The Right Coast

November 26, 2005
Books to Read
By Mike Rappaport

The New York Times has its 100 notable books for the year list. Some seem quite interesting. One is "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus." Here is an excerpt from the Times review:

According to some estimates, as much as 95 percent of the Indians may have died almost immediately on contact with various European diseases, particularly smallpox. That would have amounted to about one-fifth of the world's total population at the time, a level of destruction unequaled before or since. The exact numbers, like everything else, are in dispute, but it is clear that these plagues wreaked havoc on traditional Indian societies. European misreadings of America should not be attributed wholly to ethnic arrogance. The "savages" most of the colonists saw, without ever realizing it, were usually the traumatized, destitute survivors of ancient and intricate civilizations that had collapsed almost overnight. Even the superabundant "nature" the Europeans inherited had been largely put in place by these now absent gardeners, and had run wild only after they had ceased to cull and harvest it.
And this one, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, about New York in 1977, is irresistable to me, since that was my senior year in high school and in many ways the nadir of the City's modern period. As the review describes it:

The book is peopled with rich characters and strange, striking juxtapositions. In the Bronx, doing battle with one another and, occasionally, with opposing teams, there are Martin, George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson. In politics, Bella Abzug, Abe Beame, Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo go to war for the mayor's office, though one wonders why anyone would have wanted the job. Still at large, wielding a .44 Magnum, the serial killer Son of Sam writes a letter to Jimmy Breslin of The Daily News: ''Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood.''