A remarkable portrait gallery of rogues, heroes, politicos and creative innovators, this collection of essays, nearly all of which first appeared in the New Yorker, opens with an ironic look at Gary Hart's exile from public life after a sex scandal drove him out of the 1988 presidential race. Pulitzer Prize winner Remnick (Lenin's Tomb) views Hart's withdrawal as self-martyrdom, and he also perceives morality plays in Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry's political comeback after his fall from grace following imprisonment on drug charges, and in the refusal of ex-New York governor Mario Cuomo, a "deeply provincial" figure, to run for President or accept a Supreme Court seat. In the title piece, religious historian Elaine Pagels divulges how two personal tragedies‘the deaths of her husband in a mountain-climbing accident and of her six-year-old son from respiratory disease‘led her to explore early Christianity, the devil and evil. Hollywood clashes with academia in the bitter fallout of ex-Columbia Pictures president Steve Sohmer and his protégée, Shakespearean scholar Mary Ann McGrail, whom he accused of stealing his theory that Hamlet cryptically mirrors the life of Martin Luther. Also profiled are Alger Hiss, Ben Bradlee, Michael Jordan, Reggie Jackson, poet Joseph Brodsky, Irish radical Gerry Adams and journalist Murray Kempton. Remnick wrests grand drama from his subjects. (Aug.)
Remnick, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Lenin's Tomb (LJ 6/15/93), wrote these "stories" about politicians, athletes, writers, and the news business for the New Yorker. The pieces are factual, but many of them also read much like a good short tale. The title piece, for example, about professor of religion Elaine Heisey Pagels of Princeton, tells of the tragedies of her life and some of the circumstances that surrounded her writing The Origin of Satan (LJ 6/1/95). Remnick's smooth, readable style and clear insight make for interesting reading. Recommended for popular journalism and current events collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/96.]‘Rebecca Wondriska, Trinity Coll. Lib., Hartford, Ct.