A passionate and dramatic account of a year in the life of a city, when baseball and crime reigned supreme, and when several remarkable figures emerged to steer New York clear of one of its most harrowing periods.
By early 1977, the metropolis was in the grip of hysteria caused by a murderer dubbed "Son of Sam." And on a sweltering night in July, a citywide power outage touched off an orgy of looting and arson that led to the largest mass arrest in New York's history. As the turbulent year wore on, the city became absorbed in two epic battles: the fight between Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson and team manager Billy Martin, and the battle between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo for the city's mayoralty. Buried beneath these parallel conflicts—one for the soul of baseball, the other for the soul of the city—was the subtext of race. The brash and confident Jackson took every black myth and threw it back in white America's face. Meanwhile, Koch and Cuomo ran bitterly negative campaigns that played upon urbanites' fears of soaring crime and falling municipal budgets.
These braided stories tell the history of a year that saw the opening of Studio 54, the evolution of punk rock, and the dawning of modern SoHo. As the pragmatist Koch defeated the visionary Cuomo and as Reggie Jackson finally rescued a team racked with dissension,1977 became a year of survival but also of hope.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and the basis of the 2007 ESPN miniseries, starring John Turturro as Billy Martin, Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, and Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson.
The strange life of New York City in 1977 is recounted in this kaleidoscopic history. Arguing broadly that that year can be read as "a transformative moment for the city, a time of decay but of regeneration as well," Mahler, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, constructs a fast-moving, multilayered narrative that puts the city itself in the starring role. While the argument is not wholly persuasive, Mahler smartly chooses a time frame overflowing with drama: the seemingly endless hunt for the serial murderer "Son of Sam"; the citywide blackout in mid-July that led to devastating arson and looting; the opening of Studio 54 and the disco craze; the bitter mayoral derby featuring the incumbent, Abe Beame, Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, and the eventual victor, Ed Koch; and the Yankees' first World Series victory in 15 years, despite the collective histrionics of owner George Steinbrenner, manager Billy Martin and outfielder Reggie Jackson. In many ways, this book is a fascinating prelude to Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. Mahler points to "a new era" after 1977 of idealized capitalism and the subservience of the public good to private interests (one omen: the first Concorde touchdown in New York occurred the day after the '77 World Series victory). Mahler, like Wolfe, understands how characters ranging from a dispossessed arsonist to the titans of business, sports and politics can come to represent an entire city in its madness, its depravity and its glory. B&w photos.