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“One of the 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years”—Slate
On New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally, pluck a day, month, and year from a hat. That day—chosen completely at random—turned out to be Sunday, December 28, 1986, by any conventional measure a most ordinary day. Weingarten spent the next six years proving that there is no such thing.
That Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection, along with evocative foreshadowing of momentous events yet to come. Lives were lost. Lives were saved. Lives were altered in overwhelming ways. Many of these events never made it into the news; they were private dramas in the lives of private people. They were utterly compelling.
One Day asks and answers the question of whether there is even such a thing as “ordinary” when we are talking about how we all lurch and stumble our way through the daily, daunting challenge of being human.
A nondescript day in the 1980s yields unsung but riveting stories in this fascinating journalistic fishing expedition. Washington Post columnist Weingarten (The Fiddler in the Subway) picked a random day to investigate, winding up with Dec. 28, 1986: a slow-news Sunday that still yielded plenty of mayhem, oddball happenstances, and sociological watersheds. Among the events: a murder enabled a medical miracle; a rash of weather vane thefts entwined with a campus social justice crusade; a married man started down the path to womanhood; a maimed child began a long struggle to fit in; NewYork's mayor Ed Koch weathered racial turbulence; and the Cold War fizzled out for a group of Soviet refugees returning home. Drawing on present-day interviews with principals, Weingarten's reportage gives these incidents and their legacies immediacy and freshness, conveyed with punchy, evocative prose ("David was short, slight, and coarse-featured, with a feral, hunted look and an almost imperceptible hitch in his walk owing to a pin in one leg from a motorcycle accident," he writes of a protagonist in an Indiana noir saga who told detectives he was "about 90 percent sure" he did not commit a grisly double murder). The result is a trove of compelling human-interest pieces with long reverberations.