GENE WEINGARTEN IS THE O. HENRY OF AMERICAN JOURNALISM
Simply the best storyteller around, Weingarten describes the world as you think it is before revealing how it actually is—in narratives that are by turns hilarious, heartwarming, and provocative, but always memorable.
Millions of people know the title piece about violinist Joshua Bell, which originally began as a stunt: What would happen if you put a world-class musician outside a Washington, D.C., subway station to play for spare change? Would anyone even notice? The answer was no. Weingarten’s story went viral, becoming a widely referenced lesson about life lived too quickly. Other classic stories—the one about “The Great Zucchini,” a wildly popular but personally flawed children’s entertainer; the search for the official “Armpit of America”; a profile of the typical American nonvoter—all of them reveal as much about their readers as they do their subjects.
What happens when you set one of the world s most renowned violinists at the entrance to one of the nation s busiest subway stations during rush hour to play some of the world s most beautiful and haunting music? Will harried commuters, enchanted by the music, linger for a few moments and let the music wrap their souls in peace? Will they appreciatively toss a few coins or dollars in the violinist s case? Conspiring with violinist Joshua Bell, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Weingarten discovers that Bell s virtuoso performance of several classical pieces does little to stop commuters in their tracks, and he reports on this conundrum in the column from which this collection of previously published newspaper columns takes its title. With his incisive wit, Weingarten ranges over other topics, from the possible affair of Woodrow Wilson and Mary Hulbert to the children s entertainer, the Great Zucchini, whose often squalid personal life contrasts dramatically with his life on stage entertaining three- and four-year-olds at Washington, D.C., area birthday parties. Weingarten travels in search of a town worthy of being called the "armpit of America" and discovers it in Battle Mountain, Nev., a town whose defining image for the journalist is a 40-foot-high neon Shell gas station sign with the "S" burned out. Entertaining and funny, Weingarten s stories depict the poignancy of the human condition.