1977 was one of the most turbulent years in New York City history – a citywide blackout during a scorching hot summer, the Son of Sam murders, a heated mayoral race, and not to mention, a revolution that was happening with the New York Yankees.
Jonathan Mahler paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of this turbulent time in the Big Apple in his new book, The Bronx is Burning.
The days of Mantle had passed, and the Yankees were fresh off a sweep by the Reds in the 1976 World Series. George Steinbrenner was making his impact felt – particularly by signing the top free agent at the time, Reggie Jackson. But with the brash Billy Martin at the helm of the club, the two personalities set off fireworks when they often clashed.
Mirroring this was a heated mayoral race between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, magnified by Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Post newspaper and his coverage of news with screaming headlines and superlative embellishments.
I found that I kept thinking this was a fictional novel — Mahler’s writing is so vivid that it almost seems made-up. Books with historical focus often lack the ability to put the reader in the middle of the action, but this one surely does not. From the looting after the blackouts, to chasing the Son of Sam, to being in Yankee Stadium for the World Series, Mahler picks you up from wherever you are and plops you right in the middle of the action.
Being a baseball fan – I wish more of the book had been about the games and the Yankees. Mahler’s could have easily transported you to the dugout, the clubhouse, or the Yankees boardroom at his choosing. However, it felt as if he was often spending more time on the stories happening in New York as opposed to the events with the ballclub.
However, that is not to fault him in any way — although be aware that if you pick this up as a baseball book, there is a lot of non-baseball reading that goes along with it.
The Bronx is Burning weaves several dynamic story lines together to create an outstanding narrative of 1977 in New York. Baseball is just one of the main story lines – which means this isn’t just a great baseball book, it’s a great book, period – and will also be an 8-part miniseries on ESPN starting July 9th.
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