Tag Archives: Books

Review: ‘An American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst’

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Jeffrey Toobin will be in conversation with Bill Petrocelli at Book Passage in Corte Madera tonight, Tuesday Aug. 16, at 7 p.m.

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

In early 1974, the United States was in turmoil. Richard Nixon was about to be impeached, the Vietnam War was still grinding on, the OPEC Oil Embargo was underway, and an average of 2,000 bombs had been exploded in the country in each of the three preceding years. Then, on Feb. 4, a 19-year-old woman bearing one of the most famous names in the country was kidnapped in Berkeley. Her grandfather was the press lord William Randolph Hearst, a towering figure in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Patty Hearst, or Patricia as she strongly preferred, was a junior at UC Berkeley. Patricia’s story is brilliantly chronicled in American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin.

The sensational kidnapping of Patty Hearst

Only the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. could match the sensationalism of Patty Hearst’s seizure from her apartment. Now, more than 40 years later, the Hearst kidnapping quickly headlined news stories around the country. It was not just that Patricia’s name was famous. The kidnappers were an unknown and mysterious revolutionary band calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. They were the same people who three months earlier had assassinated the universally popular superintendent of Oakland schools, Marcus Foster. … Continue reading »

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Tom Dalzell: The man behind new book, ‘Quirky Berkeley’

Tom Dalzell, holding his new book, Quirky Berkeley, at the Homemade Cafe. There will be a book launch party tonight at the North Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Tom Dalzell has so many passions that he has to get up at 3:30 a.m. each day to attend to them all.

A highly regarded labor leader, a world expert on slang, and – in the last five years – the world’s strongest proponent of Berkeley’s quirk, Dalzell’s constellation of interests would exhaust a lesser man. But, at 65, Dalzell seems to be just gearing up.

His next act starts tonight, Monday, with the launch party for his new book, Quirky Berkeley, just published by Heyday.

The almost-pocket-sized tome is a compilation of how Dalzell has spent much of the past few years: walking around Berkeley, noticing the odd and interesting objects created by residents, and writing about them for his website, Quirky Berkeley, as well as for Berkeleyside. The $15 book, which seems destined to become an instant Berkeley classic, is full of colorful photos and probing insights into many of Berkeley’s most interesting quirks, including the Giant Orange House on Spruce Street, Buldan Seka’s large ceramic creations (also on Spruce), artist Mark Bullwinkle’s steel sculptures around town, Mark Olivier’s beach trash art, and Eni Green’s Doggie Diner head and other dachshund knickknacks on Harper Street. Dalzell also highlights the city’s many colorful mailboxes, benches, animal sculptures and sidewalk art.

     Read Tom Dalzell’s Quirky Berkeley articles on Berkeleyside.

“I am struck every time I walk in Berkeley by the plenty of the quirk that I see,” Dalzell writes in his introduction. “We enjoy a special kind of freedom in Berkeley, unbound by convention or conventional thinking, unafraid of change or what others may think. The quirky stuff is an outward and physical manifestation of that inward freedom.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley writer Yaa Gyasi adjusts to fame, accolades for debut novel ‘Homegoing’

Yaa Gyasi. Photo: Michael Lionstar
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By Frances Dinkelspiel and Mal Warwick

Yaa Gyasi had just returned to her Berkeley home after a whirlwind tour of bookstores around the country to promote her debut novel, “Homegoing,” and she sounded a bit tired Tuesday on the phone.

Her book, which starts with the tale of two half-sisters in Ghana in the 18th century and then follows 12 of their descendants for 200 years throughout Africa and the U.S., was published in early June to extraordinary reviews. The New York Times wrote about it twice (with Pulitzer-Prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson calling it a “hypnotic debut) as did scores of other media outlets, including NPR, Time Magazine, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Slate. Mal Warwick said in his review for Berkeleyside (which appears at the end of the article) that Gyasi has a “marvelous way with words.”

After Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the mega-bestseller on race, “Between the World and Me,” finished the book he exclaimed his delight on Twitter: “Finished Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing’ yesterday. Thought it was a monster when I started. Felt it was a monster when I was done.”

Of course, the fact that the book was sold for about $1 million in 2015 after 10 publishing houses competed to buy it increased the hype factor.

Gyasi, 26, who moved with her boyfriend to Berkeley in August, said she has been surprised – and a bit exhausted – by the attention. … Continue reading »

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‘Sara’s Song’ captures era when there were two Berkeleys

Tina Jones Williams' mother and father in the early 1940s. Williams' book, Tina's Song,  is loosely based on some aspects of their lives. Photo: courtesy Tina Jones Williams
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On Saturday, June 18, author Tina Jones Williams will lead a discussion about her new novel “Sara’s Song” at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center in Richmond. The book is inspired in part by her family’s move from Chicago to Berkeley during World War II, and follows her first novella in the Julia Street Series, “Some Things I Want You to Know.” Both Williams’ mother and Sara, the novel’s protagonist, worked briefly as welders at the Richmond Shipyards. Berkeleyside spoke with Williams, a Berkeley native who grew up on Julia Street, about writing a book of fiction that captures an era when two Berkeleys, a Black one and a White one, existed parallel to each other, rarely intersecting on the corners of openness and acceptance. 

Was your mother the inspiration for the novel?
The two main characters, Sara and Ben, are very loosely based on my mother and father. They did in fact leave Chicago in 1943, moving their small family (I wasn’t born yet) to Berkeley. Some of the parts, and some of the events, and some of the people did, in fact, happen. The other thing that I will say: the very best parts of Sara are my mother, for sure. … Continue reading »

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25 years after the Oakland/Berkeley firestorm, Risa Nye pens memoir

Risa Nye
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On Oct. 20, 1991, a wildfire ripped through the Oakland hills and parts of Berkeley, killing 25 people and destroying 2,483 houses and 437 apartments and condos. Risa Nye, an Oakland writer who writes the Ms Barstool column for Nosh, was at home with her family in Oakland when the fire began. Since it was on the other side of the freeway, Nye, who was about to turn 40, didn’t quite believe the flames would reach her house. So when the family evacuated, they took some precious items but left behind many important keepsakes.

Read Berkeleyside’s special 20th anniversary Firestorm coverage.

Nye has written a memoir about the tragedy and how she and her family coped with their losses called, “There Was a Fire Here.” She Writes Press published the book, which Zac Unger, a former Oakland firefighter and the author of “Working Fire,” says is a “searing memoir” that is “told with humor and grace.” There will be a book release party for Nye Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at The Bay Area Children’s Theater Performance Hall, 2162 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland (corner of Mountain and Snake Rd). Nye will be in conversation with Alex Green.

Berkeleyside recently spoke with Nye about her book.

What motivated you to write a memoir about the fire 25 years after it happened? How hard was it to recreate the events of that time? What techniques did you use to capture the period?

The memoir had been in the works for many years. The push was to get it published this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of the fire. The anniversary provided a good incentive to get it done in a timely manner. Recreating the events wasn’t hard at all — I had kept newspapers from 1991, starting with the day of the fire, in a big box, and I had access to other reports and documents online. Another great resource was a short film, made by a Stanford graduate student just a few months after the fire, which included footage of the fire and interviews with my older son and me. I’d also kept a journal during the planning and reconstruction phases, so I had my words as well as the words of others to refer to as I wrote. … Continue reading »

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Adam Hochschild examines the Spanish Civil War

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@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Richard Rhodes’ Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made, which was published last year. More recently, Adam Hochschild, a Berkeley resident and lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, tackled the same material in a book published this year. It’s the book that Rhodes tried and failed to write. It’s called Spain in Our Hearts. I found it to be an outstanding and deeply moving tale of an event that has received far too little attention by historians. (Amazon lists just 334 history books involving the civil war as compared with 114,985 for World War II.)

To write this important new book, Hochschild pored through the letters, diaries and newspaper dispatches written by Americans who served in the war. These men (and a few women) served as either soldiers in what came to be called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as doctors or nurses serving them and other soldiers of the embattled Republic, or as reporters who fed the American press with on-the-scene accounts of the fighting. … Continue reading »

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Daughter aims to chronicle life of Moe’s Books founder

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His Telegraph Avenue bookstore, just four blocks from the UC Berkeley campus, became so famous that the San Francisco Chronicle once wrote: “India has the Taj Mahal. Berkeley has Moe’s.”

Moskowitz died in 1997, but his bookstore lives on. And now, his daughter, Doris Moskowitz, wants to commemorate her father’s life and the culture and politics that made Berkeley an essential part of the Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. She has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish Radical Bookselling: A Life of Moe Moskowitz.

The book, designed by Grégoire Vion, will detail Moskowitz’s life, and how he came to open a bookstore in 1959 (the precursor to the current store). It will be image-rich, with photos of what happened on Telegraph Avenue during the fight to stop the war and to create People’s Park; as well as posters of happenings at the store and around town. The book also recounts Moskowitz’s battle with Berkeley to retain the right to smoke his cigar in the store. … Continue reading »

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‘Farmsteads’ celebrates our local food purveyors

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Award-winning journalist Sarah Henry, for many years Berkeleyside’s food writer, has just published her first book: Farmsteads of the California Coast. The book profiles 12 innovative farmsteads through an exploration of their sustainable practices, the delicious produce they grow and the food they make. The book’s photographer is Erin Scott, author of Yummy Supper (and an occasional Nosh contributor). The book includes 24 recipes courtesy of publisher Lisa McGuinness, an accomplished home cook. We talked to Henry about the thinking behind the beautiful tome, and what she learned while researching and writing it.

What led you to writing this book?

I was approached to write the book by Yellow Pear Press publisher Lisa McGuinness. Lisa had visited Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, was charmed by the whole experience, and wanted to know more about the coastal farmers who grow and produce the diverse and delicious food we are fortunate enough to eat. … Continue reading »

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In the hands of feminist press, Calamity Jane rides again

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By Judith Coburn

What was the best book the actor Ethan Hawke read last year? Calamity Jane’s Letters to her Daughter. (The second was Berkeley writer Greil Marcus’s A History of Rock ‘n Roll in Ten Songs) When Alta Gerrey, founder of Shameless Hussy Press, the first feminist publisher in America, heard about those choices, she rushed to her favorite Copymat on College Avenue to run off 50 new copies of the Calamity Jane book. Shameless Hussy had initially published Calamity Jane’s letters in paperback in 1976; its first edition is now selling on Amazon for $300. Hawke’s endorsement was followed by a recent shout-out from a blogger at The Paris Review.

“Calamity Jane is a feminist icon,” said Alta, who prefers to go by her first name as she did as a poet for many years on the Berkeley poetry scene.

Alta said Calamity Jane has taken her licks from mainstream biographers and filmmakers, like the men who made HBO’s Deadwood. “They just depict her as a drunk and a whore,” she said. Historians of the West quarrel over whether she was really married to Wild Bill Hickok and whether he is the father of Janey to whom the letters are written. Some regard the letters as fiction. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley author T.J. Stiles wins second Pulitzer Prize

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Berkeley author T. J. Stiles won a Pulitzer Prize in history Monday for his book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America.
It is the second time Stiles has won a Pulitzer. In 2010, he won the Pulitzer in history for his book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Custer’s Trials was also a finalist in the biography category.

Both books were published by Alfred A. Knopf.

“My obituary headline just changed again,” Stiles wrote on his Facebook page. “I am utterly flummoxed. My heartfelt thanks to my editor, Jonathan Segal, and everyone at Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage. I am very lucky to work with the best publisher in the business.”

While Custer is best known for being killed at Little Big Horn, Stiles only dedicated a small portion of his book to that battle. Instead, he focused on the 36 years prior to Custer’s death. Custer attended West Point, was decorated for his fighting in the Civil War and had an unsuccessful stint on Wall Street, among other experiences. … Continue reading »

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Book review: ‘David Brower’ by Tom Turner

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A review of David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, by Tom Turner; published by the University of California Press

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

At the corner of Allston Way and Oxford Street in downtown Berkeley, directly across from the campus of the University of California, sits the David Brower Center. Opened in 2009, the Brower Center bills itself as “A center for the environmental movement.” The four-story, Platinum LEED-certified building houses an art gallery, a small auditorium, and some 30 nonprofit organizations, most of them engaged in addressing environmental issues. But who was this man, David Brower? It seems unlikely that more than a fraction of Berkeley residents today could identify him.

Who was David Brower?

If there is a Berkeley native other than David Brower who has achieved more, and had a greater impact on the world, I can’t imagine who that might be, and I’ve lived here for nearly 50 years.

Brower died at the age of 88 on the cusp of the 21st century. During the decades when he was a prominent figure in the news, he was frequently cited as the voice of the environmental movement, at once its most impassioned and articulate spokesperson, and the architect of several influential environmental organizations, chiefly the Sierra Club. … Continue reading »

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Book review: ‘Custer’s Trials’ by T. J. Stiles

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@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

When we learned American history in school, a few easily identifiable names stuck in our memory. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, of course. Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, probably (though Kennedy was after I’d left for college). But high on the list is one man who was never president, and in fact never rose above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army: George Armstrong Custer. What became almost universally known as Custer’s Last Stand has taken the place among the iconic events in our country’s history. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned to expect, the history we were spoon-fed in our public schools about both the event and the man was oversimplified, at best. As the brilliant Berkeley biographer T. J. Stiles demonstrates in Custer’s Trials, the life led by Custer before the massacre at Little Big Horn in 1876 was, if anything, far more significant than his death.

Custer at war

Custer was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army cavalry not long out of West Point when the Civil War broke out in 1861. After an uncomfortable stint in the Balloon Corps, conducting reconnaissance missions over enemy lines, Custer managed to ingratiate himself with General George McClellan, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. He was quickly given a position on the general ‘s staff and promoted to captain. … Continue reading »

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Book review: When elections mattered a lot

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**** — 4 out of 5 stars

The usual argument to persuade reluctant or lazy people to go to the polls is that sometimes elections turn on a single vote. Though this has indeed happened on occasion, such situations are exceedingly rare. In any case, the knee-jerk response to that argument is much more likely to be that elections don’t matter — that nothing ever changes. So it should be far more effective to argue that elections sometimes have enormous, long-term consequences for our lives. This is the theme of Game Changers, a compendium of thirteen articles about the most consequential elections in California history. The book, which won a CHS Book Award, was published by Berkeley’s Heyday.

California has been a state since 1850. In the 165 years that have transpired since then, Californians have witnessed a virtually uncountable number of elections. In writing Game Changers, political analyst Steve Swatt and three collaborators selected just one dozen large-scale election contests as the “Twelve Elections That Transformed California.”

Spanning the years from 1861 to 1990, Game Changers encompasses five gubernatorial elections: those that elevated Leland Stanford, Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, and Pat Brown to the Governor’s Mansion, and “California’s dirtiest election” in 1934 when Upton Sinclair’s radical movement was destroyed. … Continue reading »

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