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2013) takes a measured look at the life of
an iconic director via his work in her contribution to Yale’s Jewish Lives series. Born
in 1946, Spielberg grew up feeling like an
outsider as one of few Jews in the suburbs
of New Jersey and Phoenix. Shortly after he
dropped out of college, his short film
Amb-lin’ led to a major deal at Universal, where
he started out directing television before
moving on to the troubled production of
the film Jaws, which would usher in the era
of blockbuster movies. Other hits, such as
Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E. T.,
cemented his status as a hit director as well
as establishing the boyish sense of wonder
for which his work would become known.
As his career matured, so did his material:
he tackled serious subjects such as abuse ( The
Color Purple), slavery (Amistad), and the
Holocaust (Schindler’s List). Haskell marvels
that at the age of 70, the director is still going strong. A solid starting point for anyone
curious about Spielberg. —Kristine Huntley
Television: A Biography.
By David Thomson.
2016. 416p. illus. Thames & Hudson, $34.95
Although esteemed film critic Thomson
(How to Watch a Movie, 2015) calls this a
biography, readers will not find it a chron-
ological account of the birth and rise of
television. Instead, Thomson closely exam-
ines the medium’s cultural impact by taking
a largely thematic approach to revealing just
how pervasive it has become in our lives. The
result is a somewhat anecdotal study that is
at its best when Thomson illustrates the way
television has given presidents and presi-
dential candidates enormous access to their
constituencies or how major events, like the
shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald and 9/11,
have become heightened and deeply per-
sonal via repeated broadcasts into our living
rooms. Readers seeking extended analysis of
their favorite shows had best look elsewhere.
Though Thomson does examine the impact
of some of the greats, such as I Love Lucy,
Gunsmoke, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The
Sopranos as well as some forgotten gems, his
focus is much broader and more complex.
This is a large, lavishly illustrated, erudite,
and richly analytical look at television and
its influence. —Kristine Huntley
Sports & Recreation
Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son.
By Paul Dickson.
Mar. 2017. 368p. illus. Bloomsbury, $28
(9781632863119); e-book, $19.99 (9781632863126).
One of baseball’s most colorful (and hated)
characters is the subject of the prolific Dickson’s new biography. Durocher (1905–91)
was a great fielder, mediocre hitter, unsurpassed bench jockey and umpire baiter, and,
despite his many personal foibles, a Hall of
Fame manager. He was deeply embedded in
the underside of American society and was a
consort of Hollywood celebrities, gamblers
(the actor George Raft among them), and
gangsters, resulting in his controversial yearlong suspension from the sport. Much of
this material is available elsewhere, though
Dickson’s balanced analysis does a good job
of correcting the exaggerations in Nice Guys
Finish Last, Leo the Lip’s partly fabricated
second memoir (the titular expression got
him into Bartlett’s). The racial integration of
the game, which Durocher long advocated,
is the book’s crucial secondary story, and it
is deftly handled in more than usual depth.
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