Big Books

Big Books

The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge

edited by John W. Wright

St. Martin's, 1,096 pp., $35

The Record of the Paper

by Howard Friel & Richard Falk

Verso, 304 pp., $23

Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media

by Seth Mnookin

Random House, 330 pp., $25.95

Like a superhero, The New York Times has managed to dodge a barrage of bullets and remain unscathed. Printing all the news that's fit, the Times has been the record of our times for the past century. Two recent books seek to remind our hero that "with great power comes great responsibility." Enter The Record of the Paper and Hard News, both about the missteps of the NYT and the ramifications on the American media. Recognizing the different approaches of these arch-nemeses is as easy as seeing who is quoted on the back covers. Described as manifesting in "meticulous detail" by Noam Chomsky (a rather detail-oriented character himself), the Record chronicles the NYT's lapses in reporting judgment from the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam to the recent false reports of WMD in Iraq. Friel and Falk decry the lack of references to international law in the NYT as symptomatic of a government that thinks itself above the law. Hard News, in describing the rise and fall of what may have been the most muscular news office in the world, tells "a juicy morality tale for the information age," according to Sarah Vowell. Mnookin digs up the dirt and reveals a paper only as infallible as the egos running and writing it (Executive Editor Howell Raines and Jayson Blair, respectively). The moral? The enemy lies within. Perhaps in response to these blows to its powers, the Times published their Guide to Essential Knowledge. Living up to its auspicious title, the Guide is an encyclopedia, almanac, grammar textbook, and crossword dictionary compacted like coal into diamonds of dense information, complete with a forward from John Leonard. Well-organized and indexed, the two- or three-paragraph descriptions of everything from neo-Freudian thought to psychedelic rock are engaging and often lead to further exploration. Give it to that NYT-crossword-puzzle warrior in the family or the Clark Kent in your life who just likes to look smarter than they are by having overly academic books in the bathroom.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by James Renovitch
VR Arena Adds Cardio to Your Virtual Experience
VR Arena Adds Cardio to Your Virtual Experience
Virtuix’s new attraction at Pinballz has players running and gunning without moving

March 22, 2019

Austin Video Game Developer Certain Affinity Announces Original Title, <i>Last Expedition</i>
Austin Video Game Developer Certain Affinity Announces Original Title, Last Expedition
Independent game studio also plans expansion to offices in Toronto

Jan. 30, 2019

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle