cover image American Rebels

American Rebels

Jack Newfield. Nation Books, $16.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-1-56025-543-7

Newfield's diverse collection of hagiographic essays might have been better titled""My Hero,"" since all of the book's contributors write about an American whom they admire. Thus, Stanley Crouch exalts jazz innovator Thelonius Monk; Victor Navasky praises investigative reporter I. F. Stone; Charles Bowden eulogizes scientist Howard T. Odum; and Wayne and Chris Barrett pay tribute to Catholic Worker Dorothy Day. According to Newfield's introduction, each subject was chosen for his or her ability to reconcile the impulses of patriotism with""original artistic creation, unpopular opinion, and real moral principles."" It's a noble idea to celebrate America's tradition of individuality at a time when""patriotism"" is too often misconstrued to mean""agreement."" Unfortunately, however, many of the essays in this collection lack resonance simply because they are too short or too thin. Nonetheless, a few--such as Budd Schulberg's essay on Joe Louis, Gerry Hershey's on Aretha Franklin, Lucius Shepard's on Miles Davis, and Richard Lingeman's on Theodore Dreiser--make excellent and provocative reading. And the collection does include a few pleasantly surprising entries: on Bella Abzug, Mario Puzo, Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson, Will Rogers and Bob Dylan, for example. An uneven tribute to our nation's remarkable talents and personalities, this book will most likely to appeal to readers who are already interested in its subjects.