cover image My Amer Century -Op/084

My Amer Century -Op/084

Studs Terkel. New Press, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-365-3

It is 30 years ago that Terkel, then known as a radio interviewer, was persuaded by Andre Schiffrin of Pantheon to commit his remarkably plainspoken and telling interviews to print and weave them around a theme. The first theme was the life of ordinary people in Chicago, and the book, which won Terkel a Pulitzer Prize and lasting bestsellerdom, was Division Street: America. Since he recently celebrated his 85th birthday, it's possible there won't be another such book, so this one, a kind of anthology of the best moments from all his previous works, is good to have. It carries an eloquent introduction by Robert Coles that places Terkel in the company of notable forebears such as James Agee, social commentators whose work helped change the world. It also has a new introduction by the author, who stresses, with his customary pithy vigor, the importance of people being able to change and to go on contributing to life, not despite, but because of, increasing age. As in his last book, The Coming of Age, it is the lack of a sense of history, of a sense of the immemorial resilience (and frequent contrariness) of the human spirit, that most troubles Terkel about our current times; and as always his work, while utterly realistic, is an antidote to despair. This collection, arranged chronologically by the periods the books covered, not by the dates of their original publication, is the best possible introduction to his splendid body of work. (Aug.)