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One Day
Cover of One Day
One Day
The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America
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“One of the 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years”—SlateOn New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally,...
“One of the 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years”—SlateOn New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally,...
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  • “One of the 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Last 25 Years”—Slate

    On New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally, pluck a day, month, and year from a hat. That day—chosen completely at random—turned out to be Sunday, December 28, 1986, by any conventional measure a most ordinary day. Weingarten spent the next six years proving that there is no such thing.

     
    That Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection, along with evocative foreshadowing of momentous events yet to come. Lives were lost. Lives were saved. Lives were altered in overwhelming ways. Many of these events never made it into the news; they were private dramas in the lives of private people. They were utterly compelling.
     
    One Day asks and answers the question of whether there is even such a thing as “ordinary” when we are talking about how we all lurch and stumble our way through the daily, daunting challenge of being human.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    The Day

    It is a Sunday, the 362nd day of the year of Chernobyl and Challenger, when preventable failures of technology humbled two superpowers.

    The moon is a skinny slice. Before daybreak, its faintness will abet innumerable crimes, including a theft of extraordinary audacity and a murder of unfathomable brutality. Eighteen hours later, narrower still, it will lend an overhead wink to a lifelong romance getting off to its preposterous start.

    At midnight on the East Coast, a team of doctors and nurses is hastily assembling to attempt something not one of them has ever done before, except in macabre rehearsals with corpses in the morgue. They've been waiting for weeks, to be summoned on a moment's notice. In the next few hours, they will try to save one life and help a family atone for the final unhinged act of another.

    At midnight on the West Coast, a young woman's body lies undiscovered in a culvert beneath an abandoned highway overpass as her family crisscrosses the roads above in a frantic search to find her. They are on their own because police have refused to step in, on the grounds that in the life of a pretty blonde, being two hours late on a Saturday night is not late at all.

    A little after two a.m. in Washington, D.C., a conservative political operative, known for his ruthless tactics, dies at thirty-six. Fulfilling a promise to his patient, the man's doctor publicly diagnoses congestive heart failure of unknown origin. But it is just the final lie of a successful, influential, cynical, hypocritical, self-delusional life.

    Just past three a.m. in a small town in Nebraska, a sullen young man, a devout hell-raiser who has never done anything right, finally does, and it kills him.

    At five a.m., in a suburb of Memphis at a sleepover with a friend, a precocious eleven-year-old girl from a strict Mormon family wakes up in a darkened house and starts on a video game she is not allowed to play at home. Five hours later, she will decide that December 28, 1986, is a date so memorable that she solemnly writes it down on a slip of paper, signs it, and puts it in a shoebox to keep forever. As it happens, she was on to something.

    The bestselling nonfiction book in America, in its thirty-fourth week on the list, is Bill Cosby's Fatherhood, a slender, amusing, surprisingly sardonic take on being a dad. It is ghostwritten, but Cosby hasn't revealed that and has no plans to. Driven by the entertainer's wholesome popularity and salt-of-the-earth reputation, Fatherhood is becoming the fastest-selling hardcover in history.

    Where it isn't unseasonably warm, it is unseasonably cold. Car radios play to saturation "Walk Like an Egyptian," a hypnotic, slickly stylized bit of silliness by the Bangles. The milestone will go unnoticed, but the group has just become the first all-female band to top the charts playing their own instruments. For women, it is a time of restive transition. On this day in a Native American village in New Mexico, a tribe's elders-all male-try but fail to negate the election of its first woman governor because custom forbids it. In dozens of Sunday newspapers, an Associated Press story matter-of-factly reports that men across the country, feeling threatened as heads of their households, are dissuading their wives from going back to school to get their GED degrees-sometimes under threats of violence. The story quotes sixteenth-century scholar Erasmus: "Just as a saddle is not suitable for an ox, so learning is unsuitable for a woman."

    At 8:15 a.m., in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a man with a big secret is awakened by his beaming wife on the...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 1, 2019
    A nondescript day in the 1980s yields unsung but riveting stories in this fascinating journalistic fishing expedition. Washington Post columnist Weingarten (The Fiddler in the Subway) picked a random day to investigate, winding up with Dec. 28, 1986: a slow-news Sunday that still yielded plenty of mayhem, oddball happenstances, and sociological watersheds. Among the events: a murder enabled a medical miracle; a rash of weather vane thefts entwined with a campus social justice crusade; a married man started down the path to womanhood; a maimed child began a long struggle to fit in; NewYork’s mayor Ed Koch weathered racial turbulence; and the Cold War fizzled out for a group of Soviet refugees returning home. Drawing on present-day interviews with principals, Weingarten’s reportage gives these incidents and their legacies immediacy and freshness, conveyed with punchy, evocative prose (“David was short, slight, and coarse-featured, with a feral, hunted look and an almost imperceptible hitch in his walk owing to a pin in one leg from a motorcycle accident,” he writes of a protagonist in an Indiana noir saga who told detectives he was “about 90 percent sure” he did not commit a grisly double murder). The result is a trove of compelling human-interest pieces with long reverberations.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2019

    Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Weingarten (The Fiddler in the Subway) probes a day in the life of America, chosen at random, to illustrate that there is no such thing as "an ordinary day." He settles on Sunday, December 28, 1986, which he at first deemed inauspicious, since Sundays, and the period between Christmas and New Year's, typically yields little in the way of news. Walking through the events that transpired on that day, in chronological order starting at 12 a.m., Weingarten discovers fires, murders, medical breakthroughs, racial strife, and AIDS. The author mined newspaper and TV accounts and substantiated the stories by interviewing the primary individuals still alive to flesh out their headlines, as well as others affected by the events. All happenstances continued to reverberate in surprising and often pivotal ways. The technological and scientific gains accomplished in the space of a few decades are also made plain, and the mid-1980s are evoked with just a twinge of nostalgia. VERDICT The results of this fascinating, well-researched narrative are conveyed with immediacy, insight, and humor. A solid choice for all readers.--Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    September 1, 2019
    A captivating portrait of a day in the life of the United States by a much-honored Washington Post journalist. Weingarten (The Fiddler on the Subway, 2010, etc.), the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, notes at the beginning that only one of his previous books has "even approached commercial success." His latest book is his most ambitious, with the author showing how much art a great journalist can wrest from a literary stunt with a theme as old as that of Thornton Wilder's in Our Town: Each day is remarkable in its own way. He chose a date at random--Dec. 28, 1986--and then found people for whom its events indelibly stamped all the days that followed. He admits that "it was a stunt. But I like stunts, particularly if they can illuminate unexpected truths...although great matters make for strong narratives, power can also lurk in the latent and mundane." Some of his entries give memorable glimpses of celebrities, among them New York City mayor Ed Koch, Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, and dooce website founder Heather Armstrong. But Weingarten offers equally vivid profiles of the less well known. They include Prentice Rasheed, a Miami shopkeeper who accidentally electrocuted a burglar with a homemade booby trap he'd installed to deter intruders; Brad Wilson, who walked away after his helicopter flipped over and crashed during a fishing trip in the Pacific Northwest; and Eva Baisey, a nursing student from Washington, D.C., who had implanted in her body the heart of a dead murderer and who improbably has become "one of the longest-living transplant patients on the planet." One of the finest plain-prose stylists in American journalism, Weingarten tells his elegantly structured stories without sentimentality or melodrama, a virtue especially apparent in his story of two policemen who rushed into a flaming house in Falls City, Nebraska, hoping in vain to save a 2-year-old boy and 1-year-girl. A slice of American life carved out by a master of the form.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from September 1, 2019
    Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Weingarten had strangers pick a date out of a hat so that he could chronicle the news events of an ordinary day in America: December 28, 1986. As these series of episodic accounts show, there's no such thing as an ordinary day?especially when a persistent reporter digs behind the headlines to uncover detailed backstories and follows through to update accounts of individuals whose lives were changed that day. Weingarten relied on original articles, subsequent reporting, ensuing investigations, court transcripts, and, whenever possible, current interviews with principal characters. The engaging recaps range between 10 and 40 pages, and are arranged chronologically, based on the approximate time the action started (12:01 a.m. through 11:55 p.m.). Topics include crime, disaster, romance, heartbreak, medicine, politics, music, and sports. While some luminaries make appearances (Ed Koch, Jerry Garcia), most of the people Weingarten covers were private citizens before some newsworthy happening launched their names onto the front page of a newspaper. Everybody loves a good story, especially when it's told by a master storyteller. This collection should have wide appeal, whether read straight through, cover to cover, or dipped into for an occasional article.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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Gene Weingarten
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