THURSDAY

If it serves no other purpose than to wash the bad taste of Spike Lee’s maundering, overlong Summer of Sam from our collective mouth, then Jonathan Mahler’s latest book has justified its existence. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City is a fascinating portrait, and definitive account, of a city at its boiling point. It concerns itself with multiple story lines—Son of Sam, the citywide blackout, the tumultuous New York Yankees, the arson fires in the Bronx, the heated mayoral race—and interweaves them effortlessly. When he began working on the book, Mahler’s focus was on the Bronx Bombers—their contentious clubhouse and eventual rise to the top. Yankee fans love to mythologize their team disproportionately; Mahler, an admitted devotee to the Pinstripes, is no exception. Sometimes it seems silly to equate the squabblings of manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson with the actual terror and chaos that plagued the city; people actually died from the blackout, the fires, and the crime. The Yankees were just playing a game—the worst thing that came out of their summer was the ill-fated Reggie Bar. But Mahler successfully boils down a season’s worth of pun-riddled New York Post back-page headlines and Jimmy Breslin columns to a compelling narrative that has all the right dramatic ingredients. The only thing that could mess up such a great story is Adrien Brody as a Cockney-accented, mohawked male hustler who thinks that the 1977 version of the Who was punk—and he’s mercifully incarcerated at a video store near you. Mahler reads at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (David Dunlap Jr.)