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At the time of [Bill] James's hiring, some observers predicted the Red Sox would be transformed into a team that relied on the computations of pasty, number-crunching geeks and completely ignored the tobacco-chewing wisdom of traditional scouts. James found this viewpoint comical. "I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand," he says. "Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world--a paradigm, if you will.... But the problem is the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it we carry around in our heads."


Like every true Red Sox fan, I sorely miss the sausages that vendors used to sell outside Fenway. But here's the thing, as the old saying about hot dogs and legislation goes, we're just as happy we never saw them being made. In this startlingly well-informed look at the 2003-2005 Red Sox, Seth Mnookin shows us how the recent iterations of the Red Sox have been manufactured and it's no prettier. The era of player strikes, lockouts, and free agency has amply disabused us of the notion that baseball is a sport and not a business, but rarely has an author had the sort of access to the inner working of a team that Mr. Mnookin was granted and he uses it to show us just how the business aspects of a franchise influence what ends up on the field.

Between sabremetrics, Rotisserie, and saturation media coverage, baseball fans are probably better informed than ever before about the quality of the players in the major (and minor) leagues and are, therefore, more mystified than ever by the moves that teams make in assembling their rosters. One of the invaluable services that Mr. Mnookin performs here is to explain how considerations other than just talent end up factoring into the process. At the core of the book is a tension between the Red Sox officials who are especially focused on maximizing the revenue that the club generates -- they are generally obsessed with getting maximal media coverage and trying to win as many games as possible right away -- and those who more interested in pursuing a long range plan to rebuild the team's farm system and develop the kind of club that can contend for years. These differences lead the two sides to value players differently--with the business types wanting big names they can market and the baseball types preferring players whose merits may not be as obvious to those less familiar with statistics and intangibles. But the differences also lead them to look at the general atmosphere surrounding the club through dissimilar eyes.

Folks will likely recall the moment earlier this year when the Red Sox were playing the Yankees and had made an emergency trade to bring back Doug Mirabelli as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. The state police escort from the airport to Fenway made not just local but national news and placed one more layer of drama on a rivalry that is already stacked pretty high. At the same time that this episode must have pleased those in management who liked dominating the news cycle and showing the fans they'd do whatever it takes to win, it fueled the type of media hysteria that general manager Theo Epstein in particular has come to believe is ultimately harmful to the team and to the front office's capacity to make clear-headed decisions.

Theo Epstein and his allies though are victims of their own success. When they took over running the club they wanted to follow the sort of plan that Gene Michael had gotten away with while George Steinbrenner was banned from the Yankees--building from within--and around the types of high on-base percentage, good fielding players that Michael and the Moneyball guys out in Oakland had gotten so much mileage out of. Many will have read Michael Lewis's book, but Buster Olney's excellent volume, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, describes the decline of the Yankees in terms of the team's transition from the philosophy that Michael had followed to the win now mania that Steinbrenner brought back to the club as it neared the end of its run in the late 90s. While no one with the Sox is as destructive as Steinbrenner, some do see themselves as locked in a competition with him to generate publicity and win immediately. Feeding the Monster becomes a melodrama that pits those sorts against Theo and company. Eventually club president Larry Lucchino ended up being the foil for the young GM and their relationship deteriorated badly enough that Theo resigned for awhile this past off season. In Mr. Mnookin's telling it's not that Lucchino is a bad guy, just that his position in the hierarchy gave him different responsibilities and the natural rivalry between powerful men within an organization was compounded by questions about who deserved credit for successes and blame for mistakes. Exacerbating it all was the very "monster" that so concerned Epstein, a voracious and rapacious media more than willing to play up squabbles into wars. Lucchino was especially suspicious of the favorable coverage that Peter Gammons gave to Epstein and to the extent that there's a real villain in the book it's Dan Shaughnessy, of the Globe, whose column Mnookin portrays as not just loaded with errors but as little more than a venue for beating up on players, coaches, and management. It was a medium that Lucchino used to attack Epstein with nearly catastrophic results. Only the intervention of owner John Henry and some time away for Epstein has served to heal the breach.

Suffice it to say, this isn't the sort of book you'd have wanted to read when you were a kid. Ignorance of all this nonsense really can be bliss. But it is fascinating how it was the team's success that really blew many of these problems into a firestorm:
LOOKING BACK, the 2005 season was, as Henry says, a "hangover year." "You've been focusing on something, you accomplish your goal, and you say, `Now what?' " Henry says. "Human beings really thrive when they have a cause or a goal regarding something larger than themselves." Employees on every level of the team were exhausted from the energy and effort that went into winning and celebrating after the Sox's historic World Series. Throughout all this, Lucchino, exhibiting the trademark relentlessness that has made him one of the best CEOs in all of professional sports, kept pushing forward. Now, after the tumult of last year's off-season, even Lucchino seems to have a new appreciation that more is not always better.

"I realized [after the events of the 2005 off-season] that we need to slow down," he says. Before each new season, Lucchino usually comes up with new ways for the Red Sox to promote their brand or new business ventures the organization can embark on. This year, he did the opposite, drawing up an "86 list," named for the shorthand restaurants use when a dish is no longer available. "We're going to 86 the players' picnic in Fenway in September," says Lucchino. "We're going to 86 excess [Red Sox] Foundation events. . . . They're small things, but they all get to the big picture, which is that we're first and foremost a baseball team, and we've got to sort of keep our eyes on the prize."

This year, behind the scenes, Epstein and Lucchino found their working relationship was better than it had been at any point since 2003. Not long after Epstein's return, Lucchino suggested that, in order to cut down on confusion, Epstein should be the person from whom the media got their information about the team's baseball operations, and the general manager began parceling out news as he saw fit instead of eagerly feeding the baseball press's always-voracious appetite. Epstein made a commitment to integrate his staff more with the rest of the organization, and both men realized they had allowed several years worth of resentments and unspoken recriminations to fester unnecessarily.
Which is all well and good until you look at the standings today. Even as Theo and friends try to transition the team--with four rookie pitchers, a raw project in RF, and stop gaps at 3b, ss, and 2b--the Sox find themselves with the second or third best records in baseball, locked in a tight race with the Yankees, and dreams of the World Series recur. And so the Monster still demands to be fed.....


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

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Sports (Baseball)
Seth Mnookin Links:
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    -AUTHOR SITE: Seth Mnookin
    -BLOG: Feeding the Monster (Seth Mnookin)
    -AUTHOR SITE: Simon & Schuster: Seth Mnookin
    -Seth Mnookin (Wikipedia)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Seth Mnookin (IMDB.com)
    -ESSAY: Harvard and heroin: I coasted to an Ivy League degree as a drug addict, but forever damaged the bond between mother and son. (Seth Mnookin, Aug. 27, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The pen is mightier than the needle (Seth Mnookin, Jan 17, 2005, The Independent)
    -ESSAY: One Miracle Season: When the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, they defied history, the odds, a curse, their bitterest rivals, and their own identity. And they did it with a team effort by shaggy star players, big-thinking owners, and a dashing young general manager (Seth Mnookin, Vanity Fair)
    -EXCERPT: The Breakup: In this exclusive excerpt from his new book, Feeding the Monster, Seth Mnookin explores the fascinating, curious, and combative relationship between Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino and the young man he hired to build a championship team, general manager Theo Epstein. (Boston Globe)
    -EXCERPT: Big Papi's sudden impact: An excerpt from Seth Mnookin’s book, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the (Seth Mnookin, 7/20/2006, Boston Phoenix)
    -ESSAY: excerpts from "Those Fabulous Red Sox" (Seth Mnookin, Vanity Fair)
    -EXCERPT: Bye, Nomar: adapted from Seth Mnookin's new book, "Feeding the Monster" (Seth Mnookin, ESPN the Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Picking Up the Pieces: How James Frey flunked rehab, and why his fakery matters (Seth Mnookin, Jan. 12, 2006, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Unreliable Sources: A rogue reporter named Jayson Blair brought down The New York Times's top editors. Could a rogue reporter named Judith Miller bring down its publisher? The Times's own investigation of Miller's role in the Valerie Plame scandal raises new questions about the judgment of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (SETH MNOOKIN, Vanity Fair)
    -ESSAY: The End of My World as I Knew It: A New Year's reflection on my life after heroin (Seth Mnookin, Dec. 31, 2004, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Blame the Cubs: The Chicago Sun Times shouldn’t have named the foul-ball fan. The team’s collapse isn’t his fault (Seth Mnookin, 10/16/04, Newsweek)
    -PROFILE: How Harvey Weinstein Survived His Midlife Crisis (For Now): A bitter struggle with Disney CEO Michael Eisner over Fahrenheit 9/11. Miramax teetering on the brink. A separation from his wife. A near breakup with his brother, Bob. And through it all, Weinstein seems calmer than ever. Why? He’s given up M&Ms. (Seth Mnookin, 10/11/04, New York)
    -ESSAY: Justice: The Killer Inside Me: He's a murderer. And a model inmate. Should Wilbert Rideau go free? (Seth Mnookin, 1/13/03, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: The Keys to the Future: A new generation of pianists re-energize the world of jazz. (Seth Mnookin, 3/10/03, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Total Fiction: Five years ago, in the journalistic scandal of the decade, a hot young writer got fired for making up outrageous yarns. Now he's writing real fiction. An exclusive interview. (Seth Mnookin, May 19, 2003, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: A Journalist's Hard Fall: The New York Times confronts an embarrassing trail of deceit—and difficult questions about its own culture. (Seth Mnookin, May 19, 2003, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Times Bomb: Jayson Blair, an ambitious reporter with a troubled relationship to the truth, meets an aggressive editor eager to mint new stars. Inside journalism's perfect storm. (Seth Mnookin, May 26, 2003, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Read All About It: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As its top editors exit, the country's most revered newspaper sets a new course. (Seth Mnookin, June 16, 2003, Newsweek)
    -TRIBUTE: Michael Kelly, 1957-2003: The longtime war reporter and magazine editor ‘loved to fight’ (Seth Mnookin, 4/04/03, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Q&A: My Life as a Shield: Benjamin Joffe-Walt speaks about his three weeks as a human shield in Iraq (Seth Mnookin, 3/21/03, Newsweek)
    -ESSAY: Phish Shtick: The jam band's New Year's Eve antics (Seth Mnookin, Jan. 3, 2003, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Pazz & Jop Poll 2003 (Seth Mnookin, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: Pazz & Jop Poll: 2002 (Seth Mnookin, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: A star's setback: He was supposed to be the dreamboat savior of a troubled New Jersey city. Then he lost. (Seth Mnookin, May 15, 2002, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The New Natural: Yale Law School–trained, Rhodes Scholar, gifted Democratic politician, at ease with everyone from the highest to the lowest. Sound familiar? His name's Cory Booker, and he's running for mayor of Newark. But his opponent, Mayor Sharpe James, thinks he's insufficiently black. (Seth Mnookin, April 22, 2002, New York Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Enronathon: Young Fortune reporter Bethany McLean broke the Enron story first, right? Not so fast, says the Wall Street Journal. (Seth Mnookin, 3/11/02, New York)
    -ESSAY: A Death in the Family: On September 11, the Wall Street Journal lost its newsroom. This is infinitely worse. (Seth Mnookin, 3/04/02, New York)
    -ESSAY: Smoke and mirrors: Philip Morris swore off using print advertising to build its brands, but the magazine ad habit was harder to kick than anyone imagined (Seth Mnookin, March 2002, Folio)
    -ESSAY: Hard Raines: The New York Times' Howell Raines issues some tough marching orders. (Seth Mnookin, 2/18/02, New York)
    -ESSAY: Caveat Vendors (Seth Mnookin, February 4, 2002, New York Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Just another day at ground zero: At the bar closest to the Sept. 11 wreckage, New Yorkers ignore the news on TV as disaster becomes part of the city's new landscape (Seth Mnookin, 2001-11-13, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: The News Internationalist - interview with Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek (Seth Mnookin, November 2001, Folio)
    -ESSAY: Sharps and Flats: Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco and others rework '60s classics for "Steal This Movie." But does Bob Dylan need updating? (Seth Mnookin, 2000-08-02, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & Flats: Living literary character (and rocker) Steve Earle plays a noisy show in New York for -- who else? -- a bunch of literary types. (Seth Mnookin, 2000-07-24, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & flats: Wynton Marsalis was born with a silver trumpet in his mouth. Maybe that's why his jazz compositions are so stiffly academic. (Seth Mnookin, Aug. 17, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & flats: New York combo Hasidic New Wave illustrates the difference between klezmer and Jewish jazz. (Seth Mnookin, August 11, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & flats: Béla Fleck ditches the jammy, New Age dreck for an album of smokin' jazzgrass. (Seth Mnookin, July 7, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Downtown soul (Seth Mnookin, June 11, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Eric Clapton and B.B. King meet again (Seth Mnookin, July 13, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY: What is jazz?: Sponsored by the Knitting Factory, Ornette Coleman, Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Cecil Taylor and others look beyond bop. (Seth Mnookin, 2000-06-07, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & Flats (The brothers Ween might be living in the shadow of Frank Zappa, but they still sound like they're shocked by their own shtick. (Seth Mnookin, May 2, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY: People have the power: Patti Smith, David Byrne, Angelique Kidjo, Philip Glass and others throw a New Year's benefit party for Tibet. (Seth Mnookin, 2000-02-09, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & Flats: Arto Lindsay graduated from horrible noise to gently beautiful music. It only took 20 years. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-10-28, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Hot licks: Guitarist and "All Things Considered" commentator Adrian Legg tells funny stories, but his guitar playing is no laughing matter. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-10-28, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Five-string serenade: Béla Fleck and five aces deliver a bluegrass primer live in New York. (Seth Mnookin, Oct. 26, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & flats: After 10 years of indie rock and a semi-hit on the "Kids" soundtrack, Folk Implosion's Lou Barlow changes his tune. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-09-14, Salon)
    -PROFILE: Don't worry baby: Ronnie Spector on her new Kill Rock Stars EP, her ex-husband Phil and why Puff Daddy can't rock 'n' roll. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-09-14, Salon)
    -ESSAY: "Up" down: Two years ago, R.E.M. lost a drummer -- and a little class. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-09-08, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Sharps & flats: Ben Harper is no Bob Dylan -- he's actually not even Robbie Robertson. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-09-01, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Flaming Lips live (sort of) at Tramps: The Oklahoma City trio left left their drum set at home for their New York concert. Luckily they had Sebadoh, Robyn Hitchcock, Cornelius and ICU to pick up the slack (Seth Mnookin, 1999-08-21, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Shy smiles and half-hearted toss-offs: Welcome to the world of Vic Chesnutt live. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-07-16, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Not going back to Birdland: The Knitting Factory's four-city gig is a jazz fest worth staying home for. (Seth Mnookin, 1999-06-10, Salon0
    -REVIEW: of Duke Elegant - Dr. John: New Orleans boogie king Dr. John botches an album of standards. Duke Ellington would not be amused (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Klezmatics with Chava Alberstein: THE WELL (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Wynton Marsalis "Marsalis Plays Monk: Standard Time Vol. IV" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of "The Complete Django Reinhardt and Quintet of the Hot Club of France Swing/HMV Sessions 1936-1948" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Pastoral Composure - Matthew Shipp (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Songbook - Gordon Lightfoot (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Live in Texas - Lyle Lovett and His Large Band Country/Folk, review by Seth Mnookin
   
-REVIEW: of At Folsom Prison - Johnny Cash (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Pizza Tapes - Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Tony Rice (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Nixon - Lambchop (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of "Stardust" - Willie Nelson (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of "Buildings and Grounds," Papas Fritas (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Californication" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Willie Nelson's "Red Headed Stranger" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Patti Smith, "Gung Ho" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Guarapero: Lost Blues 2, Will Oldham (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Morphine, The Night (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Guns n' Roses, "Live Era '87-'93" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of "Goodbye 20th Century," Sonic Youth (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Grateful Dead, "So Many Roads (1965-1995)" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Luna, "Days of Our Nights" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Santana, "Supernatural" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Pavement, "Terror Twilight" (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Chuck E. Weiss, EXTREMELY COOL (Seth Mnookin, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of MEDIA MAN: TED TURNER'S IMPROBABLE EMPIRE by Ken Auletta (Seth Mnookin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MASTERS OF DOOM: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture By David Kushner (Seth Mnookin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think by Chris Matthews (Seth Mnookin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Coloring The News by William McGowan (Seth Mnookin, Washington Monthly)
    -ARCHIVES: Seth Mnookin (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES: Seth Mnookin (New York)
    -ARCHIVES: mnookin (NPR)
    -ARCHIVES: Seth Mnookin (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES: Seth Mnookin (Newsweek)
    -ARCHIVES: Seth Mnookin (SethMnookin.com)
    -PROFILE: My son, the junkie: I finally had to let him save, or kill, himself (Wendy Mnookin, Aug. 27, 1999, Salon)
    -VIDEO PROFILE: Feeding the Fenway Monster (Greater Boston, July 14, 2006)
    -CHAT: Seth Mnookin 'Feeding the Monster' chat transcript (Boston Globe, July 12, 2006)
    -CHAT: Seth Mnookin, Author, "Feeding the Monster" (Washington Post, July 11, 2006)
    -PROFILE: Brains, balls, and a key to Fenway: How one writer tried to set the record straight on the Sox’ past five years (MIKE MILIARD, 7/24/2006, Boston Phoenix)
    -INTERVIEW: Seth Mnookin on Judy Miller, Arthur Sulzberger and Outward Bound (Felix Gillette, 12/16/05, CJR)
    -INTERVIEW: Regret The Interview: A conversation with Seth Mnookin (Regret the Error, 9/07/05)
    -INTERVIEW: Hard Raines: It was the worst of times at The New York Times. An interview with author Seth Mnookin. (Sam Rosenfeld, 01.04.05, American Prospect)
    -INTERVIEW: Seth Mnookin (Mike Newall, December 9-16, 2004, City Paper)
    -PROFILE: Hard times: Seth Mnookin reflects on his journey from junkie to Newsweek media expert to profiler of the scandals at the New York Times (TAMARA WIEDER, 11/12/04, Boston Phoenix)
    -CHAT: The New York Times Controversy: Seth Mnookin (Newsweek)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Daily Show: Seth Mnookin: Author Seth Mnookin discusses "taking on" the New York Times in his new book. (Daily Show)
    -INTERVIEW: Seth Mnookin: 'There's a Huge Interest in the Media': The author of a new book about the scandals at the New York Times says that recent journalism mishaps are making consumers "much savvier about how they get their information." (Patrick Phillips, 11/12/04 , I Want Media)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A: Seth Mnookin (Mark Lewis, 11/11/04, Forbes.com)
    -INTERVIEW: Troubled Times: Seth Mnookin (Brooke Gladstone, June 6, 2003, On the Media)
    -INTERVIEW: ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: SETH MNOOKIN, MEDIA REPORTER (A.J. Daulerio, 03.04.04, The Black Table)
    -INTERVIEW: the mediabistro Q&A: Seth Mnookin, Newsweek senior writer (Media Bistro, 5/20/02)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top by Seth Mnookin (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Mark Hyman, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Julia Boorstin, MSN Money)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (STEVE ALMOND, Los Angeles Times)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (PETER GOLENBOCK, St. Petersburg Times)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Bill Reynolds, Providence Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Bob Ekstrom, Sports Fan Central)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Most Valuable Network)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Dave Studeman , Hardball Times)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (Gordon Edes, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (John C. Ensslin, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (
    -REVIEW: of Feeding the Monster (
    -REVIEW: of Hard News: : The Scandals at the New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media by Seth Mnookin (Timothy Noah, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News: Howell of pain Seth Mnookin’s book on the New York Times shows how an editor’s narcissism nearly destroyed the world’s greatest newspaper (DAN KENNEDY, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Jack Shafer, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (William Powers, New York)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Michael Getler, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES : for Hard News (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Nicholas Fonseca, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Scott McLemee)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (John Giuffo, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Hard News (Rita Radostitz, Etude)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ARTICLE: Regrets for Theo? (David Lefort, November 15, 2005, Boston.com)

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