The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs


Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell. Random House. $45.

New Yorkers love their dogs, but don’t we all. This colorful mosaic brings together some of the iconic magazine’s best writers in a wise, warm and compassionate mix of tributes to man’s best friend.

If you’ve never been to New York, just try to envision the authors’ vivid characterizations of the city’s neighborhoods, parks and work places. If you’ve visited, loved or worked there, you’ll savor the features, poems, cartoons, cover art, photos, illustrations and drafts from the publication’s archives. There are 18 reproduction covers featuring dogs from 1933 to present.

The beguiling essays, many of which go far beyond New York City, are organized by Good Dogs, Bad Dogs, Top Dogs and Underdogs and touch on a such a wide array of subjects as love, bereavement, evolution, law enforcement, family, obedience and much more from a roster of impressive contributors that includes Roger Angell, James Thurber, Roald Dahl, A.J. Liebling, Arthur Miller, Ogden Nash, John Updike and E.B. White.

It goes without saying the hefty 400-page volume is quite a reading experience, accented with terrific passages and one that is best digested in bits and pieces. Selected entries range over several decades, and backdrop far before that, as Adam Gopnik writes in “Dog Story,” that “Darwinism begins with dogs via selected selective breeding and the species evolvement from wolves.”

Working dogs, show dogs and family pets are captured in this colorful mosaic where metaphors, irony and attitude are unleashed where there are plenty of contrasting writing styles and full diet of Thurber and Susan Orlean showcased.

Memorable passages abound. For instance:

Marjorie Garber, in “Dog Days” (1996):

“Whether leashed or unleashed in life, the dog roams at large in our cultural imagination. An abandoned dog can break our hearts in ways that human strays all too often no longer do.”

“If the dog brings back the fifties in a miniaturized form, it’s because the dog is what we would like to have been to our parents: totally lovable, totally loved.”

Cathleen Schine, in “Dog Trouble” (2004):

“I don’t know the names of our neighbors but I know the names of their dogs.”

Angelica Gibbs in “Down the Leash” (1951):

Describing the matriarch of dog training in the U.S. Blanche Sanders, “It is generally conceded that she is the fortunate possessor of what those in the know refer to as ‘dog hands.’ This attribute, they say is a matter of rapport, which as the late Josef Weber, of Princeton, N.J., one of the most noted of all German-born trainers in this country said . . . ‘It yoost goes down the leash.’ ”

Jeffrey Toobin, in “Rich Bitch” (2008):

Detailing famed New York hotel queen and tabloids target Leona Helmsley, who was viewed as a tyrant by many who knew her, and undoubtedly a heroine by Trouble, her Maltese which she bequeathed a $12 million trust fund, “Helmsley’s relationship with dogs reflected some of the distemper of her dealings with humans.”

“ ‘What is funny about giving all this money to one dog is that it doesn’t deal with the fact that the dog is going to be sad that Leona died,’ Elizabeth Harman, who teaches philosophy at Princeton said. ‘What would make this dog happy is for a loving family to take it in. The dog doesn’t want the money. The money will just make everyone who deals with the dog strange.’ ”

“The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs” serves up a wide array of colorful, vibrant storytelling while deftly balancing frustration and fascination. Across a broad landscape, you’ll find plenty of nourishing nuggets of wisdom and dozens of colorful characters, too.