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One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Cutler

    Very excited to read One Day. My husband and I have a book chapter devoted to our chance, accidental meeting while I was on a date with another man on Sunday, December 28, 1986. We announced our engagement after two dates in two days. Yes, we're still together 33 years later...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    Gene Weingarten is a master storyteller, so this book of stories—researched on a day picked out of a hat—is pure pleasure for the reader. Every moment contains a full story of the human condition, according to Weingarten, and it's just a matter of finding it and fleshing it out. How he does this is his art and brilliant writer's technique and understanding of mechanics. I first read Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize winning The Fiddler in the Subway where his introduction serves as a master class for Gene Weingarten is a master storyteller, so this book of stories—researched on a day picked out of a hat—is pure pleasure for the reader. Every moment contains a full story of the human condition, according to Weingarten, and it's just a matter of finding it and fleshing it out. How he does this is his art and brilliant writer's technique and understanding of mechanics. I first read Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize winning The Fiddler in the Subway where his introduction serves as a master class for any writer in search of a teacher. One Day features the master at work. Thank you, Mr. Weingarten!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    It's hard to beat this premise – the history of one day in recent American history, chosen through three random draws out of a hat (month, date and year) – and it's hard to beat the way Gene Weingarten executes it. The day – December 28, 1986 – is almost perfectly nondescript, as well as perfectly situated between the two worlds bifurcated by the rise of the personal computer and internet. It also helps that it takes place in the year I turned 4 years old, when I was too yoiung to remember but It's hard to beat this premise – the history of one day in recent American history, chosen through three random draws out of a hat (month, date and year) – and it's hard to beat the way Gene Weingarten executes it. The day – December 28, 1986 – is almost perfectly nondescript, as well as perfectly situated between the two worlds bifurcated by the rise of the personal computer and internet. It also helps that it takes place in the year I turned 4 years old, when I was too yoiung to remember but old enough to be influenced by the culture this book explores. And what a culture! The rise of AIDS, the seething-yet-ignored racism, the big hair, the last vestiges of kids doing whatever the hell they wanted until dinner, the days when creepers and killers could operate without international media coverage, and everyday men and women living their lives unaware of how their very way of being would be upended in less than a decade by enormous technological forces unleashed by young men with names like Gates and Jobs just then coming into their own. Weingarten distills all of this into what amounts to 18 short stories – each a separate chronicle not only of what happened at a specific time that day, but also the events leading up to it and spiraling away from it. In some cases, that involves issues as complicated as race, AIDS and politics; in others, it's as simple as a grieving father's activism or a conflicted man's decision to change his sex. His writing style is what you'd expect from an award-winning newspaper columnist. It's the easygoing, almost jocular style of the human interest writer. He knows how to spin a yarn, in other words, and how to keep the reader guessing until the last minute. That works almost all of the time; sometimes, the story is really so mundane that it can't support the tension Weingarten attempts to create, and sometimes the story is so serious and engrossing that Weingarten's informality is distracting. But overall, it's nearly perfect; any book whose basis is drawn out of a hat can't take itself too seriously, even if it's the product of six years of research. Weingarten seems to understand that, and as a result, he creates a work that's greater than the sum of its parts: a beautiful collection of stories that serve as a snapshot of an era long vanished.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Thank you to Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. DNF @ 28%. I really hate to say it, but I had to put this down. The idea was so great, but the execution was lacking. At first, I was really enjoying the writing, as it discussed a lot of topics that I'm currently learning about in school and I found that to be especially engaging. However, once that part ended I was left with disappointment. Each story became more Thank you to Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. DNF @ 28%. I really hate to say it, but I had to put this down. The idea was so great, but the execution was lacking. At first, I was really enjoying the writing, as it discussed a lot of topics that I'm currently learning about in school and I found that to be especially engaging. However, once that part ended I was left with disappointment. Each story became more boring than the previous (the first one was very strong), and while I applaud the author for putting as much time and effort into this book as he did, I don't applaud him for the oversexualized descriptions of women and some of the commentary against the validity of cultural appropriation. After both of those offenses, I decided that I couldn't continue. It's truly a shame, as I was very excited about the release of this book. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim Higgins

    Tip: This spectacular work of reporting is not a true-crime book per se, but true crime readers are going to love it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Corin

    What I liked best about this book was how it recreated a feel for the era. What I liked least was how it recreated a feel for the era. There are definitely aspects of society which have improved.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Weingarten is a journalist who came up with the idea of writing a book about a single day in America. After setting some parameters so the date was not too far in the past to find people to interview nor too recent he plucked a random day out of a hat and wound up with December 28, 1986. He then sets about telling the stories of things that happened to people on that day around the country from small personal things that changed individual lives like beating a video game to bigger things like Weingarten is a journalist who came up with the idea of writing a book about a single day in America. After setting some parameters so the date was not too far in the past to find people to interview nor too recent he plucked a random day out of a hat and wound up with December 28, 1986. He then sets about telling the stories of things that happened to people on that day around the country from small personal things that changed individual lives like beating a video game to bigger things like local murders that never made the national spotlight but no doubt had lasting impacts. Sometimes he tells the story of just what happened on that day and other times he uses it as a spring board to talk about the lives of people farther into the future and how something that happened on that day influenced where their lives ended up. Some stuff it was very obvious how he could have found the stories he pursued just by searching headlines in newspaper databases for that day. Others I'm very curious how he even found out about what he was writing about because save for one story he never tells you. It's a fascinating book and a real look at how big things are happening in people's lives every day even when they don't constitute big news events.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Penelope Zeigler

    I was horrified at this man’s depiction of domestic violence. Not one but TWO stories centered around horrible domestic violence both end in calling it a “love story” or just a case of a broken heart. I have so many things I want to say to this writer! All of the stories in this book could have been captivating but all I can think of is the two stories that read as above.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paula Lyle

    This is kind of a corny telling of one day in America. There is a lot of judgement in these tellings, which sometimes felt a little heavy-handed. Still, on the whole, an interesting book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    bet mercer

    Wow. I was hooked by the premise--choose a random day and find out what happened on it to try and answer whether there is such a thing as a normal day--and I was not disappointed. An intriguing depiction of how even a seemingly ordinary day holds moments that affect lives for years to come. Weingarten doesn't waste words, so when a story seemed to be "uneventful" I soon knew a surprise was coming. While some stories were sad, and even devastating, I was left feeling more hopeful about the Wow. I was hooked by the premise--choose a random day and find out what happened on it to try and answer whether there is such a thing as a normal day--and I was not disappointed. An intriguing depiction of how even a seemingly ordinary day holds moments that affect lives for years to come. Weingarten doesn't waste words, so when a story seemed to be "uneventful" I soon knew a surprise was coming. While some stories were sad, and even devastating, I was left feeling more hopeful about the possibilities of life and with a greater sense of appreciation about what may appear to be the mundane days of my life. Gathering, confirming, and culling the details for this book must've been daunting, but the end result is worthy of such efforts. A great book for book club discussions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Porter Sprigg

    This book is a wonderful, fascinating stunt. Weingarten picks a random date in history and researches a variety of unique stories that took place on that day. He is a masterful weaver of plot, character, and heart. Although secular in nature, the book screams of the sacred, how each moment is saturated with meaning we cannot even begin to understand. The book shows its readers that amazing stories are occurring every day, a lesson seen through the beautiful microcosm that is December 28, 1986. I This book is a wonderful, fascinating stunt. Weingarten picks a random date in history and researches a variety of unique stories that took place on that day. He is a masterful weaver of plot, character, and heart. Although secular in nature, the book screams of the sacred, how each moment is saturated with meaning we cannot even begin to understand. The book shows its readers that amazing stories are occurring every day, a lesson seen through the beautiful microcosm that is December 28, 1986. I highly recommend this book from a journalist on top of his game.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    Well, the master of American feature-writing has done it, rising to his own challenge to prove, once and for all, that's there's no such thing as an uneventful day -- even if, by bad luck of the draw, that day happens to fall in the newspaper person's dead zone between Christmas and New Year's. Gene Weingarten finds an impressive amount of totally human stories that happened on Dec. 28, 1986, and goes back and re-reports them, unveiling an astonishing amount of details. I never should have Well, the master of American feature-writing has done it, rising to his own challenge to prove, once and for all, that's there's no such thing as an uneventful day -- even if, by bad luck of the draw, that day happens to fall in the newspaper person's dead zone between Christmas and New Year's. Gene Weingarten finds an impressive amount of totally human stories that happened on Dec. 28, 1986, and goes back and re-reports them, unveiling an astonishing amount of details. I never should have doubted him, but I did. Read it and weep.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Onceinabluemoon

    I always pick up a book cold, was stunned to find out nf, love books like this, very clever to select a day in time and expand, each story had me fully focused, I love to learn, was uncomfortable at times, squeamish, involved, hated for it to end. I had to queue up at the library again for my husband, thought it was fiction and not his cup of tea, now I know my husband will enjoy this as much as I did.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gayle

    Full review at: http://www.everydayiwritethebookblog.... Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten rolled the dice in 2013 when he asked three strangers to pick three numbers out of a hat. Those three numbers would form a date, and for his next book, he would find noteworthy things that happened on that day and tell those stories. The date he ended up with? December 28, 1986. Weingarten was triply disappointed – 1986 wasn’t terribly newsy, and the 28th of December – a Sunday, ugh – fell during the Full review at: http://www.everydayiwritethebookblog.... Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten rolled the dice in 2013 when he asked three strangers to pick three numbers out of a hat. Those three numbers would form a date, and for his next book, he would find noteworthy things that happened on that day and tell those stories. The date he ended up with? December 28, 1986. Weingarten was triply disappointed – 1986 wasn’t terribly newsy, and the 28th of December – a Sunday, ugh – fell during the sleepy lull between Christmas and New Year’s. He had his work cut out for him. One Day: The Extraordinary Story Of An Ordinary 24 Hours In America is the collection of some of the stories he unearthed while researching what happened across America on December 28, 1986. There’s a wide range here – some love stories, some crime stories, a story about race relations in New York, a story about two men who died of AIDS on the same day, and many more. Most of the stories use that date as a launchpad but continue decades into the future, relating the strange and improbable turns that many of the lives took in the decades that followed. Most of the stories have some sort of a twist – the couple with the abusive husband has stayed together; the baby pulled from the burning home survived; the woman accused of killing her parents never served time. Weingarten was clearly most interested in writing about times when people beat the odds and managed to make it past that fateful day. Some chapters of One Day are more interesting than others. Looking back now, having finished the book, there are chapters that bleed into each other in my mind, and few that truly stand out as memorable. But that said, I enjoyed One Day quite a bit, and I admire the book perhaps more for what it accomplished than for the actual substance of the chapters. I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into this book – identifying stories that had their germ on that day and then tracing their resolution to determine if anyone would want to read about it, and then setting up and conducting all those interviews. Weingarten said that writing One Day took four years longer than he expected, and I can see why. If you enjoy books like A Day In The Life Of America (I was obsessed with this book as a kid), this is its prose-format cousin.

  15. 4 out of 5

    WS_BOOKCLUB

    Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It will be available on October 22nd. I was immediately drawn to the idea of this book. I love things that remind us that, although the world is big, we are all part of it and we affect each other’s lives- often in ways we never even know about. When it comes right down to it, the world isn’t as big as it often seems. We all love, fear, grieve, and hope. This books is an excellent reminder of that. At the Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It will be available on October 22nd. I was immediately drawn to the idea of this book. I love things that remind us that, although the world is big, we are all part of it and we affect each other’s lives- often in ways we never even know about. When it comes right down to it, the world isn’t as big as it often seems. We all love, fear, grieve, and hope. This books is an excellent reminder of that. At the beginning of the book, the author lamented the day that was picked. It was during what is normally a slow news week, and nothing of note was known to have happened on that day. However, as this book proved, there is no such thing as an unimportant day. This isn’t a light read. It will make you think. It will make you question every interaction you’ve had during the day. Was that smile you gave a stranger what gave them the courage to call a suicide help-line? How do “insignificant moments” affect lives down the road? We will never know what’s going on with others around us behind closed doors, what people keep private, but we aren’t islands. This book was a reminder of that. The writing was superb, the lengths the author went to in order to get first- hand accounts was astonishing, and the book was wonderful. This would make a great Christmas gift. While you’re at it, pick up a copy for yourself.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    What a great idea for a book this is. It's almost so great that the content of the book itself can hardly live up to it, but Weingarten, one of America's preeminent feature writers, comes close. The ability to seek the extraordinary in the perfectly ordinary -- "to give the mundane its beautiful due," in Updike's terms -- is really the project of any writer. Some of the vignettes are less compelling than others (the NFL instant replay chapter seemed like a reach, TBH), but the best ones will What a great idea for a book this is. It's almost so great that the content of the book itself can hardly live up to it, but Weingarten, one of America's preeminent feature writers, comes close. The ability to seek the extraordinary in the perfectly ordinary -- "to give the mundane its beautiful due," in Updike's terms -- is really the project of any writer. Some of the vignettes are less compelling than others (the NFL instant replay chapter seemed like a reach, TBH), but the best ones will linger in memory and really does prove the maxim that truth is often stranger than fiction. Definitely worth seeking out.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Hornik

    Interesting premise. Good stories, well told. Weingarten is a fantastic storyteller. I don’t feel like the book held together all that well as a long piece, even though I swallowed it up in under 36 hours. It’s more like a set of interesting retellings of a set of stories than one big story. I dunno, should this be a four? Or a three? I feel like I’m going to remember these stories, but not where I read them.

  18. 5 out of 5

    L J Ingram

    Great book! Well done with a thoughtful format considering a day-in-time. The book is well written and presents a superb assessment on the state of society. For me, recognizing the life events appearing in the book are factual, rather than fiction, proposed some periods of emotionally filled reading. This book presents the reality of life as life happens. Because of the quality of writing, the inventive format and the impact of the life events, I give this book 5 stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Roslynne Levine

    Outstanding! A great read. Interesting, inspirational, compelling stories that happened on an ordinary, random day, December 28, 1986. The research and detail that went into the book are amazing. Author, Gene Weingarten has an way of getting into the people he's writing about and revealing both their ordinariness and uniqueness. My only complaint...I wish there was more!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bamboozlepig

    Interesting premise and fairly well-written execution of said premise. The author takes a single day and shares different stories from what happened across the US on that day. Some of the vignettes were kind of boring and I skimmed them, but the ones about the different crimes on that day were interesting. It felt a little like the old Paul Harvey stories.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cynda

    2.5 These expanded news articles are interesting, well-written, and somewhat gossipy. I felt as though I were wasting time when I could be reading more entertaining, more enlightening, more thought-provoking books. Perfectly good book for reading in a doctor's office or on a bus. Perfectly good for a slight emotional reaction. Not for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elise Musicant

    While this book does not show you how one day in history shaped America, it does show you how one day in history shaped individual people’s lives. Pick a day at random on a calendar. For some, this will be a birthday, or a wedding, or an anniversary. It may be the moment they graduated or made a life altering discovery. Told in a series of vignettes, the author introduces us to people who found this date special. A few of these did seem to be stretches, or poorly fleshed out (there were only a While this book does not show you how one day in history shaped America, it does show you how one day in history shaped individual people’s lives. Pick a day at random on a calendar. For some, this will be a birthday, or a wedding, or an anniversary. It may be the moment they graduated or made a life altering discovery. Told in a series of vignettes, the author introduces us to people who found this date special. A few of these did seem to be stretches, or poorly fleshed out (there were only a few pages on a weathervane, and I wish this chapter had been left out). However, for most of the chapters, I was engaged with the people’s lives and interested to see how one date shaped their futures.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    As a loyal WaPo subscriber for 15 years, I feel like I know Gene Weingarten. Unlike his columns, he is in the background of this book, and even though many of the chapters are bleak and a few are random, I would happily read 364.25 more of these books, one for every other day of the year.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    So hard to know how to rate this book. Really stellar concept, but the execution can't live up to it. A few of the stories were really interesting and well-written. Many were kind of boring. Many were written with weird (1980s-style?) sexism and judgments from the author.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Mcbroom

    Award winning Journalist Gene Weingarten has a novel ides. He pulls out a piece of paper out of a hat with the date December 28, 1986 and travels to Small Town Americana to interview persons about what was ging on in their life. Also included are current news of that day.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    4.5 stars. Fascinating concept, clever prose.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Miller

    Amazing. My favorite of 2019.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Really enjoyed this book. Amazing all the things that can happen in a single, unassuming day.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I did not finish this book. It started off great, but soon slowed to a painful crawl. I found myself skipping many pages in a chapter, then skipping entire chapters. It just wasn’t for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Ochal

    It's a truly amazing idea. But the string of stories, without anything to relate them other than the date, started to feel stale and unrelated to me. As a result, I found it unfortunately difficult to keep reading.

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