Century, Douglas 1964-
Century, Douglas 1964-
Born May 5, 1964. Education: Attended Princeton University.
Toni Morrison, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1994.
Street Kingdom: Five Years inside the Franklin Avenue Posse, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Rick Cowan) Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafia Empire, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Barney Ross, Nextbook/Schocken (New York, NY), 2006.
(With William Queen) Armed and Dangerous: The Hunt for One of America's Most Wanted Criminals, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
A contributing editor to the New York Times, Douglas Century is the author of nonfiction books dealing in subject matter from literary criticism to organized crime to boxing. His first work, Toni Morrison, is a literary biography chronicling the life and achievements of this Nobel Prize-winning African American writer. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman praised the "simple, direct style" in this "excellent literary biography." Rochman further noted the welcome inclusion of a "discussion of each of her novels."
Century leaves literary biography behind for another sort of biographical work in his 1999 Street Kingdom: Five Years inside the Franklin Avenue Posse. After a 1992 chance meeting with rapper and gang member Big K at a New York club, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Century paid a visit to K two years later. The infamous rapper was being held in jail while waiting to go to trial on criminal charges. The unlikely duo formed a wary friendship that slowly allowed the reporter into the world of Brooklyn gangs. Educated at Princeton and of Jewish extraction, Century was the complete antithesis of the gang members, but he was permitted to have access to and interview various members of the Franklin Avenue Posse over the course of several years. Century's narrative explores the background of Big K, including his childhood growing up in Brooklyn, as well as the 1980s when his gang, the Franklin Avenue Posse, became something of a legend in Crown Heights not only for their drug dealing, but also for their extreme violence. "The result is a fascinating look at gangs and rap music," wrote Booklist contributor Vanessa Bush. Less enthusiastic was the assessment of New York Observer contributor Francine Prose, who felt that Century's book "serves as a cautionary example of high energy and good intentions colliding head-on with modest reportorial, psychological and organizational skills." Prose went on to term the work a "sincere but muddled account of the writer's intense, unsettling friendship with a rapper."
In Barney Ross, Century finds more fertile ground, a biography of a man many feel to be one of the best boxers of the twentieth century. A Publishers Weekly contributor termed this a "powerful account" of the life and achievements of the Jewish boxer, who grew up in Chicago's Maxwell Street ghetto during the early decades of the twentieth century. Born in 1909 as Dov-Ber Rasofsky, the future fighter was the son of a Talmudic scholar. The family came to the United States in 1903, and despite family pressures against violence, Dov-Ber became a street tough in the rough-and-ready world of the South Side of Chicago. While only a teenager Dov-Ber, or Beryl, as his family called him, witnessed his father's murder during a botched robbery at his shop, and by age fifteen he was boxing and had changed his name to Barney Ross. Not yet out of his twenties, Ross was celebrated as a champion of lightweight, junior-welterweight, and welterweight classes. At age thirty-three, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ross volunteered for the Marines and distinguished himself in the fighting at Guadalcanal, for which he won a Silver Star. His fame as a war hero in the Pacific theater was almost as great as it was as a boxer: candy bars and bubble gum were named after him, and Hollywood sought to make a movie of his life. He also helped to raise funds for the new state of Israel and was involved in gunrunning to deliver arms to the beleaguered Israelis. However, drugs and gambling plagued his later life, and he died of cancer at age fifty-seven. Today, Ross is almost forgotten outside of the circles of boxing aficionados.
Century's book on Ross won widespread critical approval. Washington Post Book World critic Jonathan Yardley called it a "brief but informative biography," while New York Times Book Review writer Bert Randolph Sugar found it "an excellent story of a man and his times." Sugar went on to observe, "In a sport devoted to fashioning halos for its superstars, Ross wore a special nimbus, and this book properly fits him for that." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic called the same work a "moving biography" and a "strikingly researched work that's rich with perspective on Jews in America." And Maurice Wohlgelernter, writing in Midstream, concluded, "One needn't be a follower of the fight game, or an admirer of a famous pugilist, or even respectful of a brave army sergeant, to appreciate this fascinating biography by Douglas Century of a troubled soul in action."
Century has also teamed up with former law enforcement officers to write two nonfiction works. Working with former New York City undercover policeman Rick Cowan, he wrote Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafia Empire. The book details Cowan's infiltration of a New York Mafia network, which led to the dissolution of the gang's garbage cartel. Writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Mike Cochran dubbed Takedown the "riveting story of [Cowan's] three years as a wire-wearing counterfeit ‘capo.’" Working with former federal agent William Queen, Century also wrote the 2007 Armed and Dangerous: The Hunt for One of America's Most Wanted Criminals, which tells of Queen's search for Mark Stephens, "a gun-crazy renegade holed up in a mountaintop hideaway," as a Kirkus Reviews critic described the criminal. The same reviewer also noted, "Century helps keep the narrative rolling toward a finale sure to ratchet up readers' anxiety levels." After tracking Stephens—a gunman, drug trafficker, and survivalist—Queen was able to take the man into custody, though through a plea bargain Stephens managed to get off with only five years in prison. A Publishers Weekly contributor found fault with the substance of the book, noting that even though the search for Stephens occurred for all the right reasons, "the story is too slight to sustain even a brief book." The same reviewer found padded writing in Queen's interactions with his superiors and further complained of an "anticlimactic conclusion." However, writing in Booklist, Mike Tribby found more to like in Armed and Dangerous, dubbing it a "ripping good manhunt saga, detailed and suspenseful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, spring, 2006, Bert Randolph Sugar, review of Barney Ross, p. 47.
Black Issues Book Review, September, 1999, review of Street Kingdom: Five Years inside the Franklin Avenue Posse, p. 33.
Booklist, September 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Toni Morrison, p. 32; January 1, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Street Kingdom, p. 802; July 1, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of Armed and Dangerous: The Hunt for One of America's Most Wanted Criminals, p. 11; October 15, 2007, Mike Tribby, review of Armed and Dangerous, p. 88.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX), February 10, 2003, review of Takedown: The Fall of the Last Mafia Empire.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2005, review of Barney Ross, p. 1218; June 1, 2007, review of Armed and Dangerous.
Maclean's, August 19, 2002, review of Street Kingdom, p. 52.
Midstream, January-February, 2007, Maurice Wohlgelernter, review of Barney Ross, p. 36.
New Yorker, February 22, 1999, review of Street Kingdom, p. 172.
New York Observer, January 31, 1999, Francine Prose, review of Street Kingdom.
New York Times Book Review, February 19, 2006, Bert Randolph Sugar, review of Barney Ross, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1998, review of Street Kingdom, p. 55; November 14, 2005, review of Barney Ross, p. 54; May 21, 2007, review of Armed and Dangerous, p. 48.
School Library Journal, July, 1994, Valerie Childress, review of Toni Morrison, p. 120; September, 1999, Jane Drabkin, review of Street Kingdom, p. 246.
Trends in Organized Crime, spring, 2002, Michael P. Brown, review of Takedown, p. 88.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1994, review of Toni Morrison, p. 164.
Washington Post Book World, January 17, 2006, Jonathan Yardley, review of Barney Ross, p. C3.
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