Coffey, Michael 1954-
COFFEY, Michael 1954-
Office—Publishers Weekly, 360 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010.
Nonfiction writer and poet. Publishers Weekly, New York, NY, senior managing editor.
Elemenopy (poems), Sun & Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1996.
(Editor) The Irish in America: A History, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
Days of Infamy: Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
Eighty-seven North (poems), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Twenty-seven Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games, Atria (New York, NY), 2004.
Michael Coffey has demonstrated his diverse talents and interests as an accomplished poet and author of nonfiction books. He is also the senior editor of Publishers Weekly, a major book trade magazine. Coffey's first published work, Elemenopy, is a volume of experimental verse that explores the meaning-making and aural properties of language. For example, the volume includes a twenty-page poem constructed out of just twenty-one words. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that Coffey's avant-garde approach, following in the tradition of Gertrude Stein and the Dadaists, produces a "certain alienation," but that the "energy" of Coffey's verse is "invigorating."
Coffey's second volume of poetry, Eighty-seven North, takes its title from the highway running from New York City to upstate New York, where Coffey grew up. Less experimental than Elemenopy, Eighty-seven North is permeated with father-son references that suggest the poet's effort to recapture and communicate the details of his youth for the benefit of his own young son. Praising the volume as "exquisitely cohesive" despite marking a stylistic break, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Coffey excels at bringing "close-to-home issues explicitly back to poetry." Library Journal reviewer Fred Muratori, on the other hand, faulted Coffey for failing to take more "idiosyncratic, associative risks."
Coffey's first nonfiction work, Days of Infamy: Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century, recounts a long list of costly strategic miscalculations and failures that have shaped the course of modern history. Produced as the companion volume to a History Channel television series on the subject, Coffey's book is organized chronologically, beginning with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (facilitated by a distracted chauffeur), which triggered the outbreak of World War I, and concluding with Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Most of the book is devoted to events that took place during the two world wars. The debacles described by Coffey range "from the nearly comic to the truly awful," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who praised the work as a compendium that "expertly informs as it artfully entertains." While noting the book's limitations as a television supplement, America reviewer William J. Bosch commended the work for presenting "well written, 'reader friendly' vignettes of fascinating mistakes, miscalculations, and blunders." Other critics, however, found the volume lacking in depth and broad historical context.
Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor concluded that the work might entertain military buffs but is "superficial as history." Likewise, Library Journal reviewer William D. Bushnell called the volume "superficial, erroneous, and somewhat revisionist," further criticizing the book for its conspicuous omissions, notably the Battle of the Somme, and for mischaracterizing political folly as military fiasco.
Coffey collaborated on another television companion volume as editor of The Irish in America: A History, which is based on a four-part Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series that aired in 1998. With text by Terry Golway and thirty essays by Irish-American writers—including Pulitzer-prize-winning memoirist Frank McCourt and novelists Mary Higgins Clark, Peter Quinn, and Pete Hamill—the book chronicles Irish immigration to the United States during the mid-nineteenth-century potato famine. Described as a "lush, beautifully illustrated volume" by Library Journal reviewer Denise J. Stankovics and a "wonderful coffee-table history" by America reviewer George W. Hunt, the book was warmly greeted by critics as a moving tribute to the Irish-American experience and their distinct cultural contribution. "The list of essay-contributors is stellar (as are the results)," wrote Hunt. Allaying suspicion that the book is merely a product of clever marketing, Booklist reviewer Patricia Monaghan called the volume "a genuinely good historical and cultural exploration."
Coffey also wrote Twenty-seven Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games. He told Publishers Weekly interviewer Jeff Zaleski that he was inspired to write the book after witnessing David Cone pitch a perfect game in 1999. Coffey, who attended the game in Yankee Stadium with his son, was dazzled by the near-magical quality of the feat, which requires that the pitcher complete nine consecutive innings without allowing a single hitter from the opposing team to reach first base. Beginning with Cy Young's perfect game in 1904 and continuing through to Cone Coffey recounts each individual game—only fourteen at the time of writing—along with discussion of the pitchers' pre-and post-perfect-game careers. Coffey also discusses the historical context of each game's occurrence. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, commended Coffey for conveying the "sense of wonder" evoked by the games. The book was praised as "marvelous" and "brilliant" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who noted "Coffey's diligent research and vivid prose." Commenting on the sport's continued ability to elicit introspection and awe, Coffey told Zaleski, "Baseball, as many writers have attested, is a sport well suited to writerly reflection.…As a game, it has a kind of perfection in its design that is a constant marvel to those who give themselves over to it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, September 20, 1997, George W. Hunt, review of The Irish in America: A History, p. 2; May 13, 2000, William J. Bosch, review of Days of Infamy: Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century, p. 27.
Booklist, October 15, 1997, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Irish in America, p. 382; August, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Days of Infamy, p. 1996; March 1, 2004, Wes Lukowsky, review of Twenty-seven Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games, p. 1121.
Library Journal, November 15, 1997, Denise J. Stankovics, review of The Irish in America, p. 65; August, 1999, William D. Bushnell, review of Days of Infamy, p. 111.
Publishers Weekly, December 8, 1995, review of Elemenopy, p. 51; September 1, 1997, review of The Irish in America, p. 84; July 26, 1999, review of Days of Infamy, p. 74; August 9, 1999, review of Days of Infamy, p. 234; August 26, 1999, review of Eighty-seven North, p. 77; February 16, 2004, review of Twenty-seven Men Out, p. 158; February 16, 2004, Jeff Zalenski, "Perfect Games in an Imperfect World" (interview), p. 158.*