Jonnes, Jill 1952-
Jonnes, Jill 1952-
Surname is pronounced "Jones"; born April 5, 1952, in Bern, Switzerland; American citizen born abroad; daughter of Lloyd (an epigrapher) and Marilyn Jonnes; married Christopher A. Ross (a scientist and physician), December 26, 1980. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1974; Columbia University, M.S., 1977; Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D., 1992.
Journalist and writer. Record (newspaper), Troy, NY, journalist, 1975-76; Record (newspaper), Hackensack, NJ, journalist, 1977-79; freelance writer, 1979—.
National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, for Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams.
We're Still Here: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of the South Bronx, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1986, 2nd edition published as South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City, Fordham University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributing editor of Baltimore magazine, 1985—.
Journalist Jill Jonnes has written about American society from various perspectives. Her first book, We're Still Here: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of the South Bronx, documents the fall and rise of one of the worst areas of urban blight in modern times. As she once told CA: "I have always been an American but lived overseas because of my father's career with the U.S. State Department. The South Bronx was justly famous as the most devastated urban area ever destroyed during peacetime. As a journalist I thought the story of how this happened would be fascinating. The Bronx was a perfect slice of urban America with all its worst problems concentrated and magnified."
While doing research on the South Bronx, Jonnes was struck by the devastating impact of street drugs in the area. The subject of drugs became the focus of her second book, Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs. The book traces the history of three distinct waves of drug use: patent medicines in the nineteenth century; marijuana, heroin, and psychedelic drugs from the 1950s through the 1970s; and cocaine and crack in the 1990s. As Jonnes indicates, she believed at first that legalization of street drugs would help solve drug abuse problems; after researching the book, however, she was convinced that "no society can afford to be conciliatory on drugs."
The book generated significant attention and discussion. Dan Baum in the Washington Post Book World commented that it "lays down some hard truths" about the relationship between drug availability and addiction, and the relative danger of drugs compared to alcohol. Reason contributor Jacob Sullum, however, disputed Jonnes's "hackneyed, simplistic policy recommendations," and criticized her tendency in the book to generalize about all addicts in harshly negative terms. Many reviewers, though, saw the book in a more positive light. A Publishers Weekly contributor called it a "sweeping, highly colorful, riveting narrative" that "culminates with a compelling argument against legalization or decriminalization." Joseph A. Califano in America proclaimed the book "a classic, as fine a history of America's experience with illegal drugs as we are likely to see and a delight to read. The author writes with such pace and excitement that you cannot wait to find out what's on the next page." In the Johns Hopkins Magazine, Dale Keiger appreciated Jonnes's attention to the middle-class origins of today's drug problems, pointing out that she "is tough on the baby-boom generation" and that she "draws a direct line of responsibility from white middle-class marijuana smokers of the 1960s to the Colombian cocaine cartels." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, hailed Jonnes as a "consummate researcher." Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams was named one of Booklist's Editors' Choice books for 1996.
In Fame at Last: Who Was Who according to the New York Times Obituaries, Jonnes and coauthor John C. Ball examine that newspaper's obituaries from 1993 to 1999. According to Mike Albo in Salon.com, the emerging patterns are not surprising: "Men predominate, minorities are marginalized, the rich are prevalent." Jonnes's and Ball's "Overall Apex of Fame," which includes the twenty-eight longest obituaries they studied, is headed by Richard M. Nixon, followed by Frank Sinatra. Others whose deaths were chronicled in the Times include the inventors of kitty litter and of Day-Glo, the creator of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, and the founder of the Women's Professional Surfing Association. Critical opinion of the book was mixed. Albo suggested that the topic offered rich opportunities that Jonnes and Ball failed to exploit. They do not "cheekily poke fun, examine the history of obituaries or shed light on the power structures that might reveal what's behind the Times' selections," he noted. "Nor do they even consider the nature of our desperate fascination with fame." Baltimore City Paper writer Loren Glass, however, found the study insightful and well-researched. A contributor to Publishers Weekly deemed the book an "absorbing study of what constitutes success and fame in the United States."
Jonnes turns her writing skills to a more positive topic with Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. In her book, the author discusses the early study and development of electricity and then the process of how electricity was established as a vital utility throughout the country. Writing in Booklist, Gavin Quinn called Empires of Light "a very accessible and informative historical account." Discover contributor Joseph D'Agnese referred to the book as "a meticulously researched narrative in which famous people go baying after an elusive goal."
In Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, the author tells the story of the construction of New York City's famed railroad station. The author, who relies greatly on the archive of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Harrisburg for her story, describes how Alexander Cassatt, who was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, first envisioned the project. She then goes on to detail the many obstacles that had to be overcome before the project was completed, not the least of which included political machinations. In a review of Conquering Gotham in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor wrote that the author's "elegy to a mighty engineering feat is clearly reported and populated with a well-delineated cast of robber barons, heroic builders and a few crooks sporting handlebar mustaches." Lawrence R. Maxted, writing in the Library Journal, called the book "a well-researched and fast-paced history."
Jonnes told CA: "I have spent my life in cities and find them endlessly interesting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Jonnes, Jill, Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
America, April 26, 1997, Joseph A. Califano, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs, p. 27.
Booklist, July, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 1784; June 1, 2003, Gavin Quinn, review of Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, p. 1719; March 1, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, p. 48.
Discover, August, 2003, Joseph D'Agnese, review of "Singe the Body Electric: Dead Dogs and Dirty Tricks Laid the Foundation for a Wired Nation," review of Empires of Light, p. 77.
Economist, April 14, 2007, "Big Man Belittled; American Railways," review of Conquering Gotham, p. 95.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2004, David Hochfelder, review of Empires of Light, p. 51.
Johns Hopkins Magazine, June, 1996, Dale Keiger, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams.
Journal of American History, March, 1997, John C. Burnham, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 1493.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Empires of Light, p. 790; February 1, 2007, review of Conquering Gotham, p. 112.
Library Journal, March 1, 1986, Kevin M. Rosswurm, review of We're Still Here: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of the South Bronx, p. 87; August, 1996, Suzanne W. Wood, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 96; February 15, 2007, Lawrence R. Maxted, review of Conquering Gotham, p. 132.
New York Observer, April 23, 2007, Adelle Waldman, "The Lost City under Penn Station," review of Conquering Gotham.
New York Post, April 22, 2007, Julia Vitullo Martin, "If You Build It," review of Conquering Gotham.
New York Times Book Review, February 16, 1986, review of We're Still Here, p. 25.
Philadelphia Enquirer, June 19, 2007, Edward Colimore, "Historian Digs up Tale of a Tunnel Dreamer" (review of Conquering Gotham).
Publishers Weekly, January 3, 1986, review of We're Still Here, p. 44; June 10, 1996, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 78; October 16, 2000, review of Fame at Last: Who Was Who according to the New York Times Obituaries, p. 57; May 5, 2003, review of Empires of Light, p. 206; February 19, 2007, review of Conquering Gotham, p. 160.
Reason, July, 1997, Jacob Sullum, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 60.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 8, 2007, Jonathan Kelly, review of Conquering Gotham.
Washington Monthly, October, 1996, David C. Morrison, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 53.
Washington Post Book World, August 18, 1996, Dan Baum, review of Hep-cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams, p. 6.
Baltimore City Paper,http://www.citypaper.com/2000/ (August 30, 2001), Loren Glass, review of Fame at Last.
Jill Jonnes Home Page,http://www.conqueringgotham.com or http://empiresoflight.com (September 7, 2007).
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/books/ (November 29, 2000), Mike Albo, review of Fame at Last.