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Davidson, L. (2010). The Soloist, by Steve Lopez. Berkley Books, New York, 2008, 286 pp., $15 (paperback). J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 38(3):548-551.

(2010). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 38(3):548-551

The Soloist, by Steve Lopez. Berkley Books, New York, 2008, 286 pp., $15 (paperback)

Review by:
Leah Davidson

Edited by:
César A. Alfonso, M.D.

This book, which was also recently made into a movie, is part of a historic American tradition of socially responsible and concerned journalistic reporting. Its topic, our relationships with the mentally ill homeless, ranks among such classics as the “muckraking” reports of Lincoln Steffens and the World War II reports of Edward R. Murrow.

However, what distinguishes it and makes it unique, is the very personal and almost therapeutic desire of this journalist to identify with and perhaps to heal a very gifted and profoundly mentally ill human being.

According to the author this book began as a series of columns in the Los Angeles Times, which captured the interest of the reading public. Given the quality of his writing about talent, homelessness, and humanism, this is hardly surprising.

One critic, Buzz Bissinger, writing in praise in the frontispiece of the book has described this writing as follows: “Written with elegant sparseness there are no punches pulled in this portrait of Nathaniel Ayers, but God, do you root and hope and pray for him.”

Lopez begins his book with a description of his first encounter with Nathaniel, the homeless cellist who is playing Beethoven in downtown Los Angeles “on a battered violin that looks like it's been pulled from a dumpster.” He describes how this man dressed in rags with a shopping cart filled with grubby belongings responds to his appreciation of the music “with butterscotch eyes that warm to the compliment” from the beginning. While not hiding the fact that he may use this encounter for copy, he nevertheless enters into a much related interaction with this strange and intriguing man. “This guy could turn out to be a rare find in a city of undiscovered gems, fiddling away in the company of Beethoven. It's got potential.

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