Only Love Can Break Your Heart

“With an intelligence and unsparing lucidity reminiscent of Joan Didion’s work circa Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), Mr. Samuels has written some of the best long-form literary journalism of the past decade.” —Michael Washburn, The New York Observer

Writing for Harper’s and the New Yorker over the last decade, David Samuels has penned a disillusioned love song to the often amusing and sometimes fatal American habit of self-delusion, reporting from a landscape peopled by salesmen, dreamers, radical environmentalists, suburban hip-hop stars, demolition experts, aging baseball legends, billionaire crackpots, and dog track bettors whose heartbreaking failures and occasional successes are illuminated by flashes of anger and humor.

Including profiles of Pacific Northwest radicals and Nevada nuclear test site workers alongside coverage of Pentagon press conferences and the Super Bowl in Detroit, Only Love Can Break Your Heart proves Samuels to be a wonderful inheritor of the great journalistic tradition established by Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion in the 1960s. This first collection of his painstakingly reported and wildly inventive writing reveals the full spectrum of his talents, as well as an unusual sensitivity to both the tragic and comic dissonances bubbling up from the gap between the American promise of endless nirvana and the lives of ordinary citizens who struggle to live out their dreams.


“A tribute to the twin American traditions of self-invention and self-deceit. . . . The portraits that emerge are exhaustive and often severe, but there is something delicate in Samuels’s method. In his stories the random flow of events takes on real meaning, allowing us to see what’s hidden in plain view and to hear what isn’t being said”
—Jascha Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review
“From his disillusioned take on the greedy capitalism marring Woodstock ‘99 to the colorful profiles of a rag-tag group of radicals from Eugene, Oregon, Samuels is acutely aware of the chasm between idealistic aspirations and more mundane reality. He alternates between social critiques, such as his touching depiction of the sad-eyed customers of a dog-track betting operation in Florida or his hard-hitting profiles of the workers who handled nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site, to more personal pieces on how his peers’ search for connection manifests itself through career ambition, anti-depressant medication, and musical taste. And it is in his profiles of and musings on musicians—rap producer Prince Paul, Detroit native son Stevie Wonder—that Samuels’ writing is at its richest.”
“David Samuels belongs to an increasingly rare species: journalists who can parachute into an unfamiliar corner of America, establish their bearings quickly and extract a compelling narrative at once universally recognizable and resonant with idiosyncratic particularities.. . . . Only Love Can Break Your Heart . . .is a testament to the particular pleasures and value of long-format narrative journalism.”
—Brian Sholis,Detroit Metro Times
“Behind the scenes at such places as the Sedan Crater nuclear test site; the antiglobalization Mecca of Eugene, Oregon; and Super Bowl XL with Stevie Wonder, Samuels’s reportage is at its best. He wryly flays false constructions of American reality on the right, left and places in between.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

Books by David Samuels

The Runner
A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue

David Samuels

Only Love Can Break Your Heart | The New Press


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