Allow me to recommend a pair of new, wonderful local books to usher in 2019: Antero Pietila’s “The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins: The Life and Legacy that Shaped an American City” (Rowman & Littlefield) and “Eyes of Justice: A Career Crime Fighter Battles Corruption … and Blindness” (CreateSpace) by James Cabezas with Joan Jacobson.
Read Pietila’s book for the tapestry of history he weaves from the life of Hopkins the man to the enduring, powerful impact on Baltimore of the hospital and university that bear Hopkins’ name.
Many readers will recall Pietila’s previous book on Baltimore, “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City” (Ivan R. Dee), about the racial and religious biases that have afflicted the city’s real estate dealings across the 20th century.
Many other readers will recall Pietila’s byline from The Sun, where he spent 35 years covering politics, government, race relations and neighborhoods, and seven more years when he was the paper’s correspondent in South Africa and the Soviet Union.
Pietila’s a good friend, but I’ll say without compromise that in my years at The Sun, he was the best reporter we had – and the Hopkins book reflects it.
It charts the remarkable life — and previously hidden — and abundant impact that the Maryland-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) had on the city’s early days. But the book is also as immediate as this moment, linking the policies of the hospital and the university to modern racial patterns in Baltimore. It’s fascinating, page after page.
“The Eyes of Justice” is remarkable in its own way. I’ve known Cabezas since he was a street cop with the Baltimore Police Department. In the half-century I’ve been committing journalism, he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever known, and surely one of the bravest.
Afflicted with a rare optical disease that started stealing his sight when he was still a child, and forced to endure scores of operations before losing his vision entirely, Cabezas never let it interfere with his career.
When he could no longer work as a police officer, he became the chief investigator for the State Prosecutor’s office, learning specialized technology along the way and uncovering some memorable criminals.
In “Eyes of Justice,” Cabezas is assisted by Joan Jacobson, who captures Jimmy’s voice, and his story, precisely. She’s the perfect match. She spent several decades doing terrific reporting for The Evening Sun and The Sun. For years, her reporting and Cabezas’ investigating were covering the same kind of ground.
Their book is an inspiration. Jimmy Cabezas’ life is an inspiration. It’ll put your own troubles into perspective as we start a new year.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.