Improbable City of Political Wizards, Fearless Ethnics, Spectacular Aristocrats, Splendid Nobodies, and Underrated Scoundrels (1983)
In the November 2012 Columbia Journalism Review, Stefan Beck reviewed O Albany!, Kennedy’s impressionistic history of his city, 29 years after the book was published. Beck called the work “a detailed portrait of America in microcosm, and proof that a penetrating eye can turn a one-horse town into a metropolis deserving of its place in posterity … Nothing in Kennedy’s Albany is sentimentalized, trivialized, romanticized, or demonized. He confers dignity on vagrants and prostitutes without turning them into glowing unfortunates. He can mull the causes and effects of political corruption without assuming the mantle of a thundering reformer. He was, after all, a reporter before he was a novelist, and the essays in O Albany! are products of a fact-finding mission that transformed into a newspaper position and in turn into a life’s (work).”
"proof that a penetrating eye can turn a one-horse town into a metropolis deserving of its place in posterity . . ."
— Stefan Beck
“It is easy enough,” wrote Beck, “for a journalist to loathe corruption, even corruption that keeps the peace or keeps the people happy. It is harder for a novelist. The journalist Kennedy “[wrote] stories that complicated [Albany Mayor Erastus Corning’s] life. The novelist Kennedy was delighted when the Mayor approached him to collaborate on a book in which Kennedy would be able to say whatever he liked, as would Corning. The book never came to fruition, but an essay, ‘Erastus: The Million Dollar Smile,’ did. The result is an excellent example of Kennedy’s candid, psychologically astute, and above all sympathetic portraiture. The essay gets to the heart of Kennedy’s essentially novelistic journalism. Whether because he retains some vestigial sense of Original Sin, or simply because he grasps human folly, he is capable of regarding any man as an equal, a potential friend, and certainly a fascinating subject for study—no matter how wicked.”
Beck adds: “If O Albany! is a guide to a mostly vanished place, it is also a blueprint for how other fallen, forgotten cities might be reinvigorated by the right kind of attention … A book cannot save a city, but it can prove that a city is worth saving.”