With vigorous, purposeful prose and a killer knack for building suspense, Seth Mnookin (a former Newsweek media columnist) traces the systemic meltdown that brought The New York Times to its knees in May 2003. Instead of doling out Southern comfort, Alabama native Howell Raines — who began his stint as executive editor a week before 9/11 — quickly provoked staff resentment with his brusque, hard-driving style. More fatally, he missed the deception of cub reporter (and plagiarist) Jayson Blair. Mnookin crisply captures the tit-for-tat tenor of the Gray Lady’s news-room, describing how its historically significant foundation of trust was nearly obliterated by these two men from vastly different backgrounds. He doesn’t miss the gossip, either, peppering his account with dozens of tiny inter-office tiffs and angry anecdotes from past and present Times employees who remain fascinatingly optimistic about the paper’s future.