In reading Irwin Shaw's Five Decades, a huge book of sixty-three of his best tales, in 756 pages of small type, written between the Great Depression years and his death, the only thing that an impartial reader can come away with is Shaw's consistent excellence in the field. Although having gotten his start, and made his name in the pages of The New Yorker magazine, I can tell you his tales hold up better socially and artistically than far more lauded New Yorker writers like O'Hara, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Alice Adams, John Updike, or Ann Beattie. The earliest tales, especially, with only the omission of a few definitive words that reference their era, could have been written yesterday, and are almost as minimalist as they are realist. And there is little fat in Shaw's tales- they are lean with the rat-a-tat-tat staccato of their sentence's construction, and their poetry comes not from a strained contrivance of clichés, but the juxtaposition (often jarring) of the most common of things, phrases, and moments. Even though most of the stories, especially the early ones, are set in a New York City milieu, and reflect the accents and slang thereof, Shaw powerfully captures the realistic dialogue of the masses like few other writers ever have- perhaps, of published short story writers I've read, only Russia's Anton Chekhov comes close, and even he tended to lean a bit more on allegory rather than the offhanded poesy that comes in real spoken dialogue, and can best be pared down by the good ear of a good writer. Not even Eugene O'Neill, at his best, could capture the American idiom as well, and perhaps only Clifford Odets did- and it's worth noting Shaw started out as a playwright....The stories are so well-wrought with the trimness of necessity, and possess a grit and realism that Ernest Hemingway could never equal, even in the best of his hit and miss tales- and are just as poetic, if not more, and certainly more consistently poetic, with the poetry of concision in the construction, not the mere phrasing. Again, look how inherently straightforward sentences like, `He couldn't remember having had a nicer day,', `Michael watched her walk, thinking, what a pretty girl, what nice legs,', and `You must be very careful in a strange city,' seem, yet how poetic they become by their mere placement. Shaw does this over and over again in these tales, which is a feat that writers like John O'Hara, or J.D. Salinger, his contemporaries, at their best, could never do with any consistency. Yes, some of his later tales are too long, but never ungodly in length, and they never become as airy as the lesser tales of many far more lauded writers in the Pantheon do. I urge any reader who wants to be entertained or enlightened, and also learn a good deal of what America in the last century was like, to seek out the short stories of Irwin Shaw. There's no better place to start than with these Five Decades to get the whole century.