Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers – Stephen Shames and Bobby Seale

ShamesIn his renowned book titled ‘Revolutionary Suicide’, Huey P. Newton (1942-1989) began by saying “the first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man”. The prophetic words are haunting for many members and affiliates of the Black Panther Party met untimely deaths or were forced to flee the United States and live in exile. However, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense became part of history and when Bobby Seale and Newton created the organization in 1966, the created something that changed the way Black Americans viewed themselves. The image that comes to mind when one speaks of the Panthers are young black men with leather jackets and rifles. But behind the imposing public facade, the Panthers were brilliant community organizers and had a vision for Black Americans that could have changed the United States. Photographer Stephen Shames began to cover Panther rallies and eventually followed their progression. This book, co-authored with Seale, gives former members of the party a platform to explain their actions and decisions, in a time when America was amid social upheaval.

Instead of a standard account of the party’s creation, rise and demise, the authors here present a collection of interviews that touch on all aspects of the party’s existence. And to my surprise, I learned a few things I did not previously know. The beauty in the book is that readers can see the passion and hard work behind the scenes that motivated the Panthers to help the community. Party members were surely a mixed bag of characters, but at its core, the group and its affiliated chapters were committed to uplifting Black Americans and helping them to become self-sufficient so that they too could live the American dream. But what stood out to me nearly immediately was the age of the members. In fact, Ericka Huggins explains that: “one thing that people don’t understand about the Black Panther Party is that the median age of a party member in 1969 was nineteen years old“. Today we would say they were just kids but in 1966, those kids became adults and were determined to make their mark.

Readers familiar with the history of the party will know of the free-breakfast program which incredibly was deemed a threat by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) director J. Edgar Hoover (1924-1972). It is no secret that Hoover feared and loathed civil rights organizations whom he felt had “communist” influence. And the introduction of the infamous COINTEL program succeeded in breaking up the Panthers but at an inflated cost to the FBI and Hoover’s image in later years. But as I read the book, I was curious about other programs that Panthers initiated not just in Oakland, California, but across America. What I learned was impressive and surprising. One event that stands out is that shortly before his death, Fred Hampton (1948-1969) had reached an agreement with Jeff Fort, leader of the Black P. Stones gang in Chicago that would have struck fear in Washington, D.C. But due to Hampton’s assassination on December 4, 1969, the agreement died out. These events were recreated in the 2021 film ‘Judas and the Black Messiah‘, starring Daniel Kaluuyah as Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal (1949-1990), the FBI informant who played a crucial role in Hampton’s demise. As the book progressed, it became even clearer to me why the Panthers were feared. It was not so much due to the presence of firearms but rather the knowledge and pride being instilled in Black Americans which was sorely needed following the murder of Malcolm X (1925-1965). Seale himself has said that had Malcolm not been murdered, the Black Panther Party would have never been created.

Eventually, the party began to disintegrate under the strain of infiltration by FBI informants which instilled paranoia and distrust among party members. The fallout is discussed by the participants, but the book is not an examination of why the party failed. It is chiefly a collection of memories, both good and bad. Among the more tragic parts is the death of George Jackson (1941-1971) on August 21, 1971, while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. The book ends before Newtown’s own death in 1989 but there is a discussion of the Panthers’ legacy and the situation in America which should be of concern to everyone regardless of their background. The Panthers no longer exist as the group they were once known as, but their presence and importance cannot be overlooked. And contained within this book are voices from the people that were there, risking their lives to give all power to the people.


Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineering – Paige Bowers and David Montague

MontagueA friend once asked me why I loved history. I replied that there was always something to learn and that the history we learn in school is a fraction of the information that can be found regarding humanity’s evolution. When I saw the title of this book, I paused instantly and decided to investigate further. A brief synopsis on Amazon told me what I needed to know: there was an important story within that I did not previously know. My intuition was correct, and I felt a sense of shame at not knowing who the late Raye Montague (1935-2018) was and what she accomplished during her time working for the U.S. Government.  This book by Paige Owens and Montague’s son David, sets the record straight and ensures that her story will never be lost to history.

The story begins in Arkansas where Raye is born during the dark Jim Crow era in America. The descriptions of life for blacks in the South are exactly what you would expect to find of that era. And reading what life was like in America is still disturbing. But it is also a testament to the strength to be found in the people who moved forward in life despite their difficult origins. Montague’s story is typical for a Black American at that time, but it changes when she goes to work for Uncle Sam. She found herself in a brand-new environment with a young son she was raising as a single mother. Her trials and tribulations in the dating and marriage markets are discussed throughout the story and what we learn is surreal. But Montague never lets her personal life interfere with her professional life, and even goes to extreme lengths to keep her career going. However, she had to confront two obstacles in the forms of racism and sexism. As a black woman, she stepped into a world dominated by white men. And though she lacked the training they had been afforded, she learned on the job and by chance, is given an opportunity to work on the computers when the main engineers are unavailable. Her supervisor took notice and her life changed permanently.

To say that she accomplished incredible feats would be an understatement. Frankly, she embodies the concept of determination. And her uncanny intelligence is on full display and what she accomplished is amazing. Some of her awards are mentioned as the story progresses but after the book’s conclusion, a full list of her awards is provided, along with photos of Montague and her family. She was nothing short of brilliant. Yet despite her talent, knowledge, and ability to socialize anywhere, opposition to her advancement remained an issue throughout her entire career. She speaks frankly on the issues in the story but never speaks ill of anyone. I am sure she kept many grievances close to the chest as we say, but never lost sight of her goal to be the best engineer in her department. She reached that goal when she generated the first computer designed blueprint for a United States Naval vessel.

There are both antagonists and protagonists in the book. Her guardian angel comes in the form of Wallace “Wally” Dietrich whose guidance helps push her career forward. But there were also detractors, surprised to see a black woman as a peer. But to be fair, there are no acts of violence towards her, and she did form close relationships with co-workers both black and white. And through her hard work and perseverance, she was opening doors for women following her lead. Her personal struggles are the dark side of the book, and I could not believe what she went through in multiple marriages. But her son David was always her priority and she never wavered in making sure he was well taken care of. Today he continues to keep his mother’s legacy alive.

After I finished the book, I took a moment to think about everything I read. And I realized that this book is a perfect example of why history is important. The adage is true; if we want to know where we are going, we must know from where we came.

“I was put here for a reason,” she said. “That reason is to open doors for other people.” – Raye Montague

ASIN:‎ B085175PYS

The War State: The Cold War Origins of the Military Industrial Complex and the Power Elite – Michael Swanson

SwansonOn January 17, 1961, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) gave his farewell address to the nation as it prepared to inaugurate the incoming president, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). During his address, Eisenhower warned of the “military industrial complex” and its influence over foreign policy. Four years later, America was on the path to war in Vietnam. Following World War II, the world felt relieved as the fighting ended and the planet began the lengthy process of rebuilding what had been lost. But what was not seen at the time publicly, were the growing hostilities between Washington and Moscow which began to form the nexus of the Cold War. But an important question is why did the Cold War take place? While it is true that it was not a traditional war in that troops were on the ground fighting, the world came close to the brink of nuclear war and had those weapons been used, I might not be sitting here today writing this blog post. Today, the United States military is both feared and admired, and the national defense budget for the year 2023 stands at eight hundred eight-six billion dollars. The figure is shocking, but it was not always this way. In fact, the national defense budget was far smaller as presidents sought to reduce military spending and focus on other domestic programs. But at some point, that changed and the money going towards America’s defense took on a life of its own. Author Michael Swanson explains the reasons why in this book that explores the Cold War’s origins, the military industrial complex and the powerful figures behind the scenes that influenced Capitol Hill and the White House as America locked it sights on the Soviet Union and exerting the United States’ influence around the world.

The author provides a primer early in the book to set the stage for the coming discussion, focusing on the financial costs of both World War I and World War II. While reading this section, I made note of a fact he provides about the collection of income tax that will surprise readers. As the second world war raged, American officials were eager to bring the war to a conclusion and prevent more casualties. Their wishes were granted in the form of two bombs that mankind had never seen before. But there were also other effects of the bomb that did not relate directly to its ability to cause destruction. In Moscow, all eyes focused on Japan as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) knew that things between the two nations had changed forever. As Swanson puts it:

“The detonation of the atomic bomb on Japan marked the beginning of the Cold War, because it posed an existential threat to the Soviet Union.”

In America, the Soviet Union was also seen as an existential threat to the nation’s safety. However, the country lacked an effective method of gathering intelligence. That all changed during the administration of Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), informally known as the “accidental president”. Truman held concerns about a Soviet arms buildup and knew that it would increase its weapons arsenal. He had to act and approved two key events that changed American foreign policy permanently. On September 18, 1947, Truman signed into law the National Security Act which paved the way for the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”). But he was not done there and as relayed by the author:

“Harry Truman ordered a reappraisal of national security policy. Completed on April 14, 1950, this report, titled National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68), became one of the most important documents of the Cold War. It set the stage for a massive arms race and advocated intervention throughout the entire world.”

Frankly, the arms race was on, and every president after Truman would have to fight elements within their own government as fears of a “Red invasion” and “nuclear holocaust” spread across America. Radicals in the American government were convinced that there was a “missile gap” and that more weapons were needed. As Eisenhower enters the story, the pace of the book picks up due to the Cold War becoming a reality. In fact, the conflict forms the bulk of the book which finishes before the debacle in Vietnam. Eisenhower was a famed Allied commander during World War II and seen behind the scenes as an effective leader who preferred to move in silence when possible. But he was not naive to the growing influence of the military and powerful figures in Washington who wanted America to flex its military muscle. Today it seems surreal, but it is important to remember that during this time, there were people who deeply believed a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet Union was warranted and that war would eventually come no matter what. Eerily, they accepted the fact that millions of people in both countries would perish in less than an hour during a nuclear exchange. The unbelievable story is told here again, and readers will shake their heads in disbelief. But the story reaches an even higher level of insanity when America elected its first Irish-Catholic president.

John F. Kennedy remains highly popular to this day although he only served one thousand days in office before his murder in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. But during his time in office, multiple crisis brought the United States and Soviet Union close to all-out war. He had inherited the Cold War and a Russian adversary named Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). And the pawn in the chess match between America and the Soviet Union was the small island of Cuba which came close to being the starting point for the next world war. Swanson revisits the two events that placed everyone on high alert:  The Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Readers familiar with both will read this section slightly faster but as someone who had read multiple books on the subject, Swanson version is also good. In fact, I found it to be a very condensed version that is easy to follow without reducing the suspense needed to convey the seriousness surrounding both historical events. As for Kennedy and Khruschev, both men found themselves in a similar position within their governments and shared the same vision for peace. However, both also had to contend with the fact that hardliners in their governments were eager for conflict and might go to any lengths to make it a reality. The author’s discussion of the final weekend in October 1962 will show the concern on both sides about a coup to remove people from positions of power. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and nuclear war did not happen. But in Washington, that was not enough for the military industrial complex, and Southeast Asia was placed on its radar. Kennedy died before finalizing his plans for Indochina but his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) made it clear that he would not reduce America’s presence and by the time the war ended in 1975, fifty-eight thousand American troops died in Vietnam. But that is a story for another time and another book.

Readers may be tempted to wonder why this story is important today if the Cold War is over. Well, the reason is that defense spending has never been reduced and continues to increase. But we must ask why? Which nation is an existential threat to America today? This section by Swanson towards the end of the book sums up the thinking that almost caused a third world war with nuclear weapons perfectly:

“In the 1950s, air force General Curtis LeMay said he had the ability to order SAC bombers to attack the Soviet Union and destroy all of its war-making capabilities “without losing a man to their defenses.” Americans were completely safe, but they lived in constant fear.”

The past is always prologue, and though the Soviet Union no longer exist, the ideological differences between Russia and America remain. But peace should be the goal and there is enough room on the planet for us all if we place value on our lives which are not guaranteed. This is a good discussion about American history and the dark directions the nation took under misguided fanatical warriors who warmly embraced what could have been Armageddon.

“Cold War? Hell, it was a hot war!” – Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) (The Fog of War, Sony Pictures 2003)


Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope – Albert Woodfox

AlbertThe late rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur (1971-1996) soberly noted that prison kills one’s spirit. Each day becomes a repeat of the day before with instructions from guards and strictly observed times for each day’s events. Shakur served eight months in 1995 being bailed out while his conviction was on appeal. Tragically, he died on September 13, 1996, without the appeal having been decided. His story is unique but there are millions of others who are still in prison, serving extensive sentences in some of the country’s most dangerous facilities. Albert Woodfox (1947-2022) was one of those people, having served forty years in prison with most of the time served at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola also known as “the Farm”.  Woodfox’s story stands out because he not only served four decades but spent that time in solitary confinement for crimes he did not commit. This is the story of his life and time behind bars as he put his criminal past behind him and transformed himself into a civil rights activist and advocate for prison reform. 

The story begins in Louisiana where Woodfox was born to a mother who could not read and write, and a father who did not stay around to raise his son. But his mother meets another man who becomes his stepfather and fills the void left by his biological father. However, the happy family did not last, and a series of events fractured the once happy household, changing the lives of everyone for good. And it is not long before Woodfox begins his career on the street with drugs and petty crimes which result in early yet short prison sentences. But ironically, the crime that sends him to Angola was not one he was a participant in. Despite his conviction, he should have only served a few years there before being released. But that all changed on April 17, 1972, when corrections officer Brent Miller was stabbed to death. Woodfox did not know it at the time, but the murder of this guard would be the catalyst for keeping him behind bars for forty years. 

Miller’s murder is terrible, and readers should be aware that his last moments were nothing short of horrific. Woodfox becomes an immediate suspect due to his clashes with prison officials over living conditions. Even before Miller’s death, Woodfox was on the warden’s radar and the reasons for this will shock readers and force them to question whether prison is truly for rehabilitation. The conditions he describes are inhumane, but Angola has always had a reputation for being a place you do not want to go to. Despite knowing this, I still found myself aghast at what I was reading. Admittedly, when I read that Miller had been attacked, I did not think Woodfox was responsible. In fact, he was the last person I suspected. For him to murder Miller would have been completely insane due to his high profile and the fact that he had never met the guard. But there is far more to the story that will leave readers shaking their heads and questioning the criminal justice system. 

The saying a “jury of your peers” is supposed to carry significant weight but as can be seen in the book, for Woodfox and others accused of Miller’s murder, the State of Louisiana had other ideas. And we cannot overlook the issue of race which plays heavily in the events that follow. Woodfox had turned to the teachings of the Black Panther Party during his incarceration and had come to understand how his life was affected by the lack of a stable home. But that did not deter him from helping other inmates change their lives. Further, he speaks on a topic that will be upsetting to some readers and that is the dehumanizing experience of sexual assault. If there are any doubts that incarceration destroys what is left of someone, Woodfox removes it here. Frankly, what he describes is out of control but flourished with the knowledge and cooperation of guards whose goal was to break each man down to a shadow of his former self. But as the author explains, he refused to be broken and along with others committed to their cause, remained strong in the face of unrelenting racial hostility and pressure from prison officials. 

Unbelievably, Woodfox was convicted of Miller’s murder with two co-defendants. As someone who works in the legal field, I could not believe my eyes. To say that the investigation into Miller’s death was “sub-par” would be an understatement. In fact, there was hardly any investigation, and the real murderer never paid for the crime. Officials had who they wanted to be convicted and they succeeded. But, over time the story falls apart and attracts the attention of people outside the Angola becoming aware of the horrors the prison system inflicts on inmates. And even those who initially believed in Woodfox’s guilt, change their opinion after learning the truth about Miller’s murder. The efforts of his supporters were not in vain, and he does get a new trial but is convicted again for Miller’s murder. But the way the trial is conducted and the ways in which the prosecutors present their case is absolutely infuriating. Yet Woodfox remains unbroken. But that is not to say he didn’t suffer emotionally as well. He openly discusses his frustrations and the impact on his mental health from the deaths of loved ones he could not be with in their last moments. 

While Woodfox is focused on maintaining his sanity behind bars, outside of Angola interest in his case increases. He and his two co-defendants, Robert King, and Herman Wallace, become known as the Angola 3. King was released 2001 after accepting a plea deal which is explained in the book and Wallace died in 2013. I must warn readers that Wallace’s story is tough to read and the way the State of Louisiana treated this man even at the end of his time in Angola is surreal. Following his release, King becomes the spokesman for Woodfox’s release and the movement to change Angola. The author receives a guardian angel in the form of former U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana Judge James J. Brady (1944-2017) whose commitment to the law provides hope for Woodfox to keep his faith. This part of the story is interesting because we are witnesses to the legal battles between Brady and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, each wrestling with the questions of Habeas Corpus, cruel and unusual punishment, and Woodfox’s right to fair trial. But in the background is the book’s antagonist, former Louisiana Attorney General James D. Caldwell, also known as Buddy Caldwell. His actions towards Woodfox are disheartening. Woodfox was eventually released but not in the way he would have preferred. However, it brought an end of over forty years of confinement, and he was able to live out his days free from Angola. Sadly, in August 2022, Woodfox became another victim of the Covid-19 virus and passed away at the age of seventy-five. He is now gone but this story will live forever and remind us of the horrors of solitary confinement, prosecutorial misconduct, racial injustice, and the tolls they take on one’s physical and mental health. 

“My fear was not of death itself, but a death without meaning.” —Huey Newton (1942-1989)


The Trafficantes, Godfathers from Tampa, Florida: The Mafia, the CIA and the JFK Assassination – Ron Chepesiuk


The official story put forth by the Warren Commission is that President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) who fired three shots from the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. However, Oswald’s guilt has long been in doubt and in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations found a “probable conspiracy” in Kennedy’s murder. Some believe that the conspirators included members of the Italian American Mafia, notably mob bosses Santo Trafficante, Jr. (1914-1987) of Florida and Carlos Marcello (1910-1993) of New Orleans, Louisiana. We know for certain that Oswald was at the Book Depository as the assassination happened. However, events that played out following the shooting in Dealey Plaza indicated a darker and more sinister climate of danger that awaited Kennedy as he stepped off Air Force One at Love Field that morning. It is no secret that mobsters were not fans of Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1929-1968). But did the mob have the power to kill the president? Author Ron Chepesiuk explores this question and more in this short book about the Trafficante family and the role the mob may have played in Kennedy’s death.

Believers of the lone gunman theory will not entertain any theories about the mob, CIA, or others. And for good reason. If we do believe the mob was involved, then a conspiracy exists. However, the mob did have motive, and that aspect is addressed in the book. But before we get to the Kennedy assassination, the author primes us with background information on Trafficante and his father Santo Trafficante, Sr. (1886-1954) who were the undisputed rulers of the Tampa underworld. The book is not an extensive biography of the father or son but provides basic information to understand who they were. But what is of more interest are the connections between them and other underworld figures, and this is where the plot thickens.

Because the book is short, there is a lot of information that is highly condensed. Readers may benefit from other material on the Kennedy assassination, and I always recommend the late Jim Maars’ (1943-2017) ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘ which provides a thorough analysis of the shooting in Dealey Plaza, the death of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (1924-1963) and numerous other components of the crime that will send chills down your spine.  Chepesiuk’s story is solely on the Mafia, but he does mention other players when necessary.  However, the story here remains centered around the Trafficantes, Marcello and the nexus of underworld crime figures who welded power in America. There are no “smoking guns”, but I did notice that anyone expected to appear before the House Select Committee on Assassinations seemed to meet a sudden death. Appearances are made in the story by Chicago mobster Salvatore “Sam” Giacana (1908-1975) and mobster Johnny Roselli (1905-1976). Their stories are surreal, especially Giancana’s direct link to Kennedy.

It is impossible to discuss the mob’s anger at Kennedy without acknowledging the impact of former Cuban President Fidel Castro (1926-2016). Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the Mafia had turned Cuba into a cash machine and playground for Americans looking for a quick getaway to have fun. Former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) had allowed the mob open reign but on January 1, 1959, that all changed as Castro marched triumphantly down the streets of Havana. Mobsters who had the means to do so, left as soon as they could. But Trafficante Jr. had an interesting experience in Cuba which I had forgotten about. It is telling of what Castro through of the mob and sets the stage for the future alliance between the CIA, Mafia, and disgruntled Cuban exiles. Castro was serious and the only way the mob could enjoy Cuba was if the bearded leader were gone. This is the beginning of a dark rabbit hole which we cannot go into here. But the author gives us an idea of the sinister partnerships that existed for “mutual benefit”.

There is one more section of the book I want to address, as no discussion of Kennedy’s murder can be held without addressing the dark presence of Jack Ruby (1911-1967), whose actions that weekend following the assassination were strange to say the least. The Warren Commission insisted that Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. But is that the truth? As seen in the book there is compelling evidence that they did know each other, and I recommend readers watch the documentary ‘Rush to Judgment‘ by the late Mark Lane (1924-2016) who published the book of the same name.  Ruby’s mob connections cannot be ignored, and the author weaves them into the story at hand showing that powerful figures were watching Oswald.

The truth about Kennedy’s murder may never be known. And if it is, maybe not in my lifetime as author Anthony Summers says in his book regarding the murder.  Thousands of pages of records are still classified, and as time passes, those with knowledge of what did happen will pass on taking what they know with them to the grave. But I do believe that we have enough information to know that Oswald was only a small piece in a larger puzzle. The mob certainly wanted Kennedy gone and benefited from his death. It had the money and power, but to a certain extent. Removing a president from office is a concerted effort dependent on compartmentalization, a concept the Mafia knew well. The list of Kennedy’s enemies was long, and his death was nothing short of regime change. The mob was only one enemy, and its role is still up for debate. But what Chepesiuk shows is that the mob had a personal stake in seeing Kennedy eliminated. For a good understanding of the powerful crime figures who had turned sour on Kennedy, this is an informative read.


Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War -Steve Inskeep


If you live in San Francisco or have visited the “City by the Bay”, I believe you will agree that views of the Golden Gate Bridge are nothing short of breathtaking. It is an iconic structure that is easily recognized as a symbol of the Golden State. But I confess that I never asked myself where the name Golden Gate came from. Two weeks about, this recommendation showed up in my feed. I did not know who John Charles Frémont (1813-1890) nor his wife Jessie Ann Benton Frémont (1824-1902). But the title of the book caught my attention, and I knew I had to make the purchase.  And having finished the book, I can say that not only was it a fulfilling read but also a story I should have learned years ago. In this informative and eye-opening book, author Steve Inskeep takes up back in time when America was still a young nation embracing expansionism into parts unknown and the life story an accomplished yet tragic explorer whose actions and experiences helped to write new chapters in the history of the United States.

Naturally, I wondered why I had never heard of John Frémont and his journeys west. I had a sobering realization that there is a great deal of American history that remains to be told.  John is the pivotal figure in the book and Inskeep provides an early recap of his early life and that of his wife Jessie, whose father, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) plays a significant role in both of their lives as the story progresses. Story picks up in pace as John begins the first of several expeditions that changed his life and the United States. Readers will take notice of the extensive periods of time that pass between the times John and Jessie are together. It may be hard for young readers to envision but in an era before modern forms of communication, letters were the only option. Frankly, there are parts of the story in which Jessie does not know where her husband is. We do as readers but putting myself in her place helped me to understand how rough life was in the early 1800s. Further, the extensive journeys are not for the faint at heart, as Inskeep shows with his descriptions of the harsh condition faced by Fremont and his parties. Adding to the suspense is the fact that Frémont was venturing into territory that did not belong to the United States. The stakes are high, not just for John but for others, including the famous Kit Carson (1809-1868) whose friendship with Frémont is on display as the two venture further west confronting the elements and the unknown.  Their excursions did not go unnoticed and as White American explorers continued to move west, tensions increased with Native Americans and Mexico who claimed a majority of what is today the State of California, igniting a major conflict which the author revisits to examine Frémont’s role. At home was Jessie, but as we learn in the book, she was not the type of woman to sit still and has her journey from start to finish which is also of interest for its moments of grief and reunions with John who she never ceased to love.  It can be argued that Jessie could have become a celebrity “First Lady” had Frémont been elected.

The annexation of territory outside of America’s border was ugly and the author does not hide this fact. The Mexican American War was a turning point in North American history and by its end, California’s fate had been changed permanently. Frémont has a significant role on the side of the United States, yet comically, he finds himself the target of military justice upon the war’s conclusion which saw him appointed as the first Governor of California. But U.S. President James K. Polk (1795-1849) who valued the officer’s successes and talents. Others also took notice, including a group of politicians who had recently formed the Republican Party. Running heavily on the platform against the expansion of slavery and if possible, its elimination, the Republicans struck fear across the South where slavery was a way of life. And it is this part of the book that explains the author’s contention that the Frémonts helped cause the American Civil War.

Of course, Frémont was not the proximate cause of the conflict but the expanding union which began to include more slavery-free states, raised eyebrows in the South. Surprisingly, I was not aware that Frémont was the first Republican candidate for president. The incredible story is contained here, and it is a valuable history lesson. Following Frémont’s rise to fame, his star slowly fades away as a new candidate named Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) rises in the Republican Party and captures the White House in 1860. The South had already been on edge due to the Republican’s support for the abolition of slavery or the stop of its expansion. But a major trigger for the coming war can be found in how the Republicans won the election. This alone should have been a warning to the South that a conflict with the North would never be quick and easy. Sadly, the war did come and though Frémont was in Europe for a time, upon returning to America he suited up again for the Union Army as America was at war with itself.  The Confederacy eventually suffered defeat but for Frémont, he would never again have the fame he once had. And before Lincoln’s assassination, the two clashed over Frémont’s fiercely independent nature. The details are within and caused me to ponder if Frémont carried bitterness toward Lincoln for becoming president. Inskeep does not explore that idea and it is up to readers to draw their own conclusions. The latter part of his life is uneventful but also heartbreaking for we see a man who is restless and in need of action true to his character. There is no happy conclusion for Frémont nor for Jessie. But unlike her husband, she made the best of her later years, and even published several books during her lifetime. John’s final days are sad, but he did live a life full of incredible experiences that are part of America’s legacy. And any time I visit San Francisco, I will stand at the Golden Gate with an understanding of how and why it all came to be.


The Big Heist: The Real Story of the Lufthansa Heist, the Mafia, and Murder – Anthony M. DeStefano

LufthansaDuring a recent discussion with a friend, he confessed to being unaware that the airport robbery referenced in the 1990 Warner Bros. film ‘Goodfellas‘, was about the infamous heist at the Lufthansa cargo terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 11, 1978. The thieves made off with an estimated $5.875 million dollars in currency and jewelry. To this day, the stolen goods have never been recovered.  The heist and the loot were tightly controlled by Lucchese Family associate James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke (1931-1996), portrayed on screen by Robert DeNiro. The character in the film is cold and calculating but pales in comparison to the real-life mobster whose penchant for murder scared even the most hardened gangsters. Burke died in prison in 1996 while serving time for unrelated crimes and was never convicted for his role in the heist. However, a surviving mobster from the crew at Robert’s Lounge, Vincent Asaro, was tried and acquitted in 2015 for his alleged role in the crime.  In 2017 he was tried and convicted in a separate case which involved a vehicle being set on fire. However, he is currently a free man, having been released due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and deteriorating health. The other major participants in the crime are all deceased leaving Asaro as the last man standing. But, if he did take part in the crime, why is he never mentioned in the film? And what exactly happened that night at JFK when Burke’s crew pulled off the infamous heist?

Anthony DeStefano takes another look at the Lufthansa Heist and the failed attempt to convict Asaro, to break down the series of events that led up to the heist, and the real-life stories of the people in the mafia underworld.  I did see some reviews on Amazon which pointed out that the book is average. And while I can say that there are no “smoking guns”, where the book does excel is helping the reader and fans of the film to understand the gangsters who were part of Burke’s crew and the world, they operated in.  This book fills in some gaps in the story known because of the film. Most significant is the murder of Paul Katz on December 6, 1969. This crime is not mentioned in the film, and I previously was not aware of the full story. Further, the criminal histories of both Burke and Lucchese Family mobster Paul Vario (1914-1988), who is known as Paul Cicero in the film. The late Paul Sorvino (1939-2022) was excellent as Vario, but the real-life gangster could be far deadlier than the on-screen version. His story, as told here, might shock readers. And even Hill benefited from the charisma of Ray Liotta (1954-2022) who presents a deeply flawed character that is also likeable in the film. The real-life Hill was nowhere near as smooth as the man we see on screen. But the movie was right in showing that Hill did not take part in the robbery. However, he was entrenched in the planning and execution. And for reasons that may be lost to history, he survived a killing spree in which Burke removed connections that could landed him behind bars for the Lufthansa Heist.

While watching the film, it is easy to like some of the characters. But make no mistake, the real mobsters at Robert’s Lounge, who also spent time at Hill’s bar, The Suite, were hard core criminals with drug habits, gambling addictions, violent streaks, and limited formal education. The streets are where they plied their trade, and Kennedy Airport was their playground. In fact, the film only captures a small part of the hijacking aspect. And for the first time here, I learned more of Thomas DeSimone’s (1950-1979) criminal history.  He is named Thomas DeVito in the film and played by the iconic Joe Pesci. Hill said that the portrayal was about 95% accurate, but again, the real-life Tommy was far more ruthless than what is shown in the film. But what is constant both here and, in the film, is that Tommy was a loose cannon. And the section in the book regarding his demise reveals yet another fact left out of the film. There is far more to Tommy’s story than is covered here, and there are dozens of videos online that address the real story behind Goodfellas. However, DeStefano provides intriguing information.

Admittedly, the story does move around a little between Asaro, Burke and Robert’s Lounge’s crew. But towards the end, DeStefano ties it all together as the trial comes into focus and a forty-year-old crime comes back to life. I cannot say I was surprised by the acquittal, but I do think the trial revealed crucial facts about the Lucchese Family’s inner workings that will cause moviegoers to re-think how they see the film. To be fair, Martin Scorsese made an incredible film, and it is extremely accurate. However, there are noticeable changes with the script that omit key events that would have explained some of the scenes in the film. Nevertheless, the movie is considered a masterpiece, and rightfully so.  It remains a favorite in my collection. But when we take a closer look at the ‘Goodfellas’ story, the glamour comes off, revealing a murky world full of deceit, greed, and violence.  If you liked the movie and are interested in the back story of Henry Hill and his co-conspirators, this is an informative read.

““When I met Jimmy Burke in 1964, he practically owned New York’s Kennedy Airport. If you ask me, they named the place after the wrong Irishman.” – Henry Hill (1943-2012)


Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam – Fredrik Logevall

LoevallOur resistance will be long and painful, but whatever the sacrifices, however long the struggle, we shall fight to the end, until Vietnam is fully independent and reunified. ” – Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969)

On March 29, 1973, the last American military unit left Vietnam as the war between the United States and North Vietnamese army moved towards its dramatic conclusion. For the first time, America had failed to reach its objective and suffered over fifty-eight thousand casualties. Vietnamese losses were counted at over two million and the nation also faced the challenging task of rebuilding its cities and villages. Millions of veterans on both sides faced a difficult journey as they rebuilt their lives upon return to civilian life. Ho Chih Minh, who died before the war’s conclusion, was vindicated in his belief that Vietnam would one day be reunited. In retrospect, we are faced with the question, why did the Vietnam War take place? Fredrik Logevall, author of JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century (1917-1956), tells the story of the French defeat and how that loss shaped the future conflict between Washington and Hanoi.

Readers should be aware that this book is lengthy, with slightly over nine hundred pages of text. But contained within these pages is the story I should have learned in school. Regarding the Vietnam War, it is accepted that the conflict began with the events in the Gulf of Tonkin between August 2-4, 1965.  However, America’s role in Indochina has a long and complicated history as the author shows here. To set the stage, the author revisits World War II and the Allied effort. This is critical because that conflict changed the world and gave way to future wars in Korea and later Vietnam. The Japanese defeat left a power vacuum which Ho Chih Minh and the Indochinese Communist Party (“ICP”) capitalized on. The ICP was later dissolved in November 1945 after the founding of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam.  France was alarmed at Hanoi’s actions and embarked on a campaign to reassert its influence over Indochina. Logevall brings the past roaring to life in this account that highlights the early success and the failures that resulted in defeat. But before we reach the conclusive battle at Dien Bien Phu, we must first understand how and why France failed to recapture Vietnam in the First Indochina War (1946-1954).

The story as told by Logevall is filled with critical recreations of the moments that shaped French policy for better and worse. And as the story develops, it becomes clear that the Vietnamese would seek independence at all costs. There were those in France determined to see Ho Chih Minh fail and were willing to look past the ideology that filled the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese.  Curiously, Washington was also watching Indochina closely without taking any direct action. Agents of the Office of Strategic Services (“OSS”) were aware of the doom Vietnam spelled for any country who entered militarily. One of its operatives, A. Peter Dewey (1916-1945), whose story is told here, became an early casualty in a bitter struggle between Western Democracy and Eastern Communist beliefs. Dewey saw the writing on the wall and attempted to sound the alarm. Another OSS officer, Archimedes Patti (1913-1998), also sounded the alarm and takes a significant step in alerting Washington that may have changed history had it been responded to. As I read the story, I could see that experienced officers and politicians knew that Vietnam was a disaster, and the French were going to fail. One of these people was a young politician named John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) who later as president, inherited the Indochina problem from his predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969). Kennedy appears sporadically throughout the book, and before he is elected to office in 1960.  Eisenhower receives more of the spotlight after taking reigns from Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) whose stance of Indochina remains firmly in place long after his departure early in the story.

As the French and Vietnamese engage in heavy combat, Washington chooses it side and throws it support behind the French. However, the involvement of the United States remains limited and a premonition of how the later battle between American personnel and North Vietnam played out. But the French do have success in the book which had the North Vietnamese on the defensive. The battlefield scenes are on display and the author takes us through them as history plays itself out before the reader’s eyes.  But what the French did not expect is the assistance to Ho Chih Minh by the man who is credited with the French defeat: Võ Nguyên Giáp (1911-2013).  The role of this strategist deeply trusted by Ho Chih Minh should not be overlooked.  His decisions and actions helped to seal France’s fate and the incredible story is told in all the dramatic detail by Logevall who has a knack for adding the right amount of suspense as the story flows. And like the first volume of his biography of Kennedy, the story here flows easily as well, and kept me engaged from start to finish.

It is imperative to keep in mind that the events taking place in the book occur over a period of nine years from 1946 to 1954.  A swift defeat did not happen for reasons explained by the author and the turning tide of French opinion towards Vietnam should have raised alarm bells everywhere including in Washington.  But the truth is that Vietnam was an extension of the Cold War and the obsession with Communist expansion.  The Soviet Union and Chinese Communist Party are also part of the story, and the Korean War is addressed. But despite fears, neither country entered the conflict to fight the French. But they did provide support for North Vietnam in other ways. In the South, the situation is far from ideal, and this is another aspect of the Vietnam War that is critical to the debacle that ensued. Throughout the story, it is apparent to scores of people that South Vietnam lacked a stable government. The decision to install Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963) and his brother as the leaders of South Vietnam was doomed from the start and the tense relationship between Diem and Washington never reached a level where he could completely rely on Washington. And nor did Washington have unwavering faith in the brothers who held on to power only through America’s support. Readers may be wondering how those in power missed so many signs that showed Vietnam would be a terrible mistake. There are reasons not discussed in the book, but the short answer is profit and horrible foreign policy. Even as French losses mounted, Washington continued to increase spending. But it was not enough to stop the final French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Two years later in 1956, the last French troops withdrew ending France’s involvement with its former possession. But the story was far from over. Ho Chih Minh and his administration had succeeded in removing the French, but they knew that America was lurking in the distance. During his exit speech, Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex. Vietnam was undoubtedly on his mind. Detractors will point out that he did not stop or reverse involvement of the United States. Between 1954 and 1964 tensions continued to mount and unification remained the goal of the North. Diem became increasingly unpopular in the South, setting the stage for the Second Indochina War (1955-1795).

The actions by Diem are shocking and horrifying and will cause readers to recoil in shock. Opposition continued to grow, and the warning signs were plenty that the Diem regime would collapse at some point in time. But he continued to receive support even as it became clear that the South could not stand on its own. Communist infiltration and disgruntled factions in the South had increased the threat around the Diem regime.  Nevertheless, Washington had committed to supporting Diem based on the “Domino Theory” which never did pan out. The paranoia about communist expansion applied blinders to the eyes of policy makers and it was decided that Vietnam could not fall. However, they failed to see that the fall had already taken place and the North Vietnamese Army would never surrender. By the time Washington understood this, thousands of American troops died on battlefields across Vietnam and unrest at home plagued two presidents to whom Vietnam became a source of embarrassment and consternation.  America eventually did get out of Vietnam but with damage done to its reputation and generations of people both domestic and abroad scarred for life with memories of warfare. The French experience had provided the necessary blueprint, but it is true that those who do not study their history are doomed to repeat it. This is the story of the French defeat in Vietnam and the beginning of America’s involvement in the most unpopular war it has ever fought. Highly recommended.


Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff – Stephen Dando-Collins

I am consistently amazed to learn history that is not taught in classrooms. I do not always question why but acknowledge that topics my teachers discussed were sometimes lacking in detail through no fault of their own. In fact, much of what we learn in life takes place outside of the classroom. That applies here to this book that examines the annexation of Hawaii in 1893.  The State became a hotbed topic during the 2008 Presidential Election due to it being the birthplace of Democratic nominee Barack H. Obama. Conspiracy theories ran amuck, and the consensus was that Hawaii was not legally United States Territory and thus the candidate should not have been elected to office.  The reality is that Hawaii was officially declared a state in 1959, two years before Obama was born. However, the story of Hawaii is one of intrigue, heartbreak and unofficial foreign policy that serves as an eerie premonition of future actions abroad by the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).

When I saw the cover of the book, my interest peaked but I quickly realized that I did not have solid understanding of how Hawaii came into possession by the United States.  I knew the only thing to do was start reading. And I soon learned that the author had a significant story awaiting readers.  The book begins with a fascinating history of Hawaii itself, focusing on the Polynesian roots of its inhabitants and the society they created which would be upended by the arrival of unfamiliar faces. The arrival of European explorers marked the first stage in the downfall of the monarchy that ruled Hawaiian society.  But what Americans might not know be aware of is the role of the British in Hawaii’s history. This part of the story is interesting and raises the question of what if America had followed Britain’s example. As the story moves forward, the monarchy which had regained control over the Hawaii, changes leadership multiple times and the arrival of foreign businessmen brings trouble to the doorstep of the last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917).  Surprisingly, it is easy to overlook that Hawaii was not a target of the United States Government. In fact, the White House had no official policy of annexation. But there were individuals in the government who had their eyes set on the islands.  The author explains that,

“As far back as 1853, US Secretary of State William Learned Marcy had said of the Hawaiian Islands, ‘It seems to be inevitable that they must come under the control of this government.”

The events that transpire in the book, which are re-created with exceptional detail, highlight the covert operation in place that is carried out with unbelievable gall. However, the road to overthrowing the Queen was not without its issues which the author also points out. Eventually the Queen’s overthrow comes into focus and how it plays out is surreal.  The title says, “with a bluff”. It most certainly was, and the fact that it succeeded left me speechless. However, the blame for the coup should also be placed on those within the monarchy who failed the Queen and others who failed to take action that would have derailed the conspirators’ plans. Back in Washington, President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) soon realizes what has happened in Hawaii and its implications for U.S. foreign policy. The dramatic fallout is captured including Cleveland’s own struggles with a financial panic and divided Congress. Despite strong annexation sentiment, there were officials in Washington deeply concerned about what happened. The seriousness of the plotters’ actions should not be overlooked. In fact, Congress did get involved and we learn that:

‘James Blount had found that Queen Liliuokalani had been overthrown as the result of a conspiracy between US ambassador John L. Stevens and the members of the Committee of Safety, and that Captain Wiltse had landed US forces in Hawaii with the intention of influencing the outcome of the coup staged by the annexationists against the legitimate and lawful Hawaiian Government.’ 

But the plotters were not about to let Hawaii go and used any opportunity to their advantage to keep possession of Hawaii, including stalling tactics. To their surprise, the native people did not give in easily and did take a stand, however, in the end, Hawaii’s fate had been sealed. A bloodless coup had been executed and the people of Hawaii would never go back to their ancestral ways. And if there was any hope of as last-minute reprieve by Washington, this act put the final nail in that coffin:

“The joint resolution for the annexation of Hawaii passed the Senate on June 15, and the House on July 6. On July 7, 1898, President McKinley signed into law the Newlands Joint Resolution for the annexation of Hawaii.”

And with that, the history of Hawaii was changed for good. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii was admitted to the Union as the 50th State, marking the end of the road that the annexation faction had envisioned in 1893. But they could never erase the dark history that came with annexation which the author here has exhaustively researched and presented for our understanding and education. This is the history you may not learn in school, but it is a part of American history every citizen should know. The amount of detail is extensive, but the book is an excellent account of a pivotal moment in world history. Hawaii may be the site today of military bases and vacation resorts, but the islands also contain an ancient history that is sacred and important.


JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century (1917-1956) – Fredrik Logevall

20230304_180326“Never be without a book in your hand”. Those words, spoken by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) to his youngest sibling, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009) stayed with me after finishing this Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece biography by Fredrik Logevall. As I read those words, I pictured bibliophiles all over nodding their heads in agreement. At the age of forty-six, John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet in an act that changed America. The hopes and promise of significant changed died with him in Dallas, Texas on November 22,1963.  And though his successor Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was successful in pushing forward groundbreaking legislation, the wound from Kennedy’s murder was destined to never heal.  As someone who has read countless books on his assassination and incredible life, I had a firm grasp on the Kennedy story before starting this book. However, there were parts of Kennedy’s story I learned for the first time. But more importantly, I witnessed a young man coming of age in the century that saw profound change across the globe.

This November will mark sixty years since Kennedy’s sudden death, yet he remains one of the most popular politicians in history.  His legacy is complex with successes and failures. The world came to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962 but was resolved without a weapons exchange to the relief of all. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a nightmare but not without its warnings. But those events await readers in volume two. Had Kennedy secured a second term, I believe he would have been able to accomplish more of the goals he envisioned for the nation. And the key to understanding why his death was so devastating is to find out how who he was as a person and what shaped his views of the world. Logevall begins as expected with a short biography of the Kennedy and Fitzgerald families, and their roots in Ireland. After the marriage of former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969) and Rose Fitzgerald (1890-1995), the story picks up in pace as the Kennedy children begin to arrive.  Joe Jr. (1915-1944) arrives first and becomes the son chosen for the dreams Joe Sr. has of a Kennedy in the White House. Jack arrives next and from their childhood to their service in World War II, they maintain a rivalry that may surprise readers. In fact, Logevall sheds light on a plausible reason for the final mission Joe Jr. embarked on that claimed his life. Next in line is Rosemary (1918-2005) whom author Kate Clifford Larson `called “the Hidden Kennedy Daughter” in her book of the same title.  She is followed by Kathleen, who is known affectionately as “Kick” and her closeness to Jack should not be underestimated. The author highlights the importance of Kick in his and the impact of her death at the age of twenty-eight. In short order siblings Eunice, Pat, Bobby, Jean, and Ted arrive and the Kennedy story is never the same again.

Kennedy’s story is well-known, but there are key elements which I believe Logevall expertly homed in on that sets this biography apart from others.  The sibling rivalry with Joe Jr. is interesting because not only is it filled with ironies but because each son was unique, though they did complement each other.  Joe’s physical abilities contrasted with Jack’s intellect, but both excelled in many ways.  When Joe Sr. is appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the family’s life changes significantly and Jack’s exposure to the world takes shape, and until the day he died, never lost touch with events around the globe. The list of countries he visited even before serving in the military is staggering. From an early age, it is clear in the book that Jack had his eyes and ears glued to the world around him and was not content to sit still.  However, the Kennedy story was nearly cut short multiple times as Jack found himself at death’s door.  Logevall revisits the episodes in which Jack’s health took turns for the worst and the young man who later became president nearly met the Grim Reaper. Jack’s famous humor is on display throughout the book, and in one instance where he learns about his own health status and refers himself as “2000 to go Kennedy”.  There is one revelation in the book that caught me off guard but looking back, I can say that I should not have been surprised. This health issue would come back to haunt him later in life but played no part in his demise.

In 1939, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) set his sights on dominating the European continent and on September 1 of that year, the Third Reich’s armed forces invaded Poland, and ignited World War II.  Joe Sr. was widely known to be an isolationist and that view contrasted with his son Jack, whose travels abroad and extensive knowledge of history had shown him that Hitler had to be stopped and America could not avoid getting involved forever.  After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the fates of Joe Jr. and Jack were sealed but by the war’s end, Joe Sr.’s plans for his children’s lives had been unexpectedly altered. Jack, and not Joe, would become the Kennedy who took the family to new heights. And to reach those heights, his father instinctively tapped into Jack’s service record and heroic actions after his PT-109 cruiser was destroyed by a Japanese naval vessel. It is an incredible story and almost unbelievable, but Kennedy had earned his stripes and returned home a war hero. Joe Jr. was not so lucky and the murky details about his death are cleared up by the author.

Following Jack’s service, he returns home and begins his journey in the world of politics. Logevall also refutes the idea that Joe Sr. pushed his kids into public office.  In fact, Jack was acutely aware of politics and had his own ambitions. But before he reaches the Senate, the Kennedy family is forced to confront more heartache as the lives of Kick and Rosemary take sharp turns. Without dwelling too much on the circumstances, Logevall explains both events with the right amount of detail to explain what happened and how the family reacted. Kick was the sibling that resembled Jack the closest in spirit and her defiance directly challenged Rose’s puritanical views.  And her choices in men push Rose to the brink and readers will be surprised the family’s response to her passing in 1948.  All of this was not lost on Jack, who confronts his own mortality throughout the book.

Towards the end of the story, Jack’s future wife Jacqueline Bouvier (1929-1994) (“Jackie”) enters the story but the two do not immediately become an item. In fact, there were maneuvers behind the scenes to bring them together and the author shows, and after they do become a couple, issues remain due to a notorious habit of Jack’s which serves as the “elephant in the room” in the book.  Kennedy was widely known for his romances and affairs after marrying Jackie. Personally, I did not pay much attention to the women he had romances with, though I knew of the stories beforehand.  As a young attractive bachelor with money, I am sure Kennedy had his pick of women, but I also had to remember that his roving eye was no secret.  However, after marrying Jackie, it was disheartening to see that his philandering did not slow down. His father had his own affairs, and it was something that Jack may have normalized. Or it might have been a side effect of the treatment plan for his medical condition which was carefully kept a secret from the public as he ran for office.  And at times, he does show an aloofness to his actions, including his habits of not keeping cash at hand and leaving his places of residency is disarray. But if everyone knew about Jack’s ways, then why did women flock to him? The answer is found in Logevall’s biography, which shows that there was no one like him and he was one of a kind.  His uncanny ability to absorb knowledge (enhanced by learning how to speed read) set him apart from peers. And by the time he enters the Senate, his core support unit of Irishmen is formed, and they supported Jack all the way until the last visit to Dallas.  People loved Jack, and women loved him more, and he knew how to reach people. And that is a recurring theme throughout the book. He came of age and was destined to make his mark on the world. His college thesis “Why England Slept‘ still holds a place in World War II literature and a place on my bookshelf.

In the Senate, Jack makes friends from both sides of the aisle, including a young politician from California named Richard Nixon (1913-1994) whom he later faces in the first televised presidential debate during the 1960 election campaign. But that is for the second part of the biography. Here, Jack’s eye is on the 1956 Vice-President nomination, but he finds himself up against fierce and seasoned competition in former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) and Senator Estes Kefauver (1903-1963). And though he did not secure the nomination, a star had been born. The electricity surrounding the Democratic convention can be felt as the author replays the buildup to the climactic moment when the crowd shows it support for the upstart Kennedy. Logevall closes the book out with Jack ready for the future and the years 1957-1963 will bring a whole new set of challenges in his life and his own demise. But I am sure Logevall will tell that story as beautifully as he told this one which was written in a style that did not require any significant notetaking. The story flows so smoothly and is so interesting that I was able to retain what I read with ease. Following Jack was a breeze, and I am ready to see where he goes next.

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0812997131
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0812997132