Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

SalmIn 1955, Warner Brothers released ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ starring the late film icon James Dean (1931-1955).  And though the film cemented Dean’s legacy in Hollywood, the actor tragically died the month before the film’s release in a violent car crash while en route to Salinas, California.  In death, Dean became the poster boy for the new sense of rebellion sweeping across America.  In the film, he was joined by actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981) who played the role of Judy and Sal Mineo (1939-1976) in the role of Plato.  The film was a hit and is considered a classic.  The enormous success enhanced the careers of the three stars and Mineo quickly became one of Hollywood’s hottest new stars.  The Italian kid from the Bronx had arrived with charming good looks and acting skills to match.   For the next twenty-one years, he would leave his mark on Hollywood and television before his tragic departure on February 12, 1976.  In just thirty-seven years, he had lived what could be considered for some, a lifetime.   I knew of Mineo before reading this book but there was much about his life that I was completely unaware of.  This book came up as a recommendation and I decided to see for myself, why Mineo is still revered.

Author Michael Gregg Michaud presents the story of Mineo’s life, based on meetings with his former lovers, friends and interviews Mineo gave during his career.  The story begins in the borough of the Bronx in New York City where Salvatore, Sr. and Josephine Mineo welcome their youngest son Salvatore, Jr. into the world on January 10, 1932.  As we see in the book, from an early age Mineo was a performer and it was destined that he would later make it to Hollywood.   But before the film industry came calling, he was a young kid in an immigrant family trying to make ends meet in the city that never sleeps.  Michaud takes us back in time to the early 1930s post-depression.  The Mineo family story highlights the challenge faced by many immigrants making a life in America then and even today.  The struggles and successes of Salvatore, Sr., are a prime example of the attainability of the American Dream.   He and his wife do whatever they can for their children and Sal would need and benefit from their never ending support.

The story moves along as a typical biography until Sal is offered a role on Broadway at the age of eleven.  As the roles start to come in, the pace of the book picks up as we follow Sal along his path to stardom. Guided by his mother Josephine, he climbed up the ladder to stardom.  Michaud wisely inserts Sal’s own words which gives the appearance that he is telling the story along with Michaud.   The book does not come off as simply a collection of facts.   By the time Sal made to Hollywood, his life took twists and turns that no one could have ever anticipated.  Michaud covers it all brilliantly and tells Sal’s story in a way that keeps the pace of the book moving just right and at no point did my attention wane nor did I ever feel that Michaud had strayed off track.  The book is focused and stays on point.

One surprise that I did find in the book was the topic of Mineo’s sexuality, of which I had very little prior knowledge.   The revelations are eye-opening and even shocking considering the time period in which Mineo lived. However, he was undoubtedly a free spirit and Michaud captures it in the story.  Readers that are more on the reserved side with regards with sex might find the book a bit of challenge to read.  While there are no graphic details of sex provided, it does feature prominently as Sal matures in manhood.  The idea of normal becomes subjective and it is up to the reader form their own opinion about Sal’s adventures.  I can say that as I read the book I was reminded of the novel ‘Giovanni’s Room‘ by James Baldwin (1924-1987). The author here offers no personal opinion and rightfully remains neutral.  He is simply telling Mineo’s story and does it  showing both the star’s bright side and also his dark side.

As to be expected,  other Hollywood stars make an appearance in the book including Yul Brynner (1920-1985),  Jill Haworth (1945-2011) and Don Johnson.   The story begins in the Bronx, but as Sal moves through life, we follow him to California, France and even London as he searches for the next big project.  There are highs and lows, which show just how difficult it can be in Hollywood to stay relevant.  Michaud addresses Sal’s inability to get work through the words of those who knew Sal best and Mineo’s words on why he believed Hollywood was not knocking on his door.   Today we call it typecasting and it is a vicious cycle many actors work hard to avoid.

As we approach 1976,  you can feel that something is about to change in Sal’s life.  His casting in ‘P.S. Your Cat is Dead‘ after two prior auditions brightened his spirits. On February 12, that spirit was dimmed when the lives of Sal Mineo and Lionel Williams intersected and changed history.  Michaud discusses the crime, the investigation and the trial that followed.  However, it is not an exhausted analysis of the legal proceedings but rather a summary of what happened after Sal’s death with regards to the law and his family.   The encounters between Sal’s family and Courtney Burr are tense and telling.  Mineo was quite open about his sexuality and Burr had an intimate role in Sal’s life.  But incredibly, Mineo was never officially “out of the closet” .  And he was not the only star with a voracious sexual appetite as many of us know.  The tales of Hollywood sexual scandals are endless.  And I think back to my father who has always said “they don’t call it tinsel town for nothing son”.  Sal was free, open and lived with no regrets.  That is a lot more than many of us can say for our own lives at times.

Michael G. Michaud has written what I believe is the definitive biography of Sal Mineo.  It is an incredible story with a sad ending.   A star was taken too soon but this book ensures that along with his films and television appearances, that Sal Mineo is never forgotten.  Had he lived, we can only guess as to where his career would have taken him.  But regardless, he was and is still considered one of the greats from a pivotal time in the history of Hollywood.  He is gone but certainly not forgotten. Great book.

ASIN: B003F3PMN4

Biographies

Newman JFK Vietnam March 29, 2019, marked the forty-six anniversary of the departure of the last remaining United States troops in South Vietnam.  Two years after their departure,on April 30, 1975, Siagon fell to North Vietnamese forces as Hanoi tightened its grip around the country.  By the time the war ended, fifty-eight thousand American soldiers had lost their lives in Vietnam.  North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong losses were estimated to be well over one million.  Civilian deaths were even higher in number but despite the large numbers of casualties, North Vietnam refused to surrender and was determined to achieve reunification.  The withdrawal of American troops was a sobering reality and cold hard truth:  the American effort in Southeast Asia had not succeeded.   To this day, there are many people who still wonder how and why the United States became entangled in Vietnam.   The defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 should have served as a reminder that military might is not always a guarantee of success.  In January, 1960, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) took office and from the beginning of his administration until his death, the issue of Vietnam continued to fester like an open sore. Kennedy died before he could implement any further plans regarding Vietnam and took many secrets with him to his grave.  But declassified documents and political memoirs shed much light on what was really happening in his administration as it grappled to combat the growing Viet Cong menace.

Author John M. Newman is currently in the middle of a multi-volume set regarding Kennedy’s murder. I have reviewed three of them so far and eagerly await the publication of the next volume.  The books are incredible and the amount of information Newman provides is nothing short of staggering.  But as we see here, he a long time player in the game and in 1992, this masterpiece was released.  If you have seen the film ‘JFK’ by Oliver Stone, you will recall the scene where Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) meets the character who calls himself “X” (Donald Sutherland).   What many viewers may not know is that Newman helped Stone create those scenes.  His research served as the basis for the dialogue between the two as X enlightens Garrison to many dark secrets surrounding Kennedy’s plans on Vietnam.  The scenes are moving but do not come close to telling the entire story.  This book however, does that and more and should be on the bookshelf of any reader who has an interest in the Vietnam War and in particular, its origins.

Newman takes us back to 1961 as the Kennedy Administration is recovering in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle.  The seeds of distrust had been sown and when the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to press him on Laos, Kennedy was wise to the game.  But the generals had a backup plan and if Kennedy would not go into Laos, then Vietnam was next on the list.  However, the generals had a tough road ahead and knew that the young president would not give in easily to their demands.  As a result a pattern of deception developed and before long Kennedy and his own administration were at odds over American foreign policy in Saigon.   The depth of that deception will surely surprise many and still has me shaking my head in disbelief.   I had been aware of many facts in the book but Newman brings even more to light.

The book is exhaustively researched and the information contained within it will cause shock and anger.  But what I liked the most about the book is while Newman makes the case for what Kennedy was thinking about Vietnam at the time of his death, he is also frank about where Kennedy made mistakes that helped contribute to an already precarious situation.  In all fairness to Kennedy, he never had the opportunity to defend himself regarding his decisions on Vietnam.  But the paper trial he left behind, shows definitive actions he took and intended to take as he grappled with South Vietnam and a cabinet that had split down the middle.

The key to understanding how the deception started is to understand how intelligence was being gathered in Southeast Asia.  Newman breaks down the various divisions in military command and the role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Kennedy’s advisors are also on the hook and the actions of several of them add even more shock value to an already incredibly eye-opening account.  The realization that members of  his administration were deeply divided and at odds with each other, hovers like a dark cloud over the story as the crisis in South Vietnam unfolds.  All of the members of his administration are now deceased and we can only wonder as to why they committed some of the actions that they did.

No book about Vietnam would be complete without a discussion of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.  Both played a critical role in the development of the war and Newman provides a thorough explanation as to why the brothers were important to American success in Vietnam and where they went terribly wrong. The coup that resulted in their deaths, changed the course of history and gave the war a new face.  A few weeks after their assassinations, Kennedy himself was assassinated.  And although there is no proven link between the two events, actions of several figures in high positions in the time period between the two murders are quite suspicious and will surely cause readers to take notice.

As I read through the book, I paid particular attention to the National Security Action Memos (NSAMs) signed by Kennedy regarding his policy on Vietnam.  They speak volumes and should paint a clearer picture of the forces he was up against.   National Security Actions Memos 55, 56, 57 and 111 are pivotal for they directly addressed many of the pressing issues Kennedy was facing at home and abroad.  The author discusses each so that the reader can easily understand the many nefarious elements that had been influencing foreign policy in some of the most scrupulous of ways.  I

Seasoned readers might be wondering where Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) fits into the story.  His role is covered here and the suspicious actions on his part are paid close attention to.  The war escalated greatly under his administration but we can only wonder how much Johnson knew and Kennedy did not.  Newman does not discuss any Kennedy assassination theories or give any attention to any suggestions of LBJ being complicit in the crime.  But what he does show is that the vice president certainly had an agenda of his own and it would be shown after the events in Dallas.  National Security Action Memo 263 is one of the book’s most critical moments and readers should pay extremely close attention to this part of the story that highlights the stark differences between the late and sitting presidents and their views on the raging conflict in South Vietnam.

A common question I have heard from Vietnam veterans and others who lived through the war is why were Americans being sent 13,000 miles away from home to fight a war against a country many of them had never heard of?   It is a critical question and I believe that Newman has many of the answers they seek.  By no means is the book a complete account of the war. In fact, I believe a better overall account of the entire conflict would the best-selling ” The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War“.   The authors there discussed Kennedy’s administration but concluded that they could not say for sure what Kennedy would have done regarding Vietnam due to his assassination in Dallas.  Newman takes it further and I believe that he clears up much of the mystery surrounding Kennedy’s record on Southeast Asia.

Many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended but for millions of veterans, the wounds and dark memories remain.  Some were sent to Vietnam not yet twenty years of age to a foreign country in which death was prevalent.  They watched their friends die in gruesome manners and were exposed to the horrors of war in a conflict that did not seem to have an endgame.  North Vietnam and the Viet Cong showed Washington that it would not be an “easy” war.  Hanoi was determined to succeed in unifying the country and no amount of United States pressure or troops would change that mission.  In the end, Hanoi did succeed and America was left to wonder what went wrong.   As we move forward as a nation, let us not forget the tragedy of Vietnam which serves as an example of the dangers of misguided and intentionally deceitful foreign policy that changes nations and history.  Newman absolutely nailed the subject in this incredible book that will surely satisfy anyone who decides to open it up.

ASIN: B01N7YNXQ6

Vietnam War

20191029_225511(0)Some of you known him as a rapper, others know him as a film star.   To be fair, he is both of them and a lot more.  Personally, I knew of Common for years before he broke into Hollywood.  The star of ‘John Wick 2‘ and ‘Run All Night‘ earned his stripes on the underground rap circuit before going mainstream.  I saw him perform live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and it was a show for the ages.   The electricity was in the air and the place erupted as soon as he stepped on stage.  He was larger than life and rightfully so.   I saw this book in the lobby of my building and instantly grabbed it.  Admittedly, I was unaware of this biography but thoroughly intrigued to see what he had to say.

From the start, it is clear that the book is not a typical autobiography.  In fact, the structure of the book is different with Common and his mother Mahalia Ann Hines taking turns in presenting the story.  As expected, it starts with his birth in Chicago to Mahalia and the late ABA star Lonnie Lynn (1943-2014).   The marriage did not survive and Lynn would later relocate to Denver.   But he remained a part of his son’s life and Common discusses many memories of his father that helped shape him into the man he is today.   But make no mistake, his mother is the dominant force here and their relationship was cemented in stone over the years as young Rashid grows up in one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Since this is a story about Common, the world of rap music is a topic of discussion. Common tells us how he became entranced by rap and his traversal from possible college graduate to a young rapper determined to strike it big.  The odds were surely against him but his determination and belief in himself are inspiring and one of the many uplifting moments in the book.   His success was not easy by any means but he does exemplify the old wisdom that one should never give up on a dream.   And yes, other stars make an appearance in the story such as the late Tupac Shakur (1972-1996).

To say that there is more the Common than what we see on screen is an understatement.  Being from Chicago, he is fully aware of the streets and reveals some mishaps and deeds of his own that he would probably take back if he could.  But such is life and it is full of lessons.  One of the most challenging is love and Common is not immune to the trials and tribulations that come with relationships.  While he does not provide gossip for online forums of magazines, he does talk about his relationships with singer Erykah Badu and actress Taraji P. Henson.   We sometimes view celebrities as living in another dimension but the truth is that they are just like everyone else. Heartbreak can and does happen to everyone.  But this is Common we are talking about and he does not stay down.  He keeps moving forward, taking the lessons in stride with the intention of not making the same mistake again.   And from what I have seen, he is a remarkable person who understands the importance of hard work and humbleness.

His mother Mahalia’s wisdom is timeless and she is wise beyond her years.  I truly loved her part of the book where she passes along sages of knowledge that we can all keep with us.  However, she is not without her faults and is open about where she went wrong at times.  But what is clear is that she loves her son and has always been his biggest supporter.  I am sure that will continue as Common matures and takes on bigger projects which will reap him more and more success.

Common’s story is not over yet, and I do hope that he has many more years to go in his career.  In fact, he is only forty-seven years of age.  But if you want to know who he is, where he comes from and where he wants to go, then you cannot go wrong with this enjoyable autobiography by mother and son who open up their lives to the public.  And it is true that one day it’ll all make sense.

ISBN-10: 1451625871
ISBN-13: 978-1451625875

Biographies

Newman Vol 3In Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume II , author John M. Newman warned us that a storm was brewing.  President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and his brother Robert F. Kennedy (19125-1963) had come to realize that not all who smile come as friends.  But what they could not have foreseen, was the depth of resentment towards them from the military, Cuban exiles and the intelligence community.  In the second volume, we learned about the demise of Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the relationship between the Kennedys and mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975), Oswald’s alleged “defection” and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Newman resumes the story and takes us deeper behind the scenes in the Kennedy Administration which found itself in damage control to prevent rupturing at the seams.

The present volume revisits the Cuban situation and also focuses on the doomed Operation Mongoose.  The covert operation has gained traction in research circles as an example of the doomed efforts to remove Fidel Castro, but as we see here, there was far more to the story.  For several decades, the rumor of Robert Kennedy giving a green light to assassinate Fidel Castro has persisted.  The myth was pioneered by former CIA operative Samuel Halpern (d. 2005), who was not fond of either Kennedy brother.  Newman investigates that myth and finally separates fact from fiction.  And the story that emerges is one of deception, exemplified by the actions of many such as Bill Harvey (1915-1976), Richard Bissell (1909-1994) and Gen. Edward Lansdale (1908-1987).  Halpern’s tale is so convoluted that it even caught the attention of journalist Seymour Hersh who examined the Kennedy family in his book  ‘The Dark Side of Camelot‘, which does no favors to the Kennedy name. I do not know if Hersh has read this book but when or if he does, I am sure the facts revealed by Newman may cause him to revise his work.

If you have read Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, then you are already familiar with one of the most peculiar characters in the JFK assassination story, Antonio Veciana.  As leader of the anti-Castro group Alpha-66, he was responsible for daring acts against the Castro regime.  The acts were so worrisome that Kennedy eventually ordered the military to have them cease and desist.  But just who was Veciana and did he really meet a contact named Maurice Bishop?  It is believed that Bishop was a cover name for David Atlee Phillips (1922-1986), a legendary CIA officer and founder of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.   The story of Veciana and Bishop can be quite confusing and for years Veciana played mind games with investigators.  Fonzi died before Veciana would make several changes to his story but Newman catches them all here and reveals the truth about Veciana’s recruitment into CIA activities and his alleged meeting with Bishop. To say it is puzzling would be an understatement.

Oswald’s “defection” to the Soviet Union is one of the most bizarre parts of his story.  While he never actually defected, his actions did catch the attention of the Russian KGB and the CIA.   Americans attempting to defect to Russia at the height of the Cold War was beyond comprehension and Oswald would have known this as a former Marine.  But the question remains, if Oswald really wanted to defect, then why didn’t he?  James Angleton (1917-1987) was the CIA Counterintelligence Chief from 1954-1975.  Undoubtedly, Oswald would have been of high interest to Angleton, whose hunt for Soviet moles within the CIA destroyed lives and damaged careers.  Until his final days in the CIA, he was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency.  During his tenure, Soviet defectors did approach American officers.  One of them was Yuri Nosenko, whose story is another critical part of the Kennedy labyrinth.   However, Nosenko was a strange character and a career spy.  But was he a real defector?  Newman re-examines Nosenko’s story to show us what was really taking place in the spy war between the CIA and KGB.

An often misunderstood part of Kennedy’s election to office is the role of the Civil Rights Movement.  American politicians have known for decades that the Black American vote is crucial to winning a major election.   Kennedy faced an enormous hurdle in gaining the black vote primarily because he was Catholic and a Democrat.   The story of how he obtained the Black vote and why is critical to understand what he represented to millions of Americans.  His “New Frontier” program was advanced in many ways but sadly it never came into reality due to his death.  Newman wants us to understand how Kennedy was propelled to office and why the story is relevant to his death in 1963.  In 1960, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon (1913-1994) by an extremely slim margin.  Prior to the election, a series of events took place that changed the course of history.  They would involve both Robert and John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

The efforts to secure Kennedy’s claim to the White House by Sam Giancana is well-known to researchers and those with a keen ear for mafia tales.  But the relationship between the Kennedy family and Giancana was quite unusual in itself and had the public known of the connection, I can only imagine what the fallout would have been.  Giancana was a walking tomb of dark secrets and he is mentioned briefly in this volume again, along with Johnny Roselli (1905-1976) whose efforts to topple Castro are part of CIA-Mafia lore.

As Kennedy takes office, he soon finds that the battles in Washington are just beginning.  After the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco, he knew better than to trust the word of the CIA and Pentagon.  But what they did not know was that Kennedy had been changed by the Bay of Pigs and was determined to make sure the CIA and Pentagon never got away with such a ruse again.  This part of the book is where things get deeper and take a much darker turn.  Laos and Vietnam loom over Kennedy like a dark cloud and he soon finds himself on the defensive as military brass are demanding intervention in Southeast Asia.   Cuba is never far off the radar and once again it becomes a hot topic.  It became so hot that the Pentagon concocted plans that repulsed Kennedy and widened the gap between the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  If you have heard the name Operation Northwoods, then you have an idea of where the story is going.  The stage is slowly being set with tensions rising.  The Pentagon and CIA are hungry for a war but can they proceed with a President who is becoming increasingly distrustful of his own advisors?  As the book concludes, it becomes clear that the Kennedys are on a collision course with the military and intelligence community and the climax will be far more serious that Americans could have imagined.

Volume IV is still in the works but when it is released, I am sure that Newman will continue with this eye-opening assessment of one of America’s darkest moments.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07NJRY8WJ

Assassinations

darknessI recently reviewed Volume I in this exceptional review of the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  Author John M. Newman returns in Volume II to the incredible story of the events leading up to Kennedy’s time in office and his untimely demise.  Here we change gears and take a deeper look at the alleged defection of Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) to the Soviet Union,  the mob ties of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969), the role of Italian-American mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975) and the foreign policy decisions in Cuba, the Congo and Southeast Asia.

The story of Lee Harvey Oswald is an open and shut case if you believe the government’s official story.   What we do know is that he did in fact travel to the Soviet Union and attempted to renounce his U.S. Citizenship.  But what is often left out of the discussion is did he actually renounce it?   To some the question might seem strange but if we take a closer look along with the author, we see that many of Oswald’s actions in Russia did not make sense. In fact, things were so confusing that his mother Marguerite Oswald (1907-1981) wrote to the State Department to verify if her son had given up his U.S. Citizenship.  If you eyebrows are now raised, you are on the right track and what follows in this book will change your perception of Oswald’s possible intentions in the Soviet Union.   Admittedly, Oswald is still a mysterious figure.  The amount of information known about him still pales slightly to the unknown information surrounding his career in the military and his actions in Dallas leading up to Kennedy’s murder.   The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has generally been quite vague about what it knew about Oswald’s attempted defection and his return to the United States.  The opening of the infmamous 201 file on Oswald has always been a topic of discussion in assassination researcher circles and for good reason. Newman explores the issue in detail and clears up some of the mysteries that have lingered for years.  But what may really rattle readers is his hypothesis as to why Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union in the first place.  Newman does not declare that his belief is what happened but his suggestion has plenty of traction and if it is ever proven to be correct, it would completely change what we knew about Lee Harvey Oswald.

As John F. Kennedy settled into office in January, 1961, his administration faced its first crisis as news of the murder of Patrice Lumuba (1925-1961) spread across the globe.  Kennedy publicly had believed in a free Africa policy and Lumumba’s murder dealt a heavy blow for his vision of Africa’s future.  Today we have the benefit of hindsight to look back on Lumumba’s death.  And what we can see is a story that is much darker than most could have ever imagined.  I should point out that there is no direct relationship between Lumumba’s death and Kennedy’s murder.  But what is revealed is the role of the CIA which was also discussed in Volume I.  The agency as it is known informally, became a foreign policy division of its own and by the time Kennedy took office, no one in Washington dared to challenge it.  In fact, the agency was so powerful, that several presidents were unaware of what the agency’s true mission actually was.  Author David Talbot discusses the agency in detail in his phenomenal book “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government”, which is a thoroughly researched account of the rise of the CIA under its controversial director Allen Dulles (1893-1969).  Newman puts Dulles and the agency back in the spotlight, revealing a sinister web of deceit determined to engineer Lumumba’s downfall.  The story is critical to understanding what would follow from the agency in Cuba and eventually Southeast Asia.

Cuba once again comes into focus as Fidel Castro breaks ties with Washington and officials are left seeting with disdain towards the beared revolutionary.  This part of the book is perhaps the most chilling as it provides an inside look into the battle being waged behind the scenes to coach Kennedy into an all out war with Cuba.  Truths, half-truths and outright lies served to cause confusion and errant decisions that resulted in the distrastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  The mission was a total failure and publicly, Kennedy excepted blame.  But behind the scenes, a war was looming between the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s intelligence community.   The stakes had been raised and Kennedy came to realize that the CIA was now an obstacle that had to be removed.  But what he did not know at the time was that the agency plays for keeps and waits patiently for the right moment to execute.

To say that these books are mesmerizing would be an understatement.  This is the history we are never taught in school.   The information revealed in these books should serve as the basis for history lessons given about the events during the Cold War and the CIA’s rise to power.  The author concludes the book with a snippet from the story of former CIA agent David Atlee Phillips (1922-1988), whose words  are an indication of what is come in Volume III of the series titled Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy.  A storm was definitely brewing and by the time it ended, America was never be the same again.

ASIN: B01N16W6E4

Assassinations

1The lone gunman theory remains the official position taken the United States Government with regards to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  The alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was convicted in the court of public opinion before standing trial in a Dallas courtroom. His assailant, Jack Ruby (1911-1967) permanently silenced Oswald forever and prevented Americans from knowing more about the former Marine that had once lived in the Soviet Union.   The big question surrounding Kennedy’s death is who did it?  The crime is similar to a black hole, puzzling even the most hardened researchers.  The late Jim Marrs (1943-2017) once said that we know who killed Kennedy, we just have to look at the evidence.  Author John M. Newman has joined the group of assassination researchers and has produced this first volume in what will be a multi-volume set about the deadly events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

In this first volume, Newman sets the tone for what will soon follow. In comparison to other books about the murder, this volume is not focused on Kennedy’s death.  In fact, the murder is only mentioned a handful of times.  The story that is presented here is of the revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro (1926-2016) and Washington’s fears of  Soviet expansion.  As Fulgencio Batista (1971-1973) struggled to maintain control of Cuba,  the CIA was closely watching the events taking place in the streets of Havana.  Students, revolutionary groups and activists formed a nexus of opposition to Batista’s corrupt regime.  At first it might seem counterproductive to write about the Cuban Revolution if the book is about Kennedy’s murder.  But what is important to keep in mind is that Newman is slowly setting the stage for what would eventually happen in Dallas.   It is generally accepted by researchers that Kennedy’s death was by no means the actions of just one person.  In fact, the list of those who opposed the young president was long and for a good explanation of how many forces were conspiring against Kennedy, I strongly recommend Col. John Hughes Wilson’s JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination, which provides a clear picture of the looming threat to the occupant in the White House.

I strongly believe that to understand Kennedy’s murder, it is necessary to understand exactly what was happening in Cuba and how it played out during Kennedy’s presidency.   Newman’s focus is not on the mission in the jungles of Cuba by bearded revolutionaries.   His goal here is to uncover the actions of the CIA and finally reveal the characters involved and what purpose they played as Castro took power and led Cuba down the communist path.   Acronyms and code names become the norm but if we pay close attention, we come to realize that many of the figures are discussed in other books. However, there are two who stand out here and deserve special mention.  Newman goes into the complicated and mysterious stories of Catherine Taeffe and June Cobb (1927-2015).  The latter has been written about before and her story is still puzzling to this day.   Thousands of pages of records have been released giving us a better picture Cobb’s association with the CIA and Newman ties all of if together here providing a thorough back story as to who she really was.  Taeffe is yet another figure who has eluded scrutiny in many books but it is here that her importance to Washington becomes clear.  And by the time Newman is finished, the reader will surely realize that there was far more taking place in Washington with regards to Cuba than most Americans could have ever imagined.  To be even more frank, things in Cuba had heated up and it is truly a miracle that an all out invasion of the island never materialized.

There are many names in the book and it is easy to get distracted as the author moves through the story.  I do think that a quick primer on the crime will help readers make it through the subject matter.  As a rule, I always recommend Jim Marrs ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘, which still remains one of the best-selling books on Kennedy’s death.  With that being said, Newman does an excellent job of focusing on one aspect of the matter and exploring it into exhaustive detail.   I am now on to the second volume and his multi-volume approach will undoubtedly change the way Kennedy’s assassination is viewed through the eyes of even the most ardent researchers.   What I also found to be exceptionally valuable is that Newman does not put forth conspiracy theories, his conclusions are based solely on the evidence that was released.  And it is that approach that makes the book an even more exciting read.

I admit that the Kennedy murder is usually not at the top of the list of books to buy for a majority of readers.  But the crime still remains one of America’s darkest moments.   Perhaps one day we will finally know what really happened that day but until then, we can only reveal the truth layer by layer.  If the author is consistent, the volumes that follow will be nothing short of exceptional.  Good read.

ASIN: B00X3VZED6

 

Assassinations

arrnerWhen I first heard of this book, I was slightly puzzled.  As a fan of the NLF, the name Curt Warner was very familiar to me but it turns out that I had the wrong person in mind.  And I am willing to wager that a large number of people who come across this book will also make the same mistake and instead think of the NFL player Kurt Warner, who once played for the New York Giants. Both are retired but only one has a family of four that includes twin sons born with autism.  Many of us many know someone who struggles with autism.  And others may be teachers who have taught autistic students. Regardless, we can all agree that it is a condition which requires enormous patience and understanding.  This is the story of Curt and Ana Warner, two parents faced with the monumental task of raising twin sons born autistic while maintaining family life that includes tow other children.

Since retiring from the NFL in 1990,  Warner had remained largely hidden from public life.  But with the publication of this book, the creation of his personal website and the Curt Warner Autism Foundation, he and wife Ana are at the forefront of the continuing struggle to understand and solve the mystery of autism.  Currently, no one truly knows why some people are born autistic.  There have been attempts to diagnose it while a fetus is still in development but an actual cause still eludes doctors.  What is known is that there is no cure for it and there may never be. But what we can do as a society is to listen to those who deal with it so that we all can understand what it is and how it affects those born with it.  Curt and Ana Warner made the courageous decision to turn their struggle in this incredible book which shows the struggle behind the scenes in a household with autistic children.

Both parents take turns speaking in the book but there is a notation at the beginning of the section so that the reader knows which parent is commenting.  The commentary does swtich back and forth quite often and that might be just a little confusing to some readers but both do a great job of staying in sync as the story progresses. And what is clear is that without each other, there was no way the family would have ever survived what can only be described as mind-blowing.   My knowledge of autism prior to the book was limited in some ways but having finished the story,  I can say for certain that I now have a new found undrestanding for the amount of work required by parents of autistic children.

My only complaint about the book is that I wish it  had been longer.  As I read through the book, I found myself rooting for Curt, Ana and their kids to pull through as a family.  We know today that they have survived many situations that could have been tragic for all involved. The book concludes on a positive note and I hope that the Warners are continuing to enjoy life as much as they can.  The bravery they displayed in writing this book is a testament to their character, cemented by their struggle together.  Their experiences should remind us all that perseverance, hope and faith are the keys required to make it through even the most difficult situations.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07B9KR118

Biographies

Wilson -JFKLast week I was debating what book to read next and realized that I had not covered anything on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in quite some time.  To many Americans, his death is in America’s past, and a crime never to be solved.  With that being said, his murder is a reminder of how easy it once was to remove a sitting president from the highest office in the land.  Kennedy’s death endures as one of America’s darkest moments and the unanswered questions surrounding the events in Dealey Plaza still send chills down the spines of even the most seasoned researchers.  Colonel John Hughes-Wilson has taken another look at the crime and lays out his case for what he believes was a coup d’état on November 22, 1963.  In the fifty-years since JFK’s death, researchers have been able to compile a staggering amount of revealing evidence throughout independent research and the release of government files under the Freedom of Information Act and the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.  Incredibly, Hughes-Wilson has managed to compress thousands of pages of information into a book that is less than 400 pages.  But contained within the pages of this book is an excellent summary of what happened before, during and after Kennedy’s murder.

Some readers may be independent researchers in the crime or simply someone that has never believed the official story put forth by the government.  I warn the reader to be prepared for many shocking revelations and the introduction of facts that are simply unbelievable.   If you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was the lone killer,  you may find this book hard to accept.  But I do think that the author provides an incredibly strong position to support his believe that Kennedy’s murder was in effect a change in government by powerful sources hidden behind the scenes.  One of the book’s most interest parts is how the author sets the stage for Kennedy’s murder.  So much focus is often placed on November 22 but it is critical to understand the forces that raged against his administration and their culmination into a deadly web of enemies determined to have the president removed at all costs.  Author James Douglass does a great job of covering topic in his book on the murder “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters“.   The information provided therein if plentiful and highly enlightening.  Hughes-Wilson takes a similar approach but streamlines the information to keep the pace moving at a sufficient pace.

Any book on Kennedy’s murder is sure to contain a long list of characters relevant to the story at hand.  This book is no different and as one would expect, figures such as Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) are discussed throughout the book.  We also learn about the various groups that came to loathe the president such as Cuban exiles, Texas oil barons, Wall Street bankers, the government of Israel and the Italian American Mafia.   The connections between the various groups will raise eyebrows and cause mouths to drop open in surprise.   But what may truly shock many readers, is their connection to the White House, in particularly Kennedy himself.  I warn some that what is also revealed about Kennedy’s private life may change the way they see the former president.   But if you have read Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot“,  some of the information may be repetitive.   Kennedy is long gone so we will never known what made him do some of the things that he did.   The author here does provide clues to his sometimes strange behavior but to a point, even his views are somewhat speculative.  Regardless, his assessment of the late president, puts the murder into clear context and also reveals that many great political figures also had a very dark side that the public was not privy to in the age before cell phones and social media.

Hughes-Wilson did an incredible job of staying focused and not straying too far from the main goal of the book.  One can easily spend hours on just one part of the murder.  Whether it is Oswald’s life or the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt (1924-1963),  the amount of information to cover is exhausting.  The author here never lets the reader become overwhelmed with information but wisely keeps things moving along and provides enough information for the reader to continue to piece together the entire puzzle.  In short, I found the book to a collection of information covered separately in other books but told in a way that keeps the reader deeply intrigued.  And even for myself, the book was thoroughly enjoyable even though I have read at least a dozen books and several articles on the crime.

Someone asked me one day if Kennedy’s murder would ever be solved.  Well Jim Marrs once said that we already know who did it, but we just need to look closely at the evidence.  I think that we have many of the answers that have long been sought through the hard work of researchers and the deathbed confessions of individuals long suspected of being part of the plot.  The real question is whether Americans are ready to accept information that will change the way the see the United States Government and politicians many of them have long admired.   It is said that no one who was alive when Kennedy’s murder took place will forget where they were that day.  My father has told me the same thing many times and can easily recall that day from start to finish even at the age of 66.   For my generation, none of us will forget where we were on September 11th.  The future generation will have their own moment in history but what that is remains to be seen.  No matter how many generations pass, the murder of John F. Kenney will remain the biggest unsolved mystery in American history.  But with books such as this by Col. John Hughes-Wilson, we already have many of the answers needed to eventually find the truth.

For readers that are discovering new territory,  I strongly recommend reading the late Jim Marrs’ (1943-2017) “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy“.  It remains one of the best sources for information on the assassination.  Having discovered this gem, I also strongly recommend this compendium as well for those who truly want to know what really happened.

ISBN-10: 1782198547
ISBN-13: 978-1782198543
ASIN: B00GF3MVUS

Assassinations JFK RFK

ManningLast week,  my mother and I had a discussion about the actor Denzel Washington, who is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.  For both of us, his role as civil rights figure Malcolm X (1925-1965) in 1992 biopic ‘Malcolm X‘, was a shining moment in which he showed the world his talent as an actor and Spike Lee’s known skills as a powerful filmmaker. I had been contemplating my next book to read and came across this biography by late author Manning Marable (1950-2011). I had previously read The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and Bruce Perry’s Malcolm: THe Life of Man Who Changed America .  The former is a classic read widely across the globe.  Perry’s biography is a great read and addressed many topics that Haley did not include.  Stepping into the picture is Marable with this phenomenal biography that surpasses Perry’s and provides an even more intimate look into Malcolm’s life.

One of the hardest parts of completing a project as daunting as a biography is separating fact from fiction.  Marable exhaustively researched his subject and it clearly shows throughout the book.  The amount of information in the book is staggering and will leave many readers speechless at times.  I cannot say with certainty how much information Spike Lee had access to when making the film.  But what is clear from reading this book is that there is a good chance some things were withheld from him by those with intimate knowledge of Malcolm’s life and that editing the film down to three hours and twenty-two minutes resulted in a fair amount of footage ending up on the cutting room floor.   Regardless, Lee created a masterpiece of a film.  However, there was far more to Malcolm’s life than what moviegoers saw and some of that information shows his life and the Nation of Islam in a whole new light.

No story about Malcolm is complete without mention of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), the former leader of the Nation of Islam.  His influence on Malcolm’s life and their subsequent falling out is covered extensively in the book.  I personally learned new information that I had never anticipated when I started the book.  As to be expected, Malcolm’s time with the Nation of Islam, his marriage to Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) and the creation of Muslim Mosque, Inc. make up large portion of the second half of the book.  And it truly is a story that is surreal at times.  Undoubtedly the book carries a serious tone but there are bright moments in the book, some of which focus on Malcolm’s time outside of the United States. His visits to the Middle East, which helped shape and then change his views are pivotal moments in the book, showing the process of reinvention that he goes through as he matures.

Some of the reviews I read on Amazon were interesting but one in particular caught my attention for its critique of Marable’s discussion of Malcolm’s sexuality in his youth.   I do not believe that Marable tainted Malcolm’s image or was irresponsible in the way that he chose to handle the subject matter. In fact, Bruce Perry also addressed it in his biography of Malcolm and there is a strong possibility that both authors were on the right track.   Marable devotes a very small portion of the book to the subject and I think he made the right decision.  And the overall story is so interesting that I believe most readers will go through the section and quickly move forward to the rest of the book.

One of the book’s major strengths is the author’s willingness to take on even the most sensitive parts of Malcolm’s life.  In fact, there were many things revealed that I am sure the Nation of Islam would have killed to protect years ago.   These events are not only about Malcolm’s life but they also reveal information about figures intimately involved in his life such a Minister Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm’s protege and Ella Little (1914-1996). Interestingly, both figures do not make an appearance in Lee’s film for reasons known to the filmmakers.  Marable does provide some insight and what he reveals might surprise some readers.  Civil rights figures such as Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), Dick Gregory (1932-2017) and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) are also part of the story and reading Marable’s words made me feel as if I stepped back into time during the tumultuous decade that was the 1960s.   Readers who lived during the era will surely reminisce about a time in American history where fear permeated across the nation and the assassination of political figures was nearly commonplace.

About two-thirds through the book, the stage is set for Malcolm’s tragic end at the Audubon Ballroom.  The tension and outright hostility between him and the NOI had reached a deadly level. Marable highlights the multiple attempts on Malcolm’s life and the escalation in fearmongering that ensued.   The assassination is revisited from start to finish and the author sheds light on a few things that I had previously been unaware of.   It is well-known the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) had been keeping Malcolm under surveillance. The paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was endless and he wasted no time in having his agents open a file for the Bureau’s benefit.  But what is often left out of the discussion regarding Malcolm’s controversial life is the role of the secret Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (“BOSS”), formed by the New York City Police Department.  The roles and actions of these two entities raise new questions about Malcolm’s death that remain unanswered.  Perhaps in the next fifty years, more files will declassified and we may finally know the truth as to what state and federal agencies knew about Malcolm, the Nation of Islam and his murder on February 21, 1965.

The epilogue of the book is equally fascinating, and in it Marable opens a discussion about fundamental differences between Malcolm and other leaders of the times.  Death was a constant threat in his life and he clearly knew that he had been marked for it but refused to live in fear.  Throughout the book, he makes a series of decisions that we can now look at with the hindsight unavailable to him.  At the time, he was following his beliefs and remained dedicated in his goal to spread true Islam to anyone willing to learn.  His faults and transgressions are also on full display, showing us a multi-dimension yet often streamlined person that helped place the Nation of Islam into the national spotlight.  He is revered around the world as a champion of civil rights and a brilliant mind taken from this world far before his time.   There is so much more to his story contained within the pages of this book which is an exceptional work that will cause one to ask, how much do I really know about Malcolm X?  Here is a good place to start.

ASIN: B0046ECJ9Q

Biographies