Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

compton1Compton, California has earned a reputation over the last fifty years as a place where people are tough, life is dangerous and unless you are from there, you stay away.  Gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have proliferated across the city in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States.  In what could rightly be described as a civil war, thousands of black men, women and children have died on the streets of Comptom and in Los Angeles county as gang wars escalated.  In 1888, the City of Comptom had formed its own police department to patrol city limits and at the time of the deadly gang wars erupted, it was pushed to its limit.  Some officers would leave the department for much quieter neighborhoods with lower crime rates.  Others would stay until it was disbanded in 2000.  Among the two most well-known as respected officers were Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd.   The duo have been interviewed numerous times in recent years, expressing their thoughts on Compton, the murder of Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and his alleged killer Orlando Anderson (1974-1998).  However, there is far more to their story than what we have come to learn on screen and here the two join with Lolita Files, whom some may recognize from the A & E multi-part series Who Killed TupacIn the show she is assisting famed attorney Benjamin Crump who takes another look at the murder of the slain rapper.  This is their story about their lives and time in Comptom as part of a police department located in the middle of a war zone.

Those of us who live outside California may find the gang culture to be both mistifying and tragic.  The Crips, who feature prominently throughout the book, have a long past of their own.  The gang’s formation is rightfully captured by Zach Fortier and Derard Barton in I am Raymond Washington: The Authorized Biography About the Original Founder of the Crips, which I highly recommend to readers interested in the development of the Crips.  Brennan and Ladd became intimately familiar with them and other outfits that compose the fifty-five known gangs of Compton. The two were so well known on the streets that Brennan earned the nickname “Blondie” as a result of a song by DJ Quik.  But just how did the two end up in Compton and become partners for fifteen years? Lolita Files narrates their story in this book that is a both a biography and an investigative look into one of America’s most violent cities.

Files provides a short history on Compton which I found to be very interesting and informative.  The city’s later history is similar to other cities across America where white flight helped give way to the ghettos that developed. Compton is no different and its descent into madness in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, is an American tragedy that unfornately is not unique.  However, nothing could have prepared Compton for what would come next and when the gangs arrived, the city was transformed into hell on earth.  It is not long into the book before Brennan appears and we learn about his migration to California where he makes a home in the Compton Police Department.  He is schooled as a rookie and moves up through the ranks.  However, it is not until he meets California native Robert Ladd that the dynamic duo is formed and through their work, become nationally recognized experts on gang culture.

The book is not solely about the two officers but Files also discusses the city’s most notorious gangsters whom Brennan and Ladd became very familiar with.  Nightly gang shootings, drug transactions and even domestic disputes, kept the Compton Police Department busy and Files takes us back in time when Brennan and Ladd found themselves in the middle of open gang warfare.  They are joined by Reggie Wright, Sr., whom some may recall as the father of Reggie Wright, Jr., a former Compton Police Officer himself who later provided protection to Death Row Records through his company Wright Way Security.  The stories are crazy and some unreal but Compton was akin to the wild wild west except the gang members were not using six shooters but heavy artillery designed to cause mass casualties.

Politics play a part in the story as one would expect and some of the events that take place are both head scratching and amusing.  And the takeover by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was the final nail in the coffin and officialy marked an end to the Compton Police Department.  However, before that took place, the gang unit had been making waves and putting a dent in gang activity.  But there were a couple of events that were even too large for Brennan and Ladd.

No book about Compton would be complete without the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the acquittal of several officers who took part in the beating of motorist Rodney King (1965-2012).  The verdict set off riots across the county of Los Angeles and I remember watching the events on television with disbelief and fear of what would happen next.  Files revisits the tragedy and the response to the mayhem by the Compton Police Department. It is a dark time in American history, but one that can never be forgotten, especially by the people of Los Angeles.   By this point in the story, we come to know Brennan, Ladd and other officers in the Compton Police Departmentve very well.  However, the story picks up its pace after a deadly shooting takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996.  That night, Tupac Shakur was shot and mortally wounded after an altercation at the MGM Grand Hotel with South Side Crip Orlando Anderson.  Shakur’s death on September 13, 1996, unleashed a wave of violence across Compton between Bloods and Crips that placed Brennan and Ladd on the front lines in the investigation.  Files takes on the role of our reporter and delivers the full inside scoop on the deadly retaliation that took place.  Anderson is also a point of focus and his story is revisited including his own death in May, 1998.

Readers who have followed Brennan and Ladd will undoubtedly find this part of the book to be of high interest. Further, Files has proven herself to be highly knowledgeable  about the crime as evident by her appearance alongside Crump.  The scuffle at the MGM, the events leading up to it and its aftermath are covered completely.  Further, the efforts of former detectives Russell Poole (1956-2015) and Gred Kading are examined in detail.  Viewers of the USA show Unsolved, will be familiar with Kading’s name as well as those who have studied the Shakur case.  The death of rap star Christopher”The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) on March 9, 1997, also enters the story and Files discusses it in depth.  The writing is good and I even learned an intersting fact about Duane “Keefe D” Davis which I had not previously known and possible connections between Wallace and the South Side Crips.  I also learned more about Brennan’s interactions with Kading’s task force which had been assembled to learn the truth about Wallace’s death.  Motives for both murders are presented and some viewers may feel that perhaps the simplest explanation is the most likely.  Sadly, both Shakur and Wallace’s murders remain unsolved.

What I have described so far does not come close to acknowledging everything that will be found in the pages of this book.  It is simply a great read about the Compton, and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the city that gangs and rappers put on the map.  There is a cast of characters to be found in the story ranging from former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight to the deplorable racist gang known as the “spook hunters”.  Compton is full of history  and it is still being written.  And only time will tell if its residents can make peace with the past and move away from the violence that has claimed far too many lives.  Great book.

ASIN: B079RKDS4M

General Reading True Crime

SmackedDrug addiction has steadily become one of the greatest plagues to affict mankind.  Nearly all of us know someone who has struggled with addiction or lost their life to it.  Recently, I read Sam Quinones’ spellbinding account of the rise in opioid in the United States Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic , in which Quinones explains how and why opioids have become so ingrained and deadly in American culture. My boss had recently ordered this book about drug addiction to understand the matter which had come up in one of our cases.  He mentioned that he did not have the time to read it at the moment but let us know that the book was for the taking to anyone who had interest in it. I decided to take it along with a few other books also on the opioid epidemic.  Similar to Dan Peres As Needed for Pain: A Memoir of Addictionthe story at hand involves the drug addiciton of a successful individual whom many would not suspect of being an addict.  Eilene Zimmerman tells the story of her late husband Peter, whose battle with addiction claimed his life and led her on a mission to understand how drugs have infiltrated the lives of even the most successful.

As the book opens, Eilene arrives at Peter’s house after learning he had a bizarrer outburst at his son Evan and daughter Anna.  No one has heard from him and she decides to check on him and confront him over his behavior.  Upon arrival at his house, she notices several odd things before finding him face up and deceased.  A called is placed to 911 and she desperately tries reviving him but it is soon clear that Peter is gone.  At this point in the book, we are not sure why he has died but only that something terrible has happended and many questions now exist that are answered as the book progresses.

The story of his life and their time together is equally as important as his death and Eilene takes us all the way back to the time when she was twenty-three and in search of a job after recently being laid off.  She meets Peter after he interviews her at a job placement center. Over the next two years they became friends and eventually found themselves in a committed relationship.  Zimmerman’s memories provide examples of how true love flourishes under the most unexpected of cirumstances.  Marriage, children and an eventual move to San Diego, California follow where they settle in with their children Evan and Anna.  Peter is a successful partner in a law firm whileEilene exercises her talents in journalism.  However, their marriage soon desolves and not long after, Peter starts to exhibit some very strange behavior. 

Peter, who was once a doting father and husband, begins to unravel, missing appointments or in some cases not showing for events. Although the couple divorced, they remained close because of their children.  Eilene notices some very disturbing aspects of his appearance which Peter quickly explains as Hasimoto’s disease.  Wanting to believe him at face value, she accepts his expanation until discovering one day that some parts of the story do not add up.  But Peter has an answer for everything, a commonly known trademark of drug users.  As she relays the memories of his behavior, readers will be tempted to think “why didn’t she see that he was using drugs?”.  One answer is that prior to Peter, she had no direct exposure to it.  Her story is similar to thousands of grieving relatives who have never seen up close, the effects of drugs that are mentioned on television and the internet.  Peter’s children are equally disturbed and distressed by their dad’s behavior but no one can come up with a logical answer for his erratic actions.

The author looks back with hindsight and provides insightful comments as she tells the story.  It is clear that she is now well immersed in the underpinnings of drug addiction in America and also part of the growing number of those who have lost someone close to narcotics.  She is candidly honest about her failure to see what was slowly becoming obvious and why she held on to her belief that he needed to see another doctor about the Hashimoto diagnosis.   But through her words, readers will be able to piece together a picture of a man who is in the grip of a serious addiction that is literally changing him mentally, physically and emotionally. The meltdown kicks into high gear and for Zimmerman and her children, events soon take a dark turn.

After learning about their lives and the road leading up to Peter’s death, Zimmerman has a lot more to discuss in the book and devotes a signficant portion to the use of drugs in corporate America, in particular among lawyers.  This section hit home because I work in the legal field and bear witness to the amount of pressure and stress that attorneys carry daily.   Some handle it better than others and yes, from my own knowledge as well, some turn to drugs to ease the stress.  But wht I learned here was more than I had bargained for. And to make matters even more surprising, what Zimmerman relays is just a small sample of what is possibly very large scale.  Further, what she relays is that drug use is more prevalent among professionals than most of us think.  It also reinforces the notion that not all drug users look like they use.

Towards the end of the book, she also devotes a section to Generation Z and the modern day professional.  The invention of social media and concept of being “plugged in” all day long has not only increased workloads but stress.  The use of drugs culd very well increase among the younger generation who are coming of age in an era where social and workplace pressures are higher than ever.  In Japan,  it is well documented that some people have succumbed from working themselves to death.  While the United States does not appear to be as extreme in the idea of overwork, there are many professionals who do work eighty or more hours each week.  For some of them, the keep going, they will turn to illegal drugs that give them the assist they need to keep going. But how do we then give them the help they need before it is too late?

I found myself glued to the pages of this book.  Once the story begins, it continues to pick up speed as Peter begins his descent from which he will never return.  Zimmerman’s honesty about her own actions and beliefs will provide solace to other wives and mothers who have been in the same situation.  And in spite of all that happens in the book, she never stops loving him even after he is gone, showing the long lasting effects of losing someone to drugs.  This is a great read from a very strong person who tells you her story so that your family does not live through what she did.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0525511008
ISBN-13: 978-0525511007

Opioid Crisis

muhammad1The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm Xrenewed my interest in the death of Malcolm X (1925-1965) and the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975).  Malcolm’s death is still revisited as one of the darkest moments in the Civil Rights Movement.  Muhammad and his star pupil had long fallen out of favor after Malcolm’s death, rumors swirled that the leader of the NOI had ordered the assassination.  No proof ever surfaced of it and whatever Muhammad did know, he took with him to his grave.  He left behind a trove of writings, speeches and statements from public appearances that shed light on his thoughts regarding Islam, race and the future of America.  In 1965, this book was published as Muhammad’s message to the black men of the United States.

Although I am not Muslim, I was curious to see what Muhammad had to say and if it would be relevant to me being a black American.  I am familiar with some of the rhetoric from the NOI which Malcolm later sought to distance himself from.   But the fact remains that Malcolm did receive from Muhammad many of the teachings that guided him as his responsibilties in the NOI continued to increase and hecame its brightest star.  If there was one thing I was sure before starting the book, it was that Muhammad would not mince words.  In fact, no one in the NOI minced words and their belief in full freedom and equality for black people is well-known and documented.  But this is Muhammad’s show and he waste no time in getting his points across.

From the start, Muhammad directs his attention to Christianity and its role during slavery in America. Those who are devout Christians may find this argument to be difficult to read but it is imperative to remember these are his thoughts only and it is up to you to decide which religion is right for you.  Further, he is speaking from the point of view of a member of the Islamic faith and there is no doubt that he believes in Allah as the savior for black people.   He does make compelling arguments and in fact, uses scriptures from both the bible and Quran to make his case.  However, the rhetoric is strong and the use of the term “devils” for white Americans and Europeans will undoubtedly be unsettling.   I had to remind myself that today we would not see anything like this but in Muhammad’s era, the United States was a very different and violatile place.  And perhaps if I had been born at the same time as Muhammad, I myself may have felt the same way.  In end, some who read the book might decide to convert to Islam while others accept his argument and continue on with their lives as things are.

By far, the part of the book which seemed the most outlandish is the section about  a scientist named Yakub, who apparently “created” the white race.  I have never seen any documented evidence of such a person or evidence of notes, test, etc.  I am inclined to believe that the story of Yakub is nothing more than a myth that continues to endure. Followers of the NOI may feel differently and I say to each his own.  However, this theory of Yakub, forms the base of Muhammad’s arguments about the nature of the “white devils”.   Some readers will surely roll their eyes at this part of the book.

Muhammad was a very sharp thinker but it is apparent in the book, that his voice is also laced with fierce emotion.   It is almost as if you can feel him raising his voice as the book progresses.  At one point, he does bring up the issue of the black woman which I found to be interesting and mystifying considering Muhammad’s well-known philandering.  Much of it has flown under the public radar but I recommend Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a thorough discussion of what exactly did happen between Muhammad and the multiple secretaries he procreated with that helped cause the eventuall split with Malcolm.  I could not help but feel that it was quite hypocritical for Muhammad to preach about taking care of the black woman while stepping out on his own wife Clara Muhammad (1899-1972).

In spite of the heavy rhetoric that relies on shock value, Muhammad does make a very good argument in his belief of black people not waiting for help from anyone but instead, going out and doing.  Of all of the topics in the book, I firmly agree with him on this one in particular.   His message about self-sustainability and actual progress is spot on and can be used by anyone regardless of race. His words about changing the future of black people are still relevant today and many more people should hear this argument.  It is clear that he truly wanted the best for all black people.   However, I do not agree with his views on integration.  But again, I did not live in America in 1965 and did not experience the racism that black people faced on a daily basis.  If I had, perhaps I would agree with Muhammad.

Today we can see in hindsight that Elijah Muhammad was right about some things but wrong on others. His prediction of America meeting its doom did not come to pass.   And his argument against interracial marriage is still believed by some but interracial marriage continues to increase as more people turn to online dating and long-distance romance.  The world that he knew is far different today and will be even more different by the time I reach my senior years.  But Muhammad has his view and explains his position. It is up to the reader to accept or deny the argument.

Overall, the book is a mixed bag.  Within its pages is truth, rhetoric, religious arguments and even outlandish theories.  But Muhammad was not just an ordinary person.  The NOI remains today but its public presence is scaled down considerably.  But at one time, it was the focus of many Americans, seen as a group of black Muslims who were no longer accepting any excuses for the advancement of black people and other minorities.  These are the words of its most famous leader for audiences of all types.

ASIN: B0054R9C1M

General Reading

DreamlandIn August, 2019, a close friend lost her brother, who became yet another statistic in the ongoing crisis regarding opioid and other drug use in America.  I had met him previously and his death seemed surreal at the time. In fact, it still does.   His parents had never experienced anything like it and did what they could to get him the help that he needed.   For them and thousands of other parents who have lost a child to drugs, they often wonder how did this happen?  And what could we have done to stop it?  There are many answers to both questions but in this eye-opening book, Sam Quinones tackles the first question and tells the story of the development of the opioid epidemic in America.

Purdue Pharma, the company that reaped billions of dollars in the manufacture and sale of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy in September, 2019, as it settled scores of claims former opioid addicts and family members of those who perished while addicted to the drug.  As part of its bankruptcy filing, it will pay out billions of dollars to those who fell victim to the company’s false adveritsing.   However, it is not the first time Purdue Pharma paid out money in litigation. Quinones revisits the year 2007, in which former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia John Brownlee launched an investigation into the company’s advertising practices. Purdue later entered into a plea deal with the government in which it agreed to pay a $634.5 million dollar fine. Several of its top executives later served time in prison.

When we think of the opioid epidemic, many ideas come to mind of the drugs that people take the alleviate pain and in other cases, feed an addiction that has become a raging monster.   Some users rely on prescription drugs while others have turned to street drugs, the most popular of which is heroin.   I personally knew someone who succumbed to heroin and each time I think of how short his life was, I shake my head in disbelief.   But I also realize that he was not himself and was caught in the grip of a drug that changes the way the mind and body functions.  We know these drugs exist, but the question is why?

Quinones presents a premise for the book which answers why we have opioids to begin with. Doctors have long sought a way to relieve pain for patients without casuing  addiction.  In short, they were searching for what Quinones calls the “holy grail”, a nonaddictive pain killer.   But to understand the current crisis, we first must learn how opioids were developed and the author provides a back story to their development.  The origins of heroin, methadone, diacetylmorphine and morhpine are discussed.  As I read the book, I thought to myself that the doctors who discovered these drugs most likely had no idea what they would become in years after their deaths.  If they had, perhaps one of more of them would have tried to halt its production.  We shall never know.

The story at hand is really two separate account of opioids, both legal and illegal.  Quinones weaves both into one story but alternates between the two as the book progresses. One part of the story begins with prescription pain killers in the medical field, whose development was quite low until phyiscians Dr. Russell Portenoy and Dr. Kathleen Foley published a paper in 1981 which did not find a direct link to opioid use and later addiction.  The pharmaceutical industry took notice and the town of Portsmouth, Ohio began to feel the effects from a wave of drugs that later changed an entire country.  Portsmouth had once been a thriving city in small town America and Quinones provides a well-written and informative section devoted to its rise and decline, with particular focus on its once mega-sized pool called dreamland.  The small town’s story forms part of the rust-belt narrative featured prominently throughout the rest of the book.

The other part of the story begins in Mexico where we visit the town of Xalisco in the State of Nayarit.   Some readers may be unfamiliar with the town and I personally did not know of its importance to the drug epidemic.  Quinones explains life in this small town, based largely in part of his time living in Mexico.  As the story of the Xalisco becomes more important,  I began to ask myself the same questions as law enforcement personnel: how did this small Mexican town flood the United States with heroin?  The story is actually quite simple and Quinones re-assembles the pieces of the puzzle so readers can see how the infiltration in America’s suburbs began, targeting a generation of young white suburban kids. It is a part of the war on drugs that many still do not fully understand but this book certainly removes all doubt.  The ghost of trafficker David Tejada and others continues to haunt the lives of kids addicted to black tar heroin which has caused the deaths of thousands of young men and women.

The pharmaceutical industry has become a behemoth in the manufacture and distribution of pain killers.  Purdue Pharma, which has been embroiled in controversy, traces its origins back to the legacy of Arthur Sackler (1913-1987), whose family was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit that resulted in its recent bankruptcy filing.  It is imperative to understand Sackler’s influence and Quinones delivers the goods.  In addition to Sackler, there are many others who played a crucial role in the development of prescription pain killers with varying degrees of influence including Dr. Hershel Jick and his then assistant Jane Porter Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program,  Dr. Nathaniel Katz and quack phsyician Dr. David Procter, who could be described as the father of the pill mill.

On the other side of the battle there were many who realized early that something was brewing and that America was in trouble.  Law enforcment officers began to notice a new trend in drug use across small town America but sadly, many of these departments had never been exposed to narcotics of that caliber. And it is an issue which the author explains quite well.  Heroin and other dangerous drugs were never thought of something suburban kids did, it was only what the “city people” did.  However, its introduction into the American heartland changed all perceptions and people soon realized that the drug spares no one. It does not care about wealth, gender, ethnicity or anything else. Its sole purpose is to addict the user.  Drs. Jennifer Sable, Ed Socie and Gary Franklin had begun to sound the alarm bells with the help of pharmacologist Jaymie Mai but many years would pass before those in power too notice.  And years before Purdue came crumbling down, another lawyer named Joe Hale had attempted to bring the company to justice.  The stories of these men and women whose efforts did not go in vain are covered here and Quinones has done a great service to them in showing readers that there were those fighting the battle many years ago.

To say that this book is incredible would be an understatement. It is at times surreal and at others, infuriating.  Greed and negligence combined to spread a wave of deadly addiction across an entire country.  And the failed war on drugs was equally responsible.  Quinones has presented an irrefutable account of the opioid epidemic and its stranglehold on the nation.  For the families of victims such as Matt Schoonover, the pain never ends.  And I think of Francisco Baez, whom I knew very well until his death at the young age of twenty-four.  Their stories are just a sample of the thousands of opoid related deaths every year in America.  And parts of the country which never knew hard drugs are being forced to reckon with a new demon that destroys everything in its path.  This story is an American tragedy but it allows us to see how and why America turned into dreamland.  Excellent read.

ISBN-10: 1620402505
ISBN-13: 978-1620402504

Opioid Crisis

DonnerIn the spring of 1846, a group of settlers left home in Springfield, Illinois en route to either Oregon or California.  A popular destination for many was the City of Yerba Buena, known today as San Francisco.  By the first week of may, the party had reached Independence Missouri and soon continued on their route.  They soon learned of an apparent shortcut through what is known as the Hastings cut-off near Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail was named after Confederate General Lansford Hastings (1819-1870).  It was believed that the shortcut would eliminate as much as three hundred miles off of their trip. The group separated and eighty-seven people continued on the trail.  Instead of elminating travel time, their journey was extended by another month.   Deeply behind schedule, their provisions began to run low and winter soon set in.  By the time their ordeal was over, only forty-eight had survived.  Some managed to survive by turning to cannibalism and that act has earned them a permanent place in American pop culture.  We have come to know this group pf settlers as the Donner Party.

The book was originally published in 1880 and this Kindle version is a digital transformation to permanent preserve a book that remains invaluable. When we think of the Donner party, cannibalism typically comes to mind. However, there was far more to the story and the true tragedy of their journey is often lost during discussions of the events that took place.  So just what exactly did happen and why?  McGlashan has the full story, having done the research needed and he even conducted interviews with survivors of the tragedy.  What emerges is a full picture of what really did happen although I am sure some minute parts of the story are lost to history.

The journey west by the Donner and Reed families was typical of the era as settlers sought a new life “out west”. California was destination number even years before the gold rush of 1849.  For the Donners and Reeds, it was a chance at new opportunity far removed from the daily life in Springfield, Illinois.  As their plan picked up, the number of travelers increased until reaching a staggering ninety people.  A number of those who had joined, were not related to either family but had heard about the expedition and expressed interest.  When they set out in early 1846, none of them could have imagined the disaster that lay ahead.

The author details the tragedy as food becomes scare and a brutal winter ravages the party.  Their deaths are sobering and also tragic.  But interstingly, cannibalism plays a minor role in the tragedy in contrast to what has been portrayed in the media and in pop culture.  Nature and lack of food combined to prove the biggest obstacle to survival instead of the treat of being murdered for food.  The cannibalism comes about as a necessity similar to the experience of Nando Parrado, Roberta Canessa and the surivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 as detailed in his book Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home.  External factors as opposed to some internal predatory nature, are the factors behind those in each story making the decision to do the unthinkable.

Those in search of an uplifting read will be quite disappointed. However, if you choose to read about the Donner party, then I have to assume you already know something about their story.  And if so, you know every well that the traditional “happy ending” does not apply here.  Some members did survive but remained scarred by what they saw and experienced.  American history is filled with tales of finding a new life and exploring new terrority, but this book reminds us that for some, that curiousity also led them down a path from which very few have returned.  If you are interested in the Donner party and the truth about the events in 1846-1847 as a group of settlers sought refuge in a new part of the United States, this is a good read.

ASIN: B081YYH16Z

General Reading

20200319_191037The past several years have given way to a rise in the number of opioid related deaths in the United States.  Cities across America have struggled with a surge in drug overdoses and lack of proper facilities to handle the deceased.  I knew several people who battled an addiction to opioids and all but one are now deceased.  It is a soul crushing and life depleting addiction that cuts across all ethnic lines.  Many of us know someone who is currently battling an addiction or once did in the past, whether it was opioids, alcohol or some other substance. And what we all know is that addicts do not get clean until they have realized there is no where else to go but in the ground.  Dan Peres is a former Editor in Chief for Women’s Wear Daily Details and in this revealing memoir, he details his own struggle with a drug addcition that nearly took his life.

His story begins in Pikesville, Maryland in a run of the mill Jewish family.  He recounts his early life growing up in the suburbs before his life changes course and he finds himself at New York University.  It is there that the story picks up pace and Dan continues his ascent in the social scene in the city that never sleeps.  Journalism soon becomes his calling and he makes his entry into the fashion wold where he exceeds as a journalist and even gets to meet his childhood icon David Copperfield.  His job took him to Europe where he makes a home in Paris.  His recollections of his time there are some of the best parts of the story.  Upon returning to New York, he decides to pull a physical stunt that goes terribly wrong.  Two back surgeries and a bottle of Vicodin later, the addict was in the making.  And what starts out as simply medication to recover from back surgery,  soon turns into a habit which took him to hell and back.

Peres is blessed with sharp wit and his observations of the situations he found himself in and his own behaviour, add a touch of lightheartedness to a story that is quite serious.  Professionally, he was able to get by while personally, his life became a mix of drugs, escorts, lies and more drugs.  All the while, his maintained a public facade misled most until the demons caught up with him and his life began to unravel.  Two pills a day escalated into nearly a two dozen and then even more as the monster of addiction took hold of every facet of his life.  Throughout the book, Peres is frank about just how crazy things had become and his state of mind.  The story is simply mind-boggling and it truly is a miracle that he did not die.

Before meeting the woman who would become his wife, several women enter and exit the story under assumed names including one known as “Chickpea”.   The relationships or what could be better described as unspoken arrangements,  highlight the dysfunction in his mind as a result of an addiction that refused to release him from its grip.  His addiction pushed him to the brink and the episodes in Tijuana, Mexico and Skid Row in Los Angeles are the moments in the book where we realize he truly went off the deep end.  But Peres knows this and in the book, he literally takes himself to task for what could only be described as lunacy.  But such is the mind of an addict and Peres succeeds in showing us how addicts function under the influence of the drugs they consume.

After becoming a husband and expectant father, the addiction refused to let him go.  The actions of his family and in particular his Aunt Lou, are part of the what saved his life.  Their efforts are a prime example of the battles being waged across America today as families struggle to get loved ones the help they need. Peres provides a textbook example of the importance of intervention.  This story is a roller coaster ride and I am sure that readers whill find it enjoyable yet sad at the same time.  Peres is still alive to tell his tale but others were not so lucky.   But just maybe, this heartbreaking story of addiction will be enough to deter the next person from going down the same path. Good read.

ISBN-10: 0062693468
ISBN-13: 978-0062693464

Biographies

20200318_160039Discussions of the 1916 uprising in Ireland tend to focus on a select group of figures.  The names of Patrick Pearse (1897-1916) and James Connolly (1868-1916) are legend in Irish history and their actions part of the narrative of the Republican fight for a united Ireland.  In December, 1921, the British Government and Republican forces reached an agreement that officially partitioned Ireland into Unionist north and Republican south.   The southern part was established as the Free Irish State, to be led by Michael Collins (1890-1922)who became Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State.  Collins is well-known in Irish history for his unwavering support of the Republican cause.  However, there was another figure who not only worked closely with Collins, but someone whose own story and actions are typically left out of the official narrative.  Pictured to the left General Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971), one of the founding members of the Irish Free State and staunch supporter of Irish independence.  When I saw this book for sale, I knew immediately that I had to read it and understand who the intriguing character on the cover of the book really was.

Dr. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, is a Fellow Emeritus, Fellows Emeritii of Trinity College in Dublin, and has written several books regarding Irish history.  In this informative and beautifully written narrative, she explores the life of Richard Mulcahy and his role in the formation of what is known today as the Republic of Ireland. Admittedly, before reading this book, I had very little of him and do not recall any detailed mention of his life or actions in the other material that I have read.  As a result, I had no idea of who he was and what he stood for.  That has now changed and I am confident that after you have read this book, you will also feel the same way about him. I am also confident that if you have decided to read this book, it is because you are already familiar with Mulcahy or have deep interest in the subject matter.  With that being said, this book is deep and Valiulis takes us back in time as the battle for Irish independence is heating up.

As one would expect, the nexus of the book is formed by the treaty with Britain, the Irish Civil War and the founding of the Irish Free State.  Mulcahy’s role as Chief of Staff and later Minister of Defence of the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) placed him firmly at the center of all three events as the future of Ireland was molded in ways some could have never imagined.  Incredibly, in spite of his importance, there is much about Mulcahy that has remained unsaid in discussions about the what became known as the “The Troubles”.   He comes off initially as a figure that remained hidden in the shadows.  But here, Maryann Valiulis makes him the focus, telling the story of his early life and his later role in the military and Irish politics.  She also gives him a platform to tell his own story, by including snippets of Mulcahy’s own words nearly 100 years ago as he spoke to the men and women of Ireland in favor of unification.  And as the book progresses, Mulcahy is transformed from a captivating figure on the cover to one of the most important figures in the movement for Irish independence.

The book is filled with a ton of factual information and exhaustively researched.  As a result, the complete picture is formed regarding the treaty with Britiain and the resulting Irish Civil War.  Following the assassination of Michael Collins in August, 1922, Mulcahy found himself in control as the battle between Republican forces became deadly.  The author details the tensions that brewed between pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces, who had been encouraged by the words of Éamon de Valera (1882-1975), the founder of Fianna Fáil and had become disillusioned with the IRA in the wake of the agreement.  The Civil War is without question the darkest period in the book and the assassinations and murders that took place, cast a dark cloud over both sides of a conflict that nearly evaporated the support of even the most pro-independence Irish public.   Mulcahy is firmly entrenched in all that happens and through the author’s words, we can see how his decision and actions, for better or worse, affected the future of Ireland.  At times while reading, I found myself in shock at the actions between Republican forces as one side remained committed to the treay with Britian and the other committed to a free Ireland by any means necessary, regardless of the body count.   Sadly, in some ways, the Irish Civil War was premonition for the conlict that erupted in 1969.

By 1924, the Civil War war had died down and eventually ceased as anti-treaty forces slowly realized that they could not keep going against the army.  Interestingly, no formal agreement to end the war was ever signed.  The army emerged from the confict as the victor but for Mulcahy the battle was far from over.  In fact, his troubles were just beginning and the work for the formal creation of the Irish Free State lay ahead and brought with it advancement and regression.  Quite frankly, his life was never the same again.  Although the Civil War had ended, bad blood still remained within Republican forces and there were those who were determined to see his removal.  Like a jigsaw puzzle, multiple entities play a role, including the Irish Republican Army, Old Irish Republican Army  (“Old IRA”) and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”).  Ego, animosty and old jealousies rose to the surface as Mulcahy fougth to retain his place in the army he believed in and served with unwavering loyalty.   The story is explained clearly here, forming an easily readable narrative of how and why Mulcahy found himself an outsider looking in after many years on the front lines.  His rise and fall is a perfect example of the precarious nature that came with being a member of the Republican movement. Friends became enemies and enemies became allies and rivals switche sides and in some cases, resorted to violence when all else failed.  The suspense is gripping the author sets each stage perfectly, with a writing style that will keep readers glued to the book.

The only drawback about the book is that I had hoped to learn more about Mulcahy’s personal life.  We do learn that he married and fathered six children. However, there is much about his private life that is left out.  I surmise that because the book is focused on the Irish Free State, that it is not a biography in the traditional sense but an examination of Mulcahy’s role in the events that transpired. And the book does succeed in explaining who Mulcahy was in relation to the cause and his beliefs about his own actions and the future of Ireland.  Additionally, his relationship with Michael Collins is also explored and we come to learn how the two soliders became acquaintances and began to execute their plan to create an Irish Republic.

In the decades that followed Collins’ death and Mulcahy’s departure from the front lines, tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland continued to increase and when “The Troubles” commenced, a wave of violence was unleashed, wreaking havoc across Nothern Ireland as the death toll continued to climb.  The history of the conflcit runs deep, but not discussion of it can take place without mention of the Irish Free State and one its prinicpal founders, General Richard Mulcahy.  For those who are looking for a great read on the Republic of Ireland and one of its unsung heroes, this is the place to start.  Highly recommended.

A nation cannot be fully free and which even a small section of its people have not freedom. A nation cannot be said to live in spirit, or materially, while there is denied to any section of its people a share of the wealth and the riches that God bestowed around them.”  – Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971), January 21, 1919

ISBN-10: 0813117917
ISBN-13: 978-0813117911

Northern Ireland

editors1Each of us carry to this day, memories of our childhood both good and bad. It is hoped that the memorable experiences far outweigh the forgettable. When I think back to my own childhood, I am filled with many great memories. And although my family has gone through its share of loss and disappointment,  I have no complaints and will remain grateful to my loving parents.  Further, I do believe that there is something about being a kid in America during the 1980s that truly is hard to put into words.   The shows I remember watching on television influenced millions of children like myself across America.  Most of us are familiar with Jim Henson’s (1936-1990) Sesame Street  and the show Reading Rainbow starring LeVar Burton.  But there was another program that my brother and I could not wait to see and the anticipation that consumed us was shared by our peers.  The show was  Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood  , the brainchild of the late Fred McNeely Rogers (1928-2003) whom the world knew simply and affectionately as Mr. Rogers.  This biography of Rogers came up in my list of recommendations on Amazon and I knew instantly that I would have to read it.  It is the second book I have read by Charles River Editors, who also published Operation Condor: The History of the Notorious Intelligence Operations Supported by the United States to Combat Communists across South America, a short yet thorough examination of the murderous policies of the right wing dictatorships that once plagued Latin America.

Before starting the book, I asked myself just who was Fred Rogers? As a kid, I knew nothing about the man himself and the image in my mind of him was with his trademark cardigan sweater.  But as can be seen in this short but informative biography, there was far more to his life than we could have imagined as kids and his on-screen persona was not that far off from who he was in real life.  The native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania could have ended up in just another blue collar job but found his calling in the world of television.  The author retraces Roger’s path, paying close attention to his early show The Children’s Corner, which helped set the stage for the show that made him an icon. Rogers undoubtedly had a great supporting cast that incredibly included the late George Romero (1940-2017) and Michael Keaton.

Learning about Rogers’ personal life was equally as interesting and from what the author has written, he was a devoted family man who also showed that same love to the kids of other parents through his show which he believed truly needed to be formatted in a way that helps children be who they are.  His efforts and the finished product are a testament to his enduring ingenuity.  And by the time his show ended in 2001, Fred Rogers had rightfully earned a place in the homes and hearts of families in American and abroad.  Less than two years after the final episode he succumbed to stomach cancer but his legacy remains firm and in 2019, Tri-Star Pictures released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Hollywood legend Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers.  I have yet to see the film but I am sure that Hanks delivered the goods as he always does.

Without question, this is far more the Rogers’ story than we know but this book is a good start to understanding who the real Fred Rogers was. My only complaint is that I wish the book was longer. As I read further through it, I became even more intrigued by Rogers’ rise to stardom and the enormous amount of work that went on behind the scenes.  However, the biography as it is here is written beautifully and tells Rogers’ story directly and without fanfare.  Essentially, we learn who he was and why he is still important and always will be.  And when I do step outside and enjoy the weather, I am reminded of Rogers’ words that it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Great read.

The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” – Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

ASIN: B07QLNQ6N3

Biographies

7sistersI saw this book in my list of recommendations on Amazon and decided to take a closer look.  The cover caught my attention and after reading the full title, my interest peaked.  On January 9, 1969 a group of students belonging to the Swarthmore Afro-American Students Society (SASS), took over the admissions office at Swarthmore College.  In the months prior, a working paper regarding the recruitment and admission of black students had been released, resulting in immediately backlash from the university’s black students who felt their privacy had been violated and their experiences ignored.  The animosity between the students and Dean Hargadon continued to increase and the students felt they had no option  but to act.  Joyce Frisby Baynes, Harold S. Buchanan, Jannette O. Domingo, Marilyn J. Holifield, Aundrea White Kelly, Marilyn Allman Maye, Myra E. Rose and Bridget Van Gronigen Warren moved into the admissions office and over the next few days, their resistance changed the course of history for Swarthmore College.

The book’s focus is on the takeover as to be expected.  But in between chapters focused on the occupation of the admissions office, are the individual stories of those involved.  Each story is different but a common bond is that they were only part of a small number of black students who overcame the odds to earn their place at Swarthmore College. Yet, even for all of the intelligence and accomplishments, they still were required to stand up to college officials and voice their concerns over lack of cultural awareness and a dean who became the bane of their existence.  Each person takes a turn speaking the book, recounting their story of where they grew up, their lives at home and what made them choose a college in Pennsylvania where hardly any black people had been admitted before.  As I read their personal accounts, I could not help but to admire their will and determination to see that the college changed its ways.  From the beginning of the takeover, it was clear that they did not see failure as an option.

Nearly all of the stories contain incidents of racial discrimination, some subtle and other incidents quite overt.  Readers sensitive to racial incidents might be slightly uneasy and the memories that come to life.  The events remembered are disturbing and upsetting but in a testament to the spirits of those who speak, not one resorts to believing they are inferior. In fact, the incidents only strengthen their resolve to keep moving forward.  One story in particular struck me and it is this description which gives the reader an idea of what some of them had to endure just to get an education:

Farther south in Tallahassee, Florida, Marilyn Holifield faced a more aggressively hate-filled environment in her newly integrated high school. White students vilified her daily and called her “n***er.” But the child who loved growing roses with her father was well aware of her family’s legacy of resistance.”

Jim Crow died a slow death in the United States and its remnants remained scattered across parts of the deep south.   While federal law prohibits discrimination, it is imperative to remember that less than sixty years ago, people such as the students in this book could not eat the same lunch counters as their white counterparts.  Signs for “colored” permeated the south and in the stories at hand, show the reader the capacity for vindictiveness in the human mind.  But giving up isn’t an option and their successes in spite of the racism they endured are some of the brightest moments in the book.

All of the group members have gone on to have productive and admirable careers.  The takeover is long gone but today, other students, in particular black students can look back on their actions in 1969 as the turning point in the college’s recruiting policies.  The battles on college grounds during the Civil Rights Movement is often left out of discussions but the struggle for equality on campus was equally as critical as the battles off campus.  This book is a perfect example of the on-campus struggle and how a small group of young men and women challenged the system and succeeded. Good read.

ASIN: B07SR43L6T

Civil Rights Movement

Boyd1When I think back to my youth, I recall various automobiles that were own by my father, uncles and friends.  Their cars were American made and typically products of General Motors. Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac were the cars of choice and hardly anyone then owned a foreign car. If you owned a Cadillac, it meant status and success in the America.  Detroit  became Motor City and its dominance over the U.S. auto industry remained in place for several decades until automakers from Japan and Germany stormed into the American market.  The city has an extensive past, beginning with French explorer Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac (1658-1730) for whom the luxury automobile is named after.  In 1701, he established what is now Detroit before eventually returning to France where he lived out the rest of his days.  The evolution of Detroit is one of America’s greatest success stories and also one of its greatest tragedies.  Throughout all, its black citizens have always remained firm in their dedication to seeing Detroit become a city to be envied. Herb Boyd takes another look at his city and the role of black men and women in the development of a famed city.

Boyd starts at the beginning, when Detroit is under French rule and North America is an open plain upon which Native Americans, white settlers, slaves and the wild call home. A new nation known as the United States was established in 1776 and over the next few years, slavery was been abolished in the majority of norther states.  In 1701, Detroit entered the Union as part of Michican and although slavery was abolished, it was still practice in many parts of the country.  Detroit became a gateway to freedom as many slaves escaped into Canada before returning free men and women due to loopholes in U.S. laws at the time regarding slavery in particular fugitive slaves. The case of Peter Denison is revisited and I feel many readers will find this section regarding the methods of freedom for slaves to be quite interesting.   However, not every story has a happy ending and the racial tension discussed by the author highlights how far as a nation we have come.   In what could be called race wars, we witness episodes of violence that will send a chill down the spine of many readers.

The Civil War marked a turning point in United States History.  Thousands of African-American troops took part in the conflict but the battle for freedom was far from over.  Racism was still prevalent and slavery died a slow and agonizing death.   However, years prior to the emancipation proclamation, the abolitionist made it their goal to erase slavery from the entire United States. Boyd discusses the lives and actions of the legendary John Brown (1800-1859) and others who sought freedom through armed resistance.  Those of the more peaceful approach were responsible for the founding of the Second Baptist Church and Dunbar Hospital.  Yet they could not escape racism and Detroit would have its many ugly incidents between white and black citizens that nearly caused its destruction and will make readers wonder why humans treat each other in the ways that they do.

Similar to many American cities post-Civil War, Detroit continued to undergo significant change.  In 1914, the world went to war as Europe became ground zero.  Thirty years later a second world war began and Detroit sent some of its best which included many of its black citizens who returned home from war energized to defeat Jim Crow.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up considerable pace and descent of Detroit into the ghost town it became takes center stage.  As Berry Gordy’s Motown Records were turning out hits, white flight was in full swing, changing the demographics of many neighborhoods which saw an increase in the number of black residents. The landscape of Detroit was being remade and the effects would reverberate for decades.

Throughout the book it seems as if Detroit is where who’s who of important figures can be found.  However, their presence is offset by the rise in violence that spared no one, including the late Rosa Parks (1913-2005) and Rev. C.L. Franklin (1915-1984).  Detroit had earned a reputation as a dangerous city that threatened all who entered.  But within its borders there were those working to change it for the better and that has never changed.  The story of former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young (1918-1997) is highlighted as well as the rise and fall of future Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.  Despite their best efforts, the image of a violent city stuck to Detroit and the gun violence increased.  And shootings by law enforcement officers of civilians had placed Detroit at the top of the list of police related shootings in America.  The police unit STRESS, an acronym for Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets, had become infamous and in May, 2010, the murder of  seven-year-old Aiyana Jones provided the ultimate proof of a police department in need of upheaval.

Currently, Mike Duggan serves as the Mayor of Detroit.  Time will tell if he will have ultimate success in rehabilitating a city that was once one of America’s brightest.  The bailout of the auto industry by the administration of President Barack Obama marked a low point in the history of Motor City.  It was sobering experience that taught American automakers many painful truths and showcased Detroit’s fall from the position of ruler of the U.S. auto industry.  There are many bright spots and if there is anything we can take from Boyd’s book, it is that the people of Detroit never give up and have always found ways to survive.  The future is bright for Detroit but only if all hands are on deck.  I have no doubt that they will be.   But what is imperative to remember through Boyd’s work, are the stories of the people of color who helped build the City of Detroit.  Good read.

Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.” – Marvin Gaye (1938-1984)

ASIN: B01I9B5466

General Reading