Polio An American Story: The Crusade That Mobilized the Nation Against the 20th Century’s Most Feared Disease-David Oshinsky

0Epidemics have been a part of mankind for thousands of years.  At some point in time, humanity has been threatened with the possibility of extinction in the form a new disease that had not yet been understood by doctors and government officials.  In the United States, there was a disease that caused widespread panic and afflicted millions of Americans before it was contained.  Its most-famous victim was former President Franklin D. Roosevelt who became known as the “Wheelchair President”.  The disease was officially designated poliomyelitis or polio for short.  To this day, it remains one of America’s deadliest epidemics next to AIDS and cancer which continues to claim lives each year.   The origins of polio are mysterious and the successful creation of a vaccine was the result of the hard work and dedication of the greatest virologists who rose to the occasion to save the nation from a deadly disease.  Today the disease is largely forgotten and taken for granted.  A diagnosis of polio is exceedingly rare and in the event it is detected, vaccines are readily available to contain the virus and give the patient a long and happy life.  However, less than sixty years ago the race to find a vaccine was hotly contested as Americans and the world lived in suspense at the possible eradication of a silent killer.  Two doctors on opposites ends of the spectrum are forever linked with the disease and the successful campaign to eliminate it;  Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk.  This is the story of polio and the two physicians that have become legends in American history. The book is presented to us by David Oshinsky, author and Pulitzer Prize winner who also published  Bellevue: Three Centuries Of Medicine And Mayhem At America’s Most Storied Hospital.  Contained within these pages is the incredible story of the monumental effort to find a cure for the disease that threatened to eliminate the population of an entire nation and struck fear in the hearts and minds of households everywhere.

Albert Sabin died in 1993 and Jonas Salk two years later in 1995.  By the time of their deaths, polio had nearly been eradicated in the United States with isolated cases appearing on occasion. If they were alive today, I believe they would both feel vindicated even more by the rare existence of the polio disease in the United States today and in most parts of the world except for countries in Africa which still continue to struggle with the deadly disease.   The true irony of Sabin and Salk as we see through the account by Oshinsky, is that although they both sought a vaccine to save people from polio, they did so from opposite ends and maintained their stances until their deaths.  Salk became the first to claim popularity through the creation of his killed virus vaccine.  Several years later, Sabin would be the hero with his live virus vaccine.  The vaccines pitted them against each other in a long and protracted battled from which they would never reconcile. Once colleagues and later adversaries, both would be vindicated years after their deaths.

Oshinksy’s research is beyond reproach and readers familiar with his other works will readily agree. The book is engaging from the start as we trace the origins of the epidemic and learn a multitude of facts about the virus that will challenge common held beliefs.   Social status, wealth, ethnicity and professional competition serve as regrettable undercurrents that on occasion caused setbacks and put the battle for a cure in a negative light.  And the actions of the Eisenhower administration towards the disease are shocking and mind-boggling.  The behind the scenes trivialities that occur serve as a premonition of the AIDS epidemic in which political ambitions and career advancements take center stage nearly overshadowing the main goal.  Thankfully, the doctors were successful and polio is no longer the killer in America that it once was.

This book is a step back into time in an era in America that would shock most readers today.  World Wars, racial and class discrimination in the early stages of the fight but the revelation of how polio affected people challenges all of the notions that were held about social status and health.   It also reinforces the point that viruses do not discriminate and epidemics claim victims across all cultures.  And in some cases, the relatives of those tasked with finding the cure are also afflicted highlighting the severity of the growing crisis.  Furthermore, the battle between the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and Health, Education and Warfare Department cast a dark blemish on the cause.  The scandal of Cutter Laboratories and new cases of polio following the inoculations of the vaccines nearly caused a new widespread panic.  As we know through history, the government and the doctors pressed on with Sabin’s live virus vaccine becoming the standard for over thirty years before Salk’s killed virus once again rose to prominence in 2003.  Regardless of the order of introduction or range of administration, both vaccines played a crucial role in the eradication of the disease and cemented Sabin and Salk’s legacies.  Oshinsky has done a service to both physicians in telling the story of their never-ending efforts to save America.

ISBN-10: 0195307143
ISBN-13: 97895307146

Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison-James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky

61goLJ8UoJL._UX300_PJku-sticker-v7,TopRight,0,-50_OU01__BG0,0,0,0_FMpng_AC_UL320_SR200,320_In death several musicians have become in a sense larger than life.  Their recordings, writings and interviews become collector’s items catapulting them to legendary status. A cruel irony in life is that some of the greatest artist and performers to have graced a stage, died a young age before reaching their full potential. James Dean (1931-1955), Tupac Shakur (1971-1996), Janis Joplin (1943-1970), Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) and Jim Morrison (1943-1971) are just a handful of names of talented individuals who rose to fame and were gone before thirty years of age.   Morrison, with his band The Doors, had become a sex icon and the poster boy for the anti-establishment movement sweeping across the United States. His death on July 3, 1972 concluded a chaotic life that seemed to get even more bizarre as it continued.  Eerily, Morrison joined the group of musicians who died at twenty-seven.   Joplin, Hendrix and Brian James of The Rolling Stones all died at the age of twenty-seven. And Morrison’s long-term girlfriend Pamela Courson (1946-1974), also died at the age of twenty-seven.  The dark coincidences highlights the fragility of life and its unpredictable nature for we are here one day and sometimes gone the next. In death, Morrison became an even bigger legend and still has millions of adoring fans across the globe. But for all of his wild antics on stage, some of which nearly resulted in his incarceration for an extended-stay,  the real Morrison proved to be a mysterious and confusing character as evidenced by this informative and well-researched biography by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky.

Capturing the essence of Morrison is critical for any biography and the authors do an outstanding job of presenting to the reader the real Jim Morrison in all of his glory and infamy.   The native of Melbourne, FL, starts off life similar to most all-American kids in the 1940s.  But as he matures and makes his way through high-school and college, his life begins to take on its own dynamics which would carry him all the way through to his death in Paris, France. He exemplified living outside the box and seemed to thrive on controversy.  While The Doors created musical hits, their leader and singer lived life on a fine line between genius and insanity often dabbling between the two.  Through interviews and critical research, Morrison’s most outrageous antics are covered and some are beyond shocking.  The demons that he developed during his life take center stage and it is unfathomable to realize that in only twenty-seven years, Morrison had a life that could have spanned several decades. As a rock star he was unable to resist the many temptations faced by stars. His compulsive nature, spirituality and indulgence in excess served as a confluence of factors that nearly pushed the rock icon completely off the deep end.

It will seem absurd and possibly unbelievable that such a talented individual lead a life of severe self-destruction. But Morrison, like other great performers, typically viewed life through a different lens than the average person.  Substance abuse has long been a common ailment among the world’s greatest performers. For some it was used to keep things in focus and for others, as an escape from the pressures of stardom and personal struggles they sought to avoid.  For Morrison, it may be have been a combination of both or one of the other. The real reasons went with him to the grave and shall never be known. As he rose to fame, he became a force on his own and then no longer belonged to himself. He belonged to the fans who refused to allow him to be anything other than the Jim Morrison who turned out arenas and caused mass riots.  For them, he was their icon and The Doors was their band providing a leading voice for social change and the rage against the establishment.

It has been said that death is not the true tragedy in life, what is tragic is what dies in inside of us while we are still alive.  Tragically, towards the end of his life, Morrison had begun to come full circle and even began to talk about his parents from whom he remained detached through nearly his entire career.  Like a Shakespearean tragedy, Paris became the place where he collided with fate and his life ceased to exist giving birth the eternal legacy of James Douglas Morrison and band known as The Doors. For fans of  the pioneering group whose example has been followed by countless others, this is a must read.

ISBN-10: 0688119158
ISBN-13: 978-0688119157

Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 3: The War Years and After 1939-1962-Blanche Wiesen Cook

Blanche Wiesen Cook EventBlanche Wiesen Cook has distinguished herself as the unofficial biographer of the late Eleanor Roosevelt. Here she returns with this third volume of her three-part biography of the woman who might be the greatest First Lady in United States history.  To some that might seem like an overstatement.  Names such as Jackie, Lady Byrd, Nancy, Barbara, Michelle and Hillary can be offered for such a distinction. Having read all three volumes, I believe that other readers will also come to see ER as an extraordinary figure whose greatness have never been matched since. Shrewdly, she used the highest office in the land to effect social change while making her voice heard and felt with regards to domestic issues and foreign policy.  Her frankness and unwillingness to stay quiet and in the background earned her the wrath of some but the admiration of millions.

In this third volume, we catch up with Eleanor in 1939 as German Chancellor Adolf Hitler is making his presence felt in Europe and threatening to turn the continent into a German Reich. Her husband and president, Franklin, finds himself at odds over the growing German menace. ER is right by his side serving as both a voice of reason and cabinet adviser as FDR determines the position of the United States in regards to the looming crisis across the Atlantic.  In this manner the book differs from Volume I and Volume II which focus on her early, the people who formed the core of close friends and FDR’s successful campaign.  The close nexus of friends return and once again we come across Hick, Esther Lape, Elizabeth Read, and Earl Miller.  Like characters in a novel, they all have their roles in her life and each makes their departure from the stage as Eleanor’s life comes full circle.  We also see up close the changes that occur in the relationship between husband and wife and how it shaped the policies of the government.  The stage had been set in volume two and in this volume, it comes to fruition in its entirety. Some of it is good, some bad and even more unfortunate.  But throughout the thick and then, they remained Franklin and Eleanor.

While readers may be tempted to think that Cook has strayed far off course in this third part, that is not the case.  In fact, the volume closes ER’s story appropriately for she was no longer First Lady following FDR’s death in 1945.  Cook does address her life post-Washington but it is clear that her highest moments came occurred during her tenure in the White House.  Nonetheless, this look into FDR’s administration and ER’s role in it, is fascinating and reveals the long process that eventually pulled the United States into the war.  Operating in a male dominated and openly discriminatory social climate, she became a beacon of hope as she wage the war for Jewish refugees, anti-discrimination legislation, ant-lynching legislation and equal rights for America’s women. Sadly, her efforts paid off many years after her death.  Had she lived, I believe she would have been in awe at the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  His election would have been seen by her as a testament to the cause for civil rights and the advancement of America’s African-American citizens who faced discrimination daily in their lives.

Following FDR’s death, she continued to work on behalf of all Americans and never wavered in her crusade for equality for everyone.  In 1962, she was appointed by President Kennedy to be the head of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The appointment spoke volumes about her accomplishments and vision. She remained the chairwoman until the time of her death.  When she died on November 7, 1962, a shining light was extinguished that was one of America’s brightest.  She is no longer with us but her story is through the efforts of Blanche Wiesen Cook.  And through her words, we can relive the life of the pioneering former First Lady.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

ISBN-10: 0670023957
ISBN-13: 978-0670023950

Author Spotlight: William L. Shirer

shirerWhen Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany, he embarked on a path of destruction that threatened world peace and nearly caused the destruction of not only Germany but all of Europe.  The Austrian menace had unleashed a wave of terror across the continent that became known as the dreaded blitzkrieg.  Annexation and systematic invasion became the tools of the trade as the Third Reich expanded its empire. His rise to power and fall from it have been case studies for decades following his death in April, 1945.  His medical history and bizarre habits are well-known but have caused even more bewilderment regarding the megalomania that consumed the Führer.  Today, more than 70 years after World War II ended, Hitler and the Third Reich are still the topics of documentaries, movies, articles and television specials.

History always has witnesses to the events as they unfold.  During the rise in power of the N.S.D.A.P., spearheaded by a young drifter and former soldier originally from the small sister country of Austria, there was an American witnesses to the development of one of history’s deadliest regimes, William L. Shirer (1904-1993).  As an American journalist and war correspondent originally from Chicago, he found himself in a unique position to record history and that is exactly what he did.  Although he left Germany in 1940 before the deadliest parts of the war, he kept a journal of his experiences which was later published as The Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941.  In their effort to control all of Germany society, the Nazis began to restrict freedom of speech, press, religion and others once given to and enjoyed by the German people. Shirer, as both an reporter and foreigner was placed in a precarious position and made plans to exit Germany which he successfully did and was able to smuggle the notes out of the country. The book provides us with a window into daily life in Germany as the Nazi presence grows and Hitler makes his descent into insanity fueled by a thirst for power and world domination.  It is considered one of the must-read accounts of the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The famed author penned over 10 books during his career.  They include notes on Mahatma Gandhi and several fictional works.  However the majority of his works were related to the war.  He worked for CBS news for a number of years before parting ways with the company in 1947,.  He had worked under the direction of the late Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) .  The two journalist parted under bitter terms and their friendship never recovered.  Shire maintained that he was fired by the network but his claim was disputed by Murrow and CBS head William S. Paley.  Despite his unfortunate departure from CBS, he went on to gain fame through his exceptional writing skills and literary intellect.  In 1960, he completed the book that cemented his legacy and became the definitive account of the Nazi regime, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. His masterpiece provides a detailed account of Hitler’s life and the rise and fall of N.S.D.A.P. regime.  in 1961, the National Book Foundation awarded Shirer the National Book Award for best non-fiction book of the year.  The book has been revised several times including for its thirtieth and fiftieth anniversaries. Having sold million of copies, it remains one of the most popular books regarding the German nightmare and a testament to Shirer’s brilliant literary mind. In my collection it stands out as one of my favorites and one which I have read more than once.  The page count is over 1200 but contained within those pages is an abundance of information and a meticulous record of how and why the Reich ascended to to dominance and then collapsed under its own dysfunctional weight. Shirer was staunchly anti-Nazi and found the Hitler regime to be nothing short of repugnant. He was severely disliked and closely watched, in particular by the Nazi Minister of Propaganda himself, Joseph Goebbels. Undeterred, he continued to voice his criticism of Hitler up until the time he fled and returned to America with his family.

In his personal life, Shirer was quite intriguing having been married three times and fathering two children.  And in 1932, he lost an eye in a skiing accident in the Swiss Alps.  A native of Chicago and former employee of the Chicago Tribune, his travels took him across the world and back home to the United States where he spent the rest of his life. He never again worked for CBS or any other network and focused on his books. He died on December 28, 1993 at the age of eighty-nine from recurring heart ailments.   Today, his name is rarely mentioned and the younger generation is unaware of his importance.  The horrors of the second World War and Adolf Hitler are long gone but the memories are still present in the minds of holocaust survivors and veterans of the armed forces. As the years pass and the remaining survivors make their departures from this earth, we will be left only with memoirs and investigative reports.  Anne Frank became a martyr after her death as her father Otto collected her diary and subsequently had it published.  Eli Wiesel, the author of Night, died in the summer of 2016 bringing an end to a long and storied life. In life Shirer constructed a reputation that grew in later years.  His classic account of the Third Reich’s story continues to sell and is recognized as a triumph in investigative reporting.  And as new readers complete his works, he will be right there along with us to remind us of a time when the entire world lived under a dark cloud and Europe was nearly destroyed.  And by doing so, he lives forever and will continue to do so many years after his death.

History must speak for itself. A historian is content if he has been able to shed more light.” William L. Shirer

 

 

In Grandma We Trust

 

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1952-Eastern District High School, Brooklyn, New York

Grandmothers are one of the most sacred parts of the family structure. In some cases, the grandmother also takes on the role of the child’s mother. Their wisdom gained through years of rearing children and watching them grow into adults gives them a unique perspective of life. My maternal grandmother, Jean Williams Franks (November 18, 1934-February 14, 2017) departed from this earth on Valentine’s Day at the age of eighty-three.  She died peacefully at home after two years of declining health.  She resisted to the end but was unable to overcome the conditions that continued to plague her. She is survived by many relatives, friends and others who knew her in passing.

 

This blog is for book reviews and this post will seem unusual but there are a couple of reasons why it is her.  You see, my grandmother was a secretary for several decades at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.   She was an excellent typist and highly detailed.  And she encourage all of us to focus on our reading and writing skills.  Her home always had its share of books. In fact, I have one of her most-cherished; a book from the famed Pan Am Airlines that was published in 1958.  In addition, she also had in her possession, license plates from the states of New York and New Jersey that were over forty years in age. To say that she was nostalgic would be an understatement.

In addition to her interest in reading and writing, she also allowed me to perfect my typing skills through the endless use of her computers as I moved through college.  She would hear me typing and comment here and there on what I need to work on.  I will never forget her admonishment towards my brother and I to drink more water and use our minds. Today, I do both of these extensively.  Travel was one of her true passions and from her, I have gained my love of traveling which has influence my selection of reading material that appears on this blog.  Whenever I saw her, she would always ask how long it would be before I was out of the country yet again.  No matter where I was going, she was always happy that I was going somewhere.  Throughout her life, she never let anything stop her from seeing the world and she truly loved people.   Conversation was her love and she engaged anyone who was willing to listen and respond.  Tomorrow she will be laid to rest and that act will be the final stage in the changing of the guard for my aunt and mother will now assume the roles that she once assumed.

The beauty in her life was that she gave something to everyone that she met in many different forms.  Though she never was able to really see this blog, I know she would be thrilled that her first-born grandchild had tapped into the gifts of reading and writing to apply them towards a positive cause.  As I write, I can see her smiling in satisfaction that her endless efforts to keep us on the right track did in fact pay off over time.   And in the future, as I continue to write, she will appear in my thoughts repeatedly.  She is no longer in pain and has moved to a place which we all shall see one day.   But until then, we will serve ourselves best by living the life that we have and enjoying each day.

Tupac Shakur once said “death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside while still alive”.  Our time on this earth is limited and we do not know when we will take our last breath.  We come into the world, learn from those who are already here and through our experiences as we age and mature.  And at some point, we leave behind our friends, family and those who we have crossed paths with. But our actions, words and thoughts stay behind and live on in the memories of those we have touched.  And in that sense, we all have the ability to live forever.

“For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee”- John Donne

Chasin’ The Trane: The Music and Mystique of John Coltrane-J.C. Thomas

coltraneJazz music is as American as apple pie and fireworks on the 4th of July.  Its popularity has resulted in jazz festivals around the world .  The festival in Berlin is among the most popular in the world. Some of the greatest musicians in history made their names famous through their talents of the wide range of instruments that gave us the many great songs that have been studied and imitated to decades. Among these legendary artist is the late John Coltrane, who performed with the all time greats such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Charlie “Bird” Parker.   Davis is still the best-selling artist in jazz history with his 1959 album Kind of Blue.  And his influence on jazz continues decades after his death.  However, true fans will be quick to remind you that while Davis is a legend in his own right, there were others who left a lasting legacy on jazz.  While he had an unassuming presence, John Coltrane is always named among the top recording artists of his time and has influence a legion of musicians.  But behind the saxophone, who was the real John Coltrane?

J.C. Thomas explores the life of Coltrane in this biography of the late star.  The book does not follow a traditional biography format.  What Thomas has done is to mix biographical data with recollections from those who knew Coltrane.  The unusual approach makes the book even more enjoyable and helps the reader grasp the mystique of a legend. Coltrane did not leave an autobiography and tragically he died many years before he could complete one. His sudden passing on July 17, 1967 at the age of 40 caused the jazz world to reel in shock at the loss of a legend in the making.  However, Thomas was able to examine his music and converse with those closest to him to give us the most complete picture of this short and incredible life that began in Hamlet, North Carolina and ended in Huntington, New York.

Music is a central theme in the book for obvious reasons, however we also learn about the many struggles that plagued Coltrane throughout his life and might have played a role in his gradual decline and eventual death.  There are successes in the book that cause the reader to breathe a sigh of relief. But his tragic fate also causes us to wonder what if he had lived.  His belief in faith and enthusiastic study of other religions placed him on a spiritual plane that was manifested in his songs which became more dynamic as he aged and matured.  Thomas takes us on this ride with Coltrane as we learn about spirituality in a different way from which we are used to.  The application of his newfound spiritual beliefs to his music enable him to be in  a place resulted in his ascension as one of the true pioneers of his genre.

Reviewers of the book have given favorable ratings and one even said this was the cliff notes version of his life.  While that statement is not far off the mark, the book was not intended to be the end all account of Coltrane’s life.  In fact,  I think the book serves him well and allows us to step inside the mind of the master himself.  Personally, I enjoyed the anecdotes throughout the book. Some were downright hilarious and others interesting for they show the mystery that surrounded Coltrane and still does to this day.  His widow Alice said that he did not speak often but when he did he said quite a lot.  Methodical, controlled and visionary, Coltrane remains a musical icon.  His albums A Love Supreme and Blue Train are ranked 27 and 28 on the list of best-selling jazz albums by the RIAA.  His fans would undoubtedly rank them higher than that and I would hard pressed to argue against it.  For those who want to know more about his fascinating and brief life, this is the place to start to learn about the man they called Trane.

ISBN-10: 0306800438
ISBN-13: 978-0306800436

Partners In Crime: The Clinton’s Scheme To Monetize The White House For Personal Gain-Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D.

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The 2016 presidential election campaign will be remembered by voters as one of the most bitter and comical races ever seen.  The actions of both candidates ranged from disappointing to the surreal.   The Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State and Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, was often referred to as a liar and criminal by her adversary.   Her supporters believed that the charges were unfounded and amplified by a Republican candidate that capitalized on fear, despair and paranoia.  But the question remains even after the election, what was really going on behind closed doors in the Clinton campaign and was criminality involved?  Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., examines the history of the former first couple in this investigative report that dives deep inside the Clinton Foundation and its many ties to corporations, crooks, thieves and the power-hungry elite.

Supporters of the Clintons will find this book hard to accept.  However, Corsi has done his homework and details the complicated web of financial deals and exploits that have resulted in millions of dollars in revenue.  For those who voted against Clinton, many of the facts in this book might already be known. And for others, the book will leave them indifferent towards Clinton.  In fact, it could be argued that in spite of the information in the book, she could have been a good president.  As it stands now, that is something we will never know. What we do know through Corsi’s book, is that there is more than meets the eye with regards to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The story begins in 2001 following the devastating earthquake that struck Gujarat, India on January 26, 2001.  Out of this tragedy came the American India Foundation and the beginning of a long list of shadowy figures, questionable acquisitions, offshore accounts, nearly non-existent bookkeeping, insufficient auditing and a very dark legacy.  Corsi has carefully researched each and explains all of them in detail.  The revelations are shocking and eye-opening.  Incredibly, Corsi states that the reason behind his book was to prevent future first couples from following the lead of the Clintons once they have left office. He is not a law enforcement offer and does not have any legal authority to bring charges against the Clintons or commence any investigative committee.  But he does a provide a voice of reason in trying to make sense of how the Clintons have become exceedingly wealthy following their time in the White House.

Following his service as president, Bill Clinton became an even bigger celebrity bringing celebrity star power and political clout to charity groups worldwide.  And as valued public speaker, he found himself in high demand at organizations, school and other public events worldwide.  His travels and speeches have earned him great wealth, far more than most would believe.   To say that it is unreal would be an understatement. And after the reader has finished this book, he or she will see the former commander-in-chief in a different light.  In this review I make no attempt to demonize Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.  It is not my place nor my intention.  Corsi also does not appear to have a personal vendetta.  In fact, he never mentions his political affiliation if any.   But he does make it clear that he feels that what has happened as a result of their actions, is both regrettable and unfortunate.  And also highly suspicious and in some cases possibly illegal.

The Clinton Foundation and it subsidiaries formed a nucleus of companies determined to make as much money as possible regardless of those affected.  The American India Foundation is the tip of the iceberg and is followed by other scandals such as UNITAID, the Haiti earthquake relief effort, Ranbaxy, the 2004 Tsunami, Uranium One and the email scandal that erupted during her second presidential campaign.  The information is sobering and absurd but it is necessary in understanding how charities are supposed to operate and why many people feel that they never have good intentions.  Sadly, this book confirms what many have believed about global initiatives and the true nature of the Clinton family.

Today, Hillary is out of the public spotlight on a daily basis.  It should be noted that she did in fact win the popular vote by several million votes.  And while she did not win the needed 270 electoral votes, she earned the votes of millions of Americans who believed she was better for the country in the long run.  Have millions of people read this book? Probably not.  Would they have voted differently if they had? Possibly.  Now that the election is long done and she is not in the oval office, most will not care about the book at all for it is not relevant to the current state of the union.  However, I feel that the target audience of this book is America’s youth for they are the future of this nation and will become the politicians of tomorrow that hopefully not make the same mistakes made by the power couple.   This is the inside story of the Clinton empire as dark as it gets.

ISBN-10: 1944229337
ISBN-13: 978-1944229337

Robert Kennedy In His Own Words: The Unpublished Recollections of the Kennedy Years-Robert F. Kennedy, edited by Edwin O. Guthman and Jeffrey Schulman

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The election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States marked a turning point in American history.   His successful campaign and subsequent eight years in office vindicated the late Robert F. Kennedy who in 1961 said he believed that in forty years a negro could be president.  At the time the thought seemed absurd as American struggle with social division fueled by ethnic discrimination.  But if we look back on his words, we can see that his foresight was not only accurate but uncanny.  From time to time I think back on the many quotes from him regarding his views on society.   His assassination during the 1968 presidential race left a void in the United States that has never been filled. He remains one of the most popular, unpopular and tragic figures in the history of this nation.

Following the death of John F. Kennedy, life took on a different meaning for the former Attorney General.   He became the patriarch of the Kennedy family and struggled with his own future and emotions resulting from the untimely death of his older brother.  As a member of the president’s cabinet and younger sibling, he was present during ever major crisis faced by the new administration. The wisdom and insight that he gained from his time in service of the country makes him one of history’s wisest witnesses.  The Kennedys have always been controversial. Most people either love them or hate them.  No matter which side of the fence you find yourself on, one thing that is true is that the election of John F. Kennedy was one of the brightest moments in world history.   From 1964-1967, Kennedy gave closed-door interviews to Anthony Lewis (1927-2013)who worked as a columnist for the New York Times, John Bartlow Martin (1915-1987) who served as an Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) who served as JFK’s special assistant and John Francis Stewart who was chief of the Oral History Project at the John F. Kennedy Library from 1966-1969.   The interviews sat dormant for over 20 years before this book was published in 1988. They were then edited and composed into this insightful account of the workings behind the scene in the Kennedy administration.

Kennedy was always very frank in his statements and never one to sugar coat anything. This book is no different.  In fact, he is even more frank and I believe part of the reason is because not much time had passed between the assassination in Dallas and when he began to sit down for these interviews.  The wounds were still open and many raw emotions were in play.  However to his credit, he answers each question directly and quite extensive. Only on a handful of times does he express disinterest in speaking about a certain topic. Considering what had just happened to his brother, it was remarkable that he was able to sit down and open up about a lot of topics.  But the one topic he does not discuss at all is the assassination itself.  He does talk about a few events following the murder and in particular his encounters with the new president Lyndon Johnson. It is no secret that the two did not get along and Kennedy does not hide his contempt for Johnson.  He gives clear reasons for his dislike for Johnson and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether they’re justified or not.

In addition to Johnson, Kennedy is asked his opinion about many other political figures at the time and he gives his honest opinion on all of them.  What I came to find in Kennedy was a man rigidly principled in a world where things were either right or wrong but not so much in between.  In his eyes either you were effective at your job or you were of no use.  As cold as it sounds to the reader, for a new administration that survived one of the closest elections in history, a senate filled with rabid Democratic southerners opposed to the “Catholics”and civil rights, a tight ship was needed in order for the new president to enact domestic legislation and compose effective foreign policy.  When his brother appointed him as Attorney General, even he thought it was a mistake.  But as we can see in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions made by John F. Kennedy.   The level of trust and dedication exemplified by Robert Kennedy to his brother, the administration and the country are inspiring.  Of course, we could point out many errors made along the way.  The same could be done with every administration.  However, their vision to steer America on a new path was bold and unprecedented a time when America was still struggling with a dark and violent past.  The challenges they faced through opposition and inefficiency are cleared explained by Kennedy giving us a sense of the staggering amount of difficulty JFK faced in dealing with the Senate and House of Representatives.  Incredibly, in spite of the opposition, they succeeded on many fronts and would have continued on the same path.

President Kennedy served in office less than three years.  But in those three years, he faced some of the biggest threats to the safety of the United States. Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam put the world on edge as democracy in the west came face to face with communism in the east, backed by the ideology of the Soviet Union, the nation’s fiercest opponent.  As they weathered each storm, they stood side to side making critical decisions to carefully avoid the outbreak of a nuclear confrontation.  And it may scare some readers to learn just how close we came to war with the Soviet Union. The place where it would have happened might surprise you as well.  There are other small tidbits of information revealed by Kennedy that cast light of the severity of maintaining world peace.

The questions he was asked were strictly about the administration. There are nearly no discussions about the personal lives of anyone except for a question regarding the rumor that JFK had been married prior to meeting Jackie. The reason is that the interviews were done for the JFK Library and needed to be as exact as possible. Furthermore, there are plenty of books that tackle the personal lives of the Kennedys.  The most popular being Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot. This book is Kennedy’s show and he shines in his assessment of what it was like helping his brother run the country and the many challenges and successes they had.

ISBN-10: 055334661X
ISBN-13: 978-0553346619

Trumped! The Inside story of The Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall-John R. O’Donnell with James Rutherford

51nrsryomzl-_sy346_On October 10, 2016, the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, closed its doors after 21 years in business and just hours after the second debate in the 2016 presidential race.  The casino was the vision of Donald J. Trump that became a reality.  At the time it opened, it was the largest casino in Atlantic City and rivaled the highlights of the Las Vegas Strip.  Its closing closed another chapter in the sad history of Atlantic City, the coastal town that was once the gambling mecca of the east coast of the United States and home to many of the greatest boxing events during the 1980s.  Today, the town is a remnant of its former self. Several well-known casinos closed years ago never to be replaced resulting in large sections of Atlantic City having no structures in place at all. The life that was once the backbone is now gone having been replaced by a feeling of dread and desertion. Only time will tell what will happen to the struggling city and it remains to be seen if the current president will do anything to help the place in which he earned and lost millions of dollars.

As a kid, I always looked forward to the times when my grandmother and mother would take my brother and I on a multi-day stay at Bally’s on the boardwalk.  Only a little over two hours from New York City, Atlantic City was a top destination for many people in New York, northern New Jersey and other parts of the tri-state area.  It also attracted millionaires, billionaires and scores of celebrities. To be honest, I never saw Donald Trump there and as a kid, he was the last thing going through my mind.  But I did walk past the Taj Mahal and stand in awe of its size.  To think that it is no longer a functional part of the famed boardwalk is both heartbreaking and a sad reality of the repercussions of financial mismanagement.  And for the reader to understand how and why Atlantic City has been on the decline, it is necessary to revisit the actions of one of its greatest and worst entrepreneurs.  John R. O’Donnell worked for the Trump Organization for three years before handing in his resignation.  In 1991, this book was released to the public and re-released in 2016 as Trump began to focus his efforts to win the oval office.

From the cover of the book it is hard to get an idea of what the book is about. This is not a biography of Trump.  O’Donnell does provide some biographical information but it is brief and in no way critical to the story being told.  This book is strictly about the casinos in Atlantic City under Trump’s control and O’Donnell’s experiences while working there.  There are those who will tempted to write off the book as an attempt to defame Trump’s character and cast judgment on his ability to lead the country. I disagree.  O’Donnell never says he hates Trump but only reports what he saw , heard and observed while running Trump’s casinos.  In fact, O’Donnell primarily worked at the Trump Plaza but also gets dragged into the debacle that became the Taj Mahal. He enjoyed his work but found himself not enjoying his environment and his decision to leave clearly reflects this.  But even as he resigns he does not go out of his way to bury Trump in the book.

No one can deny that Donald Trump has had success in the financial industry.  His name has been attached to some of the biggest projects we have seen in the last 30 years. But the truth about his involvement in those affairs and how much he really did do has always remained shrouded in mystery.  O’Donnell lifts the veil on some of these things allowing the reader to see what the real Trump is like behind the scenes. And what we see is a businessman who is calculating, cunning, insensitive, unrealistic and ultimately supremely overconfident. At times he is his own worst enemy and his casino empire borders on collapse in only a few short years. His personal life is marked with scandals, infidelity,  personal shortcomings and the deaths of several people close to him as acquaintances and business associates.  Gossip seekers will not find any smoking guns here but O’Donnell does touch on the Marla Maples situation that helped caused one of the biggest divorces in history between Trump and his then wife Ivanka.

The book almost reads like a tragic play at times with the main character, the emperor, unable to see all that is around him although is eyes are wide open.  O’Donnell is the voice of reason throughout the book but in the final analysis, he is resolved to make his exit stage left.  Many years have passed since Trump dominated and manipulated Atlantic City. Today he holds the highest office in the nation. But the question remains, has he learned from his days as a casino mogul or will he continue to make the same mistakes and hold on to his beliefs about himself and others that contributed to his prior failings?   Further, what will happen to the United States now that he is in office?  Time will answer these questions  and others that arise and for the voters and readers of this book, only they can decided what type of leader they believe he will be.

ASIN: B01DD2P5DI

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Specializing in Books with Tie-ins to the Middle East, Russia and "The Stans" Countries, with an Occasional Out-of-Region or "Smut" Piece to Add Some Balance

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A.C. Stark

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