Month: January 2016

QuarantelloPeriodically my father will reminisce about his childhood in East New York, Brooklyn. and sometimes I’ll pass through my old neighborhood on my way to visit my grandparents.   Today, much has changed and a large majority of the people I remember from that time are gone, but he violent and shocking memories will always remain.  By the time I grew up in East New York, the demographics had far changed. Rarely did I see any faces in the area that weren’t Puerto Rico, Dominican or African-American.  The Caucasian faces were mostly Police Officers, Firemen, EMTs and missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints.  As kids, we often heard stories about the gangs that roamed East New York waging turf battles with each other using, knives, zip guns, car antennas and anything else that could be used to inflict pain. The stories seemed unbelievable at the time but after reading this book, I have a whole new understanding of the place I once called home.

For over 60 years, the streets of East New York have been some of the most dangerous in Brooklyn.  Quarantello takes us back in time to the era when East New York had begun its social decline with gangs having taken over the streets and the Vietnam War was heating up with the government drafting thousands of young men into the armed forces.  Readers that are familiar with East New York, currently live there or are former residents will find this read fascinating, shocking, and nostalgic.   The level of violence is high but the book is an important piece of East New York’s history and gives mention to many street names, landmarks and old businesses that will be familiar to many readers.  Personally, I know all of the streets mentioned in the book and can attest to the fact that at the time I lived in the area, the streets were just as dangerous with a whole new set of gangs roaming the area.  And instead of sticks, pipes and bats,  guns were the primary weapon of choice.  The social decline had become greater and during the 1980s and 1990s, East New York was at its lowest point.  But there is hope and the City of New York plans to invest into the neighborhood the resources and capital that are long overdue.  I hope to have my father read this book and get his thoughts on that time in his youth and what he remembers from those days in relation to Quarantello’s story.   The book is a tough read at times and the level of violence and social tensions described in the book are not for the faint at heart.  But this is one man’s story of his youth in one of Brooklyn’s most feared and misunderstood areas.

ISBN-10: 1483641252
ISBN-13: 978-1483641256






molehuntdavidwise-1a_smallMay 11, 1987 -James Jesus Angleton, the former chief of counterintelligence in the Central Intelligence Agency, dies at the age of 87 from the effects of advanced stage lung cancer.  The legendary officer, who at one time also worked for the Office of Strategic Services, had been living out his final years quietly at his home in suburban Washington, D.C.  In 1974 he was relieved of his command by then director William Colby after 19 years of service.  His termination came on the heels of the search for moles within the CIA, a search that nearly destroyed the agency and was headed by Angleton.

David Wise presents to us his investigative report of the mole hunt, the lives and careers destroyed and the near implosion of the CIA.  The Cold War escalated tensions between the United States and Soviet Union with each side engaging in covert espionage operations to gather classified information and military secrets.   Agents, double agents and defectors kept the suspense high as they moved between the two  nations causing panic and hysteria as the CIA, KGB and British MI6 searched for moles threatening to bring about the downfall of several intelligence agencies. Angleton, by all accounts, was a strange, fascinating and mysterious individual.  Firmly convinced that a Soviet mole was within the CIA after the “defection” of Anatoly Golitsin, he and his subordinates began a crusade to rid the agency of moles and in the process, almost caused intelligence  recruitment and operations to come to a grinding halt.  Wise covers the operation and its many victims in extensive detail revealing the paranoia that spread rapidly as high level operatives found themselves cast under a web of suspicion.  Many officers resigned from the agency once their reputations were questioned and others were simply let go.  Years after both Angleton and Colby had left the agency, the Mole Relief Act (Public Law 96-450) was passed, providing compensation to some former employees wrongly targeted under Angleton’s relentless search for moles.

The CIA remains one of America’s most secretive agencies and the Freedom of Information Act has provided significant amounts of documents once previously classified that reveal the true nature of the operations in place during the Cold War and the hunt for Soviet moles which to this day, remains a dark period in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.

ISBN-10: 0394585143
ISBN-13: 978-0394585147


American History

ENY ghettoIt’s been several years since I lived in the East New York section of Brooklyn.  The neighborhood is considered to be one of the roughest in Brooklyn and is the target of the DeBlazio’s administration’s plan for redevelopment.  The area purchased by John Roberts Pitkin in 1835, is one of the most misunderstood areas in the City of New York.  I still vividly recall memories of my childhood, both good and bad as if they happened yesterday.  I and many of my friends no longer live in the area.  Some of them still live in the city, but others have moved to other states and abroad.  They are now fathers, husbands and wives.  But no matter where we go in life, we will always trace our roots back to this unique and tragic neighborhood.

Lately I’ve been curious about the history of  East New York and decided to give this book a read after seeing it in my list of recommendations on Amazon.   The late Walter Thabit, a community activist and urban planner who was instrumental in the creation of many low and moderate-income housing, tells the story of how East New York, the area once filled with prosperous European immigrants became a low-income war zone filled with drugs, poverty and death.  And it is a story that is shocking, appalling and infuriating.  President Kennedy once gave a speech about the differences in the chance of success in life between white and minority babies at birth.  It’s as if he was looking straight at East New York when he said those words.   Governmental neglect of the social and economic issues, white flight and racial discrimination set the stage for the transformation of East New York from a promising area to a ghetto.

The 1968 amendment to the Federal Housing Authority which allowed the government to control mortgage contracts in the area, resulted in the foreclosure of homes across the area and paved the way for the destruction of many blocks which had nothing but flat open space on most of the blocks.   The centralization of the public school system combined with the power and influence of the UFT continued the systematic policies that had an adverse effect on the education of minority children  throughout the city making East New York was a place in which hope did not exist and quality of life was an unheard of concept.  In recent years, the area has seen a turnaround with new buildings and improvements.  It’s darkest days are in the past, but they should never be forgotten and serve as reminder of a place and time which we never wish to revisit.  The efforts of Walter Thabit, Leo Fiorentino, Rev. Johnny Youngblood, Granville Payne and many other residents to bring peace, equality and success to East New York are examples of what can happen when people work with each other as opposed to against each other.

ISBN-10: 0814782671
ISBN-13: 978-0814782675

New York City

51zy0kw2akl-_sx322_bo1204203200_On May 30, 1961, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the dictator of the Dominican Republic was assassinated in the capital city of Santo Domingo.  His death concluded a 30 year reign of oppression inflicted upon the Dominican people and the neighboring country of Haiti.  Widely considered to be the worst dictator Latin American history, he is responsible for the Parsley Massacre in 1937, the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and an unknown number of murders. True to the form of an egomaniac, he went as far as to have statues of himself constructed throughout the country while at the same time renaming the capital Trujillo City. His initiation of the system of ethnic cleansing that attempted to “whiten” the republic created a climate of racial dysfunction that affects the island to this day.  A thirst for blood and supreme dominance encouraged him to plot the assassinations of several Latin American leaders and threatened to destabilize the Caribbean and curtail American business interests. Fifty-five years later, the question of how Trujillo assumed power is often asked.  The relationship between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic is a long fractured story and a prime example of the effects of imperialistic foreign policy.  Eric Paul Roorda has studied the complex relationship between the two nations and the rise of a tyrant.

The first question that we must ask is how did Trujillo come to power?   The Monroe Doctrine and the added corollary by Theodore Roosevelt paved the way for occupation by the United States Marine Corps of the island of Hispaniola.  Later in an effort to relinquish control of the island, the Marines began to train young men for positions in government and the military.  Among  these young men was a young man from San Cristobal that would later rule the Dominican Republic with an iron fist. His persecution of  political opponents, parties and exiles often came to a bloody and deadly climax.  The murder of Jesus Galindez highlighted the level of vengeance attained as he re-enforced his status as the “Benefactor of the Fatherland.”

The rise of the Trujillo regime and its influence over Dominican society represented the dark side of the U.S. foreign policy.  Roorda reconstructs the puzzle showing how U.S. intervention and later non-intervention, created the most brutal dictatorship in Latin American history.  The Good Neighbor Policy and the battles that waged within Washington between the White House, Marines and State Department are examined in detail revealing the disdain and contempt for Trujillo and also the reluctant acceptance by Washington of the malignant nightmare in the Caribbean.  Under the facade of the Good Neighbor Policy, diplomatic relations continued with Trujillo until 1958 and were never fully restored. Without the backing of the United States and his power slipping, Trujillo’s days became numbered.  Mounting opposition and dissatisfaction gave rise to calls for social reform and paved the way for his assassination three years later.

Roorda’s investigative account gives clarification to the complex history between neighbors bonded together by imperialism, greed, murder and racial ideology.  A genocidal tyrant was allowed free reign over his subjects bringing shame and regret to the powers that allowed his ascension to the throne.  He is only one on a long list of dictators that have seized power at the heels of faulty U.S. foreign policy.  The story of the Dominican Republic is a mirror image of other Latin nations ravaged by imperialist ideas.  But with this book, there is hope that we can go a long way in preventing the rise of another dictator next door.

ISBN-10: 0822321238
ISBN-13: 978-0822321231


Latin America

MartoranoThe film “Black Mass” featuring Johnny Depp as the notorious Boston criminal James “Whitey” Bulger, took us inside the old Boston underworld and the power struggle between the Irish and Italian organized crime organizations that turned the city into a battle zone.  Bulger’s story, due in part to documentaries, media coverage and books, is well-known. But what isn’t widely known, is the story of the Winter Hill gang’s most efficient and feared killer, Johnny Martorano.  In the film, Martorano is played by actor W. Earl Brown. Howie Carr presents us with this chilling account of Martorano’s early life, his descent into the crime world, affiliation with Bulger, arrest and decision to become a testifying witness against the Winter Hill gang and numerous individuals targeted in law enforcement investigations.  And what he reveals is a gritty underworld full of corruption, drugs, sex, money and murder.  All of the infamous Boston gangsters make an appearance including, Donald Killeen, Indian Al, Wimpy Bennett, Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo and Tommy King.

Martorano’s life reads like a story straight out of “GoodFellas” or “The Departed” except that this isn’t fiction.   This is the city of Boston, in the 1960s and 1970s and the mayhem that ensued.  The murders are brutal, the crime heinous and nothing is spared in the book bringing home the reality of the streets of Boston during those times.  At some points in the book you may feel as if you’re sitting next to Martorano and the crew at Basin Street South or Chandler’s as they plot their next crime.  As a father of several children by different women, husband, hitman,  loan shark and enforcer, Martorano is a man of many faces able to change from one to the other when necessary and in an instant.  At the time of the publication of this book, Bulger was still at large.  Since then, he has been captured and is currently incarcerated and will spend the rest of his life in prison.  Martorano served 12 years in prison, was released and currently resides in Milford, MA.  His days with the Winter Hill gang are long gone but his reputation and past actions continue to live on as Bulger and the gang continue to be examined in books, films and documentaries.

ISBN-10: 0765332396
ISBN-13: 978-0765332394

Organized Crime

51uo3gpiogl-_sy344_bo1204203200_October 11, 1991-Comedian Redd Foxx dies of a massive heart attack in Los Angeles, California while on the set of the sitcom ‘The Royal Family’.  His death stuns the entertainment industry and households across America.  The hard scrabble, gravely voiced comic from St. Louis had made a name for himself with a profane but utterly realistic stand up routine and the hit sitcom ‘Sanford and Son’.   When Foxx passed, I hadn’t yet started high school, but had watched routinely, the re-runs of Sanford and Son on television.  His catchphrase “ya big dummy” was one that my friends and I would toss around from time to time.   However, none of us could understand at the time how far-reaching his legacy would be and why his life and death were so important to thousands of young aspiring entertainers.

Michael Seth Starr presents this definitive biography on Foxx’s life and the demons that plagued the star throughout his life.  It’s often said that comedians tend to have a dark side that’s often unseen in the public eye.  This couldn’t be more than in the life of Jon Sanford, born in 1922 in St. Louis,  Missouri.  From an early age, the his life was one of struggle as he dealt with an absent father and mother, difficulties in school and a life of crime in New York City with a young Malcolm Little, who later changed his name to Malcolm X upon his conversion to the Islamic faith.  Working his way up through show business, mainly doing stand up routines, singing and releasing comedy albums,  years would pass before he starred in the show that would cement his legacy and make him a household name.  But for all of the success and fame, his personal life was one of turmoil, tragedy and love.   All of this is on full display and nothing is hidden, allowing the reader to see the good in Redd’s life, the bad and even the downright ugly at times.   Not without his faults,  Foxx’s behavior, drug use and the battles with the Internal Revenue Service are confusing and shocking.  However, in spite of his many flaws, the list of friendships and acquaintances seemed to grow as he aged and the lifelong friendships with Della Reese, LaWanda Page and Slappy White remind us that there are some people who always remain with us throughout our lives, every step along the way.  Starr’s account of Redd’s life is an excellent look into the life of the legendary entertainer.

ISBN-10: 1557837546
ISBN-13: 978-1557837547



920x920July 26, 1947- President Harry S. Truman signs into law the National Security Act, establishing the formation of an intelligence agency dedicated to serving the president.  The end result is the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Later in life, Truman came to regret the law as the CIA grew beyond his original intentions into an unaccountable, dangerous and highly suspicious agency seemingly under the control of no one.  Stories of operatives such as Allen Dulles, Bill Harvey,  Richard Helms, David Atlee Phillips, Cord Meyer, Jr. and James Jesus Angleton are both endless and legendary.  But what was really going on within the CIA and what was the true nature of its relationship with the White House? David Talbot presents to us his investigative report into the dark side of the CIA and the secret government within the United States.

January 29, 1969-Allen W. Dulles dies at the age of 75 of complications from pneumonia in Washington, D.C.   Dying with him is an unknown number of secrets of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.  The former director of the CIA, former intelligence operative of the OSS and member of the Warren Commission, was relieved of his post by President Kennedy following the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Kennedy and Dulles continued to maintain a strained relationship that would never fully heal.  Although officially relieved of duty, Dulles continued to engage in intelligence operations and keep close contact with top members of the CIA.  And nearly fifty years after his death, his name evokes both admiration and fear.  However, as more information comes to light about the dark operations of the agency he lead, the more we are exposed to the dark side of Allen W. Dulles and his older brother and former Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.

In March, 1945, the Allied forces in conjunction with the OSS, conducted Operation Sunrise, the black operation that obtained the freedom of several high-ranking Nazis including Karl Wolff.   Dulles, at the time working for the OSS, spearheaded the campaign which was done secretly under the radar of the oval office.  This mission would be one of many in Dulles’ career that could have caused international turmoil and embarrassment.   Operation Sunrise was followed by equally as controversial programs such as Operation Paperclip,  ZR/RIFLE and MK/ULTRA the agency’s attempt at a real life Manchurian Candidate.  All of the details are included in this book and the full story is beyond shocking.

The agency faced its biggest challenge under the Kennedy Administration.  Kennedy, convinced that he was unable to trust information provided by the CIA, vowed to shatter the agency and placed the control of covert operations under the control of the military.  Following his assassination, the policy was reversed, authorizing covert operations in domestic and international affairs resulting in disastrous foreign policy which culminated with the Vietnam War.  Dulles wouldn’t live to see the war’s end, but his agency’s role in the conflict is still the topic of debate.  Talbot’s account of the strained relationship between the Kennedys and the CIA reveals an administration at war with its own intelligence community and one that ended violently in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Many of the figures in the book are now deceased, but the book reveals a very disturbing part of U.S. history that continues to haunt this nation and forces us to ask ourselves what power truly is and who really wields it?   And just how much do we know about the intelligence community and what their objectives are? Additionally, the book a critical asset to JFK assassination researchers and those who desire to know the truth about what happened in Dealey Plaza.

ISBN-10: 0062276174
ISBN-13: 978-0062276179




American History

Billie SolMay 14, 2013-Billie Sol Estes dies at the age of 88 in his sleep at his home in Granbury, Texas.   Estes was convicted in 1963 on charges of fraud and embezzlement and his conviction and imprisonment sent shock waves through the halls of Washington, D.C., including the oval office.   Once a close friend of Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Yarborough and Sam Rayburn, the former Texas wheeler-dealer found himself alone in multiple battles against the U.S. government.  The evidence and testimony in the cases was sometimes flimsy or non-existent, but nonetheless, he was convicted in two separate trials resulting in two separate prison sentences.  A self-made millionaire, Estes showed a flair for arithmetic and his skill at generating revenue is still a tale of legend.  Highly connected to powerful politicians and officials in the  Democratic party, Estes became a top player in Texas and U.S. politics.   He was largely convicted in the court of public opinion resulting in his image being forever tainted.  His oldest daughter Pam, tells her side of the story and the experiences of Estes and his family as they fought two legal battles for her father’s freedom.

One would expect a memoir by his daughter to be slightly biased, but she does an excellent job of being critical of her father when necessary but clearly displays her love for her dad and highlights the many great qualities he possessed which would also be used by his enemies to engineer his downfall.  A strong supporter of civil rights and integration, Estes sent hundreds of Mexican-American and African-American children to school at the height of his career.  His integration beliefs would cause him to receive significant backlash, but he pushed on disregarding what others thought of his actions.  Later in his life he would be haunted by several demons, and his daughter doesn’t hide them at all.   I firmly believe that there are some discussions that are never had between parent and child, not because it’s not possible, but because we accept our parents as they are.  Estes’ actions and career will always be subjected to ridicule and examination, but the fact remains that he is a crucial part to the history of Texas politics, the career of Lyndon Johnson and American history.

ISBN-10: 0915733005
ISBN-13: 978-0915733002


NajoodOn April 15, 2008, Nujood Ali stood in a Yemeni courtroom and pleaded her case for a divorce from a physically, sexually and emotionally abusive husband.   At the age of 10, her case caused shock and outrage around the globe.  The marriage and subsequent divorce shed light on the old customs in the outskirts of Yemen.  Born in the remote Yemeni village of Khardji,  Nujood’s story is one of many that go untold each year not only in Yemen, but in countries across the Middle East.  Married in exchange for the sum of US $750,  her new life quickly becomes a nightmare as she is forced to leave her family and reside with her much older husband whom she does not know.

Her petition for a divorce catapulted her into international spotlight and her story gave hope to thousands of other young girls in other countries in which women are forced to marry at extremely young ages.   The Yemeni government raised the legal consenting age for marriage to 17 but outside the major cities the old tradition of young brides is still practiced leaving human organizations with more work to do in reducing or eliminating the system of child exploitation.  The belief system in which women are viewed as property extinguishes the dreams and hopes of education, success and freedom that many young women envision in their youth.  Her courage is admirable, inspiring and an example that sometimes all it takes is one person to stand up to injustice for others to follow.  Nujood’s story has been made into a feature film of the same name as this book.  Directed by Khadija Al-Salami and filmed entirely in Yemen, the film was shown at the Dubai International Film Festival and won the award for the Best Fiction Feature.  The filmmaker is still looking for a distributor for the picture in the hopes that it will be seen by international audiences.   The book however, has been translated in 36 languages and sold in over 15 countries putting her story on the shelves of bookstores worldwide.

ISBN-10: 0307589676
ISBN-13: 978-0307589675



davisOctober 13, 1970-Angela Davis is arrested in New York City and extradited to Marin County, California, where she is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  The charge stems from the death of Judge Harold Haley, taken hostage by Jonathan Jackson and accomplices in an effort to free the Soledad brothers and all political prisoners from United States federal prisons.  Davis’ arrest and trial became a focal point in the struggle against an unjust and discriminatory judicial system in which the privileged often found themselves defenseless in frivolous trials resulting in equally absurd prison sentences.

Bettina Aptheker, close friend and supporter of Davis, penned her recollections of the trial and the hurdles and obstacles in the way of Davis’ path to exoneration.   Set in Palo Alto, California, a stronghold of conservative political views, the defense became embattled in a David and Goliath struggle against a prosecution bent on Davis’ imprisonment.   There are many highs and lows in the trial, but the shining moments are the selected readings of Davis’ letters to George Jackson, at the time incarcerated at San Quentin.  Davis and Jackson had become deeply involved with each other and Davis’ confession of love are moving and revealing.

The book isn’t always an easy read, there are parts where the ugliest side of human actions are shown.  Racism, sexism and political suppression are shown unrestricted for the reader to digest.   Her standing as a professor, civil rights activist and communist thrust her into the spotlight and her trial was one of the most important in the history of this nation.   Her acquittal would force America to re-examine itself and the concept of justice.  All of the negative aspects of society are brought to the surface bringing the past to life.   The very pitfalls common in that time period, while tragic, are also the same pitfalls that do make this nation great.  Our ability to constantly examine and self-criticize are the tools of any great democracy.   Our constitution says that all men are created equal, but for hundreds of years, minorities, women, the disabled, LGTB and many others of society have struggled in their cause for equality.  Angela’s story reminds us that while it may seem difficult, justice can and does prevail.

ISBN-13: 978-0801485978
ISBN-10: 0801485975

Civil Rights Movement