Month: April 2016

Human stainA very dear friend in Buenos Aires recommended this book to me and although she knows I’m more of a non-fiction person, she felt that I would enjoy reading it.  She has incredible foresight and as it turns out, I did enjoy the book and present my thoughts on it.  Race is still a very tough subject here in the United States. Stemming from out dark history with the slave trade, Civil War, Jim Crow and violent racial conflicts, the past of this nation is often regrettable but at the same time unforgettable. The children of today are born into a much different country and while discrimination still exist, society has progressed a great deal since the era of segregation.  But the stain of bias based on skin color continues to sting when applied and in this novel by Philip Roth, we see a sad and tragic story of the inner turmoil that plagued many African-Americans looking for a better quality of life in a time where almost everything worked against them.

We are introduced to the story of Coleman Silk, a dean at the fictional Athena College, who has found himself at the center of controversy over an alleged racial comment made towards to absent students.  Relinquishing his title and removing himself from public life after the fallout, Silk becomes a recluse but decides to seek out an acquaintance, Nathan Zuckerman, to have his side of the story recorded.  The retired dean has lost his way after the death of his wife Iris and having to leave the institution he loved and helped transform into the place it is today.  Find solace in the arms of a woman almost 40 years his junior and still legally married, he finds a small amount of peace in a life that isn’t the same.  But Coleman has bigger secret that almost no one close to him, outside of his family knows.   And one that if it got out, could possibly change the way almost everyone he’s eve known will view him.   And his secret, coupled with his family background, is the crucial part of the book for it explains the surrounding parts of Coleman’s life story.  We love him, we may hate him and even despise him, but Coleman, no matter how jaded or shameful he may have been at times, leaves a battered soul who has done much in his life, both good and bad.  But his past deeds and actions, are not enough to condemn him eternally and him we also see a part of ourselves.

ASIN: B008YSTFHO

 

fiction

index1June 19, 1953- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.  The couple had been convicted in espionage based on the testimony of Ethel’s younger brother, David Greenglass.  The execution is the first time a woman is punished by death since the civil war era.   The Rosenberg case has been the subject of intent debate for over 60 years with supporters and critics sticking to their respective positions.   Because all of the major figures from that case and era deceased, the full truth about what really happened may never be known.  However, Sam Roberts has put together this incredible book about the Rosenberg and Greenglass families and the connections to the NKGB, the Soviet intelligence apparatus.  It is primarily the story of David Greenglass and his relationship with Julius Rosenberg, who in turn had forged connections with other important scientist and blue-collar individuals also passing along military secrets to the Soviet Union.

One of the biggest questions about the case is how could David and Ruth testify in the manner in which they did, knowing it could send Julius and Ethel to the electric chair?  By meticulously researching the history of both families, the official transcripts from the courts and even interviewing David himself,  we are able to get a more complete picture of how their mission collapsed and why David and Ruth gave the statements they did.  Their actions force us to examine our relationships with siblings and even ask ourselves if we could give testimony that would mean death for our brother or sister.   The trial and conviction of Julius and Ethel allows us to travel back and time to the McCarthy era when almost anyone who displayed either left-wing tendencies or empathy towards the Soviet Union, was branded as a communist.  The communist paranoia and hunt for moles, destroyed countless lives and careers and nearly crippled the Central Intelligence Agency before director William Colby in 1974, moved to remove the Chief of Counterintelligence, James J. Angleton.

The Rosenberg case will forever remain a critical part of American history and cause many of us to ask whether they deserved death and just how honest were David and Ruth in their statements.  And had the defense known about the many inconsistencies in both David and Ruth’s account, would Julius and Ethel had been spared?  Some may argue that at this point in time, it no longer matters and for today’s generation, the Rosenbergs are nothing more than relics in a mostly forgotten time in American history.  But for students of history and believers in patriotism and democracy, this book is an invaluable insight into one of the biggest cases of the 20th century.

ISBN-10: 1476747385
ISBN-13: 978-1476747385

Investigative Report

20180603_134850The murder of John F. Kennedy continues to haunt the United States.  Although more than fifty years have passed since that tragic day in Dallas,  the investigation into his murder continues and researchers have not given up hope in finding out the truth surrounding the events in Dealey Plaza.  Allen Dulles once remarked that people don’t read and that most Americans would never read the Warren Commission’s report.  Painfully true, the former director of the CIA’s statement reflects a troubling fact about the investigation in the murder of our 35th President, that many Americans did not read and have not read the commission’s report and accept the story of the lone nut.  However, doubters and critics have increased in number throughout the years and many people have spoken out in regards to the crime of the century.   The assassination has resulted in hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, dozens of books, articles, websites and documentaries.   But the question that is always asked, is where to start?

To say that the murder of John F. Kennedy was a crime on a massive scale is an understatement.   To understand just what happened on that day in November, 1963, it is necessary to comprehend the entire crime from start to finish.  Jim Marrs, a former journalist and resident of Dallas at the time of the murder, has given to us what is the definitive book on the assassination and investigation that followed.  And to this day it has stood the test of time as a masterpiece of investigative journalism.  Not only was it a  New York Times bestseller but it also served as the basis for Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’.

But what really happened on November 22, 1963?  The government’s position on the crime seemed simple enough at first; a former Marine who embrace communism that fired three shots with a bolt-action rifle killing the President and wounding Governor John Connally.  But when one digs deeper into the crime and reads through this encyclopedic account of what was really happening in Dallas and Washington, a dark and uglier truth begins to emerge that shows the government in a completely different light.   One thing I’d like to point out is that as exceptional as this book is, it is not exactly a smoking gun, no book on the crime is. And as Marrs points out towards in the end of the book, it’s more likely that we’ll never know how pulled the triggers in Dealey Plaza that day.  We may also never know who really shot JFK and J.D. Tippitt and what Jack Ruby’s true role was in the plot.  And many questions about Oswald’s life and mysterious periods of unexplained travel domestic and abroad will never be answered fully.  Almost all of the major figures in the book are now deceased. However, what you will find in this book, is why he was murdered and who was most likely responsible and profited from Kennedy’s death.

For some of us who consider ourselves patriots of the highest order, it may be tempting to dismiss Marrs as another crack pot conspiracy theorist. But I assure you that as you make your way though this book, many disturbing truths will come to light that will force you to question everything you thought you knew about the crime.   The amount of research that went into this book is staggering and at first glance overwhelming.  But as you make it through the book, your knowledge of the crime will expand exponentially and by the end of it, I believe you will have a clearer picture of what was really happening in the United States on November 22, 1963.   Some people may read this book and feel that Oswald is still the lone trigger man.  But others will begin to think and ask if the murders of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and J.D. Tippitt were random acts of violence or murders connected in a web of deceit that resulted in one of the worst crimes in the history of this nation.

ISBN-10: 0465031803
ISBN-13: 978-0465031801

 

 

Assassinations

stokelyOn November 15, 1998, Kwame Ture died at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea following a long bout with prostate cancer.  Ture was formerly known as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael.   Carmichael, a native of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, became a leading icon of the American civil rights movement as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  His writings and speeches on equality, integration and the advancement of minorities are some of the most passionate ever recorded and are widely read and studied by students of the movement and revolutionary ideology.

This collection of writings takes us back in time during a turbulent time in American history that some believed would result in the downfall of the United States.  For others, their belief in the government would be permanently altered following the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.  And even today, the 1960s ranks among the most dangerous and feared decades in modern American history.

The United States has changed dramatically in recent years, but not too far in the past, the political, social and economic landscape of this nation was vastly different. There are those today that believe nothing has changed, but instead, things are more carefully masked.   However, I do believe that if Stokely were alive today, he would be proud to see the many steps forward that have been taken and optimistic about the work that lies ahead.   As we do move forward in building a better nation, it pays for us to revisit his writings as they touch the very core of the American soul.  Stokely forces us to confront our basic human nature and re-examine everything we thought we knew about racial discrimination, war, poverty, capitalism and politics.  And like a master surgeon, he methodically dissects each subject putting it into a completely different perspective that some of us have never considered.

Perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of the civil rights movement, is that much of the outstanding literature published during the time is scarcely revisited and on the brink of being lost to future generations.  The voices of Che, Malcolm, Fidel, Fanon and Chairman Mao are relics for the youths of today.  However, it’s often said that in order to know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you come from.  Stokely does his part in helping us figure out both.

ISBN-10: 1556526490
ISBN-13: 978-1556526497

Civil Rights Movement Society

lbj kennedy deadOn November 22, 1963, a shift of government occurred in the United States that permanently altered the course of history taken by this nation.  Aboard Air Force One, Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in as the 36th President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.  Rumors and speculation about the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald and possible conspirators, began to grow exponentially following Oswald’s arrest.  And after Oswald’s murder at the hands of Jack Ruby on Sunday, November 24, the nature of the crime took a darker and more sinister turn.  The murders of the President, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dallas Polices Officer J.D. Tippitt, transfixed the nation and resembled events often seen in nations thought of as nothing more than Banana Republics. And Kennedy’s murder is considered by many, to this day, to be the most notorious crime and unsolved murder in American history.

The question has been asked more than once if we will ever know the truth about Dallas.  Some believe we are inching closer while others feel that the crime is so complex that no one will be able to put all of the pieces together.  However, what is clear, is that the murder was a concerted effort among an unknown number of individuals and groups, all benefiting from the removal of John F. Kennedy from office.  The official story is that a lone nut with a cheap Manlicher Carcano rifle executed Kennedy with three shots from the Texas School Book Depository.  In 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations found a “probable” conspiracy in the murders of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Both murders continue to raise suspicion as the truth about the events on each day are still shrouded in mystery.

Similar to a jigsaw puzzle with thousand of pieces, Kennedy’s murder has produced a staggering amount of possible conspirators.  Intelligence agencies, Cuban exiles, mobsters and politicians are among the endless number of suspects.  On nearly every list of suspects that I’ve seen in books and articles on the assassination, one name continues to stand out, Lyndon Baines Johnson.   Many readers will have a knee jerk reaction at the thought that anyone would accuse the former President of murdering his own Commander-in-Chief.   But when we take a closer look at the life of LBJ and his rise to power, many dark and disturbing actions come to light showing the true nature of our former President.

This book is Roger Stone and Mike Colapietro’s indictment of Lyndon Baines Johnson for the murder of John F. Kennedy.  No stranger to politics, Stone worked closely with another former President, Richard Nixon has as keen grasp on dirty side of the political spectrum.   The reader may be tempted to dismiss the duo as crackpots out to smear the legacy of Johnson but I caution the reader to have an open mind and cross-reference what’s in the book.  What you will find just might shock you to the core.   And once you’ve finished this, I highly recommend David Talbot’s ‘Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kenned Years‘, ‘The Devil’s Chessboard‘ and Seymour Hersh’s ‘ The Dark Side of Camelot‘.

All of the usual suspects known to be associated with LBJ make an appearance such as  Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, Billy Sol Estes and Bobby Baker.  The murders of Doug Kinser, Josefa Johnson, Henry Marshall and Sam Smithwick are examined as well as the 1948 election against Coke Stevenson.  The tragedies of Vietnam and the USS Liberty are also revisited.  Fidel Castro once remarked that history would absolve him.  In the final analysis, was LBJ a champion of civil rights and defender of the US against communist aggression? Or was he a power-hungry lunatic, bent of starting war with help defense contractors get rich and the murderer of John Fitzgerald Kennedy?  You be the judge.

 

 

Assassinations

20180602_215622 On October 8, 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) is executed by the Bolivian army after he is captured in failed attempt to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America.  He leaves behind a widow and five children.   Since his death he has become the icon for revolution and his image can be found on items such as lighters, coffee mugs, t-shirts,  posters and even the graduation caps of high school and college students throughout the world.  Students of Marxist-Leninist ideology and guerrilla conflict look to his writings, speeches and quotes as inspiration.  And although forty-eight years have passed since his death, his name continues to spark admiration, disdain and curiosity.

Recently, President Barack Obama visited Cuba in an effort to repair the strained relationship between two countries that share a long history.  And while the embargo is still official U.S. policy towards Cuba, their meeting did serve as a sense of change for future generations.  I couldn’t help wonder, had Che been with us, what his thoughts would be about the recent developments.  Often seen as the “hardliner” of the Castro regime, the Argentine doctor turned guerrilla fighter was one of the most important participants in the Cuban revolution and a staunch opponent of any form of U.S. aggression and intervention in Cuban affairs.

The more I began to think about Che, the more I realized that I needed to revisit his life story to get more of a sense of who he was and why.  And for those reasons, I took another look at the most comprehensive and extensive biography of Che’s life by author and journalist Jon Anderson Lee.   Che never wrote his own biography but instead penned several books about his experiences in the revolutionary campaign and articles in the journals El Cubano Libre (Free Cuban) and the Verde Olivo (Olive Drab).  His book Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War is among the best written about the campaign.   Others have published accounts of their memories of Che with his widow Aleida’s account ‘Remembering Che‘, the most intimate of all.   While he is seen as the icon for violent revolution, the real Che was extremely complex, highly intelligent and fiercely devoted to revolution with unwavering fanaticism in his beliefs of a new Latin America shaped by Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Through Anderson’s writing, we step inside Che’s life and witness the many obstacles and chance encounters along the way that allowed him to become a doctor, author, ambassador, guerrilla fighter, husband, father and unfortunately in some cases, executioner.   The true beauty in this book is its unbiased view of Che’s life and Anderson does a masterful job of being as neutral as possible even in face of some of Che’s least favorable actions, some of which would cause surprise and consternation among many today.  In life, it is always tempting to portray icons of the past in the most favorable light possible.  And although Che’s image has become a commercial success, what we learn in this book is that the real Che was no where close to believing himself a commercial icon and openly showed disdain for capitalist tendencies.

His actions will come under scrutiny for generations to come and his image and likeness will continue to be reprinted and used as a commercial too for entrepreneurs across the globe.  He will forever be loved, feared and hated, and his commitment to communist ideology combined with a fearlessness of using armed conflict are eerily similar to modern-day fundamentalism in various parts of the world.  Nonetheless, he is a critical part of Cuban and world history and one of the most important figures of the 20th century.   Anderson’s biography is the definitive account of the mythical Argentine revolutionary.

ISBN-10: 080213
ISBN-13: 978-0802135582

Biographies

revenantIn the spring of 1833, Hugh Glass and several companions died after being ambushed by members of the Arikara tribe native to the Midwestern United States.  Glass, a former member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, is best remembered for being attacked and mauled by a grizzly bear in 1823.  The story of the attack and his survival serves as the  basis of this fictional work by Michael Punke  and the inspiration for the 2015 masterpiece film ‘The Revenant’, which earned Leonardo DiCaprio a Golden Globe and Academy Award under the direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu.

On a recent flight back from Atlanta, I saw this on the newsstand and decided to give it a read.  The book begins very similar to the film and throughout the novel, viewers of the film will undoubtedly revel in the very accurate casting during the making of the film.  Punke, admittedly took several liberties with the book and in the film itself, several others were taken most notably the sub-story of Glass’ relationship with his son, also a worker for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  Nonetheless, the book is an engaging story that keeps the reader pulled in from beginning to end.

Like its film counterpart, the beauty in the book is not the level of violence or graphic descriptions of wounds and conditions, but the window provided for the reader to step back into time to an era where law was non-existent in many parts of the United States and the plains were home to traders, soldier, mercenaries, rebels and dozens of Native American tribes.  It reminds us of a time long gone from which society has greatly advanced.  In the midst of our modern-day conveniences, it is fairly easy to forget that less that 200 years ago, many parts of this nation lay uninhabited and in the control of no formal government.  Survival skills, instinct and knowledge were critical assets that often meant the difference between life and death. Some of Glass’ story is disputed but what appears to be clear is that he did work for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and as in fact mauled by a grizzly bear.  The pursuit of Fitzgerald and his revenge or non-revenge, will be the subject of debate for an eternity.  Regardless of person opinion regarding the veracity of the story, Glass led an interesting life changed in an instant by one grizzly bear and sheer determination to live of a noted frontiersman.

ASIN: B01FODDF5E

fiction

wp-1461726831642April 28, 1945-Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petracci are murdered and their bodies are hung upside down in the Piazzale Loreto square in Milan, Italy.  His death marks an end to one of the most controversial eras in the history of Italy.  The former leader of the fascist movement that dragged the nation into the second world war had been removed from office for several years and become one of the most despised leaders in Europe.  However to the end he retained numerous supporters and could have led his country down a different course far removed from the course taken by Germany under the personification of evil himself, Adolf Hitler.

There are hundreds of books on the war and a large number cover Nazi Germany but with this book, the Duce is given a platform to share his own story and the reasons behind his decisions.  The first part of the book was written in 1928 and in it we learn about Mussolini’s background and his rise to power.  Finding himself removed from office, it is following this point in his life that we are introduced to the second part, his fall, edited by Max Ascoli.  It begins with his arrest and confinement and continues with his rescue by German forces in a daring day time raid.  In spite of this  he would never again rule Italy and his ousting remains an often discussed topic in World War II history.

Like all leaders of the past, he was a complex figure who wore many hats.  A former teacher, journalist and pilot, he used his past experiences as he set about to change the course of Italian history.  And perhaps if he had never met Adolf Hitler, his name and legacy would have different connotations attached to them.  Mussolini isn’t here to defend himself or give more insight into his decisions and action. but his life and death remain some of the most important moments of the 20th century.

ISBN-10: 0306808641
ISBN-13: 978-0306808647

Biographies