Month: October 2017

thurgoodAs a student growing up in the United States, my classmates came from many different backgrounds.   Some came from as far away as India and Korea. Others from Guyana and Dominican Republic. No matter where they came from, we were equal peers studying to enhance our lives through prosperity.  However, only sixty-four years ago, the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson  was still the law of the land which mandated that separate but equal facilities for White Americans and minorities were permitted under the constitution.  One year later in 1964, events in Topeka, Kansas would change the course of United States history and catapult a young lawyer to legendary status.  The case was  Brown v. Board of Education and the lawyer was Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the late civil rights icon who attacked segregation and served on the United States Supreme Court for twenty-four years before retiring in 1991. The decision reversed the court’s earlier ruling in Brown and declared that separate but equal facilities were in fact unconstitutional in the United States. Today is name is rarely mentioned and the younger generation of Black Americans are growing up in an era vastly different from the one in which he was born and raised. But his life should be a case study for students of all backgrounds as a reminder of the enormous effort that was required to break the back of Jim Crow and move the Unites States forward.

Outside of classes in school, I never heard many discussions about Marshall. In college, a class I took revisited the Brown decision so that we could see the development of the privileges that I and others took for granted on a daily basis.  But who was Thurgood Marshall? And behind the legal victories and appointment to the Supreme Court, what were the detail of his personal life? Juan Williams has composed this biography of what he appropriately calls an American Revolutionary.  And what is contained in the pages of this book, is a story that lies at the heart of American society.   Today, decades after the Brown decisions, millions of students in America attend classes with peers who come from different ethnic backgrounds and have the ability to enroll in schools which in prior times would have denied them entrance based on the color of their skin or the spelling and sound of their names.

The book is well researched and contains quotes by Marshall himself.   From the beginning of his life to the end, Williams shows the good, bad and at times ugly of Marshall’s behavior.  Like all great figures, he was also a man with flaws. But his dedication to his cause and victories in the courtroom propelled him forward as a champion of civil rights and earned him his appointment to the Supreme Court by then President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973).  It is an incredible story written in a thoroughly engaging fashion that leaves no stone un-turned and compels the reader to keep going.  However, for all of Marshall’s victories, the regrettable moments in the book are his indiscretions and the brutal climate of prejudice that once encompassed the majority of the United States.  The stories, particularly those in the Jim Crow era are heartbreaking and may cause the reader to wonder how human beings could treat others in such horrific ways.  And the actions and courage of Marshall is commendable and inspiring.

As a sub-story to Marshall’s life, readers will pick up on the behind-the-scenes political battles that waged between Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.  Promises, side deals and political agendas all take center stage as a brilliant African-American civil rights lawyer battled his way to the top, destined to cross paths with some of America’s most widely regarded historical figures such as Adam Clayton Powell (1908-1972), late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and former President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).

When Marshall died, he had been in failing health and considered a “relic” by many of a dark distant past in America.  At the time of his death, he might have been past his prime, but he remained until his last day, a living part of history and a first hand witness to the legal battles needed to challenge the establishment and ask what the constitution truly means to Americans of all colors. Juan Williams has chronicled and manifested Marshall’s life in this definitive biography of an American icon.  Currently, America finds itself at another crossroads with division, mistrust and suspicion sowing chords of discontent.  But as in previous times, the nation will survive and continue to move forward for there are many Thurgood Marshalls today, waging similar battles the many that he fought during his life.  And in order to understand his life, Williams’ book is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 0812932994
ISBN-13: 978-0812932997

 

 

Biographies

Mao - cultural revolutionAuthor Frank previously published his spellbinding investigative account,  The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, about the rise of Mao Zedong and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. That was followed by Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Here he returns with a third expose of the movement that changed the course of Chinese history.  On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proudly declared the new republic following the defeat of the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek.  The new communist government sought to emulate its Soviet icon and instituted the disastrous policy of collectivization under the banner of the “Great Leap Forward”.  But as Dikotter showed us, reality soon set in as the aura of the new country began to fade as famine set in, the government began to seize property and a climate of deceit and suspicion spread across the country.  The book was thorough in examining the failures of the program as the harsh effects it placed upon the people of China.  In this third book, he takes us deep inside the revolution, showing us the very dark side behind the late Chairman’s government.

I forewarn the reader that this book is not for the faint at heart.   The things we learn although factual are ugly to say the least.  Behind the facade of a nation of comrades committed to revolution, was a society breaking away at the seems as anarchy ruled and those in charge plotted against each other as they sought to maintain their hold on power and avoid the Chairman’s wrath.   Today it is no secret that the “Great Leap Forward” failed in many ways.  But what is often not discussed and examined are the very things we learn in this book.  Similar to Himmler’s SS, the Red Guards, under the guise of filtering out counter-revolutionary’s, unleashed a wave of terror across the country against anyone suspected of being against the regime, from a lower class family or related to those who held high positions in society before the revolution.   The Third Reich used the classic technique of divide and conquer to control the people and purge those suspected of not harboring unwavering loyalty to the Führer and his ideology of the master race.   In China, the faces were different but the same climate of suspicion and spying by one person on another is prevalent. In fact, one example we learn of is a child that turns in their own parent.

Dikötter as usual has done a great job researching this book.  To say that it is eye-opening would be a severe understatement.   Not only does he show us what really happened behind the closed off borders of China, he highlights the political battles that raged behind the scenes.  His writing style is engaging, pulling the reader in from the beginning and refuses to let go.   The lives and actions of major places at the time are examined in detail. Names such as Jiang Qing (1914-1991, Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Lin Biao (1907-1971) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) appear throughout the book as the deadly politics of Communist China come to light.  The members of the old guard have long passed but they still remain a part of  China’s complicated history.  What shocked me the most was the ease at which accusations were hurled and lives ruined in nearly every case without a shred of proof. Mao, concerned with maintaining an iron grip on his rule, let the division fester and rarely intervened.  And as I think back to the book The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Dr. Li Zhisui, I remember his words that the Great Leap Forward was used by Mao to expose those plotting against him.  In fact, as I read the book, I found it increasingly hard to believe that those in charge actually did have concern for the millions of people affected by their actions.  Dysentery, famine,  pillaging and even cannibalism, turned the revolution into a living nightmare.

China continues to be haunted by the legacy of Mae Zedong.  His successor, Deng Xiaoping, continued the government position of suppression of dissent and the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 became some of the most memorable of the twentieth century.  Time will tell if democracy will ever take hold and if the young generation will be able leave Mao in a past that many  do not care to relive.  For students of the Cultural Revolution or those curious about what really happened across the country under Mao’s leadership, this book is a great addition of any historical library.

ASIN: B01K3LRR8S

Investigative Report

20180603_003350October 1st marked forty-seven years since James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-1970) died in the flat of Monika Danneman in the Kensington section of London at the age of twenty-seven. Today his music is still revered and Hendrix is considered one of the greatest electric guitar players in music history.  In fact, there are those who believe that we was the greatest to ever live.  The collection of music he left behind continues to be discovered by younger generations and maintains a place in my own collection.  His cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and the classic Hey Joe are among my favorites and some of Hendrix’s best works.

Sharon Lawrence started her career working for the United Press International’s Los Angeles bureau and was introduced to Hendrix by a mutual acquaintance.  Not only did she go on to witness key events in his life but she became of his closest friends all the way up until the time of his death.  In this intimate account of a friend’s memories of another, she takes us behind the scenes into the personal life of a rock legend. And what she reveals about the life of the first child of Al and Lucille Hendrix, is a star with a rare gift that died far too young in a life on the fast track and filled with nefarious characters, unfortunate events and a family history that had long-lasting effects.  But most importantly, she clears up long-running misconceptions about Hendrix’s death and the fabrications that he died from a drug overdose.  In fact, savvy readers familiar with Hendrix’s story will already know this and the story of the mysterious Danneman (1945-1996), whose actions after Hendrix’s death are beyond bizarre.  Her suicide on April 5, 1996 only served to raise more questions about her life and her relationship with the late star.  Lawrence sheds light on her interactions with Danneman as well adding even more puzzling questions to the unsolved puzzle.

The book is a biography in some regards and Lawrence explores the family lineage in detail setting the stage for the future inner turmoil that would plague Hendrix throughout his life. And like most other musicians of that era, controversy followed him serving as a threat to his increasing fame.   His life would be affected in one way or another by record executives such as Mike Jeffrey (1933-1973),  groupies like Devon Wilson (1943-1971) and miscellaneous characters that sought out Hendrix to serve their own self-interests. And sadly at the time of his death, none of them would be there in his time of need.   Lawrence however, served as confidant throughout Hendrix’s career and their interactions throughout the book are significant for they shed light on what really went through his mind as he navigated his way through an industry filled with predators.   Incredibly, not one person interviewed for the book had a negative word to say about Hendrix. From all accounts, he was a gentle person that perhaps cared and loved too much, not only about music but about his family members and relatives.  His relationship with his father is eerily similar to the tragic story of Marvin Gaye, Sr. and Marvin Gaye, Jr.   Part of what truly makes Lawrence’s account a fascinating read is that she does not shy away from Hendrix’s indiscretions most notably the two children he fathered out-of-wedlock and the issue of narcotics, prevalent throughout the film and music industries.

The story of Hendrix’s death has been retold many times but what is brought to light here is the fallout with his estate following that tragic night of September 18, 1970.  Like wolves circling their prey,  next of kin and aspiring entrepreneurs all made a claim for their stake in his estate to control his legacy.  Litigation became the tool of the trade as Hendrix’s father Al, his brother Leon and step-sister Janie engaged in a legal tug of war that severed what remained of family ties and earned Hendrix’s name more money in death than in life.  Today his image is found on t-shirts and posters,  purchased by adoring fans and those who discovering him for the first time.  And like many of the other greats of his time such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison his death before the age of thirty, is both tragic and cruel.   In later years,  Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur joined the list of musicians whose works earned staggering amounts following their deaths. But for older fans who saw him play, purchased his records as they were released or knew him at some point in their lives, no poster of t-shirt could ever take the place of the Jimi they knew and this includes my father who played Hendrix’s song all throughout my childhood and is the reason why I love his music to this day.

If you are a fan of Jimi Hendrix and want to know more about the life of a true legend, Sharon Lawrence honors her friend the right way in this memoir about one of rock’s greatest performers.  And after you have finished this book, you may find yourself singing  The Wind Cries Mary, Purple Haze or maybe even Voodoo Chile.  Whichever you choose, Hendrix will surely be smiling from wherever he is at, content that his music has continued to inspire.

ISBN-10: 9780060563011
ISBN-13: 978-0060563011

Biographies

amelia1Eighty years after her disappearance and death, the life and tragic ending of Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) continues to incite curiosity not only among researchers but the general public in the United States.  She is remembered as one of aviation’s true female pioneers and her ill-fated trip with navigator Fred Noonan (1893-1937) in July, 1937, is considered one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Similar to the deaths of John F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, myths, half-truths , conspiracy theories and fabrications have plagued the investigations into their final moments. Officially, their disappearance remains unsolved but there are many who believe that the U.S. Government knows far more than it is willing to admit.

Mike Campbell invested many years of his life researching the case and the result is this compendium that examines the case in what could be considered the most thorough account to date.   One more than one occasion, focus had shifted to the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific as the place were Earhart’s plane met its end.  Although no irrefutable and conclusive proof has been provided by researchers such as Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR, the islands continue to be a point of focus.  From start to finish, Campbell leaves no stone un-turned.  Far from a crack pot conspirator, he supplements his words with statements from natives of the island of Saipan, military personnel present in the Marianas during World War II, Earhart’s mother and an examination of the actions of the U.S. Government.  And it is this island that forms the crux of the book shedding light on overlooked parts of the story that have been forgotten or ignored over time.

To be fair, Campbell never says he has a smoking gun.   He does have a theory which holds considerable weight throughout the book.  In his final analysis, he believes many of the answers lie with Washington to reveal what President Roosevelt and the military really knew about the fate of Earhart’s plane.  Roosevelt is long gone and unable to shed light on the matter.  But even if he were alive, we can only guess as to how much he would actually tell us.  But what is paramount are disturbing questions that arise towards the end of the book.  Did Washington know where Earhart’s plane was? And if it was known, why was it withheld from the public?  Was it to pacify Japan or protect vital national security secrets about U.S. intelligence gathering operations as the world inched closer to war?  And did the military conceal what it knew to protect the image of President Roosevelt?  Pearl Harbor would occur until several years later in 1941, but even in 1937, the Japanese military had been causing destruction across China, nearly destroying the cities of Shanghai and Nanking.  Was it is this Japanese army that Earhart and Noonan encountered as they possibly landed at Milli Atoll before being transported to the island of Saipan?  And why are several years of decoded Japanese communications surrounding 1937, missing from the national archives?

I admit that I love a good conspiracy but am ambivalent enough to avoid atrociously absurd theories.  And Earhart’s story is filled with far too many extreme conspiracy theories which have only served to make a difficult case even more astounding. Campbell presents a compelling thesis and the support it receives from the statements of Saipan natives and former soldiers serves to arouse an even darker cloud over Earhart’s last flight. Campbell brilliantly debunks many rumors in order to give us the most accurate picture possible. And that picture results in more questions than answers.  From the beginning, the book pulled me as I dived deep into the last moments of her life.  Curiously though, as I read the section regarding her radio communications and lack thereof with the Itasca,  I began to understand the many factors at play which doomed the flight from the beginning.  In fact, many pilots today would probably tell you they would never attempt such a flight with such primitive radio equipment.  However, hindsight is always 20/20 and I am sure that she had lived, she would have had endless stories about the flight that was intended to change the course of history for aviation.  Regardless, she is one of America’s greatest aviators.

Some will read the book and write it off as another theory without sufficient evidence. But if we take the time to fully digest the staggering amount of research and effort put into the book, we can see that Campbell has gone to great lengths to get the story right and give us an idea of what could have very well have happened to the famed aviatrix.  And perhaps one day, Washington may tell us more than we have heard for eighty years.  If you are interested in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart or already familiar with it and seeking to clear up any confusion you may have, this is a great addition to any library.

ISBN-10: 1620066688
ISBN-13: 978-1620066683

Investigative Report