Taking Hawaii: How Thirteen Honolulu Businessmen Overthrew the Queen of Hawaii in 1893, With a Bluff – Stephen Dando-Collins

I am consistently amazed to learn history that is not taught in classrooms. I do not always question why but acknowledge that topics my teachers discussed were sometimes lacking in detail through no fault of their own. In fact, much of what we learn in life takes place outside of the classroom. That applies here to this book that examines the annexation of Hawaii in 1893.  The State became a hotbed topic during the 2008 Presidential Election due to it being the birthplace of Democratic nominee Barack H. Obama. Conspiracy theories ran amuck, and the consensus was that Hawaii was not legally United States Territory and thus the candidate should not have been elected to office.  The reality is that Hawaii was officially declared a state in 1959, two years before Obama was born. However, the story of Hawaii is one of intrigue, heartbreak and unofficial foreign policy that serves as an eerie premonition of future actions abroad by the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).

When I saw the cover of the book, my interest peaked but I quickly realized that I did not have solid understanding of how Hawaii came into possession by the United States.  I knew the only thing to do was start reading. And I soon learned that the author had a significant story awaiting readers.  The book begins with a fascinating history of Hawaii itself, focusing on the Polynesian roots of its inhabitants and the society they created which would be upended by the arrival of unfamiliar faces. The arrival of European explorers marked the first stage in the downfall of the monarchy that ruled Hawaiian society.  But what Americans might not know be aware of is the role of the British in Hawaii’s history. This part of the story is interesting and raises the question of what if America had followed Britain’s example. As the story moves forward, the monarchy which had regained control over the Hawaii, changes leadership multiple times and the arrival of foreign businessmen brings trouble to the doorstep of the last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917).  Surprisingly, it is easy to overlook that Hawaii was not a target of the United States Government. In fact, the White House had no official policy of annexation. But there were individuals in the government who had their eyes set on the islands.  The author explains that,

“As far back as 1853, US Secretary of State William Learned Marcy had said of the Hawaiian Islands, ‘It seems to be inevitable that they must come under the control of this government.”

The events that transpire in the book, which are re-created with exceptional detail, highlight the covert operation in place that is carried out with unbelievable gall. However, the road to overthrowing the Queen was not without its issues which the author also points out. Eventually the Queen’s overthrow comes into focus and how it plays out is surreal.  The title says, “with a bluff”. It most certainly was, and the fact that it succeeded left me speechless. However, the blame for the coup should also be placed on those within the monarchy who failed the Queen and others who failed to take action that would have derailed the conspirators’ plans. Back in Washington, President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) soon realizes what has happened in Hawaii and its implications for U.S. foreign policy. The dramatic fallout is captured including Cleveland’s own struggles with a financial panic and divided Congress. Despite strong annexation sentiment, there were officials in Washington deeply concerned about what happened. The seriousness of the plotters’ actions should not be overlooked. In fact, Congress did get involved and we learn that:

‘James Blount had found that Queen Liliuokalani had been overthrown as the result of a conspiracy between US ambassador John L. Stevens and the members of the Committee of Safety, and that Captain Wiltse had landed US forces in Hawaii with the intention of influencing the outcome of the coup staged by the annexationists against the legitimate and lawful Hawaiian Government.’ 

But the plotters were not about to let Hawaii go and used any opportunity to their advantage to keep possession of Hawaii, including stalling tactics. To their surprise, the native people did not give in easily and did take a stand, however, in the end, Hawaii’s fate had been sealed. A bloodless coup had been executed and the people of Hawaii would never go back to their ancestral ways. And if there was any hope of as last-minute reprieve by Washington, this act put the final nail in that coffin:

“The joint resolution for the annexation of Hawaii passed the Senate on June 15, and the House on July 6. On July 7, 1898, President McKinley signed into law the Newlands Joint Resolution for the annexation of Hawaii.”

And with that, the history of Hawaii was changed for good. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii was admitted to the Union as the 50th State, marking the end of the road that the annexation faction had envisioned in 1893. But they could never erase the dark history that came with annexation which the author here has exhaustively researched and presented for our understanding and education. This is the history you may not learn in school, but it is a part of American history every citizen should know. The amount of detail is extensive, but the book is an excellent account of a pivotal moment in world history. Hawaii may be the site today of military bases and vacation resorts, but the islands also contain an ancient history that is sacred and important.


JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century (1917-1956) – Fredrik Logevall

20230304_180326“Never be without a book in your hand”. Those words, spoken by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) to his youngest sibling, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009) stayed with me after finishing this Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece biography by Fredrik Logevall. As I read those words, I pictured bibliophiles all over nodding their heads in agreement. At the age of forty-six, John F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet in an act that changed America. The hopes and promise of significant changed died with him in Dallas, Texas on November 22,1963.  And though his successor Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was successful in pushing forward groundbreaking legislation, the wound from Kennedy’s murder was destined to never heal.  As someone who has read countless books on his assassination and incredible life, I had a firm grasp on the Kennedy story before starting this book. However, there were parts of Kennedy’s story I learned for the first time. But more importantly, I witnessed a young man coming of age in the century that saw profound change across the globe.

This November will mark sixty years since Kennedy’s sudden death, yet he remains one of the most popular politicians in history.  His legacy is complex with successes and failures. The world came to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962 but was resolved without a weapons exchange to the relief of all. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a nightmare but not without its warnings. But those events await readers in volume two. Had Kennedy secured a second term, I believe he would have been able to accomplish more of the goals he envisioned for the nation. And the key to understanding why his death was so devastating is to find out how who he was as a person and what shaped his views of the world. Logevall begins as expected with a short biography of the Kennedy and Fitzgerald families, and their roots in Ireland. After the marriage of former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969) and Rose Fitzgerald (1890-1995), the story picks up in pace as the Kennedy children begin to arrive.  Joe Jr. (1915-1944) arrives first and becomes the son chosen for the dreams Joe Sr. has of a Kennedy in the White House. Jack arrives next and from their childhood to their service in World War II, they maintain a rivalry that may surprise readers. In fact, Logevall sheds light on a plausible reason for the final mission Joe Jr. embarked on that claimed his life. Next in line is Rosemary (1918-2005) whom author Kate Clifford Larson `called “the Hidden Kennedy Daughter” in her book of the same title.  She is followed by Kathleen, who is known affectionately as “Kick” and her closeness to Jack should not be underestimated. The author highlights the importance of Kick in his and the impact of her death at the age of twenty-eight. In short order siblings Eunice, Pat, Bobby, Jean, and Ted arrive and the Kennedy story is never the same again.

Kennedy’s story is well-known, but there are key elements which I believe Logevall expertly homed in on that sets this biography apart from others.  The sibling rivalry with Joe Jr. is interesting because not only is it filled with ironies but because each son was unique, though they did complement each other.  Joe’s physical abilities contrasted with Jack’s intellect, but both excelled in many ways.  When Joe Sr. is appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the family’s life changes significantly and Jack’s exposure to the world takes shape, and until the day he died, never lost touch with events around the globe. The list of countries he visited even before serving in the military is staggering. From an early age, it is clear in the book that Jack had his eyes and ears glued to the world around him and was not content to sit still.  However, the Kennedy story was nearly cut short multiple times as Jack found himself at death’s door.  Logevall revisits the episodes in which Jack’s health took turns for the worst and the young man who later became president nearly met the Grim Reaper. Jack’s famous humor is on display throughout the book, and in one instance where he learns about his own health status and refers himself as “2000 to go Kennedy”.  There is one revelation in the book that caught me off guard but looking back, I can say that I should not have been surprised. This health issue would come back to haunt him later in life but played no part in his demise.

In 1939, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) set his sights on dominating the European continent and on September 1 of that year, the Third Reich’s armed forces invaded Poland, and ignited World War II.  Joe Sr. was widely known to be an isolationist and that view contrasted with his son Jack, whose travels abroad and extensive knowledge of history had shown him that Hitler had to be stopped and America could not avoid getting involved forever.  After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the fates of Joe Jr. and Jack were sealed but by the war’s end, Joe Sr.’s plans for his children’s lives had been unexpectedly altered. Jack, and not Joe, would become the Kennedy who took the family to new heights. And to reach those heights, his father instinctively tapped into Jack’s service record and heroic actions after his PT-109 cruiser was destroyed by a Japanese naval vessel. It is an incredible story and almost unbelievable, but Kennedy had earned his stripes and returned home a war hero. Joe Jr. was not so lucky and the murky details about his death are cleared up by the author.

Following Jack’s service, he returns home and begins his journey in the world of politics. Logevall also refutes the idea that Joe Sr. pushed his kids into public office.  In fact, Jack was acutely aware of politics and had his own ambitions. But before he reaches the Senate, the Kennedy family is forced to confront more heartache as the lives of Kick and Rosemary take sharp turns. Without dwelling too much on the circumstances, Logevall explains both events with the right amount of detail to explain what happened and how the family reacted. Kick was the sibling that resembled Jack the closest in spirit and her defiance directly challenged Rose’s puritanical views.  And her choices in men push Rose to the brink and readers will be surprised the family’s response to her passing in 1948.  All of this was not lost on Jack, who confronts his own mortality throughout the book.

Towards the end of the story, Jack’s future wife Jacqueline Bouvier (1929-1994) (“Jackie”) enters the story but the two do not immediately become an item. In fact, there were maneuvers behind the scenes to bring them together and the author shows, and after they do become a couple, issues remain due to a notorious habit of Jack’s which serves as the “elephant in the room” in the book.  Kennedy was widely known for his romances and affairs after marrying Jackie. Personally, I did not pay much attention to the women he had romances with, though I knew of the stories beforehand.  As a young attractive bachelor with money, I am sure Kennedy had his pick of women, but I also had to remember that his roving eye was no secret.  However, after marrying Jackie, it was disheartening to see that his philandering did not slow down. His father had his own affairs, and it was something that Jack may have normalized. Or it might have been a side effect of the treatment plan for his medical condition which was carefully kept a secret from the public as he ran for office.  And at times, he does show an aloofness to his actions, including his habits of not keeping cash at hand and leaving his places of residency is disarray. But if everyone knew about Jack’s ways, then why did women flock to him? The answer is found in Logevall’s biography, which shows that there was no one like him and he was one of a kind.  His uncanny ability to absorb knowledge (enhanced by learning how to speed read) set him apart from peers. And by the time he enters the Senate, his core support unit of Irishmen is formed, and they supported Jack all the way until the last visit to Dallas.  People loved Jack, and women loved him more, and he knew how to reach people. And that is a recurring theme throughout the book. He came of age and was destined to make his mark on the world. His college thesis “Why England Slept‘ still holds a place in World War II literature and a place on my bookshelf.

In the Senate, Jack makes friends from both sides of the aisle, including a young politician from California named Richard Nixon (1913-1994) whom he later faces in the first televised presidential debate during the 1960 election campaign. But that is for the second part of the biography. Here, Jack’s eye is on the 1956 Vice-President nomination, but he finds himself up against fierce and seasoned competition in former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) and Senator Estes Kefauver (1903-1963). And though he did not secure the nomination, a star had been born. The electricity surrounding the Democratic convention can be felt as the author replays the buildup to the climactic moment when the crowd shows it support for the upstart Kennedy. Logevall closes the book out with Jack ready for the future and the years 1957-1963 will bring a whole new set of challenges in his life and his own demise. But I am sure Logevall will tell that story as beautifully as he told this one which was written in a style that did not require any significant notetaking. The story flows so smoothly and is so interesting that I was able to retain what I read with ease. Following Jack was a breeze, and I am ready to see where he goes next.

ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0812997131
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0812997132

The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South – Bruce Levine

dixieOn May 10, 1865, Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) was captured near Irwinville, Georgia by Union forces. Davis’s apprehension and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) signaled the Confederacy was defeated. The American Civil War had come to a bloody conclusion and marked a turning point in United States history. In the North, the Union victory was a welcome relief but for the South, the defeat was also a social revolution. The way of life Southerners had come to depend on for their livelihoods was no more. That is not to say radical change happened overnight, but the House of Dixie had fallen as author Bruce Levine shows in this phenomenal account of how the Civil War broke the back of the slavery dependent American South.

When I think back to the lessons I received in school regarding the Civil War, I am shocked at what was not taught. The key to understanding the war is undoubtedly the political climate and threat Abraham Lincoln (1808-1865) posed to Southern slaveowners as the new President of the United States. In Lincoln, the Republican party had successful installed its first candidate in the White House and during the time he was in office, the party would evolve into a hotbed of abolitionist figures. But first, Lincoln was forced to confront resentment in the South, and the author captures the buildup as the nation grapples with the issue of human chattel.  I am sure we have heard the phrase “Lincoln freed the slaves”. The truth is more complicated and Lincoln himself had his own prejudiced views and sought any way to keep the Union intact. And to provide readers with an idea of his character, Levin explains that,

“None of these promises and cautions signified any decrease in Lincoln’s abhorrence of slavery. He was no abolitionist, he believed in the inherent inequality of blacks and whites, and he doubted that free blacks and free whites could live together in peace and harmony.”

This should not detract from the fact that Lincoln despised slavery and was happy to see its demise. But the question remains, if Lincoln could have prevented war, then why did it happen? The answer lies in what the author refers to as the House of Dixie. Slavery was the economic backbone of the South, and the wealthy were willing to go to any lengths to protect it. This is evident by the secession of several states following Lincoln’s election victory. Slavery had already been abolished in several states in the Union, but the South remained an issue. And as can be seen in the book, the South was not going to comply voluntarily. Eventually the moment we know is coming arrives when Confederate troops open fire at Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. Initially, Confederate forces were confident of victory, but Jefferson Davis makes a surprising comment to his wife that caught me off guard as I read the section in which America passed the point of no return. And it could be said that his prophetic words are an understatement.

After war breaks out, the book changes gear as the battles between Union and Confederate forces heat up. Levine thoroughly analyzes the Confederate war effort focusing on the growing domestic and logistical issues plaguing the region. But the most surprising aspect of the story is the reluctance of both sides to enlist black troops. In the South, recruiting black troops to fight for a system that kept them in subjugation was not ideal, and few blacks wanted to entertain the thought. But even in the North, the movement to use blacks to fight in the Union Army was slow to catch on. The social complexities at play in America during the time are vividly clear and the common belief of black inferiority is on full display. However, those with wisdom on the Union side continued to push for black troops and when they did enter the war, a whole new source of concern for the Confederacy presented itself. The impact of black troops should not be lost, and the comments provided by white soldiers in the book highlight the incredibly hard ground which had to be broken for blacks to serve in the military campaign. But once they did, attitudes towards them were forced to change. Sadly, the belief of black inferiority in the military continued to persist and it was not until 1948 when President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) officially desegregated the Armed Forces.

It is not long after war breaks out that the Confederacy’s issues at home creep up. And this is key to understanding why it collapsed. It is a common story of wealth versus poverty and gives credence to the words of the legendary Marine Smedley Butler (1881-1940) who once remarked “war is a racket”. Putting human labor aside, there were economic forces at play that made Southern secession unacceptable. And despite the image of the anti-slavery North, Southern sympathy could be found in many quarters of the Union as we see in the story. Further, attitudes towards black equality are telling. Slavery was viewed negatively in the North, but that did not mean blacks were to be equal to whites. And here is one of the more bizarre paradoxes of the conflict. However, the Union was a concerted effort, and the mission was to break the back of the South at all costs. The South did its part to help the North as desertion, famine and lack of supplies became crucial weaknesses that no government could overcome. And behind the scenes, slaves following the Union’s successes began to sense a new day in America. The cracks in the base of the South grow larger as slaves become bolder and more determined to be free. And though Jim Crow did rise in later years, the author is correct in that blacks may have taken steps back to slavery like conditions economically after the war, but they would never again be in slavery. Also, Jefferson Davis once again shocks the senses with a suggestion he makes regarding the future of slaves in the South.

I should point out that the Union had its own issues and suffered its share of defeats as explained in the book. And I was stunned at the actions of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) in the wake of Confederate defeats. His actions are so surreal that Union General and future President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) personally intervened. The South was defeated but America still had a long way to go. Republicans were aware of this and acted in the wake of the nightmarish war to pass what became known was the Reconstruction Acts. Their goals were ambitious, yet one hundred more years passed before President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) signed the Civil Rights Act into law. But following the Civil War, the Grand Old Party (“GOP”) was determined to make sure that Lincoln did not die in vain. The assassination is discussed but only briefly, and Levine keeps the focus on the South. Though the fallen president did not live to see Jefferson Davis’s capture, he did live long enough to rest assured that the Union had secured a victory. And everyone knew that America had changed permanently. I cannot recommend this book highly enough; it is a true gem.

“The world has not seen a nobler and grander war,” Frederick Douglass reflected at the time, than the one fought “to put an end to the hell-black cause out of which the Rebellion has risen.”

ASIN:  B00957T4ZQ

The Accountant’s Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellín Cartel – Roberto Escobar with David Fisher


On September 14, 1986, United States President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) gave a speech to the nation on the Campaign Against Drug Abuse. And though he did not mention names of drug lords, those with knowledge of the flood of narcotics entering the United States aware that Reagan was also speaking to Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (1949-1993), the head of the Medellín cartel who had earned a place on Forbes’ list of the world’s wealthiest figures. Seven more years passed before Escobar met his fate on December 2, 1993, but prior to the final act of his life, Escobar continued to earn billions of dollars as cocaine became the drug of choice. There are countless documentaries, films, and articles about Pablo, but his brother Roberto has remained in the shadows. His role as the organization’s accountant and proximity to his brother, allowed him to witness the rise and fall of the Medellín cartel. And this is his story of that world and what really happened in their lives as Pablo became the most wanted drug lord in the world.

Before reading this book, I knew of Roberto Escobar, but I did not know his personal story. I did expect it to mirror Pablo’s but the perspective from Roberto’s view is unique on its own and raises questions about morality that I did not expect. Further, what he reveals adds more complication to the legend and infamy of Pablo. After a brief explanation of the family’s history which traces its maternal routes to Spain, Roberto focuses on the young Pablo who has no interest in narcotics. In fact, Robert explains that “in 1974 Pablo was studying political science at the Universidad de Antiochia. There are many who believe Pablo was an uneducated man who succeeded only through drugs. That simply is not true.” But the most significant aspect of the early Pablo’s life is his vision of becoming president of Colombia. It may sound comical looking back in hindsight, but the book leaves no room to believe that Escobar was insincere about this. And though he was trafficking narcotics, he did want to be president of the country.  This is supported by Pablo’s successful political campaign in which he ran for Congress and was elected. Of course, the drugs were never far away but as we learn from Roberto, Pablo did not start out as a narcotics trafficker nor did the violence in Colombia start with the Medellín cartel. Those who are from Colombia or have visited Latin America may find this sobering statement from Roberto that “Colombia has always been a country of violence. It was part of our heritage” to be hauntingly accurate.

After engaging in the transport of contraband and a narrow escape from police, Pablo realizes that he needs another stream of revenue and learns about a paste made from coca leaf extracts. It is chance event that changes history and the lives of all Colombians. But Pablo was unknown outside of Colombia early in his career and the leap from domestic trafficker to public enemy number one of Washington is a fascinating story, and Roberto delivers the goods. We learn that America was always a good drug market and traffic from Colombia and other parts of South America flew under the radar. But that all changed in 1979 when The United States and Colombia signed an extradition agreement to extradite drug traffickers to America to stand trial. It was a move in the making and changed the lives of Pablo and Roberto permanently. However, before that took place, Roberto knew that America was an entirely different arena and recalls that “for the entire family, our lives changed forever the day my brother decided to send his drugs to America“. War was declared and it has not let up to this day. And to drive home the significance of the agreement, Roberto goes on to explain that “Although none of us knew it at the time, the wars had actually begun in 1979, when the United States and Colombia signed a treaty that declared drug trafficking a crime against the United States and permitted Colombian traffickers to be extradited to the U.S. It was that law that changed everything.”

Within Colombia, Pablo and his family enjoy life as they could have never imagined with unlimited access to cash, enforcers, and political influence. However, I could not overlook the deeds by Pablo for the poor people of Colombia. And this part of the book presents a duality the remains constant throughout the story. We know Pablo is dealing drugs, but he also becomes a Robin Hood type figure who commits unbelievably generous acts of kindness, one of which is Barrio Escobar which stands to this day. The complicated nature of Pablo is observed by Roberto who cautions his sibling when needed and provides explanations for the decisions they make. And to be fair, Roberto does not shy away from criticizing his brother in the book when necessary. The best example is Pablo’s entry in politics which the author strongly disagreed with. But that was only the beginning in a bitter feud with the Colombia Government that included the Cali cartel, police hit squads and the notorious group of killers called Los Pepes. Colombia was turned into a bloodbath and the Escobars were the top prizes to be captured. The stories from Roberto are unbelievable and show that the idea of safety was a foreign concept for victims of the drug wars. The violence escalates in the book as expected and readers may want to use discretion.

Any story about Escobar must address the elephant in the room and that is the sad fate of Avianca Airlines Flight 203. Roberto explains that he did not know of any plot, but had he known he would have stopped Pablo. There is no smoking gun and any discussions about it were hidden from Roberto, most likely to protect him from prosecution. This act combined with the attacks on government buildings, political assassinations and deadly battles with Colombian police units, catapulted Pablo to a level of infamy from which he has never descended and never will. Yet while these things were taking place, he was still committing acts of kindness to those in need. But he was firm in his determination to never be incarcerated in an American jail and was clear to Roberto that he would rather die on Colombia soil than sit in a United States prison. In the end he got his wish.

Following the Avianca tragedy, the writing is on the wall, and we know that Pablo will not escape alive. But there is still more carnage to come, and Colombia saw more bloodshed before the drug lord was ambushed and eliminated. Roberto recounts those finals weeks with Pablo and the feeling they both had as the walls closed in. Both were deeply affected by the isolation from their children and Roberto goes through three marriages while telling the story. The Escobar name became a liability and the bounty placed on their heads resulted in death coming from all angles. But following Pablo’s demise, their mother takes action to end the battles with the Cali cartels and rebel groups with astonishing courage. Roberto suffered a different fate and his ordeal in prison at the time of Pablo’s death and its aftermath are beyond shocking. It is a miracle that he is alive today. The glory days of the Medellín cartel are gone but drug trafficking continues to exist. But there was a time when a simple man from Colombia with an unobstructed vision of destiny became the poster boy for the cocaine trafficking industry. And along for the ride was his brother Roberto who served as the accountant, confidant and voice of reason when needed. If you want to know the real story of Pablo Escobar, this book is a must read and a welcome addition to the books we have now about the man who entrenched himself permanently in the history of Colombia.

“It is impossible to even imagine how much money remains put away somewhere, probably never to be discovered. People who managed millions of dollars got killed without telling anyone where the money was hidden. Or they took the money and disappeared when Pablo was killed. I feel sure there are undiscovered coletas in houses all throughout Colombia—but also in New York and Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles, and the other cities in which Medellín did business. I am also certain there are bank accounts in countries whose numbers have been lost and forgotten and never will be opened again.” 

-Roberto Escobar


The Rise and Fall of a ‘Casino’ Mobster: The Tony Spilotro Story Through a Hitman’s Eyes – Frank Cullotta & Dennis N. Griffin

CulottaIf you have viewed the 1995 film ‘Casino‘ by Martin Scorsese, then I am sure you recoiled in shock at the fate of Joe Pesci’s character Nicki and his brother. Pesci’s character is unbelievable at times during the film but is based on real-life mobster Anthony John “Tony” Spilotro (1938-1986). And from what is known, Spilotro could be as volatile as his on-screen composite. The film is entertaining, and all the actors and actresses deliver stand-up performances but as to be expected, some liberties were taken during the screenwriting and editing processes. Frank Cullotta (1938-2020) was mobster in the Chicago Outfit and close friend and associate of Spilotro. In fact, Spilotro was the reason Cullotta made the move to Las Vegas which brought money, excitement, and his downfall. This is his account of the time he spent with Tony Spilotro and the events that transpired on the dark side of Sin City.

The story begins in Chicago with Cullotta reminiscing about his childhood and the beginning of his friendship with Spilotro. And it is not long before both leave school foregoing a formal education and start learning the streets. Spilotro is quickly seduced by the lure of the Mafia and convinces Cullotta to help him while earning good money. And as the say goes, the rest was history. And once both are in Las Vegas working for the Outfit, the story picks up in pace and never slows down. The book is short but make no mistake, Cullotta was a wealth of information, and that knowledge was used when he testified against Spilotro and other members of the Outfit. But before we reach that point, there is a lot of ground to cover and some of what he reveals fills in the gaps in the film.

When the story shifts to Las Vegas, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (1929-2008) makes his appearance in the story. In the film, Robert DeNiro plays his composite character, and like the movie, bad blood existed between Rosenthal and Spilotro. Cullotta speaks frankly when it comes to their relationship, which was bitter to say the least. However, Spilotro is the focus of the story, and Cullotta shows a side of the mobster that is both interesting and dark. Murders, schemes, and betrayal all play into the story told by Cullotta, but a main issue was the gangster’s inability to remain committed to his wife. On screen, Lefty’s wife Geri, played by Sharon Stone, is out of control and causes serious issues within the Outfit. In the story at hand, the real-life Geri is just as wild, but we also learn about the role and actions of Spilotro’s wife Nancy, whose life was altered significantly through her husband’s actions and demise, and their son Vincent.

True crime lovers will be satisfied as well with the information Cullotta provides about the crimes committed and the murders that took place. Some of the stories are surreal but documented, including the infamous “M & M” murders which Cullotta explains thoroughly. But surprisingly, the downfall of both men did not come from a murder but from trusting a criminal named Sal Romano. His association with the crew set into a motion a series of events that resulted in the arrest of Cullotta, his associates, and the deterioration of the relationship between him and Spilotro. The final act that fractures the relationship permanently is a story we have seen before, but it shows that there is no honor among thieves.

Before Spilotro could stand trial for the second time, he and his brother Michael disappeared and were found deceased outside of Chicago. Cullotta explains their last moments and offers reason as to why it happened. The whole truth about the incident may never be known but Cullotta was right in his belief that Spilotro had become a problem that needed to be resolved. But the fallout from his death and the criminal prosecutions should not be overlooked. And as a bonus, Cullotta provides a sort of epilogue wherein he tells what he knew about the lives of former associates in the Outfit. Every story ends negatively proving that in the end, crime does not pay. Cullotta served his time and died a free man and as the book concludes he provides a quote that sums up the days the Chicago Outfit ruled Las Vegas:

“When people ask me if Vegas was better when the Mob ran it, my answer is that for civilians, it was a hell of a lot safer.” 

If you like stories about the Italian American Mafia and the heyday of organized crime, this is must read.


The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T – Steve Coll

at&tAnyone who uses a mobile cellular device has undoubtedly experienced the issue of a dropped call. Upon resumption of the call, one party will typically ask the other who their service provider is. The choices of mobile service providers today are plenty but prior to 1982, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company controlled phone service across America (“AT&T”). But all that changed when a small communications company challenged AT&T’s rule and set int motion a chain of events that resulted in the breakup of the communications giant, paving the way for the diversity in service providers we have today. Author Steve Coll tells the unbelievable story here in a book that beautifully captures a crucial event in American history.

This book was in my list of recommendations, and when I noticed it the title instantly grabbed my attention due to me being a mobile subscriber of AT&T, Inc. And when I think back to my childhood, my family were also subscribers of AT&T. None of us questioned why but would agree today that we never had issues with phone service. But if AT&T was so good, why was it broken up? Well, a small company called MCI Communications (“MCI”) decided that it wanted to get into the communications field and had no choice but to impose on AT&T’s territory. The tech giant balked at first, but officials at the Federal Communications Commission had other ideas and approved MCI’s request to go into business. But there was a catch, and as Coll explains:

“When the FCC authorized MCI to go into business, over the strenuous objections of AT&T’s Washington lobbyists, the commission told AT&T that it had to allow MCI to interconnect with the basic phone network. But the commission didn’t tell AT&T how much it should charge MCI for connections, or how fast AT&T should install MCI’s lines, or how AT&T should calculate its own costs when determining an interconnection price for MCI.” 

The leasing agreement worked on the surface, but MCI’s William G. McGowan (1927-1992) was far from finished and on March 6, 1974, MCI filed an anti-trust suit against AT&T. Several years later in 1978, the two parties entered the ENFIA Agreement about the leased lines, but the lawsuit had also provided the framework needed by the U.S. Department of Justice in its own lawsuit to end AT&T’s dominance. But the tech giant did not go away quietly and had the best lawyers it could afford. And they were ready for battle when the Government filed suit in what became United States v. American Tel. and Tel. Co., 552 F. Supp. 131 (D.D.C. 1983). The first judge assigned to the case passes away and it is re-assigned to the late Judge Harold H. Greene (1923-2000) whose summary judgment opinion changed telecommunications in the United States. But before we reach that point, the author provides a crash course of litigation and discovery that those in the legal field will appreciate. The snippets of courtroom discussions and conversations revisited between the parties reveal the complexities litigators face in intricate litigation. And behind the scenes on each side, things were unpredictable as well. One area that stands out is the confusion at the U.S. Department of Justice. Before the case is over, several attorneys take the lead, each with a distinctive style. And at times, it seems as if no one on the Government’s side is on the same page, particularly when the parties begin settlement negotiations. However, while the two sides were revisiting strategy, politics in America were changing the course of nation and a former Hollywood star was soon on his way to the White House.

About halfway through the story, the narrative changes with the incoming administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004). At first, I thought it was strange that his administration would play a role in the story but as the book progresses, the reasons behind the importance of the AT&T case become clear. One issue regarding national security gives credence to the Government’s intrusion. But strangely, Reagan never takes the lead in the matter, nor does he get involved but instead leaves the matter to others. Coll points out this characteristic of Reagan’s time in office with this keen observation:

“The advantage of Reagan’s style was that on many issues, that consensus led to unity and strong, positive leadership within the administration. The disadvantage was that the President had a slim grasp of the questions being deliberated by his counselors and was thus unable to intervene when, as was the case early that summer, debate on a particular issue became skewed by personality clashes, turf wars, and internal White House politics.” 

Frankly, Reagan is a non-factor throughout the story, but cabinet officials take far stronger positions. At the Justice Department, a settlement remains a priority, but the attorneys remain committed to trial and seeing the case through. The agreement reached with AT&T in 1956 was seen as a slap on wrist and attorneys were determined not to let it happen again. AT&T’s attorneys resort to filing a summary judgment motion but even as the two sides engaged motion practice, they all remained oblivious to decisions in Washington, one of which pulls the rug out from under your feet:

“Neither Greene nor the majority of attorneys trying the case was aware on that September morning that a nearly irrevocable decision not to drop U.S. v. AT&T had already been made by the White House.” 

The White House had left AT&T to defend itself and was not going to step in. But settlement negotiations proved to be successful, and the case was eventually dismissed. And that settlement awakened the sleeping giant known as Congress. Coll explains what happened when the settlement went through and how its terms shaped modern telecommunications. And surprisingly MCI suffered an adverse effect from legislation that should have been to its benefit. Today, the matter of U.S. v. AT&T is history rarely discussed. But the decision of Judge Greene, the settlement reached and the actions by Congress, changed the telecommunications industry for good. The United States Government has commenced anti-trust litigation countless times and will surely use it in the future. But the breakup of AT&T will remain one of its most important cases. Highly recommended.

ASIN:‎ B071D53HV8

The Last Days of Stalin – Joshua Rubenstein

rubensteinOn March 5, 1953, Soviet Union leader Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin (1878-1953) died at the age of seventy-four after suffering a massive stroke several days earlier. On March 1, he was found incapacitated on the floor of his dacha, unable to speak or move. The man who had sent thousands of people to their deaths, came face to face with father time but could not escape his fate. Upon hearing that Stalin had died, Soviet citizens felt relieved even if they could not publicly express their feelings. For thirty years Stalin served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and during that time, held the Soviet Union firmly in his grip. But as he advanced in age, his own mortality became a reality as a series of health events took place before the final emergency that left him at death’s door. But what really happened during the days Stalin clung to life? And what was the fallout from his death behind the scenes? Joshua Rubenstein re-examines the final days of the Soviet leader to assess what really did happen behind the Iron Curtain. And the result is a thorough and pleasing discussion of Stalin’s terror, his demise and the dysfunction left in his wake.

Physically, Stalin was not an imposing figure, standing between 5’5″ and 5’6″ in height. And cosmetically, he was not easy on the eyes. Yet he controlled the Soviet Union and struck fear in the hearts of those around him and those who stood in front of him.  Rubenstein goes deeper into Stalin’s menacing presence by revisiting the words of former First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) who worked directly under Stalin:

“As Khrushchev once admitted, after a meeting with Stalin no one ever knew if he would return home alive. To the public, they were his “comrades-in-arms.” In reality, they were potential victims as long as he remained in charge.” 

Make no mistake, Stalin struck fear in the hearts of everyone, regardless of position or even family relation. But to understand how his death changed history, the author revisits the dark side of the late leader, paying close attention to the rise in anti-Semitism within the Soviet Union that gave way to persecution and ugly acts of violence against Russian Jews. As I read the book, I had to conclude that Stalin and his henchmen were just as bad if not worse that the perpetrators of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany. The author does clear up an important question regarding any plans by Stalin to deport Soviet Jews.  If he did have any plans in mind, they went with him to the grave. There was no joy to be found within the Soviet Union, only suspicion and fear. Ironically that system of fear prevented him from being helped at the time he needed it the most with everyone afraid to enter his private room. But by the time someone did, it was too late.

After Stalin is pronounced dead, the Soviet Union found itself in a weird place. His death inevitably created a power vacuum, but the first step was to put forth a united front to the prying eyes of western nations. But the reality was that the removal of Stalin presented opportunities for subordinates to rise in the ranks. And that struggle is included in the story as well. As the story progresses, another villain emerges in the form of Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (1899-1953) the director of the Soviet secret police and the man who carried out Stalin’s darkest orders. Following Stalin’s death, officials saw an opportunity for the party to reform its image by reinstating personal freedoms and commuting prison sentences. The latter of the two had adverse effects that officials somehow failed to anticipate and correct. But they were willing to accept the minor losses to accomplish the main goal. Beria had the unfortunate luck of being unpopular and a relic of what had become the “Stalin era”. He meets his fate in the book and some would say rightfully so. But Rubenstein has another take on it which sums up the Soviet Union in the wake of the leader’s death:

“The party had carried out a political exorcism, offering up Beria as a sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins it refused to acknowledge.”

In Washington, there is confusion about how Stalin’s death will affect American and Soviet relations. But no one knew how to manage the situation. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) enters the story and his administration aided by former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) is forced to confront the Soviet issue and the increasingly powerful People’s Republic of China and the Korean War. The White House eventually settled on a course of action, but the main action was taking place within the Soviet Union as Stalin’s former underlings were confronted with the reality that the party had to continue with new leadership. There were winners and losers and the Soviet Union kept moving forward until its dissolution in December 1991. When the hammer and sickle came down for the last time, it signaled the end of an era. But the ghost of Joseph Stalin will remain with us as a reminder of the dangers of tyranny and paranoia. The final curtain call in the life of Joseph Stalin was a sad affair but the comeuppance from years of deadly policy and brutality that knew no bounds. This is a fascinating and valuable look at his final days and the impact his death had across the world.


Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley – Peter Guralnick

elvis1In the afternoon of August 16, 1977, legendary recording artist Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) was found unconscious at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee and later pronounced dead at a local hospital. Forty-five years have passed since his death, but his fans remain lol keeping the singer’s memory alive, and rightfully so. Presley changed history and gave credence to the genre known as Rock n’ Roll. His death at the age of forty-two is tragic and was featured in an episode of the Reelz television show ‘Autopsy‘ (S3.E2). Coverage of his death is extensive but the story of his origins in Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee are stories to be known if we are to understand how Presley rose from obscurity to become the music legend. Author Peter Guralnick is an admitted Elvis fan and in this phenomenal look at Elvis’ rise to fame, he captures the essence of the Presley family story equally as significant as the triumphs that came later through the only son of Vernon (1916-1979) and Gladys Presley (1912-1958).

This book is the first part of a two-volume biography of the late singer and ends well before his final days in 1977. Here, the author focuses on Elvis’ early life and what he writes speaks volumes about the American dream, the South and how much society has changed since Elvis caught his big break. The story begins in Tupelo, Mississippi, a place I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this book. Presley and his parents reside there briefly in the book before making the move to Memphis for better pastures. In Tupelo, there are trials and tribulations including the story of Elvis’ twin brother Jesse who died in infancy. Further, the family’s financial situation touches on the difficulties faced by Americans in the wake of the Great Depression. Families were left with tough decisions heavily based on the best opportunity for financial success and security. Recalling the words of Vernon, the author explains that:

“There were times we had nothing to eat but corn bread and water,” recalled Vernon not long before he died, “but we always had compassion for people. Poor we were, I’ll never deny that. But trash we weren’t…. We never had any prejudice. We never put anybody down. Neither did Elvis.”

For the Presleys, Memphis was the next destination and this city proved to be more than they could have ever bargained for. And as we see in the book, by the time he reaches nineteen, Elvis has already caught the eye of people in the music business with an eye for talent. But what I also noticed in the book is that as he gains notoriety, he is still a “kid” in many ways. And this human side of the singer is what makes this such a good biography. We can witness a young Elvis as an aspiring singer but more importantly, as a young man coming of age at time when music was slowly changing.  But even he had to navigate complex social structures, in particular Jim Crow which separated Blacks and Whites. Presley remarks more than once in the book that the Black singers are where he drew his inspiration. But the laws were firmly in place, and it should come as no surprise that Memphis later became a hotbed of activity. However, Elvis is frank about his love of music and its origins. This remark by him in the book is telling for its honesty:

“The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin’ now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in the shanties and in their juke joints, and nobody paid it no mind ’til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

As the story progresses, Elvis grows before our eyes. But his mother Gladys is his guardian angel, and their bond is heartwarming. It is a well-known fact that Presley loved his parents deeply and always yearned to return home to see the family. Their son was becoming popular, and that meant talent agents, musicians and women coming around the family. Multiple figures enter the story as Elvis becomes an item and have their effect on his life to varying degrees. The entrance of Thomas Andrew “Colonel” Parker (1909-1997) changes the story significantly and it is not long before Elvis is on his way to stardom. The money started rolling in but not without its problems, which are covered in the book. It’s a familiar story of underpaid workers, jealousy and the seductions that come with a traveling show. There are romances and friendships, and it is telling that everyone had nothing but kind words for the Elvis they knew who remains true to his character throughout the book and displays a humbleness that stems from his family’s experiences. The scenes described regarding his performances are surreal but fact. And it is imperative to remember that Presley was also pushing the limits of censorship due to his dance movements on stage which caught the eye of local police departments on more than one occasion. He learns to move fast but despite his fame, there was one person he could not avoid, Uncle Sam.

Towards the end of the book, Elvis gives in and reports to the U.S. Army for duty. He fits in well and this part of the book is filled with interesting tidbits of information about his time in the military. But the book’s darkest moment comes when Gladys passes away while he is enlisted. The hurt and shock of his mother’s death is felt through the author’s words, and I began to feel as if Elvis was never the same after this event. He returns to the military, but he heads back heartbroken and in fragments. And with that the story concludes. I am eagerly anticipating the next part of the biography which unfortunately will include Elvis’ own demise. But before the story is over, I will continue to enjoy learning about the king of Rock n’ Roll and his shorty but extraordinary life. Highly recommended.

ASIN:‎ B006L8928G

Into the Dark: 30 Years in the RUC – Johnston Brown

thedarkThe conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” claimed over thirty-five hundred lives and brought the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) into sharp focus as bombings, assassinations, and paramilitary operations spread fear across the United Kingdom. However, within Ulster Province in Northern Ireland, loyalists confronted their own demons in the form of paramilitary groups determined to eradicate the IRA and Catholics committed to a fully independent Ireland. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (“RUC”) was formed in 1922 after the partition of Ireland and found itself tasked with addressing a conflict that escalated by the minute. Over the course of thirty years, Johnston Brown served as an officer in the RUC and witnessed some of the darkest moments in the history of the Troubles. This is his account of his career in the RUC and the people he encountered. And like the title says, there were times where it was necessary to go into the dark.

Though it is not a necessity, readers will benefit by having a general understanding of the conflict and events that followed the partition of Ireland in 1921. Further, this book is written by an officer on the side of Ulster law enforcement but not from the view of a Protestant or a loyalist. In fact, nowhere in the book does Johnston show any hint of bias regarding faith or politics. Known affectionately by his peers as “Jonty”, his job and goal was to protect and serve, and that meant breaking down paramilitary groups whether they were for partition to remain or a united Ireland. But before he joined the RUC, he had to navigate a turbulent life which included living under the roof of a tyrant posing as a father. The author speaks frankly about his childhood and the difficulties that came with the dysfunction created by his domineering father. But in an ironic twist, had it not been for the police officers he encountered, this book may not have been written. His account of his childhood is tough to read at times but there are bright moments in the story. And as shocking as those events are, there is far more in the book to learn as the story takes a dark and disturbing turn.

Johnston’s career as a police officer is routine until he makes the arrest of several men involved in a covert paramilitary operation. They are loyalists and as Johnston learns, they have friends in high places, which includes his unit and the Special Branch, an intelligence division whose role in the story will leave readers staring in disbelief. To put the events to come into perspective, Johnston remarks early in the book that,

“The very last thing I ever expected was to be obstructed by members of the institution to which I devoted almost 30 years of my life. I did not anticipate that some of the worst difficulties and dangers I would face were to come from within the very organisation of which I was part.”

Readers might wonder how threats from within could be more dangerous than those from either the IRA or loyalist factions such as the Ulster Defence Association (“UDA”) and Ulster Volunteer Force (“UVF”). Well, the revelations by Johnston will remove any doubt of the dangers he faced as he and other officers in his unit struggled to contain the tensions in Northern Ireland that repeatedly erupted in deadly violence. In relation to the arrests and release of the men suspected of executing a covert mission, Johnston has a physical encounter with a fellow officer in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that leaves him puzzled and dazed. However, the fog slowly begins to clear as he realizes that the Special Branch has a bag of tricks and when they go into the dark, it is better to stay way. And this cold truth shows itself midway through the book when Johnston is contacted by a loyalist rebel named Ken Barrett, one of the book’s most unsavory figures. But the part about Barrett’s story that caused me to recoil was the murder of solicitor (lawyer) Pat Finucane (1949-1989). I knew Finucane’s story from other books I had read and reviewed about the Troubles, but I did not know of Barrett’s role and his status as a confidential informant. And an admission by a Special Branch officer in Johnston’s company left me speechless. It is at this moment in the book where we have gone fully into the dark.

After Barrett’s entry into the story, nothing is the same again. In fact, we follow the author as he works on other cases involving Ulster loyalists who commit horrific acts. Yet, the Special Branch remains a source of danger and irritation. To say that their actions are astonishing would be an understatement. But as the author clarifies, the dark figures moving around in the Special Branch should allow readers to paint them all with the same brush. However, the dangerous elements within the Special Branch make their presence felt in the book and had Johnston in their crosshairs. What evolves is a dangerous game in which Johnston and the Special Branch tip toe around each other while working informants and making arrests of men who would not hesitate to kill anyone deemed fit to be eliminated. And towards the end of the book, the name of Johnny Adair will be etched into the reader’s memory when he emerges as the biggest threat to Johnston and his family. And before the story is over, Adair and his loyalist conspirators get up close and personal with Johnston who eventually retires from the RUC but remains on high alert.

This is the first book I have read by a police officer on the Ulster side of the conflict. Discussions of the Troubles often center around the IRA but as we see here, the loyalist side was equally as deadly, and the Ulster police were at risk for murder by both Protestants and Catholics. Officers such as Johnston were navigating deadly waters as they tried to maintain order in Ulster Province where all hell repeatedly broke loose. The story is tough to accept but this was his reality every day as a member of the RUC who came face to face with the people who went into the dark and tried to take everyone else with them. Johnston is alive to tell his story, but thousands of others did not live to see the Good Friday Agreement and current day Ireland. On a side note, there were ramifications of the agreement that gave me chills as I read Johnston’s words. This book is an asset in preserving the history of the Troubles, a conflict that haunts the United Kingdom to this day. And if Johnston publishes another volume as indicated, I will be waiting for its release.


War Diaries: 1939-1945 – Astrid Lindgren

astridWhen I learned that Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), the author of the fictional character Pippi Longstocking, had kept a diary during World War II, I was instantly intrigued. Like millions of others, I remember Pippi Longstocking and the impact it had on pop culture here in America and abroad. But who would have known that the character she created almost remained hidden from the public? The story behind the character is contained within as well as a different view of the war, from neutral Sweden. When I started the book, I had realized that I had forgotten Sweden’s neutrality. But that is not to say the Swedes did not have an opinion of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Third Reich. In fact, Lindgren is very vocal about the expanding war and the terrors of the Nazi regime. However, there is also another side to the diaries, and that is her family life, which includes her roles as a mother and wife. Her diaries encompass a range of topics but come together to reveal a woman deeply concerned about society and the effects of warfare.

This is the first book that I have read from the Swedish point of view. In contrast to neighboring countries, Lindgren humbly explains that shortage of food and supplies was not a significant issue in Sweden. There are occasions where the author feels guilt for the excesses they have at home, but the nation’s neutrality undoubtedly affected its ability to remain stable. However, the Swedes were aware of the war’s developments, the plague of the Jewish people attempting to flee Germany, starvation across Europe and the monstrous acts committed on people deemed “undesirable” within Reich territories. Lindgren was deeply affected by what she read and carries a heavy heart from start to finish. At one point she sadly explains that: 

“Poor human race: when I read their letters I’m staggered by the amount of sickness and distress, grief, unemployment, poverty and despair that can be fitted into this wretched earth”

The wave of terror Germany unleashed across Europe led to Lindgren lamenting the human capacity for war. In one entry she questions why England and France were slow to respond to the growing threat from Berlin. Readers interested in the slow response to the Germany arms build-up will find ‘Why England Slept‘ by John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) to be a thorough analysis of the inaction from London. To be fair, outside of Germany, knowledge of internal movement would have had its limits. But Hitler’s actions building up to the invasion of Poland were no secret. And by the time nations realized how far he was willing to go, the world was at war. For Lindgren, every day became another chapter in a brutal war that claimed millions of lives. The author does her best to remain positive and fills the diary with details about Swedish delicacies, holiday traditions and family matters to which we can relate. But above everything, she desired an end to the war that should never have taken place. 

As we move to 1943 in the book, the tide begins to turn in war and a German victory becomes further from reality. The fighting between the Russians and Germans is the focus in this section. And though America had entered the war by this point, the battles across the Soviet Union were of major importance. She clearly wanted the war over, and Germany defeated but she did not ignore the danger posed by the Red Army and wanted no part of Russia’s army in Sweden. And this is a part of World War II often neglected. The Red Army could be as savage as the Germany Army and in some cases, it was far worse when atrocities were committed. Entries in the diaries will clue readers in. The savagery of the war was not lost on anyone in neutral territories, but that neutrality was of the utmost importance as she acknowledges towards the end of the book. 

The section focused on 1944 sees an elated author as the Americans invaded and former Nazi territories were liberated. The Soviets are still battling Hitler’s troops on the eastern front and Germany is in trouble. Step by step the allies push back Germany divisions and as 1945 approaches, hope builds for the war’s end. The suspense can be felt in her words as news of Allied victories filter in. And by the time 1945 arrives, the world is waiting for Germany’s collapse which comes at the end of April. She follows the news from Berlin of Hitler’s defeat and demise but finds herself shocked at the introduction of the atomic bomb. She contemplated what she learned and somberly reflects that: 

“Nineteen forty-five brought two remarkable things. Peace after the Second World War and the atom bomb. I wonder what the future will have to say about the atom bomb, and whether it will mark a whole new era in human existence, or not. The peace is not much to put one’s faith in, with the atom bomb casting such a shadow over it.”

The war ended but the reality of atomic weapons became very real. There are other entries in the diaries about nuclear weapons and her concern about their place in society. But the sense of relief that the war had ended cannot be overstated. Today it may be hard for us to understand how dark the future looked during her time. But her diaries provide a valuable resource to understand a time when the world was at war. Her family survived the war, and she created a character that still entertains children today. But she also carried with her dark memories of the years in which Adolf Hitler embarked on a quest for world domination. Highly recommended.