Conversations with Lorraine Hansberry (Literary Conversations Series) – Mollie Godfrey

LorraineIt truly is amazing that a person can learn so much about the future by examining the past. In America, there are parts of our nation’s history that people find difficult to control.  Race is at the top of the list and continues to find itself the topic of discussions as the country grapples with instances of systematic discrimination and overt acts by individuals.  However, America is also a very great nation that has the courage to critically examine itself.  The problems we have are not new but instead, more attention is now being paid to them.  And I honestly believe that to remedy those issues, we must continue to look at the past for it provides many valuable lessons from which we can learn.  I picked up this book because 1) I have been a fan of Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) for many years and 2) I knew that the book would contain a wealth of highly intellectual discussions about American society that have relevance, even today.   And I can say unquestionably that this short book is a good look at Hansberry’s brilliant mind that was able to dissect America in ways that sets the stage for meaningful dialogue and change.  

The title may give the impression that it is a one-on-one session with Hansberry but in fact, it is a collection of interviews and articles she wrote during the height of her fame.  Some interviews were recorded for television and the audio for the discussion with Studs Turkel (1912-2008) in particular, can be found on YouTube.  Further, she is sometimes a participant in group discussions that include a range of voices such as James Baldwin (1924-1987) and Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  When they are all together, you can feel the energy in the text and each speaker shines in their assessment of being a Negro author and the social climate in America.   Baldwin shines bright as always and his words are hauntingly accurate of the America he loved and sought to change during his lifetime.  Those who are in the process of writing themselves will absolutely love the group discussion.  But the focus here is on Lorraine and she is given her own platform so to speak to share her thoughts which are numerous and enlightening.  What I found to be highly appealing is her ability to reveal herself in a way that instantly makes you feel as if you know her well.  While I read through the book, I picked up a few things that I was not aware of before that added to the Hansberry story which truly is remarkable.  And considering that she is now recognized as a great playwright, this quote might surprise some readers: 

“I was not a particularly bright student. I had some popularity, and a premature desire, probably irritating, to be accepted in my circle on my terms. My dormitory years, which numbered only two at the University of Wisconsin, were spent in heated discussion on everything from politics to the nature of art, and I was typically impatient at people who couldn’t see the truth- as I saw it. It must have been a horror”

There are a couple of discussions where her role is quite minor.  Whether they should have been included or not is not for me to say but I did find myself hoping that Hansberry would have more to say.   But, putting that aside, I was more than satisfied with the statements and written words that came from Hansberry herself.  If I had to find a crux in the book, it would definitely be her play A Raisin in the Sun, which is still one of the longest running plays in Broadway history.  And in 2014, I had the honor of seeing Denzel Washington live as he took on the role of Walter Lee Younger. He was truly remarkable and captured the essence of Walter just as Sidney Poitier did many years ago.  Here, she explains the back story to the play and her intentions when creating what became a masterpiece.  And make no mistake, getting the play to Broadway was a feat.  And surprisingly, it almost did not happen.  In fact, what eventually came to be did so because of encouragement to become a dramatist by her former husband Robert B. Nemiroff (1929-1991), who preserved her works after her death.  As Lorraine speaks, it can be seen just how simple of a person she was at times.  She never comes across as superficial, egotistical or unrelatable.  In fact, as she speaks, you cannot help but to like her even more.  Physically she stood roughly five feet tall but, in this book, she is certainly larger than life.  And when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, she is spot on in her observations and honestly believed in peace.  The constant struggle for civil rights was exhausting and this quote sums up the frustration and sense of depression that many found within it: 

“The most shocking aspect of the whole thing”, Miss Hansberry concluded, ” is the waist of our youth – when they should be in school, or working, or just having fun, instead of having to ride Freedom buses, be subject to police brutality, go to jail, to get rights that should be unquestioned.”  

The “Movement” as it is sometimes called, forced America to look in the mirror and make amends for a long and brutal history.  Today in 2021, we are still confronting many dark aspects of our past, but the future truly is bright. America is changing again, and I always hope for the better. Hansberry, along with Baldwin, believed that in the future, America could be a place where anyone could live freely.  And although she did not live to see just how far society has come, I believe that if she were alive, she would be both optimistic and dismayed at some of the things we see taking place. As someone who experienced racial violence firsthand, she knew all too well of the dangers that come with extremism.  Throughout her life, she always believed that it was those dangers that caused her father’s demise.  When discussing her past, she is frank about his last days: 

“My father left the South as a young man, and then he went back there and got himself and education. He was a wonderful and very special kind of man. He died in 1945, at the age of fifty-one, of a cerebral hemorrhage, supposedly, but American racism helped kill him. He died in Mexico, where he was making preparations to move all of us out of the United States”

The family remained in the United States after his death and Lorraine soon found a home in New York City. And that move changed her life forever and resulted in the abundance of material she left behind.  Her tragic and untimely death at only age thirty-four, silenced one of the movement’s strongest voices. However, the movement will never end for any of us regardless of what we look like or where we come from.  The oppression of one human being by another is a constant blemish on mankind but it does not deter us from continuing to do right by each other and set examples for future generations. And no matter many years pass by, Lorraine’s voice will be as loud then as it is here and was many years ago.  

ISBN-10 : 1496829646
ISBN-13 : 978-1496829641

 

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (Amazon Classics Edition) – Ulysses S. Grant

41HwlLK8+ILThe death of George Floyd (1973-2020) initiated a chain of events that have resulted in a criminal trial and more discussions about race in America.  It is a subject that will never go away and many still struggle to confront it with the honesty that is sometimes necessary.  I have noticed that when it comes to race in America and the nation’s history, it is almost impossible to grasp the entire picture without factoring in the effect of the American Civil War (1861-1865).  The conflict tore the nation apart over several issues, the most important of which was the topic of slavery.  Many states in the North had already abolished slavery, but in the South, it remained a way of life.  And because it was so critical to the South’s existence, the states that formed the Confederacy were willing to fight to the death to preserve what they felt was their right. Today we know with the benefit of hindsight that it was a lost cause from the start but the battle that ensued was a long and bloody conflict that left thousands dead and others critically wounded. Veterans who survived the conflict were forced to live with horrible memories of war that remained with them until their final days.  Among the war’s combatants was the Eighteenth President of the United States and former General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885). In these extensive personal memoirs, he discusses the Civil War, the Mexican American War and his life which took him to places he could have never imagined, including his roles as a father and husband. 

I should point out that the book is quite long at more than six hundred pages.  However, at no point while reading the book, did I find myself bored with his writing.  From the start the book is engaging and Grant writes in a highly focused style that prevented him from veering off topic and employing rambling text.  The book is broken down into dozens of smaller chapters pertaining to a particular subject or time frame and it does help keep the reader’s attention from waning.  Readers will notice that Grant is very frank in his discussions of the events he witnessed during his time.  He does not mince words even at the expense of possibly offending some.  Although he fought on the American side of the Mexican War, he was not averse to giving his honest opinion and this quote should give readers and idea of the frankness in which the author gets his points across:

“The war was one of conquest, in the interest of an institution, and the probabilities are that private instructions were for the acquisition of territory out of which new States might be carved.”

The beauty in this book is that Grant does not hide behind patriotism and freely conveys his true feelings on various matters.  Some might be surprised that a former general and president is writing in this way but as can be seen in the book, Grant believed in transparency and the soul of the nation, even if it meant calling it out on its faults.  And make no mistake, he supported the Union unconditionally even if that meant his own life being taken from him.  Further, I feel that his words are crucial for Americans today in understanding the darker parts of our past including the founding of the United States. Grant’s account should help remove the mask of a “peaceful transition” between America and the continent’s native inhabitants.  Further, Grant makes an admission towards the end of the book regarding the future of Black Americans and the Caribbean city of Santo Domingo that will raise some eyebrows.

As the story progresses, we eventually come to the part in the story which every ready will be waiting for: The Civil War. Grant lays out the foundations for the war allowing the reader to understand just how important the issue of slavery was, and the threat Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) posed to the South.  I personally learned a couple of things and my eyes were glued to the screen when I read these statements by Grant:

“The Republican party was regarded in the South and the border States not only as opposed to the extension of slavery, but as favoring the compulsory abolition of the institution without compensation to the owners.” 

“The 4th of March, 1861, came, and Abraham Lincoln was sworn to maintain the Union against all its enemies. The secession of one State after another followed, until eleven had gone out.”

For all intents and purposes, the stage was set for the war in which America was fighting to save itself from an enemy within.  And Lincoln would become a savior and a casualty before the war’s conclusion.  The discussions about the war and the individual battles are extensive and it might benefit some readers to take notes while reading what Grant has to say.  Maps are provided but I think that a paperback or hardcover version might be better for those wishing to see actual positions on the terrain. The Kindle display is acceptable but does not match the clarity of a printed version.  To be expected, Grant focuses on the technical aspects of the campaigns which military buffs will love.  He does not go into political discussions for the most part except for when he reveals who he voted for in the presidential race and what he thought of Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875).  This is battlefield 101 and all its goodness. Grant was strategist and his brilliancy is on full display as the Union takes hold of the war and step by step, dismantles the Confederate Army.  Legendary figures on both sides enter the story as Grant knew nearly all quite well and he gives his assessment of them as military figures and leaders.  History buffs will find themselves unable to put the book down at times.

If there is one subject about which I wished Grant had discussed more, it is the assassination of Lincoln.  Grant mentions little about it largely mentioning his reasons for not going to Ford’s Theater that night.  As to why Grant avoided a lengthy discussion of the murder, I am not sure but it in no way detracts from the incredible story he is telling. What is clear though, is that he not only liked Lincoln but respected him highly as the nation’s leader. Lincoln in return, respected Grant’s abilities on the battlefield during a conflict the Union had to win by all costs.  Following Lincoln’s murder, Andrew Johnson assumes the presidency and Grant makes observations about that as well. Nothing slanderous will be found in his account but I strongly recommend that readers follow-up this book with material on Johnson’s impeachment trial in which he narrowly avoided conviction. The recent events of the past year will seem like history repeating itself.  However, America survived the Civil War and will continue to survive more challenges that lay ahead as we continue to correct course.  And if we need words of wisdom about our past and the dark side of war and human rights, we have this book by a former president that still stand the test of time. Highly recommended.

Readers interested in the viewpoint from the Confederacy might enjoy this diary by Leroy Wiley Gresham (1847-1865) called The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham 1860-1865, which is a very good look at the conflict from the eyes of a southerner firmly behind the Confederate cause.  Gresham died not long after the war ended but his observations about the war’s progression are interesting for a young man who had not yet reached his eighteenth birthday.

“Everyone has his superstitions. One of mine has always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, never to turn back or to stop until the thing intended was accomplished.” – Ulysses S. Grant 

ASIN : B08CDW51LB

Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War – R.M. Douglas

humaneMore than seventy years have passed since the end of World War II, yet it still fascinates historians and students.  The number of books written about Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and the Third SS Reich are perhaps the most written about any conflict and leader in history.  The former Austrian vagabond rose to power in Germany and plunged the entire world into the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind.  The emergence and use of the atomic bomb by American forces ushered in the nuclear age and set the stage for the Cold-War which lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. In my list of recommendations, I saw this title regarding the expulsion of Germans following the war.  At first, I was not sure which expulsion was being referred to but quickly realized that it was pertaining to the Germans that were living in Nazi occupied territories outside of Germany.  During the war, many of them enjoyed security and a stable life but in the wake of Germany’s defeat, nationalist governments came to power in former occupied territories, and they turned their wrath towards the German people that had been living within their borders.  A staggering number of Germans were forced from their homes and sent back to Germany with no clear or concise plan for reintegrating them into a Germany struggling to recover and rebuild.  And this is one part of the war that is often not discussed but a topic that should be known. 

The title of the book removes all doubt that the story is a “happy” one.  In fact, I believe that it is not for the faint at heart.  Although the book is not rife with gratuitous violence, the actions taken towards German nationals living abroad are both shocking and repulsive.  However, it could be argued that they are no more repulsive than what was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.  In the book, this is implied in actions and statements taken by foreign leaders eager to rid their countries of anything connected to Nazi Germany.  Regrettably, the operation to relocate German nationals was plagued by disorganization and confusion, leading to mass confusion the deaths of those being removed.  The author points out that: 

“Calculating the scale of the mortality remains a source of great controversy today, but estimates of 500,000 deaths at the lower end of the spectrum, and as many as 1.5 million at the higher, are consistent with the evidence as it exists at present.” 

We may never know the true number of those who perished during the expulsion program but the numbers we do know of are nothing short of mind-boggling.  Further, it removes any illusion of a “glorious” end to the war where things were made right again. In fact, the book shows that even with Germany and Japan defeated, chaos and confusion continued to be a problem for quite some time as the Allied forces struggled with former camp prisoners, German military prisoners and the German people who were left destitute as their nation crumbled around them.  Hitler had committed suicide and his act left the people without a leader and at the full mercy of Germany’s many enemies.  Berlin became the battleground between the east and west and remained so until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.  Today, Germany is one of the most successful nations in the world and far removed from its post-World War II state.  But the question remains, how and why did the expulsion happen and develop in the way that it did? Further, were there no protections against such a thing?  Some readers will immediately think of the Hague Conventions, but the author anticipates this and explains that: 

“The Hague Conventions were by no means perfect. They bound only those countries that were signatories. They contained few protections for civilians—a crucial omission that in the future would hamstring the work of humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross. They were silent in circumstances in which a government maltreated its own citizens, rather than the inhabitants of foreign lands its armies were occupying. They applied only to conflicts in which a state of formal war existed, rather than in “undeclared wars” or in peacetime. They provided no means of individual redress, nor any mechanism for enforcement.”

Frankly, the Germans being expelled were on their own at times and could expect little to no help from those their country had been recently fighting against.  Readers may find themselves torn as the fate of German nationals is discussed.  And it may lead some to ask the age-old question of whether two wrongs make a right.   We do know that many Germans did not support Hitler, but millions of others did and opposing forces during the war were not eager to distinguish between the two.  During the expulsion, the feelings held by victors was even more direct according to the author: 

“After the Nazis’ defeat, the new regimes of central and eastern Europe were in no humor to try to distinguish between culpable and innocent Germans. This uncompromising attitude extended to German children, for whom in practice few exceptions were made.” 

Of all the things the book shows, one of the most striking is that war truly is hell, and the concept of victory can change depending on the situation that arises.  Some readers who decided to read this book may feel that the Germans brought it upon themselves. Others may be filled with sympathy for expulsion that took place.  Regardless of which side of the argument we fall on, I think we can all agree that the relocation of Germans after the war, is on the conflicts rarely discussed matters that does not put anyone in a positive light.  Fault lies at the feet of many and even during the operation, governments in high positions of power, rarely discussed matters and continued to shuffle the people around like pawns on a chess board. 

Admittedly, I cannot say that I was completely shocked at what I learned in the book.   Germany’s defeat was a concern for many Germans as it became clear that a quick victory would not take place. The entry of the United States into the war and the decision to invade the Soviet Union, showed that Germany had bitten off more than it could chew.  And it also showed that Hitler had gone completely mad.  As I read through the book and learned just how dreadful the expulsion were, I came to see that this was the hand that Hitler had dealt this people.  They would soon learn that national socialism was not all that they thought it would be. 

World War II permanently altered world’s political landscape and the horrors of the war remain with us to this day.  The Holocaust will always be a case study with regards to the dangers of racial ideology supported by government policy. And the dropping of the atomic bombs still sends chills down the spine of many, in particular, those still alive who lived through it.  For the millions of German nationals living outside of the fatherland’s borders, the war upended their lives, and they were forced to leave their long-term homes and return to a nation in ruins. They too can be added to the long list of victims of a senseless war that could have very well been mankind’s destruction.  This is the story of the plight and what really happened to them after the war ended.  Highly recommended. 

ASIN : B008740OQQ

Dark Victory: Ronald Regan, MCA and the Mob – Dan E. Moldea

MoldeaOf America’s forty-six presidents that have served in office, few are as popular as Ronald Reagan (1911-2004).  The 40th President of the United States is remembered for his time in Hollywood, his term as Governor of California and a presidential administration that had its share of controversy.  The Iran-Contra scandal remains inextricably linked to Reagan and is a stark reminder of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.  The fallout in Central America from Washington’s influence and interference can still be felt to this day.  Reagan is long gone from office and deceased since 2004.  However, his name can still be found in conversations about politics in America, when discussing conservatism and the decline of Soviet influence across the globe.  Although known to be a fierce conservative, Reagan was able to use his actor’s skills to conceal this from the public.  But historians know all too well that there was dark side to the life of Reagan before and during his time in office.  Journalist Dan Moldea takes another look at Reagan, paying close attention to his time in Hollywood as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), its dealings with the Music Corporation of America (MCA) and the Italian American mafia.

I should point out that the book is not intended to be a full analysis of Reagan’s role as president.  And although Moldea does discuss Reagan’s time as president towards the end of the book, the focus remains on the early days of Hollywood and radio, where the mafia had infiltrated studios and strong-arm tactics by independent companies had become accepted behavior.  To remove all doubt that the book has a “happy ending”, Moldea lays out the premise early on:

“These records show that Reagan, the president of SAG and an FBI informant against Hollywood communists, was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation whose focus was Reagan’s possible role in a suspected conspiracy between MCA and the actors’ union. According to Justice Department documents, government prosecutors had concluded that decisions made by SAG while under Reagan’s leadership became “the central fact of MCA’s whole rise to power.”

After establishing the premise, the author discusses the formation of multiple corporations that became titans in radio and later in the film industry.  The formation of MCA is explained and that of the SAG where Reagan would find a home through his first wife Jane Wyman (1917-2007).  The information provided by Moldea is just what history buffs will be looking for.  And what he explains highlights just how far film and radio have come.  But in the 1920s, television was still in its infant stages and for the average artist, radio was the place to be.  In the 1930s, film started to gain in popularity and in 1933, the Screen Actors Guild was formed to give artists protection from what was clearly a racket. The ramifications of the organization’s creation are explained by Moldea and the information will aide readers later in the book as the U.S. Department of Justice sets its sights on film and radio.  Following his discharge from the military after World War II, Reagan soon found his calling in film and his marriage to Jane Wyman opened the doors to successful careers on the silver screen and in government, in ways that may not be fully understood.  As the book shows, there were many suspicious actions taken by Reagan as director of the SAG with regards to the Music Corporation of America, known to be affiliated with gangsters and other powerful figures not against breaking all rules.  The most infamous to whom we are introduced is a lawyer named Sidney Korshak (1907-1996), believed to be one of the most powerful men in Hollywood during his time.  Korshak is just one of many dark figures in the book that includes mobsters Alphonse “Al” Capone (1899-1947) and Johnny Roselli (1905-1976).  Moldea leaves no stone un-turned as he explores the many dark connections between Reagan and a whole cast of shadowy characters.

The crux of the case for Reagan’s implied dark dealings comes in the form of an unrestricted waiver given to MCA, permitting it to retain artists and other stars without conditions normally enforced by the SAG.  Whether Reagan himself decided to do so may be lost to history but the action was so unusual that it attracted the attention of the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice.  Regan himself gave testimony and readers might find it be questionable to say the least.  The relevant portions of his statements are included so that the words come directly from Reagan himself.  It is left to readers to decide what Reagan may or may not have left out.  And while there is a lot of smoke, some may feel that there is no fire or “smoking gun”. But what is clear is that what transpired between the SAG and MCA was anything but ordinary.  The true story might be even more surprising and suspicious than the one Moldea has told here.

During his time in office, Reagan became the star for conservatism and his administration shifted the nation towards the right politically.  One of the reasons for his conservatism is explained here and it was something I was not previously aware of.  Further, the story here shows again that the administration of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was more of a threat to those with hidden agendas than people realize.  While campaigning, Reagan called for getting tough on crime and fixing America’s cities.  He once stood in the burning rubble of the South Bronx and told residents that he was trying to help them, but he could not do anything unless he was elected.  Well, he was elected and his goals to fix America and get tough on crime did not go exactly as most voters thought. In fact, there were actions by his administration that stood in stark contrast to the good-natured poster boy image that the former actor portrayed publicly.  Moldea is even more blunt his assessment:

“The Reagan administration then severely curtailed the investigative and enforcement abilities of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Justice Department’s Strike Forces Against Organized Crime—as part of its program to get the government off the backs of the people. The administration also attempted but failed to dismantle the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the Treasury Department, which had been extremely effective in the war against organized crime but had been opposed by the Reagan-allied National Rifle Association.”

Older readers may agree or disagree with the statement, but I do think Moldea is fairly accurate in his assessment.  I strongly advise those who find this to be a good read to also purchase Malcolm Byrne’s Iran Contra: Regan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power, which is an excellent analysis of the hostage for arms matter and money transfer to rebels in Central America.  It can be argued that no administration is without its scandals or embarrassing moments and that is true.  However, the depth of the scandals is what typically sets them apart.  In the case of Ronald Reagan, we are forced to confront two vastly different images of his life.  The public image of the easy going, jolly natured Commander-In-Chief is still widely accepted. But to independent journalists and researchers, the private Ronald Reagan kept many dark secrets.  Some undoubtedly went with him to the grave but others have been revealed as we can see here in this intriguing account by Dan Moldea.

ASIN : B01MV2ZDXN

Out of the Silence: After the Crash – Eduardo Strauch, Mireya Soriano & Jennie Erikson

StrauchThe Chileans have a saying that the Andes do not give back what they take.  The survivors of Uruguyan Air Force Flight 571 are reminded of this each year as the anniversary of their ordeal is observed. On October 12, 1972 athletes from the Old Christians Rugby Club and selected family members departed from Montevideo, Uruguay en route to Santiago, Chile for a scheduled match.  Inclement weather forced a stopover later that day in the Argentine city of Mendoza.  On Friday, October 13, their plane departed Mendoza for the final leg of the trip but none of the passengers could have known that their flight would never reach its final destination.  At 3:34 p.m., the plane impacted the mountains below causing the aircraft to break apart, killing several passengers nearly instantly.  As the fuselage came to a rest, survivors found themselves in the valley of a mountain during the winter season and in unfamiliar territory.  And for the next seventy-two days, the fuselage became their home as they struggled to keep going in the face of severe adversity.  Eduardo Strauch was on the plane that day and survived the crash.  But for more than thirty years, he has kept his silence about what he remembers and how it impacted his life. This short but poignant memoir is his account of what is known as the “Miracle in the Andes”.

Previously, I reviewed two books that have been written by those who survived the ordeal. The first was Nando Parrado’s Miracle in the Andes which I found to be the most extensive account.  And in the History Channel documentary on the crash, he is the narrator and most prominent speaker of those connected to the event.  The second book is called I Had to Survive by Roberto Canessa and is also a very moving account of the ordeal. However, Canessa’s life took a slightly different path, leading him into the medical field instead of public speaking. Parrado and Canessa are by far the more popular of those who survived the crash. But Strauch has plenty to say here about what he remembers of that day.  And although his account is shorter than the other two, there is much to be learned here as he takes us back in time to a day when he was a optimistic young man anxious to play a football match in Santiago, Chile.

Interestingly, Strauch nearly missed getting on the departing flight in Montevideo due to his travel documents being left at home. But fate was at play and he managed to sort his affairs only eight minutes before takeoff.   For the young athlete, the flight was the first part of what was intended to be a joyful weekend.  In less than twenty-four hours, that journey turned into a nightmare.  Following the impact,  survivors went into action to help the wounded, move the deceased and figure out how to obtain any type of help.  Strauch was a key eyewitness to all that transpireddand he relays play-by-play, the grim reality of their situation that eventually begins to settle in.  His description of key events are direct and to the point, sparing the reader from more gut-wrenching anecdotes. However, what he does say is sure leave readers with a chill running down their spines.

As the ordeal extends from hours to days to weeks, the survivors begin to realize that there is no guarantee of rescue. Yet, they never give up and rely on each other during an event that no one could have predicted.  Strauch reflects that:

“Friendship had been a constant in our story, such a crucial part of our survival from the beginning that it was difficult to separate one from the other.  What we suffered together only depened the friendship that had existed amoung the majority of us before emabarking on the trip, turning it into an unbreakable brotherhood.”

Throughout the story, Strauch is always insightful, even at times when it seems as if all hell has broken loose.   It is evident that the experience remains with him to this day and for the survivors of that crash, they share a bond that can never be broken.

As I mentioned, the book is not very long and the story moves quite rapidly.  He recalls the moment they realized that Nando and Roberto had found help and that they would be resuced by authorities.  Without question, the rescue after seventy-two days, is one of the highlights in the book, next to Strauch finding love and becoming a father. But regardless of what he has accomplished in life, he never fails to remind us that the mountain is always in his thoughts. The Andes took a part of him that will remain in the Valley of Tears for an eternity.  However, the Andes also gave him several things which he explains beautifully here in this excellent account of a very dark moment.

“The capacity of the mind to embrace infinity, that path toward an authentic spirituality, is one of the most beautiful lessons that my life on the mountain left me with.”  – Eduardo Strauch

ASIN : B07H7GKR9R

Double Play: The Hidden Passions Behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk – Mike Weiss

20210218_174427

On Friday, November 18, 1978, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk (1930-1978) sat down and pressed play on a tape recorder. The reason for the recording was that Milk wanted his words played in the event of his assassination. As a gay politician in the political spotlight in San Francisco, Milk knew that made him a target for rivals and others who disapproved of homosexuals. Less than two weeks later, he was shot and killed on November 27 along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone (1929-1978) by former District 8 City Supervisor Dan White (1946-1985). After shooting Milk and Moscone, White left City Hall, called his wife Mary Ann who accompanied him to a police station where he turned himself in. To San Franciscans, it must have seemed as if all hell was breaking loose. On November 18, news reports from Guyana had alerted the world to the massacre at Jonestown, Guyana where Jim Jones (1931-1978) and the People’s Temple Church had settled after leaving the United States. More than 900 people died in the mass suicide and murder. Jones escaped the poisoning and instead died from a gunshot wound to the head. The double murders at City Hall sent the city into turmoil and White’s arrest left his former colleagues stunned. White was ultimately convicted of voluntary manslaughter on May 21, 1979 and the verdict set off pandemonium in the city which became known as the White Night Riots. To many, the crime did not make any sense, both White and Milk were beloved by their constituents and highly popular. But beneath the surface, tensions were simmering in the cut-throat world of politics and as author Mike Weiss reveals here, there were hidden passions behind the double assassination.

Some readers may be familiar with the assassinations and may have lived in San Francisco during the time in which the events took place. The book is written in such an engaging style that even readers who know nothing about any of the figures will be able to follow the story without issue. In fact, Weiss provides a recap of the lives of Moscone, Milk and White before jumping into the crazy atmosphere of politics in San Francisco. What I noted as I read is that the book is really three stories in one that merge towards the end as the tragic finale plays out. Personally, I was previously familiar with the story, having read Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street and Milk’s An Archive of Hope. And my friends will tell you that Milk is one of my favorite films and Sean Penn absolutely nailed his role as the slain politician. In January 2018, I visited San Francisco and was fortunate to visit the Castro. My girlfriend at the time did not know much about Milk having grown up in another country, but I quickly filled her in and had her watch the film before we departed from New York. Today, what used to be Castro Camera is now the Human Rights Campaign office. But upstairs, is a cut out of Harvey looking down over the street he called home for some of the years he lived in San Francisco. At the time of his death, he had been living in a different location as shown on his swearing in card which is included in the book. Although I knew a significant amount of information about Milk’s story, the book was eye-opening and is filled with seemingly endless bits of information. The author takes us deep behind the scenes so that we can learn what really had been taking place between the politicians at City Hall.

White is undoubtedly the central character in the story for obvious reasons. And while Weiss does shift the focus at times to either Milk or Moscone, we always come back to White as he breaks into politics, a world he was wholly unprepared for. After parting ways with Goldie Judge and connecting with Ray Sloan, White sharpens his appearance but his success in gaining a seat on the Board of Supervisors could not help his personal issues which are explored by the author in ways that I have not seen before. In the film, Josh Brolin delivers a good performance, but the script left much out regarding White’s past. It did capture the essence of his character which is unraveled here. And what we learn, is that the world in which Dan White lived was quite dark.

Moscone is the book’s protagonist but what we learn about the persona life of the mayor is sure to surprise some. There were many things that I did not know about Moscone and in the movie, his character is given limited screen time. Victor Garber was convincing as Moscone but his laid back and composed appearance stands in contrast to the larger-than-life Moscone that we learn of in the book. The mayor in this story is anything but laid back and his antics are sure to repulse more conservative readers. However, Moscone knew how to use the system and his shrewdness as a politician is clear. But I can only wonder how he escaped scandal for as long as he did. Weiss spills a lot of the dirt and it will leave you shaking your head. Despite his personal shortcomings, Moscone knew how to appeal to those whose votes he needed the most and we can only speculate as to where he would have gone next after serving as mayor.

Harvey is the book’s star in the sense that as opposed to White and Moscone, Milk comes across with vastly different energy. But like the other two, his personal life was a mixed bag, and the film showed this the way things were. Diego Luna brilliantly brings Jack Lira back to life on the silver screen and paired perfectly with Penn. But, as we see in the film, Milk had other lovers who had taken their own lives. And in contrast to how it is portrayed in the film, Milk was far more familiar with San Francisco than I had realized. Any book about Milk will undoubtedly discuss the concept of homosexuality. Weiss does not overly focus on the matter and does a great job of keeping the subject relevant without the book having the feel as if it has bias one way or the other. In fact, as I read through the book, the story was so engaging that Milk’s orientation became a complete afterthought. The suspense in the book is kept on high and I assure you that once you start reading you will be hard pressed to put the book down. It really is that good.

As the story moves forward, it becomes clear that the three main figures are on a collision course through destiny. Weiss provides a daily summary of the week leading up to the murders, beginning roughly after the events at Jonestown. By the time the assassinations take place, the metaphorical three-way dance the three were engaged in becomes vividly clear. Milk is the link between Moscone and White but all three have their own agendas and ambitions putting them in inevitable conflict with each other. The day of the murders is discussed from start to finish and includes details left out by filmmakers, in particular the role of Denise Apcar, White’s assistant at the time of his resignation. The supervisor would famously change his mind about resignation and ask for his former job back, sparking a heated discussion with Moscone a week before the murders. And as White commits the violent murders, chaos erupts at City Hall with police converging on the building from all angles in search of White. The President of the Board of Supervisors, Dianne Feinstein, suddenly finds herself thrust into the mayor’s seat and her importance in the story cannot be understated. Today, she is still going strong as a member of the United States Senate. Following White’s surrender, he is interviewed, booked and officially charged with murder. But this is just the beginning and trial that ensued, which is summarized exceptionally well by the author will leave you staring in disbelief.

Today, we know which verdict the jury reached but at the time the trial, most people knew White would be convicted but no one was sure on which charge it would be. In the courtroom, prosecutor Thomas F. Norman (1930-2009) and defense lawyers Doug Schmidt engage in a fierce battle while White’s fate hangs in the air. The author summarizes each showing their personalities and skills as legal professionals. But what is more important, is that Weiss shows how and why the jury reached its verdict. This includes the missteps by the prosecution and and the brilliance in the defense already hindered by White’s own statements to the San Francisco Police. A complex game of chess is on display as each side seeks to outmaneuver the other. In the end, White escaped first degree murder, but by then he was already a broken man. Following his conviction and transfer to Soledad State Prison, we learn more about his post-conviction life through the author and the reality he faced upon release in 1984. And White’s final days are also revisited, providing a haunting closure to an incredible book.

If you are in search of a book that fully explains the murders of Milk and Moscone, you cannot go wrong with this beautifully written account by Weiss. And if you have never watched it, I strongly recommend Rob Epstein’s award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk which I am sure you will find to be a solid film about his life. I enjoyed the documentary myself but loved reading this just a little more. Highly recommneded.

ISBN-10 : 0982565054
ISBN-13 : 978-0982565056

Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde – Franny Moyle

ConnieIt is no secret that I absolutely love books and this blog is proof of that. The discovery of new reading material literally gives me a dopamine rush that only fellow bookworms can understand. When I saw this book about Constance Wilde (1858-1898), the wife of the late playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), I knew that I had to purchase it. I often quote Wilde in conversation and when writing.  He had a keen sense of human nature and his quotes still hold true today.  At the height of his career, his plays were a hit, and the money was rolling in. But a scandal surrounding his sexual orientation changed all of that and left him a bitter and broken man. His story is complicated but what is often left out of it, is the role of his wife Constance whose own story is equally as moving.  Author Franny Moyle takes a look at her life in this biography that just might make you look at the Wildes in a very different light.

Admittedly, I did not know an extensive amount of information about Constance Wilde.  I knew that Wilde himself had been married and that he was also known to have relations with men.  But what I found in the book far surpassed any of my expectations.  Although Wilde made his fortune in England, their story actually begins in Ireland, where both of them are born.  Moyle provides a brief history of both families before the couple ties the knot.  Within a couple of years, they welcomed two sons, Cyril (1885-1915) and Vyvyan (1886-1967).  To outsiders, the Wildes’ marriage must have seemed like a fairytale come true but behind the scenes there was far more to the story. In fact, the argument could be made that the best part of their marriage was the wedding itself.  Oscar was not known to be simple by any means and the pictures that survive today emphasize that. Constance had signed for a roller coaster ride with a man whose life would be anything but ordinary.  And in the process, she would go through her own trials and tribulations, related mainly to the emotional turmoil created by the man she loved and his “sons”.  At first, the couple has a fairly normal existence with Oscar even attempting to obtain a regular job.  But as fame sets in and the playwright is allowed to indulge in his fancies, trouble slowly brews.  And in conservative Britain, it only spelled doom for the future to come. In nineteenth century, England, sexual freedom was restricted and to be homosexual or bi-sexual was extremely risky and opened on to blackmail quite easily.  Oscar did not seem to mind and his relationships with the same sex were carefully kept secrets by close associates.  His drift away from Constance took hold when Robbie Ross (1869-1918) enters the story and accelerates when he meets Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), known as “Bosie”.  The young Lord would play a crucial role in the lives of both Oscar and Constance in ways they could never have imagined.

There is so much material about the couples’ life that it is easy to forget that Constance is the focus of the book.  And although Moyle covers Oscar’s escapades to highlight the growing distance between husband and wife, she does make sure to tell Constance’s story as well which has its own interesting moments.  One of them is undoubtedly her interest in the occult and association with the Golden Dawn, which we would consider to be a secret society.  Whatever Constance did believe, organized religion was not at the top of her list.  Further, she comes across as quite liberal for her time and fully believed in woman’s rights. Her efforts to help other ladies of stature excel in life are shown to emphasize her standing in society.  But in spite of her successes and fame, her relationship with her own children was complicated as well in particular with younger son Vyvyan.  As Moyle explains, Vyvyan was aware of his mother’s feelings and she relays his thoughts in this passage:

“When he grew up, Vyvyan acknowledged the fact that he was something of a disappointment. He adored Constance, he said, but noted that I was always conscious of the fact that both my father and my mother really preferred my brother to myself; it seems to be an instinct in parents to prefer their first born … I was not as strong as my brother, and I had more than my fair share of childish complaints, which probably offended my father’s aesthetic sense … And most of all, both my parents had hoped for a girl.”

Mother and son started off rough but there are bright moments in the story, particular towards the end.  Constance’s brother Otho Holland Lloyd (1856-1943) adds a crazy sub-story that left me shaking my head. Oscar’s brother Willie Wilde (1852-1899) is perhaps the most tragic figure in the entire story, but he is mentioned only on occasion.  Readers will notice that Constance is plagued by a mysterious illness that becomes crippling as the story progresses.  At the time, doctors had very little knowledge of what was taking place but this article sheds light of what is the most likely explanation for her decline and demise.  It is clear in the story that the bouts of pain are debilitating, and I can only imagine the level of discomfort she must have been in.  Added to that misery was Oscar’s galivanting across Europe with young men, putting himself and the family at risk.  Oscar becomes engulfed in his new world without a care in the world, but every story has its antagonist and that applies here in the form of John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (1844-1900), who was Bosie’s father.  At this point in the book, the story takes a dark and tragic turn resulting in Oscar’s downfall, marriage turmoil and Constance’s flight to save herself and her two boys.

As I read through the story, I could not help to think that Oscar was either crazy, oblivious or so sure of his well-kept secrets that he did not stop to consider that his alternative lifestyle could be his demise.  Queensberry was certainly a rough figure and Oscar had too much ego to make a retreat.  Instead, he meets fire with fire and thus, the stage was set for the battle that changed Wilde’s life and that of his family.   A scandal of that magnitude would hardly register in 2020 but in 1895, tolerance was nothing like it is today and Oscar soon learned that a steep price was to be paid for his extravagance, and his life with Constance was never the same again.  Readers will feel a sense of loss and grief as the playwright’s mental and physical health declines while incarcerated. And although Oscar does get released, his best days are behind him but incredibly, his spirit is not completely broken. I stared in shock while reading about his actions after leaving prison.  It was one more episode in the crazy and unorthodox life of Oscar Wilde.

Constance plays a significant role in Oscar’s well-being while in jail and following his release.  But her duty was to her two sons and she does shy away from doing whatever is needed to protect her two boys.  However, her love for Oscar never wavers but she makes it clear to him where she stands.  And as the couple sees each other for the last time, a sense of dread hangs over the story.  Towards the end, they were separated geographically with Constance in Genoa, Italy and Oscar Paris.  They are two tragic figures bonded by marriage, parenthood, and their love for the stage. Today, Constance Wilde is hardly mentioned in discussions about the famed playwright, but she was far more important than most have realized.  Yet, she did live a tragic and scandalous life that is capture here for all to see.

““The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” – Oscar Wilde

ASIN : B009DA5RCE

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – Harriet Jacobs

 

JacobsUndeniably, slavery is one of America’s darkest moments.  It was an extremely dehumanizing system of exploitation and violence that destroyed families, claimed lives and helped propel the nation towards the Civil War.  Even today, the issue is hotly contested as we continue to reconcile with its residual effects.  We have come a very long way from the era of legalized slavery in the United States but still have a long way to go before achieving true equality for all.  Black Americans have long suffered grave injustices but there is no need to go into them here.  Instead, the focus will be on this autobiography that was written by a former slave named Harriet Jacobs (1813 or 1815 – 1897).   In the book, the main character has the pseudonym of Linda Brent, who is the slave of the book’s antagonists, Dr. Flint and his family.  And what she reveals about her life reaffirms the many dark truths about a slave’s life. 

It may be hard for some readers to even approach the subject matter due to its nature but in the early 1800s, Jacobs’ experience was the daily reality for thousands of black men and women living in the Deep South. However, in this case there is a rare exception: Linda knows how to read and write.  Generally, it was deeply forbidden for slave to become literate and nearly all faced death if it was discovered they had been reading and writing without the slave-owner’s knowledge.  After introducing us to her immediate family, the story picks up in pace when Dr. Flint enters the picture.  Linda finds herself maturing and catches the roving eye of the doctor, resulting in Mrs. Flint making Linda the target of her rage. Dr. Flint’s infatuation sets the tone for the rest of the book which is a struggle between good and evil until the very end. Linda’s brother Benjamin, provides us with the first act of resistance which shows how many blacks refused to be part of the degrading system of slavery.  He would not be the last and even news of Nat Turner’s (1800-1831) rebellion reaches our main character.  Linda possesses a keen eye to observe the dysfunction of slavery and American society.  She reflects on the plight of the black man and makes a statement that captures the very essence of humiliation and degradation endured by black people: 

“I admit that the black man is inferior. But what is it that makes him so? It is the ignorance in which white men compel him to live; it is the torturing whip that lashes manhood out of him; it is the fierce bloodhounds of the South, and the scarcely less cruel human bloodhounds of the north, who enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. They do the work.” 

Dr. Flint is relentless in his pursuit and develops a fanatical obsession with ruling every aspect of her life.  The two engage in a cat and mouse game with Linda doing her best to avoid the doctor’s advances.  Her grandmother serves as her guardian angel but is limited in her capacity due to her status as a slave.  Linda eventually becomes a mother herself and the rage of the doctor at this perceived “indignation” only reinforces her will to one day become free.  The moment of clarity that comes to her, sets the stage for the second part of the book as she makes her break and finds a way north with the help of another guardian angel who finds a way for her to go north to the Free States. 

Upon arrival in the North, Linda soon embraces a new world.  And while prejudice still exists, she is finally able to live on her terms and away from the doctor. But he proves to be more resilient than expected and his actions to reclaiming her provide the remainder of the book with its heightened suspense that will keep readers in its grip. Linda moves throughout the Northeast, stopping in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  And incredibly, she experiences a trip abroad that widens her perspective on life in America.  Before returning she informs us that: 

“I remained abroad ten months, which was much longer than I had anticipated. During all that time, I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for us to return to America.” 

Although prejudice did and does exist in Europe, the American system of slavery is noted for its brutality.  And America’s dark past with Jim Crow and other systems of discrimination have had profound effects on current day affairs. But her comment, reminds me of how the legendary musician Miles Davis (1926-1991) felt about Paris and returning to America.  Linda does love her country and has found happiness in the North, far removed from the clutches of Dr. Flint.  But a series of events results in her relocating to escape slave hunters. And the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 sends shockwaves through the communities of free blacks and Abolitionists determined to end slavery once and for all.   She does not fall victim to the act in the story and continues to live as a free woman, due to the interventions of a close friend who could not accept seeing her constantly fleeing for her life.  Dr. Flint also meets his fate in the book and it helps bring the story to the conclusion we all will be hoping for.  And although this is just one account of life in bondage, there were millions of others who had similar experiences.  This story is a critical part of America’s dark and ugly past that continues to haunt us today.  Highly recommended. 

Study the past if you would define the future”  ― Confucius

ASIN : B08LG95G3G

William L. Shirer: Twentieth Century Journey: The Start, 1904–1930; The Nightmare Years, 1930–1940; A Native’s Return, 1945–1988 – William L. Shirer

shirer Quite some time has passed since my last post, mainly due to work matters and my being fully invested in finishing the book that is the subject of this review.  Originally, I had planned on reading this three-part autobiography by William L. Shirer (1904-1993) one book at a time but Amazon also offers them combined and I decided to take the plunge.  Shirer  is by far, one of my favorite authors and there was no way I could pass this one up.  Some of you may be familiar with him and recall that he is best known for his time as a CBS correspondent stationed in Nazi Germany during Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945) rise to power. Upon returning to the United States, he moved to radio full time and lived the rest of his years as an author of historical non-fiction that has stood the test of time. 

At the onset, I did not fully appreciate the length of the material.  And to say that the e-book is a long would be an understatement.  But contained within is an incredible story by one of America’s greatest witnesses to history.  Up first is volume one called “The Start” and his story begins in the Midwest in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 04, 1904, shortly after the turn of the century.  America was a very different place and Shirer is a master storyteller who brings the distant past back to life, allowing us to re-live what it was like in a time before cars, planes and the modern technology we take for granted daily.  As Shirer tells his story, he reveals something about his family’s ancestry that would later be a source of irony in the book. To be more specific, Shirer explains: 

“The family name originally was Scheurer, a fairly common name in the German Black Forest region. Some time during the trek west it was Anglicized to Shirer. My grandfather attached no importance to the change, explaining to me once, when I asked him, that it was done mainly because the town officials and tradesmen mistakenly kept writing it the way they thought it sounded, and it was simpler to go along with them.” 

In a twist of fate, the author of German stock, would make his name famous by reporting on the atrocities of the Third Reich in his family’s fatherland.  But Germany was not his first destination as a foreign news correspondence. In fact, Germany was not even on his list of places to be stationed.  How and why he left the United States to work in Europe is fully explained and it is clear that from a young age, Shirer’s life was destined to be anything but ordinary.  It surely was a complex fate and Shirer sums up the turn of events in this passage: 

“I had come over to Europe for two months. As it turned out, I would remain there to live and work for two decades, experiencing and chronicling the remaining years of an uneasy peace, the decline of the democracies, the rise of the dictatorships, turmoil, upheaval, violence, savage repression, and finally war.” 

Shirer did return to the United States early in his career, but a meeting with Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick (1880-1955) of the Chicago Tribune turned out to be more than he could ever expected and set him down the path that would take him back to Europe and finally Berlin, where he would witness the rise of Nazi Germany.  The first volume is a good and Shirer’s memories of his time in Europe wherein he convalesced with some of the greatest writers and stars are interesting.  Among the many stars who make an appearance are literary greats Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).  Shirer is like a human recorder, observing everything and brining the past back to life through his words.  It becomes clear that Europe is a second home and a place more familiar to him than the United States.  And though he would eventually return home, the reader will begin to see that Europe is the place where the best is yet to come and his to Germany in the second volume called “The Nightmare Years”, is where we see the William Shirer that most of us will be familiar with.  

In the second volume, Berlin takes center stage as Hitler is ramping up the Germany war machine as part of his master plan to dominate Europe. But first, he moves to annex neighboring countries without the use of force and Shirer revisits each episode to explain how Hitler pulled off those feats and why no one moved to stop him.  It will make some readers wonder whether World War II could have been prevented as early as 1938. Hitler seized on the inaction of Britain and France, setting his sights on Poland. But this time, people did step in and the world went to war.  Shirer, who had left the Chicago Tribune in a weird series of events that is discussed in the book, was hired by legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) to become the CBS Correspondent in Berlin. This change of fate placed Shirer at the scene of the crimes so to speak as the Nazi regime plotted and schemed its way to become a looming threat across an entire continent. 

His interactions with the German officials are particularly amusing and reveal the façade presented to ordinary Germanys by the Nazis who had assured them that Germany did not want war with anyone.  Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) makes repeated appearances throughout the story and the full extent of his delusion is on display.  Shirer gives his analysis of Goebbels and the other characters in Hitler’s inner circle whose names are infamous in world history.  I believe Oscar Wilde had it right when he said “the world is a stage, but the play is badly cast”.  However, in Nazi Germany, the cast was not only but deadly to anyone deemed inferior or Jewish.  Shirer does not go into the issue of the concentration camps extensively and I believe to do so would have required a different book. But he does bring up the matter later on during the Nuremberg trials. This part of the story is focused on the rise, menace and fall of Nazi Germany but in a highly compressed format.  Also, Shirer and his family left Germany in 1940, five years before the Germany military surrendered to Allied forces. His return home and life after war are covered extensive in volume three titled “A Native’s Return”. 

Upon returning home, Shirer starts the process of becoming re-acclimated with his native land. I do not believe he ever imagined how his life would change as he re-settled in America.  He found a place on radio but his relationship with Murrow takes a strange turn and Shirer goes through the entire story of his departure from CBS. I have not heard Murrow’s side if he ever put it in writing or gave statements orally.  But, the influence of former CBS president William S. Paley (1901-1990) is clearly evident and cast a dark cloud over the events as they play out.  But Shirer does not stay down for long and moves through life facing adversity head on.  And one decision in 1954, changed his life and reputation forever. It was then that he decided to write his masterpiece, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, a book that remains among my favorites.  What I found surprising through Shirer’s words is that originally, no one wanted to publish the book.  It sounds mind-boggling today but I can understand that in 1954, a book over 1,000 pages was not an easy sell and still is not.  But in writing that book, Shirer created the definitive account of the Third SS Reich.  

Following the success of the book, Shirer embark on another project about the French defeat in World War II, a book which I have added to my list.  That book’s creation and reception are explained and shows the extent of knowledge Shirer possessed with regards to the war.  As the third volume progresses, he offers his continuing commentary on historical events in American history from Watergate to the Iran-Contra scandal.  And his frankly discusses his personal problems including the relationship with his wife Tess and his heart problems in later years.  Incredibly, Shirer never stops moving and even fulfils is dream of seeing Russia.  A good recap of that trip is also included in Shirer’s signature writing style.  As the third volume winds down, Shirer provides an overview of his life and those of his closest friends who all meet their own ending in various ways.  It truly is an incredible story of a journey through a century that changed our world.  As an American, he was placed in a unique position observe the world and as a final reflection, Shirer closes the three-part series with this quote that I personally can relate to for a number of reasons: 

“It was a complex fate, maybe, as Henry James said, to be an American and one, I realize, not especially admired by some in other countries and other cultures, who perceived us as “the ugly Americans.” Still, as I wrote in the last line of the general introduction, I am glad it was mine.” – William L. Shirer 

B08L9JTCYQ

The Warriors: Sol Yurick

WarriorsFebruary 9, 1979 marked 40 years since Paramount pictures released the cult-classic film The Warriors , based off of the fictional novel by author Sol Yurick (1925-2013).  I have personally watched the film dozens of times and remember the first time I saw it many years ago.  As a New York City native, I admittedly have a slight bias towards seeing my hometown on the silver screen.  The film garners a mix of reactions from critical praise to harsh criticism.  However, I am often surprised to learn that there are many viewers who are unaware that the film was adapted from a book that tells a much different and more violent story. I had known that the film was taken from Yurick’s book but had never read it until now.   I was curious to see how the film and book lined up side by side. And having finished the book, I can understand why some authors do not always have a positive view of the films that are adapted from their books.  This is the real version of the story of the Warriors and may prove to be quite surprising to fans of the film.  

I believe it is necessary to clear one’s mind before reading the book to avoid making the mistake of expecting the story to read with the film’s plot in mind.  And while the major events in the book were carried over to the film, the overall narrative differs from what we see on screen.  The most surprising is that the Warriors gang does not exist in the book by name of nor do any of the characters from the film.  They are however, composites from those that are the focus of the story within.  Further, the gang members are part of the Coney Island Dominators and far more ruthless than their screen counterparts.  I think by now, you have probably guessed that this book is not for children.  In fact, even some adults may find the descriptions of violence and sex to be quite shocking.  But Yurick, who had worked with the New York City Department of Welfare, wanted to show just how raw the street gangs were.  As I read through the book, I thought to myself that Paramount Pictures had no choice but to present a far tamer version of the story with more diversity among the characters. Had it not, the film probably would not have been granted approval by the Motion Picture Association of America.  Walter Hill has disclosed previously that he wanted the gang to composed of Black and Puerto Rican youths but was overruled by Paramount executives leery of the fallout and possible accusations of racial bias. We also cannot ignore the financial aspect as well and having a white lead in 1979 was a more effective sales strategy as unsettling as it may sound.  Readers may be surprised to hear what Yurick has to say about the ethnic variations found in the film in contrast with the characters he created for the book.  

There are parts of the story that filmmakers left out or altered significantly which readers may find both interesting and surprising.  The day on which the conclave takes place in the book could have been added to the film but is really a minor issue.  I do think it may have given the film a more authentic feel but the movie has stood the test of time and as someone who has never worked in the movie business, my opinion is not likely to impress those that do.  The back story of Hinton, whose film composite is certainly Swan, is a very interesting story in itself.  And while we do not learn his entire family background, we learn enough to see the dysfunction to be found in his home and undoubtedly in those who are part of the Family as they see each other.  Perhaps the most surprising character difference is that of Mercy, played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh in the film. I will not say much about her counterpart in the book except to say she is unlike anything you could have imagined and you may need to steel yourself during that part of the story.  Yurick taps into some of the darkest parts of human nature and what transpires is not for the faint at heart. 

Inevitably, the debate will arise of over which version is better. I do not think there is a clear answer.  I believe that although the film is drastically different from the book, it is a good movie and suitable for mature audiences.  The book in contrast, is far grittier and shows the savagery with which man still lives with to this day.  Each has its place and it is up to readers and viewers to decide which one they prefer. Personally, I have taken each for they are and both will remain a part of my literature and film collections.  However, one bonus to be found in the book is Yurick’s discussion of how he came to write the Warriors and its adaptation for the silver screen by Paramount Pictures.  It is a good explanation of how literary works undergo significant changes in pre-production before filming commences.  For Yurick, the book’s reception and relevance in pop-culture is not something he foresaw when writing it. But regardless of his intention, it did result in a well-loved film by millions of fans.  The cast of the film all did an amazing job and no one will forget Joel Weiss improvising with the classic line “Warriors, come out and playyyyyy “.  Forty years later, the movie still captivates audiences and will remain a large part of pop-culture.  If you are curious about the book that inspired the film and the written account of the gang that had to make it back to Coney Island, this is a must read.  

The Warriors is not the best of my books. It was out of print and more or less unknown to the lovers of the movie. Yet, without the book, there would be no film. I find that amusing. – Sol Yurick 

ASIN : B006NZBGRC