Author Archives: Genyc79
Author Frank previously published his spellbinding investigative account, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, about the rise of Mao Zedong and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. That was followed by Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Here he returns with a third expose of the movement that changed the course of Chinese history. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proudly declared the new republic following the defeat of the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek. The new communist government sought to emulate its Soviet icon and instituted the disastrous policy of collectivization under the banner of the “Great Leap Forward”. But as Dikotter showed us, reality soon set in as the aura of the new country began to fade as famine set in, the government began to seize property and a climate of deceit and suspicion spread across the country. The book was thorough in examining the failures of the program as the harsh effects it placed upon the people of China. In this third book, he takes us deep inside the revolution, showing us the very dark side behind the late Chairman’s government.
I forewarn the reader that this book is not for the faint at heart. The things we learn although factual are ugly to say the least. Behind the facade of a nation of comrades committed to revolution, was a society breaking away at the seems as anarchy ruled and those in charge plotted against each other as they sought to maintain their hold on power and avoid the Chairman’s wrath. Today it is no secret that the “Great Leap Forward” failed in many ways. But what is often not discussed and examined are the very things we learn in this book. Similar to Himmler’s SS, the Red Guards, under the guise of filtering out counter-revolutionary’s, unleashed a wave of terror across the country against anyone suspected of being against the regime, from a lower class family or related to those who held high positions in society before the revolution. The Third Reich used the classic technique of divide and conquer to control the people and purge those suspected of not harboring unwavering loyalty to the Führer and his ideology of the master race. In China, the faces were different but the same climate of suspicion and spying by one person on another is prevalent. In fact, one example we learn of is a child that turns in their own parent.
Dikötter as usual has done a great job researching this book. To say that it is eye-opening would be a severe understatement. Not only does he show us what really happened behind the closed off borders of China, he highlights the political battles that raged behind the scenes. His writing style is engaging, pulling the reader in from the beginning and refuses to let go. The lives and actions of major places at the time are examined in detail. Names such as Jiang Qing (1914-1991, Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Lin Biao (1907-1971) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) appear throughout the book as the deadly politics of Communist China come to light. The members of the old guard have long passed but they still remain a part of China’s complicated history. What shocked me the most was the ease at which accusations were hurled and lives ruined in nearly every case without a shred of proof. Mao, concerned with maintaining an iron grip on his rule, let the division fester and rarely intervened. And as I think back to the book The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Dr. Li Zhisui, I remember his words that the Great Leap Forward was used by Mao to expose those plotting against him. In fact, as I read the book, I found it increasingly hard to believe that those in charge actually did have concern for the millions of people affected by their actions. Dysentery, famine, pillaging and even cannibalism, turned the revolution into a living nightmare.
China continues to be haunted by the legacy of Mae Zedong. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, continued the government position of suppression of dissent and the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 became some of the most memorable of the twentieth century. Time will tell if democracy will ever take hold and if the young generation will be able leave Mao in a past that many do not care to relive. For students of the Cultural Revolution or those curious about what really happened across the country under Mao’s leadership, this book is a great addition of any historical library.
October 1st marked forty-seven years since James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-1970) died in the flat of Monika Danneman in the Kensington section of London at the age of twenty-seven. Today his music is still revered and Hendrix is considered one of the greatest electric guitar players in music history. In fact, there are those who believe that we was the greatest to ever live. The collection of music he left behind continues to be discovered by younger generations and maintains a place in my own collection. His cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and the classic Hey Joe are among my favorites and some of Hendrix’s best works.
Sharon Lawrence started her career working for the United Press International’s Los Angeles bureau and was introduced to Hendrix by a mutual acquaintance. Not only did she go on to witness key events in his life but she became of his closest friends all the way up until the time of his death. In this intimate account of a friend’s memories of another, she takes us behind the scenes into the personal life of a rock legend. And what she reveals about the life of the first child of Al and Lucille Hendrix, is a star with a rare gift that died far too young in a life on the fast track and filled with nefarious characters, unfortunate events and a family history that had long-lasting effects. But most importantly, she clears up long-running misconceptions about Hendrix’s death and the fabrications that he died from a drug overdose. In fact, savvy readers familiar with Hendrix’s story will already know this and the story of the mysterious Danneman (1945-1996), whose actions after Hendrix’s death are beyond bizarre. Her suicide on April 5, 1996 only served to raise more questions about her life and her relationship with the late star. Lawrence sheds light on her interactions with Danneman as well adding even more puzzling questions to the unsolved puzzle.
The book is a biography in some regards and Lawrence explores the family lineage in detail setting the stage for the future inner turmoil that would plague Hendrix throughout his life. And like most other musicians of that era, controversy followed him serving as a threat to his increasing fame. His life would be affected in one way or another by record executives such as Mike Jeffrey (1933-1973), groupies like Devon Wilson (1943-1971) and miscellaneous characters that sought out Hendrix to serve their own self-interests. And sadly at the time of his death, none of them would be there in his time of need. Lawrence however, served as confidant throughout Hendrix’s career and their interactions throughout the book are significant for they shed light on what really went through his mind as he navigated his way through an industry filled with predators. Incredibly, not one person interviewed for the book had a negative word to say about Hendrix. From all accounts, he was a gentle person that perhaps cared and loved too much, not only about music but about his family members and relatives. His relationship with his father is eerily similar to the tragic story of Marvin Gaye, Sr. and Marvin Gaye, Jr. Part of what truly makes Lawrence’s account a fascinating read is that she does not shy away from Hendrix’s indiscretions most notably the two children he fathered out-of-wedlock and the issue of narcotics, prevalent throughout the film and music industries.
The story of Hendrix’s death has been retold many times but what is brought to light here is the fallout with his estate following that tragic night of September 18, 1970. Like wolves circling their prey, next of kin and aspiring entrepreneurs all made a claim for their stake in his estate to control his legacy. Litigation became the tool of the trade as Hendrix’s father Al, his brother Leon and step-sister Janie engaged in a legal tug of war that severed what remained of family ties and earned Hendrix’s name more money in death than in life. Today his image is found on t-shirts and posters, purchased by adoring fans and those who discovering him for the first time. And like many of the other greats of his time such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison his death before the age of thirty, is both tragic and cruel. In later years, Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur joined the list of musicians whose works earned staggering amounts following their deaths. But for older fans who saw him play, purchased his records as they were released or knew him at some point in their lives, no poster of t-shirt could ever take the place of the Jimi they knew and this includes my father who played Hendrix’s song all throughout my childhood and is the reason why I love his music to this day.
If you are a fan of Jimi Hendrix and want to know more about the life of a true legend, Sharon Lawrence honors her friend the right way in this memoir about one of rock’s greatest performers. And after you have finished this book, you may find yourself singing The Wind Cries Mary, Purple Haze or maybe even Voodoo Chile. Whichever you choose, Hendrix will surely be smiling from wherever he is at, content that his music has continued to inspire.
Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last – Propaganda Versus Fact in the Disappearance of America’s First Lady of Flight-Mike Campbell
Eighty years after her disappearance and death, the life and tragic ending of Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) continues to incite curiosity not only among researchers but the general public in the United States. She is remembered as one of aviation’s true female pioneers and her ill-fated trip with navigator Fred Noonan (1893-1937) in July, 1937, is considered one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Similar to the deaths of John F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, myths, half-truths , conspiracy theories and fabrications have plagued the investigations into their final moments. Officially, their disappearance remains unsolved but there are many who believe that the U.S. Government knows far more than it is willing to admit.
Mike Campbell invested many years of his life researching the case and the result is this compendium that examines the case in what could be considered the most thorough account to date. One more than one occasion, focus had shifted to the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific as the place were Earhart’s plane met its end. Although no irrefutable and conclusive proof has been provided by researchers such as Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR, the islands continue to be a point of focus. From start to finish, Campbell leaves no stone un-turned. Far from a crack pot conspirator, he supplements his words with statements from natives of the island of Saipan, military personnel present in the Marianas during World War II, Earhart’s mother and an examination of the actions of the U.S. Government. And it is this island that forms the crux of the book shedding light on overlooked parts of the story that have been forgotten or ignored over time.
To be fair, Campbell never says he has a smoking gun. He does have a theory which holds considerable weight throughout the book. In his final analysis, he believes many of the answers lie with Washington to reveal what President Roosevelt and the military really knew about the fate of Earhart’s plane. Roosevelt is long gone and unable to shed light on the matter. But even if he were alive, we can only guess as to how much he would actually tell us. But what is paramount are disturbing questions that arise towards the end of the book. Did Washington know where Earhart’s plane was? And if it was known, why was it withheld from the public? Was it to pacify Japan or protect vital national security secrets about U.S. intelligence gathering operations as the world inched closer to war? And did the military conceal what it knew to protect the image of President Roosevelt? Pearl Harbor would occur until several years later in 1941, but even in 1937, the Japanese military had been causing destruction across China, nearly destroying the cities of Shanghai and Nanking. Was it is this Japanese army that Earhart and Noonan encountered as they possibly landed at Milli Atoll before being transported to the island of Saipan? And why are several years of decoded Japanese communications surrounding 1937, missing from the national archives?
I admit that I love a good conspiracy but am ambivalent enough to avoid atrociously absurd theories. And Earhart’s story is filled with far too many extreme conspiracy theories which have only served to make a difficult case even more astounding. Campbell presents a compelling thesis and the support it receives from the statements of Saipan natives and former soldiers serves to arouse an even darker cloud over Earhart’s last flight. Campbell brilliantly debunks many rumors in order to give us the most accurate picture possible. And that picture results in more questions than answers. From the beginning, the book pulled me as I dived deep into the last moments of her life. Curiously though, as I read the section regarding her radio communications and lack thereof with the Itasca, I began to understand the many factors at play which doomed the flight from the beginning. In fact, many pilots today would probably tell you they would never attempt such a flight with such primitive radio equipment. However, hindsight is always 20/20 and I am sure that she had lived, she would have had endless stories about the flight that was intended to change the course of history for aviation. Regardless, she is one of America’s greatest aviators.
Some will read the book and write it off as another theory without sufficient evidence. But if we take the time to fully digest the staggering amount of research and effort put into the book, we can see that Campbell has gone to great lengths to get the story right and give us an idea of what could have very well have happened to the famed aviatrix. And perhaps one day, Washington may tell us more than we have heard for eighty years. If you are interested in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart or already familiar with it and seeking to clear up any confusion you may have, this is a great addition to any library.
Becoming the Tupamaros: Solidarity and Transnational Revolutionaries in Uruguay and the United States-Lindsey Churchill
Nestled between Brazil and Argentina is the small Latin American nation of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay (República Oriental del Uruguay). The nation is the second smallest on the continent next to Suriname and boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. To foreign visitors, it may seem a like destination that is too good to be true. Currently, the nation enjoys peace and shows no signs of the conflicts that once plagued Uruguayan society. Revisiting the past, Lindsey Churchill tells the story of the Tupamaros, the left-wing revolutionary faction that captivated a country and earned the admiration of revolutionaries abroad.
The world is intimately familiar with the revolutionary campaigns in Cuba, Russia, China and Vietnam. Names such Castro, Guevara, Mao, Stalin and Ho Chih Minh, have become cemented in the ideology of left-wing movements . Uruguay also has a story to tell, one that contains all of the elements found in the narratives of Latin American politics saturated with military dictatorships. Churchill takes us back in time to understand the development of the Tupamaro faction, their relationship with revolutionary groups in the United States and their inner-struggled with gender, the topic that plagued revolutionary efforts around the world. Named after Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui), the revolutionary warrior who led a revolt against the Spanish empire, the group evolved from a political party into an organization that resorted to fear through violence as they advanced their agenda of transforming Uruguayan society. Their story begins in the 1960s and in particular 1968, when Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco (1920-1998) suspended the constitution and unleashed a wave of oppression. Fueled by the successful revolution in Cuba and the spirit of the American Civil-Rights Movement, the Tupamaros and the became the foremost revolutionary party whose actions sometimes had deadly consequences.
Although the book is only two hundred and sixty pages, I literally could not put it down. Prior to reading it, I was unfamiliar with the Tupamaros and the reign of Pacheco’s successor, Juan Maria Bordaberry (1928-2011) whose twelve-year dictatorship following a coup, marked the darkest period in the history of the nation. Political oppression, false imprisonment supplemented with torture and in some cases sexual assault, combined to fuel the drive for social reform through any means necessary. Churchill shines as she explores the purpose behind the movement, their relationship to U.S. revolutionaries and the complicated manner in which race in Uruguay is addresses or in some cases ignored completely. In contrast to the images we find in the media, Afro-Uruguayans make up a sizeable portion of the country and in this book, their plight is not forgotten. Through Churchill’s words, we become witnesses to the intricate and reciprocal relationship between American and Uruguayan revolutionaries who actively supported and encouraged each other in their struggles.
If you stand outside the local city airport in Buenos Aires, you can see the shores of Uruguay in the distance. It might be hard to imagine for some, that the small nation largely forgotten in the media was once home to one of the world’s strongest political movements. Society was divided, violence became a tool and the United States found itself involved in yet another controversial situation involving a Latin American dictatorship. Many years have passed since the Tupamaros last embraced their revolutionary tactics but they remain a part of the nation’s social fabric. In fact, the former President José Mujica (1936-), is a former member of the Tupamaros and served thirteen years in prison for his deeds. He was succeeded by Tabaré Vázquez (1938-) who still holds office today.
For those interested in the story of the Tupamaros , this is a great read and critical in understanding their history and the development of politics in modern-day Uruguay.
The resignation of Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) as President of the United States on August 9, 1974, remains one of America’s darkest political moments. The revelation of the break-ins at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex and the subsequent attempted cover up, riveted American citizens and resulted in the downfall of a political icon. Through the years, myths and disinformation about the Watergate scandal have been propagated causing an aura of mystique over a crime of monumental proportions. I picked up this investigative account by Fred Emery to learn what really happened on June 17, 1972 and the process behind the scenes that led to Nixon’s resignation. And what I found is a book that dives deep into the Watergate scandal to show the reader what really happened from start to finish.
The story about Watergate, as we learn in the book, begins far in advance of the actual break-in and was rooted in retribution, paranoia, arrogance and greed. It shook the foundation of American politics and caused many to question their own Commander-in-Chief. Throughout the book, we are introduced to a steady stream of characters whose names became permanently etched in history due to their involvement in the Watergate affair. Many of them will be familiar to most readers but others forgotten over time. In the story at hand, they are resurrected with their deeds and mis-deeds on full display. The plot, crime and cover-up formed a complex nexus of covert activity that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Emery does a masterful job of putting the pieces together in a narrative that is easy to follow but deeply engaging. And throughout the book, there were times where I could not believe what I was reading.
It is well-known that Nixon recorded nearly all of his conversations in the oval office. The very tapes which he created would later be used to force his resignation and result in the indictments and convictions of several co-conspirators, several of whom will be known to those familiar with the secrets of the CIA and the administration of John F. Kennedy, who by this time had been deceased for nine years. Nixon’s obsession with Kennedy is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers. And as to why Nixon would record himself discussing the cover up of a crime is a secret he took with him to his grave. The tapes become the crux of the book as the battle between the White House and John Sirica evolves into clash of the titans. Incredibly, for all of the hours that are on the tapes that were released, there are thousands of minutes that have been hidden from the public. And perhaps it will never be known what they contain.
As the walls around Nixon began to collapse, attention shifted to John Dean (1938- ), who served as Nixon’s White House Counsel. He plays a prominent role in the story and the unavoidable fallout was largely the result of his decisions to cooperated with investigators. But as we see in the book, Dean was not the only person who realized what was at stake and decided to change their tune. Inadvertent comments, disgruntled operatives and eagle-eyed investigators combined to slowly peel the lid of the scandal turning Nixon’s fears into nightmares. And while Dean was in fact, largely responsible for the downfall of Nixon, there are many parts of the story that are either forgotten or ignored. In fact, the importance of Alexander Butterfield (1926-) cannot be overstated. He and Dean were just two members of a group of individuals who would eventually provide investigators with the facts that they needed to open Pandora’s box. And what they found changed the course of American political history. Nixon was eventually pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford, on September 8, 1974 but the damage had been done and he would live with the cloud of Watergate over his head until his death. His action and decisions remain somewhat mystifying and there are still many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered. And among all of them, the one that continues to stand out is what did the President know and when did he know it?
For anyone wishing to learn about the Watergate scandal and the sad ending of a President’s time in office, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.
The wars that have been fought by mankind contain many secrets that have survived the test of time. Hindsight has become society’s treasured tool in investigating the past to learn what really happened. The Vietnam War is among the most unpopular conflicts in American history. The war continues to haunt the United States as a reminder of failed foreign policy and according to some as a premonition of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As we look back on the Vietnam War, we come to learn about the very dark side of the American involvement in Southeast Asia and the devastation that occurred when two nations collided in a struggle that pitted ideology against weapons at war. Douglas Valentine, author of The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, returns with this account of his research into The Phoenix Program, which for many years remained a mystery to those outside of military and political circles. But just what was the Phoenix Program and how much of it as true?
The story begins with a gentlemen named Elton Manzione, who is a former member of the armed forces. Manzione claims to have been part of the program but Valentine readily states that his service records do not show him being a part of the program or in country at the time. For some readers that may be enough to disregard what follows but the key to following the book is not Manzione’s story but the complex web that composed the program itself. I forewarn the reader that the number of acronyms is staggering. If you have served in the military or are a Vietnam Veteran, then you will probably be familiar with many of the terms. But for the average reader, many of them will be unfamiliar and a challenge to remember. Regardless, the story is interesting but I do believe many parts of it will be lost to history. But what we can learn from the book is that there did in fact exist a program whose purpose was to infiltrate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strongholds through the use of counterintelligence and other black operations. Somewhere along the line, things took a dark turn and many regrettable incidents took place that forever cast a dark cloud over any success the Phoenix Program may have had.
To be fair to Valentine, the book is not simply an account of atrocities that occurred. The My Lai Massacre and other incidents have been documented and the accounts are not for readers who do not possess a strong composition. Valentine does provide broad descriptions of shocking incidents but spares the reader of extensive and more revolting details. The book can be tedious to read and requires that the reader follows along closely to get a visual of the many parties in operation in both North and South Vietnam. But the key to understanding the book is not to memorize all of the names but to follow the bigger picture. What is paramount to remember is that many honorable men and women served in Vietnam, some of them part of the Phoenix Program. They in particular might agree with Valentine or feel that his book is way off base. There were also darker elements of the U.S. military apparatus and intelligence communities whose actions during the war could possibly be considered war crimes. And through Valentine’s work, we are forced to inquire about the real objective of the United States Armed Forces in Vietnam. We will never know many secrets of the war but books such as this provide a look inside of some of the more controversial aspects of America’s most unpopular war.
At 1 p.m. on January 29, 1977, Freddie Prinze, Sr., died at the UCLA Medical Center after suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night before while talking to his manager Marvin “Dusty” Snyder. Prinze was twenty-two years old and left behind grieving parents, siblings, a widow and a son, Freddie, Jr., who would go on to have successful career of his own in Hollywood. Prinze rose to stardom at the age of 19 and in just three years went from aspiring comedian to a star on the comedy circuit and in the hit show Chico and the Man. His time on earth was brief but at the height of his career, it is estimated that his face had been seen by nearly 40 million viewers. I had often heard about Prinze and listened to my parents talk about him in conversations about their favorite shows from the past. I had always wondered what drove him to take his own life? And could it have been prevented? His late mother Maria Pruetzel (1921-2013) tells her story and the story of Freddie’s short but incredible life in this memoir of their time together as mother and son. His father Karl (1914-1979) is also in the story but in a supporting role for reasons Maria explains early in the book.
As I started the book I felt a bond with Maria and Freddie being a native New Yorker myself. No stranger to the area known as Washington Heights where Prinze called home, I have always been aware that Manhattan has been the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest stars. Born on June 22, 1954 to a Hungarian father and Puerto Rican mother, Prinze would characteristically refer to himself as the “Hungarican”. It was just one of his many catchphrases that became his trademarks. Maria takes us back to his early years as a young kid on the streets of Manhattan who has big dreams of making it in show business. The young Freddie we see could easily be one of us, a young teen, dealing with hormones, his peers, girls and his visions of leaving Washington Heights and one day living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He succeeded but as we see in the book, at a price that for many of us is far too high.
Unsurprisingly, the reader is drawn to Freddie who was quite the character even before he became famous. The anecdotes relayed by Maria are nothing short of hilarious and will have readers shaking their heads. As he moves through life and enters the School for Performing Arts, it is here that his life takes unexpected turns and changes forever. Prinze never did finish at the school but as we learn through Maria’s recollections, he was destined to stardom and possessed an uncanny vision that propelled him on to the national scene following a breakout performance on the Johnny Carson Show. But with the fame came the demons which would follow him all the way to the end.
Those who are familiar with the personal lives of Hollywood stars and the industry culture, know of the dark side of tinsel town. As Corey Feldman recalled in his biography Coreyography, you can get any drug you want in Hollywood and there never is a shortage of supply. Prinze was no stranger to them and their effects on his life are heartbreaking. A young man who rose to fame an at incredibly young age with the responsibility of supporting a wife and child, found himself under the grip of narcotics unable to shake their grasp. And that is the true tragedy of his life. At twenty-two, he had many years ahead of him to make millions laugh and enjoy a successful career in the television and film industries. But like many stars, he found a war within himself and struggled with his own feelings and the many stresses that plagued him. And his death occurred far too soon and far too tragically. As his mother explains to us, Freddie’s way is not the way you want to leave here, there are always other options. But beautifully, she also reminds us that Freddie is still here with us every time we watch him again on our television screens.
The summer of 2017 is winding down and a new school year is nearly upon us here in the United States. Seven months have now passed since Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. And in that time, the world has witnesses events that few can claim to have seen before. I previously reviewed Trumped! The Inside story of The Real Donald Trump – His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall by John R. O’ Donnell. In that memoir O’Donnell recalled his time as an employee of the Trump Organization and his responsibilities in keeping both the Trump Plaza and Taj Mahal casinos in operation. O’ Donnell’s account is shocking and revealing but only a fraction of the many episodes in the life of Donald J. Trump. This time around, Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston presents to us his compendium of how Donald Trump made his name and the dark side that came with it.
Supporters of the 45th President will tempted to write of Johnston as a liberal and left-wing nut job determined to smear the man who proclaimed he will “Make America Great Again”. I forewarn those readers that many unpleasant facts will be revealed our their candidate who has now become the leader of America. Opponents of Trump will feel vindicated in their choice of Hillary Clinton and their vehement denunciations of a man that they believed to be unfit for the oval office. But I caution all readers to put aside personal prejudices whether good or bad to examine the author’s words and statements which can be easily cross-referenced. As a native New Yorker, I grew up listening and watching Donald Trump on television and reading his comments in magazines and newspapers. I remember the USFL, the Central Park Five and many other situations that contained his name and previously knew some of the information contained in the book but I also learned many new facts about Trump that were unknown to me before. Like O’Donnell, Johnston has known Trump for decades, albeit casually, as he points out in the book one more than one occasion. Trump personally called several times regarding a piece of writing that he did not agree with. Johnston does not have any personal ax to grind but is simply telling what he knows about the Donald Trump that was campaigning for the Republican nomination for President. The book was published in the summer of 2016, several months before Trump secured the electoral votes needed for the White House. I do not know how many people read this book before the election but I am sure that there are many of us who should and will read it now.
Regardless of who you voted for in the 2016 election, this is a book every American needs to read for it is a thorough examination of the current Commander-In-Chief. Johnston traces the Trump family to its beginnings in Germany and the rise of Fred Trump, Sr. Young Donald makes his appearance as well as all of the Trumps, some of whom remain hidden from public light. Time will tell what will become of his administration and whether he can succeed in propelling America forward as he has promised. However, conventional wisdom tells us that if we do not know from where we come, we cannot know to where we are headed. Incredibly, there were many voters who knew nothing of Trump’s background before casting their vote. For those voters who now have questions and those who have known about Trump for decades prior, this book will either feel like a rude awakening or a reminder of what has already come to pass. This is the story of the making of Donald Trump.
Currently, in the Midwestern United States, Opioid addiction is causing the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Their deaths and the rise of Heroin use is a direct affront to the long-standing war on drugs. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan is fondly remembered for her eternal slogan “just say no”. Narcotics are still largely illegal but more states have begun to decriminalize the recreational use of marijuana which has allowed entrepreneurs to invest their savings into a new and profitable industry. The story of America’s war on drugs is long and often misunderstood. Allegations , rumors and explosive revelations have all contributed to cast the dark cloud over the battle against narcotics. Douglas Valentine decided to explore the history of the war on drugs and in this eye-opening book, he tells the story of the history of America’s battle against drugs and the rise and fall of the legendary and infamous Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
Students of history will be familiar with the story of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962) and his participation with the U.S. Government to defeat the Axis powers during World War II. The story on the surface sounds simple enough, but as Valentine shows us, Luciano was only a small part of the puzzle and there was more to his role than meets the eye. Further, the relationship between Washington and the Italian American mafia would take on monstrous proportions an in the process taint the FBN’s reputation. The bureau was under the guidance of the later Harry Anslinger (1892-1975) and rivaled the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). Anslinger made a name for himself as a director whose agents made cases that resulted in convictions but whose personal racial prejudices and desire for recognition caused him to make decisions that would have far-reaching effects for years to come. Valentine did an impeccable task of researching the topic and the revelations contained in the book are nothing short of jaw-dropping. And the interviews with former agents of the FBN are shocking to say the least but provide valuable insight into what made the FBN a success and what ultimately led to its failure.
Anslinger plays a prominent role in the book but the story heats up and takes on a life of its own as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) makes its appearance. Organized in 1947 through the National Security Act signed into law by President Harry Truman, the Agency, as its known, grew into an uncontrollable secret apparatus of the Unites Government that engaged in espionage, assassinations and as we learn in this book, narcotics trafficking. Rumors of the Agency’s involvement in the rise of drugs of America have held in place for decades. In fact, the allegations proved to be true and the story was broken by late journalist Gary Webb (1955-2004). But what many people did not know then and perhaps now, is that the story was far deeper and much uglier that most would be willing to accept. The FBI also plays a large role in the story of the FBN and Valentine brings the three together exposing the complicated and tension filled relationship between the three organizations.
Before beginning this book, it is necessary for the reader to accept that many unpleasant truths will be revealed. A complicated web of deceit and complicity was constructed that allowed thousands of people to profit off the misery of millions. But more frightening is are ways in which narcotics were able to enter the country with the help of those in high places and the impossibility we now face of their removal. The story is filled with legendary names such as Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Vito Genovese (1897-1968), Tibor Rosenbaum, James Angleton (1917-1987), Richard Helms (1913-2002) and Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), among others. But what is paramount is that Valentine has put together an extraordinary jigsaw puzzle that allows the reader to see the dark side of governments and the reality of war as highlighted in the conflict in Vietnam. The revelations about the CIA’s role in the war alone are enough to earn the wrath of veterans still with us today. Valentine spares nothing and gives us the facts, as ugly as they are. The beauty of the book however, is the author’s genius is connecting the characters and providing a mental map of the endless connections between law enforcement, politicians, mobsters, intelligence officers and rebels of all sorts. The information is staggering and at times during the book, I literally could not believe what I was reading. And I do not believe Valentine did either as he was writing this book. I forewarn readers that as an American citizen, this book may cause grief and outrage at the actions of the United States Government domestically and abroad. It is not an easy pill to swallow but the truth is rarely enjoyable.
The FBN earned a legacy as the most successful drug enforcement agency in American history, but paranoia of corruption and an internal investigation by Andy Tartaglino, devastated the bureau and changed the course of history forever. The story of the demise of the bureau is told here in the book from start to finish and it is sure to leave readers shaking their heads. Today the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is the premier federal organization responsible for investigating narcotics trafficking. Time will tell if the bureau will reach the heights of the famed FBN but as we can see very well, drugs are here to stay. As we look back through Valentine’s work, we can only hope that history does not repeat itself. This book is the place to start in understanding the true nature of the business of narcotics and how it propagated throughout our world.
America continues to find itself in the midst of social and political upheaval. The era of Jim Crow and racial persecution are reminders of a not too distant past. The young generation of today will have their own causes to fight and believe in and some of them will resemble the monumental effort behind the push for racial equality that culminated with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. James Baldwin (1924-1987) served as an unofficial historian, transforming what he witnessed into the books he left us with that examine the ills of society and human nature. Race and sexuality have been the focus of several of his works based in part of his own ethnic makeup and homosexuality. In the classic Giovanni’s Room, he addressed the inner conflict faced by those who struggle with bisexuality. In this book, he once again touches on that topic and love in general while supplementing the main topics with the complicated and tragic concept of human nature.
The story begins in Harlem, New York as we are introduced to a musician named Rufus Scott. He has just met a recent transplant to New York City from Georgia named Leona. Sparks fly between the two and Rufus invites her to an after party at the apartment of a friend. It is there that they come intimate and that encounter sets into motion a chain of events that affects nearly every single character in the book. Rufus’ best friend in Vivaldo, a young Italian from Brooklyn. He is involved with an older woman named Jane, who has a drinking problem but somehow manages to function and continue painting. At first, Rufus and Leona are on the path to love but reality quickly sets in. You see, Rufus is a Black American and Leona, a white woman from the South. And this is before laws against interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their trials and tribulations are heartbreaking and Rufus struggles with Leona and himself all the way to the end. Incredibly, the two of them only take up a third of book, the rest is devoted to Rufus’ friends and former flame, who all converge to add unexpected twist and turns to each other’s lives.
Readers beware, this book is not for the faint at heart. The language at times is crass and the speech blunt. But Baldwin did not write this for an afternoon special, this is an unfiltered look into the relationships between friends and lovers of both sexes. Rufus’ younger sister Ida, eventually falls for his friend Vivaldo and in some way, they become a reincarnation of Rufus and Leona with a few notable exceptions. Ida becomes part of the inner circle of Richard and Clarissa “Cass” Silenski, Steve Ellis, and Eric Jones, the wildcard of the group who will remind readers of the character David in Giovanni’s Room. Those familiar with Baldwin’s life will recall that he not only died in France but spent a considerable amount of time in his life there and in Istanbul, Turkey. Paris is a part of the book and the place in which we learn more about Eric Jones, the “prodigal son” who returns to the United States even more uncertain of his understanding of what love truly is. His partner in France, Yves, is scheduled to arrive in the United States a few weeks after he arrives but before he does, Eric impacts the story in a major way which will never be forgotten by any of the characters. Incredibly, despite all that happens in the book, the story still belongs to Rufus who none of us can forget for too long as we make it through the book. And I do believe that at some parts of the book are based off of Baldwin’s life experiences or at the least, the characters composites of people he did know.
Where the book truly shines is in its examination of infidelity and the struggle that plagued interracial couples. Monogamy proves to be difficult for the characters in the book but we are reminded that they are human beings and humans do fail and make mistakes. But if we look past the shocking revelations, we can see the characters making a valiant effort to show us how and why we sometimes do the things that we do. And for those readers who have a spouse of love interest of a different background, the story of Rufus and Leona followed by Ida and Vivaldo will touch you directly as you find yourself able to relate to some of the challenges they face. Times have certainly changed since Baldwin finished this classic in 1961, but what is paramount, is that it takes a large amount of courage, sacrifice and understanding when one is involved in an interracial relationship. But love can and does prevail, and Baldwin does a great job of showing us the complicated ways in which we are able to make it last. I have always understood that it is far easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Loving another person is truly one of the hardest things we ever have to in life. But the reward is both fulfilling and to those who are the recipients of our affection.
Baldwin truly shines here, and the book is one of his greats. This is New York City and the story of a group of friends, bonded by tragedy and nearly separated by love, sex and the demons that come with all parts of life. And when you have finished this incredible story, you will have more of an appreciation for one of the greatest writers America has ever produced.