Author Archives: Genyc79

Why I Love to Read

20190206_230007I decided to take a break from the reviews and address a question that I am often asked.  “Why do you love to read?”, is the question I am presented with by people who are aware of my passion for books.  I could offer a cliché answer but the truth is more intricate than that. I firmly believe that each bookworm, as we are often referred to, has their own personal reasons for reading and the category of material that he/she prefers.  Regardless of the reason, their love of books is something that unites us.

Next to writing, reading is one of the most basic skills that a person can possess.  I go as far as to say that at times, our lives can depend on it.  Through the passage of time and a growing collection of books,  I have come to realize that reading needs more promotion in the age of digital communication.  Social media, online news and smartphones have permanently changed the ways in which humans communicate with one another.  Hours long talks on the phone and in person have in some cases, been reduced to a “wall post”, SMS or a “Facebook like”.  Our minds are constantly flooded with small snippets of information but the allure and satisfaction of a good book can never be replaced nor duplicated.

As bibliophiles, we are indeed a rare breed.  We are looked upon with envy as our peers wonder how we can read as much as we do.  Our passion to keep reading and learning is what sets us apart and increases our attractiveness to others.  Personally, I read to satisfy my own hunger for knowledge and have never sought approval or envy from anyone.  Each book that I read is a challenge to myself to see just how much more additional information my mind can process.  And if I had to give just one reason why I read, it is simply because I love books.  However, I do have other reasons and I share them below.  Some you have probably seen before and if that is the case, I will reinforce them here.

Knowledge is Infinite

The human mind is an incredible invention that is still a mystery to even the smartest doctors and therapists.  The development of the world over the course of the last two hundred years is a testament to the ability of humans to push the mind beyond limits that were believed to have been possible.  Our brains crave new information and are eager to use that information in ways that advance our own lives and that of the societies in which we live.  The greatest minds in history knew that reading was a mandatory skill.  We are familiar with the stereotypical image of an old professor with a library of hundreds of books in the background but that image certainly is grounded in a fair amount of truth.  Books have always been the key to knowledge that cannot be learned in the streets.  As I begin each book, I find solace in the fact that I will be learning something new and like a sponge, my mind will soak up the material, resulting in a trove of facts and other bits of information that I may possibly use at a later time. But the real treasure, is knowing that knowledge is not finite. In fact, it is the exact opposite which means that there will always be something new to learn.

The Past Comes Alive

History has always been my passion and was one of my best subjects throughout my teen and adults years in school.  That passion has resulted in my clearly obvious tendency to read non-fiction.   Books have allowed me to travel back in time to endless destinations such as Ford’s Theater in 1865, San Francisco in 1977 and Havana, Cuba in 1959. Some of the places that I have read about, I have been fortunate to see in person.  For others, I have been there mentally, transported by the words of passionate authors blessed with the ability to captivate their audience.  Some might say that is better to leave the past in the past.  But what I am reminded of, is George Santayana’s quote that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  History shows us where we have come from so that we will know where we want to go but without making the same mistakes as those before us.

The Art of Conversation

Life today moves at an incredibly fast pace.  Emails, text messages, instant messages and social media notifications have become ingrained into many of our lives, rarely giving us a reprieve.  For some of us, electronic communication has become our preferred method of interaction. Yet I am old enough to remember a time in which not looking a person in the eye during a conversation was enough for a reprimand.  My great-grandfather called every family member nearly nightly up until the time he became severely ill before his death.   I shudder to think what he would feel about a text message as opposed to a formal hello in person at his apartment or on the telephone.  In public, there are times in which I see a severe social awkwardness as two individuals struggle to have a discussion.  The art of conversation has declined and some believe that it might become a lost art.  For book-worms, we always have something to discuss and can start a conversation from any number of the books that we have read.   Quite frankly, we never run out of things to discuss and always have an ice breaker on hand during new conversations.

Vocabulary Improves

A hallmark of a good author is to know when to use a certain word and why.   In fact, a body of text can be completely re-written just by substituting certain words, giving it new life and a renewed interest.  My growing library of books has resulted in a constantly expanding vocabulary which I call upon not only when I write blog posts but while at work and in discussions.  I do not expect to know every word in the English language but I do intend to try.  And in the process I can continue to improve and broaden my vocabulary which will serve me well for years to come.

Confidence in Writing and Speaking

An older friend who is a retired lawyer once told me that my tongue was also a muscle that needed exercise. He further advised that pronunciation was critical and when speaking to someone,  the voice should be the right volume and clarity was essential.  I was seventeen at the time and at times,  I spoke so low that I was barely audible.  Looking back, I realize that I did not have the confidence that I do now.  Of course, most teenagers have yet to figure out who they are and where they want their lives to go so I do not punish myself younger self too much.   I took his words to heart, practicing my speech and even taking a speech course in college which finally cured me of my mild stage fright. Today when I am speaking, I project the words in my mind, envisioning how they would read in written text.  This allows me to make mental edits before I make any further statements, resulting in a clear presentation of my thoughts.  And those same thoughts eventually become part of this blog which as been one of the decisions I have made in my life.

Travel Without a Passport

Travel is good for the soul, mind and body.  It provides us with opportunities to learn about our world and ourselves.  But realistically, not everyone has the means to travel the world.  The internet has provided an avenue by which hopeful travelers can traverse as they embrace other parts of the planet.  Books  have always been a means to see the world without leaving home. Recently I learned of Ruthenia, a place I had no idea existed but through an excellent biography of Andy Warhol, which I am currently engrossed in, I learned about an entirely new culture that I am sure most of us have never heard of.  Whether I can see it person remains to be seen but at least now I know that it exist.  And if I do happen to visit, I have a small arsenal of facts to make the visit far more memorable.

You Might Be Inspired to Become an Author

It should come as no surprise that many great authors are avid readers.  Their love of writing undoubtedly walks hand in hand with a love of reading.   Inspiration, ideas and satisfaction are products of reading regularly.  Young readers who are amassing their own libraries may one day become authors and will always remember the books that became their favorites.  Personally, S.E. Hinton still stands tall and her classic The Outsiders, remains one of my prized possessions.  Time will tell if I write a book of my own but what I can say for certain is that writing this blog has given me the confidence required to even attempt such a feat.

Your Health Will Benefit From It

Doctors have advised that the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s is to keep the brain stimulated.  Reading is still one of the best ways to keep the mind sharp, long into our elderly years.   I have always feared slowing down as I age but think of my great-aunt who is over ninety years of age and still goes on vacation.  Her mind is still sharp and her words are crystal clear.   She is an inspiration to our entire family and a reminder that there is rule that says elderly people cannot continue to enjoy all that life has to offer.  Further, similar to other parts of our bodies, our minds also age but it is imperative that we do what we can to make sure that is never slows down.  A good book is just what the doctor ordered.

Conclusion

These are the main reasons why I love to read.  There are plenty of other reasons which I have not discussed as they take a backseat to the above.  Other bloggers and book-worms who embrace their bibliophilism may agree with my reasons and I am sure that they each have their own.  WordPress has given me the opportunity to cross-paths with others who love books and it is welcoming to see that they have followed their passion in maintaining their own blogs dedicated to the written word.  If anyone ever ask you why you love reading, maybe some of these ideas will resonate with you and produce more than enough answers for inquiring minds.

 

Child Killer: The True Story of the Atlanta Child Murders – Jack Rosewood

42844479._UY500_SS500_On July 21, 1979, the bodies of fourteen year-old Edward Smith and thirteen year-old Alfred Evans were found in Southwest Atlanta.   Both had been murdered and authorities struggled to find a motive for the senseless killings.   Over the course of the next two years, more than twenty children, adolescents and adults were found murdered in Atlanta.  The homicides were dubbed by the media as the Atlanta Child Murders.  Today, the crimes are a distant memory for many Americans but Atlantans will vividly recall the time period in which the primarily African-American areas of the city  lived in fear as a killer was on the loose, preying upon young children, teens and adults.  Less than forty years ago, a homicidal maniac terrorized the famed Southern Georgia city that served as the home of the 1996 Olympic Games.

When Wayne Bertram Williams was arrested on June 21,1981, the City of Atlanta breathed a collective sigh of relief.  It now seemed as if Atlanta’s children could once again venture outdoors without fear of death.  Authorities had been watching Williams for some time before taking him into custody and officially charging him with the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Payne, both of whom were adults at the time of their deaths.  Williams was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.   To this day he continues to profess his innocence with defiant statements and baseless theories as to how the murders occurred.  Eerily,  prosecutors knew that their chances of convicting him on all of the murders were nearly impossible and to this day, some of them are technically unresolved.  Williams was the main suspect but because he was never convicted of them, there is no formal sense of closure to those open homicides. Authorities had suspected Williams had help but were never able to prove it conclusively.  Myths and rumors have plagued the Atlanta Child Murders nearly from the beginning, clouding the truth.  But author Jack Rosewood has sought out to dis-spell these myths, telling the true story of Wayne Williams and the deaths in the City of Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.

The book is more a compendium than a biography of Williams or detailed examination of his trial and subsequent conviction. Rosewood’s purpose is strictly to relate what is fact and discard what is fiction. And the result is a chronological examination of the case from start to finish, giving readers the most complete picture of what really happened.  The authors spares the reader from any bias and ridiculous fodder for gossip. The presentation in the book is streamlined with a steady but not too quick pace, keeping the reader engaged as the story picks up pace and Williams enters the cross-hairs of the Atlanta Police Department.  Those who decide to make notes will find that the paragraphs are formatted perfectly for highlighting information to be retained for a later date. Rosewood covers each victim, not just as another number but as young kid or adult, driving home the savageness of the murders.

Major crimes have the tendency to cause speculation among investigators and citizens alike.  All sorts of theories arose as to who was responsible for the murders. Rosewood covers those theories, as outlandish as they were and still are, and breaks them down until they no longer have any semblance of reality.   Race has always had a large role in Atlanta, a city which was at one time was a hotbed of Ku Klux Clan activity.  The city’s dark racial history reared its head again, becoming a political pawn in the mission to bring the killer to justice.  And even today, the murders continue to bring up discussions about race, politics and law enforcement in Atlanta.  Rosewood handles the subject perfectly and clears up any misconceptions that may exist.

Towards the end of the book, Rosewood gives interesting descriptions of other notable or perhaps forgotten African-American serial killers in the United States.  Their names will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to many readers.  And for others, the idea of black serial killer seems too surreal to believe.  But Rosewood has done his homework and these killers are just as deadly or even more so than Williams. Curiously, after he was arrested, tried and convicted, the murders stopped.  The cessation of the homicides led many to firmly believe that Williams was the right man.   He has never admitted to killing anyone and will surely go this grave professing his innocence.  But forensic evidence,  damning witness testimony and Williams’ own implosion on the witness stand, sealed his fate and led to his confinement for life behind bars.  His appeals have been exhausted and it is nearly certain that Wayne Williams will spend the rest of his life in prison.  History may one day absolve him of some of the crimes attributed to him, but until then, the Atlanta Child Murders lays squarely on the shoulders of Wayne Williams.

ASIN: B07KKPRSCX

Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein – Peter Taylor

Sinn fein2Britain is steadily moving towards the anticipated and dreaded exit from the European Union on March 29, 2019. For Ireland, the move comes with a mix of emotions, including fears of the re-ignition of a conflict that resulted in several thousands deaths over the span of several decades. The IRA has long been recognized as the extreme group responsible for dozens of bombs and acts of terrorism across Norther Ireland and London.  But the reality is that many groups were involved in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts.  I have been following Brexit since the referendum was held on June 23, 2016. The vote to leave the European Union sent shock waves throughout the world and left many wondering what would happen to both England and Ireland in its wake?  I wanted to know more about the conflict in Northern Ireland and decided on this book by author Peter Taylor.  And what I found inside its pages, has opened my eyes to a feud that would have dire consequences should it commence again.

Taylor explains early in the book that his first challenge was to decide on where to begin.  He decides on 1916, when Patrick Pearse and his “Irish Volunteers” laid siege on the General Post Office in Dublin, proclaiming the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.  Their philosophy was modeled after Sinn Fein, created in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, a journalist in Dublin.  Six days of fighting ensued before Pearse gave orders to surrender.  On May 3, 2016, he was executed at the age of thirty-six. His life and legacy continue to live on after his death but I do not believe even he could have predicted the events that followed in Northern Ireland.

Taylor is beyond reproach in telling the story of the rise of the Catholic movement for Irish independence from British Rule.  In 1919, the Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the name it carries to this day and in 2910, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 officially partitioned the country into Norther Ireland and Southern Ireland, allotting six counties to the north and the remain twenty-six to the south. In the north, Protestants are the majority and live comfortably under British rule.  The Catholics are the minority and seek to be free of the control by the Government in London.  Discrimination becomes a tool of the trade, relegating the Catholics the lowest level in society.   Tensions begin to build and it is not long before both sides engage in violence.  Fianna Fail was established in 1927 after breaking away from Sinn Fein and in 1996, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was created in response to the growing threat from the IRA.   London soon realizes that Northern Ireland is a powder keg and sends in British troops to restore order.  These various groups became entangled in a battle that was nothing short of all out war.  And as we see through Taylor’s words, it nearly tore the entire country apart.

I warn the reader that violence is prevalent in the book.  However, no story about the IRA, UVF and British Army conflict can be told without discussing it.  Here, Taylor does not mince words and the acts of violence might even disturb the most hardened of readers.  What I found to be even more shocking aside from the acts alone, were the ages of the young men and women involved, some of whom were no more than twenty years old.  But they believed in their causes and were determined to fight to the death in support.  As an American, it is with some difficulty that I was able to put myself in their position.  I have visited Ireland, seeing the General Post Office in Dublin while embracing all that the Irish have to offer.  But this story is not about the Irish breakfast or a pint of Guinness.  This is the bloody story of sectarianism in its most violent form.

Many of the fighters on all sides are no longer alive having succumbed to death, old age and in some cases a hunger strike, as was the case in 1981 at Long Kesh, now known as HM Prison Maze.  But in this excellent account of the conflict, their stories come back to life allowing the reader to go deep inside the mindset of the IRA and its followers.  In hindsight, we have the privilege of examining the actions of all involved.  But at the time, all believed that they were acting in good faith.  And even in some of the interviews that Taylor conducts, the soldiers and activists stand firm in their convictions.  The tense atmosphere, intimidation and fear that engulfed a nation is captured brilliantly by the author.

The British Government plays a huge role in the story for obvious reasons.  And although London is slow to react to the building tension, but once it does, the story picks up pace and its intervention adds another layer of tension of the already explosive conflict.  The administrations of Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Edward Heath (1916-2005), James Callaghan (1912-2005) and Margaret Thatcher (1923-2013) all tried their hand at moving the conflict towards peace. Thatcher would prove why she had been nicknamed the “Iron Lady” following the hunger strikes at Long Kesh in which Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands (1954-1981) died after being on strike for sixty-six days.  The failures of London and the eventual success at achieving peace are covered extensively by Taylor in full detail, putting together all the pieces of a tragic story.   One of the highlights of the book is that in his interviews, he was not afraid to ask the difficult questions of the interviewed.  His approach and the unfiltered answers, give the book even more authenticity as Taylor takes us back in time, recounting a story that should never be forgotten.

Today, Ireland seems peaceful but beneath the surface, old tensions exist and in Northern Ireland, sharp divisions remain between Protestant and Catholic.  Time will tell if the old rivalries will be resurrected and the IRA and UVF re-engage in deadly conflict. The hope is that calm prevails and he world can breathe a sigh of relief in a united Ireland.  What is certain, is that a willingness to maintain peace will be needed by all sides. Wisdom and foresight will prove to be invaluable tools along with unwavering patience.  The people of Ireland face an uncertain future but I remain confident that peace will prevail in the hope that all involved do not wish to see a return to the past.  For anyone who is trying to understand the Northern Ireland conflict, this is a great book to start with.

ASIN: B00K4SC5UG

Ribbentrop: A Biography – Michael Bloch

20190202_003914On September 1, 1939, the Second World War began as the German army invaded Poland as part of Adolf Hitler’s quest for world domination.  Britain had warned Germany that any military action against Poland would result in England coming to the aid of its ally.  Interestingly, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) did not want to go to war with England, preferring to accomplish the annexation of Poland through diplomatic methods after having successfully partitioned Czechoslovakia in what is infamously referred to as the “appeasement at Munich”.  But if Hitler did not want to wage war against Britain, knowing their intention to save Poland, then why did he give approval to the invasion that plunged the world into a major conflict?  The answer to that question lies in the story of his Foreign Minister and Nuremberg defendant, Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946).

In the annals of the Third Reich, perhaps no other figure is as glanced over as Joachim von Ribbentrop.  Standing next to nefarious characters such as Hermann Goering (1893-1946), Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) and Heinrich Himmler  (1900-1945), he is often an afterthought.   Semi-illiterate but able to speak fluent English, he was one of the few officials in the Third Reich with extensive exposure to the culture of the west. And the time he spent in London early in his life, made him the right choice by Hitler for the position of Ambassador to Great Britain.  By all accounts, no one found him to be enjoyable company but incredibly, he maintained a position close to Hitler’s ear with the Führer listening intently and in some cases implementing Ribbentrop’s suggestions.  Their unusual relationship would have dire consequences in 1939 at Hitler set his sights on Poland. It is here in this phenomenal biography that we learn another part of the story behind the Poland invasion and Ribbentrop’s critical role in the events.

At first glance, it is easy to write of Ribbentrop as “non-essential” to the story of the Third Reich.  And although he is mentioned in many books about the Nazi regime, his role is typically minor in the grand scheme of events.  But make no mistake, his advice and misconceptions about foreign nations, played pivotal roles in the rise and fall of the Third SS Reich. Bloch has capture Ribbentrop’s life beautifully in this biography that tells the story of the former Foreign Minister for all to see.  In comparison to the other figures of the Nazi regime, his personal life could be considered average.  But his entry in the Nazi party and actions thereafter, helped changed the course of history.  As I was reading the book, I could not help feeling mystified as to how a figure such as Ribbentrop maintained the confidence of Hitler as each blunder piled up.   Admittedly, Hitler did not consult him on every foreign policy matter, apparently realizing his many shortcomings.  But he did trust Ribbentrop enough on some of the most important decisions to be made, many of which changed the course of world history and produced a mark on the history of Germany which can never be erased.

Notwithstanding his restricted voice in Hitler’s government, he was an important figure in Hitler’s vision of a Anglo-German unification.  In fact, Ribbentrop’s actions towards and with the British government are the crux of the book.   Naturally, his positions as Ambassador and later Foreign Minister, resulted in his constant communication with the Ambassadors of England, Italy and Japan.  However, his close position to the Führer did not earn him the envoy of others but rather their wrath.  Hitler was known to pit subordinates against each other, using the divide and conquer technique.  Their fights and attempts to sabotage each other take center stage in the book as they compete for Hitler’s approval, the elimination of enemies and advancement in rank.   The story reveals a terrible cast of characters drunk on power and filled with venom for competitors and the Jews of Europe.  Standing center among these characters was the sad Ribbentrop, the man often the butt of jokes and contempt, who was rarely seriously.  Having finished the book, I am dumbfounded as to how Hitler’s administration functioned at all.  The decisions they reached and methods used were simply surreal and Ribbentrop plays a direct part in many of them.

On October 14, 1946, Ribbentrop was the first to be executed after Goering committed suicide in his cell the night before.  He left behind a widow and four children, all of whom are still alive today.  Decades have passed since their father’s death and in the passage of time, their lives will also reach a conclusion.  But they remain witnesses to a time in history in which the world was on the brink of complete anarchy as Adolf Hitler set out to dominate the planet.  Next to him was his fanatically dedicated Foreign Minister.  This is the definitive biography of the life and death of Joachim von Ribbentrop.

ISBN-10: 0517593106
ISBN-13: 978-0517593103

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou

181231143615-07-best-books-large-169Theranos was supposed to the company that changed health care forever.  The Silicon Valley startup had issued a bold proclamation that it had developed technology that could analyze a person’s blood and screen it against a multitude of known conditions, thereby providing early detection of sometimes fatal conditions.  The startup attracted attention and investments from big name players, all highly interested in the potential of what promised to be a revolutionary product.   Today, Theranos is gone, having officially become defunct in September, 2018.  Its proposed device nicknamed “Edison”, never materialized into the product it was designed to be and the fall of Theranos left many with shock, frustration and anger.  But why did a small company with such a game-changing idea, fail to live up to its potential? John Carreyrou is a journalist with the Wall Street Journal who received a tip about an obscure Silicon Valley startup plagued by internal problems and using deception as a tactic to accumulate investors.  His investigation has resulted in this best-selling account of the rise and fall of Theranos.

The central figure in the story is Elizabeth Holmes, the wide-eyed young lady with bright blonde hair who envisioned a product that would project her to stardom in the male dominated world of information technology.  Although she only completed two years at Stanford, she was able to launch the startup with the help of very wealthy investors.  Interest into the product accumulated and in a short amount of time, the money rolled in. But as time went on, investors began to realize that little return was being shown.   And as the facade slowly crumbled, the truth was revealed for the world to see.   And even then, many on the outside of Theranos had no idea about what really transpired behind the scenes.

Former employees agreed to talk to Carreyrou, even in the face of legal threats from Theranos’s counsel.  A widow also talked, even as she mourned the suicide of her husband, once one of the company’s best technicians.  The picture that has come together is a web of secrets and lies that doomed the company from the start.  This inside story is nothing short of mind-boggling and it is surreal that the startup existed for as long as it did.  During its prime, it claimed as members of its Board of Directors, Henry Kissinger and Gen. James  “Mad Dog” Mattis.  Investors such as the savvy Rupert Murdoch also put their money into the startup, believing it truly did have an innovative concept that would change the world.  The ability of Holmes to sway investors towards Theranos and finalize deals with major carriers such as Walgreens, highlighted the ambition behind her vision that carried a win at all costs mindset.  But that same mindset would later prove to be her downfall and that of Theranos.

Interesting, Carreyrou does not enter the story until about midway. Prior to that, we learn about Holmes’s life and the foundation of Theranos.  Contacts are reached and employees soon fill the roster of a promising young company.   But as they would soon learn, there was far more than meets the eye and no one would come away unscathed.  Leadership that evolved into tyranny cast a dark cloud over the startup and a revolving door of employees ensues.  Carreyrou tells each of their unbelievable stories while covering the progress of Theranos step by step.   But over time, optimism faded and former employees could no longer ignore the many illegalities and outright lies purported by the company.  And as Carreyrou is beginning to learn about the startup, he finds assistance and guidance in the voices of those who were once on the inside.  At this point in the book, the story picks up the pace and the battle between Theranos and the media, in particular the Wall Street Journal, is nothing short of a slug-fest.

The investigation by the Wall Street Journal, in addition with anonymous tips to the Center for Medicaid and Medicare services, combined to seal the fate of Theranos. And despite threats of litigation to the paper from Theranos’s legal counsel, the Wall Street Journal moved forward publishing a series of articles that opened the eyes of many to a deception that had gone unnoticed by even the sharpest of eyes.   By the time the end came and the company was a shell of its former self, nearly all of the major players and investors were gone but the memory of Theranos remains firmly implanted in their minds.

Silicon Valley is full of startups, bristling with activity in the belief that it might by the next big thing in technology.  But sometimes, a company can move too fast too soon, never stopping to evaluate itself and its motives.  Haste of that nature combined with ego and vindictiveness, can combine to form a nexus of nefarious behavior that can only lead to defeat and in some cases, total destruction.  This is the unbelievable story of the mysterious and ultimately disappointing, Theranos.

ISBN-10: 152473165X
ISBN-13: 978-1524731656

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