Category: Biographies

20200319_191037The past several years have given way to a rise in the number of opioid related deaths in the United States.  Cities across America have struggled with a surge in drug overdoses and lack of proper facilities to handle the deceased.  I knew several people who battled an addiction to opioids and all but one are now deceased.  It is a soul crushing and life depleting addiction that cuts across all ethnic lines.  Many of us know someone who is currently battling an addiction or once did in the past, whether it was opioids, alcohol or some other substance. And what we all know is that addicts do not get clean until they have realized there is no where else to go but in the ground.  Dan Peres is a former Editor in Chief for Women’s Wear Daily Details and in this revealing memoir, he details his own struggle with a drug addcition that nearly took his life.

His story begins in Pikesville, Maryland in a run of the mill Jewish family.  He recounts his early life growing up in the suburbs before his life changes course and he finds himself at New York University.  It is there that the story picks up pace and Dan continues his ascent in the social scene in the city that never sleeps.  Journalism soon becomes his calling and he makes his entry into the fashion wold where he exceeds as a journalist and even gets to meet his childhood icon David Copperfield.  His job took him to Europe where he makes a home in Paris.  His recollections of his time there are some of the best parts of the story.  Upon returning to New York, he decides to pull a physical stunt that goes terribly wrong.  Two back surgeries and a bottle of Vicodin later, the addict was in the making.  And what starts out as simply medication to recover from back surgery,  soon turns into a habit which took him to hell and back.

Peres is blessed with sharp wit and his observations of the situations he found himself in and his own behaviour, add a touch of lightheartedness to a story that is quite serious.  Professionally, he was able to get by while personally, his life became a mix of drugs, escorts, lies and more drugs.  All the while, his maintained a public facade misled most until the demons caught up with him and his life began to unravel.  Two pills a day escalated into nearly a two dozen and then even more as the monster of addiction took hold of every facet of his life.  Throughout the book, Peres is frank about just how crazy things had become and his state of mind.  The story is simply mind-boggling and it truly is a miracle that he did not die.

Before meeting the woman who would become his wife, several women enter and exit the story under assumed names including one known as “Chickpea”.   The relationships or what could be better described as unspoken arrangements,  highlight the dysfunction in his mind as a result of an addiction that refused to release him from its grip.  His addiction pushed him to the brink and the episodes in Tijuana, Mexico and Skid Row in Los Angeles are the moments in the book where we realize he truly went off the deep end.  But Peres knows this and in the book, he literally takes himself to task for what could only be described as lunacy.  But such is the mind of an addict and Peres succeeds in showing us how addicts function under the influence of the drugs they consume.

After becoming a husband and expectant father, the addiction refused to let him go.  The actions of his family and in particular his Aunt Lou, are part of the what saved his life.  Their efforts are a prime example of the battles being waged across America today as families struggle to get loved ones the help they need. Peres provides a textbook example of the importance of intervention.  This story is a roller coaster ride and I am sure that readers whill find it enjoyable yet sad at the same time.  Peres is still alive to tell his tale but others were not so lucky.   But just maybe, this heartbreaking story of addiction will be enough to deter the next person from going down the same path. Good read.

ISBN-10: 0062693468
ISBN-13: 978-0062693464

Biographies

editors1Each of us carry to this day, memories of our childhood both good and bad. It is hoped that the memorable experiences far outweigh the forgettable. When I think back to my own childhood, I am filled with many great memories. And although my family has gone through its share of loss and disappointment,  I have no complaints and will remain grateful to my loving parents.  Further, I do believe that there is something about being a kid in America during the 1980s that truly is hard to put into words.   The shows I remember watching on television influenced millions of children like myself across America.  Most of us are familiar with Jim Henson’s (1936-1990) Sesame Street  and the show Reading Rainbow starring LeVar Burton.  But there was another program that my brother and I could not wait to see and the anticipation that consumed us was shared by our peers.  The show was  Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood  , the brainchild of the late Fred McNeely Rogers (1928-2003) whom the world knew simply and affectionately as Mr. Rogers.  This biography of Rogers came up in my list of recommendations on Amazon and I knew instantly that I would have to read it.  It is the second book I have read by Charles River Editors, who also published Operation Condor: The History of the Notorious Intelligence Operations Supported by the United States to Combat Communists across South America, a short yet thorough examination of the murderous policies of the right wing dictatorships that once plagued Latin America.

Before starting the book, I asked myself just who was Fred Rogers? As a kid, I knew nothing about the man himself and the image in my mind of him was with his trademark cardigan sweater.  But as can be seen in this short but informative biography, there was far more to his life than we could have imagined as kids and his on-screen persona was not that far off from who he was in real life.  The native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania could have ended up in just another blue collar job but found his calling in the world of television.  The author retraces Roger’s path, paying close attention to his early show The Children’s Corner, which helped set the stage for the show that made him an icon. Rogers undoubtedly had a great supporting cast that incredibly included the late George Romero (1940-2017) and Michael Keaton.

Learning about Rogers’ personal life was equally as interesting and from what the author has written, he was a devoted family man who also showed that same love to the kids of other parents through his show which he believed truly needed to be formatted in a way that helps children be who they are.  His efforts and the finished product are a testament to his enduring ingenuity.  And by the time his show ended in 2001, Fred Rogers had rightfully earned a place in the homes and hearts of families in American and abroad.  Less than two years after the final episode he succumbed to stomach cancer but his legacy remains firm and in 2019, Tri-Star Pictures released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Hollywood legend Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers.  I have yet to see the film but I am sure that Hanks delivered the goods as he always does.

Without question, this is far more the Rogers’ story than we know but this book is a good start to understanding who the real Fred Rogers was. My only complaint is that I wish the book was longer. As I read further through it, I became even more intrigued by Rogers’ rise to stardom and the enormous amount of work that went on behind the scenes.  However, the biography as it is here is written beautifully and tells Rogers’ story directly and without fanfare.  Essentially, we learn who he was and why he is still important and always will be.  And when I do step outside and enjoy the weather, I am reminded of Rogers’ words that it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Great read.

The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” – Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

ASIN: B07QLNQ6N3

Biographies

ElijahIn 2019, streaming giant Netflix premiered “Devil at the Crossroads: A Robert Johnson Story“, in which focused is placed on the life of guitarist Robert Johnson (1911-1938).  In the years following his death, Johnson was elevate to near mythical status as a pioneer of blues music.  The documentary is captivating and received a positive rating by yours truly.  Filmmakers took a long look at Johnson’s life to clear up the mysteries that surround it to this day.  And while there is a significant amount of information regarding his life that is known, there remains an equal amount that is a question mark.  By all accounts, Johnson kept very few friends and was a loner in the classic sense.  However, he did record formally and his recordings stand as the only part of his life that has survived to this day.

Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton idolized Johnson and stated emphatically:  “ It came as something of a shock to me that there could be anything that powerful…. At first it was almost too painful, but then after about six months I started listening, and then I didn’t listen to anything else. Up until the time I was 25, if you didn’t know who Robert Johnson was I wouldn’t talk to you…. It was as if I had been prepared to receive Robert Johnson, almost like a religious experience that started out with hearing Chuck Berry, then at each stage went further and deeper until I was ready for him…. I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice”.  If only going by Clapton’s words, it would appear that Johnson was the end all and be all for blues music.  But one question that remains is what exactly was Johnson’s role in the development of blues?  Author Elijah Wood tackles this question a book that will surely change the way you view the concept of blues music.

I should point out that this is not a biography of Johnson in the traditional sense.  Wald does discuss Johnson’s life, but the main focus of the book is to examine the music of the  Mississippi Delta, which was home to some of the best musicians that performed the music that society has labeled blues.  And while Johnson does fit into the story,  he is part of a much larger picture composed of many artists, some of whom remain obscure to music fans today.   In some ways, the book is encyclopedic and provides thorough discussions of the lives of music greats of the era such as W.C. Handy (1873-1958), Son House (1902-1988) and Charley Patton (1891-1934).  Their trials, tribulations and contributions take center stage as Wald takes us back in time.

But what exactly is blues?  Did the musicians who played in the Delta consider their art to be blues?  The questions are pertinent and what Wald reveals to us here just might surprise some readers.  His work challenges long held beliefs about the definition of blues music.  And while he is not attempting to re-write music history, he does intend to get the reader to see the concept of blues in a light that is often unseen.

There can be no discussion about blues music and America without  addressing the issue of race.   In the 1920s and 1930s, Jim Crow was alive and strong.  Artist such as Johnson had to navigate their way through a country that afforded very little protection to people of color.  Lynchings and segregation were constant reminders of the ugly side of America and helped fuel the music that would later captivate the minds of fans both black and white.  However, to black and white Americans, what came to be known as blues looked very different depending on the person’s race and it is through both lenses that Johnson takes his place in the history of blues music.  Wald’s discussion of Johnson’s place in the lives of both black and white Americans is interesting and clarifying.  And I do believe that he provides a solid argument for Johnson’s place in the official narrative.

To be clear, Wald is a fan of Johnson and pays homage to his musical genius.  He is not attempting to discredit Johnson in any way but simply provide a historical narrative that is closest to the truth.  Johnson’s talents can never be denied and he is rightfully recognized as a pioneering singer in his field.  But as Wald explores, even during his time, Johnson was not nor would he ever be, the founding father of blues music. Instead, he was one of many who helped create the sound that stands in a league of its own.

Blues music has no equivalent and once you have heard it, its sound remains with you.   It is soul touching and extracts the rawest of human emotions.  Listeners may be tempted to conjure up images of smoke filled shacks, filled with hard liquor, unbearable heat and enough soul to fill an entire state. It is an image that we love to imagine but in truth, the real story is far more complex. Wald’s analysis here is just what the doctor ordered and I feel that the author accomplished his goals.  And understanding why musicians were escaping the Delta, is key to understanding the passion and emotion that gave way to the blues.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B003JBHW1W

Biographies

cooganThose of you who follow my blog probably know by now that I have covered quite a number of books regarding Northern Ireland the conflict known as “The Troubles”.   My curiousity with the conflict in Northern Ireland stems partly from my love of history and partly from my visit to Ireland in 2016.  I sought to fully understand the battle being waged by Republicans to unify the country and the opposition mounted by Loyalist who remain in support of British rule.  Author Tim Pat Coogan has written of the 1916 Easter uprising, the lives of Michael Collins (1890-1922) and his Twelve Apostles, and others who remained focuses on Irish independence from the Crown. This book is his own memoir of his life in Ireland, time as a member of the Irish press and author of several significant books one of the world’s longest running feuds.

Coogan opens the book by recounting his family’s involvement in the development of tensions between Republicans and Loyalist.   His grandfather once belonged to the Royal Irish Consabulary (RIC) and his father Edward worked on behalf of Republican forces even being tasked with organizing an unarmed police force during the Irish Civil war which erupted in the wake of the establishment of the Irish Free State.  As a child, he grew up in Monkstown, County Dublin, far removed from the dangers of the north.  However, fate would take him back to the Northern Ireland and land him right in the mix of the Troubles which would consume his writing material much later in his life.

Readers should be prepared to learn a lot about Irish history.  Coogan has written extensively on the conflict and in particular the life of Eamon de Valera (1882-1975).  As a journalist, he would form a working relationship with de Valera’s son Vivion (1910-1982), whose actions as owner of the Evening Press, played a critical role in the path Coogan’s life took over the years.   The Irish press, of which Coogan was a part, figures prominently throughout the story as the Troubles rage and Ireland finds itself in the middle of fierce debate over aborition, divorce and even contraception.  Coogan and other journalist walked fine lines as they tried to remain ahead of the competition and get the jump on new stories.  His experience and zest for journalism took him to foreign nations, including the United States and Vietnam, where he was able to witness the war in person to report back about what he saw in comparison to what politicans in Washington were being told from commanders in the field.

The story is a roller coaster ride that shows the organized chaos of journalism and printing.  Coogan is fully embroiled in this world while being married and the father of six children.  As the Troubles heat up, the press is forced to take notice and Coogan remarks in the book that:

another form of cancer that was to affect me profoundly during my career as editor, as it did the political life of the country as a whole, was the Northern Ireland situation“.

At the time the Troubles erupted, Coogan could have never imagined that one day he would be one of the most respected authors on the subject.  The book is a not mean to be a complete history of the Troubles but rather an explanation of key events that pushed the two sides in Ulster province to engage in violence.

Some have accused Coogan of being Republican friendly in his writings.  While his books do cover the Troubles mostly from the Republican view, I have found that in the books I have read to date by him, that he has so far provided balanced and detailed accounts of what actually happened.  What is clear in this book is that his relationship with Vivion de Valera was strained by the time it ended and he came to realize many truths about de Valera which he reveals here.  As part of his job, he was required to meet with the IRA which included figures such as Mairead Farrell (1957-1988), Joe Cahill (1920-2004) and Brendan Hughes (1948-2008).  His visits to Belfast and the prison maze at Long Kesh helped form the discussion of the Troubles that he wrote after his final parting of ways with de Valera.

The demise of the Evening Press and affiliated publications are also examined in detail, showing the mis-steps and complex nature of de Valera, who was unable to see the larger picture.  As one would expect, the long hours and story chasing proved to be a heavy burden on Coogan’s personal life.  This part of the book is tough to read but not completely unexpected. In fact, the stage is set early in the book as Coogan describes the different lifestyles he and his wife lead.  The entry of other figures into his life, helped seal the door on other parts and the complicated situation is explained by Coogan.

In spite of everything that happens, he did lead an incredible life which is sure to leave you with as much Irish history as any textbook on the market.  Coogan is a wealth of knowledge on the Troubles and the history of the Irish Republic.  He remains one of the best in the business and his books on on the conflict will surely stand the test of time. This is his story and that of Ireland, composed of the good, the bad and the tragic.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B00GVG173Q

Biographies Northern Ireland

audieWhen this book came up as a recommendation, I thought back to the movie ‘Platoon‘ (Orion Pictures, 1986) by Oliver Stone.  There is a scene before the final battle in which Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and Junior (Reggie Johnson) have been instructed by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) to get back in their fox holes.  Junior is at his breaking point but Bunny is getting warmed up and says to him “don’t you worry my man, you’re hanging with Audie Murphy now“.  I had heard of Audie Murphy before mainly through my father, who was quite familiar with his story and the 1955 film of the same name. This is the story behind the film of the most decorated soldier to return from World War II.

The book opens with a foreword famed NBC journalist Tom Brokaw before moving to Murphy’s story which begins in Kingston, Texas where we quickly learn that his father has walked out on the family.  He is one of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and Josie Bell Killian. At the age sixteen, his mother dies and the young teenager is forced to grow up literally overnight.  At the age of eighteen, he reports to the Marine Corps recruiting station but is initially refused enlistment because of his weight and age. Murphy is determined to sign up and eventually succeeds in his quest.  His thirst for action is soon quenched as he finds himself on the front lines in the Mediterranean Theater off the shores of Morocco.  As the story progresses, we are quickly thrown into the mix of the action as Murphy and his platoon are actively engaged in fierce combat.  Soliders enter and exit the story quickly, some having been felled by a sharpshooter’s bullet and others having fell victim to  shells and rockets.  The scenes are graphic and death lingers over them like a storm cloud that breaks without any hint of warning.

The Marines needed killers and Murphy eagerly signed for the task.  Yet the savagery of war is not lost on him and this quote sheds light on the humanity that resides in all soldiers: “But it is not easy to shed the idea that human life is sacred . The lieutenant has not yet accepted the fact that we have been put into the field to deal out death“.  To say that  war is hell is an understatment. Murphy understood the darkness of it all but make no mistake he believed in the job he was assigned to do and he takes pride in being a leatherneck.  He is a killer but one who sees the dysfunction of war and realizes that death is everywhere at all times. Bravery is his speciality but not idiocy.  Further, he was not invincible to the dangers of infantry including malaria which catches him in its grip on more than one occasion.  His time in the infirmary where he meets the nurse known only as “Helen” is a needed relief from the constant descriptions of the last moments of fellow Marines.

The European Theater is undoubtedly where the story picks up pace and as they march across Italy, Murphy fills the book with recreation of battle scenes and hilarious anecdotes through the likes of fellow soldiers such as Novak, Swope and Kerrigan, whom Murphy calls the “Irishman”.  He and Kerrigan develop a lasting friendship built upon the time they spend facing death and dishing it out to German forces.  At the book’s closing, Murphy remarks “but I also believe in men like Brandon and Novak and Swope and Kerrigan ; and all the men who stood up against the enemy , taking their beatings without whimper and their triumphs without boasting . The men who went and would go again to hell and back to preserve what our country thinks right and decent “.  Between the soldiers is a sense of humor that some readers may find to be somewhat macabre.  But in war, the rules of reality and morality are changed in ways some of us cannot comprehend. 

The book is less than three hundred pages but it is by far one of the best memoirs of war I have read.  It is dark, humorous and enlightening at the same time.  War creates a separate world in which soldiers navigate while trying to hold onto their morals and sanity.  Both are sometimes sacrificed and no one who leaves alive,  leaves the same.  There are many books on World War II but to see the war from the grunt’s point of view is a separate experience and Murphy delivered the goods.   Highly recommended.

ASIN: B008VDJGDA

Biographies

sam1If you have ever listened to a song by Sam Cooke (1931-1964), then I am sure you can agree that no one is ever the same after hearing his voice.  My parents and grandparents played his albums and knew many of his songs by memory, singing them with as much passion as Cooke did while on stage.  For millions of black Americans, Sam Cooke was the best singer of his time and his death on December 11, 1964, sent music fans into mourning as one of the most beloved singers in America was laid to rest.  Today, almost fifty-six years after his death, the songs he produced sound as if they were recorded yesterday.  In fact, earlier today, I listened yet again to ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ which many people believe to be his best recording.  Spike Lee opted to use it in the 1992 film ‘Malcolm X’, in the scene where Malcolm (Denzel Washington) walks toward the Audubon Ballroom and his fate after parking his car.  Cooke’s music has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. But just who was the real Sam Cooke?

Author Peter Guralnick researched Cooke’s life and has composed a biography that shows the many sides of the late singer.  The book is well over seven hundred pages, so by no means is it a short read. But contained within these pages, is a wealth of information about Cooke’s life and the music industry in which Sam found himself fully immersed.  Guralnick was able to speak to many individuals who knew Sam and were able to provide him with invaluable access to archival documents, footage and anecdotes.  It is an exhaustive effort for sure but one that has certainly paid off.

The story begins in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the home of the Rev. Charles Cook and his wife Annie Mae whose marriage produced eight children. Sam came in fifth but would go on to become the most popular and most tragic child. From an early age, his father drilled into him that no matter what you do, you do it the best.  It was a lesson that helped fuel Cooke’s work ethic which is on display throughout the book in both positive and negative light.  After becoming part of several singing groups early in his career, Cooke makes the decision to become a solo artist. It was a decision that would change his life forever and re-shape music in America.

There are many high moments in the book as Cooke’s life reaches new heights. However, not all of the story is smiles and giggles.  Sam was a complex figure like many superstars and some of the sides to him were darker than what many fans were allowed to see.  Guralnick explores these sides of Cooke which might come as a shock to the even his most ardent supporters.  Cooke was not impervious to the demons that come with success in the music business and it is not long before money, fame and women become the vices with which he lived.  Lawsuits, contract and paternity disputes haunted Cooke and I admit that I was unaware of some of the other children he had sired.  However, Barbara remains central to the story and was the wife the public knew. But behind the scenes, Cooke’s relationship with his wife was a constant storm brewing that occasional developed into a full blown tornado with Sam’s dark side rising to the occasion.  The tragedy of their son Vincent is central to their relationship later in the book.  I warn readers that some of the events that take place between Sam and Barbara are tough to digest and remind us that even stars have their faults.

Cooke rose to fame during a time in America where segregation was still legally employed in many cities across the United States.  The ugly face of Jim Crow appears as Sam and the other artists are forced to navigate and endure a system of discrimination that was designed to humiliate and subjugate its victims.  Cooke is determined to buck the system and his actions in opposition to segregated audiences is both legendary and truly one of the most inspiring moments in the book. His refusal to perform in front of segregated audiences helped set the stage for the eventual demise of Jim Crow. And battling right along with him are Malcolm X (1925-1965), Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) and even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), all of whom make an appearance in the story.  Sam found himself at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and used both his music and star power to challenge the establishment. By all accounts he was a straight shooter and fair regardless of who the person was.  He exemplified integration with a supporting cast composed of people from all walks of life.  For Cooke, all that mattered was the music and the revenue.

It should be noted that many industry greats appear in the story on various occasions.  You may find yourself taking a significant amount of notes. However, if you are familiar with Cooke’s story, you will already know some of the history presented here.  Regardless, the book has a steadily moving narrative that flows effortlessly through the author’s words.  The inclusion of the recollections by Sam’s close confidants adds the right amount of authenticity to completely tell the story of his life.  At one point, it seemed as if for Sam, the sky was the limit.  But his attraction to money and fast women would prove to be his undoing and at times, I found myself wondering why he acted in the ways in which he did.  The final act in which he visits the Hacienda Hotel with Elisa Boyer seems surreal so many years later.  Perhaps we may never know what completely happened that night.  Maybe Sam was over his head filled with rage. Or perhaps there was a darker and far more sinister reason for Bertha Lee Franklin putting an end to the legend of Sam Cooke.

If you are a fan of Sam Cooke, this book is a must read. It is by far, an authoritative account of his life that steps deep inside the life of the man behind the music.  He is long gone but his powerful words remain with us and even in the most adverse of situations, I often think of Sam and remind myself that yes, a change is gonna come.

ISBN-10: 0316013293
ISBN-13: 978-0316013291

Biographies

20200125_205451On Easter Sunday, my mother would have my brother and I watched the epid Hollywoof Film ‘The Ten Commandements’. It is one Chartlon Heston’s (1923-2008) best roles and his agtonist in the film, Yul Brynner (1920-1985), delivers an equally compelling performance a Ramesses II.  In fact, it remains the film by which I have always recognized Brynner. However, like most great stars of his era, often called the “Golden Era of Hollywood”, there was more to his life than the public was able to see. His son Rock Brynner decided to turn memories of his childhood into this memoir of the time he spent with his father, one of Hollywood’s leading men.

The book is an autobiography and biography at the same time. Rock tells the story of his father’s life while giving us insight into his own struggle as he grows up in the public spotlight.  Yul Brynner has always remained something of a mystery.  He never fully explained his upbringing in interviews but instead chose to spread misinformation and in some cases complete fabrications.  The real story of the Brynner name is told here, putting to rest any outlandish rumors that have persisted throughout the years about  Yul’s origins.  If there was ever an instance of the apple does not fall far from the tree, it is definitely to be found here as the actions of Yul’s grandfather Jules and father Boris serve as a blueprint for the way Yul later lived his own life. Was it heriditary?  I do not believe so but it is apparent that within the Brynner family, history continued to repeat itself in ways that will leave some readers speechless.

Yul Brynner remains the center of the story all the way throughout the book.  His son lets us following along as his father leaves his native Switzterland and emigrates to New York and into a completely new world. From there, he would eventually make it west to Hollywood.  The trials and tribulations endured by Brynner are reminiscent of the long paths taken by other stars to finally achieve stardom.  He was a tenaciou individual, undaunted by adversity and determined to leave his mark on the film world. The fact that I am writing about him in 2020 shows that he was indeed successful.  But what I found to be even more interesting was the fact that when he arrived in America, he spoke almost no English.  Incredibly, the films later in his career reveal no trace of this fact.

Similar to other leading men and women in Hollywood, Yul’s life was filled with indescretions, controversy and financial troubles which hung over him like a dark cloud. The Unites States Government proved to be a formidable enemy, even pushing Yul to make a big move abroad that affected sitautions and events around him for the rest of his life.   Rock does not hide anything and reveals the unorthodox world of the place they call Tinsel Town.

Rock supplements his dad’s story with his own that begins in a house with a roaming father with an eye for the opposite sex and a mother with an addiction that would later drive a wedge in between husband and wife. Virginia Gilmore’s (1919-1986) role as wife of Yul Brynner and mother of Rock Brynner proved to be no easy task and as we see in the book, it took an enormous toll on her well-being.  Sadly, she never remarried after Yul Brynner. By contrast, Yul remarried several times and with each marriage came even more surreal events that would be added to his story.  Rock is forced to confront his own demons and as I read the book, I could not help to feel as if he was spiraling out of control but in a way different from his father, whose own demons were catching up with him. And while I would hesitate to label the household as dysfunctional, there were certainly things that would not be accepted today even many homes around the world.  But this is life as Rock remembers it: the good, the bad and the ugly.

One aspect of the story that will be of interest to readers is Yul Brynner’s health.  His appearance in an anti-smoking commerical after his death had an eerie film to it as nearly everyone by then was aware that Brynner had long since been dead.  I found the back story regarding his health to be eye-opening and it also provided insight into the many ways we live our lives even at the expense of longevity.  I do believe that if Yul Brynner were live, he would warn many about the perilous behaviour that helped to cause his own demise.

Other celebrities make appearances throughout the book and the anecdotes by Rock Brynner are interesting and reveals small bits of information about some of the greatest stars to ever grace the silver screen.  Not all of the storys have happy endings, some are dark such as small sections regarding the late Steve McQueen (1930-1980).  Rock finds himself immeresed in this usual but highly seductive lifestlyle that would give rise to his own pitfalls that haunted him for many years.  His struggle is equally as poignant as the story of his father’s life.  Father and son had a great bond but differences of opinion that later became a source of tension between the two. Regardless, Rock never wavers in support of love of his father and is with him up until Yul’s final moments which are recalled towards the end of the book.

If you remember Yul Brynner and have always been captivated by his work, then this book is a must read.  And even if you are not, there is enough interesting information in the book to hold your attention all the way through. Great read.

Mr. Brynner is, quite simply, the King. Man and role have long since merged into a fixed image that is as much a part of our Collective Consciousness as the Statue of Liberty.” –Frank Rich, The New York Times

ISBN-10: 067169006X
ISBN-13: 978-0671690069

Biographies

cjung1Many years have passed since I studied philosophy in college.  Names such as Kant and Freud were part of my regularly assigned reading.  However, one name I was not particularly exposed to was Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the late Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is widely held high regard as a pioneer in the field of psychology.  I saw this biography on Amazon and decided to take another look at his life and beliefs.  When starting the book I had no judgments about Jung but was sure I would learn a new way of looking at the human mind and what lies behind our thoughts and actions. And while I did find some very interesting concepts put forth by Jung, there is far more to the book than meets the eye.

First and foremost, the book is an autobiography and Jung takes center stage.  He begins with his childhood in Keswill, Switzerland which is idyllic of life in Europe in the years prior to the outbreak of the First World War. He is soon joined by a younger sister but quickly learns that his family is slightly different from others in terms of status and finances.  His parents Paul Achilles Jung (1842–1896) and Emilie Preiswerk (1848–1923) are common people but from early on, the differences between mother and father become vividly clear. For young Carl, his relationship with each would help shape his future endeavors.  His father admonishment to never become a theologian was partly followed mainly due to Jung being somewhat of a rebel as he explains early in his story. His anecdotes about his actions as a kid make it clear early on that his life was destined to be anything but ordinary.

One thing I did notice is that Jung does not mention many parts of his life with exact details but rather summarizes the main events.  In fact, only the major occurrences that are discussed in detail are the death of his father in 1896 and mother in 1922.  His wife’s death in 1955 is mentioned in passing during a passage about another topic.  Even his children are rarely mentioned.  We can only guess as to why they receive such scant attention.  Regardless, the story is still highly engaging and Jung has plenty of discuss regarding his thoughts on human psychology,  allowing his brilliant mind to be put on full display.

As the book progresses, Jung begins to travel abroad and his trips across Africa, India, America and the Middle East, result in highly interesting observations from the visitor’s point of view.  His ability to place himself in another person’s shoes and objectively examine his European background are food for thought and shows Jung’s evolution into the figure that the world holds in high esteem.  He is not without fault however and relates his shortcomings.  His relationship with Sigmund Freud is an interesting part of the book and Jung explains why it ran its course and where he felt that Freud has psychology wrong.  In the appendix to the book are several letters from Freud to Jung that some readers may find interesting. Letters from Jung to Freud are not included here.

A book about Carl Jung would be incomplete without some discussion of the psyche, the unconscious and God.  All three and much is discussed in detail presenting compelling arguments that might challenge your current thoughts on them and how they relate to your own life.  Love also finds a place in the discussion and Jung’s opinion of it and how man handles it, provides an insightful and valuable explanation of a topic and liberates, confuses and in some cases destroys.   Jung has answers as to why and I believe his reasoning is still valid today, having stood the test of time.

Readers familiar with Jung’s work will find the book easier to follow along than readers who are not. However, one does not need prior knowledge of Jung’s work to follow the story.  In fact, I felt that he is very clear in his thoughts and even someone who has no exposure to psychology can quickly pick up the material.  His experiences provide a wealth of material into the human psyche and can spark discussions that can last for hours.  His gift in this book is a gift that keeps on giving.  His thoughts are not the final word but a starting point for future discourse.  If you are fan of Carl Gustav Jung and want to know more about the man behind the legend, his memories, dreams and reflections are exactly what you are looking for.

ASIN: 0679723951

Biographies

circle1 On December 25, 1979, the armed forces of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in support of pro-Communist forces engaged in a power struggle with insurgent forces known as the mujahideen.  Soviet forces marched into the capital city of Kabul and later succeeded in staging a coup in which President Hafizullah Amin (1929-1979) was removed and replaced with Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal (1929-1966).  Thousands of Afghan citizens were rendered homeless as bombs fells and brutal fighting produced collateral damage. For Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller, the war changed her life in ways she could have never imagined.

This moving autobiography is Ahmadi-Miller’s story of life in Afghanistan and her family’s journey across cities and countries in search of a better life far removed from war torn Kabul.  As the book begins, we are taken inside her home where she and her seven siblings are being raised by their parents Abdullah and Miriam.  Their daily routine is what we would expect of large family and the interactions between siblings is something that anyone with brothers and sisters can easily relate to.  Her parents care deeply for each other but Abdullah, whom Enjeela affectionately calls Padar, has a vice that eventually fractures their marriage. Though they are able to move past it, changes in the Afghan government coupled with a crackdown on opposition voices, results in Miriam making the decision to leave the country with half of their children, leaving Padar and the rest behind.  He is determined never to leave Afghanistan and is certain they can ride out the war.  However, the reality of the conflict begins to hit home as he finds himself suspected by the Soviets of secretly working for the United States.  Time begins to run out and Padar decides that they will join their mother who has settled in India.  He sends his children on their journey with a trusted friend, Masood, and promises to join them in neighboring Pakistan.  Masood is a loyal and dedicated friend who serves as their guardian as they traverse across mountains, valleys  and small villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan.   Enjeela and her siblings soon experience the realities of the world that have a profound effect on all them.

As they move through Afghanistan and later Pakistan, they encounter many dark realities of life that children in the west are never exposed to.  Soviet fighters had engulfed the city and their presence alone is enough to cause fear and consternation among the local populace.  Enjeela has plenty to tell us and her memories of the migration between the two countries are filled with anecdotes that reveal the brutal reality that is life in remote locations.  Nomads, rebels, shepherds and bandits roam freely resulting in Masood keeping a watchful eye over his group.  Mina enters the story and young Enjeela soon makes a new friend.  But over time, Mina’s life at home reveals a dark side of Afghanistan that Enjeela was unaware of.  She is slowly growing up on this trip but in ways she could never have imagined.  Their bond as siblings and support for each other are tested time and again as they are forced to use critical thought in situations that could have easily gone the wrong way.

Pakistan proves to be a refuge for the group of siblings who eventually realize that they are in fact refugees.  But they have many guardian angels along the way and their roles in the story were unexpected but definitely welcomed.  Those moments add a touch of humanity to a story filled with adversity.  Padar eventually reenters the story and the Ahmadi family that has survived thus far, is determined to make it to India.  The next leg of their journey to what they believe is their final destination, is by far the most dangerous and the escapades that ensue are what we would describe as “close calls”.  Padar remains the voice of reason and their source of eternal faith. Throughout the book he is anchor upon which everyone relies for support and reassurance.  His strengths and flaws are on display but it is clear that Enjeela truly loves him and the two have a special bond.  After a series of mishaps, Padar and the four siblings finally reach India where a sense of normalcy sets in again.  However, their mother Miriam has her own struggle and needs the support of her family at this time more than ever.  Her plight and the family’s status in India, forces her and Padar to make another life altering decision that will take the family across several continents to place none of them ever thought they would live in.

This book came as a recommendation on Amazon and at first glance, the cover caught my attention.  I have always been fascinated about the Middle East, a region which many westerners still struggle to understand.  Enjeela’s story shows a side of Islam that is often omitted and her observations about what true Islam is and how we should treat each other, are insightful and thought provoking.  My only complaint is that I wish the book had continued for a few more chapters to see how life changed for the Ahmadi family after their final move. Perhaps that part is not as important or possibly boilerplate in development. Regardless, this story of her early years in the Middle East and the struggle to survive and emigrate is enough to inspire anyone that decides to read this story.  And her account goes to show that broken circles can be repaired.

ASIN: B07DK7FBDS

Biographies Middle East

lutherIn the state of South Dakota, the Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the descendants of the Oglala Sioux Native American tribe.  The children of Pine Ridge aspire to enroll in the Red Cloud High School with hopes of attending college.  Many of their parent, suffer from alcoholism, a plague that has followed the Oglala Sioux since their first encounter with white settlers in the early 1800s.  Poverty and discrimination have resulted in depression and despair which has yet to be fully addressed.  The true story of the Native American experience remains misunderstood and in some cases neglected. They current day Oglala are the descendants of indigenous people whose home was a North American continent in which life was simple yet effective with  languages largely unwritten and passed down through oral teaching.  The Sioux were only one of hundreds of tribes, some of whom are now extinct such as the Canarsie Indians.  Chief Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) was born in Rosebud, South Dakota into the Oglala Sioux tribe and this is his story of his life and his people.

I found this enjoyable autobiography on Amazon while browsing through recommendations. I have always been curious about Native American history and the title quickly caught my attention.  This story begins in Rosebud, South Dakota during Standing Bear’s childhood.  Life is simple for the Sioux and he takes us through the motions, explaining daily life and the many customs practiced by their tribe.  There is a good amount of information about the Sioux and their approach to life.  Readers today may find some things strange but it is imperative to remember that this was a community that had no exposure at that time, to modern technology.

Life for the Sioux changes as the United States Government increases its policy of expansionism and begins to seize land home to native tribes.  The new settlers introduce the Sioux to new foods and customs, and his descriptions about them are eye-opening and highlight the stark difference in culture between the two groups.   But over time, the two groups become more acquainted with each other and the white settlers become determined to give the Sioux a formal education. Standing Bear enrolls the Carlisle Indian School under the direction of Captain Pratt who becomes one of the most important figures in his life as we read the book.   And it is at this point, that his life is never the same and his path of education would take him places he never imagined.  He adopted the English first name of Luther and it remained with him for the rest of his life.

As Standing Bear increases his knowledge and his expertise of the English language, he is accepted to work in a store owned by former United States Postmaster General John Wanamaker (1838-1922) which changes his view of the world and he soon realize that he must do what is possible to help his people the Sioux. He makes the tough decision to return to his home, with the intention of using his education and teaching skills to improve life for the Sioux.  But the story soon take takes yet another turn as he meets and marries Nellie De Cory with whom he would father several children.  And it is not long before opportunity comes knocking again and soon husband, wife and child are off to London as part of the traveling Buffalo Bill Show.  He recalls life in England and how he and fellow tribesmen adjusted to show business on the road in a foreign country.  Throughout all, he is the undisputed leader who lives an exemplary lifestyle founded on principle.  His heritage as a Sioux is of the utmost importance and the words of his father are never far from his mind throughout the book.

Upon his return to the United States, his life takes a series of turns, and his next destination was California, headquarters for the motion picture industry.  He finds work in Hollywood for a short time as an actor but quickly realizes that no one understands how to accurately portray Indians on screen. The non-existent presence of authentic Indians in motion pictures is not lost on him and he informs us at the book’s closing that he is planning on opening an Indian Employment Agency to help other Native Americans find work.  However, his ultimate goal was to help other Indians make the transition from the plains to the white man’s world. Their world is foreign to us but Standing Bear knows this and his purpose here is to help you understand and appreciate the Sioux. On February 20, 1939, Standing Bear died from complications of the flue while filming ‘Union Pacific’ directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959).  He was seventy-years old and had lived an extraordinary life as described within the pages of this book.

ASIN: B074TP7THN

Biographies