I decided to change gears and take a look at the former Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD) who is known for the classic work ‘Meditations’. During his reign he earned a reputation as a stoic philosopher and this book is a collection of 12 of his works taken throughout his life that highlight some of his most inner thoughts with regards to his fellow man, life and the gods. This translation was completed by the late classical scholar George Long (1800-1879). I cannot comment on the accuracy compared to the original work but the book did receive high ratings by other readers. Putting that aside, I did find the book to be a very thought provoking read and a nice break from my usual regimen of historical non-fiction.
The book is short, slightly over one hundred pages, but contained within it, are very deep thoughts by an emperor seeking to improve himself and those around him. As I read through the book, I found many of his observations about humans to be thought-provoking. Some might argue that the material is dated and in today’s world, there is much about life that is far different. That is a valid point but surprisingly, I felt that much of what he says can be applied to life even today. By no means is it the ultimate guide on how to live life. Instead, it is a collection of the personal thoughts of a man who once controlled one of the largest empires in history.
The language might throw some readers off a little. It is English but not standard current day English that one would expect. In fact, there are words that are either no longer used or found in older version of the English language. In spite of that, I was able to read the book with no problem and the points that he makes will not be lost on the reader. His thoughts never ramble and he presents them with clarity making it easy for the reader to follow along. At the time it was written, I do not know if Aurelius could have imagined that his words would have survived to the year 2019.
His words are wise and almost prophetic, and they showcase his intellect and ability for introspection, an action which all of us take at different times in our lives. The result here is a new found wisdom that can be used as we mature in life and come to understand our place in the world. And while there are no words here that are groundbreaking, I do believe that anyone who decides to read this book can take something from it.
Aviation is truly one of the world’s modern marvels. To say that it has made the world smaller is an understatement. There is something mystical and surreal about moving through the air at 39,000 feet, at speeds in excess of 500mph. Every flyer knows that there are inherent dangers when we take to the skies. Pilots are incredibly skilled and make the experience seem like magic to those of us in the cabin. And air travel is safer today that at any point in history but there many tragedies over the years that we have learned from in order to make air travel as safe as possible. Seasoned pilots will tell you that the early days of aviation were quite dangerous and flying literally was like rolling the dice. On January 16, 1942, movie star Carole Lombard (1908-1942) was a passenger on TWA Flight 3, a flight that began in New York and had a final destination of Burbank, California. Most of the trip was routine, but a sudden change of events in Las Vegas, changed the course of history and resulted in one of the deadliest aviation accidents of the 1940s. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed full speed into Mt. Potosi, causing the aircraft to disintegrate upon impact. There were no survivors.
The official cause of the disaster is still a mystery. At the time, flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders did not exist in the form that they do now. The pilot, Wayne Clark Williams and co-pilot Stillman-Morgan Atherton Gillette, took what they knew with them to the grave. For decades, the case remained dormant but author Robert Matzen brings the past back to life in this gripping account of the life of Carole Lombard, her husband and legendary film star William Clark Gable (1901-1960) and the plane crash that shocked a nation. Matzen has visited the crash site which is still littered with debris and other grisly finds. He has reviewed thousand of pages of records including FBI files and official investigation records by the Civil Aeronautics Board (1939-1985). And what he has compiled is a thorough investigative report into the accident that rob Hollywood of one of its brightest stars.
Flight 3’s demise of the crux of the book but the author also tells the story of Lombard’s life, from her humble beginnings in Fort Wayne, Indiana to her success in Hollywood during the golden age. Matzen leaves no stone unearthed, revealing the very private side of Lombard’s life, replete with romances, tragedy and and a near-death experience many years before she met her fate on Flight 3. The author captures the aura of the golden era in Hollywood, a time unlike anything the world had seen previously. Some of the greatest names in Hollywood history appear in the story, coming into and going out of Lombard’s life as she moves through Hollywood’s upper echelon. She eventually crossed paths with Gable and Matzen provides an inside look into their marriage and the changes that took place in their lives after tying the knot. Hollywood has dark secrets and stars sometimes come with many shortcomings carefully guarded behind a thoughtfully crafted facade. Matzen looks past that showing the very human side of both. The result is an honest an intimate portrait of two stars at the height of their careers whose relationship was on borrowed time.
Matzen wrote the book in a slightly different style. In the first half of the book, the chapters alternate between Lombard’s life story and the reaction to the crash itself. Towards the middle of the book, the seam is merged and the story moves forward as emergency personnel formulate plans to visit the crash site and recover what they can. Readers sensitive to graphic descriptions of accidents may find this part of the book difficult to get through. The accident was nothing short of devastating. As Matzen explained the violent nature of the collision, I felt a chill go down my spine. I was also speechless as I read descriptions of the carnage that awaited personnel as they made their way to the crash site. At the end of the book, there are photographs included which help to give the reader a visual image of the crash site. Pictures sometimes do speak a thousand words.
Clark Gable remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars. But what the public did not see was the struggle he waged in the wake of his wife’s death. Matzen discusses Gable’s life after the crash and up until his death in 1960 at the age of fifty-nine. Apart from the crash, this part of the book is also a tough read. We witness the emotional and physical descent by Gable as he struggles to move on in life following the loss of Lombard whom he affectionately referred to as “Ma”. His sorrow is strong and his life was never the same again. The author focuses on his emotional state and his surprising decision to enlist in the military during World War II. Gable is a man apart and fans of the late star will find this part of the book to be equally heartbreaking.
As the book moves towards its conclusion, the author gives us yet another surprise with regards to the crash of Flight 2793 on November 8, 2007. The Cessna was a T182t single-engine aircraft piloted by Civil Air Patrol. Col. Ed Lewis and copilot Dion DeCamp. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed directly into the same mountain as TWA Flight 3. The coincidence was beyond creepy but did both flights crash for the same reason? And why did two planes, piloted by experienced captains slam full speed into a mountain that by all accounts, should have been seen? Matzen provides a very thorough and likely explanation for Flight 3’s crash and reveals interesting facts about 2793’s final moments. Perhaps the final truth will never be known about each flight but we do have an abundance of information about both crashes. They each highlight the dangers of flying at night without proper visual aids and pre-flight planning. May the souls on board of each rest in peace.
Before reading this book, I was not aware of Flight 3 and the sad ending to the life of Carole Lombard. The book came as a recommendation on Amazon and for some reason the cover pulled me in. It was truly a fascinating read and the pace of the book never let up. Matzen has done an outstanding job. Highly recommended.
I am honored to announce that the Free Thinking Bibliophile has been nominated for the Liebster Award. Thank you to Rebecca at Fake Flamenco for her nomination. And a very big thank you to my followers for your support and feedback as this blog has grown. When I started the blog in the summer of 2015, I had no idea it would become such a big part of my life. It has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
The Liebster Award helps good blogs get deserved attention so more followers discover them. Lieb is the German word for kind, nice, or good. If you are unfamiliar with the Liebster Award, you can read more about it here.
Here’s an excerpt of my letter to Rebecca of Fake Flamenco:
I am honored to be nominated for the Liebster Award. Thank you for the nomination. I proudly accept it with deep appreciation and happiness. Per your request, here are three facts about me:
Besides blogging, I am also an IT Administrator and when I’m not blogging, building, fixing and maintaining servers and computers.
I’m left handed
I love to travel.
Here are my answers to the three questions that you have asked:
Which book have you read more than twice? Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”
What is your favorite meal? Old-fashioned Dominican cuisine of rotisserie chicken with beans, rice and freshly fried tostones (plantains).
Where in the world would you like to travel? Having seen some of the UK, the next place I would like to see is Scotland.
Today’s post will be quite different and discuss a subject that many of us are loathe to speak of let alone contemplate . This afternoon I received the unfortunate news that a friend and former co-worker died yesterday after a short and aggressive illness. And although the two of us hadn’t seen each other in a few years, we did keep in touch and her death has been usually tough to handle. When she came to the office in 2003, she was originally hired as temporary labor. But the boss liked her so much that he offered a full-time position and for thirteen years she served as the office manager. When she left the office in 2016, it was a tough moment to get through but I understood that employer and employee relationships do not always have a happy ending. Several weeks ago, she called me randomly at a new job because she needed some advice with regards to Microsoft Office. On the phone, she sounded full of life and excited about her new job. I had no idea at the time that she was sick and about to have a battle that would eventually take her life. Her death hits home as I get older and think of my own mortality. I have become aware of the fact that my time on this earth is finite and that no one is promised tomorrow.
The news of her death opened the floodgates of memories and I instantly recalled when she first came over to introduce herself. We instantly hit it off and remained friends ever since. I vividly recall the time I helped her move after a fire destroyed her previous apartment. I vividly recall when she phoned me at 2:00 a.m. on the night of her sister’s death. I vividly recall her mother’s passing and attending the wake with my own mother. And I vividly recall how she went to bat for anyone close to her if she felt that they were being taken advantage of. She was an extremely welcoming person but could be sharp as a knife when needed. And if you looked at her, you would have no idea that she was of Puerto Rican descent. She loved her Salsa music, Puerto Rican cuisine and her beloved Motown music which she played all the time in the office. When I think of her I can truly say that the good times far outweigh the bad.
Sometimes we never know why people come into our lives until they are gone. When I look back on our friendship, she helped me grow in many ways and was always a voice of reason when I had questions about many things in life. She could be tough at times but she was always genuine. And when she loved you as a person, you certainly knew it from the big smile and hug that she greeted you with.
During our last conversation, before she hung up, she said to me “I have to go, I’m at the new job, but we’ll catch up soon”. We never got the chance to make that happen. But I do have many great memories of Christmas parties, bowling, office lunches and tons of laughs as we passed the time at the office. She made sure I knew all of her immediate family, some of whom are also deceased. Some of our friends are in our lives every day and others may drift away but when we see each other, it is as if nothing has happened. No matter how much time had passed since we last saw each other, we were still close as ever and there was nothing I would not do if she needed it. And I knew that I could count on her for the same. Tonight, as I think of her and how she affected many lives, I can take some solace in the fact that she is no longer in pain and may she truly sleep in peace. Godspeed Miriam, Godspeed.
To my subscribers, cherish those around you while you can because while death is certain, life is not. Hug each other, talk to each other and understand each other. Love is tough and it forces us to become vulnerable. But it is that vulnerability that teaches us what true love and friendship really is. And to have a friend, you first have to be a friend. We do not know when our friends will leave us, but until they do, enjoy each moment and be sure to let them know that you are there for them but most importantly that yes, you do love them. For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (Selected from the writings of John Donne (1572-1631)).
In loving memory of Miriam Irina Burgos (1958-2019). Vaya con dios amiga.
I 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.
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.
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.
Theranos 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.
Social media is literally a modern marvel that has engulfed in its clutches, billions of people around the world. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram remain the top three platforms for those wishing to step inside the world of “social networking”. Additionally, other platforms such as LinkedIn cater to specific audiences who do not belong to the mainstream sites. Even this blog is considered a form of social media. Regardless of what we use, social media has changed the way the world works and that trend will only continue. But what if we all decided to delete our accounts? What would happen and how would our lives change? Jaron Lanier is a silicon valley insider who once helped engineer the very social media platforms billions of people use daily. In this direct to the point book, he makes it clear that he believes we should all delete our social media accounts right now.
At first glance, it will seem to many that the author has clearly lost his mind and there is no way they would give up any of their social media accounts. But Lanier is no fool and has come prepared to do psychological battle. And has he moves through his argument, based on what he calls the Behavior of Users Modified and Made into and Empire, known simply as the BUMMER model. The acronym is undoubtedly unique to the subject at hand but as Lanier takes us through each part of the model, we are able to see how it relates to our use of social media and the players that control the platforms that we cannot stop using.
The Bummer model is the core of his argument but what is paramount is how social media is changing us and why we are not changing social media. I firmly believe that all of us are either guilty of or know someone who displays the very things Lanier points out in the book. For many of us it is hard to imagine life without social media and today’s generation of young adults have grown up with it since birth. For many of them, it will be an unfathomable thought to have no social media existence at all. But if Lanier is correct and I think there is much truth to his words, social media will continue to change us unless we take the power back from the social media companies and place it our hands. Only then, as Lanier says, will companies be forced to become competitive and offer diversity in platforms that accommodates what the users want and not what tech giants want. But the first step is to delete our accounts.
Some of us have no social media and see no reason to start now. And while it is part of the world we live in, there is no requirement that anyone has to use it. It is truly up to our discretion. But with anything else that develops habit and sometimes addiction, we must ask ourselves what value does it truly bring to our lives and is it necessary to begin with? Once we answer these questions, we can then control the influence social media has on us and where we would like to see it go in the future. Until then, the BUMMER model continues to thrive, claiming new loyal subscribers everyday. Lanier may seem like a lone wolf but he’s a wolf that fears nothing and wants you to have the same fearlessness and rethink your usage of social media platforms.
The images that were published in Jet magazine of Emmett Till’s (1941-1955) mutilated corpse still cause readers and viewers on the internet to recoil in shock. With their graphic detail and macabre detail, the pictures of Till’s face become burned into the memory of anyone who has seen them. The story of Till’s murder at fourteen years of age because of allegedly “whistling or cat-calling a white woman” is a dark reminder of the ugly history of racism that prevailed in American culture. Today such a crime is unimaginable, but in 1955 it was not only very real but also encouraged by rabid racists with a vendetta against people of color. In January, 2017, Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman at the center of the Till story, allegedly admitted that her claims were false. Regardless, the mere thought of such an act was more than enough to get a Black American lynched at that time and Till became one more victim on a long list of senseless murders carried out by maniacs emboldened by racist ideology. Till’s murder was creepy, appalling and downright shocking but another part of the story which is just as dark is the execution of his father Louis Till (1922-1944) by the Unites States Army in Civitavecchia, Italy, after being convicted of being part of the rape of two Italian women, one of whom was murdered during the crime. Till never gave any statements about his innocence nor did he confirm his guilt but the army had what it needed and he fell victim to the hangman’s noose taking any facts with him to his grave. After his death, details of the execution were withheld from his widow Mamie but were revealed ten years later. His final resting place is at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, France.
The thought that both father and son were executed because of perceived slights against white women is chilling and it is impossible to escape the aspect of race. Two young Black men accused of having committed crimes against white females could not and would not be permitted to survive. Their deaths are reminder of the misguided belief of the pursuit and dominance over white females by black males. Sadly, it is a misconception that still exist to this day. But what exactly did happen in Civitavecchia? Undoubtedly a crime did take place and most likely by the hands of U.S. servicemen. But there is always the requirement of conclusive evidence and in this case, there is much we do not know. But author John Edgar Wideman decided to take another look at Till’s case, even requesting and receiving a copy of the military’s case file by way of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the book he does not include the entire file and moves between excerpts of it and his own story which is recounts as he writes about Till. The style of writing might confuse some readers but I believe Wideman presented it that way because of the parallels between his life and Emmett’s. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Wideman is presenting to the reader an idea of the struggle of many Black American families during a time of fierce racial prejudice. But the focus of the book is on Louis Till and it is here that I think it falls just short of hitting its mark.
Wideman’s personal story is highly interesting and he does a great job of showing the plight of Black families in America during his and Emmett Till’s childhood. But I think that more of the Louis Till file should have been presented. He concludes that he could not save Till from either prison or the hangman but from the portions of the file that he does include in the book, it is clear that reasonable doubt exist as to whether Till actually did the crime. And this is where the book should have reached its pinnacle. But this does not happen and the book’s slightly abrupt ending makes the reader yearn for more or some sort of closure. Sadly it never comes. And we are left to wonder about what actions, if any, Till did take on that night. In Wideman’s defense, the Army’s file had no index and was disorganized. I would not be surprised if some portions of it were removed or lost over the passage of time, making a definite conclusion beyond the reach of anyone today. None of figures involved with the case are alive preventing us from having the benefit of spoken words from those that were there. We are left to rely on the case file and our own beliefs. But I think one area where Wideman may have succeeded is igniting interest in Louis Till’s case in those that have read this book. I believe that there is more the Till’s case than we currently know and some day, another independent investigator may uncover the truth about his conviction and execution.
The book is a good read and just enough to get an idea of what did happen to Louis Till. But I believe it could have been much more effective with the inclusion of more of the file and some sort of definite conclusion even if it were the author’s belief. I do not know if Wideman will publish another book on the file but time will tell. For those looking to know more about Till’s sad and tragic life, this is a good resource to have.
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.
Fourteen years have passed since the United States military invaded the nation of Iraq and deposed its former ruler Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush had declared Iraq America’s number one enemy and vowed to remove Hussein from power. Hussein fled but was captured in December, 1993 and eventually executed for his crimes against his own people. For many Iraqis and Americans, his death was long overdue and they bid farewell to one of history’s worst dictators. Critics of the war remain and remind us that our military is still in Iraq and no clear permanent solution to establish true democracy is in place. The war is as controversial as those that precede it. But for the men and women that served in the war, their stories are often unnoticed. However in this phenomenal story, Evan Wright brings their story to light for the world to see what warfare was like for thousands of troops. In March, 2003, he accompanied the First Reconnaissance Battalion as the invasion begins. The group becomes known as First Recon and is tasked with clearing town after town until the Iraqi army capitulates. Baghdad eventually falls, Hussein escapes and the marines have done their job for the time being. America celebrates and Bush stands stoically as the armed forces once again succeed. The infantry soldiers return to civilian life or choose to remain enlisted. Their stories fade in time and their names are often never heard of by the mainstream public. But just who are these brave souls and why do they voluntarily put their lives on the line? Wright explores this and more in the book that became a New York Times Bestseller and inspired the HBO hit series of the same name.
I forewarn those readers looking for a feel good story to stop before they purchase the book. There is no glorification of war in this story, this is the life of a grunt and all of the ugliness that comes with it. The Marines are quite young, most of them under twenty-five years of age. But they are hardened and they are seasoned with one command, to kill whatever is hostile. Readers that dislike profanity or crude talk might do well to prepare ahead of time for the dialogue contained within the pages of the book. They’re Marines in a foreign land embroiled in a deadly conflict. Pleasantries sometimes go out of the window. To Iraqi troops and foreigners who have come to Iraq to fight the Americans, the Marines are a mass of invaders and nothing more. But as we travel with the group next to Wright, we learn their stories and talk to each man to get his view on the war and his own life. Their stories are fascinating and as we get to know them, we come to like them more and more and nervously wait until each battle is over, hoping that there have been no casualties. Sadly, there are casualties in the book but that is a part of war.
The saying that war is hell is entirely appropriate throughout the book. As I read through it I found myself having enormous empathy for the Iraqi civilians that the group encounters. Some of them are severely or fatally wounded and others are mentally unbalanced because of the sudden invasion. Their loved ones, land and animals are destroyed by American weapons but yet they truly believe in the removal of Saddam. Their ability to continue even in the face of crippling adversity is beyond admirable. The deaths of the civilians and their deplorable conditions affect the Marines and we see how each one wages his own personal battle knowing that his actions and those of his fellow soldiers have permanent effects on their lives. Sgt. Brad Colbert is the most recognizable and plays a prominent role in the book. In him particularly, Jung’s concept of the duality of man is put on display. He is joined by other Marines whom we meet one by one as the story progresses.
If he were alive today, I think Gustav Hasford (1947-1993) would be proud to read Generation Kill. In fact, there are times in the book where I am reminded of his classic The Short Timers, the book that served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s (1928-1999) Full Metal Jacket (Warner Brothers, 1987). Cowboy, Joker and Animal Mother would be in awe of Espera, Gunny and Manimal. The war is different but the Marines are the tough lot of characters they are expected to be. The battle scenes in Nasiriyah, Al Gharraf and Al Muwaffaqiyah are vivid and pull the reader in refusing to let go. I have never been in active combat but as I read the book, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up each time the platoon reaches a new destination, unknown to them and potentially a kill zone. Incredibly, the men perform as if on cue even as they are under heavy fire. I cannot say enough about the courage they display in this book. And regardless of personal opinions readers may have about the war, the efforts of the soldiers and conditions under which they exist, deserved our full support and understanding. Wright has done a great service to these Marines and the many others that have proudly put their lives on the line in defense of the United States.