Category: <span>General Reading</span>

GracieThis past April marked 108 years since the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southhampton to New York City.   By the time the SS Carpathia had arrived to rescue passengers, the Titanic had sank and more than 1,500 passengers lost their lives. It is still one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history.  Survivors of the Titanic have given interviews and written their memoirs. Among them was Colonel Archibald Gracie IV (1858-1912).  On the night of April 14, 1912, Gracie was relaxing in his cabin when shortly before midnight, he was jarred awake and soon realized that the ship’s engines had stopped.  Unaware that the ship had suffered a fatal blow, considerable time passes before the shocking reality begins to settle in.  But when it did, Gracie went into action and this is his account of what he saw that night and what he did as the RMS Titanic met its doomed fate. 

This book was published in 1913 but Gracie never saw the reception it received. He died on December 4, 1912 due to the injuries he suffered on the night of the collision, making him one of the earliest Titanic survivors to died in the wake of the tragedy.  As the story begins, Gracie recalls what he was doing in the days before April 14.  What he discloses gives no indications that anything was amiss with the ship.  Passengers are passing the time with a number of activities.  But on the night of April 14, all of that changed.  Upon impact, Gracie relatees that:

“My stateroom was an outside one on Deck C on the starboard quarter, somewhat abaft amidships. It was No. C, 51. I was enjoying a good night’s rest when I was aroused by a sudden shock and noise forward on the starboard side, which I at once concluded was caused by a collision, with some other ship perhaps.”

It was a collision indeed, but one that none of the passengers could have ever imagined.  Soon it became clear to passengers that the Titanic was in trouble and as the ship began to take on water, urgency creeped in. But even in the face of death, the majority of passengers remained relatively calm.  However, ominous signs were soon upon them and forty-five minutes later, Captain Edward J. Smith (1850-1912) gave the order to lower the life boats.  Gracie provides a keen observation about the distress signals launched by the Titanic’s crew:

“I was on the Boat Deck when I saw and heard the first rocket, and then successive ones sent up at intervals thereafter. These were followed by the Morse red and blue lights, which were signalled near by us on the deck where we were; but we looked in vain for any response. These signals of distress indicated to every one of us that the ship’s fate was sealed, and that she might sink before the lifeboats could be lowered.”

Soon the loading of passengers into the lifeboats was underway and Gracie provides insight as to how the process took place and his own efforts in assisting Second Officer Charles Lightoller (1874-1952).  Gracie did not initially get into a boat himself but insted remained on the ship where he also makes acquaintenance with victim James Clinch Smith. His description of the ship’s final moments made the hair stand up on my neck. And it was nothing short of miraculous that Gracie eventually ended up in a lifeboat himself.  And it was not until he was board the Carpathia that he realized the full extent of his injuries and his ordeal.

As a first-hand witness, Gracie found himself in a position to debunk rumors about the night’s events, in particular whether an explosion took place, if the the ship broke in tow and whether some officers shot themselves.  Conspiracy theories may not believe what he has to say but as far as a I know, Gracie’s account stands as credible to this day.  And there is no doubt that he was a passenger and a survivor.  However, there is more to the book than just his memories and clarifying rumors.  What follows in the second half of the book is a solid discussion of the events that took place on other lifeboats taht were dispatched by the White Star Line’s crew.  Also included are statements provided by survivors to eithe the British of American inquiries and in appearances such as that of Lightoller, testimony is sampled from both.  It is an interesting read and provides insight into what the survivors were contending with as they drifted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no rescue ship in sight.

Gracie is adamant in his belief that the crew of the White Star performed admirably that night.  He expresses praise for Officer Lightoller and others who rose to the challenge that night. However, he does have an interesting observation about Edward J. Smith and also provides a statement by retired Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) that was submitted to the Evening Post in which the retired Navy officer shares his views on J. Bruce Ismay (1862-1937. Readers may recall that Ismay was Managing Director of the White Star Line at the time of the disaster and that he survived the disaster after getting into the last lifeboat that left the ship.  Mahan minces no words about his feelings on Ismay’s actions that night but ultimately, it is up to the reader whether Ismay deserves the criticism leveled against him.

The book is quite short but still a fascinating yet tragic read.  The most haunting moments are undoubtedly the Titanic’s final moments as passengers still aboard the ship realized the pending doom before them.  All hope for them was lost and those who managed to find a lifeboat could only watch in disbelief and horror and what was occurring before their eyes. It is a memory that none of them would ever forget. Their memories which have been recorded for history are reminders of one of the darkest nights in maritime history.  Gracie’s story here has stood the test of time as a key addition to the wealth of material regarding the RMS Titanic.


General Reading

hiramYesterday America once again celebrated its independence from British Colonialism.  Cookouts and fireworks were held all over the country as people sought out even the smallest amount of happiness during what are surreal times.  The Coronavirus Pandemic and murder of George Floyd (1973-2020) have placed America at a crossroads.  As a nation we are forced with both an invisible enemy that spreads from person to person and a highly visible one which has festered in our nation for far too long.  But what is paramount to remember is that America has faced these enemies before but what we do moving forward will truly define what type of country we wish to have.  I found this book on Amazon while browsing through a list of daily recommendations and the cover caught my attention instantly. I do confess that did not have the slightest idea who the person on the cover was and why he is important in American history.  All that changed as I opened the pages of this book and learned a history lesson that I have never seen in any textbook.

As a person of color, I am sometimes placed in a tough position.  I love America deeply but I am sometimes ashamed of the image that we project to the rest of the world. Domestically, we all know of and may have even been to the region simply called “the South”.  For black men and women, the southeastern part of the United States was nothing short of hell on earth.  And the enslavement of people of color remains entrench in America’s dark past.  In the wake of the Civil War, the Republican Party had embarked on a path to eradicate all traces of the Confederacy and rebuild the South from scratch as a part of the Union in which freedom, liberty and equality held true for all.  In the state of Georgia, a Radical Republican named George W. Ashburn (1814-1868) had pushed for the reconstruction of Georgia and firmly believed that African-Americans were human beings and should have a part to play in a new society.  His actions and beliefs enraged former Confederate officers, slave owners and racists still seething from losing the war. On the night of March 31, 1868, several hooded men burst into the lodgings of Hannah Flournoy where Ashburn was staying and shot the politicaan to death.  The group that carried out the murder became known to the public as the Ku Klux Klan.

Founded in 1865 by a group of disgruntled Confederate soldiers in Pulaski, Tennessee, the Ku Klux Klan grew into a widespread organization that terrorized white and black citizens through horrific acts of violence. Their savagery however, was always saved for Black Americans and the atrocities committed by the Klan’s upon people of color is too extensive and disturbing to discuss here.  In Washington, D.C., President Ulysses G. Grant (1822-1886) took notice and the government created its plan to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. The division tasked with such a daunting objective was the Secret Service under the direction of officer and Second Chief Hiram C. Whitley (1834-1919), whom author Charles Lane calls Freedom’s Detective.

As I started the book, I kept asking myself how a figure like Whitley has gone unmentioned in history books?  It was clear that he was not a major political figure or military leader but after starting the book, I soon realized why he is important and his story should be known.  To be clear, Whitley will most likely never be seen as a “social justice warrior”. In fact, an incident in Kansas involving an abolitionist named John Doy initially put me on the defensive regarding his character.  However, I pressed on and as the story develops Whitley is transformed from deviant into a law enforcement officer willing to fight fire with fire.  Some readers may be surprised that he was a Secret Service agent and not a typical law enforcement officer.  The reason is that upon its creation, the Secret Service was mainly tasked with cracking down on counterfeit money which was a highly lucrative business.  And as Lane points out towards the end of the book, it was not until the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, that the Secret Service was assigned to protect the president.  Prior to this, the agency had its primary area of investigation but was also asked to take action in other areas which are thoroughly explored in the book.  And interestingly, there is a surprising fact about its  creation that many of us might not be aware of.

Following Ashburn’s murder, Whitley is dispatched to Georgia to bring the assailants to justice. And what he accomplished marked the first successful infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan and proved to Washington that the organization was far from a myth as some right wing southern newspapers had proclaimed.  By no means was the task easy and there were many who still sympathized with the South and had no desire to see African-Americans on equal footing. However, Whitley was undeterred and believed in breaking down the Klan for good.  But he was not without his faults, some of which were exposed during the trial of New York City counterfeiter Joshua D. Miner.   The arrest of the highly respected Miner and the trial that ensued could have changed the course of history had the old veteran Whitley not been quick on his feet and armed with the support of Washington which was ramping up its war on the Klan.

On June 7, 1871, Senator John Pool produced witnesses from North Carolina to testify before the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States.  The committee became known informally as the Ku Klux Committee and heard from witnesses, stories of the atrocities being committed in the south.  Washington was paying close attention as Whitley was joined by fresh faces including Joseph G. Hester, whose own past was just murky as Whitley’s. However, Hester figures prominently in the mission to defeat the Klan and Whitley’s agents dealt staggering blows to the Klan as part of their goal to see its extinction.  But as readers will learn in the book, silencing the Klan was as much a political issue as it was a social issue.  And what I learned caused me to hang my head in shame and disbelief.

You might be wondering, if the government had begun to eradicate the Klan, why did it not go all the way? I began to ask myself the same question and Lane provides the answer to it.  What should have been the moment for the U.S. Government to end the Klan once and for all, turned into a moment of the highest lack of foresight. And one result is that it paved the way for Jim Crow and the battle for civil rights that continues to this day.   Whitley, Hester and the other agents who fought valiantly against the Klan began to see the writing on the wall.  And the recapturing of power by Southern Democrats sealed the Radical Republicans’ fate and their mission to bring true equality to all people in the United States.

Towards the end of the book as the Klan fades away from Washington’s concern and Democrats take control of Washington, Whitley finds himself embroiled in a mind-boggling fiasco that left me speechless. The events surrounding Columbus Alexander felt as if I were reading an eerie premonition of what we now refer to as Watergate.  I can only imagine how many investigations would take place and how many hearings would be held if a Secret Service chief attempted what Whitley concocts.  The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction applies all throughout this book. And if you need more confirmation, play close attention to Whitley’s actions regarding James Ivins, the stepson of former Attorney General George H. Williams (1823-1910).  I cannot put into words just how mind-boggling this part of the book is.

Hiram C. Whitley was certainly an unorthodox figure and while he was far from a beacon of equality, he did lead the way in the battle against the Ku Klux Klan and had his vision prevailed, the organization might have met its demise as early as the 1870s.  But the rise in power of the Southern Democrats and the reluctance of Liberal Republicans to go after the Klan, allowed the South to reincorporate its power and for black people, life would become more burensome than any could have predicted.  Readers will be left with many what if questions regarding the aftermath of the Civil War. I firmly believe that every American should read this book.  And if all men are created equal, we have to understand where we went wrong as a nation so that we can actually do what is needed to correct it.  The past is always prologue. Highly recommended.


General Reading

Seven ClassicsI decided to change gears and take a look at a book that had been on my to-read list for quite some time.   The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China are  some of the most widely studied writings in regards to conventional and unconventional warfare.  Putting their age aside, the texts provide the reader with an inside look into the strategies behind armed conflict in Ancient China.  And what is contained within the pages of this collection of brilliant military strategy, are dozens of lessons that military commanders can still use even today.

As the book opens, the authors provide us with a brief description which explains how the texts can be interpreted:

Canonized in 1080 ce under the reign of Emperor Shenzong of the Song (r. 1067–1085 ce), this collection of texts is as much a representation of scholarly activity in forming a military tradition as it is a matter of practical concern.

I think the statement is correct but also that there is far more to the texts which will be learned by readers.  But what exactly are the Seven Military Classics?  They are composed of the following works:

  1. Taigong’s Six Secret Teachings, in which King Wen of Zhou has a discussion with Taigong after meeting the strategist who according to Scribe Bian, was sent from heaven to help Zhou run his country.
  2. Methods of Sima which begins by focusing on benevolence and righteousness, two critical components of a peaceful kingdom.
  3. Sun Tzu’s Art of War which is by far the most recognized and referenced manual of all seven classics.  This book is by far what many readers will be anxious to get to if they have not already studied Szu’s words.
  4. Wuzi in which Wu Qi meets with Marquess Wen of Wei to discuss military strategy.
  5. Wei Liazo in which King Hui of Liang meets with Wei Liaozi to understand discipline, virtue, battle formation and the securing of a city.
  6. Three Strategies of Huan Shigong which focus on the upper, middle and lower strategies of warfare.
  7. Questions and Replies between Emperor Taizong of Tang and General Li Jing.

The seven classics do differ slightly in the approach that each take to the issues at hand  but the common theme is warfare.  Public administration is also given high focus and more than one book discusses the importance of ruling with benevolence and the support of the people.  But make no mistakes, these books are military strategy galore, covering fortifications, weapons, troop numbers, battlefield positions and the organization of a disciplined and effective army.   Of course, the weapons and chariots referred to in the texts are beyond outdated however what is discussed about the power of a general and the movement of troops is still relevant.  And in his eternal widsom, Wu Qi had this to say about war:

“There are five causes of war: the pursuit of fame, wealth, revenge, rebellion, and famine. There are also five types of army: strong, violent, determined, righteous, and treacherous.”

With the exception of the Art of War, the texts explore these topics in clear and accurate detail.  Similar to a fly on the wall, we are privy to the discussions between rulers and sages as they discuss the ruling of a nation and the concept of war which is an unavoidable event in the future to come.  When it comes to combat itself, without question, the Art of War is the cream of the crop.  It is the manual for engaging the enemy and waging a successful military campaign.  And out of the seven classics, it holds the biggest place in maintstream culture and is by far the most quoted.  And while it is a gem in its own right, the other classics offer just as much valuable and insightful information for leaders of nations and military commanders.

It is hard not to understate the genius behind these seven classics. And although thousnds of years have passed since they were written, the material is still captivating.  And if I were the leader of a nation, I would certainly refer to this book on occasion.  There are many lessons to be learned if readers are willing to invest their time and attention.  Today, conventional warfare is not seen on the scale that it was in centuries prior.  But there is no telling as to when the next conflagration will erupt.  But if it does, I am sure that the lessons contained in the seven classics will be on the minds of the military figures tasked with achieving victory.

“All warfare is based on deception”. – Sun  Tzu (544 – 496 B.C.)


General Reading

evanzz1The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm X, shed light on many dark secrets tsurrounding the assassination of Malcolm X (1925-1965) on February 21, 1965 as he began a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in Harlem, New York.   In the wake of the murder, three men were convicted for the crime.  Talmadge Hayer and Norman 3X Butler (now known as Muhammad Abdul Aziz) are still alive but Thomas 15X Johnson died in August, 2009. It is known today that Hayer was one of five assassins who executed Malcolm X. Of the four, high focus was paid on the late Ali Mustafa Shabazz, known then as William X/William Bradley.  In his affidavit provided to attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995), Hayer claimed that “William had the shotgun”.  In spite of the new revelations in 1970, Malcolm’s murder is considered a solved homicide.  The Netflix series revealed a wealth of information as did Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of ReinventionHowever, the examination of the murder presented here by author Karl Evanzz, is a gem of its own.  

Surprisingly, the book is not solely focused on Malcolm’s murder. In fact, the actual assassination is addressed at the beginning and end of the book.  But in between, Evanzz discusses a range of topics related not only to Malcolm’s murder but other events that took place during the turbulent 1960s.  What can be gleaned from the book is that a crucial part of the plot to kill Malcolm might have been related to political change in the continent of Africa.  As I read through the book, I thought to myself that this part of the discussion is almost always left out. And once readers have digested the full magnitude of what Malcolm had been planning at the time of his death, the assassination will be seen in a much different light.   

In the Netlix series, the tension and eventual falling out between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) is discussed extensively.  However, there were somethings that were not included in the final editing process.  Evanzz provides a significant amount of information on the inner workings of the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) and Muhammad’s personal life including the legal issues of at least two of his sons. And for readers interested in the history of the NOI, Evanzz revisits examines the story of the once elusive Wallace Fard Muhammad (1877-1934), the prophet who established the Temple of Islam, the forerunner to the NOI.  Fard was never seen again after 1934 and we can only guess as to what happened to him.   In the wake of his death, Elijah Muhammad established himself as the unquestioned leader of the NOI.  On the surface, he presented himelf as an all-loving leader fully committed to the well-being of black men and women but below the surface as we see in the book, Muhammad was protecting many dark secrets.  

As I read through the book, I felt that the murder of Malcolm X is really a small part of the full story.  The author did an incredible job of taking the reader back into time to understand how the United States and the world was changing at the time.  Malcolm was without a doubt the NOI’s rising star and heir apparent to Muhammad. But over time the friction between the two developed on account of Muhammad’s personal life which became a hot topic in NOI circles.  The fallout that ensued revealed the bitterness between teacher and former student.  And once the rift develops, a dark cloud is cast over the story as the NOI ramps up its attacks on Malcolm, who realizes that death is coming for him.  But what Malcolm says about who wants him dead threw me for a loop and raised my suspicions about a number of things. Readers familiar with the NOI”s inner circle might blanch when they read through this part. 

I truly cannot say enough good things about this book.  Evanzz looked at the murder for many angles and left no stone unturned.  Secrets emerge regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) COINTEL program, the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Servicess (“BOSSI”) and the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).  And even within the NOI, disturbing facts come to light about life as a follower of Muhammad.  The Netflix series did feature John Ali, who held several different titles in the NOI. What is learned about him in the book just might make some readers stare in belief at the pages in front of them.  Evanzz’s words are beyond sobering and highlight just how deep the division between Malcolm and the nation was.  However, a statement Malcolm makes about the forces he believed were pulling the strings behind the attempts on his life should cause readers to take notice.  If is almost as if Malcolm knew there was a far more sinister plot in the works. In the weeks leading up to his murder, his actions which are retraced here, show a man who knew the end was coming but continued on his path even with a bullseye on his back. 

Marable’s book on Malcolm’s life is far more extensive than what is found here. However, Evanzz did not write a biography and solely focuses on Malcolm’s demise. As a result, the discussion is shorter but also more streamlined.  Regardless, it is a fascinating look into what really was taking place in the weeks leading up the assassination. The book is riveting, informative and also tragic. But it is a great source of information for the last few years of Malcolm’s life.  Good read. 

ISBN-10: 1560250496
ISBN-13: 978-1560250494

General Reading

20200519_212040One of the things that I love about books is that there are so many that I have yet to read.  Many of them will be classics that I will never forget.  I had always been aware of Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) but remained in the dark about this classic book which was published in 1952.  I noticed that I had it on my shelf and decided to see for myself why it remains so highly regarded. Having finished the book, I now understand why Ellison was ahead of his time and why this book is still relevant to this day.

The main character is the invisible man who begins by explaning that he lives in the basement of a building and gets his electricity by tapping into a power source.  We are not sure why he is in the basement or for how long he will be there.  He has very keen observations about society and its inablity to see him for the man that he is.  It is clear that he has a story to tell and to do that he first tells us the story of his time in college.  The short story about the incidents involving Mr. Norton set the course for the rest of the book and each development occurs almost like a chain reaction.

One day he is assigned to drive a trustee around the campus, however Mr. Norton as we soon learn,  is not interested in the campus as he helped build the university.  Mr. Norton desires new sights and the two take a detour on the back roads outside of school grounds.  They soon encounter a farmer named Trueblood who has been ostracized by the larger community for an act which might make some readers recoil.  Mr. Norton is mesmerized by his story but the tale leaves him physically exhausted and he asks for whiskey to revive his spirits.   The duo continue to drive on eventually stopping at the Golden Day, a watering hole patronized by black students and others nearby.  However the bartender refuses to let the whiskey leave the premises and Mr. Norton is brought inside to be revived.  Once inside, he comes to and witnesses complete mayhem before once again becoming physically depleted. He is taken upstairs where he rests on a bed while a character names Supercargo tends to his condition.  Mr. Norton soon comes around and engages Supercargo in a discussion.  Towards the end, Supercargo turns slightly hostile and the pair leave hastily with Mr. Norton not exactly in the best condition. Upon arriving back at the school,  the invisible man is forced to tell Dr. Herbert Bledsoe that Mr. Norton had an incident.   Bledsoe is furious and although Norton is forgiving, Bledsoe tells him that he will give him a chance by sending him to New York to earn money for the following year’s school fees but that he is to leave school grounds in two days.

Ashe departs for New York,  the invisible man finds himself on the bus with Supercargo and another passenger named Crenshaw.  They engage in discussion and we learn that Supercargo is being transferred to Washington D.C. Crenshaw also gets off in Washington.  At first Supercargo seems to be just a rambling character but he gives the following advice which later proves to be accurate:

Come out of the fog, young man. And remember you don’t have to be a complete fool in order to succeed. Play the game, but don’t believe in it — that much you owe yourself. Even if it lands you in a strait jacket or a padded cell. Play the game, but play it your own way — part of the time at least. Play the game, but raise the ante, my boy. Learn how it operates, learn how you operate — I wish I had time to tell you only a fragment. We’re an ass-backward people, though. You might even beat the game. It’s really a very crude affair. Really Pre-Renaissance — and that game has been analyzed, put down in books. But down here they’ve forgotten to take care of the books and that’s your opportunity. You’re hidden right out in the open — that is, you would be if you only realized it. They wouldn’t see you because they don’t expect you to know anything, since they believe they’ve taken care of that.

The invisible man arrives in New York with seven letters given to him by Dr. Bledsoe under the guise of finding a job.  Surprisingly, none of the people whom the letters are addressed to respond. So taking matters into his own hands, he decideds to see the last recipient, Mr. Ellison for himself.  However, Ellison’s son meets with him and in the course of their conversation, he drops a bomb that shatters the invisible man’s whole existence and sets him on the path that takes him to the very place we find him at the beginning of the book.

The invisible man be a country boy but he soon learns the ways of the north and through a shrewd act, lands a job at Liberty Paint in Long Island.  After a series of mishaps at Plant No. 1, he is sent down to the lower levels to work under Lucius Brockway. But a misunderstanding and accident lands the invisible man back in New York City where he meets Mary Rambo who is literally at the right place at the right time.  On a night out, he comes across an elderly black couple being evicted and gives a speech before the angry crowd surrounding the marshalls. His oratorical skills do not go unnoticed as soon he is approached by a mysterious character named Brother Jack who is part of the Brotherhood.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up in speed significantly as he becomes more involved in the movement.

As I read through the second half of the book, I felt a chill go down my spine because although the book was published in the 1950s, the scenes that take place could have very well been written today.   The internal battles in the Brotherhood, brutality by the police, frustrated spouses and people trying to find themselves and sense of purpose form a toxic stew that threatens to consume anyone in its path.   The invisible man is by far the most talented of the Brotherhood and rises to become a hero to the people of Harlem, akin to the late Malcolm X (1925-1965).  However he is no Muslim nor does he seem to be religious at all.  He is simply committed to the Brotherhood and truly believes in what he is doing.  But every hero has an antagonist and in the story here, it is in the form of Ras the Exhorter, an extremist who believes in using violence when needed.  The battles between the Brotherhood and Ras were some of the chilling parts of the book and after the first encounter, it is clear that Ras will come back later in the story to wreak the havoc he so desperately seeks.

The invisible man continues to make a name for himself in-spite of petty jealousies within the organization.  And even when he focuses on the Woman Question while becoming familiar with Brotherood member George’s wife Sybyil,  he is at the top of his game intellectually.  But little by little the facade begins to crumble and the events surrounding Brother Clifton set the ball in motion for the book’s final act.  Clifton’s story is one that has played out across America over the years and some readers will simply feel a sense of digusts.  It is almost as if Ellison predicted these events and the rise of Black Lives Matter.  While I read the part about Brother Clifton, the hair on my neck stood up as I thought about the actions of law enforcement towards people of color.  Further, the response by the Brotherhood and private lecture by Brother Hambro serve as the catalysts that make the main character focus in on the concept of what it truly means to be invisible.

Towards the end of the book as the invisible man is attempting to part ways with Sybil for the night, a series of events occur in Harlem that bring everyting building up in the book to the surface and what transpires next is nothing short of shocking.  But it is critical to understanding the plight of the invisible man.  By the time the book finished, I felt as if I had just stepped off an aircraft on a long journey full of bumps and surprises.  The story is simply breathtaking and a critical look at American society.  And I find it be a testament to Ellison’s genius that his words here can still be applied to modern day America.  Great book. 


General Reading

A big thank you to Rebecca of Fake Flamenco for nominating me for the Liebster Award! I appreciate her choosing Free Thinking Bibliophile for this award. Please take a moment to look through her blog.  When I first started this blog, I was not sure how far it would go or if I even had the time to devote to it.  Nearly five years and hundreds of posts later, I look back on it as one of the best decisions I have ever made. And I would like to extend a big thank you to everyone that has followed its progression.  I hope that everyone is safe and in good health during what are surely strange and scary times.

Rebecca asked all nominees to answer her Fibbing Friday questions. My creative answers:

  1. What event became known as “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”?  Cannon fire after Covid-19 is contained.
  2. What exactly is a duvet?  Proof that you’re not a bachelor in his early 20s.
  3. What was “The Man in the Iron Mask” about?  A couple who took role playing a bit too far.
  4. Divan, Chesterfield, settee, and Davenport are all examples of what? Items that 95% of people couldn’t pick out in a photo.
  5. Why was the Eiffel Tower built?  The French were bored.
  6. The Harry Potter series wasn’t about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard. What was it about?  Testing the stamina of readers.
  7. What was Moby Dick about? A terrible first impression.
  8. What was “The King’s Speech” about?  The right to remain silent.
  9. If you go to a pub and ask for a “black & tan”, exactly what do you get?  Silence and a lot of stares.
  10. What is “shepherd’s pie”? A dessert for sheep.

And Now for The Official Rules Of The Liebster Award 

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:

  1. thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. display the award on your blog — include it in your post and/or display it using a “widget”. (Note: save the image to your computer, then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. answer 11 questions about yourself, provided by the person who nominated you.
  4. provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. nominate 5 – 11 blogs you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note: you can ask the blog owner; not all blogs display this information!)
  6. create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. list these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then:
  8. Inform the people/blogs you nominated them for the Liebster award and provide a link to your post so they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)


Eleven Facts About Gerard of Free Thinking Bibliophile:

1. What makes you smile? Genuine empathy, one of hardest emotions to show.
2. Favorite book as a child? The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
3. Last book you’ve read? I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
4. Favorite spring flower: Tulips
5. Favorite landscape? Natural landscapes, mountain views
6. Favorite view? Mountains near Moab, Utah
7. Analog or digital? Analog mostly with occasional digital.
8. Horse or bicycle? Horse, one of the most magnificent creatures on earth.
9. First non-essential place you’d go after living shut-in for a while?  The movies.
10. Monument you’d like to live in for a weekend? Taj Mahal
11. What musician plays your life soundtrack? Marvin Gaye


I nominate:

Try to Get It 

Book ‘Em, Jan O

The Miniread

People & History

The Historical Diaries

If you’d like to accept the nomination, please answer the some or all of the questions I did above under “11 Facts” or come up with your own list of facts about yourself.  And  also feel free to answer the Fibbing Friday questions as well.



General Reading

Chopra1We hear the word peace often, typically while watching news broadcasts regarding ongoing conficts around the world.  The search for peace remains the ultimate goal of mediators intent on resolving long standing feuds that have claimed lives and destroyed cities.  Cease-fires and treaties are signed by which all parties agree to end hostilities.  However, conflict resolution and geunine peace are two very different concepts.  Many of us seek peace in our lives, away from those who have wronged us or others who remain a source of irritation.  The American pacifist A.J. Muste (1885-1967) believe that there is no way to peace, but instead that peace is the way.   That is the central theme of this book by Deepak Chopra, M.D., who along with brothe Sanjiv, wrote the beautiful memoir Brotherhood Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream. As he explained there, the became a proponent of transcendental meditation and his practice of it, has led to him becoming a world reknown figure whose name is now synonymous with it.  Here, he is focusing on the concept of peace, showing how and why so many of us fail to find it in our lives.

Skeptics might be tempted to write off the book as yet another attempt by a “guru” to tell us to be nice to each other.  Those beliefs are not only misguided but inaccurate.  At no point in the book does Chopra tell us to that peace comes about by simply being nice to each other.  Peace is far more involved than that and if we pay close attention to what he says, the place where it can be found is within. All of us go through life experiencing joyful moments and other times of fear, tragedy an uncertainty.  Peace, along with happiness, are truly what we all crave regardless of our backgrounds. However, out methods to attain each are what ultimately lead us astray and sometimes to our destruction.

To describe this book as eye-opening is an understatement.  There is a profound amount of information to digest which surely will cause many of us to rethink what we knew about peace, not only towards those we meet but within ourselves.  Early in the book, he sets the tone right when he says “the way of Peace isn’t based on religion or morality. It doesn’t ask us to become Saints overnight, or to renounce our feelings of anger or out thirst for Revenge. What you ask for is something new: conscious evolution“.  From that point on it is clear that to fully understand this book, requires the reader to open the mind, clear it and be willing to learrn a new approach to life.  And to set us on the right path, he includes a seven day plan for introducing true peace in our lives.  I have yet to try it but have made a note of it and do believe that it can be beneficial especially in light of the current events in our world.

Chopra makes each point by drawing our attention to the very things which are supposed to result in “peace” such as Iraq War that began in 2003, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and others that have either achieved an outcome devoid of true peace or in other cases, failed to truly find it.  Today, animosity and acts of aggression continue on the Gaza Strip making peace seem like a very distant possibility. But Chopra has hope for all of us and believes that one by one we can change the world simply by the way we live our own lives.  And while you may not believe that to be true, there is certainly nothing wrong with living your own life in true peace.

Religion is also discussed as Chopra frames a very interesting discussion of how it relates to peace.  Those of us who are devout in our beliefs will remain committed to our convictions.  But Chopra is not asking you abandon your faith. He simply wants us to see where religion can sometimes lead us astray as we profound the utmost belief in the system of principles and scriptures we have been taught from a young age.  In essence, religion is neither the cause or the cure.

There were many moments when I had to take a step back and reflect on my own life.  And what I found is that Chopra had provided tools for me to personally understand how I can have peace in my own life.  In particular, there are three concepts that he writes about early that could be seen as pillars for a way of peace: Seva:  Your actions harm no one and benefit everyone, Simran: You remember your true nature and your purpose for being here and Satsang:  You belong in the community of peace and wisdom.  The book contains a far more detailed discussion of each but in their simplest forms, each speaks volumes.

Pain, turmoil and violence are parts of our world.  We do our best to navigate life and avoid them as much as we can.  But simply avoiding them does not automatically give us peace.  Peace is a person process that requires deep introspection and an understanding of ourselves.  Once that happens, we will truly understand that peace is the way.

ISBN-10: 0307339815
ISBN-13: 978-0307339812

General Reading

compton1Compton, California has earned a reputation over the last fifty years as a place where people are tough, life is dangerous and unless you are from there, you stay away.  Gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have proliferated across the city in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States.  In what could rightly be described as a civil war, thousands of black men, women and children have died on the streets of Comptom and in Los Angeles county as gang wars escalated.  In 1888, the City of Comptom had formed its own police department to patrol city limits and at the time of the deadly gang wars erupted, it was pushed to its limit.  Some officers would leave the department for much quieter neighborhoods with lower crime rates.  Others would stay until it was disbanded in 2000.  Among the two most well-known as respected officers were Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd.   The duo have been interviewed numerous times in recent years, expressing their thoughts on Compton, the murder of Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and his alleged killer Orlando Anderson (1974-1998).  However, there is far more to their story than what we have come to learn on screen and here the two join with Lolita Files, whom some may recognize from the A & E multi-part series Who Killed TupacIn the show she is assisting famed attorney Benjamin Crump who takes another look at the murder of the slain rapper.  This is their story about their lives and time in Comptom as part of a police department located in the middle of a war zone.

Those of us who live outside California may find the gang culture to be both mistifying and tragic.  The Crips, who feature prominently throughout the book, have a long past of their own.  The gang’s formation is rightfully captured by Zach Fortier and Derard Barton in I am Raymond Washington: The Authorized Biography About the Original Founder of the Crips, which I highly recommend to readers interested in the development of the Crips.  Brennan and Ladd became intimately familiar with them and other outfits that compose the fifty-five known gangs of Compton. The two were so well known on the streets that Brennan earned the nickname “Blondie” as a result of a song by DJ Quik.  But just how did the two end up in Compton and become partners for fifteen years? Lolita Files narrates their story in this book that is a both a biography and an investigative look into one of America’s most violent cities.

Files provides a short history on Compton which I found to be very interesting and informative.  The city’s later history is similar to other cities across America where white flight helped give way to the ghettos that developed. Compton is no different and its descent into madness in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, is an American tragedy that unfornately is not unique.  However, nothing could have prepared Compton for what would come next and when the gangs arrived, the city was transformed into hell on earth.  It is not long into the book before Brennan appears and we learn about his migration to California where he makes a home in the Compton Police Department.  He is schooled as a rookie and moves up through the ranks.  However, it is not until he meets California native Robert Ladd that the dynamic duo is formed and through their work, become nationally recognized experts on gang culture.

The book is not solely about the two officers but Files also discusses the city’s most notorious gangsters whom Brennan and Ladd became very familiar with.  Nightly gang shootings, drug transactions and even domestic disputes, kept the Compton Police Department busy and Files takes us back in time when Brennan and Ladd found themselves in the middle of open gang warfare.  They are joined by Reggie Wright, Sr., whom some may recall as the father of Reggie Wright, Jr., a former Compton Police Officer himself who later provided protection to Death Row Records through his company Wright Way Security.  The stories are crazy and some unreal but Compton was akin to the wild wild west except the gang members were not using six shooters but heavy artillery designed to cause mass casualties.

Politics play a part in the story as one would expect and some of the events that take place are both head scratching and amusing.  And the takeover by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was the final nail in the coffin and officialy marked an end to the Compton Police Department.  However, before that took place, the gang unit had been making waves and putting a dent in gang activity.  But there were a couple of events that were even too large for Brennan and Ladd.

No book about Compton would be complete without the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the acquittal of several officers who took part in the beating of motorist Rodney King (1965-2012).  The verdict set off riots across the county of Los Angeles and I remember watching the events on television with disbelief and fear of what would happen next.  Files revisits the tragedy and the response to the mayhem by the Compton Police Department. It is a dark time in American history, but one that can never be forgotten, especially by the people of Los Angeles.   By this point in the story, we come to know Brennan, Ladd and other officers in the Compton Police Departmentve very well.  However, the story picks up its pace after a deadly shooting takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996.  That night, Tupac Shakur was shot and mortally wounded after an altercation at the MGM Grand Hotel with South Side Crip Orlando Anderson.  Shakur’s death on September 13, 1996, unleashed a wave of violence across Compton between Bloods and Crips that placed Brennan and Ladd on the front lines in the investigation.  Files takes on the role of our reporter and delivers the full inside scoop on the deadly retaliation that took place.  Anderson is also a point of focus and his story is revisited including his own death in May, 1998.

Readers who have followed Brennan and Ladd will undoubtedly find this part of the book to be of high interest. Further, Files has proven herself to be highly knowledgeable  about the crime as evident by her appearance alongside Crump.  The scuffle at the MGM, the events leading up to it and its aftermath are covered completely.  Further, the efforts of former detectives Russell Poole (1956-2015) and Gred Kading are examined in detail.  Viewers of the USA show Unsolved, will be familiar with Kading’s name as well as those who have studied the Shakur case.  The death of rap star Christopher”The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) on March 9, 1997, also enters the story and Files discusses it in depth.  The writing is good and I even learned an intersting fact about Duane “Keefe D” Davis which I had not previously known and possible connections between Wallace and the South Side Crips.  I also learned more about Brennan’s interactions with Kading’s task force which had been assembled to learn the truth about Wallace’s death.  Motives for both murders are presented and some viewers may feel that perhaps the simplest explanation is the most likely.  Sadly, both Shakur and Wallace’s murders remain unsolved.

What I have described so far does not come close to acknowledging everything that will be found in the pages of this book.  It is simply a great read about the Compton, and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the city that gangs and rappers put on the map.  There is a cast of characters to be found in the story ranging from former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight to the deplorable racist gang known as the “spook hunters”.  Compton is full of history  and it is still being written.  And only time will tell if its residents can make peace with the past and move away from the violence that has claimed far too many lives.  Great book.


General Reading True Crime

muhammad1The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm Xrenewed my interest in the death of Malcolm X (1925-1965) and the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975).  Malcolm’s death is still revisited as one of the darkest moments in the Civil Rights Movement.  Muhammad and his star pupil had long fallen out of favor after Malcolm’s death, rumors swirled that the leader of the NOI had ordered the assassination.  No proof ever surfaced of it and whatever Muhammad did know, he took with him to his grave.  He left behind a trove of writings, speeches and statements from public appearances that shed light on his thoughts regarding Islam, race and the future of America.  In 1965, this book was published as Muhammad’s message to the black men of the United States.

Although I am not Muslim, I was curious to see what Muhammad had to say and if it would be relevant to me being a black American.  I am familiar with some of the rhetoric from the NOI which Malcolm later sought to distance himself from.   But the fact remains that Malcolm did receive from Muhammad many of the teachings that guided him as his responsibilties in the NOI continued to increase and hecame its brightest star.  If there was one thing I was sure before starting the book, it was that Muhammad would not mince words.  In fact, no one in the NOI minced words and their belief in full freedom and equality for black people is well-known and documented.  But this is Muhammad’s show and he waste no time in getting his points across.

From the start, Muhammad directs his attention to Christianity and its role during slavery in America. Those who are devout Christians may find this argument to be difficult to read but it is imperative to remember these are his thoughts only and it is up to you to decide which religion is right for you.  Further, he is speaking from the point of view of a member of the Islamic faith and there is no doubt that he believes in Allah as the savior for black people.   He does make compelling arguments and in fact, uses scriptures from both the bible and Quran to make his case.  However, the rhetoric is strong and the use of the term “devils” for white Americans and Europeans will undoubtedly be unsettling.   I had to remind myself that today we would not see anything like this but in Muhammad’s era, the United States was a very different and violatile place.  And perhaps if I had been born at the same time as Muhammad, I myself may have felt the same way.  In end, some who read the book might decide to convert to Islam while others accept his argument and continue on with their lives as things are.

By far, the part of the book which seemed the most outlandish is the section about  a scientist named Yakub, who apparently “created” the white race.  I have never seen any documented evidence of such a person or evidence of notes, test, etc.  I am inclined to believe that the story of Yakub is nothing more than a myth that continues to endure. Followers of the NOI may feel differently and I say to each his own.  However, this theory of Yakub, forms the base of Muhammad’s arguments about the nature of the “white devils”.   Some readers will surely roll their eyes at this part of the book.

Muhammad was a very sharp thinker but it is apparent in the book, that his voice is also laced with fierce emotion.   It is almost as if you can feel him raising his voice as the book progresses.  At one point, he does bring up the issue of the black woman which I found to be interesting and mystifying considering Muhammad’s well-known philandering.  Much of it has flown under the public radar but I recommend Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a thorough discussion of what exactly did happen between Muhammad and the multiple secretaries he procreated with that helped cause the eventuall split with Malcolm.  I could not help but feel that it was quite hypocritical for Muhammad to preach about taking care of the black woman while stepping out on his own wife Clara Muhammad (1899-1972).

In spite of the heavy rhetoric that relies on shock value, Muhammad does make a very good argument in his belief of black people not waiting for help from anyone but instead, going out and doing.  Of all of the topics in the book, I firmly agree with him on this one in particular.   His message about self-sustainability and actual progress is spot on and can be used by anyone regardless of race. His words about changing the future of black people are still relevant today and many more people should hear this argument.  It is clear that he truly wanted the best for all black people.   However, I do not agree with his views on integration.  But again, I did not live in America in 1965 and did not experience the racism that black people faced on a daily basis.  If I had, perhaps I would agree with Muhammad.

Today we can see in hindsight that Elijah Muhammad was right about some things but wrong on others. His prediction of America meeting its doom did not come to pass.   And his argument against interracial marriage is still believed by some but interracial marriage continues to increase as more people turn to online dating and long-distance romance.  The world that he knew is far different today and will be even more different by the time I reach my senior years.  But Muhammad has his view and explains his position. It is up to the reader to accept or deny the argument.

Overall, the book is a mixed bag.  Within its pages is truth, rhetoric, religious arguments and even outlandish theories.  But Muhammad was not just an ordinary person.  The NOI remains today but its public presence is scaled down considerably.  But at one time, it was the focus of many Americans, seen as a group of black Muslims who were no longer accepting any excuses for the advancement of black people and other minorities.  These are the words of its most famous leader for audiences of all types.

ASIN: B0054R9C1M

General Reading

DonnerIn the spring of 1846, a group of settlers left home in Springfield, Illinois en route to either Oregon or California.  A popular destination for many was the City of Yerba Buena, known today as San Francisco.  By the first week of may, the party had reached Independence Missouri and soon continued on their route.  They soon learned of an apparent shortcut through what is known as the Hastings cut-off near Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail was named after Confederate General Lansford Hastings (1819-1870).  It was believed that the shortcut would eliminate as much as three hundred miles off of their trip. The group separated and eighty-seven people continued on the trail.  Instead of elminating travel time, their journey was extended by another month.   Deeply behind schedule, their provisions began to run low and winter soon set in.  By the time their ordeal was over, only forty-eight had survived.  Some managed to survive by turning to cannibalism and that act has earned them a permanent place in American pop culture.  We have come to know this group pf settlers as the Donner Party.

The book was originally published in 1880 and this Kindle version is a digital transformation to permanent preserve a book that remains invaluable. When we think of the Donner party, cannibalism typically comes to mind. However, there was far more to the story and the true tragedy of their journey is often lost during discussions of the events that took place.  So just what exactly did happen and why?  McGlashan has the full story, having done the research needed and he even conducted interviews with survivors of the tragedy.  What emerges is a full picture of what really did happen although I am sure some minute parts of the story are lost to history.

The journey west by the Donner and Reed families was typical of the era as settlers sought a new life “out west”. California was destination number even years before the gold rush of 1849.  For the Donners and Reeds, it was a chance at new opportunity far removed from the daily life in Springfield, Illinois.  As their plan picked up, the number of travelers increased until reaching a staggering ninety people.  A number of those who had joined, were not related to either family but had heard about the expedition and expressed interest.  When they set out in early 1846, none of them could have imagined the disaster that lay ahead.

The author details the tragedy as food becomes scare and a brutal winter ravages the party.  Their deaths are sobering and also tragic.  But interstingly, cannibalism plays a minor role in the tragedy in contrast to what has been portrayed in the media and in pop culture.  Nature and lack of food combined to prove the biggest obstacle to survival instead of the treat of being murdered for food.  The cannibalism comes about as a necessity similar to the experience of Nando Parrado, Roberta Canessa and the surivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 as detailed in his book Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home.  External factors as opposed to some internal predatory nature, are the factors behind those in each story making the decision to do the unthinkable.

Those in search of an uplifting read will be quite disappointed. However, if you choose to read about the Donner party, then I have to assume you already know something about their story.  And if so, you know every well that the traditional “happy ending” does not apply here.  Some members did survive but remained scarred by what they saw and experienced.  American history is filled with tales of finding a new life and exploring new terrority, but this book reminds us that for some, that curiousity also led them down a path from which very few have returned.  If you are interested in the Donner party and the truth about the events in 1846-1847 as a group of settlers sought refuge in a new part of the United States, this is a good read.


General Reading