Category: General Reading

Frida1I was in search of a quick read and saw this book which I had added previously to my list of books to buy. In my neighborhood, there is a building with a mural dedicated to Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and as I walk past each time, I think of the fact that so many years after her death, she is still revered by millions of people both in the United States and in her native Mexico. In September, 1925, Frida was a passenger on a bus with her boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias. Their bus collided with a street car and left Kahlo with devastating injuries.  She suffered broken bones in several parts of her body and the accident displaced three vertebrae in her back.  She never fully recovered from the accident and was plagued with constant pain until her death on July 13, 1954.  On August 21, 1929, she married Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and accompanied him to the United States, first landing in San Francisco, while he worked as painter.  Over course of her time living in the United States and later visiting, she received medical treatment for the lingering effects of the 1925 bus accident.  She never failed to write home to her mother whom she loved deeply.  Those letters have been translated into English and are composed here to show readers the very intimate relationship between mother and daughter.

It should be noted that it is strictly Frida speaking here.  There are no letters from her mother. And it appears that Frida did most of the writing to her parents Wilhem and Matilde.  The letters are short and to the point but filled with love and sharp insight by Friday regarding her surroundings.  However, throughout the letters, her health and the couple’s earnings are always a main topic.  After leaving San Francisco, Frida and Diego later visited New York City.  Her observations are interesting and as a native New Yorker, I can say that they are not far off the mark.  She adores New York but is not blind to the many faults that one can see in America.  These words are more than eighty years old but much of what she says remains true.  Perhaps Frida knew something then that we fail to understand now.

Although the book is quite short, there is a wealth of interesting comments and thoughts presented by Frida.  She was a keen observer of people and found ways to adapt to the environment she found herself in.  Diego comes and goes during the story and the letters reveal no trace of the tension that existed during their marriage on more than one occasion.  Whether she was shielding her mother or herself we cannot say for sure.  Her mother Matilde, died on September 15, 1932, before Kahlo’s marriage to River went literally to hell and back.

I plan next to read an extensive biography of Frida  to truly understand the woman behind the fame.  Her letters have provided insight into who she was and what she believed but surely, only the tip of the iceberg.  If you like Frida Kahlo and want to know more of her personal side, these letters to her mother are exactly what you need.

ASIN: B07DT61XXR

General Reading

On 20200202_203242June 30, 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was formed after fifty-two years of Belgian colonization.  Its charismatic leader, Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), served as an inspiration and hope for the people of Congo, who wished to govern themselves and move their country into a new direction.  Less than one year later on January 17, 1961, Lumumba was executed in Katanga as a result of a coup by military colonel Joseph Mobutu (1930-1997).  The assassination and seizure of power by Mobutu, set in motion a cycle of violence that has continued for more than five decades.  Between 1994 and 2003, the conflict known as “Africa’s first world war” ravaged the country and caused the deaths of an estimated five million people.  Rebel groups continue to operate in various regions of the country, continuing the system of violence. In 2005, Anjan Sundaram was finishing his final semester at Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in advanced mathematics. After forming a friendship with a cashier, he made the decision to abandon a career in corporate American and move to the Congo, where he would ply his trade as a foreign correspondent in one of the most tumultuous places on earth.  This book titled “Stringer’ is a memoir of his time in the Congo and the many people that became a part of his life.

As the book opens, Anjam has just had his phone stolen and is trying desperately to get it back with no luck at all.  He eventually finds his host family, who are relatives of the cashier at Yale.  His dwellings are primitive by western standards and his fan soon becomes the desired object in stifling heat.  He soon learns that as the saying goes, he is not in Kansas anymore.  Kinshasa is gritty and daily life is hard without relief.   His housemates, Nana and Jose, do their best to help him along but even they have their moments that nearly push Anjan to the brink.  He soon begins to run low on money and realizes that soon desperation will set in.  At the suggestion of a friend, he offers his services a field reporter for the Associated Press. He is quickly hired and his job as a journalist soon takes him into the belly of the beast far removed from the polished campus at Yale University.

As the story moves forward, the author provides information on the Congo’s history where needed to give the reader an idea of why certain conditions currently exist.  And though he does mention Lumumba, the book is not meant to be a thorough history of the Congo.  For additional reading, I do recommend Leo Zeilig’s “Patrice Lumumba: Africa’s Lost Leader“, which is an excellent biography of the late leader.  The focus here is about what Sundaram sees and hears as he moves throughout the Congo consider by many to be parts unknown.  The scenes he describes are surreal but a reflection of the turmoil that continues to engulf the country.  The threat of death hangs over him throughout the book in the form of rebel patrols, shady cab drivers and even a touch of malaria. As I read the story, I was sure I had the same thought as many others who have read it: he must be crazy to give up a promising career to migrate to the Congo.  The author realizes his choice would be surprising to many but it is clear that his decision was based on a real desire to truly experience a conflict that remains one of the worst in modern history.

The true gift of the book is Sundaram serving as eyes and ears on the ground to show others the truth about life in the Congo.   The descriptions he gives sound like hell on earth with the lack of sanitation, devalued currency, corruption and the near total collapse of a political system.  Mock elections and the continuing cycle of dictatorship do little to inspire the people with the belief that one day their nation will embrace true democracy.  Hanging over the book is the ghost of Mobutu, whom the author discusses at several points in the book.  His grip on the country, many years after his death, is apparent all over.  It is a nightmare that replays itself as conflict rages between government forces battling insurgent rebel patrols.  Massacres, pillage and systemic murder are the tools of the trade, highlighting the prevalence of death in the Congo.  Sundaram is the Associates Press’ eyes on the ground and soon moves over to the New York Times.  As an American of Indian descent, his presence in the Congo is both the source of curiosity and hostility.  Ethnic divisions and fears of the Central Intelligence Agency’s role in Congolese affairs, result in a cloak of suspicion traveling with him everywhere he goes.  On more than one occasion, his admission to being a “reporter” is the source of agitation to those who prefer to operate in secrecy.

Undoubtedly, there is more to the Congo story than what it presented here.  And while I would have liked the book to have gone just a little longer to see how Sundaram eventually leaves the Congo for good, the story stands on its own merits. It is a very profound account of life in the Congo, where nothing is guaranteed.  Life is expendable and democracy is reduced to a catchphrase.  The reality is painstakingly explained here in an account that will open the eyes of many who are only vaguely familiar with the country that had the potential to set a new course for the continent of Africa.  Good read.

ISBN-10: 0385537751
ISBN-13: 978-0385537759

General Reading

20200118_220256President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) is known primarily from his time in the White House and untimely death but many forget that he was also an accomplished writer.  In the well-received “A Nation of Immigrants“,  he gives his take on how immigration built the nation known as America.  Images of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty will surely come to the minds of readers who decided to read Kennedy’s work.  However, there is more to the immigrant story in America and often forgotten are the many other groups who have emigrated to the land of opportunity.  Roger Daniels decided to take a further look into the Chinese and Japanese experience in America and what he found may surprise many of us.

The story begins in 1849 as California becomes ground zero for the gold rush.   We learn right away that over 300,000 Chinese came to America to work in mines and in other trades, such as building cross-continental railroads.  By 1882, the gold rush was over, the railroads had been nearly completed and hundreds of thousands of Chinese now found themselves out of work.  They were far away from China in a new country that did not rush to embrace them. In fact, what happened after the gold rush opened my eyes to the Asian experience in America and revealed many dark parts of American history.

This book could easily be added as required reading in high school classroom and in a college syllabus.  It reads like a textbook but the exception is that is has not been heavily sanitized. Daniels had no intention of sugar coating anything and the facts that are presented here are beyond sobering. Paranoia, suspicion and fear of a “yellow invasion”, gave birth to some of the most discriminatory laws passed in United States history.   Beginning with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1870 and the later Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the anti-Chinese movement gained in momentum and threatened the very existence of Chinese-Americans. Similarly, Japanese immigrants who arrived to America by way of Hawaii, soon found that their new home was not so welcoming.  The anti-Chinese movement soon became part of larger anti-Asian sentiment spreading across the United States.  And contrary to what we may think about Asian immigration, the Pacific played an even more important role than the Atlantic.  Exactly how is explained in detail by Daniels.

As the world found itself embroiled in two world wars, the Chinese and Japanese in America were struggling simply for recognition as human beings.  California remained the battle ground in the struggle between natives and new immigrants from the Far East.  San Francisco was the scene of some of the most absurd moments in the book and will cause readers today to wonder at how such inhumane treatment of others  was tolerated and endorsed in the late 1800s into the early 1900s.  The Alien Land Act of 1913 is a prime example of  some of the draconian laws passed to disenfranchise America’s Asian citizens.  However, in spite of outright racist treatment and propaganda, the Chinese and Japanese remained firm in their belief of the American dream.  World War II became the moment where life for the Japanese in America was turned upside down and would test the patriotism of even the most ardent believers in the United States.

The book is not a full examination of the Japanese internment in camps during the war. However, Daniels does a thorough job of explaining how the program developed, what President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) knew and the effect it had on the Japanese mindset both during and following the war.  High focused is placed on the Japanese American Citizens League, which played an integral role in the affairs of Japanese Americans in many ways, some of which will surprise some.  However, its importance cannot be understated.  What I did find to be mind-boggling was that the U.S. Military never had a deep suspicion on a whole of Japanese Americans taking up arms in defense of Toyko, but the media and politicians clearly had a different agenda.

Today, the treatment revealed in the book would cause shock and outrage.  I have many friends whose families originate throughout Asia.  They are as American as I am but the thought of legislation being passed to bar them from citizenship, prevent them from assimilating in society or to prevent them from even entering the country,  is beyond horrifying.   However, this was the reality for thousands of Chinese and Japanese in the United States before the passage of civil rights bills and Supreme Court decisions that struck down bans of segregation and interracial marriage.  America has come a long way but there is still work to be done.

While reading Daniel’s words, I could not help but to feel that some of the divisive rhetoric employed by politicians then is also heard now.  Fears of “invasion” and “threats to our way of life” permeated beliefs in the 1800s and 1900s, resulting in regrettable treatment of Chinese and Japanese Americans.  And in some cases, that rhetoric proved to be deadly.  That same danger exist today.  If we are to continue to move forward, then we must remember that less than one hundred and fifty years ago, anyone who was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, found that life in America was a contradiction to the belief that all men are created equal.  If we fail to remember the past, we are doomed to repeat it. I truly hope we do not.  Roger Daniels has given us a guide to study and learn from so that we do make the same mistakes. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0295970189
ISBN-13: 978-0295970189

General Reading

20200118_133748When I saw this book on Amazon, I was a skeptical as to what I found find inside of it. However, the nearly five star reviews convinced me to inspect it a bit further.  I took the plunge and ordered it to see exactly what Shelby Steele had to say about race, a topic that continues to either unite or divide people in America.  The phrase “content of our character” is known to many of us.  It was the pivotal moment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (1929-1968) “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.  Fifty-seven years have passed since that monumental moment in American history and the question remains, do we judge each other on the content of our character? Further, have we progressed as a society or is America still the same place it was when Jim Crow made life miserable for millions of black Americans and others who emigrated to the United States in search of opportunity?

The book was published in 1991, making it twenty-nine years old. At first, I wondered if the material would have any relevance to current day America.  To my surprise and satisfaction, Shelby’s message is still relevant today.  He does not place blame on white Americans or absolve them of guilt or responsibility for America’s past sins. Instead, his focus is on black America and the message he conveys is an attempt to introduce a different dialogue about race.  Skeptics will be tempted to write him off as someone who has animosity towards his own upbringing. That is not the case and at no point in the book does Steele express any type of regret or dissatisfaction about his own ethnicity. His goal is to show that American has progressed when it comes to race and for black Americans to truly live the American dream, there are things that have to change. First and foremost is the role race plays in all of our lives for better or worse.

As I read through the book, I could not help but to think of John McWhorten’s “Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America“, which explores some of the same issues as Steele does here. In fact, McWhorten references Steele on several occasions as he discusses the concepts of victimology, separatism and anti-intellectualism.  Steeled does focus on each but does not distinctly define them as McWhorten does.  His discussion about an identity formed out of being a victim stands out as an observation that warrants much further discussion and is exactly what McWhorten believes in his equally moving book.

By his own admission, Steel is what would be considered to be middle class.  He is successful but not extremely wealthy, a father of children he loves and in what will be a surprise to some, married to a white woman.  However, he cannot and does not refute his race and explains the tightrope that black middle class Americans walk on daily.  As a black American, I firmly believe that education is key to moving up in life and pursuing values that will help me to assimilate into mainstream America.  Yet should I also accept and embody the concept that no matter what I do, I am still regulated to a lower standard of living because my skin is dark?  That is the question black Americans will find themselves confronted with while reading this book.  Today, there are black CEOs, governors, attorney generals, vice-presidents, movie stars, pilots, etc.   Steele believes that black Americans have and continue to advance in society.  And while he does not ignore the fact that racism exist, our successes and failures cannot always be attributed to it.

Of course, there is the elephant in the room in the form of affirmative action, a subject that almost always results in heated discussion. Steele does not shy away from the matter and his words are similar to McWhorten’s beliefs as well.  The idea behind affirmative action was rooted in the right principles.  However, moving forward decades later, does it hurt black people more than it helps? Further, by accepting someone with lower qualifications solely on the basis of their race, do we inadvertently discriminate against others well qualified on the basis of their skin being white? Surely, the question does not have a simple answer but I do believe, as do Steel and McWhorten, that the system of affirmative action needs to be reevaluated to see if in fact, it has really made the change that it was intended to be.

By no means does Steele provide the final word on the subject of race. As we all know, discrimination still exist. But I do think the material is gold and provides a wealth of food for thought with regards to race and the advancement of black Americans.  Former President Barack Obama ran his campaign on a simple slogan, “yes we can”.   I believe as does Steele, that black Americans can and will succeed but only after accepting hard truths that can reshape our minds and provide a new vision for long term success.  And as we move forward, we shall seek to be judged solely on the content of our character.

ISBN-10: 006097415X
ISBN-13: 978-0060974152

General Reading

marcuaurelius1 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.

ASIN: B07N1VD2VR

General Reading

lombard 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.

If you want to learn more about TWA Flight 3, researcher Mike McComb has an informative post on the tragedy titled January 16, 1942: Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA), Douglas DC-3 (NC1946) Potosi Mountain, NV.  The post includes more photographs of Mt. Potosi, the crew and some of the passengers.  If you like this book, you will find the website to be highly informative and just as thought provoking as Matzen’s work.

ASIN: B01NCTWGWK

General Reading

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:

Dear Rebecca,

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:

  1. Besides blogging, I am also an IT Administrator and when I’m not blogging, building, fixing and maintaining servers and computers.
  2. I’m left handed
  3. I love to travel.

Here are my answers to the three questions that you have asked:

  1. Which book have you read more than twice? Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”
  2. What is your favorite meal? Old-fashioned Dominican cuisine of rotisserie chicken with beans, rice and freshly fried tostones (plantains).
  3. 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.

Blogs I nominate for the Liebster Award:

i Write in Books Excellent book review blog
Human Pages The Best of History, Literature, Art & Religion
Book Concious Blog that posts great book reviews

My three questions to nominees are:

  1. If you could meet any historical figure of your choice, who would it be?
  2. Which event in world history shocked you the most?
  3. What led you to create your blog?

Gerard

General Reading

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.

General Reading

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

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

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

Knowledge is Infinite

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

The Past Comes Alive

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

The Art of Conversation

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

Vocabulary Improves

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

Confidence in Writing and Speaking

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

Travel Without a Passport

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

You Might Be Inspired to Become an Author

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

Your Health Will Benefit From It

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

Conclusion

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

 

General Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Reading