Category Archives: Investigative Report

A Little History of the United States-James West Davidson

HistoryWhen I think back on the history classes I attended in elementary school, high school and then college, I remember that it seemed as if it took forever to go through any topic.  And that says a lot for someone like myself who has always loved the subject and still does.  For most people, history is beyond mind-numbing and often revisits events in the past to which most people do not give a second thought.  But as we are often reminded through history, we need to know our past in order to reach our future.  In comparison to the history of Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, the United States is a very young nation that has been in existence less than three hundred years. Incredibly, in that short amount of time on the world stage, some of the most memorable events in modern history have taken place in North America and had reverberating effects across the planet.  If we were to study American in its entirety, that would be a course that would last a couple of years at least.  But what happens when you cram that history into a book that is three hundred nine pages long?

James West Davidson has done just that in this book appropriately titled  A Little History of the United States.  Perhaps the word little is a misrepresentation here for there is nothing “little” about the material contained within the pages of the book.  The author straps us in and takes on a ride through time to revisit the beginning of America and the path to becoming a world superpower.  Critics might think that they already know the material in the book.  While it is true that many of the events will be known to history buffs and those that paid close attention in class, there is a wealth of information that is useful to others and might even be unknown to even those who are well-read. And as a bonus, a refresher never hurts.  None of the information in the book is ground breaking and can be found in other places but what Davidson has done is to compress all of those sources into one book that touches on all of the major events in American history.   But the genius of the book is that it is not written in textbook format but rather a story that just keeps going and getting more interesting as we move closer to the present.

Now that I think more about it, the book could be considered a cliff note for U.S. history.  There is never too much information on one topic but just enough to give the reader the basic facts and a picture of what happened and why.  Those who have interest in certain topics will surely find other material to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.  I firmly believe Davidson was aware of this when he wrote the book and might even expect that to be the case.  At one point, he mentions that he could not have included everything on one particular topic for the book would have been several volumes long.  I agree wholeheartedly.  Putting that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the pace at which he keeps the reader is just right to make it through the book without any trace of boredom setting in.

As an American citizen, I am amazed at how much history of my own country that I am still learning.  I think the same could be said about many of my fellow citizens.  Harry Truman once said “the only new thing in the world is the history you do not yet know”. No matter how much we do learn, I feel that there will always be something that we have no knowledge of.   But we have the aid of books like this to help us on our journey.  Every student of American history should have this as a supplement to all of their primary books.  For now, sit back, relax and treat yourself to a little history of the United States.

ISBN-10: 030022348X
ISBN-13: 978-030022348

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything-Christopher Hitchens

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The title of this book is enough to cause a range of emotions in deist, agnostics and atheist.  Next to politics, religion is a subject which unites or divides, sometimes through the use of extreme violence. Today, when we think of religious fundamentalism, images of Islamic radicals readily come to mind causing us to forget that extremism exist is nearly every religion known to man.  In the United States, most deists are followers of monotheistic faiths.  Others are followers of polytheistic faiths and the remainder could be classified as agnostic, spiritual or even atheist.   Those who are atheist remain firm in their belief that God does not exist. But for deists, God does exist and is present all around us at all times.  But what if is there is no such thing as God?  Believers will find the mere mention of such a concept preposterous. But in all fairness, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell humanity what really happens when we die.  Furthermore, non-believers point to the world’s many ills as proof that an all-loving God is nothing more than make-believe.   Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) wrote at least thirty books, some of which like this, addressed religious faith.  Here, he takes on God and puts forth his argument that religion itself is the cause of many of the world’s ills.  One look at the cover will cause some to claim blasphemy and write Hitchens off as doomed and demented soul who surely found out when he died, that God does in fact exist.  Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, the book is a good discussion on the effect religion truly has on our lives.

In the book, Hitchens does not focus on one religion solely, he addresses multiple religions as he makes his argument.  He is clearly well-read and by his own admission, grew up in a Christian childhood.   His career has taken him to all parts of the world where he was able to examine other faiths up close. And the arguments he makes in the pages of this book are thought-provoking and it would extremely difficult for even the most ardent believers to ignore the many problems with religion that Hitchens discusses.   As a believer, when you think of your faith, it is seen in a positive light.  It helps people, gathers them together, provides answers and gives a sense of purpose.   But was that always the case and is religion even necessary to have all of the things that we seek through it?

There are thousands of gods worship throughout the world.   However, the most dominant religions are mainly monotheistic.  Jesus, Yahweh and Allah have claimed billions of followers world-wide.   Hinduism also claims a large number of followers who pray daily to the many Gods that are worshiped. In parts of Iran and the Middle East, Zoroastrianism is still practiced.   Exactly when each of these religions developed is lost to history.   Science tells us that man existed for thousands of years and that the planet is at least a four billion years old.  That forces the question, did God create man or did man create the Gods?  Furthermore, are Gods even necessary to live a full and purposeful life?

Hitchens pulls no punches in this book and makes his point clear that he truly believes religion poisons everything.   However what he does not do is tell anyone to give up their faith nor does he attempt to belittle anyone who believes in the Gods that he mentions.  And although he does believe that a world without religion would be better, he is mature enough to understand that some will continue to believe in the only religion they have ever known.   Atheists are often thought to be vile and vicious beings who want to rid the world of religion.  The opposite is usually the case.  Hitchens, like Richard Dawkins and others who have made a case against religion, is very rational and in no point in the book, does he use rhetoric to incite any type of violence or force anyone to become an atheist overnight.  Clearly, the decision to no longer believer or remain in the fold is up to the individual.  But what he does do, is provide examples from history of why he believes religion plays a negative role in society.  The book is a journey from mankind’s earliest known relationship with God all the way to the present and the growing numbers of people in the United States who have no religious affiliation at all.

I believe that is fairly obvious that in order to read this book an open mind is needed.  And I also believe that those who do purchase the book are either unwavering believers curious to see what Hitchens says and others who no longer believe or are on the path to living religion free. We all have to find our own path in life but if we need an honest and critical examination of the role of religion in society, this is a good place to start.

ISBN-10: 9780446697965
ISBN-13: 978-044669796

Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy-David S. Lifton

20180422_191246The murder of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) continues to maintain its place among the greatest crimes in American history.  The official story as published by the Warren Commission is that former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963)  fired three shots in six seconds from the sixty floor of the Texas School Book Depository, fatally wounding Kennedy and severely wounding Texas Governor John Connally (1917-1993).  To many, including the author of this book, David Lifton, the government version seemed to be the best and final explanation.  But over time Lifton came to doubt the official story and after obtaining a set of the twenty-six volumes that composed the Commission’s investigation, his doubt turned into disbelief and lead him down the path that culminated with this national bestseller.

At the time his odyssey began, Lifton was a law student at UCLA.  Working on campus was a law professor by the name of Wesley J. Liebeler who served as a Warren Commission attorney.  Disillusioned by the official report, he decided to confront Liebeler about the many discrepancies he found in the final report.  Over the next several years, the two men would become more closely acquainted as Lifton dived deeper into the murder and Liebeler sought to preserve the Commission’s report.  Ironically Liebeler is the person that suggested to Lifton that he should one day write a book.  He eventually did and this is book is a must read for anyone with unanswered questions about the murder of John F. Kennedy.

Having read multiple books on the assassination, I would like to point out that Lifton focuses on the medical evidence surrounding Kennedy’s murder.  He does not go into great detail about Oswald’s life, murder or the life and murder of J.D. Tippit.  This is strictly about the postmortem events from the time Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital until the official autopsy report was published by the physicians who were on call at Bethesda Naval Hospital when Kennedy’s body was brought in. I warn readers that the subject matter graphic as it pertains to the autopsy and a large number of anomalies with Kennedy’s body that by all appearances, occurred before the official autopsy even began.  Almost like a horror movie, the body tells signs of makeshift surgical procedures, unexplained bruising and conflicting testimony between doctors in Dallas and Maryland.  But as Lifton explains, the body is the evidence.  Skeptics might be tempted to ask how on earth could such changes have been made to Kennedy’s body before it arrived at Bethesda?  Well Lifton asked himself the same question and many others that have been answered through exhaustive research and due diligence in the most plausible manner to date.  But what is even more sound about Lifton’s work is that he supports his conclusion based off of evidence that is publicly available and in some cases, was hiding in plain sight.  His case is further supported by statements he obtained from numerous individuals who were at either Parkland Hospital, Bethesda or part of Kennedy’s entourage that escorted the body all the way back to Washington.

There are those of us who will refuse to believe that the Government could engage in such nefarious activity.  On the surface it simply seems absurd.  But we soon learn that there is far more than meets the eye.   As Lifton is continue to develop his case for a frontal shot a key event takes place changing his life forever.  On a FBI report filed by Agents Francis O’Neill and James Siebert is a section  in which they state that surgery had been performed on the president’s head prior to the autopsy.  I confess that as I read that section of the book I nearly jumped out of my seat.   This statement served as the catalyst for Lifton to change gears and become one of the most respected researchers to date.  As I continued through the book I noticed that at times chills ran down my spine.  As the story progresses, the macabre becomes a reality and it dawns on the reader that there was more to that day that had nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald.  This is a story that the Government did not want its citizens to hear.  But like Oswald’s murder, it refuses to be put to rest and leaves many unanswered questions.

There are many books about JFK’s murder, each taking a slightly different approach.  To get an idea of the overall picture of what happened that day, I always recommend to new readers Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by the late Jim Marrs (1943-2017).  For others that have passed beyond that point, Lifton’s work is a critical addition to every researcher’s library.   The narrative is chilling: unexplained changes to the president’s head indicating prior dissection, two ambulances, two caskets, a helicopter and other mind-boggling postmortem incidents reveal a darker and more sinister plan in effect that most could not begin to fathom.   However, there are still many interviews that were classified and thousands of pages of others that remained classified. When they finally are released we can only guess or shudder as to what they might reveal. Until then, we have authors such as David Lifton that force us to take a close look at what is considered to be best evidence.

ISBN-10: 0881844381
ISBN-13: 978-0881844382

The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War- Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E. W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and James L. Greenfield

s-l300The names of the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that are found on the memorial in Washington, D.C., are a reminder of a conflict deemed by many to be the worst the United States has ever been involved in.  The withdrawal of U.S. forces in March, 1973, brought a sigh of relief to the American public which had long grown tired of a war with no end in sight.  The dark truth which we now know is that we did not by any means accomplish the mission.  And the mighty American war machine failed to secure a victory. I have met many veterans of the war and have an uncle who served.  What I recall most about all of them is that they do not speak of their experiences while in combat.  I know the memories are there and for some of them, they were unable to leave parts of the war behind.  Today we call it PTSD, but back then you simply found a way to move forward in life.   But why were they in Vietnam to being with?  Was the domino effect really a threat to the United States?

On May 11, 1973, Daniel Ellsberg found himself the talk of the town as charges pending against him for espionage were dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Byrne. He had been indicted for leaking what became known as The Pentagon Papers, the subject of this book and the topic of the movie The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.  The New York Times, after several battles in court, was finally allowed to move forward with its plan to publish The Pentagon Papers and contained in the pages of this book are the documents that the U.S. Government tried in earnest to hide from the American public under the guise of “national security”.   Ironically, the facts that are revealed in this book have absolutely nothing to do with national security but rather several presidential administrations that failed to find a workable solution to Indochina.

The late Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) has been called the architect of the war and was loathed by many because of it. However, the title is misleading and in some ways unfair. The war had many architects either by wishful thinking, uncontrolled ego or naiveté.  What is truly ironic is that as the war waged on, McNamara became a strong voice of dissent.  And in spite of what we have been led to believe, our existence in Indochina began many years before 1965.  The story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a long tale, filled with hard truths, false truths, deception and ultimately failure.  But this is how it happened and why.

The papers are divided into several sections which correspond to a different aspect of the conflict.  The administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson are examined to understand what each cabinet did and did not do as it grappled with the growing headache.   Step-by-step Southeast Asia opens up as black hole as more advisors are committed, instability rages in South Vietnam and war hawks finally get their wish as the United States jumped nearly feet first into a jungle conflict that proved to be nothing short of disastrous.  Rolling Thunder, troop deployments and South Vietnamese politics are just some of the issues that antagonized Washington for nearly a decade.

If you served in Vietnam, I forewarn you that the book might anger you in many ways. For others, this is a critical source of information in order to understand the war from a behind the scenes view.   We are often told that the military fights to protect the country and our freedoms that we take for granted.  But did a nation over 13,000 miles from U.S. soil really pose a threat to the most powerful nation on earth at the time? And what would we have accomplished if we had in fact won the conflict?   Perhaps Vietnam would have become a second Korea, partitioned between a communist controlled North-Vietnam and a U.S. controlled South-Vietnam.   Following the U.S. withdrawal, Saigon fell and the North achieved its goal of reunification.  Today the war is a distant memory for young Vietnamese but for the older generation, many painful memories remain.  The figures in the book are long gone but their actions will stay with us and the Vietnam war will always be a regrettable example of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.

ISBN-10: 1631582925
ISBN-13: 978-1631582929

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy-Heather Ann Thompson

AtticaOn September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, staged a revolt in protest of the treatment they received by prison officials and the living conditions employed therein.  Several days later, New York State Troopers regained control of the prison after approval from Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979).   The siege had tragic consequences and ended with the deaths of nine hostages and twenty-nine inmates.  The fallout from the retaking was swift and to this day the story of Attica is considered the worst prison uprising in American history.  The riot caused sharp division among people with some believing in the inmates’ actions and others supporting the State of New York.  In fact, among Rockefeller’s most ardent supporters was President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) who would himself resign in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal.   The riot and its aftermath were so powerful that even Hollywood became interested and produced the television series Attica (1980) starring Morgan Freeman and Against the Wall (1994) starring Samuel L. Jackson (1948-) and Kyle MacLachlan (1959-).  Both film productions earned award nominations and the stars in each film would go on to have successful careers in Hollywood.  However, the questions always remain, how much did the producers get right, how much did they get wrong and how much did they leave out?   Further, how much do we, the public know about one of New York State’s darkest days?

Heather Ann Thompson composed this Pulitzer Prize winning account of the Attica prison uprising and the legacy it left behind.   Contained within the pages of this book is a story that is sad, shocking and infuriating.  Today in hindsight, we will be tempted to ask ourselves how could this have happened?  For starters, the social environment in which the main characters existed is much different from today in some regards. Law and order were applied in a far more repressive context.  Make no mistake, the prison system today is plagued with brutality and prisoners routinely complain of suppression of their basic human rights by guards and officials.  The prison industrial complex has become a multi-million dollar business and each year more Americans enter the penal  system generating more revenue for investors and contractors.  This system of mass incarceration is exactly what the Attica inmates strove to fight against and today many of the lessons that were learned in the wake of the riot have been lost or neglected.  But this book is the place to learn about the Attica riot and why we can never forget it.

Thompson acknowledges that many of the participants in the story are no longer alive and any secrets regarding Attica went with them to the grave.  What remains are their public statements and official testimony.  Some of the names are cemented in history such as Governor Hugh Carey (1919-2011), Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (1936-), attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995) and former New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991). But others will become known such as Frank “Big Black” Smith (1933-2004), former guard Michael Smith and prisoner L.D. Barkley whose speech was captured by television cameras as the inmates made their voices heard.   The amount of research that went into the creation of this book is nothing short of painstaking.  And as an added touch of intimacy, the author supplements the story with photos of those relevant to the narrative.

From the moment I opened this book, I literally could not put it down.   At times I found myself sitting in disbelief and how and why the situation unfolded as it did.  And incredibly, an inner conflict arose because as I waded through the book, I came to support the inmate struggle as they fought racism, class based discrimination and the monster that is mass incarceration while at the same time I found myself empathetic to the guards taken hostage, some of whom would also perish.  And it dawned on me that they were all human beings who had different roles to play during those four days.  Decisions and actions made many resulted in a tragedy that claimed victims both dead and alive. And that is one of the main points of the book.  But perhaps one of the most shocking is the disregard by the State of the well-being of its own employees.  What Thompson has truly shown us is that lives on all side were ruined that day and there truly were no winners.  Everyone directed involved in the Attica riot carries with them scars to this day, some mental, some physical or possibly both.  Thompson has done all of them a great service by re-telling the Attica story in a book that should be read by every American that wishes to understand the frustrations of those convicted of a crime and the direction of the American penal system.  This is a definitive account of what truly happened at the Attica Correctional Facility between September 9 and September 13, 1971.

ISBN-10: 0375423222
ISBN-13: 978-0375423222

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case Against Sugar-Gary Taubes

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As of July, 2017, 100 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that in 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death.   My late grandmother suffered from it for many years prior to her death and my mother also deals with the disease.  In their cases, they are among the millions that have been diagnosed as having type-2.  And with the number of diabetics growing around world,  the future prognosis is grim.  More disturbingly, diabetes is just one of the several conditions that are considered to be effects of metabolic syndrome.  The link between food and health has long been established.  Food has been man’s source of energy and the key to life.  But somewhere along the way, our approach to what we eat changed dramatically and in the process we face health epidemics never before seen.

Gary Taubes appropriately named this book The Case Against Sugar.  What he has written in this book is sure to open your eyes and change the way you look at sugar which might possibly be the most common food ingredient in history.  In fact, it is so common that it is hiding in plain sight in dozens of foods we would never suspect to contain added sugar.  The first thing I should point out is that Taubes does not tell us to refrain from eating sugar nor does he tell us to consume it. He leaves that to the reader to decide.  What he does tell us is the unfiltered truth about the history of sugar and its effects on the human body.   Doctors and other health figures have told us for years that fat and salt were the culprits behind many of the illnesses we battled. But what if the real monster was there all along and ignored either unintentionally or even blatantly? Some readers may find the topic far-fetched and wonder if the sugar they put in their coffee and the sugar found in other products they consume daily are truly that bad.  Well in order to answer that question, we first have to understand how sugar came to be developed and why it has been so important to business and the food industry.  Taubes has done the leg work for us, presenting the material in an engaging format the pulls the reader in.  Additionally, he helps us understand the different types of sugars and why it is important that we know them intimately.

The story is centuries old and incredibly, without sugar, many of the empires throughout history would have had enormous difficulty existing.  In particular, the British Empire became extremely fond of the white crystals that bankrolled their imperialist machine.  Throughout history, sugar has accompanied every civilization, empire and ethnic group.  I dare to infer that its commonplace among all of these thing is precisely what made it so hard to believe for many that it could also be life threatening.  But it is exactly that which we learn but more importantly, Taubes, like a seasoned professor, explores in-depth why sugar was so important to big industry and why it was necessary to be protected.  He includes many facts that some readers may be completely unaware of.  The section on the tobacco and sugar industries should frighten every reader, especially if they are a smoker.

Diabetes is far from a modern disease. In fact, it has been in existence for centuries and its rise has been well noted and documented.   But what we see through Taubes, is that for a large portion of that time, the connection between sugar and diabetes never fully acknowledged.  If you ask any diabetic today, they will readily inform you that sugar is at the same time their worst enemy and most needed substance.    Their inability to produce enough insulin to handle rising blood sugar or inability to produce insulin at all, as in type-1 diabetics, highlights the precarious situation that exist for diabetics.   In essence, they walk a daily tight rope that could spell success or doom.

Diabetes is a focus of the book but the not the main focus and in addition to what is the silent killer, Taubes makes the case for the relationship between sugar and the conditions classified as metabolic diseases.  The connections form an intricate web and at times the reader may need to revisit a section more than once to understand the chain of events that occur in the body upon the ingestion of sugar, whether natural, refined or artificial.  Gout, cancer, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks plague millions of Americans and for years, doctors have known that what we eat does affect how we feel and age.   Inflammation has become a known factor in all of these conditions and other ailments that plague the human body.   Sugar is also known to play a role in all of these conditions. But is it safe to say that the reduction or elimination of sugar could reverse all of these illnesses?  Possibly so and incredibly,  it is believed that at least 4 in 10 forms of cancer are preventable.  I have always refrained from telling anyone what they should or should not eat.  That is a highly personal decision.  But what I can say is that I have had my own battle with sugar and dropped it from my diet well over ten years ago.  When I did, my acne disappeared, I lost weight, my digestive tract improved and I saw a marked improvement in cognitive function in addition to a surplus of energy.  However, there was a withdrawal process and I did suffer from headaches and irritability for a couple of weeks as my body readjusted to the absence of sugar and high levels of carbohydrates.   Today,  I do not even buy it, add it anything I eat or drink and also follow the mantra that if I cannot pronounce what is in a product then I do not eat it.  It may sound extreme to some but we are only given one body on this earth and it is up to us to take care of it.

This is the ugly truth about sugar, the once believed to be harmless product that our parents and grandparents gave to us without the knowledge that we have today.  The children of today are the first generation that may have a shorter lifespan than their parents.  That is unacceptable and I believe, criminal.  Our health has been sacrificed in the name of greed and mass production.  But we can fight back and take care of our lives.  And with books such as this one by Taubes, our minds are being awakened each step of the way.  If you suffer from a metabolic condition, trying to quit sugar or even curious about its dangers, this book is a must read.

ISBN-10: 0307946649
ISBN-13: 978-0307946645

The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe-Donald H. Wolfe

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On August 5, 1962,  newspapers around the world relayed the news of the death of Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) the night before at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California at the age of thirty-six.  The cause of death was listed as suicide from an overdose of the drugs Pentobarbital and chloral hydrate.  However, decades after her death, several question still remain regarding that tragic night of August 4, 1962.  What really happened that night and why was she paid a visit by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and his brother-in-law Peter Lawford (1923-1984)?

The image we have been given of Monroe is a drug-addicted sex symbol, starved for validation from the opposite sex and unable to cope with the rigors of Hollywood.  Her previous suicide attempts gave credence to this perpetuated image and for many, it was the ending that they expected for quite some time.   Her life reads like a tragic novel of a heroine unable to fully come to terms with herself and seeking love and affection in all of the wrong places.  However in just thirty-six years, she lived a live that some can only dream of.  At at one point in her life, she was the most desired woman in the world.  Donald H. Wolfe takes us back in time to the those final days in August, 1962 to piece together what really did happen and why.

The book opens by revisiting the night of August 4 and the pandemonium that ensued following Monroe’s death.  Immediately we learn of several disturbing facts that set the tone of the book. Wolfe does an incredible job of keeping the suspense going and the reader engaged.   And rightfully so, he not only explores her death but also provides a concise biography that sets the stage for events that took place later in her life.  Behind the facade of a starlet singing happy birthday to the President, lay a woman raised in a childhood which could best be described as tragic.  However, in order to understand Monroe’s life and her death, it is necessary to explore her beginnings which Wolfe presents to us without breaking the momentum of the book.  And I can assure you that once you start you will be hard pressed to put it down.

Although the book is about Monroe’s final days, there are many sub-stories that are told which gives us an inside view of the inner-workings of Hollywood and politics in the middle of the twentieth century.   As she moves through one circle to the next, some of the biggest names in show business, sports and politics make an appearance in her life such as   John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Clark Gable (1901-1960), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999).   However, among all of the people who cross paths with her, her life takes a much darker and tragic turn through her association with the Kennedys and their associates and it is this relationship that forms the crux the remaining third of the book.  After you have finished the book, you may come to see the administration in a different light.  Today it is public knowledge that an affair did take place between Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.  And if all accounts are correct, Monroe and Robert Kennedy also had their intimate moments.  The sexual content is fodder for gossips and tabloid magazines.  But what was critical was the true nature of their relationship and the many secrets Monroe possessed about the most powerful man in the country.   In fact, it is quite possible that she did have the power to bring down a presidency.   Was this the reason for the urgent visits by J. Edgar Hoover to the White House in May, 1962 and that last visit by Robert Kennedy on the day she died?  Or was this the reason for the heated arguments that took place between Monroe and Robert Kennedy in the weeks leading up to her death? And how much did she know about their association with Frank Sinatra and mobster Sam Giancana?  Certainly, many of their discussions which were likely picked up by the FBI may never be known.  Other recordings by the President are locked away in the Kennedy library.  A little over one year after Monroe’s death,  John Kennedy himself was cut down in a hail of bullets in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Several years later, Bobby would be gone as well, also the victim of an assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California on June 5, 1968.  In death they joined a long list of political figures and stars that died during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.

Marilyn Monroe remains a sex icon decades after her death.  Young women still hang posters of her on their walls and purchase t-shirts with her image.  In death, she became a legend whose left this world far too soon.   Her life was in some ways a soap opera with affairs, fairy tale romances, political scandals, drugs, mental health issues and tragically, broken homes.  Sadly, many people in her life failed her not just on one but on several occasions.  But if there is one inspiring aspect of the story, it is her resiliency to move forward in life and command respect even in the most difficult of times.   And had her life taken a slightly different course, then perhaps she might still be alive today well into her senior years and full of knowledge about Hollywood’s golden era.  This is the story of the life and final days of Marilyn Monroe, a true Hollywood icon.

ISBN-10: 0688162886
ISBN-13: 978-0688162887

Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962-Frank Dikotter

3Previously, I reviewed Frank Dikötter’s  The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 and The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976, investigative accounts into life under the rule of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976).  In the first volume, Tragedy of Liberation, we learned about the transformation of China following the defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) and his Kuomintang Nationalist party.  In the third volume, The Cultural Revolution, the behind the scenes political battles are put on display revealing the dysfunction that had engulfed Mao’s inner circle.   Here in Mao’s Great Famine,  Dikötter takes us back in time to the Great Leap Forward and its catastrophic failure between the years of 1958 and 1962.   I feel the need to point out that by far, this part of the trilogy was the most difficult to read. As usual, Dikötter’s writing style is to the point and very concise.  The difficult part is the material at hand.   Today we know a fair amount about the Great Leap Forward and how it failed to transform Chinese society.  The famine that ensued is known but what may not be known are the facts about what really happened behind the closed doors of China as a government struggled to move a nation forward as widespread hunger decimated its population.

If you are a reader with a sensitive stomach or easily disturbed, this may not be the book for you.  But if you are a reader that is able to digest material that is emotionally and mentally difficult to accept, then this book will be one that you can add to your reading list.  Some may wonder why a book such as this is needed.  I believe it is important because it reveals to us what many probably did not and do not know.  The details are sometimes gory and all around tragic.  At several points in the book, I wondered to myself how human beings could do the things that they did to each other.  The policy of collectivization and the labor mandated by the government devastated the country in ways from which it is still recovering.  Mao’s grip over China was relentless and his failure to first grasp the severity of the situation and his lack of action to halt the descent is mystifying and infuriating.   And considering what was known to have occurred in counties across the country, I am astounded that he was able to sleep at night with the blood of millions of Chinese on his hands.  Perhaps towards the end of his life and in closed-door meetings, he did voice concern and repulsion about what was transpiring. But if that did happen, those facts have remained secret and are locked away from public view. One day we may find out more of the truth but for now we can only assume.

In between the descriptions of famine and violence,  I did pick up a possibly unintended message in the book; we should all be grateful for the privileges and comforts in life that we have.  I personally have never had the experiences detailed by Dikötter.  And I can only imagine what life for them was like.   Through his work, I now know their stories and can see their pain but I can never say that I know their struggle.  Daily episodes of gratuitous violence, sexual assault, exhaustion, inhumane living conditions and death occurred with no reprieve.  And when people did try to make their voices heard, they were met with severe resistance by cadres unwavering in their adulation to the Chairman.  Lives were ended and others had their career ruined as the Red Guard made its presence felt throughout the country.  Those who did not succumb to violence, often had to deal with extreme hunger, disease and mental degradation.  The number of deaths that occurred is not known for sure but as we see in the book, it is believed that over 40 million Chinese people died during the Great Leap Forward. It is by far the worst case of systemic mass murder the world has ever seen and hopefully never will see again.

Today, Mao’s picture can still be found across China and his tomb in Beijing is open to the public.  But as we come to know more about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, we will be forced to reexamine what we thought we knew about the Chairman and the legacy that lives decades after his death.  This book is a hard look at the Great Leap Forward and all of its infamy.

ISBN-10: 0802779239
ISBN-13: 978-0802779236

The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election-Malcolm Nance

hqdefaultThe 2016 presidential election remains an event that bordered on the surreal and shocked not just American citizens but people around the globe. Donald J. Trump, the political outsider and least likely candidate to win, secured the Republican nomination and the electoral votes needed to become the 45th President of the United States of America.  As we begin 2018 we can look back on his first year and office and reach various conclusions depending on our political outlook and beliefs about the state of the nation.   What is certain, is that from the start, his administration has been plagued with allegations of collusion with nefarious figures hailing from Russia.  Prior to his election, he often showed admiration for Vladimir Putin and since taking office, has taken a passive stance on the country that is believed by intelligence experts to have interfered in the elections of several nations.  Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed Special Counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and as of today, the investigation is still ongoing. And while there is no fire yet, there is a lot of smoke.

Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer in Naval Cryptology with over thirty years in intelligence and counter-intelligence decided to put together a short book that puts the known pieces of the Russia hacking scandal together giving us a clear and concise picture of what did happen and when.   The book is not a smoking gun linking Trump directly to any Russian hackers and Nance does not imply such.    However, there is a lot of potentially incriminating evidence and we know today that at least four people of Trump’s inner circle have pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and money laundering.  The recent news of the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury in which he interviews former Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon has added more fuel to the fire and has mad the future grim for the 45th Commander-In-Chief.  But what exactly did happen prior to November 8, 2016?  And what did authorities know for certain? Further, Nance reveals a lot of interesting information, but how much more is there that is still unknown?

Nance takes us back to the beginning when officials realized that the servers of the Democratic National Convention had been hacked.  Unlike Watergate, there were no intruders with flashlights who would later stand trial and attempt to extort the White House.  This was all done through cyber warfare and the fallout would be staggering. Some may even say there is still more to come.  As an IT Administrator (IT), I have experienced cyber threats on several fronts and can say with certainty that if the average person knew just how many cyber threats there are in existence, they would be scared nearly to death.   To read the book, you do not need a background in Information Technology, Nance presents each topic in an easy to read format for the layman to follow.  If you do have experience in IT, then you will nod your head at many of the things that he discusses.  Regardless of your technical aptitude, what is revealed in this book should open the eyes of every American that cares about our electoral process.

Supporters of President Trump may be quick to dismiss the book as fake news or left-wing smear tactics.  However, Nance does not take any sides politically and makes no direct accusations against Trump. What he does declare is that without a doubt, Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election and there is strong evidence that the orders came from Putin himself.  At first it sounds like a very bold statement but Nance supports his conclusions with sound evidence that is thoroughly explained.  And throughout the book, he reminds us that more investigations are needed to see if there was in fact direct collusion and/or espionage between Trump’s team and Russia operatives.  According to Bannon, the answer is yes. But before we accept the proclamations of an individual that is as cunning as they come, it is imperative that a full investigation is conducted.  We may not like what we find and the truth is rarely pleasant.   No matter which party you belong to or how you voted in the election, what transpired prior to November 8, 2016, should be of grave concern to you for if it happened once, there is the fear that it could happen again.  Nance gives us a dire warning imploring us not to make the same mistake again and to proactively fight cyber attacks in the future.  But with a Commander-In-Chief who doesn’t believe in cyber attacks or seek to understand them, how safe will we be?

The title of the book sounds like it could be a television special or motion picture. But I assure you it is not fiction, this is a real as it gets.  The United States and its democratic institutions were attacked and the depth of the crime is something that many people still do not fully understand.   But with books such as this one by Nance, a clear picture emerges that can be used as a reference guide in understanding what really was the plot to hack America.

ISBN-10: 1510723323
ISBN-13: 978-1510723320

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