Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

StannardEarlier this week, my boss mentioned during a Zoom office meeting that Columbus Day needed to be re-examined.  He had learned of many dark aspects of Christopher Columbus’ (1451-1506) arrival in the Caribbean.  The movement to end the celebration of Columbus’ life has gained considerable traction over the past several years.  Some states in America have renamed the Columbus Day to  “Indigenous People’s Day”, in honor of the Native Americans who sufferend immensly at the hands of Spanish and other European explorers.  It is a sound recommendation and one that may even happen here in New York City as it becomes harder for people to ignore the disturbing actions by Columbus and his group of marauders.  Many of us learned in school that he was the man who “discovered America”.  But is that what really happened?  An uncontested fact is that Columbus never set foot on North American soil, making the claim of discovering America misleading.  And we know today after many years of neglect by mainstream media, is that indigenous populations were decimated when exposed to the new visitors from abroad.   The true story however, goes far beyond Columbus, who was just one of many bloodthirsty religious fanatics who favored violence over peaceful assimilation.  David E. Stannard revisits the Columbus story in this eye-opening and chilling account that resulted in a stiff drink and a long moment of silence after I had finished reading.

I need to point out from the start that this book is not for the faint at heart.  If you are easily upset by graphic descriptions of barbaric actions, then this book may not be for you.  It is dark, chilling and beyond tragic.  And that is exactly why the way history is taught in the United States is in need of change.  Although the cover of the book gives the impression that the story is solely about Columbus, there is actually far more included in the book regarding the arrival of Spanish and English explorers whose wave of destruction spread across North America, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

One question that has always typically been asked about the Americas is how long did the native population live there?  It is a good question and Stannard does provide a discussion about the original inhabitants of the Americas.  And what he says might suprise some readers.  I found the topic of Berengia to be highly interesting. The Berengia theory for human migration into the Americas is plausbible and the Bering Land Bridge which no longer exist, gives credence to the author’s point.  However, what is clear is that what we call the Americas had been populated by anicent civilizations thousands of years ago.  Creationists may believe differently but to completely diregard the science at hand would be highly unfortunate as the author provides a thorough discussion of humanity’s existence.

The story picks up pace as the Spanish arrive in the New World.  in August of 1492,  Columbus and his crew wasted no time in implementing their program of terror upon the natives.  The violence is nothing short of gratuitous and disease proved to be just a deadly.  The combination of the two as detailed in the book, had long reaching and long-term effects from which the Americas have never fully recovered.  And in case defenders of Columbus and other explorers point to disease as the major killer, Stannard has this to say:

However, by focusing almost entirely on disease, by displacing responsibility for the mass killing onto an army of invading microbes, contemporary authors increasingly have created the impression that the eradication of those tens of millions of people was inadvertent—a sad, but both inevitable and “unintended consequence” of human migration and progress.

The names of the tribes that suffered so much destruction are voluminous and I learned the name of several that I had no prior knowledge of.  Their names are almost endless and I am sure that only a fraction of the true number of indigenous tribes that called the Americas home are covered here.  In North America alone there were hundreds of tribes, some of which are now extinct including the Canarsie, who have a neighborhood and high school dedicated in their honor right here in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York.  Sadly, most do not know the true story of the Canarise but this book certainly does provide an idea.

Aside from the grim account at hand, Stannard takes yet another approach and explores the reasons behind the Spanish exploration across the ocean.  The true reason for Columbus’ voyage should cause readers to take notice about how much he knew about navigation and the position of the Spain in the European hierarchy.  Putting that aside, there is a much darker aspect to the Spanish missions and this is where religion enters the story.   Many of us know of the Crusades and the horrors of Christianity but in regards to Columbus, there is far more than meets the eye.  The mind-boggling details are included in Stannard’s account revealing yet another side of Columbus that will make many stare in disbelief at the words they are reading.   And if that is not enough, there were yet other reasons for the Spanish conquest and the end result left me shaking my head.

Halfway through the book I felt as if I needed a break but pressed on as I knew there was much more to learn about extermination of Native Americans in what is today called the United States.  Stannard keeps the discussion streamlines but does mention the Trial of Tears and Wounded Knee.  Each of those topics would require a separate book to fully go into the stories behind the tragedies.  The purpose here is to show the different ideologies behind Spanish and British actions in the Americas which both led to the same result for native populations.  The atrocities committed against Native Americans by the United States Government aare beyond upsetting and amount of gore found in recollections of the events might cause some readers to revolt in disgust.  Quite frankly, the European arrival in North America was just as deadly as the Spanish pillaging of Central and South America.  Each empire had its own reasons but for both, religious ideology, finanical motives and beliefs in racial superiority resulted in what Stannard believes to be the worst genocide in world history.   In fact, he states pointedly:  “the destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world

After I finished the book, I had to sit in silence for a while to digest what I had just taken in.  Columbus’ actions were not a surprise to me as I had already known of his dark legacy.  What I did not know were the names of the numerous forgotten tribes of the Americas who no longer exist today.  The systematic destruction and eradication of their lives and culture is indefensible and nothing short of genocide, sexual exploitation and the plundering of territory inhabited by others whose way of life was completely changed by new faces upon their shores. If this book does only thing, I hope that is to shatter the myth of the new settlers in the Americas arriving with open arms and becoming fast friends with the native peoples.   Revisiting the past is often painful and reveals many disturbing facts that we would rather not know.  But if we are to have a frank and honest discussion about the people we have long called “heroic” and trailblazing” then all of their deeds should be open to examination.  This book is masterfully written, haunting but yet eerily relevant even today.

ASIN: B004TFXREI

American History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASIN: B075S9NKPS

General Reading

 

WangIn June, 1989, I vividly recall watching the newsroadcasts of the protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. There was much I did know know then about the factors beind the protests but the image of a lone Chinsese man staring down the barrel of a tank was seared into my memory.  He became known as “Tank Man” and his act of defiance is still one of the most moving images in history. The picture truly does speak a thousand words.  The protests began on April 15, 1989 and ended on June 4, 1989.  However, in order to bring the protests to an end, army troops employed a range of tactics including the firing of live ammunition resulting an a still unclear number of deaths.  Estimates ranges from several hundred to several thousand. To those of us in the west, the protests were the result of years of oppression by the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) and incompetent officials who had closed China off to most of the world.  However, there was far more to the story than many realized then.   And to understand what was happening and why, we must take a look behind the scenes to see what life in China was really like in the years leading up to the summer of 1989.

At the start of the protests, author Anna Wang Yuan was an employee at Canon Beijing, a sub-division of the Canon Copier Company.  Her boss at that time, Mr. Murata, asks her to take pictures of the demonstrations. And although she is not a protestor herself, she does provide a first-hand account of what was happening on the ground and why the students had refused to leave.  The memories she has compiled, show a China struggling to remove the failures of the past and confront a changing world and younger population with no interest in the constricting ideology of the CCP.   Wang sums up the ideology in this simple statement:

“The official narrative of the Communist Party of China is that Chinese history is divided into two eras by the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The two periods are referred to as the new society and the old society, or heaven and hell.” 

It could be said that China continues to sturggle in maintaining the “new society”.   The protests in Hong Kong and tensions with Taiwan have shown that the will to resist Beijing’s rule remains alive and strong.

As I read through the book, I soon realized that the story is not solely about the protests. In fact, it is in large part an autobiography.   It should be noted that the book is not intnended to be a full analysis of the protests from start to finish.  Wang is telling her life story which coincides with one of the most important events in China’s long history.  Westerners might express dismay and confusion at her early family life.  And while I found the events that took place to be quite surprising and also sad,  there are lessons she learns along the way that she never forgets.  The anchor in her early life is undboubtedly her grandmother.  However, their relationship is tempermental and goes through challenges of its own before the book’s conclusion.  What I did notice is that her parents seldom make an appearance and we learn early on that they live in another city called Tianjin with her younger brother Wang Yi.  Yuan relies heavily on friends as she grows up and the most important in the book is Zhi Hua who plays a prominent role in the protests. Their lives would continue to be interconnected years after Tiananmen.

On April 15, 1989, former General Secretary of the Chinse Communist Party Hu Yaobang (1915-1989) died in Beijing.  As explained by Yuan, Yaobang was a supporter of reform and more transparency in government.  He stood in contrast to hardline conservatives within the CCP.  As news of his death spread, students began to organize the protests that would later grip the entire country.   The students eventually drafted what was called the “Seven Demands” based on Yaobang’s ideas.  This manifesto helped lay the groundwork for the reforms sought by students and other activists.   And it is at this point in the book that the story picks up in pace.

Yuan continues to work with Mr. Murata and Ms. Kawashima, a native of Japan. Yuan’s position within the company allowed her to see the complicated relationship between China and foreign countries when it came to economic matters.  In fact, she provides a good explanation of China’s financial policies and international standing at the time of the protests.  Of particular interest was the label of “most favored nation”, a status prized by the CCP but put into serious jeopardy by the events at Tiananmen.  The fallout from the protest had long reaching repercussions that went far beyond satisfying student demands.  And complicating things further, was the decision by party leaders to enforce martial law.  This is by far the darkest part of the book and we can only guess as to how many people were killed as the army cracked down on protestors.  The actions of the military are chilling and it is clear that to remain on the streets is risky and possibly deadly.   As a counter measure, the students engaged in a hunger strike and Yuan serves as the voice on the ground, explaining their condition and how the situation played out.

In the wake of the protests, she eventually leaves her employer while Mr. Murata and Ms. Kawashima return to Japan.  Yuan moves from job to job and eventually makes the  decision to move to Canada.  This is the start of the final phase of the book in which she, her husband Lin Xiao and their two children embark on a long journey to find a final place to call home outside of China.  Her journey takes her down under and finally to North America.  It is a interesting account of the many ways people employ to navigate immigration systems across the globe.  The process from one place to another often seems endless but Yuan never gives up and her will to continue puts the finishing touches on an already incredible story.  And although this is not a memoir or glamorization of the “American Dream”, it does show the ideological and pratical differences between the East and the West.

After finishing the book,  I felt as if I had a far better understanding of Tiananmen and how it looked to some people on the front lines.  Tiananmen will always be one of the most remember events during the 1980s and the tank man cemented his place in the annals of history.   Sadly, China continues to struggle with freedom of speech, expression and the demands of the students in 1989.  Time will tell in the younger generation can change the ways of the old conservative guard.  The CCP is determined to maintain its grip over China but as we have seen throughout history, the will of the people can never be ignored.  If you are looking for a good story about life in China following Mao’s death and a discussion of the Tiananmen Square protests, this is a good read.

ASIN: B07PM9LS25

Biographies China

UncleHoOn April 30, 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong forces succeeded in the occupation of the city of Saigon in the wake of withdrawal by United States Armed Forces.  America’s departure marked the end of the Vietnam War and provided the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam to unify North and South Vietnam.  The final act of unification would have been welcomed by the first Prime Minister of North Vietnam Nyguen Ai Quoc who was known to the world as Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969).  Older Vietanemse sometimes refer to him as “Uncle Ho”, a benevolent figure who’s life as devoted to completely independence in Indochina from French and Chinese rule.   Ho Chih Minh has always come across as a slightly mysterious figure and some parts of his life are still unknown.  However, author William Duiker provides an informative and thought-provoking biography that explains Ho’s life and the true tragedy of the Vietnam War.

In 1976, Saigon was officially renamed Ho Chih Minh City in honor of Uncle Ho.  It was a fitting tribute to the man who truly believed in one Vietnam and made it his purpose to see it come to pass. But just who was the real Ho Chih Minh?  One adjective is surely not enough to describe this mysterious figures whom we learn about deeply in this biography.  The author has exhaustive researched the book and his recreation of the key events in Ho’s life during his evolution into a world leader provide the picture needed for readers to understand the thoughts behind his decisions and actions.

Familiarity with the Vietnamese language and/or Vietnamese history is not required but possession of either or one of them may result in the book becoming a more enjoyable read.  I found the story easy to follow and from the start, Ho’s intrigue is irresistable.  Some readers might be thrown off by the number of Vietnamese names in particular the name Nguyen which appears frequently in the first half of the book.  There are other names as well, including several used by Ho Chih Minh.  And the name by which he was internationally known has its own back story that the author makes sure to cover.

As I read through the book, I began to see that the key to understanding Ho Chih Minh undoubtedly begins in the 1920s and 1930s when France kept Indochina under strict rule.  The young revolutionary then known as Nyugen Ai Quoc, had determined from a young age that Vietnamese Independence was the only thing that matter.  After surrender in World War II, the Japanese military was forced to significant troops from previously occupied territory across Asia. The power vacuum created by Japanese withdrawal provided the opening needed for the August Revolution which changed history for good and set the stage for many battles to come.

Ho’s actions following the war and Washington’s responses or lack thereof are some of the most sobering moments in the book and instantly caused me to think of my uncle who served in the Vietnam War.  Anyone who has long sought to understand why the United States became involved in Vietnam will find this book enjoyable. At times I was speechless as I read and at one point back to understand how a war could have been prevented nearly 20 years before happening.  This part of the book is simply mind-blowing.   The battles within the U.S. State Department are just surreal and tragically, warnings given by those who foresaw a deadly war coming in the future, were largely ignored.  I do wonder what would have changed had North Vietnam and Washington been able to find common ground in the wake of World War II.  From the very start, Washington never seemed to fully grasp what it meant to be Vietnamese for Ho and other party members determined to resist the French and other nations committed to  colonial rule in Southeast Asia.

There are some parts of Ho’s life that show up on rare occasion in the story. In fact readers will notice the lack of several things typically found in a biography.  However,  Duiker does points out that Ho Chih Minh was a man of many secrets and some records have probably been lost for good. Perhaps that is by design or just unfortunate evens. The lack of romance in Ho’s life, particularlly after the August Revolution is certainly one of the more puzzling aspects of the story.  And even for the women that do enter his life, their time is brief for Ho has his mind set on Vietnamese independence at all costs.

The Vietnam War rightfully enters the story towards the end of the book. However, Duiker does not go off course and devote too much time to it.  I believe that was a good approach because by extensively discussing the war, it would have distracted from Ho’s personal story.  Further, Ho died in 1969, several years before the fighting ended. And in his later years, his duties had been adjusted by party members who were responsible for the American threat and the development of a new Vietnam.   Regardless, I believe that it is safe to say that there can be no discussion of modern day Vietnam with taking a long look at the life of Uncle Ho that stretched across several continents, included several spoken languages, arrests, questions of paternity and a battle against colonialism.  The Vietnamese movement for independence remains one of the most important struggles in world history and in the process, Ho Chih Minh went from radical student to a leader on the world stage.

ISBN-10: 0786863870
ISBN-13: 978-0786863877

Vietnam War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Reading

Mcbridge

On occasion, I find myself coming back to the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). His assassination remains one of the America’s darkest moments and officially, the crime is still an open case for the Dallas Police Department. Some may express surprise at that statement but it should be remembered that no one was ever convicted for Kennedy’s murder. A twenty-four year-old former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was convicted in the court of public opinion as the assassin but was himself murdered before he could stand trial in a Dallas courtroom. Roughly forty-five minutes after Kennedy’s murder, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit (1924-1963) was shot to death after stopping a pedestrian walking in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Oswald was arrested at the Texas Theater and charged with Tippit’s murder. But due to his death at the hands of nightclub owner Jack Ruby (1911-1967), he was never officially tried and convicted of Tippit’s murder, which is still an open homicide case. The Warren Commission established that Oswald committed both murders before hiding in the Texas theater and for years many have accepted the “lone gunman” theory. But if we look closer, there are many things about both murders and Oswald himself that just do not add up. Author Joseph McBride has spent thirty years researching and writing this book that takes us into the nightmare that occurred on November 22, 196,3 in Dallas, Texas. And what he has to say might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

The book opens with a recap of McBride’s childhood in Wisconsin during 1960 when Kennedy was ramping up his campaign for the presidency. McBride’s parents were both reporters and his mother was part of the local Democrat committee. Her position in the committee provided McBride to meet Kennedy on several occasions and during one of those occasions, McBride took a photo which is included in the book, of Kennedy in what could be described as an unguarded moment. On the day of Kennedy’s murder, McBride relates that information presented during news broadcasts raised his suspicions about the crime Those seeds of doubt grew into a life-long quest to find the truth about Kennedy’s murder. I should point out that McBride’s focus here is primarily on the murders of Oswald and Tippit. The book is not a broad discussion of the crimes such as Jim Marrs’ best-selling classic Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, but a more streamlined approach to examine what former commission member David W. Belin (1928-1999) called the “Rosetta Stone” of the case.

Seasoned researchers into the Kennedy assassination will know that there has been a lack of focus on the life of J.D. Tippit. He has typically been portrayed as the simple yet heroic officer who tried to stop Lee Harvey Oswald and died in the line of duty. On the surface it fits the narrative of the good cop/bad suspect line that we are taught from a young age. However, if Tippit was attempting to arrest the man who allegedly had just shot the president, then why did he not have his gun drawn as he got out of his squad car? And how would he have known to stop Oswald when Dallas Police had yet to learn Oswald’s name according to the official timeline? There are seemingly endless mysteries surrounding both Tippit and Oswald regarding their alleged encounter. McBride journeyed down the rabbit hole and provides what I have found to be the most in-depth analysis of what may have taken place in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas on that fateful day.

I believe that by putting his focus on the Tippit murder, it allows readers to digest critical information without being overwhelmed by other events that took place in and around Dallas that day. Tippit’s murder undoubtedly is the Rosetta Stone of the case but not for the reasons that Belin believed as McBride makes clear. To be clear, McBride is not a conspiracy theorist. In fact, what I found is that he remains unbiased and does not shy away from presenting contradictory evidence when addressing a topic. I believe that makes the book even more fascinating. McBride presents an honest and thorough discussion of the Tippit murder. And at no point, did I feel he has moving too far in one direction but rather he moves through the book like a veteran detective with an eagle’s eye for clues. And frankly, the amount of information he provides about Tippit’s personal life is just staggering and has caused me to see the murder in a very different light. And although secrets remain about Tippit’s murder, the version presented in the Warren Commission’s report should be taken with a grain of salt. If you want to learn about the real J.D. Tippit, this is without question a book that you need to read.

Although Tippit’s murder is the nexus of the book, McBride does focus on other strange events that day after shots rang out in Dealey Plaza. The most telling are FBI reports from field agents in Dallas that reveal some very surprisingly decisions taken by Dallas officials. And the discussions between J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and former President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) underscore the problems Dallas detectives faced in making their case. Further, a particularly deeply distburbing fact comes to light about the attitude of Dallas police towards Kennedy’s murder. I found myself staring in disbelief and what former detective Jim Leavelle (1920-2019) reveals about the effort to solve Kennedy’s murder. Before leaving Washington, Kennedy had been briefed on the right-wing climate of hate in Dallas and was advised not to travel there. But he insisted on doing so to show that the President of the United States cannot be afraid to travel within his own country. It was his fate to go to Dallas but the local police owed him far more of an effort than what is shown in the book.

The revelations of the numerous problems of proving Oswald’s guilt, provide the context for a discussion on the many problems with regards to the lone gunman theory. Capt. William Fritz of the Dallas Police Department was certainly aware of this and as McBride shows, most officials knew that making a case against Oswald would be a monumental task. Of particular interes are McBride’s notes of his discussion with former Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade (1914-2001). The statements by Wade in response to McBride’s questions are nothing short of mind-boggling and a sharp defense attorney would have made a name for himself picking apart the indictment against Oswald. However, that is only a small piece of the puzzle that McBride puts together to show the lack of evidence, planted evidence, hidden information and various other anomalies that make the lone gunman theory even more ludicrous.

There has always been confusion as to what Tippit was doing before he was killed. According to the Warren Commission report, there exist at least forty-five minutes between the shooting in Dealey Plaza and his murder in Oak Cliff. But much of what Tippit and Oswald were doing during that time remains shrouded in mystery. To piece the story together, McBride draws on several sources that include Tippit’s widow Marie, witnesses near Oak Cliff who spotted Tippit prior to his death, Dallas Police Department radio transmissions and witnesses to the murder, some of whom were never called to testify by the Warren Commission. As I read through the statements and series of events, I felt a chill run down my spine as I realized that there was a lot more to the events in Oak Cliff that we have been led to believe. Not only was Tippit out of his assigned area but his murder took place near the home of Jack Ruby who shot Oswald live on national television on November 24. Questions have persisted if Oswald, Tippit and Ruby knew each other. While I would stop short of saying that there is a smoking gun, what we do learn raises suspicion that many figures in Oak Cliff were more connected than the Warren Commission wanted to acknloweledge.

McBride’s analysis of the murders that day is spellbinding and anyone that has doubts about the official story should absolutely read this book. There are no outlandish theories or witness bashing. It is simply an honest and open discussion built on facts discovered by the author through meticulous and exhaustive research. I guarantee that after you have finished this book, you will find yourself looking at the murder of John F. Kennedy in a completely different light.

ASIN: B00EP6B0J0

JFK RFK

Between 1930 and 1931, rival factions of the crews headed by Joe “the Boss” Masseria (1886-1931) and Salvatore Maranzo (1886-1931) became entagled in a bitter feud that is known today as the Castellammarese War. The bloodshed and senseless violence convinced the younger mafioso composed of Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897-1962), Meyer Lansky (1902-1983), Frank Costello (1891-1793) and Bugsy Siegel (1906-1947) among others, that the old guard would have be removed in order for business to flourish. Both bosses would be murdered in the conflict but Luciano had no interest in taking on the title of “Capo Di Tutti Capi” and instead created the Five Families with the boss of each to sit on a “Commission” that would mediate diasgrements, expand criminal plans and if necessary eliminate those who violated Mafia rules. Today they are known as the Gambino, Bonanno, Lucchese, Colombo and Genovese families. The organizations known as borgatas, established a stronghold of criminal empires over the Big Apple for several decades and its incredible story is chronicled hered by New York Times investigative journalist Selwyn Raab that is bound to leave readers spellbound.

Part of my childhood in Brooklyn was composed of news broadcasts reporting on the murders of Italian-American mobsters across the Five Boroughs. The grisly images of Paul Castellano (1915-1985) and his driver Thomas Bilotti (1940-1985) sprawled out on the pavement in front of Sparks Steakhouse on December 15, 1985, are still shocking nearly thirty-five years later. However, the pair were only two of hundreds of mobsters that met a grisly demise in a life of crime. The gritty details of the scores of gangland murdres are included here helping Raab drive hom the point of the murderous nature of Mafia members. Some readers will find the murdes disturbing but the stories are true and the images of fallen mafioso taken over the years confirm the violence that permeated through life in the mob.

The book is exhaustive researched and it shows in the staggering amount of information that will surely result in a significant number of notes. Readers highly familiar with Mafia history will know many of the facts in the book. Personally, I knew a good amount of the information provided but even learned some new things myself. As a native New Yorker, I have the benefit of remembering when stories of mob escapades were plastered across newspapers, radios and television screens, making them hard to forget. I vividly recall the multiple trials of John Gotti (1940-2002) whom the media began calling the “Teflon Don”. Readers who are learning about these events for the first time will be both shocked and appalled at what transpires over the the course of the story. But this is what did happen and all of the savagery and thirst for blood is included to drive home the point that there are no “good guys” in the mob. And inspite of the glamorization of their lives by Hollywood, being a mobster is akin to playing Russian roulette with nearly every cylinder loaded.

In the collection of films that I have at home, are the masterpieces The Godfather and The Godfather II . The films are simply breathaking in all aspects of production but not entirely accurate portrayals of everday day life in a crime family. They are great cinema but the actions of Joseph Colombo (1923-1928) while the film was in pre-production and the stark reality shown in the book, will undoubtedly prove to readers that the Mafia was far deadlier and that the films were largely smoke and mirrors. Real mobsters lived with the constant threat of death and most did not want their children in the life. In book, we witness an incident where Vincent “The Chin” Gigante (1928-2005) expressing disappointment that John Gotti’s son known was Junior had entered the life of crime..

I cannot stress enough just how much an influence the Mafia had over New York City. My father has told me stories from the times he worked in a printing shop that was infiltrated by mobsters. The parties he described were nothing short of jaw dropping. And what is even more surprising is that my father was not much older than 16 years of age at the time. He did say they paid well and he and my uncle asked no questions about anything. But what he remembers cleary is that money was not an issue and there was plenty to go around. Today he laughs about his experiences but as a 16 year-old teenager, I can only imagine how intimidating some of these figures must have been. They had power, money and frightening reputations but curiously, they remained carefully hidden from public light but during the 1950s the layers of secrecy were slowly peeled away revealing what many Americans were oblivious to.

For most of his time as director of the Federal Buurea of Investigation (“FBI”), J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) had publicy refuted any ideas of a “Mafia” operating in the United States. As we know now, he eventually changed his tune but for reasons even he could not control. Raab breaks down the Hoover aspect of the story and explains how the FBI eventually came to see the mob as an American menace. And as a primer to the discussion on Hoover, we revisit the formation of the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management led by Senator John L. McClellan (1896-1977). Commonly known as the McClellan Committee, the senator and his team that included future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), confronted the existence of a Mafia in America and at that point the genie was out of the bottle. However, many years would pass before the United States Government developed a tool to dismantle the Mafia but when it did, the fallout was catastrophic.

As the book moves towards the 1970s, the Mafia is moving full steam ahead and generating millions of dollars. The FBI does not have much of an arsenal to fight the growing threat and Hoover’s refusal to cooperated with Harry J. Anslinger (1892-1975) and his Bureau of Narcotics had left the agency in the dark. But the FBI proved to be a quick learner and the creation of a revolationary crime law changed the game completely. It is at this part of the book that the stage is being set and the United States Government declares that it is open season on La Costa Nostra. The pace of the story picks up when prosecutors become aware of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. This statute which is simply known as the RICO Act, proved to be the most damaging tool the government would use as it dismantled the Mafia piece by piece. Raab covers the investigations into the bosses and underlings, explaining in detail how each case developed over time. And like a domino effett, after the first major conviction by use of the RICO Act, prosecutors in both the Southern District of New York and Eastern District of New York hit the ground running. However, they would have their own feuds and Raab also discusses that backstory and how overzealous prosecutors bungled many things. Famed former federal prosecutors Rudolph Giuliani and Edward McDonald also make appearances in the story. But make no mistake, the RICO Act takes center stage and the as each mobsters turns into government witness, I found myself struggling to keep up with the number of defections. La Costa Nostra was coming apart at the seams.

The last chapter follows the downfall of the Chin, a mainstay since the formation of the Commission and one of the last old-school bosses to fall victim to federal proecutors. Following the conclusion, Raab provides a further discussion of each family and also provides a timeline of the bosses in power in each family over the years. I found it to be a great reference guide for names and times. The exhaustive amount of work that went into this book has resulted in one of the best books I have ever read about the Mafia. To be sure, there are others about the mob, some of which I have reviewed such as Colombo: The Unsolved Murder by Don Capria, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi and Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci. I strongly recommend all three in addition to The Mafia Hitman’s Daughter by Linda Scarpa, For the Sins of My Father by Albert DeMeo and Deal with the Devil by Peter Lance. There are others of course, far too many to list here. However, the others are focused on either one person in particular or one family. Raab’s work here is by far the best widespread account of New York City’s Five Families. If there is one part of the book that I could take away from it is that with regards to the Lucchese Family, there is no discussion about Paul Vario’s (1914-1988) crew which included Henry Hill (1943-2012), James Burke (1931-1996) and Thomas DeSimone (1950-1979), all of whose lives were portrayed on screen in Goodfellas. However, I believe that if Raab had went into exensive detail about their exploits, he would have drifted off topic. Vario is mentioned in the book but only in passing. Further, other notorious figures such as Roy DeMeo (1940-1983) are mentioned in passing as well for obvious reasons. The main subjects here are the familes and the bosses. Discussions about each crew and their capos could easily be composed into a separate book. Raab makes sure to stay on course here and as a result, the story never drifts or stalls. I found that I could not put it down once I had started reading. For those who have a fondness for Mafia lore and true crime about the mob, this book is a must have.

ASIN: B003GY0KK2

Organized Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASIN: B00BP0Q3SW

General Reading

ethelI am constantly amazed that in spite of all of the things I learned in school and through my own studies, that there are endless stories from the Civil Rights Movement that are continuing to be told.  Amazon recommended this biography of Ethel Lois Payne (1911-1991) and as I looked at the cover, I recalled the name but the face did not ring a bell.  My curiousity continued to pull me in and I knew that I had to learn more about this intriguing woman.  Author James McGrath Morris has called her the first lady of the Black press.  It is quite the title but as I learned while reading the book, the title was not only earned but it may in fact may be an an understatement.

Payne’s story begins in Chicago, in the year 1911 when she enters the world becoming the fifth child of William and Bessie Payne.  Jim Crow and segregation were alive and well making life for Blacks unbearable at times.  And although racism does exist today, the America in which we live stands in stark contrast to the America in which Payne navigated as she made a name for herself as a respected journalist.  Chicago is a rough city but those of us familiar with it already know that.  And putting aside the modern day shootings that place, violence has been a part of Chicago’s history for well over 100 years. Morris recounts some dark moments in the city’s history which show the tense racial climate the pervaded throughout the city and America.  But Payne is unfazed and determined to blaze her own path.  After the conclusion of World War II breaks, the military comes calling and Payne finds herself as foreign correspondent in Japan. This first major assignment would kickstart the career that lasted until her final days in 1991.

Upon returning to the United States, she accepted a post with the Chicago Defender and eventually earned her White House press credentials.  The act in itself was almost unheard and Payne wasted no time in stirring the pot.  A tense question and answer session with President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) brings her more press than she could have bargained for but at the same time, earned her the wrath of supervisors.  Nonetheless it was the point of no return and Ethel Payne kept moving forward.  And what followed is a journey across several continents that included meetings with U.S. Presidents, foreign leaders and activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). It was an incredible journey, beautfilly told here by Morris.

I also found that the book provided interesting tidbits about American history.   And while the author does not present the book as a reference book for American history, he does bring the events of the past back to life which highlight the progression in civil rights made by America in the past several decades.  Surely, there are dark moments in the book where progressive minds come face to face with hardened racists.  Birmingham and Little Rock are just two cities whose names will be burned in the memories of readers.  The acts that are committed are horrific and will make some readers pause.  Personally, I find it difficult to fathom why people were filled with so much hate towards each other solely based on differences in physical characteristics.  But that was how things were and sadly, the events detailed in the book did happen and many lives were lost in the struggle for equality.  Payne’s voice through the Chicago Defender, was a bastion of hope that America was listening to what its black citizens were trying to say.

Throughout the story, there are big name figures who helped changed the course of American history.  Some are former presdients John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994).  Further, the passage of the almost powerless Civil Rights Bill of 1957 is addressed as American continues to struggle with equality.   The back stories to the public facades are interesting and Payne’s obversations are spot on.  She possessed incredible acumen about the Washington and future of American’s black citizens.  In fact, as we see in the book, there were times where she was correct in her analysis without even knowing the underlying facts that proved her to be correct.

In later years after she moved away from Washington, her work was not done and Morris shows her continuing efforts at promoting civil rights not just at home but wherever possible.  And although her physical descent becomes apparent towards the later part of the book, she never slows down but instead keeps going as she always has.  Admittedly, the end of the book is without question the saddest as Morris chronicles here life that increasingly fades away from the spotlight.  And in her final moments, the reality of where she ended up is strikinigly real.  And I found myself scratching my head and the direction her life had taken as she continued to age.  However, that is only small part of a life that was nothing short of incredible.

What I did notice in the book is that Payne never married nor did she have children. She did however, care of a nephew for a short time but he was not totally reliant upon her.  The lack of a love interest becomes apparent in the story but the topic is only lightly discussed.  That might be due to Payne keeping her persona life highly guarded or in the alternative, her busy life made romance impossible.  I did feel a bit down regarding this part of the story and wished that she could have found someome to share her life with.  But she is long gone and the reasons she had for her single life have gone with her to the grave.  Notwithstanding this side-story, the book is still a very uplifting account of Payne’s accomplished life.

James McGrath Morris has certainly provided us with a fitting biography of Payne’s life that was a mixture of success, tragedy and defining moments in history.  Today her name is never mentioned and younger generations will most likely have the faintest idea about who she was and why she was important.  But I encourage anyone interested in American history and in particular the American Civil Rights Movement to read this book.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B00KFFROFE

Biographies

reefe1The eyes on the cover of this book are some of the most expressive I have seen although only half of the person’s face is exposed.  As they stared back at me from the cover, I felt a chill because I knew they were the eyes of someone who did not fear death.  I did not know who the person was but I found myself compelled to learn more.   As I opened up the book and began to read, I soon learned the name of the woman on the cover whose story is one of several that are interwoven. Her name was Dolours Price (1951-2013) and this truly is a story of murder and memory.

The story begins with the abduction of a widowed housewife raising several children named Jean McConville (1934-1972).  She is taken away and never seen alive again.  There is no explanation given by her captors and her children are forced to fend for themselves without any adult supervision. This incident sets the theme of the book and her murder would come to haunt those involved for years to come.  We are soon introduced to Dolours and her sister Marian, who attend a rally in support of the movement for a united Ireland.  Mayhem ensues as British troops and loyalist forces push back agaisnt the protestors.  The experience leaves the sisters jarred and they make the decision to join the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”).   From this point on, their lives are never the same and the story becomes even darker.

I have to assume that most readers who pick up this book will have some familiarity with the conflict. But for those who do not, I strongly recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s 1916: The Easter Rising , which provides a thorough discussion of the uprising and seizure of the Dublin Post Office.  The events contained therein would later result in the founding of the Irish Free State and the paritioning of the six counties within Ulster Province that compose Northern Ireland.  For the Catholics in Ulster, life became a constant battle to resist discrmination by the Protestant majority and proclaim Northern Ireland part of the Irish Republic. And in this struggle, the IRA became the loudest voice for unification through acts of force and through the voices of figures such as Gerry Adams  Brendan “The Dark” Hughes (1948-2008) who are firmly entrenched in the story at hand.

As Dolours and Marian become deeper involved in the Republican movement, they are given more important task including one that shocked London on March 7, 1973.  In the aftermath, the sisters along with their conspirators, were sentenced and incarcerated in a British prison. Back in Ireland however, the British were ramping up their efforts to break the IRA chain of command and Keefe takes us back to the story of Adams and Hughes, both of whom join the most wanted list of IRA members.  Adams repeatedly denied being a part of the group and readers can make their own assessments.  What is clear is that both sides were playing for keeps and not adverse to using deadly measures to prove their point.

While moving through the book, I noticed that the book is really several smaller stories compiled into one.  There is the disappearance of McConville, Adams and Hughes, the Price Sisters, the Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Project.  They are all interconnected and Keefe connects them towards the end of the book with the right amount of suspenses and everything comes full circle. There are others who enter the story as well, in particualr Bobby Sands whose win in parliament and participation in the second hunger strike made him a martyr in the eyes of the IRA and its supporters.  And for those readers curious about Sands’ life, I strongly recommend Dennis O’Hearn’s The Life and Times of Bobby Sands, which is by far the definitive biography of Sands’ incredible story. Each story on its own is gripping and full of eye-opening events.  But it is when they all come together that the complete picture is formed and one of the darkest secrets of the IRA comes to light. 

Fittingly, the end of the book makes a return to the beginning as McConville becomes the focus once again.  Hughes and Dolours Price are now deceased, and unable to make any statement in regards to Keefe’s work, but before their deaths they spoke at length in private interviews and some of they revealed is discussed unraveling the mystery surrounding McConville’s final moments.  And when readers learn what did happen, some will be staring in disbelief while others will be shaking their heads.   Had it not been for the actions of Edmund “Ed” Maloney and the members of the Belfast Project, the death of Jean McConville might have remained a deeply buried IRA secret.  Undoubtedly, there are probably some parts of the story that remain hidden to this very day.

The author did provide another aspect of the conflict which I have not seen in other books and that is the issue of the men and women on the Republican side who disappeared during the Troubles.  Jean McConville was one of many who simply vanished after taking the final ride to their deaths.  Keefe revisits a few of the most notorious cases which did result in the closure sought by the victim’s surviving famly members.  However, other families were not as fortunate and have never fuly healed.  It is often said that war is hell.  For the McConville family and others hurt or killed in the conflict, these words are hauntingly accurate.

Opinion of the IRA will certainly vary according to who you ask.  After finishing the book, I have come to see that the IRA, while committed to its goal of a united Ireland, also suffered from internal rivalries, paranoia and in some cases outright murder.  The seriousness of their mission and the infiltration of British spies raised tensions putting all on edge.  The MRF intelligence unit of the British Army has its role in the story and previously, I did not know about its existence.  The revelations regarding the group’s work and who the informers were within the IRA will leave some readers spellbound.  It is simply an unbelievable account of the IRA struggle in the North of Ireland.  However, for the children of Jean McConville, the conflict is a wound that may never heal.

The conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” remains the focus of intrigue as more books are published regarding a dark time in Irish and British history.  And while the violence of the past has subsided, divisions between Protestants and Catholics remain in place to this day.  But perhaps at some point in the future, Ireland will be unified and the IRA will no longer have a reason to exist. Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07CWGBK5K

Northern Ireland