Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

20191029_225511(0)Some of you known him as a rapper, others know him as a film star.   To be fair, he is both of them and a lot more.  Personally, I knew of Common for years before he broke into Hollywood.  The star of ‘John Wick 2‘ and ‘Run All Night‘ earned his stripes on the underground rap circuit before going mainstream.  I saw him perform live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and it was a show for the ages.   The electricity was in the air and the place erupted as soon as he stepped on stage.  He was larger than life and rightfully so.   I saw this book in the lobby of my building and instantly grabbed it.  Admittedly, I was unaware of this biography but thoroughly intrigued to see what he had to say.

From the start, it is clear that the book is not a typical autobiography.  In fact, the structure of the book is different with Common and his mother Mahalia Ann Hines taking turns in presenting the story.  As expected, it starts with his birth in Chicago to Mahalia and the late ABA star Lonnie Lynn (1943-2014).   The marriage did not survive and Lynn would later relocate to Denver.   But he remained a part of his son’s life and Common discusses many memories of his father that helped shape him into the man he is today.   But make no mistake, his mother is the dominant force here and their relationship was cemented in stone over the years as young Rashid grows up in one of America’s most dangerous cities.

Since this is a story about Common, the world of rap music is a topic of discussion. Common tells us how he became entranced by rap and his traversal from possible college graduate to a young rapper determined to strike it big.  The odds were surely against him but his determination and belief in himself are inspiring and one of the many uplifting moments in the book.   His success was not easy by any means but he does exemplify the old wisdom that one should never give up on a dream.   And yes, other stars make an appearance in the story such as the late Tupac Shakur (1972-1996).

To say that there is more the Common than what we see on screen is an understatement.  Being from Chicago, he is fully aware of the streets and reveals some mishaps and deeds of his own that he would probably take back if he could.  But such is life and it is full of lessons.  One of the most challenging is love and Common is not immune to the trials and tribulations that come with relationships.  While he does not provide gossip for online forums of magazines, he does talk about his relationships with singer Erykah Badu and actress Taraji P. Henson.   We sometimes view celebrities as living in another dimension but the truth is that they are just like everyone else. Heartbreak can and does happen to everyone.  But this is Common we are talking about and he does not stay down.  He keeps moving forward, taking the lessons in stride with the intention of not making the same mistake again.   And from what I have seen, he is a remarkable person who understands the importance of hard work and humbleness.

His mother Mahalia’s wisdom is timeless and she is wise beyond her years.  I truly loved her part of the book where she passes along sages of knowledge that we can all keep with us.  However, she is not without her faults and is open about where she went wrong at times.  But what is clear is that she loves her son and has always been his biggest supporter.  I am sure that will continue as Common matures and takes on bigger projects which will reap him more and more success.

Common’s story is not over yet, and I do hope that he has many more years to go in his career.  In fact, he is only forty-seven years of age.  But if you want to know who he is, where he comes from and where he wants to go, then you cannot go wrong with this enjoyable autobiography by mother and son who open up their lives to the public.  And it is true that one day it’ll all make sense.

ISBN-10: 1451625871
ISBN-13: 978-1451625875

Biographies

Newman Vol 3In Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume II , author John M. Newman warned us that a storm was brewing.  President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and his brother Robert F. Kennedy (19125-1963) had come to realize that not all who smile come as friends.  But what they could not have foreseen, was the depth of resentment towards them from the military, Cuban exiles and the intelligence community.  In the second volume, we learned about the demise of Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the relationship between the Kennedys and mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975), Oswald’s alleged “defection” and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Newman resumes the story and takes us deeper behind the scenes in the Kennedy Administration which found itself in damage control to prevent rupturing at the seams.

The present volume revisits the Cuban situation and also focuses on the doomed Operation Mongoose.  The covert operation has gained traction in research circles as an example of the doomed efforts to remove Fidel Castro, but as we see here, there was far more to the story.  For several decades, the rumor of Robert Kennedy giving a green light to assassinate Fidel Castro has persisted.  The myth was pioneered by former CIA operative Samuel Halpern (d. 2005), who was not fond of either Kennedy brother.  Newman investigates that myth and finally separates fact from fiction.  And the story that emerges is one of deception, exemplified by the actions of many such as Bill Harvey (1915-1976), Richard Bissell (1909-1994) and Gen. Edward Lansdale (1908-1987).  Halpern’s tale is so convoluted that it even caught the attention of journalist Seymour Hersh who examined the Kennedy family in his book  ‘The Dark Side of Camelot‘, which does no favors to the Kennedy name. I do not know if Hersh has read this book but when or if he does, I am sure the facts revealed by Newman may cause him to revise his work.

If you have read Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, then you are already familiar with one of the most peculiar characters in the JFK assassination story, Antonio Veciana.  As leader of the anti-Castro group Alpha-66, he was responsible for daring acts against the Castro regime.  The acts were so worrisome that Kennedy eventually ordered the military to have them cease and desist.  But just who was Veciana and did he really meet a contact named Maurice Bishop?  It is believed that Bishop was a cover name for David Atlee Phillips (1922-1986), a legendary CIA officer and founder of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.   The story of Veciana and Bishop can be quite confusing and for years Veciana played mind games with investigators.  Fonzi died before Veciana would make several changes to his story but Newman catches them all here and reveals the truth about Veciana’s recruitment into CIA activities and his alleged meeting with Bishop. To say it is puzzling would be an understatement.

Oswald’s “defection” to the Soviet Union is one of the most bizarre parts of his story.  While he never actually defected, his actions did catch the attention of the Russian KGB and the CIA.   Americans attempting to defect to Russia at the height of the Cold War was beyond comprehension and Oswald would have known this as a former Marine.  But the question remains, if Oswald really wanted to defect, then why didn’t he?  James Angleton (1917-1987) was the CIA Counterintelligence Chief from 1954-1975.  Undoubtedly, Oswald would have been of high interest to Angleton, whose hunt for Soviet moles within the CIA destroyed lives and damaged careers.  Until his final days in the CIA, he was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency.  During his tenure, Soviet defectors did approach American officers.  One of them was Yuri Nosenko, whose story is another critical part of the Kennedy labyrinth.   However, Nosenko was a strange character and a career spy.  But was he a real defector?  Newman re-examines Nosenko’s story to show us what was really taking place in the spy war between the CIA and KGB.

An often misunderstood part of Kennedy’s election to office is the role of the Civil Rights Movement.  American politicians have known for decades that the Black American vote is crucial to winning a major election.   Kennedy faced an enormous hurdle in gaining the black vote primarily because he was Catholic and a Democrat.   The story of how he obtained the Black vote and why is critical to understand what he represented to millions of Americans.  His “New Frontier” program was advanced in many ways but sadly it never came into reality due to his death.  Newman wants us to understand how Kennedy was propelled to office and why the story is relevant to his death in 1963.  In 1960, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon (1913-1994) by an extremely slim margin.  Prior to the election, a series of events took place that changed the course of history.  They would involve both Robert and John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

The efforts to secure Kennedy’s claim to the White House by Sam Giancana is well-known to researchers and those with a keen ear for mafia tales.  But the relationship between the Kennedy family and Giancana was quite unusual in itself and had the public known of the connection, I can only imagine what the fallout would have been.  Giancana was a walking tomb of dark secrets and he is mentioned briefly in this volume again, along with Johnny Roselli (1905-1976) whose efforts to topple Castro are part of CIA-Mafia lore.

As Kennedy takes office, he soon finds that the battles in Washington are just beginning.  After the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco, he knew better than to trust the word of the CIA and Pentagon.  But what they did not know was that Kennedy had been changed by the Bay of Pigs and was determined to make sure the CIA and Pentagon never got away with such a ruse again.  This part of the book is where things get deeper and take a much darker turn.  Laos and Vietnam loom over Kennedy like a dark cloud and he soon finds himself on the defensive as military brass are demanding intervention in Southeast Asia.   Cuba is never far off the radar and once again it becomes a hot topic.  It became so hot that the Pentagon concocted plans that repulsed Kennedy and widened the gap between the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  If you have heard the name Operation Northwoods, then you have an idea of where the story is going.  The stage is slowly being set with tensions rising.  The Pentagon and CIA are hungry for a war but can they proceed with a President who is becoming increasingly distrustful of his own advisors?  As the book concludes, it becomes clear that the Kennedys are on a collision course with the military and intelligence community and the climax will be far more serious that Americans could have imagined.

Volume IV is still in the works but when it is released, I am sure that Newman will continue with this eye-opening assessment of one of America’s darkest moments.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07NJRY8WJ

Assassinations

darknessI recently reviewed Volume I in this exceptional review of the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  Author John M. Newman returns in Volume II to the incredible story of the events leading up to Kennedy’s time in office and his untimely demise.  Here we change gears and take a deeper look at the alleged defection of Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) to the Soviet Union,  the mob ties of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969), the role of Italian-American mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975) and the foreign policy decisions in Cuba, the Congo and Southeast Asia.

The story of Lee Harvey Oswald is an open and shut case if you believe the government’s official story.   What we do know is that he did in fact travel to the Soviet Union and attempted to renounce his U.S. Citizenship.  But what is often left out of the discussion is did he actually renounce it?   To some the question might seem strange but if we take a closer look along with the author, we see that many of Oswald’s actions in Russia did not make sense. In fact, things were so confusing that his mother Marguerite Oswald (1907-1981) wrote to the State Department to verify if her son had given up his U.S. Citizenship.  If you eyebrows are now raised, you are on the right track and what follows in this book will change your perception of Oswald’s possible intentions in the Soviet Union.   Admittedly, Oswald is still a mysterious figure.  The amount of information known about him still pales slightly to the unknown information surrounding his career in the military and his actions in Dallas leading up to Kennedy’s murder.   The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has generally been quite vague about what it knew about Oswald’s attempted defection and his return to the United States.  The opening of the infmamous 201 file on Oswald has always been a topic of discussion in assassination researcher circles and for good reason. Newman explores the issue in detail and clears up some of the mysteries that have lingered for years.  But what may really rattle readers is his hypothesis as to why Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union in the first place.  Newman does not declare that his belief is what happened but his suggestion has plenty of traction and if it is ever proven to be correct, it would completely change what we knew about Lee Harvey Oswald.

As John F. Kennedy settled into office in January, 1961, his administration faced its first crisis as news of the murder of Patrice Lumuba (1925-1961) spread across the globe.  Kennedy publicly had believed in a free Africa policy and Lumumba’s murder dealt a heavy blow for his vision of Africa’s future.  Today we have the benefit of hindsight to look back on Lumumba’s death.  And what we can see is a story that is much darker than most could have ever imagined.  I should point out that there is no direct relationship between Lumumba’s death and Kennedy’s murder.  But what is revealed is the role of the CIA which was also discussed in Volume I.  The agency as it is known informally, became a foreign policy division of its own and by the time Kennedy took office, no one in Washington dared to challenge it.  In fact, the agency was so powerful, that several presidents were unaware of what the agency’s true mission actually was.  Author David Talbot discusses the agency in detail in his phenomenal book “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government”, which is a thoroughly researched account of the rise of the CIA under its controversial director Allen Dulles (1893-1969).  Newman puts Dulles and the agency back in the spotlight, revealing a sinister web of deceit determined to engineer Lumumba’s downfall.  The story is critical to understanding what would follow from the agency in Cuba and eventually Southeast Asia.

Cuba once again comes into focus as Fidel Castro breaks ties with Washington and officials are left seeting with disdain towards the beared revolutionary.  This part of the book is perhaps the most chilling as it provides an inside look into the battle being waged behind the scenes to coach Kennedy into an all out war with Cuba.  Truths, half-truths and outright lies served to cause confusion and errant decisions that resulted in the distrastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  The mission was a total failure and publicly, Kennedy excepted blame.  But behind the scenes, a war was looming between the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s intelligence community.   The stakes had been raised and Kennedy came to realize that the CIA was now an obstacle that had to be removed.  But what he did not know at the time was that the agency plays for keeps and waits patiently for the right moment to execute.

To say that these books are mesmerizing would be an understatement.  This is the history we are never taught in school.   The information revealed in these books should serve as the basis for history lessons given about the events during the Cold War and the CIA’s rise to power.  The author concludes the book with a snippet from the story of former CIA agent David Atlee Phillips (1922-1988), whose words  are an indication of what is come in Volume III of the series titled Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy.  A storm was definitely brewing and by the time it ended, America was never be the same again.

ASIN: B01N16W6E4

Assassinations

1The lone gunman theory remains the official position taken the United States Government with regards to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  The alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was convicted in the court of public opinion before standing trial in a Dallas courtroom. His assailant, Jack Ruby (1911-1967) permanently silenced Oswald forever and prevented Americans from knowing more about the former Marine that had once lived in the Soviet Union.   The big question surrounding Kennedy’s death is who did it?  The crime is similar to a black hole, puzzling even the most hardened researchers.  The late Jim Marrs (1943-2017) once said that we know who killed Kennedy, we just have to look at the evidence.  Author John M. Newman has joined the group of assassination researchers and has produced this first volume in what will be a multi-volume set about the deadly events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

In this first volume, Newman sets the tone for what will soon follow. In comparison to other books about the murder, this volume is not focused on Kennedy’s death.  In fact, the murder is only mentioned a handful of times.  The story that is presented here is of the revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro (1926-2016) and Washington’s fears of  Soviet expansion.  As Fulgencio Batista (1971-1973) struggled to maintain control of Cuba,  the CIA was closely watching the events taking place in the streets of Havana.  Students, revolutionary groups and activists formed a nexus of opposition to Batista’s corrupt regime.  At first it might seem counterproductive to write about the Cuban Revolution if the book is about Kennedy’s murder.  But what is important to keep in mind is that Newman is slowly setting the stage for what would eventually happen in Dallas.   It is generally accepted by researchers that Kennedy’s death was by no means the actions of just one person.  In fact, the list of those who opposed the young president was long and for a good explanation of how many forces were conspiring against Kennedy, I strongly recommend Col. John Hughes Wilson’s JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination, which provides a clear picture of the looming threat to the occupant in the White House.

I strongly believe that to understand Kennedy’s murder, it is necessary to understand exactly what was happening in Cuba and how it played out during Kennedy’s presidency.   Newman’s focus is not on the mission in the jungles of Cuba by bearded revolutionaries.   His goal here is to uncover the actions of the CIA and finally reveal the characters involved and what purpose they played as Castro took power and led Cuba down the communist path.   Acronyms and code names become the norm but if we pay close attention, we come to realize that many of the figures are discussed in other books. However, there are two who stand out here and deserve special mention.  Newman goes into the complicated and mysterious stories of Catherine Taeffe and June Cobb (1927-2015).  The latter has been written about before and her story is still puzzling to this day.   Thousands of pages of records have been released giving us a better picture Cobb’s association with the CIA and Newman ties all of if together here providing a thorough back story as to who she really was.  Taeffe is yet another figure who has eluded scrutiny in many books but it is here that her importance to Washington becomes clear.  And by the time Newman is finished, the reader will surely realize that there was far more taking place in Washington with regards to Cuba than most Americans could have ever imagined.  To be even more frank, things in Cuba had heated up and it is truly a miracle that an all out invasion of the island never materialized.

There are many names in the book and it is easy to get distracted as the author moves through the story.  I do think that a quick primer on the crime will help readers make it through the subject matter.  As a rule, I always recommend Jim Marrs ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘, which still remains one of the best-selling books on Kennedy’s death.  With that being said, Newman does an excellent job of focusing on one aspect of the matter and exploring it into exhaustive detail.   I am now on to the second volume and his multi-volume approach will undoubtedly change the way Kennedy’s assassination is viewed through the eyes of even the most ardent researchers.   What I also found to be exceptionally valuable is that Newman does not put forth conspiracy theories, his conclusions are based solely on the evidence that was released.  And it is that approach that makes the book an even more exciting read.

I admit that the Kennedy murder is usually not at the top of the list of books to buy for a majority of readers.  But the crime still remains one of America’s darkest moments.   Perhaps one day we will finally know what really happened that day but until then, we can only reveal the truth layer by layer.  If the author is consistent, the volumes that follow will be nothing short of exceptional.  Good read.

ASIN: B00X3VZED6

 

Assassinations

arrnerWhen I first heard of this book, I was slightly puzzled.  As a fan of the NLF, the name Curt Warner was very familiar to me but it turns out that I had the wrong person in mind.  And I am willing to wager that a large number of people who come across this book will also make the same mistake and instead think of the NFL player Kurt Warner, who once played for the New York Giants. Both are retired but only one has a family of four that includes twin sons born with autism.  Many of us many know someone who struggles with autism.  And others may be teachers who have taught autistic students. Regardless, we can all agree that it is a condition which requires enormous patience and understanding.  This is the story of Curt and Ana Warner, two parents faced with the monumental task of raising twin sons born autistic while maintaining family life that includes tow other children.

Since retiring from the NFL in 1990,  Warner had remained largely hidden from public life.  But with the publication of this book, the creation of his personal website and the Curt Warner Autism Foundation, he and wife Ana are at the forefront of the continuing struggle to understand and solve the mystery of autism.  Currently, no one truly knows why some people are born autistic.  There have been attempts to diagnose it while a fetus is still in development but an actual cause still eludes doctors.  What is known is that there is no cure for it and there may never be. But what we can do as a society is to listen to those who deal with it so that we all can understand what it is and how it affects those born with it.  Curt and Ana Warner made the courageous decision to turn their struggle in this incredible book which shows the struggle behind the scenes in a household with autistic children.

Both parents take turns speaking in the book but there is a notation at the beginning of the section so that the reader knows which parent is commenting.  The commentary does swtich back and forth quite often and that might be just a little confusing to some readers but both do a great job of staying in sync as the story progresses. And what is clear is that without each other, there was no way the family would have ever survived what can only be described as mind-blowing.   My knowledge of autism prior to the book was limited in some ways but having finished the story,  I can say for certain that I now have a new found undrestanding for the amount of work required by parents of autistic children.

My only complaint about the book is that I wish it  had been longer.  As I read through the book, I found myself rooting for Curt, Ana and their kids to pull through as a family.  We know today that they have survived many situations that could have been tragic for all involved. The book concludes on a positive note and I hope that the Warners are continuing to enjoy life as much as they can.  The bravery they displayed in writing this book is a testament to their character, cemented by their struggle together.  Their experiences should remind us all that perseverance, hope and faith are the keys required to make it through even the most difficult situations.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07B9KR118

Biographies

Wilson -JFKLast week I was debating what book to read next and realized that I had not covered anything on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in quite some time.  To many Americans, his death is in America’s past, and a crime never to be solved.  With that being said, his murder is a reminder of how easy it once was to remove a sitting president from the highest office in the land.  Kennedy’s death endures as one of America’s darkest moments and the unanswered questions surrounding the events in Dealey Plaza still send chills down the spines of even the most seasoned researchers.  Colonel John Hughes-Wilson has taken another look at the crime and lays out his case for what he believes was a coup d’état on November 22, 1963.  In the fifty-years since JFK’s death, researchers have been able to compile a staggering amount of revealing evidence throughout independent research and the release of government files under the Freedom of Information Act and the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.  Incredibly, Hughes-Wilson has managed to compress thousands of pages of information into a book that is less than 400 pages.  But contained within the pages of this book is an excellent summary of what happened before, during and after Kennedy’s murder.

Some readers may be independent researchers in the crime or simply someone that has never believed the official story put forth by the government.  I warn the reader to be prepared for many shocking revelations and the introduction of facts that are simply unbelievable.   If you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was the lone killer,  you may find this book hard to accept.  But I do think that the author provides an incredibly strong position to support his believe that Kennedy’s murder was in effect a change in government by powerful sources hidden behind the scenes.  One of the book’s most interest parts is how the author sets the stage for Kennedy’s murder.  So much focus is often placed on November 22 but it is critical to understand the forces that raged against his administration and their culmination into a deadly web of enemies determined to have the president removed at all costs.  Author James Douglass does a great job of covering topic in his book on the murder “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters“.   The information provided therein if plentiful and highly enlightening.  Hughes-Wilson takes a similar approach but streamlines the information to keep the pace moving at a sufficient pace.

Any book on Kennedy’s murder is sure to contain a long list of characters relevant to the story at hand.  This book is no different and as one would expect, figures such as Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) are discussed throughout the book.  We also learn about the various groups that came to loathe the president such as Cuban exiles, Texas oil barons, Wall Street bankers, the government of Israel and the Italian American Mafia.   The connections between the various groups will raise eyebrows and cause mouths to drop open in surprise.   But what may truly shock many readers, is their connection to the White House, in particularly Kennedy himself.  I warn some that what is also revealed about Kennedy’s private life may change the way they see the former president.   But if you have read Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot“,  some of the information may be repetitive.   Kennedy is long gone so we will never known what made him do some of the things that he did.   The author here does provide clues to his sometimes strange behavior but to a point, even his views are somewhat speculative.  Regardless, his assessment of the late president, puts the murder into clear context and also reveals that many great political figures also had a very dark side that the public was not privy to in the age before cell phones and social media.

Hughes-Wilson did an incredible job of staying focused and not straying too far from the main goal of the book.  One can easily spend hours on just one part of the murder.  Whether it is Oswald’s life or the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt (1924-1963),  the amount of information to cover is exhausting.  The author here never lets the reader become overwhelmed with information but wisely keeps things moving along and provides enough information for the reader to continue to piece together the entire puzzle.  In short, I found the book to a collection of information covered separately in other books but told in a way that keeps the reader deeply intrigued.  And even for myself, the book was thoroughly enjoyable even though I have read at least a dozen books and several articles on the crime.

Someone asked me one day if Kennedy’s murder would ever be solved.  Well Jim Marrs once said that we already know who did it, but we just need to look closely at the evidence.  I think that we have many of the answers that have long been sought through the hard work of researchers and the deathbed confessions of individuals long suspected of being part of the plot.  The real question is whether Americans are ready to accept information that will change the way the see the United States Government and politicians many of them have long admired.   It is said that no one who was alive when Kennedy’s murder took place will forget where they were that day.  My father has told me the same thing many times and can easily recall that day from start to finish even at the age of 66.   For my generation, none of us will forget where we were on September 11th.  The future generation will have their own moment in history but what that is remains to be seen.  No matter how many generations pass, the murder of John F. Kenney will remain the biggest unsolved mystery in American history.  But with books such as this by Col. John Hughes-Wilson, we already have many of the answers needed to eventually find the truth.

For readers that are discovering new territory,  I strongly recommend reading the late Jim Marrs’ (1943-2017) “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy“.  It remains one of the best sources for information on the assassination.  Having discovered this gem, I also strongly recommend this compendium as well for those who truly want to know what really happened.

ISBN-10: 1782198547
ISBN-13: 978-1782198543
ASIN: B00GF3MVUS

Assassinations JFK RFK

ManningLast week,  my mother and I had a discussion about the actor Denzel Washington, who is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.  For both of us, his role as civil rights figure Malcolm X (1925-1965) in 1992 biopic ‘Malcolm X‘, was a shining moment in which he showed the world his talent as an actor and Spike Lee’s known skills as a powerful filmmaker. I had been contemplating my next book to read and came across this biography by late author Manning Marable (1950-2011). I had previously read The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and Bruce Perry’s Malcolm: THe Life of Man Who Changed America .  The former is a classic read widely across the globe.  Perry’s biography is a great read and addressed many topics that Haley did not include.  Stepping into the picture is Marable with this phenomenal biography that surpasses Perry’s and provides an even more intimate look into Malcolm’s life.

One of the hardest parts of completing a project as daunting as a biography is separating fact from fiction.  Marable exhaustively researched his subject and it clearly shows throughout the book.  The amount of information in the book is staggering and will leave many readers speechless at times.  I cannot say with certainty how much information Spike Lee had access to when making the film.  But what is clear from reading this book is that there is a good chance some things were withheld from him by those with intimate knowledge of Malcolm’s life and that editing the film down to three hours and twenty-two minutes resulted in a fair amount of footage ending up on the cutting room floor.   Regardless, Lee created a masterpiece of a film.  However, there was far more to Malcolm’s life than what moviegoers saw and some of that information shows his life and the Nation of Islam in a whole new light.

No story about Malcolm is complete without mention of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), the former leader of the Nation of Islam.  His influence on Malcolm’s life and their subsequent falling out is covered extensively in the book.  I personally learned new information that I had never anticipated when I started the book.  As to be expected, Malcolm’s time with the Nation of Islam, his marriage to Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) and the creation of Muslim Mosque, Inc. make up large portion of the second half of the book.  And it truly is a story that is surreal at times.  Undoubtedly the book carries a serious tone but there are bright moments in the book, some of which focus on Malcolm’s time outside of the United States. His visits to the Middle East, which helped shape and then change his views are pivotal moments in the book, showing the process of reinvention that he goes through as he matures.

Some of the reviews I read on Amazon were interesting but one in particular caught my attention for its critique of Marable’s discussion of Malcolm’s sexuality in his youth.   I do not believe that Marable tainted Malcolm’s image or was irresponsible in the way that he chose to handle the subject matter. In fact, Bruce Perry also addressed it in his biography of Malcolm and there is a strong possibility that both authors were on the right track.   Marable devotes a very small portion of the book to the subject and I think he made the right decision.  And the overall story is so interesting that I believe most readers will go through the section and quickly move forward to the rest of the book.

One of the book’s major strengths is the author’s willingness to take on even the most sensitive parts of Malcolm’s life.  In fact, there were many things revealed that I am sure the Nation of Islam would have killed to protect years ago.   These events are not only about Malcolm’s life but they also reveal information about figures intimately involved in his life such a Minister Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm’s protege and Ella Little (1914-1996). Interestingly, both figures do not make an appearance in Lee’s film for reasons known to the filmmakers.  Marable does provide some insight and what he reveals might surprise some readers.  Civil rights figures such as Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), Dick Gregory (1932-2017) and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) are also part of the story and reading Marable’s words made me feel as if I stepped back into time during the tumultuous decade that was the 1960s.   Readers who lived during the era will surely reminisce about a time in American history where fear permeated across the nation and the assassination of political figures was nearly commonplace.

About two-thirds through the book, the stage is set for Malcolm’s tragic end at the Audubon Ballroom.  The tension and outright hostility between him and the NOI had reached a deadly level. Marable highlights the multiple attempts on Malcolm’s life and the escalation in fearmongering that ensued.   The assassination is revisited from start to finish and the author sheds light on a few things that I had previously been unaware of.   It is well-known the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) had been keeping Malcolm under surveillance. The paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was endless and he wasted no time in having his agents open a file for the Bureau’s benefit.  But what is often left out of the discussion regarding Malcolm’s controversial life is the role of the secret Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (“BOSS”), formed by the New York City Police Department.  The roles and actions of these two entities raise new questions about Malcolm’s death that remain unanswered.  Perhaps in the next fifty years, more files will declassified and we may finally know the truth as to what state and federal agencies knew about Malcolm, the Nation of Islam and his murder on February 21, 1965.

The epilogue of the book is equally fascinating, and in it Marable opens a discussion about fundamental differences between Malcolm and other leaders of the times.  Death was a constant threat in his life and he clearly knew that he had been marked for it but refused to live in fear.  Throughout the book, he makes a series of decisions that we can now look at with the hindsight unavailable to him.  At the time, he was following his beliefs and remained dedicated in his goal to spread true Islam to anyone willing to learn.  His faults and transgressions are also on full display, showing us a multi-dimension yet often streamlined person that helped place the Nation of Islam into the national spotlight.  He is revered around the world as a champion of civil rights and a brilliant mind taken from this world far before his time.   There is so much more to his story contained within the pages of this book which is an exceptional work that will cause one to ask, how much do I really know about Malcolm X?  Here is a good place to start.

ASIN: B0046ECJ9Q

Biographies

BowdenSeveral months ago, my uncle and I had a discussion about aging and how health becomes more important as the years pass by.  He recalled when he left the military following his service in Vietnam.   His hearing is permanently damaged as a result of being stationed near the 50 caliber machine gun while out on patrol.  Over the years, he has spoken about Vietnam on rare occasions but I know for a fact that he and millions of other veterans of the war, carry with them many dark memories and emotional scars from their time in a war that has been viewed negatively for several decades.  Author Mark Bowden revisits the war in this phenomenal account of the battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968.  My uncle was not stationed in Hue but in another part of the country and has told me many things about the war that made my skin crawl.  For the United States Armed Forces, the battle of Hue and the Tet Offensive changed the war in Vietnam and the for the first time, it became increasingly clear, that this was a war that America could possibly lose.

Bowden opens the book by setting the stage for the events that led up to Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration that marks the first day of the lunar new year.  American forces led by Gen. William Westmoreland (1914-2005) had assumed that Khe Sanh would be the place where the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) would launch a surprise attack during Tet.  Some downplayed the attack as rumors with no basis of truth.   However, when the NVA launched its operation on January 30, 1968, it was a wake up call for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and Washington, where President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) became haunted by a war with no ending in sight.  The book picks up pace at this point and it never slows down.

Instantly I was pulled into the story. Memories of Olive Stone’s ‘Platoon’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ by Stanley Kubrick came back to me as different but very vivid portrayals of the conflict in Vietnam.  Both films are classics but neither touches in depth on the Tet Offensive.  This book is different and what Bowden reveals shows a side of the war that neither filmmaker had enough time or resources to cover.  The story at hand follows the Marines and Hue is ground zero. The battle was bloody, protracted and tragic for both sides.  The concept of a happy ending does not apply here.  In fact, not one person Bowden interviewed, viewed the war in a positive light.   What I did find was that there is bitterness, heartache and the question of why the United States became entangled in Vietnam to begin with.  It is a question America has struggled to answer.  Former Rand employee Daniel Ellsberg revealed much of what Washington was thinking when he provided confidential memos that have become known as the The Pentagon Papers.  The memos are striking and reveal monumental failures among the brightest minds in Washington.  We may never know all of the details regarding the decisions to become engaged in Southeast Asia.

I warn readers that the book is not for the faint at heart.   The injuries and deaths among the Marines are nothing short of horrific.  We meet many of them, learn about their lives and follow the paths they took to Vietnam.  Some of them do not survive and for those that do, Hue became a permanent memory that would haunt them for years to come.  What shocked me, among many things, were the ages of the Marines we become acquainted with.  Some are as young as 18 years of age and deposited into a place that they see as hell on earth.  The scenes are savage and young men are forced to make decisions and carry out orders that cause them to question what is truly right and wrong. The common adage is that war is hell and it certainly applies here.

The author focuses not only on the battle at Hue but also on the domestic issues raised in the United States.  While Gen. Westmoreland, known to many as “Westy” gave figures on the death toll and the successes of U.S. troops, many were skeptical including the late American journalist Walter Cronkite (1916-2009), whose trip to Vietnam is covered in the book.  Americans had started to learn that something was not quite right about the reports coming back from Saigon and Cronkite became one of the leading voices in holding Washington accountable to what was happening to the boys overseas. Cronkite’s  findings and Johnson’s realizations are one of the pivotal parts of the book and for the troops in Vietnam, a sobering reality.

The book is primarily centered around Hue and is not intended to be a full discussion of the war’s origin.  In fact, the leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969),  makes only a brief appearance in the story.   The author never loses focus and the story remains on the dedicated Marines, the constant reality of death and the mission to retake the City of Hue.  Throughout the book, we come to know many of them intimately and towards the end, Bowden relays what happened to some of them after leaving Vietnam and how they adjusted to life back in the United States.  Each does their best to put Vietnam behind them upon rotating back to America.   As I read the book, I could not help but to wonder where many other veterans of the conflict are.  Undoubtedly, some are now deceased but there are many others who served and fought in Hue who have done their best to forget that experience.  This book is a testament to the bravery and perseverance required by the Marines in Hue.  It is also a painful look at the misguided policies of Washington that plunged America into a conflict with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

After finishing the book, I thought of the the Ken Burn’s Netlfix documentary series The Vietnam War, which I watched several months ago.  The series is riveting and Burns captures the era and conflict perfectly through remastered archival footage and interviews with those who served.  It is an amazing work of art and highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the Vietnam War.

ASIN: B071Y87H9H

Uncategorized

lombard Aviation is truly one of the world’s modern marvels.  To say that it has made the world smaller is an understatement.  There is something mystical and surreal about moving through the air at 39,000 feet, at speeds in excess of 500mph.  Every flyer knows that there are inherent dangers when we take to the skies.  Pilots are incredibly skilled and make the experience seem like magic to those of us in the cabin.  And air travel is safer today that at any point in history but there many tragedies over the years that we have learned from in order to make air travel as safe as possible.  Seasoned pilots will tell you that the early days of aviation were quite dangerous and flying literally was like rolling the dice. On January 16, 1942, movie star Carole Lombard (1908-1942) was a passenger on TWA Flight 3, a flight that began in New York and had a final destination of Burbank, California.  Most of the trip was routine, but a sudden change of events in Las Vegas, changed the course of history and resulted in one of the deadliest aviation accidents of the 1940s.  Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed full speed into Mt. Potosi, causing the aircraft to disintegrate upon impact.  There were no survivors.

The official cause of the disaster is still a mystery.  At the time, flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders did not exist in the form that they do now. The pilot, Wayne Clark Williams and co-pilot Stillman-Morgan Atherton Gillette, took what they knew with them to the grave.  For decades, the case remained dormant but author Robert Matzen brings the past back to life in this gripping account of the life of Carole Lombard, her husband and legendary film star William Clark Gable (1901-1960) and the plane crash that shocked a nation.  Matzen has visited the crash site which is still littered with debris and other grisly finds.  He has reviewed thousand of pages of records including FBI files and official investigation records by the Civil Aeronautics Board (1939-1985). And what he has compiled is a thorough investigative report into the accident that rob Hollywood of one of its brightest stars.

Flight 3’s demise of the crux of the book but the author also tells the story of Lombard’s life, from her humble beginnings in Fort Wayne, Indiana to her success in Hollywood during the golden age.  Matzen leaves no stone unearthed, revealing the very private side of Lombard’s life, replete with romances, tragedy and and a near-death experience many years before she met her fate on Flight 3.   The author captures the aura of the golden era in Hollywood, a time unlike anything the world had seen previously.  Some of the greatest names in Hollywood history appear in the story, coming into and going out of Lombard’s life as she moves through Hollywood’s upper echelon.  She eventually crossed paths with Gable and Matzen provides an inside look into their marriage and the changes that took place in their lives after tying the knot.  Hollywood has dark secrets and stars sometimes come with many shortcomings carefully guarded behind a thoughtfully crafted facade.  Matzen looks past that showing the very human side of both.  The result is an honest an intimate portrait of two stars at the height of their careers whose relationship was on borrowed time.

Matzen wrote the book in a slightly different style.  In the first half of the book, the chapters alternate between Lombard’s life story and the reaction to the crash itself.  Towards the middle of the book, the seam is merged and the story moves forward as emergency personnel formulate plans to visit the crash site and recover what they can.  Readers sensitive to graphic descriptions of accidents may find this part of the book difficult to get through.  The accident was nothing short of devastating.  As Matzen explained the violent nature of the collision, I felt a chill go down my spine.  I was also speechless as I read descriptions of the carnage that awaited personnel as they made their way to the crash site.  At the end of the book, there are photographs included which help to give the reader a visual image of the crash site.  Pictures sometimes do speak a thousand words.

Clark Gable remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars.  But what the public did not see was the struggle he waged in the wake of his wife’s death.  Matzen discusses Gable’s life after the crash and up until his death in 1960 at the age of fifty-nine.  Apart from the crash, this part of the book is also a tough read.  We witness the emotional and physical descent by Gable as he struggles to move on in life following the loss of Lombard whom he affectionately referred to as “Ma”.  His sorrow is strong and his life was never the same again. The author focuses on his emotional state and his surprising decision to enlist in the military during World War II.  Gable is a man apart and fans of the late star will find this part of the book to be equally heartbreaking.

As the book moves towards its conclusion, the author gives us yet another surprise with regards to the crash of Flight 2793 on November 8, 2007.  The Cessna was a T182t single-engine aircraft piloted by Civil Air Patrol. Col. Ed Lewis and copilot Dion DeCamp.  Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed directly into the same mountain as TWA Flight 3.  The coincidence was beyond creepy but did both flights crash for the same reason?  And why did two planes, piloted by experienced captains slam full speed into a mountain that by all accounts, should have been seen?  Matzen provides a very thorough and likely explanation for Flight 3’s crash and reveals interesting facts about 2793’s final moments. Perhaps the final truth will never be known about each flight but we do have an abundance of information about both crashes.  They each highlight the dangers of flying at night without proper visual aids and pre-flight planning.  May the souls on board of each rest in peace.

Before reading this book, I was not aware of Flight 3 and the sad ending to the life of Carole Lombard.   The book came as a recommendation on Amazon and for some reason the cover pulled me in.  It was truly a fascinating read and the pace of the book never let up.  Matzen has done an outstanding job. Highly recommended.

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

ASIN: B01NCTWGWK

Investigative Report