The name Idi Amin remains among the most infamous our world has ever known. Following the overthrow that removed Milton Obote (1925-2005) from power, the late despot ruled Uganda with relentless brutality as he enriched himself at the peril of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans. In January, 1979, the Ugandan National Liberation Army forced him into exile with the help of the Tanzania People’s Defense Force and former Libyan dictator Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011). Amin spent the last years of his life in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he died on August 16, 2003. Today, nearly fifteen years after his death, he is still reviled by those who remember a dark period in the history of Uganda.
Henry Kyemba (1939-) served under Amin in several high positions including Minister of Health. On a trip to Europe, he defected from Ugandan and was reunited with both of his wives and his children thereafter. He first wrote this book in 1977, shortly after he made his life changing escape from Amin’s domain. Twenty years later, the book was republished with a foreword by Godfrey Lule (Godfrey Binaisa, 1929-2010). This is Kyemba’s account his time serving under Amin and the nightmare that ensued. And what is contained in the pages of this book is a story that is not for the faint at heart and a critical inside look into the reign of the man who dubbed himself “The Last King of Scotland”. And for those familiar with Amin, the story is still fascinating and at times just mind numbing as Kyemba reveals the insanity that engulfed a doomed regime.
Kyemba begins this story by teaching us about Uganda’s history and the division of tribes that remains in place today. The names and places come together like a puzzle giving us a large image of the country. At first it may be challenging to follow along but as the story moves along, the reader will be able to remember the most important. He continues by introducing us to his life and his role under the administration under Milton Obote who is removed from power early in the story. From that point on, it is all Amin and the madness that came with him. Kyemba’s escape is the “happy ending” that can serve to uplift the spirit, but in reality, his heart and the hearts of others who escape Uganda bleed for the thousands who were brutally murdered.
The book is at times, tough to read and Kyemba does not sugar coat anything. Violence, racism and incompetence combined to for a cesspool from which many would never recover. Kyemba also discusses the major events that highlighted Amin’s rule including the death of his wife Kay, whose gruesome demise was documented in the film The Last King of Scotland starring Forest Whitaker, the death of Dora Bloch following the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv and the expulsion of Indians and Asians from Ugandan soil. In each case, Amin’s delusions and failure to grasp the situation, marked yet another tragic point in an already bizarre story. In one of the most touching moments in the book, Kyemba remarks on Bloch’s death and how it has stayed with him.
An extraordinary amount of courage was required to write a book of this nature. For Kyemba, Uganda will always be home and his memories will be with him for the rest of his days. For those of us who did not live under Amin, books like this give us an idea of what life was like under a regime that stood on the verge of spiraling out of control nearly every day. Amin escaped justice dying in his older years in Saudi Arabia. For thousands of Ugandans, his ability to avoid punishment and answer for his crimes is one of the true tragedies in the nation’s history. Dictators live in a world removed from reality with their power having blinded them to the reality of their situation. Amin was no different and in fact stood out for his relentless brutality and lack of comprehension of even the most basic government concepts. Kyemba’s story is similar to other survivors of murderous regimes but I assure even the most hardened readers will be moved. If you are curious about the notorious Idi Amin and his regime, this book will show you a side that needs to be shown.
The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election-Malcolm Nance
The 2016 presidential election remains an event that bordered on the surreal and shocked not just American citizens but people around the globe. Donald J. Trump, the political outsider and least likely candidate to win, secured the Republican nomination and the electoral votes needed to become the 45th President of the United States of America. As we begin 2018 we can look back on his first year and office and reach various conclusions depending on our political outlook and beliefs about the state of the nation. What is certain, is that from the start, his administration has been plagued with allegations of collusion with nefarious figures hailing from Russia. Prior to his election, he often showed admiration for Vladimir Putin and since taking office, has taken a passive stance on the country that is believed by intelligence experts to have interfered in the elections of several nations. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed Special Counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and as of today, the investigation is still ongoing. And while there is no fire yet, there is a lot of smoke.
Malcolm Nance, a former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer in Naval Cryptology with over thirty years in intelligence and counter-intelligence decided to put together a short book that puts the known pieces of the Russia hacking scandal together giving us a clear and concise picture of what did happen and when. The book is not a smoking gun linking Trump directly to any Russian hackers and Nance does not imply such. However, there is a lot of potentially incriminating evidence and we know today that at least four people of Trump’s inner circle have pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and money laundering. The recent news of the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury in which he interviews former Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon has added more fuel to the fire and has mad the future grim for the 45th Commander-In-Chief. But what exactly did happen prior to November 8, 2016? And what did authorities know for certain? Further, Nance reveals a lot of interesting information, but how much more is there that is still unknown?
Nance takes us back to the beginning when officials realized that the servers of the Democratic National Convention had been hacked. Unlike Watergate, there were no intruders with flashlights who would later stand trial and attempt to extort the White House. This was all done through cyber warfare and the fallout would be staggering. Some may even say there is still more to come. As an IT Administrator (IT), I have experienced cyber threats on several fronts and can say with certainty that if the average person knew just how many cyber threats there are in existence, they would be scared nearly to death. To read the book, you do not need a background in Information Technology, Nance presents each topic in an easy to read format for the layman to follow. If you do have experience in IT, then you will nod your head at many of the things that he discusses. Regardless of your technical aptitude, what is revealed in this book should open the eyes of every American that cares about our electoral process.
Supporters of President Trump may be quick to dismiss the book as fake news or left-wing smear tactics. However, Nance does not take any sides politically and makes no direct accusations against Trump. What he does declare is that without a doubt, Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election and there is strong evidence that the orders came from Putin himself. At first it sounds like a very bold statement but Nance supports his conclusions with sound evidence that is thoroughly explained. And throughout the book, he reminds us that more investigations are needed to see if there was in fact direct collusion and/or espionage between Trump’s team and Russia operatives. According to Bannon, the answer is yes. But before we accept the proclamations of an individual that is as cunning as they come, it is imperative that a full investigation is conducted. We may not like what we find and the truth is rarely pleasant. No matter which party you belong to or how you voted in the election, what transpired prior to November 8, 2016, should be of grave concern to you for if it happened once, there is the fear that it could happen again. Nance gives us a dire warning imploring us not to make the same mistake again and to proactively fight cyber attacks in the future. But with a Commander-In-Chief who doesn’t believe in cyber attacks or seek to understand them, how safe will we be?
The title of the book sounds like it could be a television special or motion picture. But I assure you it is not fiction, this is a real as it gets. The United States and its democratic institutions were attacked and the depth of the crime is something that many people still do not fully understand. But with books such as this one by Nance, a clear picture emerges that can be used as a reference guide in understanding what really was the plot to hack America.
When I first saw the title of this book, I felt my body slightly recoil. In fact, the book was recommended to me by my boss who is a White-American. Previously, Amazon had placed the book on the list of recommended titles for my purchase but I had yet to take the plunge. This time around, I gave in and decided to see what was contained in the pages of this book. Having finished, I can say without a doubt that Nancy Isenberg has produced an eye-opening account of what truly is the untold 400- year history about class and race in America. At first glance, it may seem as if the book is a racist attack on people perceived to be of a lower social class. But in fact, the opposite is true. Isenberg brings light to the suffering and exploitation of a social class that is still disdained and mocked even today. The 2016 Presidential election brought the subject back into the public light provoking fierce debates about the success of the Republican Party and the election of Donald J. Trump. But the question truly remains, what does it mean to be called white trash?
History books typically portray the American Revolution as a movement bursting at the seams with a new-found patriotism as former colonies sought independence from Great Britain. It is a graceful and inspiring story but the reality is that the truth is often uglier and stranger than fiction. The story at hand begins as America is in its infant stages and Jamestown is established as the first settlement with immigrants formerly of England having made their way to North America. But what is often forgotten or in some cases ignored, are the many levels of class distinctions that existed then and still exist now. Slavery overshadows other dark parts of American history but as we see here, there was another class of people who were viewed just as poorly or in some cases, even worse than enslaved Africans. These issues and several others pushed the United States to the breaking point resulting in the Civil War that split the country in half and gave rise to the South, the region that became home to Jim Crow legislation and some of the worst cases of racial violence ever witnesses by American citizens. Isenberg brings even more clarity to the issue taking us back in time to relive the past with figures such as Presidents Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and the infamous Andrew Johnson. Other historical figures such as Davie Crockett, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and the Bakkers (Jim and Tammy Faye) also make an appearance.
The book is presented in an easy flowing chronological format allowing us to follow the development of the United States and continued deplorable existence of the lowest class of White Americans. As a Black-American, I am all too familiar with exploitation and discrimination. It is part of the history of this nation and something that we still struggle to fully confront. At times we have heard the term white trash, always used with a negative connotation. But what we should seek to understand is how the term originated and why. Further, it behooves us to understand how politicians, corporations and others with vested interests have manipulated, stoked fear and paranoia and ultimately exploited one of America’s most unwanted. Eugenics, greed and pseudo-science became the tools of the trade as one class pulled out all the stops to eradicate another.
From start to finish I literally could not put the book down. It pulls you and refuses to let go as the pages reveal a side of America you may be unfamiliar with. Breaking the facade of all White Americans being well-off, Isenberg brings the reality home that class is as important as race and is fully intertwined. This is a book I wish I had read in history classes in school. For an unfiltered and brutally honest look at the social structure of the United States, this is a good place to start. You will not only learn more about America but about yourself as well and what prejudice and exploitation really mean to those who employ it and those who suffer from it.
Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy-David O. Stewart
The American Civil War remains a key turning point in United States history. The nation nearly tore itself apart as the Union and Confederacy engaged in deadly conflict over several issues including States’ rights, secession, and the system of slavery. Prior to its conclusion, President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) met his tragic end on April 15, 1965, falling victim to assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Andrew Johnson, then Vice-President and Democrat, succeeded Lincoln as the 17th President of the Unite States of America. He would only serve in office through 1869 when Lincoln’s term would have ended, but in that short period, his administration would be the center of one of the most critical trials in United States history.
David O. Stewart takes a look back in this well-researched and well-presented investigative account of the trial of Andrew Johnson, who faced impeachment by the Radical Republicans led by U.S. House of Representative Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868). From start to finish the book is spellbinding and Stewart writes in a style that never bores the reader while presenting the material in an easy to read and streamlined format. And as a result of his work, we now have one of the finest books on the attempted impeachment of a President who nearly pushed the nation into a second Civil War.
The book begins after Lincoln has passed and Johnson has become the next Commander-In-Chief. And nearly instantly, the dark side of Johnson is put on full display as he commits the first of several acts that will turn the Radical Republicans against him and dictate the course of history for the deep south for decades to come. It is not enough to say that Johnson was unfit for office. Stewart realizes this and details the nefarious policies which Johnson advocated. In time they would come to be viewed as the end of the legacy of Lincoln and an insult to those who truly believe that all men are created equal. Further, we come to learn about the personal side of Johnson or lack of it. Generally viewed as cold and rarely in good spirits, Johnson comes off as vindictive and in some cases delusional and out of his mind. Actions such as circumventing Congress to deal directly with southern states, vetoing the Reconstruction Acts and Civil rights bill of Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896), are just several of many that earned Johnson the wrath of many Americans. But his attempted removal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) was the straw that broke the camel’s back and resulted in the Radical Republicans commencing impeachment proceedings against the despised President.
The impeachment trial is one of the best parts of the book. Johnson came extremely close to impeachment from office, saved only by one vote. Stewart revisits the trial and the events leading up to the trial as each Senator mulls over which way he will vote in deciding Johnson’s fate. For some of them, we see why they voted in the way that they did and for others, the question remains, did they really feel that way or were the allegations of bribery true? It may seem shocking to some to even think that bribery occurred. And while Stewart does not convict anyone with his words, he examines the evidence available reaching a quite startling conclusion.
Today it would be fair to say that the Civil War still haunts America. In the south, it is sometimes referred to as the war of “Northern aggression”. The tearing down of Confederate monuments and the tragedy in Charlottesville remind us of the struggle we continue to deal with in confronting the war that divided our nation. Reconstruction can been seen as a missed opportunity in American history. Millions of freed slaves and White Americans had their lives changed permanently by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Confederacy’s defeat. Congress realizing the opportunity before it, attempted to seize the opportunity but was confronted by a President deeply prejudiced and intent on maintaining the social structure of the south. His efforts would eventually come to pass in the system of Jim Crow that took decades and a Civil Rights Movement to finally defeat. We can only guess what would have happened if Johnson had not only complied but encouraged Congress to pass more legislation to move the nation forward after a brutal conflict and protected the lives of newly freed and disenfranchised Americans.
America now finds itself at a crossroad as we grapple with a political climate that borders on surreal at times. But regardless of what happens, America will survive as it always has. But while we continue to maintain the nation that we have, it is imperative that we do not forget the dark legacy of Andrew Johnson and remember why it is imperative to have a President that is able to unify us all and serve each and every citizen of the United States of America. Stewart’s book is an excellent place to start in understanding the rise and fall of Andrew Johnson.
The title alone is enough to grab a person’s attention. Because of the subject matter, it was bound to stir controversy for it touches a topic that remains taboo thirty-seven years after its publication. And with the events this past week regarding the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the contents of this book are as important now as they were then. Before you attempt to read this book, it is critical to understand the difference between Judaism and what is referred to as Zionism. There is a fundamental difference between the two that is often forgotten as charges of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias are leveled against those who dare to speak out. However, what I have learned from this book, is critical to understanding how our world functions and why peace is seemingly an impossible objective to accomplish in the Middle East.
For those who are of the Jewish faith, before reading this book, you must understand that you will learn many things that are not pleasant. And the temptation to feel or believe that the author is an anti-Semite might rise to the surface. But I caution you that any notion of Paul Findley (1921-) being anti-Semitic is far from the truth. In fact, Findley was U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1960-1982 and supported Israel at many times during his career. I firmly believe it is underestimated by many Americans, how much power and influence the Israeli lobby holds over the U.S. Government. Foreign policy and aid is highly scrutinized by the lobby and anything deemed to detrimental to the existence of Israel is quickly condemned and crushed, even at the expense of possible peace with its Arab neighbors.
I can only imagine how much pressure Findley had to endure to see this book all the way through. He discloses the difficulty in finding a publisher for a subject which many were reluctant to touch out of fear of severe backlash. In staying the course and braving the opposition, he has compiled the book that should be read by every American concerned with the past and future of the United States. You might ask yourself, is I agree with the material in the book, does it make me anti-Semitic? No it does not. Personally, I have Jewish friends and even dated a woman of the Jewish faith. I was never taught hate growing up and my parents invited everyone into their home regardless of creed, ethnicity and even sexual orientation. However my parents did teach us to examine all sides of an issue and make a decision based off of what is known and not by what is assumed. And it is for that reason that I believe this book is a critical read.
The book is not only an account of Findley’s difficulty in taking a strong stance on the Israeli lobby, but other politicians throughout history who have taken on the machine. Some of the names will be familiar to readers such as Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and William J. Fulbright (1905-1995). Other names will be known only by few but their stories are as important as the rest in understanding the costs associated with speaking the truth about U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel. Careers were destroyed and lives ruined by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power hold over legislation and the media. The stories are too high in number to reveal here but I can say is that you might be surprised at how many people have had their lives ruined by the Israeli lobby for even questioning U.S. foreign aid to Israel of the occupation of the Gaza strip. Others have had their lives ruined for even meeting Arab officials from the PLO including Yassar Arafat (1929-2004) himself.
Findley has provided a staggering amount of information which is bound to confuse and in some cases anger the reader. But it is imperative that the reader recognizes that difference between the Israeli lobby and ordinary Jews in America who do not support what Israel does but are obligated to remain in silence and show unwavering support. As with any story, there are multiple sides and what sometimes seems to be black and white, will be revealed to have many shades of grey. The truth is rarely pleasant and in some cases upsetting. But if that is what the reader seeks, then books such as this are a necessity. The courage exemplified by Findley and others who have dared to speak out has give us the knowledge we need to make informed decisions before we lend our support to movements and causes.
As the book approached its end and I continued to digest everything that Findley had disclosed, I was haunted by the thought that there may never be true peace between Israel and Palestine. But if that is the ultimate goal then the first step is re-examine U.S. foreign policy. And doing so does not make anyone anti-Israel or anti-Semitic but an advocate of genuine and long-lasting peace. Furthermore, we are forced to remember that Judaism is one of the world’s oldest religions, observed by millions of great men and women and unrelated to many of things we learn through Findley’s words.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple” – Oscar Wilde
October 10, 1967 – Argentine newspaper Clarin announces that Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) has died in Bolivia on October 9 after being capture with a group of guerrilla fighters attempting to spread revolutionary ideology throughout Latin America. In Buenos Aires, his family receives the news of his death and is completely devastated. Juan Martin, his younger brother, races to his father’s apartment where his mother and siblings have gathered as they attempt to piece together the last moments of Ernesto’s life. Che was secretly buried in an unmarked grave and his remains remained hidden for thirty years before author Jon Lee Anderson convinced a retired Bolivian general to reveal the grave’s location. His remains were returned to Havana on July 13, 1997 where he was buried with full military honors on October 17, 1997. In death, Che’s legacy grew exponentially and even today in 2017, he is the icon of revolution around the world. But after his death, what happened to his family and where did their lives take them? Juan Martin, at seventy-two years old, has decided to tell his story and reveal to us many facts about the Guevara family that have sometimes been overlooked by history.
Before reading this book, I was already familiar with Che’s story, having read Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara and several others relating to the campaigns in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia. But I was always curious to know how Guevara’s fame affected the lives of his family. A couple of months ago, I watched an interview with Juan Martin from Buenos Aires that appeared on the news station France24. And it was then that I learned of his book in which he reminisces about his famous older brother. And what I found in the pages of this book is a story that should be read by those who admire Che and even those who loathe him. I would like to point out that the book is not a glorification of his brother. Without question, they shared a special bond and he remembers him with fondness but admittedly, he was fifteen when Che died and did not have the decades long relationship with him that his parents and older siblings did. Nevertheless, he shares many great details about their lives, shattering long-held myths about the Guevara and Lynch names.
In death, famous people sometimes become larger than life and their stories are retold but often misinterpreted and sometimes outright distorted. It is well-known that Che was very close to his mother, but as Juan Martin shows, Ernesto even tested her patience at times and his relationship with his father was not as great as some have been led to believe. They had many battles and never completely saw eye to eye on various issues but it in the end the elder Guevara supported his son and benefited from his legacy.
To understand Che’s life, it is necessary to trace the family’s origins several generations back. Juan Martin provides a short biography to clear the record about the family name. What I found interesting is that their family life was far from upper class and was highly nomadic. Money was usually and issues and several moves between Rosario, Misiones, Alta Gracia and Buenos Aires proved to be a challenge for the family of seven. But incredibly, they maintained strong family bonds that were desperately needed following Che’s death. The events in Cuba would change the family’s life forever in more ways than one. What is often misunderstood is that while Che had enormous success in Cuba, his accomplishments received little to no acknowledgement in Argentina. And having been there myself, I can attest to the fact that you will not find monuments or murals to him rampant throughout Buenos Aires. And following his death, the family would have to fear for their lives as a brutal dictatorship under Juan Peron locked the country in a vice grip and leftist organizations were persecuted beyond belief. And it is this part of the story where Juan Martin’s life takes on a life of its own.
Juan Martin Guevara spent eight years in incarceration for suspected leftist activity. His wife Viviana was incarcerated for an equal amount of time. In fact, most of Che’s immediately family were forced to leave Argentina as the government initiated a crackdown on anyone suspected of being communist. And during that time, the Guevara name was suspect to immediate suspicion. He along with millions of other Argentines lived through the tragedy of the “disappeared” in which an estimated 30,000 Argentines are believed to have been seized and murdered by nefarious elements within the government. The Falklands War followed in 1982 and the country reached its breaking point under the government of Carlos Menem (1930-) when the convertibility system imploded and the Corralito was imposed on Argentine citizens limiting the amount of money people were allowed to withdraw from their bank accounts. Today he is still going strong, having lived through appendicitis, hepatitis and even a heart attack while in prison. Sadly, his older sister Celia, who he describes as being just like Che in many ways, has steadfastly refused to discuss her famous older brother, never recovering from his death and according Juan Marin, completely unaware he had written this book. His children grew up in Cuba and now live in Europe and other parts of the world. Four of Che’s five children still reside in Cuba where his daughter Aleida and son Camilo carry on their father’s legacy. And Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016 makes his presence felt in the book providing many gestures of good will for the Guevara family as they made a new life in Cuba.
Che will also be a controversial figure but with this book, Juan Martin has in fact shown more of the private side of Che and relayed the truth about what their family life was really like as they grew in Argentina. There are many parts of the book which are said and also shocking but necessary to understand the political climate that existed then and continues to plague Latin America. In the end, this is a fitting tribute from a younger brother to an older sibling, whom he misses dearly and idolized.
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East-David Fromkin
Ideology is sometimes as powerful of a tool as violence and in some cases has been the direct cause of violence. In the Middle East, ideology has maintain a stronghold as it finds itself on a crash course with modernity. Those who live outside the Middle East are at times confused and mystified by the traditions and events that occur throughout the Arab nations. In fact, many of us here in the United States do not know how the modern-day Middle East came into existence. To them, I say that the key to understanding the Middle East is to retrace its history to see why and how it developed into what we know it to be today. David Fromkin lends us a helping hand in this incredible historical investigative account of the fall of the legendary Ottoman Empire and the creation of a region that would never truly know peace.
I find it a bit ironic that the title is called A Peace to End All Peace because when the reader has finished the book, he or she will see that is far from what happened. But the question is why not? To find that answer, we revisit Constantinople, headquarters of the empire, prior to the outbreak of World War I. Iraq and Jordan (formerly Transjordan) had yet to be created. Iraq was then known as Mesopotamia and Jordan was still part of Palestine. The Zionist cause was still in its early stages and it would be several years before the signing of the Balfour Declaration. Regardless, these nations were caught in the middle of a bitter conflict as Britain and Russia took on the German Republic for control of the Ottoman Empire. But as casualties mounted and victories were won, what was really transpiring behind the scenes? And who were the major players? As we step back into time with Fromkin, we are re-introduced to long-lost figures such as the famous Winston Churchill (1874-1965), former Prime Minister Lloyd George (1864-1945), U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) and Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)(1888-1935). Lawrence has been transformed throughout the years into a larger than life character but Fromkin provides a good biographical sketch of him and investigates his true role in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the British goal of conquering the Middle East. However, as Fromkin shows us, the heart of the entire stories lies in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret pledge between Britain, France and Russia to partition the Ottoman Empire after the defeat of Germany in World War I. The agreement shaped relations between the nations for decades to come.
The story is an incredible from start to finish and after you have completed the book, you will better understand why the Middle East is the way it is today. You will further understand how the Zionist cause for a homeland grew in strength due in part to the actions of the British Government. The story of Palestine is especially important for the effects of the actions then are still being felt today. Fromkin has done an excellent job of researching the topic and it is evident in his writing. The book reads like a historical novel full of intrigue, mystery and ultimately tragedy. Further, the relationship between Russia and the nations of the U.S.S.R. are examined highlighting the cultural diversity that once encompassed the Soviet Union. The Bolshevik revolution is discussed but not at great length. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) make appearances but their story is only discussed regarding its relevance to the current topic. And throughout the book, developments in other nations are mentioned but the author never strays off topic. Like a master professor, he keeps us on course throughout a critical time in the history of the world that was complicated to say the least.
The book ends before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the start of World War II. And it would not be until 1948 that the nation of Israel was formally created. Readers may be surprised to reach the end of the book only to find that the story does not continue in the next decade. But the reality is that was never the intention and is irrelevant to the story at hand. True, the events in this book would affect the future in many different ways but that is a topic for another discussion. For those who wish to understand how an Empire came crashing down, the development of the modern-day Middle East and how several nations underestimated the power of the Islamic faith, this is a great place to start. And for others who have an active interest in the Middle East, this book is a much welcomed addition to any library.
“To the victor belongs the spoils” – New York Senator William L. Marcy
As a student growing up in the United States, my classmates came from many different backgrounds. Some came from as far away as India and Korea. Others from Guyana and Dominican Republic. No matter where they came from, we were equal peers studying to enhance our lives through prosperity. However, only sixty-four years ago, the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was still the law of the land which mandated that separate but equal facilities for White Americans and minorities were permitted under the constitution. One year later in 1964, events in Topeka, Kansas would change the course of United States history and catapult a young lawyer to legendary status. The case was Brown v. Board of Education and the lawyer was Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the late civil rights icon who attacked segregation and served on the United States Supreme Court for twenty-four years before retiring in 1991. The decision reversed the court’s earlier ruling in Brown and declared that separate but equal facilities were in fact unconstitutional in the United States. Today is name is rarely mentioned and the younger generation of Black Americans are growing up in an era vastly different from the one in which he was born and raised. But his life should be a case study for students of all backgrounds as a reminder of the enormous effort that was required to break the back of Jim Crow and move the Unites States forward.
Outside of classes in school, I never heard many discussions about Marshall. In college, a class I took revisited the Brown decision so that we could see the development of the privileges that I and others took for granted on a daily basis. But who was Thurgood Marshall? And behind the legal victories and appointment to the Supreme Court, what were the detail of his personal life? Juan Williams has composed this biography of what he appropriately calls an American Revolutionary. And what is contained in the pages of this book, is a story that lies at the heart of American society. Today, decades after the Brown decisions, millions of students in America attend classes with peers who come from different ethnic backgrounds and have the ability to enroll in schools which in prior times would have denied them entrance based on the color of their skin or the spelling and sound of their names.
The book is well researched and contains quotes by Marshall himself. From the beginning of his life to the end, Williams shows the good, bad and at times ugly of Marshall’s behavior. Like all great figures, he was also a man with flaws. But his dedication to his cause and victories in the courtroom propelled him forward as a champion of civil rights and earned him his appointment to the Supreme Court by then President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). It is an incredible story written in a thoroughly engaging fashion that leaves no stone un-turned and compels the reader to keep going. However, for all of Marshall’s victories, the regrettable moments in the book are his indiscretions and the brutal climate of prejudice that once encompassed the majority of the United States. The stories, particularly those in the Jim Crow era are heartbreaking and may cause the reader to wonder how human beings could treat others in such horrific ways. And the actions and courage of Marshall is commendable and inspiring.
As a sub-story to Marshall’s life, readers will pick up on the behind-the-scenes political battles that waged between Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Promises, side deals and political agendas all take center stage as a brilliant African-American civil rights lawyer battled his way to the top, destined to cross paths with some of America’s most widely regarded historical figures such as Adam Clayton Powell (1908-1972), late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) and former President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
When Marshall died, he had been in failing health and considered a “relic” by many of a dark distant past in America. At the time of his death, he might have been past his prime, but he remained until his last day, a living part of history and a first hand witness to the legal battles needed to challenge the establishment and ask what the constitution truly means to Americans of all colors. Juan Williams has chronicled and manifested Marshall’s life in this definitive biography of an American icon. Currently, America finds itself at another crossroads with division, mistrust and suspicion sowing chords of discontent. But as in previous times, the nation will survive and continue to move forward for there are many Thurgood Marshalls today, waging similar battles the many that he fought during his life. And in order to understand his life, Williams’ book is the place to start.
Author Frank previously published his spellbinding investigative account, The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957, about the rise of Mao Zedong and the formation of the People’s Republic of China. That was followed by Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. Here he returns with a third expose of the movement that changed the course of Chinese history. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proudly declared the new republic following the defeat of the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek. The new communist government sought to emulate its Soviet icon and instituted the disastrous policy of collectivization under the banner of the “Great Leap Forward”. But as Dikotter showed us, reality soon set in as the aura of the new country began to fade as famine set in, the government began to seize property and a climate of deceit and suspicion spread across the country. The book was thorough in examining the failures of the program as the harsh effects it placed upon the people of China. In this third book, he takes us deep inside the revolution, showing us the very dark side behind the late Chairman’s government.
I forewarn the reader that this book is not for the faint at heart. The things we learn although factual are ugly to say the least. Behind the facade of a nation of comrades committed to revolution, was a society breaking away at the seems as anarchy ruled and those in charge plotted against each other as they sought to maintain their hold on power and avoid the Chairman’s wrath. Today it is no secret that the “Great Leap Forward” failed in many ways. But what is often not discussed and examined are the very things we learn in this book. Similar to Himmler’s SS, the Red Guards, under the guise of filtering out counter-revolutionary’s, unleashed a wave of terror across the country against anyone suspected of being against the regime, from a lower class family or related to those who held high positions in society before the revolution. The Third Reich used the classic technique of divide and conquer to control the people and purge those suspected of not harboring unwavering loyalty to the Führer and his ideology of the master race. In China, the faces were different but the same climate of suspicion and spying by one person on another is prevalent. In fact, one example we learn of is a child that turns in their own parent.
Dikötter as usual has done a great job researching this book. To say that it is eye-opening would be a severe understatement. Not only does he show us what really happened behind the closed off borders of China, he highlights the political battles that raged behind the scenes. His writing style is engaging, pulling the reader in from the beginning and refuses to let go. The lives and actions of major places at the time are examined in detail. Names such as Jiang Qing (1914-1991, Madame Mao and leader of the Gang of Four), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Lin Biao (1907-1971) and Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) appear throughout the book as the deadly politics of Communist China come to light. The members of the old guard have long passed but they still remain a part of China’s complicated history. What shocked me the most was the ease at which accusations were hurled and lives ruined in nearly every case without a shred of proof. Mao, concerned with maintaining an iron grip on his rule, let the division fester and rarely intervened. And as I think back to the book The Private Life of Chairman Mao by his personal physician Dr. Li Zhisui, I remember his words that the Great Leap Forward was used by Mao to expose those plotting against him. In fact, as I read the book, I found it increasingly hard to believe that those in charge actually did have concern for the millions of people affected by their actions. Dysentery, famine, pillaging and even cannibalism, turned the revolution into a living nightmare.
China continues to be haunted by the legacy of Mae Zedong. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, continued the government position of suppression of dissent and the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 became some of the most memorable of the twentieth century. Time will tell if democracy will ever take hold and if the young generation will be able leave Mao in a past that many do not care to relive. For students of the Cultural Revolution or those curious about what really happened across the country under Mao’s leadership, this book is a great addition of any historical library.
October 1st marked forty-seven years since James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-1970) died in the flat of Monika Danneman in the Kensington section of London at the age of twenty-seven. Today his music is still revered and Hendrix is considered one of the greatest electric guitar players in music history. In fact, there are those who believe that we was the greatest to ever live. The collection of music he left behind continues to be discovered by younger generations and maintains a place in my own collection. His cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower and the classic Hey Joe are among my favorites and some of Hendrix’s best works.
Sharon Lawrence started her career working for the United Press International’s Los Angeles bureau and was introduced to Hendrix by a mutual acquaintance. Not only did she go on to witness key events in his life but she became of his closest friends all the way up until the time of his death. In this intimate account of a friend’s memories of another, she takes us behind the scenes into the personal life of a rock legend. And what she reveals about the life of the first child of Al and Lucille Hendrix, is a star with a rare gift that died far too young in a life on the fast track and filled with nefarious characters, unfortunate events and a family history that had long-lasting effects. But most importantly, she clears up long-running misconceptions about Hendrix’s death and the fabrications that he died from a drug overdose. In fact, savvy readers familiar with Hendrix’s story will already know this and the story of the mysterious Danneman (1945-1996), whose actions after Hendrix’s death are beyond bizarre. Her suicide on April 5, 1996 only served to raise more questions about her life and her relationship with the late star. Lawrence sheds light on her interactions with Danneman as well adding even more puzzling questions to the unsolved puzzle.
The book is a biography in some regards and Lawrence explores the family lineage in detail setting the stage for the future inner turmoil that would plague Hendrix throughout his life. And like most other musicians of that era, controversy followed him serving as a threat to his increasing fame. His life would be affected in one way or another by record executives such as Mike Jeffrey (1933-1973), groupies like Devon Wilson (1943-1971) and miscellaneous characters that sought out Hendrix to serve their own self-interests. And sadly at the time of his death, none of them would be there in his time of need. Lawrence however, served as confidant throughout Hendrix’s career and their interactions throughout the book are significant for they shed light on what really went through his mind as he navigated his way through an industry filled with predators. Incredibly, not one person interviewed for the book had a negative word to say about Hendrix. From all accounts, he was a gentle person that perhaps cared and loved too much, not only about music but about his family members and relatives. His relationship with his father is eerily similar to the tragic story of Marvin Gaye, Sr. and Marvin Gaye, Jr. Part of what truly makes Lawrence’s account a fascinating read is that she does not shy away from Hendrix’s indiscretions most notably the two children he fathered out-of-wedlock and the issue of narcotics, prevalent throughout the film and music industries.
The story of Hendrix’s death has been retold many times but what is brought to light here is the fallout with his estate following that tragic night of September 18, 1970. Like wolves circling their prey, next of kin and aspiring entrepreneurs all made a claim for their stake in his estate to control his legacy. Litigation became the tool of the trade as Hendrix’s father Al, his brother Leon and step-sister Janie engaged in a legal tug of war that severed what remained of family ties and earned Hendrix’s name more money in death than in life. Today his image is found on t-shirts and posters, purchased by adoring fans and those who discovering him for the first time. And like many of the other greats of his time such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison his death before the age of thirty, is both tragic and cruel. In later years, Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur joined the list of musicians whose works earned staggering amounts following their deaths. But for older fans who saw him play, purchased his records as they were released or knew him at some point in their lives, no poster of t-shirt could ever take the place of the Jimi they knew and this includes my father who played Hendrix’s song all throughout my childhood and is the reason why I love his music to this day.
If you are a fan of Jimi Hendrix and want to know more about the life of a true legend, Sharon Lawrence honors her friend the right way in this memoir about one of rock’s greatest performers. And after you have finished this book, you may find yourself singing The Wind Cries Mary, Purple Haze or maybe even Voodoo Chile. Whichever you choose, Hendrix will surely be smiling from wherever he is at, content that his music has continued to inspire.