He is arguably the greatest color-commentator in the history of the professional wrestling business. With his trademark Stetson hat and Oklahoma drawl, Jim Ross rose through the sports entertainment industry to become a legend and the voice of the WWE. When I saw that he had published an autobiography, I knew I had to read it. Although I have not watched the WWE in many years, I was an avid fan who tuned in every Monday night for Monday Night Raw to watch stars such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, among others. Always at ringside was Ross, affectionately known to fans as JR. His Oklahoma roots were no secret but the life story of man who has spent over forty years in the wrestling business was somewhat obscure for even the most dedicated fans.
Ross was never a “in-ring talent” and spent most of his days commentating or behind a microphone and a result, he possesses an invaluable insight into the promotional side of the business and how stars and heels are created and then sold to the public. Contained within the pages of this book is a story that every pro wrestling fan should read. Some readers may be tempted to think that because he was not a “superstar” in the sense that most people used to, he does not have an amazing story to tell. I would like point out that they would be highly mistaken. In fact, Ross’ story is just as crazy as others that have been told. The reason is that not only did he know the best but partied and traveled with them as well. Like a sponge soaking up everything in its vicinity, he observed and learned over four decades what it takes to survive in the crazy world of what my father used to call “rassling”.
Ross in typical autobiographical style, recounts his childhood and his path to becoming a man as he graduates high school and tries his hand at college. But wrestling steals his heart and nearly his life as he goes through several marriages that produced two daughters. His last marriage to Jan Ross is the most moving and tragic. In March, 2017, she was on her way home from the gym on her scooter when she was struck by a vehicle driven by a seventeen year-old. She suffered severe head trauma and died shortly after at the hospital. The book is partly dedicated to her memory.
I honestly believe that wrestling fans will truly love this book. Ross takes us deep behind the scenes and the past comes alive with some of the most colorful characters in pro-wrestling history. Ric Flair, “Cowboy”Bill Watts, Dusty Rhodes, The Junkyard Dog and Ernie Ladd are just some of the legendary figures Ross became closely acquainted to. The book is a step back into time to an era that some would call the glory days of wrestling when promotions were scattered across the country. The WWE was still the WWF and the competition came in the form of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) and Mid-South Wrestling (MSW) which later became the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF). But a young visionary out of the Stanford, Connecticut would changed the industry forever the life of Jim Ross. His name is Vincent K. McMahon.
Undoubtedly, the crux of the book is the time JR spent with the WWE. While his early days in the business are entertaining and revealing, the majority of fans remember him chiefly from that time. Like many other stars, Ross had an interesting and at times odd relationship with the man nicknamed “Vinny Mac”. McMahon, in a fitting gesture, wrote the foreword to the book. And regardless of what battles they may have had backstage or the peculiarities that may have existed in their working relationship, it is quite clear that McMahon valued the man who became the voice of his organization. And it was through McMahon that Ross went from a mainstay in the business to one if its legends. The anecdotes are interesting and the section on the Montreal screw job will be of high interest to long-time fans.
The New York Times declared the book a bestseller and for good reason. I assure you that once you start the book you will be hard press to put it down. Ross covers it all and pulls no punches. Pro-wrestling is a fascinating industry with the good, the bad, the ugly and the tragic. Friends and mentors die, stars get injured, deals fall through and once close co-workers drift apart over time. In some ways, it is a reflection of life. However, it is how we navigate it that makes the difference. This is an incredible story from an incredible person who exemplifies what dedication truly means. And for wrestling fans, the next time you hear yourself say business is about to pick up, you can thank good old JR.
The murder of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) continues to maintain its place among the greatest crimes in American history. The official story as published by the Warren Commission is that former Marine Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) fired three shots in six seconds from the sixty floor of the Texas School Book Depository, fatally wounding Kennedy and severely wounding Texas Governor John Connally (1917-1993). To many, including the author of this book, David Lifton, the government version seemed to be the best and final explanation. But over time Lifton came to doubt the official story and after obtaining a set of the twenty-six volumes that composed the Commission’s investigation, his doubt turned into disbelief and lead him down the path that culminated with this national bestseller.
At the time his odyssey began, Lifton was a law student at UCLA. Working on campus was a law professor by the name of Wesley J. Liebeler who served as a Warren Commission attorney. Disillusioned by the official report, he decided to confront Liebeler about the many discrepancies he found in the final report. Over the next several years, the two men would become more closely acquainted as Lifton dived deeper into the murder and Liebeler sought to preserve the Commission’s report. Ironically Liebeler is the person that suggested to Lifton that he should one day write a book. He eventually did and this is book is a must read for anyone with unanswered questions about the murder of John F. Kennedy.
Having read multiple books on the assassination, I would like to point out that Lifton focuses on the medical evidence surrounding Kennedy’s murder. He does not go into great detail about Oswald’s life, murder or the life and murder of J.D. Tippit. This is strictly about the postmortem events from the time Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital until the official autopsy report was published by the physicians who were on call at Bethesda Naval Hospital when Kennedy’s body was brought in. I warn readers that the subject matter graphic as it pertains to the autopsy and a large number of anomalies with Kennedy’s body that by all appearances, occurred before the official autopsy even began. Almost like a horror movie, the body tells signs of makeshift surgical procedures, unexplained bruising and conflicting testimony between doctors in Dallas and Maryland. But as Lifton explains, the body is the evidence. Skeptics might be tempted to ask how on earth could such changes have been made to Kennedy’s body before it arrived at Bethesda? Well Lifton asked himself the same question and many others that have been answered through exhaustive research and due diligence in the most plausible manner to date. But what is even more sound about Lifton’s work is that he supports his conclusion based off of evidence that is publicly available and in some cases, was hiding in plain sight. His case is further supported by statements he obtained from numerous individuals who were at either Parkland Hospital, Bethesda or part of Kennedy’s entourage that escorted the body all the way back to Washington.
There are those of us who will refuse to believe that the Government could engage in such nefarious activity. On the surface it simply seems absurd. But we soon learn that there is far more than meets the eye. As Lifton is continue to develop his case for a frontal shot a key event takes place changing his life forever. On a FBI report filed by Agents Francis O’Neill and James Siebert is a section in which they state that surgery had been performed on the president’s head prior to the autopsy. I confess that as I read that section of the book I nearly jumped out of my seat. This statement served as the catalyst for Lifton to change gears and become one of the most respected researchers to date. As I continued through the book I noticed that at times chills ran down my spine. As the story progresses, the macabre becomes a reality and it dawns on the reader that there was more to that day that had nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald. This is a story that the Government did not want its citizens to hear. But like Oswald’s murder, it refuses to be put to rest and leaves many unanswered questions.
There are many books about JFK’s murder, each taking a slightly different approach. To get an idea of the overall picture of what happened that day, I always recommend to new readers Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by the late Jim Marrs (1943-2017). For others that have passed beyond that point, Lifton’s work is a critical addition to every researcher’s library. The narrative is chilling: unexplained changes to the president’s head indicating prior dissection, two ambulances, two caskets, a helicopter and other mind-boggling postmortem incidents reveal a darker and more sinister plan in effect that most could not begin to fathom. However, there are still many interviews that were classified and thousands of pages of others that remained classified. When they finally are released we can only guess or shudder as to what they might reveal. Until then, we have authors such as David Lifton that force us to take a close look at what is considered to be best evidence.
The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War- Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E. W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield and James L. Greenfield
The names of the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that are found on the memorial in Washington, D.C., are a reminder of a conflict deemed by many to be the worst the United States has ever been involved in. The withdrawal of U.S. forces in March, 1973, brought a sigh of relief to the American public which had long grown tired of a war with no end in sight. The dark truth which we now know is that we did not by any means accomplish the mission. And the mighty American war machine failed to secure a victory. I have met many veterans of the war and have an uncle who served. What I recall most about all of them is that they do not speak of their experiences while in combat. I know the memories are there and for some of them, they were unable to leave parts of the war behind. Today we call it PTSD, but back then you simply found a way to move forward in life. But why were they in Vietnam to being with? Was the domino effect really a threat to the United States?
On May 11, 1973, Daniel Ellsberg found himself the talk of the town as charges pending against him for espionage were dismissed by U.S. District Judge William Byrne. He had been indicted for leaking what became known as The Pentagon Papers, the subject of this book and the topic of the movie The Post starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The New York Times, after several battles in court, was finally allowed to move forward with its plan to publish The Pentagon Papers and contained in the pages of this book are the documents that the U.S. Government tried in earnest to hide from the American public under the guise of “national security”. Ironically, the facts that are revealed in this book have absolutely nothing to do with national security but rather several presidential administrations that failed to find a workable solution to Indochina.
The late Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara (1916-2009) has been called the architect of the war and was loathed by many because of it. However, the title is misleading and in some ways unfair. The war had many architects either by wishful thinking, uncontrolled ego or naiveté. What is truly ironic is that as the war waged on, McNamara became a strong voice of dissent. And in spite of what we have been led to believe, our existence in Indochina began many years before 1965. The story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a long tale, filled with hard truths, false truths, deception and ultimately failure. But this is how it happened and why.
The papers are divided into several sections which correspond to a different aspect of the conflict. The administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson are examined to understand what each cabinet did and did not do as it grappled with the growing headache. Step-by-step Southeast Asia opens up as black hole as more advisors are committed, instability rages in South Vietnam and war hawks finally get their wish as the United States jumped nearly feet first into a jungle conflict that proved to be nothing short of disastrous. Rolling Thunder, troop deployments and South Vietnamese politics are just some of the issues that antagonized Washington for nearly a decade.
If you served in Vietnam, I forewarn you that the book might anger you in many ways. For others, this is a critical source of information in order to understand the war from a behind the scenes view. We are often told that the military fights to protect the country and our freedoms that we take for granted. But did a nation over 13,000 miles from U.S. soil really pose a threat to the most powerful nation on earth at the time? And what would we have accomplished if we had in fact won the conflict? Perhaps Vietnam would have become a second Korea, partitioned between a communist controlled North-Vietnam and a U.S. controlled South-Vietnam. Following the U.S. withdrawal, Saigon fell and the North achieved its goal of reunification. Today the war is a distant memory for young Vietnamese but for the older generation, many painful memories remain. The figures in the book are long gone but their actions will stay with us and the Vietnam war will always be a regrettable example of U.S. foreign policy gone wrong.
On September 9, 1971, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, staged a revolt in protest of the treatment they received by prison officials and the living conditions employed therein. Several days later, New York State Troopers regained control of the prison after approval from Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979). The siege had tragic consequences and ended with the deaths of nine hostages and twenty-nine inmates. The fallout from the retaking was swift and to this day the story of Attica is considered the worst prison uprising in American history. The riot caused sharp division among people with some believing in the inmates’ actions and others supporting the State of New York. In fact, among Rockefeller’s most ardent supporters was President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) who would himself resign in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal. The riot and its aftermath were so powerful that even Hollywood became interested and produced the television series Attica (1980) starring Morgan Freeman and Against the Wall (1994) starring Samuel L. Jackson (1948-) and Kyle MacLachlan (1959-). Both film productions earned award nominations and the stars in each film would go on to have successful careers in Hollywood. However, the questions always remain, how much did the producers get right, how much did they get wrong and how much did they leave out? Further, how much do we, the public know about one of New York State’s darkest days?
Heather Ann Thompson composed this Pulitzer Prize winning account of the Attica prison uprising and the legacy it left behind. Contained within the pages of this book is a story that is sad, shocking and infuriating. Today in hindsight, we will be tempted to ask ourselves how could this have happened? For starters, the social environment in which the main characters existed is much different from today in some regards. Law and order were applied in a far more repressive context. Make no mistake, the prison system today is plagued with brutality and prisoners routinely complain of suppression of their basic human rights by guards and officials. The prison industrial complex has become a multi-million dollar business and each year more Americans enter the penal system generating more revenue for investors and contractors. This system of mass incarceration is exactly what the Attica inmates strove to fight against and today many of the lessons that were learned in the wake of the riot have been lost or neglected. But this book is the place to learn about the Attica riot and why we can never forget it.
Thompson acknowledges that many of the participants in the story are no longer alive and any secrets regarding Attica went with them to the grave. What remains are their public statements and official testimony. Some of the names are cemented in history such as Governor Hugh Carey (1919-2011), Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (1936-), attorney William Kunstler (1919-1995) and former New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner (1910-1991). But others will become known such as Frank “Big Black” Smith (1933-2004), former guard Michael Smith and prisoner L.D. Barkley whose speech was captured by television cameras as the inmates made their voices heard. The amount of research that went into the creation of this book is nothing short of painstaking. And as an added touch of intimacy, the author supplements the story with photos of those relevant to the narrative.
From the moment I opened this book, I literally could not put it down. At times I found myself sitting in disbelief and how and why the situation unfolded as it did. And incredibly, an inner conflict arose because as I waded through the book, I came to support the inmate struggle as they fought racism, class based discrimination and the monster that is mass incarceration while at the same time I found myself empathetic to the guards taken hostage, some of whom would also perish. And it dawned on me that they were all human beings who had different roles to play during those four days. Decisions and actions made many resulted in a tragedy that claimed victims both dead and alive. And that is one of the main points of the book. But perhaps one of the most shocking is the disregard by the State of the well-being of its own employees. What Thompson has truly shown us is that lives on all side were ruined that day and there truly were no winners. Everyone directed involved in the Attica riot carries with them scars to this day, some mental, some physical or possibly both. Thompson has done all of them a great service by re-telling the Attica story in a book that should be read by every American that wishes to understand the frustrations of those convicted of a crime and the direction of the American penal system. This is a definitive account of what truly happened at the Attica Correctional Facility between September 9 and September 13, 1971.
Between August 5 and August 9, 1945, the United States Air Force changed the course of history when the B-29 pilots dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, more than seventy years later, the debate regarding whether President Harry Truman (1884-1972) was right to give the final order to drop the bombs rages on. The images taken in Japan following the bombings are still shocking even today and upsetting for many viewers. And for many others, the concern remains that the world could once again see a nuclear weapon used in warfare. It is commonly believed that August, 1945, was the only time atomic weapons had been used in combat. But what actually constitutes “use”? That is a question Daniel Ellsberg addresses in this chilling and eye-opening account his time as a nuclear war planner. Some readers may be familiar with Ellsberg’s name due to his surrender, trial and the dismissal of all charges related to the Pentagon Papers which revealed the mistakes and poor judgment that allowed the United States to go to war against North Vietnam. In fact, Ellsberg’s papers were the target of the crew of burglars that would go on to be discovered at the Watergate Complex. Their arrest and the cover-up by Washington helped lead to the resignation of Richard Nixon. Incredibly, Ellsberg has outlived many of the major figures from that era and what he has accomplished, learned and ultimately disclosed are facts that should concern and be known to every American.
You might be wondering, what on earth is the doomsday machine? It is quite frankly, the system of devices that are interconnected allowing for a nuclear attack or counterattack that would result in nearly this entire planet being obliterated in minutes. Knowing what we do today about war, we could rightly say that the next world war could very well be the last world war mankind engages in. The nuclear weapons of today are more power and in more abundance than what was used to force the Japanese to surrender. And should there be an attack today, the fallout could be unlike anything we have ever imagined. But how did we get here? To answer that question, we must go back in time with Ellsberg retrace the history of the development of atomic weapons.
The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) and the project at Los Alamos is one that has been told more than once and it well-known to students of history and aficionados of World War II. But what may not be known is the instigation of the Cold War from the west and the role that nuclear weapons played in the decisions and actions in Washington. As Ellsberg reveals, the key to understanding the severity of nuclear warfare is the Cold war and the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP). This very document served as the crux of the U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union and any nation found to be its ally. What Ellsberg reveals about that plan and the approval it received from the White House will send chills down the spine of even the most hardened readers. As an employee of the Rand Corporation and a member of high clearance personnel at the Pentagon, Ellsberg found himself in an intimate position to access even the most secretive of documents that were deemed too important to national security to be revealed publicly. Among these documents was annex c to the JSCP, the Single Integrated Operational Plan(SIOP). Just as frightening as the JSCP, this plan was another document that Ellsberg introduces to us so that we can digest its meaning and how dangerously close the Unites States came to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. And as the late Robert McNamara (1916-2009) said in the 2003 Errol Morris documentary The Fog of War “Cold war? Hell it was a hot war.”
There is far more information included in this book than I could ever review here. But there are a few questions the reader can ask before starting the book for the answers are contained inside: Was Hitler really building a bomb? How many nuclear weapons did the Soviet Union have following World War II? Is the president really the only person to authorize an attack? Was it truly necessary to drop the atomic bombs on Japan? Just how many presidents threatened to use nuclear weapons to end subsequent conflicts? What are the chances of a false flag due to a random error? And what can we do to reduce the risk of nuclear warfare?
I vividly recall my father telling me about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how he was required to participate in air raid drills in October, 1962 as a student in grade school. He very frankly said those thirteen days were the scariest he can recall and everyone was filled with the fear that nuclear war would erupt with the Soviet Union at any moment. The conflict was eventually resolved but sadly Kennedy was assassinated the following year and Khrushchev was removed from power in 1964. Their determination to avoid conflict removed the world from the brink of a nuclear war that might have had very few survivors if any. And that threat still exist. Error in judgment, egos and thirst for power could combine to form a deadly nexus producing another missile crisis. If we are to prevent a nuclear holocaust, it is our duty to study the past, heed these words by Ellsberg and actively work towards dismantling the doomsday machine.
As of July, 2017, 100 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that in 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death. My late grandmother suffered from it for many years prior to her death and my mother also deals with the disease. In their cases, they are among the millions that have been diagnosed as having type-2. And with the number of diabetics growing around world, the future prognosis is grim. More disturbingly, diabetes is just one of the several conditions that are considered to be effects of metabolic syndrome. The link between food and health has long been established. Food has been man’s source of energy and the key to life. But somewhere along the way, our approach to what we eat changed dramatically and in the process we face health epidemics never before seen.
Gary Taubes appropriately named this book The Case Against Sugar. What he has written in this book is sure to open your eyes and change the way you look at sugar which might possibly be the most common food ingredient in history. In fact, it is so common that it is hiding in plain sight in dozens of foods we would never suspect to contain added sugar. The first thing I should point out is that Taubes does not tell us to refrain from eating sugar nor does he tell us to consume it. He leaves that to the reader to decide. What he does tell us is the unfiltered truth about the history of sugar and its effects on the human body. Doctors and other health figures have told us for years that fat and salt were the culprits behind many of the illnesses we battled. But what if the real monster was there all along and ignored either unintentionally or even blatantly? Some readers may find the topic far-fetched and wonder if the sugar they put in their coffee and the sugar found in other products they consume daily are truly that bad. Well in order to answer that question, we first have to understand how sugar came to be developed and why it has been so important to business and the food industry. Taubes has done the leg work for us, presenting the material in an engaging format the pulls the reader in. Additionally, he helps us understand the different types of sugars and why it is important that we know them intimately.
The story is centuries old and incredibly, without sugar, many of the empires throughout history would have had enormous difficulty existing. In particular, the British Empire became extremely fond of the white crystals that bankrolled their imperialist machine. Throughout history, sugar has accompanied every civilization, empire and ethnic group. I dare to infer that its commonplace among all of these thing is precisely what made it so hard to believe for many that it could also be life threatening. But it is exactly that which we learn but more importantly, Taubes, like a seasoned professor, explores in-depth why sugar was so important to big industry and why it was necessary to be protected. He includes many facts that some readers may be completely unaware of. The section on the tobacco and sugar industries should frighten every reader, especially if they are a smoker.
Diabetes is far from a modern disease. In fact, it has been in existence for centuries and its rise has been well noted and documented. But what we see through Taubes, is that for a large portion of that time, the connection between sugar and diabetes never fully acknowledged. If you ask any diabetic today, they will readily inform you that sugar is at the same time their worst enemy and most needed substance. Their inability to produce enough insulin to handle rising blood sugar or inability to produce insulin at all, as in type-1 diabetics, highlights the precarious situation that exist for diabetics. In essence, they walk a daily tight rope that could spell success or doom.
Diabetes is a focus of the book but the not the main focus and in addition to what is the silent killer, Taubes makes the case for the relationship between sugar and the conditions classified as metabolic diseases. The connections form an intricate web and at times the reader may need to revisit a section more than once to understand the chain of events that occur in the body upon the ingestion of sugar, whether natural, refined or artificial. Gout, cancer, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks plague millions of Americans and for years, doctors have known that what we eat does affect how we feel and age. Inflammation has become a known factor in all of these conditions and other ailments that plague the human body. Sugar is also known to play a role in all of these conditions. But is it safe to say that the reduction or elimination of sugar could reverse all of these illnesses? Possibly so and incredibly, it is believed that at least 4 in 10 forms of cancer are preventable. I have always refrained from telling anyone what they should or should not eat. That is a highly personal decision. But what I can say is that I have had my own battle with sugar and dropped it from my diet well over ten years ago. When I did, my acne disappeared, I lost weight, my digestive tract improved and I saw a marked improvement in cognitive function in addition to a surplus of energy. However, there was a withdrawal process and I did suffer from headaches and irritability for a couple of weeks as my body readjusted to the absence of sugar and high levels of carbohydrates. Today, I do not even buy it, add it anything I eat or drink and also follow the mantra that if I cannot pronounce what is in a product then I do not eat it. It may sound extreme to some but we are only given one body on this earth and it is up to us to take care of it.
This is the ugly truth about sugar, the once believed to be harmless product that our parents and grandparents gave to us without the knowledge that we have today. The children of today are the first generation that may have a shorter lifespan than their parents. That is unacceptable and I believe, criminal. Our health has been sacrificed in the name of greed and mass production. But we can fight back and take care of our lives. And with books such as this one by Taubes, our minds are being awakened each step of the way. If you suffer from a metabolic condition, trying to quit sugar or even curious about its dangers, this book is a must read.
In volume two of this three-part series, Bureau 13 saved mankind for a second time as they battled a crafty villain on the USS Intrepid and New York City’s West Side Highway. At the conclusion of the book, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team prevailed. However, for Bureau 13, there is no such thing as the end and they are back again as a new enemy threatens to obliterate the City of Chicago and turn the United States in a land of werewolves. At first, the mere mention of werewolves sounds implausible. But we must remember that this is Bureau 13 where the impossible becomes possible on a daily basis.
Volume three begins a retired veterinarian named Joanne Abernathy hears an earth shattering sound in the distance outside her home. She lives in a place that could be best described as the outskirts. Curiosity sets in and the aged and seasoned doctor heads out where she discovers a wolf that appears to have been shot. But alas, this is no ordinary shooting and this is no ordinary werewolf. What transpires after the wolf is tended to medically is surreal but sets the stage for the rest of the book. The team is assigned to an unexplained occurrence in a small town called Hadleyville. The issue at hand is large numbers of corpses without hands or heads scattered about. Jessica realizes that something is amiss and the team makes a quick exit. But they are far from danger and following them is a team of werewolves who speak and have one goal; eliminate mankind. This book quickly takes us to Defcon 1 .
Chicago becomes ground zero and every law enforcement agency is briefed on the imminent doom. But this will be no ordinary battled and all hands are on deck as Alvarez and team Tuna Fish take on werewolves, run of the mill creatures and even a floating apartment building. Pollotta pulls out all of the stops and if the first two books did not meet the standard of guilty pleasure, then this part surely will. This is the continuing saga of Bureau 13 and the strange and lethal world in which they operate.
Today, Venezuela finds itself at the brink of a migrant crisis that could very surpass that of Syria. The mass exodus of Venezuelans to surrounding countries in Latin America has increased as social conditions have deteriorated with food shortages, absurdly inflated currency and political suppression having become daily aspects of life. Nicolás Maduro (1962-) is the sitting President of Venezuela. His administration has come under fire both domestic and abroad for its dismal record on improving Venezuelan society. The country’s fall from grace is one of the most confusing and astounding transformations in modern history. The nation was once at the top of the petroleum export industry and under President Hugo Chávez (1954-2013), Venezuela re-merged as a country to be recognized. On March 5, 2013, he died after a two-year battle with colon cancer and with his death came the end of an era in Venezuela to which the country has been unable and in some cases unwilling to return.
In the United States, Chávez was often demonized as brutal despot that ruled Venezuela with an iron fist. Absurd stories of public shootings, censorship of the press and human rights violations were regularly broadcast in U.S. media outlets. The anti-Chávez stance was espoused by the White House as official government policy. Many Americans firmly believed that Chávez must go. But how much do we really know about Hugo Chávez and his life? Bart Jones is a reporter for Newsday and for eight years he worked in Venezuela, documenting the regime changes and spectacular rise and fall of Hugo Chávez. He has a keen insight into Venezuelan society from a first-hand view and because of this, the book has an even more authentic feel to it.
Jones takes us back in time to 1954 in the small town of Sabaneta in the State of Barinas in west-central Venezuela as Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías enters the world. Raised at first by his grandmother Ines, there are no inkling that the young child will grow up to rule the country. What is clear is the high esteem in which Chávez held his grandmother for all of his life and up until her death. As he matures into a young man and enters the military, it is here that his story begins to pick up speed. The author goes into great detail about Chávez‘s early life, through old-fashioned research and discussions with Chávez that lasted several hours. The portrait that begins to take shape is of a young man with a passion for baseball, history and the well-being of the country he calls home that has been plagued by corruption and poverty supplemental by a racial hierarchy. Books become his favorite hobby and through history, Chávez becomes familiar with the man who is the Latin American equivalent of George Washington; Simón Bolívar (1783-1830). For the rest of his life, Chávez would inject Bolívar into nearly all of his speeches, plans and actions. American readers who are drawn to history will appreciate the recap of the story of the late revolutionary and come to understand why he is so revered in Latin America. For Chávez, there was no Venezuela without the spirit of Bolívar.
Latin America has been plagued by military coups and endless changes in regime. Venezuela was no stranger to either. Chávez, the brilliant and aspiring leader, seized his opportunity on the heels of political upheaval and in contrast to what is often mistakenly repeated, catapulted to office in a free and open election. But what is paramount is how he rose to power and that is what Jones carefully explains to us. The man who was the outsider, achieved the impossible and during his time in office, left a mark on Venezuela that will last forever. Not without his faults, he was a complex character and the author leaves it up to the reader to decide. And had he not died at such a young age, perhaps he would have gone on to achieve more in his later years. I forewarn the reader that if you approach this book with anti-Chávez bias, you will not appreciate the gift contained in these pages. In fact, Jones is no Chávez fan and does an incredible job of remaining unbiased. He points out Chávez‘s triumphs and also his failures. And what we can take away from what we learn is that Chávez was a human being who some believed was larger than life. From the comfort of our homes in America, it may be hard for some of us to understand his popularity but in Latin America, hope is more powerful than we may think. Chávez masterfully became a man of the people and his ascension to power was extremely well-played.
Similar to other biographies of great leaders, the book contains a cast of real-life characters from President George Bush (1946-), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (1954-) and even the late Fidel Castro (1926-2016). Chávez had never served in office before winning the presidential election but he quickly made up for his shortcomings and did change Venezuelan society. Sadly, it seems that after his death the nation was never the same and under the current administration, is sliding deeper in anarchy with each passing week. If Chávez were alive, I am sure he would be ready to work to carry on the revolution to make Venezuela the greatest Latin American nation the world has seen. He was brash, inspiring, shrewd and at times unrealistic but above all, he was Venezuela. This is the incredible life story of Hugo Chávez and the nation he led.
Author Nick Pollotta returns with this second installment in the trilogy of the story of Bureau 13, the secret agency within the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for the tracking and apprehension of all supernatural creatures that pose a treat to the safety of the nation. In book one, we were introduced to Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team of supernatural crime fighters and followed them on their mission to save mankind from complete destruction. The book was filled with all sorts of characters, weapons that we can only dream of and battles nothing short of epic. The team returns in this second part, tasked with another earth shattering mission to save the world as we know it.
The story begins in a research lab whose location and origin are unknown. What we do know is that an experiment has been conducted in which the goal is create a super human that heals instantly and is primed for infantry. The recruits are former soldiers declared dead to society. However, they are far from deceased, retaining scattered memories of their former lives. They are self-aware and a scuffle breaks out after a disagreement following an attempt by a test subject to turn on his human controllers. One subject is left standing, former Lt. Col. Kensington Sanders who we come to know as Alpha. He becomes part of Bureau 13 in ways he could have never imagined.
Life for the agents is pretty normal with plenty of ghosts, demons and other creatures to chase. But during a routine training exercise, an alarm is sounded indicating that a breach has occurred in the main containment facility. However, this is no ordinary breach and a call to arms is broadcast. The battle is surreal and the subsequent investigation reveals that there is far more to the story than meets the eye. Bureau 13 does not just have a jail break on their hands but another crime on a much larger scale. And to solve this crime, they need all of the help they can get, including Alpha and a few other recruits that blend right into Alvarez’s squad. And later in the book, they are even joined by a familiar face.
In book one, the action was non-stop and came from all directions. It was a high-octane ride from start to finish. While book two has plenty of action, there is more of a story line that builds up to the conclusion. The team is composed of seasoned veterans having engaged in endless deadly battles but here they are also investigators. And their methodical approach feels like a scene out of Criminal Minds. And similar to part one, the second part of the book takes place in New York City with the USS Intrepid playing a critical part to the book’s conclusion. The story seems completely far-fetched but in the world of Bureau 13, the impossible is always possible. And Pollotta keeps this ride going as only he knows how. Special Agent Ed Alvarez and his team are always on the job but can they save the world?
Nearly all of the reviews I have written have been of books that are classified as non-fiction. This review will be different as I have a taken a short break from the normal material to let my mind have some fun with this book that was recommended to me by a co-worker. It is book one in a trilogy and the review for the second book will follow shortly. The cover of the book gives the reader the indication that it is a novel of horror of the most unspeakable kind. However, I can assure that is not the case but the book is a non-stop ride from beginning to end. If I had to give it a definite classification, I would reply that it is a place where the Men In Black meets The Suicide Squad, Harry Potter with a touch of Fallout added. But what exactly is the book about? And what on earth is Bureau 13?
The story begins from a first person point of view as a battle with supernatural forces takes place. The central character to the story is Special Agent Ed Alvarez who joins Bureau 13, a secret division of the U.S. Department of Justice tasked with tracking down and eliminating all supernatural threats to the United States. He forms a team composed of characters of the most unusual sort and together they become Team Tuna Fish. Alvarez is assisted by Mindy the martial arts expert who is also fluent in Japanese, Jessica the mind reader, George a former solider in the Army, Father Donahue who gives the team a religious supplementation and sorcerers Raul Horta and Richard Anderson. Their commanding officer is Horace Gordon, Division Chief of Bureau 13 who bluntly informs the group that a large cloud has formed off the East Coast of the country in the Atlantic Ocean and threatens to unleash a fury of supernatural creatures upon the only place they have all called home. Beneath the cloud is an island from which the nexus of the dark cloud is formed. The group has a simple mission; get to the island, infiltrate the encapsulate city and destroy everything that poses a threat to the survival of mankind. However, with Team Tuna Fish, nothing is ever that simple.
Science-Fiction fans will absolutely love this book. Pollotta has a brilliant imagination. The creatures are as outrageous as the battles the team is forced to fight but the story never loses its pace and is supplemented with excellent sarcasm and quips about American society. Some of the action takes place in and around New York City which stood out to me as a native New Yorker. We have a joke here that nearly all disaster films and books take place in New York City for reasons only the creators know. Thankfully, my city survives here but the same cannot be said for many other things in the book. But with a legion of demonic creatures determined to erase humanity, clean and safe are not adjectives that comes to mind. This is a war between good and evil with carnage and a near apocalypse.
From start to finish the book just keeps going and just when you think the author might slow down and take a break, another curve ball is hurled toward the reader. If you are looking for a good book that lets the imagination run wild peppered with adult humor, you will find this book to be a gem.