Free Thinking Bibliophile Posts

20181205_232145“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Those words, made famous in Lorraine Hansberry’s  ‘A Raisin In The Sun’ have often reminded me of the importance of reflection when life shows signs of difficulty.   Her groundbreaking play became the first show on Broadway to be written by an African-American woman and with multiple runs on Broadway and a feature film starring the legendary Sidney Poitier, it is one of the most recognized books from that era.  This is Lorraine in her own words, revealing her thoughts about life, the future and the world in which she lived. Born and raised during the era of Jim Crow, she relays her thoughts about the United States and the struggle around the world by people of color for equality and civil rights.  James Baldwin provides a short introduction for his friend and fellow author.  The book was published following Lorraine’s death. Her ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, collected her unfinished manuscripts and written notes, combining them into this book that explores her mind and character.

Hansberry once said that the very thing that makes you exceptional also makes you lonely.  Similar to Baldwin, Hemingway and many of the great authors, there seems to be an inner struggle for peace and emotional well-being.  She loves America but hates its actions. Her husband is white in a time when interracial marriage is illegal in parts of the country.  And it is hoped that the next work can improve on the success of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’.   Her life is a composite of many things but tragically her time was running out.  She died before she could finish many of her projects but the short passages from the writings she left behind show a developing mind on a path to even highly levels.  She has been gone for 51 years but her name continues to surface in conversation, media, film and on Broadway, the place were she became famous.  And while this book is not Raisin, it is a welcomed addition to the Hansberry collection.

ISBN-10: 0451531787
ISBN-13: 978-0451531780

 

Biographies

kubicekAdolf Hitler’s death and the surrender of Germany towards the end of the Second World War was beginning of the final chapter of the saga of mankind’s deadliest conflict.  More than seventy years later, the war is still being studied and the Third Reich serves as an example of the dangers of unrestrained power based on extreme ideology.  To the majority of the world Hitler is the incarnate of evil and the darkest dictator in world history.  To others, he was a misunderstood leader of a nation in ruins and savior to millions of Germans who had no other source of hope and inspiration.  His life story is well documented. But what was the young Hitler like?  The turning point his life from young aspiring artists to raging anti-Semite is still unknown and surrounded by speculation. The death of his father Alois and mother Klara both occurred before he turned 18.  It is to be expected that their deaths must have played some role in his future mental and emotional development. Hitler never revealed much of any friendships he had but as we can see in this interesting book by his friend from Austria, August Kubizek (1888-1956), he did in fact have at least one friend during his youth in Vienna.

Interestingly, although Hitler seized control of Germany, he was Austrian by birth.  Born on Eastern Sunday in 1889, in the small village of Spital, he spent most of his early life in Austria before making the move to Germany and joining the Wehrmacht.  But years before he became the future Chancellor of Germany and Führer of the Third Reich, he was simply Adolf, a young man with a teenage crush and dreams of being the best artist Germany had ever seen.  This is the story of two friends who cross paths at a critical time in their lives and the friendship that ensued.

Affectionately nicknamed “Gustl” by Hitler, Kubizek is the best witness we have to what Hitler was really like as a young man in Linz. Their days are filled with visits to the Opera, discussions about life and Hitler’s endless drawings as he pursued his artistic goals. However, throughout the book there is no trace of the future menace Hitler would become. Adolf is the average teenager trying to find his calling life along with his best and seemingly only friend.  I found it hard to reconcile at times that this simple teenager later became the Chancellor who mercilessly persecuted an entire race of people and in brought eternal shame to Germany.   But this is in fact the crux and most important part of the book.  Kubizek shows nothing that gives any indication of the future Adolf. For those seeking an answer to the megalomania that became a staple of the Reich, you will not find it here because it does not exist.   What does exist is the tragic story a young man faced with the deaths of both parents and an uncertain outlook in life.

Following his mother’s death, Hitler remained in Linz before moving on to Vienna and crossing into Germany.  He parted ways with Kubizek after Klara died and the two did not reunite until nearly thirty years later.  By his own words, Kubizek never joined the Nazi party and remained in Austria where he married and became a father. And while he did have opinions about the events transpiring at the time, he remained neutral to Hitler.   The book is neither for or against Hitler, but the remembrance of one friend by another.  It was an incredible friendship forged by common interests and mutual understanding.  And of all the what if questions that surround Hitler, we can only wonder what if he had followed Kubizek back home instead of moving to Germany?  Perhaps there would have never been a second world war.  For those looking to learn more about the life of Adolf Hitler, this is a welcome addition to the library.

ISBN-10: 1853676942
ISBN-13: 978-1853676949

Biographies

20191130_180856When we think of the second world war, images of the battles of Stalingrad, Iwo Jima, Normandy and the Holocaust often come to mind.  Although an exact number is hard to come by,  it is widely believed and agreed that more than 6 millions Jews died during the war. The Final Solution nearly eradicated all of Europe’s Jewish population.  Japan in seeking to establish its own sphere of influence, invaded China resulting in the deaths of millions of Chinese men, women and children.  Cities such as Nanking and Shanghai were almost completely destroyed. Stories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese army became known as far as the west and to this day are a source of the strained relationship between China and Japan.   Following the war, millions of European and Asian  survivors immigrated to other parts of world including the United States.  Among these was a young couple and their five children in search of a better life in America.

Veronica Li is the author of three books and was once a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. It is here that we are told the story of her mother’s life in her mother’s own words.  Li turns over control of the book and her mother tells her life story in an autobiographical format.  After reading this book, it quickly became one of my favorites and for good reason.  Her story begins when her mother Flora, is a young woman studying in Beijing during the second world war.  The Japanese army has already started its assault on China with bombings, shootings and pillage becoming their tools of the trade.  Flor remains determined and finishes her studies before beginning a career of her own.  It is at the point where she meets her future husband that her life changes and the story changes courses resulting in the title of the book.  She becomes the mother of five children, one of whom struggles in education.  Faced with limited opportunity for growth and no course of remedy, Flora and Hok Ching make the decision to leave China and move to the United States, making the journey across the four seas.  Their story is one that is common to millions of immigrants that have come to the United States to live the American dream.   For those of us who are natives to America, it may be hard to fathom moving a family of seven to a new country with a new language.  But the actions of Flora and Hok exemplify the power of will and determination.  And as more immigrants are faced with a life altering decision to leave the only place they have called home,  some can look back at this masterpiece and find inspiration and reassurance in their decision to make the move of a lifetime.

This is Flora’s story about life if the Far East, war, education, love and family.  So take a step back in time and join Flora and her family as they make the journey of a lifetime.

SBN-10: 1931907439
ISBN-13: 978-1931907439

Biographies

20180603_134813In the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Secret Service came under close scrutiny for its failure to protect the president.  Some of the agents assigned to the motorcade never recovered from that day and were haunted by the events that took place.  Prior to that day, the Secret Service had received numerous warnings of assassination attempts on Kennedy’s life.  One plot in Chicago, was actively foiled but several weeks later in Dallas, the agency would not be as fortunate.  As the Warren Commission began its investigation, dozens of witnesses came forward with their story of what they saw or heard and among those was the first African-American secret service agent to guard a sitting president.  Abraham Bolden was junior agent on post when by chance, Kennedy walked past him.  He turned to Bolden and asked him if he would like to be the first Black American to protect the president. Bolden agreed and the following week, he reported for duty in Washington.

After accepting President Kennedy’s invitation to join his Secret Service detail, Bolden reported to his new post but found himself surrounded by a climate of right-wing agents, incompetence, racism and perhaps treason.  In the book, he recounts his early life and the hostile environment he stepped into after accepting Kennedy’s proposal.   Bolden truly believed in the job he was assigned and after Kennedy’s murder, he approached the Warren Commission to request to testify about the failure of the Secret Service to act on warnings of the impending assassination and the incompetence that plagued the agency. His decision to testify and the aftermath form the basis of this book and present a stgory that is nothing short of shocking.

Bolden was labeled as whistle blower, and his decision to speak out against the government resulted in him losing his job and being forced to defend himself in a sham criminal case concocted by his former employer.   He was convicted in sham trial based on false testimony, he served several years in prison before being released.  Upon his release, his life took an even darker term as the government continued to punish Bolden for what it considered to be an act of aggression. The battle against the U.S. Government took many years from his life and he explains his ordeal in this eye-opening account of the murder of John F. Kennedy and Bolden’s life afterwards.

In his later years, he worked in the automotive industry and lived a quiet life with his wife Barbara who passed away in 2006. Bolden is still alive and the memories of Dallas fresh in his mind as if they happened yesterday.   The government has always attempted to explain Kennedy’s murder as the work of a loan assassin. But stories such as these cast doubt on the official narrative as we begin to see the forces which were opposed to the young president.  Those of us who are interested in the assassination will find this book highly interesting and tragic at the same time for two lives were destroyed as a result of the events that day.  Regardless of what your thoughts are regarding Oswald’s guilt or innocence, this is the story of Abraham Bolden at the echo from Dealey Plaza.

ASIN: B0011UEEBE

Biographies

20181210_200246On November 19, 2008, the Tri-Borough Bridge which links the boroughs of Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx in New York City, was renamed in the honor of the late Robert Francis Kennedy.   At the time of his assassination, the presidential candidate was an active senator from the State of New York.  June 6, 2016 will mark 48 years since his murder but his legacy and name continue to live on.   Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) had  served as special assistant to President John F. Kennedy from 1961 to 1963 and was a long-time Kennedy family friend.  In this extensive biography, he chronicles the life of the seventh child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and former Attorney General.  Dozens of books have been written about the Kennedy dynasty and “Camelot”, but Schlesinger’s account of Robert Kennedy’s life still stands as one of the best.

At times he was simply called “Bobby” and at others, a range of names applied to him by friends and enemies alike.  Often described as cold, abrasive and having a hair-trigger temper, Kennedy’s sharp piercing eyes and steel cold manner earned him the reputation as one of Washington’s toughest characters.  However, Schlesinger also reveals a man with a heart of good intention deeply committed to his Catholic faith and the husband and father of 11 children.   His strong belief in family ties would help guide him as he served his older brother Jack during their time in the oval office.  His protective nature and ability to get things done by any means necessary has resulted in him being described as both the night watchman and the avenging angel of the Kennedy family.

The events in Dallas shocked the world and left an entire nation in mourning.  For Bobby, life would never be the same.  But in 1968, he made the fateful decision to win the office his brother once occupied.  His campaign and his transformation from persecutor of the mafia and Justice Department hawk into a champion of the people is one of the true shining moments of this book and his life.  As a New York senator, his ability to reach the people of the ghettos and lower-income neighborhoods remains unmatched by any political candidate to this day.  The once naive Attorney General had become a wiser and more engaged participant in the struggle for civil rights and the resolution of the raging Vietnam War.  His win the California primary was a crucial victory in a campaign that showed enormous promise of success.   Those who had felt betrayed after Dallas, found renewed hope that the direction of the country would once again change onto a path of positive reformation.   June 5th changed that and the history of this nation.   The 1960s saw the deaths of highly important figures and in the process spread fear throughout the nation.   Sometimes I ask myself what if Kennedy had lived? He accurately predicted in 1961 that one day we would have a president of African-American heritage and was a strong supporter of Cesar Chavez and other minority groups in their quests for equality.   I believe that if he had lived and were around to see the United States today he would be both satisfied and optimistic.  His short life was filled with unforgettable events and he remains one of the most important people of the 20th century.  For the full story of Kennedy’s life, Schlesinger’s book has no equal.

 

 

Biographies

113869301Beginning in 1993, female homicides in Juárez City, Mexico began to increase at an alarming rate.  The overwhelming majority of the murders remain unsolved. Families have in some cases pleaded with authorities to no avail.  Justice has been transformed into an elusive concept far removed from the reality faced by hundreds of parents that have suffered the loss of their child. Juarez was founded in 1659 and sits across the United States border from the town of El Paso, Texas.  In 2010, there were on average 8.5 killings per day in Juarez City.  Drug cartels and drifters from the U.S., turned the city into one of the most dangerous places on earth.   However, in recent years, the murder rate has declined and the city continues to make progress in reinventing itself and its image.  But the struggle with its dark past and the deadly trend of femicide continues to haunt not only Juarez but Mexico itself.  Teresa Rodriguez, a correspondent for Univision, conducted her own investigation into the murders resultng in this chilling and informative account that reveals the severity of an epidemic that continues to plague many parts of Latin America.

Their names are not known worldwide and their families are simple and hardworking.  But their murders and the inaction of the Mexican government combined with the complicity of local police, reveal a system in which officials are either unwilling or unable to stop the crisis that has gripped the country.  In their faces we see our sisters, nieces and friends.   Most of the victims are from poverty stricken areas who work long hours that scarely pay minimum wage. They are faced with long commutes on deserted stretches of roads that serve as a haven for criminal elements.  Some of the women are never seen again becoming yet another statistic in a growing list of horrific crimes.  Rodriguez’s book is a dark premonition of things that will come if the Mexican government fails to address the crisis.  For hundreds of women in Juárez there is no justice and their families are left to grieve without the benefit of closure.  Their cries have been ignored and the trend that was once confined to Juarez has now spread to other parts of Mexico including Toluca, a city I visited in December, 2013.

I warn readers that this book is not for those faint at heart.  The repetition of violent crime and report thereof will test the resolve of anyone who decideds to read this book. A happy ending is not to be found here. But what the author hopes, is that focus is placed where it needs to be and that Mexico can reverse a chilling and disturbing trend.  Some readers may be familiar with Juarez and may have even visited before.  Your observations may coincide with what Rodriguez says or may be slightly different. But what is evidently clear is that femicide will not go away on its own and the deaths of the young woman we learn of here should be cause for high concern.

Mexico is a beautiful country, full of history, good food and welcoming people.   Yet it is also plagued by a deadly system of violence.  Vice News, the international news organization based in Brooklyn, New York, recently did a story on the rise of the female homicides in Mexico and the struggles the families of the victims face in obtaining justice.  The Mexican people face a long road in reversing the disturbing trend of murders but as more attention is drawn to the crisis, it might result in long overdue action by the Mexican government.   And authors such as Teresa Rodriguez will continue to do their part in seeing that justice is finally done.

ISBN-10: 0743292049
ISBN-13: 978-0743292047

Latin America

13236911In 1967, Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967) left Cuba for the last time as he engaged in his plan to spread social revolution across Latin America. Fueled by his beliefs in Marxist-Leninist ideology, he was determined to see Latin America free from the grip of Yankee capitalism.  On October 8, 1967,  he was executed by the Bolivian military following his capture several days later.  His death pushed him into martyrdom and to this day, he is by far, the most iconic revolutionary, both loved and loathed. His actions on the battle field and later as part of the Cuban Government have produced enough material for several books.  But what was often overlooked was his role as a husband and father. When he departed Cuba and began his final expedition, he left behind a wife and five children from two women.  His youngest child was an infant when he left.  His widow Aleida and his children have carried his legacy, never letting us forget who he was and what he stood for.

Che Guevara continues to arouse interest and actor Benicio Del Toro took on the role of Che in the 2008 biopic of the same name.  And as Cuba slowly moves closer to social reform and the end of the Castro regime, his name will arise in discussions about Cuba’s difficult past.  Many of the figures that took part in the Cuban Revolution are no longer with us, having departed this world for the next life.  Raul Castro remains one of the few from the old guard and carries the spirit of the revolution as he oversees the country that his brother transformed.

As much as I could go on about Che, the story at hand belongs to his widow Aleida and these are her recollections of her life with him.   The two met during the guerrilla campaign and were married in 1959 following Che’s divorce from his first wife Hilda Gadea (1921-1974) with whom he had a daughter, Hilda Guevara (1956-1995). Aleida would go on to give him four children, all of whom resemble their iconic father.  To the public, he was the key piece to the battle at Santa Clara which changed the war and to others, the man responsible for the executions at the La Cabana prison.  At home, he was dad and as Aleida shows us, a typical father trying to be a good husband who adores his kids.   Following the expulsion of Fulgencio Batista, Che took on several jobs, typically working from Monday through Saturday.  It has been said that he sometimes slept in his office. And even on Sundays, he worked for several hours before going home to his family.   For most women, this would have been too much, but for Aleida, she remained dedicated to her husband, his beliefs and the revolution they both took part in.

Those who might be looking for a revelation will not find it here.  The book is mainly about their life together as they bring several children into the world.  Che was dedicated to his cause and revolution is a part of their daily lives. Aleida’s anecdotes highlight many instances where his rigid beliefs interfered with their daily lives.  And to her credit, she never stopped loving him nor did she remarry after his death.

Undoubtedly, the crux of the book is how Che came to leave Cuba for the last time and how Aleida handled his decision.   Her disclosures about her feelings regarding Che’s decision to leave might surprise some readers.   She is very frank and clear in her thoughts but I could not help to think that she was beyond dejected to see him leave.  And for Che, leaving his family must have been one of the hardest decisions he had ever been forced to make.  Aleida very vividly and thoughtfully, explains how Che came to make that fateful decision.  Today we have the luxury of asking what if?  What if he had never left Cuba and stayed there with his family?  Would he have become the revolutionary icon that he is today?  We will never know those answers but through Aleida’s fond memories, we can see the other side of Ernesto Che Guevara.

ISBN-10: 0987077937
ISBN-13: 978-0987077936

Biographies

20180603_0035370On May 24, 2011, police responded to calls reporting gunfire on a quiet street in Newark, New Jersey. Inside the basement apartment, they found a young man slumped over with several fatal gunshot wounds.   His name was Robert DeShaun Peace (1971-2011).  He was thirty years old.  Following his death,  friend and former college roommate Jeff Hobbs published this memoir  of the time he spent with Peace at Yale University.  On October 6, 2014, Antoine Fuqua, the director of the award-winning ‘Training Day’, announced plans to direct a biopic about Peace.

But just who was Robert DeShaun Peace? Well, he was born in East Orange, New Jersey and defied the odds, leaving the inner-city to graduate with a degree in molecular biochemistry from Yale University.   He was raised by a single mother and struggled with his feelings toward his father, who was incarcerated for the majority of his son’s life.  Fate and luck combined to give the young man from East Orange a golden opportunity.  And it was at Yale that he and Hobbs formed the friendship that produced this interesting yet tragic story of a brilliant mind taken far too soon.  Peace has been described as genius in the things that he did. Doors continued to open for him and life took him as far away as Croatia which produces some amusing anecdotes in the book.  As I read through it, I felt that the sky truly was the limit for him.  Post-graduation, he makes a fateful decision that sadly changes everything.  Robert decided to return to the very neighborhood he sought to escape.

The life of Robert Peace is a story that is tragically replicated in cities across America.  Millions of young black men fall victim to the very streets from which they come.  Some of them will progress and leave the inner city but others will not be so lucky.  The description of Robert’s early life reads like a typical report of the broken homes that plagued African-American households beginning in the 1970s.  His mother worked a variety of jobs and the absence of his father, cast over them a dark cloud from which Robert is unable to fully escape. By all accounts the odds are not in his favor but fate always has a way of intervening in our lives.  Perseverance, fortune and a brilliant mind transformed this young man’s life which held high promise.

Peace’s return to Newark and the actions that lead to his death force us to question why is it that an Ivy league graduate returned to the very streets which threatened his daily existence and engaged in activities that are prone to end in incarceration or even death?  Typically, graduates of Yale move on to cushy jobs in corporate America with well-paying salaries.  And molecular biochemistry is far from a layman’s trade.  There will remain many what if questions surrouding his life. He is no longer with us to explain his actions so we can only speculate as to where he saw his life heading.  Had he lived, perhaps he would have eventually earned the Noble Peace Prize or possibly much more.

This biography is without a doubt one of the most moving I have read.  I felt that I could relate to Peace, coming from a similar neighborhood.  However, I was forntunate to have both of my parents at home.  I do believe that if Peace’s father had been there, then perhaps some parts of his life may have turned out differently. Jeff Hobbs has produced a book that will remain with you long after you have finished it.  No matter how much time has passed, one of the first books I recommend to friends is always this story about the short and tragic life of Robert Peace.

ISBN-10: 1476731918
ISBN-13: 978-1476731919

Biographies

harveyOn November 27, 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White. The New York born Milk had relocated to San Francisco, taking up residence in the Castro section.  He and lover Scott Smith opened Castro Camera before Milk set his eyes on politics.  After several tries, he was finally elected as a City Supervisor and in the process became the first openly gay man to serve in public office in San Francisco.  His efforts at City Hall and community activism earned him the nickname “The Mayor of Castro Street“.  In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Milk and in 2008, director Gus Van Sant took the reigns in the biopic about Milk starring Hollywood veteran Sean Penn in the leading role.  It was an incredible performance and one of Penn’s best.  However, there was much more to Harvey Milk than we saw on the silver screen.  Randy Shilts, author of And the Band Played On, looks back on Milk’s life in this definitive biography of the late activist.

It is critical to remember that Milk died at only forty-eight years of age.  In less than five decades, he went from a former sailor working for the Great American Insurance Company to the face of the gay rights movement in San Francisco.  The native of Woodmere, New York had done something that was unheard of at a time in which the LGBT community was in a fierce struggle to protect their very lives.  The Stonewall riots in 1969 and Proposition 6 by then Senator John Briggs, became defining moments in the movement for equality.   As homosexuality became more scrutinized and in some cases accepted, thousands of young men flocked to San Francisco where they were able to live openly without fear of persecution.   But even there, the fight continued against a brutal police department and the political establishment that had no use of time for what many called “the others”.  In Milk, the movement found its voice but as he said himself he was not the candidate, the movement was the candidate.  But he did have the vision, determination and skill to inspire the invaluable feeling of hope. Shilts did a masterful job of telling Milk’s story and it is evidently clear how and why he became the “Mayor of Castro Street”.   But the story is not all happiness and even the darkest moments in his life are re-told as they were showing the disarray and tragedy that composed Milk’s private life.  And from the moment he became a political figure, the threat of death was never far away.  But through it all, Harvey continued to push forward until he finally achieve the goal that had eluded him several times. And at the time of his death, he had come to assert substantial influence in San Francisco politics.

Dan White was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The light sentence triggered the ” White Night Riots”, after a jury apparently believed White’s “Twinkie” defense.  In 1984, after serving the five years, White committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine.  The trial, conviction and the riots are covered by Shilts and at times caused me to shake my head in disbelief.  I do believe that had Mayor Moscone been the only one killed, White would have received a much harsher sentence.  He lives on in infamy as the murderer of two politicians who had the promise and skill to change the course of history for the City of San Francisco.  Shilts provides an inside view of the political climate that existed at the time and the uphill battle Harvey faced as he broken into politics.

In the film Milk, we come to learn about two of Harvey’s lovers, Scott Smith and Jack Lira.  What the film did not show, were Harvey’s other love interests which were an integral part of his life story.  I do not hold anything against Gus Van Sant for 90 minutes is not nearly enough to cover any person’s life in full detail. And such is the beauty of a good book.  Shilts was always one to present a complete picture and he does not disappoint here. The book picks up speed from the beginning and never slows down.   I think it is to be expected that the worst moment is Moscone and Milk’s murders.  By the time I reached the trial of Dan White, I fully came to understand the legacy of Harvey Milk.   For those who want to know his complete life story, this is the book for you.  And I also recommend that you watch Rob Epstein’s incredible documentary  The Times of Harvey Milk’.

ISBN-10: 0312560850
ISBN-13: 978-0312560850

Biographies

sammyOn May 16, 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. succumbed to his battle with throat cancer at the age of 64.  His health had continued to decline following his release from the Cedar-Sinai Medical Center earlier that year on March 13.  His death is felt in Hollywood and in the African-American community where Davis is viewed as one of its greatest performers.  His friendship with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis stood out in Hollywood during a time when integration was not permitted in many parts of the United States. The four friends known as the Rat Pack became legends on the Las Vegas strip.   To the public, Davis is seen as pioneer for other young African-American performers seeking fame and fortune in the music industry.  Davis remains firmly implanted in our minds with his performances of ‘Bo Jangles’ and acting roles on the silver screen.  His final film performance in the late Gregory Hines’ ‘Tap’ is both nostalgic and sad for the deterioration in Davis’ physical condition can be seen in the film.  As incredible as his performances were, the story of his life as told by Davis in this phenomenal autobiography is even more fascinating and key to understanding the many directions in which his life took him.

Davis begins by recalling his childhood in which he started as an entertainer and the stormy relationship between his biological parents, both of whom were also entertainers and separated when he was young.  His grandmother is enlisted to oversee his well-being but time and time again he goes on tour with Will Mastin, who serves as his second father at times.  As World War II comes around, he enlists in the U.S. Army which at the time was infamous for racial prejudice and segregation.  His memories of the treatment and lessons he learned in the service are both heartbreaking and eye-opening.  Following the military he once again follows the show business path, the path on which he would travel for the rest of his life.  Behind the scenes, his life became a rollercoaster ride.  He lost an eye in a car accident, married May Britt in 1960 in the face of miscegenation laws, converted to Judaism and even carried a loaded gun on stage as he performed.  He was a vocal supporter of the movement for civil rights, many of which he was denied himself throughout his life.

His marriage to May Britt in 1960 caused both shock and outrage.  The reactions of the press and even ordinary citizens is repulsive at times during the book but also critical to understanding the times in which Davis lived and how bold their actions were.  Miscegenation was not struck down by the Supreme Court until 1967, and even then, interracial marriage was strongly discouraged and treated with hostility.   Davis’ ability to move forward in life and the struggles he faced within himself while married to Brit are key to seeing through to the real Sammy Davis, Jr.   The book closes with the birth of his daughter Tracy.  We now know that he was married several more times and had two additional children in his lifetime.   When he died, he did not leave behind a mass of wealth as would be expected.  But what he did leave behind is a legacy that continues to this day.   If you want to know more about the real Sammy Davis, Jr., this is the place to start.

ISBN-10: 1477611924
ISBN-13: 978-1477611920

 

 

Biographies