I freely admit, I read this book primarily ahead of seeing Crue on their farewell tour this fall, and because it was one of the free books that slid a...moreI freely admit, I read this book primarily ahead of seeing Crue on their farewell tour this fall, and because it was one of the free books that slid across my desk at Hustler (the fact that I met both Tommy Lee and Vince Neil also helped). Not really much to say about this book except that you get exactly what "The Dirt" promises and that is, well, the dirt on Motley Crue. To no one's surprise, there's sex, drugs, more sex, more drugs, booze, rock n' roll, humble beginnings, early failures, blah blah blah. However, the book is told in the voices of the band members themselves rather than an impartial third party, so the boys really give their perspectives on what happened, which deletes an impartial filter as they let it all hang out, sparing not one another's feelings or varnishings during the various feuds and tussles that threatened to tear the band apart during its first two decades.
And yet the band has been around another decade since publication, so much of what is in here is dated already. It ends with Tommy Lee leaving the group, but we all know that leavetaking was short-lived--as were frontman Vince Neil's two exits. There really isn't much here in the way of illumination, but it does deliver in the raunchiness department, which is frequently amusing.
As debaucherous as you think it might have been, it's worse. At one point, Nikki Sixx says they tried to think up more awful things to do with girls but simply ran out of ideas.
So in the rock n' roll history cannon, "The Dirt" doesn't stack up against such other entries as Keith Richards' "Life" or "Slash," but it's fun toilet and gym reading. It's cool to see how the band members reflect back on their music and lives from their then-early-forties, which allows for a lack of excuses of youthful misdeeds. I'd weigh this book as "if you have nothing better to do" and you're a serious rock fan. For a casual fan, or those with more serious-minded rock fair, it's skipable. (less)
I was fortunate to be in Aimee Bender's first ever (yes, as in FIRST EVER!) fiction writing class at USC in the fall of 1998. What I learned from her...moreI was fortunate to be in Aimee Bender's first ever (yes, as in FIRST EVER!) fiction writing class at USC in the fall of 1998. What I learned from her is inestimable, and it seemed only fitting that I put the finishing touches on the second draft of my first book that I would go back to her prose (signed to me by the author herself!). Bender's fiction is absurdist and yet universal, with her short stories exposing the desires in all of us for sympathy, understanding and acceptance. The absurdism of her stories only serves as a refracted mirror for our most basic desires. If I had any critique to offer--of my own teacher????--it would be that I found thematically most of the short stories in the collection to be lacking in diversity. Alienation and just not fitting in despite the risible circumstances of the narrative makes them, ironically, more universal, but I think I would have liked to have engaged with some other themes as I read. Still, what a great opening salvo; the fact that I studied in Aimee makes my journey through her book, 15 years after being in her class (and having said book signed) that much more satisfying.(less)
For KC and Emily, young women in their early twenties, the life of a flight attendant represents many things: adventure, escape, opportunity, an attem...moreFor KC and Emily, young women in their early twenties, the life of a flight attendant represents many things: adventure, escape, opportunity, an attempt to start fresh and salve the wounds of the past. What neither realizes is that life "up in the air" will be far more complex and present many new problems of life, love and opportunity than either of them could have bargained for.
Tiffany Hawk's debut novel takes the reader and her characters on a journey of several dimensions. As a freshman effort, "Love Me Anyway" is an outstanding work for a first-time novelist. Hawk writes with a sure hand, illuminating her characters' hopes, dreams and manifold flaws without condemning or judging. She has a clear understanding of these two women--and of the universal struggles that we all face to find meaning and companionship.
Her writing takes us "there," and the book has a very lived-in feel thanks to Hawk's own experience as a flight attendant. What she does exceedingly well is present flight attending not as the glamorous, bombshell-centric business it was in the Sixties (although references to more grizzled flight attendants harboring nostalgia for such "good old days" are sprinkled throughout), but as the often-insufferable, working-class, barely above poverty-level job that it is for those at the bottom of the food chain. As with most in the lesser-paying professions--especially those in the service-oriented industries--the flight attendants in this book develop a detached yet necessarily cynical professionalism that rings absolutely true to the voices of their characters. It's a job, often a shitty one, but it's *their job*, and they take it seriously.
Like rock stars, their "office" takes KC and Emily to exotic locales on a daily basis, but their off-hours are spent mostly not exploring new cities but rather battling jet lag in identical hotel rooms, surrounded by booze and the unbridled, confused sexual energy that comes from a perversely liberated notion of having little sense of home but that offered by the job. (It is little wonder that KC begins an affair with a rock n' roll musician--their lifestyles, while widely divergent in income--parallel in itinerancy.)
Hawk absolutely excels at sprinkling in minor details that bring the pages to life. It is easy to say that two characters walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; it is another to describe *precisely* the way the wind feels--and smells--as it screams and whips the characters' faces as they trek across the Bay hand-in-hand (having done this walk myself, I can attest). The text is rife with wonderful gallows and dark humor, yet the cynicism of the characters doesn't sink the story; rather, it adds to their dimensions as fully realized humans. (One must wonder how much of the author herself can be found in KC and Emily.)
"Love Me Anyway" is far more about its atmosphere and its world than plot specifics, creating in microcosm a snapshot of one of our most important industries and the men and women who work thanklessly to get you from A to B. Just like the rest of us, KC and Emily will struggle with finances, falling in love with the wrong persons, the loss of parents, self-doubt and, ultimately, find a sense of hope and purpose that can only come with experience and the gentle lessons of the years. A coda at the end shows what becomes of the two women after a decade, which I would not dream of spoiling, but it's a "happy ending" of sorts that, rather than being forced, is actually earned.
This is one helluva debut from someone we can only hope will become one of the great authors of this new century.
(NOTE: I had the rare pleasure of meeting Ms. Hawk at an event in New York in November 2011. At the time she had been struggling with getting the book published for some time and had arrived at a state of perhaps mournful acceptance that it might be time to give up the ghost and move on. Not two weeks later came the phenomenal news that her agent had in fact sold the book. Just as for KC and Emily, the light can only come after some dark times in the tunnel. Bravo, Tiffany!) (less)
Ah, Bruce. Being a Jersey boy myself, familiarity with Springsteen and the E Street Band is more or less required knowledge. Yet I came to the Boss an...moreAh, Bruce. Being a Jersey boy myself, familiarity with Springsteen and the E Street Band is more or less required knowledge. Yet I came to the Boss and his music rather "late" in my education, not fully appreciating the punch and emotionally barbed dazzle of "Born in the U.S.A." until I myself was a working stiff hauling ass for a crummy TV production company in L.A. at the tender age of 23.
But, as Bruce sang in "My Hometown," "I'm 35" now. My outlook on the world, on the working people and rich people and on Bruce and his magnificent music, have all changed as I have.
Mr. Carlin has thoroughly, exhaustively researched Bruce, the band, those key figures at the beginning, the middle and the latter years of the Boss's amazing career arc. This is both a good and a bad thing for "Bruce" the book: good in that the author leaves almost no leaf in his subject's storied life and music unturned; bad in that he spends (arguably) too little on the last decade-plus of Bruce's career and music. Whereas entire chapters early on are devoted to the pre-E Street Band days--in bands such as Steel City--and the recordings of seminal albums "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." and "Born to Run," the latter chapters cram years of the Boss's life into but a few pages. In fact, in little more than a hundred pages, Carlin goes from Bruce breaking up the E Street Band in the late '80s right up to its reunion tour in '99. Arguably, this was the most "uninteresting" time for fans in Bruce's career, but so much happened here that I didn't know about; it would have been great to have had more to read in the 1990s section. Granted, I enjoyed reading about the two albums simultaneously released in 1992 a la GNR's "Use Your Illusion" I and II, but I already knew about the Oscar for "Streets of Philadelphia" and his work post-9/11. I coulda used more digging on the author's part.
Aside from such minor quibbles, this is an extremely great read for any Bruce fan. When I say exhaustive, I mean it. Carlin truly did his homework, interviewing not only members of Bruce's band and inner circle (including saxophonist Clarence "Big Man" Clemons only weeks before his death in 2011) but also his family, friends, former managers and slighted girlfriends and ex-wives and even politicians such as current Secretary of State John Kerry, whom Bruce befriended in the early '80s during his appeal to bring attention (and funds) to America's underserved Vietnam veterans. (Interestingly, in the postscript acknowledgements, the author claims to have reached out to current NJ Gov. Chris Christie for a lifelong conservative fan's take on the Boss's mystique, but his entreaties were left unanswered.) The author also pulls no punches in leaving a dented shimmer on his subject, who frequently comes off as petty, insecure and even downright mean towards his friends and bandmates in many of the decisions he made and directions he took over the years.
(My only other umbrage is that the author all too frequently repeats himself. On one page, I counted the exact same factoid reiterated not once, not twice, but thrice.)
The high-water mark for rock n' roll journalism--for me, anyway--remains Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman's spartan, but no less compelling, portrait of the brief career of the Doors, "No One Here Gets Out Alive." My readers know that I continue to point out that rock n' roll bios basically take on the same rags-to-riches-to-excess-to-fall-to-semi-reemergence format, but "Bruce" is fortunate in that its subject remains as relevant, if not moreseo, than during those halcyon days of the late '70s and early '80s when he went from being that guy Bruce Springsteen to simply being "Bruuuuuuuuce." I also greatly enjoyed reading about the Jersey Shore music scene in the late '60s and early '70s, when Asbury Park and its surrounding environs were shithole shadows of their former, industrialized post-WWII economic glories. And Bruce's relationship with his father, Doug, takes on Grecian proportions in its tragedy.
Overall, this is a great read for anyone interested in Springsteen and rock reportage in general. If you can get past the author's rather languid metaphors and too-frequent hyperbolizing, there's as much here for the novice as for the serious Bruce fan.
(Secret tip: I recommend highly listening along to the albums mentioned in the specific chapters as you go along. It makes the experience of reading about the creation of the music--and its final manifestations--that much more thrilling.)
Let me save you 900 pages and untold man hours: rich Russian asshole family members drink, yell, whore, steal one another's mates, murder, more scream...moreLet me save you 900 pages and untold man hours: rich Russian asshole family members drink, yell, whore, steal one another's mates, murder, more screaming, philosophizing, more screaming, no subtlety to anything, all conversation between characters so over-the-top and full of passion as to be unrelatable. This was probably one of the biggest, most drawn-out yawns I have ever committed my time to.
Why is this book so revered? Having loved "Anna Karenina" I assumed (wrongly) that I would be taken with Dostoevsky's tail of Russian love, betrayal and murder. I slogged through almost every page of this book, unable to stop but for the "art and knowledge" of it all. While there are some genuinely brilliant passages, the characters are almost universally despicable, the dialogue so obvious (as a good friend of mine once said, 'tis painful when characters say exactly what's on their mind) and the lack of subtlety I found grating to my own sensibilities.
It took me almost five months to complete. I didn't want to pick it up again, but it was the only way to reach the end. Almost every page was painful.
I'm done with Victorian Russian lit for a good while. In a few years I'll try "War and Peace" and maybe "Crime and Punishment." But uh, now I feel like I need a cleanser.
Known ubiquitously for the simple "thumbs up, thumbs down" trademark to indicate a film's viewability or voidability, Roger Ebert lived the lion's sha...moreKnown ubiquitously for the simple "thumbs up, thumbs down" trademark to indicate a film's viewability or voidability, Roger Ebert lived the lion's share of his adult life in the public eye -- as newspaperman, film critic, television host and personality and founder of his own "overlooked" film festival. All of this has been long known, but in "Life Itself," the late Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of the venerable Chicago Sun-Times digs deep within the movie that was his own life and mines the vaults to offer greater insight into the life and mind that enjoyed an incredible seven-decade odyssey on earth.
Born humbly, in Urbana, Illinois, young Roger faced the typical growing pains of small-town Americana in the 1950s and gradually coming into his own at the University of Illinois as a newspaper writer and critic. From there it was north on to the Windy City, the Sun-Times and his career as a man of letters -- emerging to become the preeminent film critic in American and, arguably, the world.
But behind and beneath the well-worn narrative is a treasure trove of experience that gave backdrop to Ebert's becoming. There were his familial complications and battles with alcoholism, plus the various romances, culminating in his meeting Chaz, the love of his life, whom he married when the author was 50.
Like many of his generation, Ebert's life experiences colored his views of film and the world around him, from his mother's fierce Catholicism to the changing counterculture of the Sixties. Ebert's easygoing Midwestern personality allowed him unprecedented access to stars like Lee Marvin and John Wayne in the days before publicists were the Praetorian guard with eyes out to neutralize any words that might tarnish their clients' public legends. Here also is Ebert's friendship with notorious nudie director Russ Meyer, for whom Ebert wrote the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." (Of Meyer, the most intriguing quote attributed to him by Ebert is that World War II was "the greatest thing that ever happened" to him.)
The essay collection that is "Life Itself" is devoted to unsurprising subjects: film, the 1960s, college, sex, death, God, Ebert's often-tumultuous but respectful relationship with cohost Gene Siskel and, of course, Chaz, his muse and champion during his final years, when cancer took away first his ability to speak and then any hope of ever returning to television. Of Chaz, one gets the notion that no amount of prose can possibly encapsulate Ebert's love for and admiration of this woman and the hole left as she remained behind on this mortal coil.
On a personal note, "Life Itself" came to my eyes at a unique point in my own experience. For five months over the past year I was a resident of Mr. Ebert's hometown of Champaign-Urbana, an experience that I cannot help but feel ties me in an ethereal way with the author. Not simply because he describes in the book street corners and landmarks in Champana that I had come to know incredibly well but also from my having volunteered to work at the Eberfest film festival during my final week living in Urbana. I took the backstage detail, knowing from my time as a theater usher that's where the action would be. Doing so, I met both Spike Lee and Oliver Stone in passing, in town for 25th anniversary screenings of "Do the Right Thing" and "Born on the Fourth of July," respectively. More wonderful than either was getting a few fleeting moments of face time with Chaz herself, now in charge of the festival. The light, the spirit emanating from Ebert's widow made immediately clear that every warm word Roger ever wrote of her was warranted.
And like Roger, I have now left those Urbana streets, winds and surrounding cornfields behind to become a big city newspaperman. I admire Roger for never forgetting where he was from, and for bringing the film festival back to where he began his journey. May we all be so humble to enjoy success yet appreciate the baby steps of initiation.
Tucker Max returns with his third--and final--book in his fratire trilogy. This chapterhouse finds Max illuminating more sordid tales from his drinkin...moreTucker Max returns with his third--and final--book in his fratire trilogy. This chapterhouse finds Max illuminating more sordid tales from his drinking/sexing/carousing ways. As in his previous two books, what makes them amusing is the humor he brings to the table in spinning yarns that are, at least on the surface level, crass and base. I found this book to be a far better read than his previous, "Assholes Finish First," as the stories were crisper and his observations more to the point. There was less bloviation and braggadocio, but also less of the internal soul-seeking that made his first effort, "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," rise above its ostensibly insipid subject matter. All of his law school cronies are now married--the chunk of stories at the end is devoted to said nuptials--leaving Tucker the last of his friends to continue on in the bachelor lifestyle--and unapologetically so.
The postscript, in which Tucker "retires" from fratire is touching in its own way, mainly in that he says that it isn't "who I am anymore" and thus he's moving on to the next phase of his authorial career--looking forwards instead of backwards. (When I interviewed Tucker Max in 2007 for Hustler, he foreshadowed said retirement.) I'm curious to see what will come from his pen next, and if in fact he returns to the fratire genre somewhere down the line.
As a book, "Hilarity Ensues" is an improvement over AFF, but the champion of his trilogy remains IHTSBIH. I hope he's got more in him and am anxious to see where he goes next, but overall, Tucker's story of persistence at writing--no matter his subject--despite the odds and the initial failure and poverty, is inspiring. He pushed and pushed until it happened, he's sold millions of books, and people know his name. The rest of us wannabe writers should be so fortunate.(less)
I received this book for Christmas 1995--yes, 1995!!!--and got around to it only this year, partly as research for my own eventual study of masculinit...moreI received this book for Christmas 1995--yes, 1995!!!--and got around to it only this year, partly as research for my own eventual study of masculinity in modern cinema, which I was hoping to commence in grad school this fall, but such did not work out. While I did find some decent research fodder for my treatise, the reality is that it's obvious that this book was rushed into production to capitalize on the mid-90s Pulp fever. The text is absolutely rife with copy mistakes and head-scratching turns of phrase (to be fair, the author is British).
While Tarantino at that time was on the crest of the most extraordinary modern writer-director career and more or less single-handedly redefined the postmodern film aesthetic, the fact remains that at press time, he was still very much *at the beginning.* As much as I love "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs," the past 17 years have been exciting to see Tarantino develop as a filmmaker, through both pitfalls ("Jackie Brown," "Death Proof") and recent triumphs ("Inglorious Basterds," "Django Unchained"). (Ironically enough, what's *missing* here is a really in-depth look inside "Pulp Fiction"; much of the book is devoted to "Dogs.")
In short, it was simply too early for a Tarantino career "retrospective," and it shows in the lightness of the writing here. While there are some interesting anecdotes--including about Tarantino's sales of the scripts for both "Natural Born Killers" and "True Romance" and their subsequent development by more seasoned, and far differently minded, filmmakers--the bulk of the text is what my colleagues and I colorfully refer to as "Tarantino dick-sucking." The book is almost entirely softballs and challenges its subject in interviews not really at all. What's here we mostly already know: He was a bright, aimless kid who lived and breathed movies and pop culture and grew up to repackage the elements of all he had ingested into his own films.
No big revelation as a thesis, and not particularly well deconstructed here in any amount of serious detail. The end result left me yawning and somewhat bored. Yet more time needs to pass before any decisive bio of the Postmodern Master should be scribed. (less)
My third venture into the twisted, brilliant mind of Mr. Vonnegut was this masterpiece of satirical anarchy. Perchance it was providential that I pick...moreMy third venture into the twisted, brilliant mind of Mr. Vonnegut was this masterpiece of satirical anarchy. Perchance it was providential that I picked this up mere moments after completing "Hitchhiker's Guide," which, as my readers know, failed to enthuse me. Two pages into "Breakfast of Champions" and I knew I was home. Vonnegut's cynical voice and toying with the tenants of narrative make for inimitable reading; the actual "plot" itself is almost secondary, but here it is:
A used car salesman in Indiana (Vonnegut's home state) is losing his mind and the story foreshadows that he will go even loonier as he comes to believe that he is in fact the "protagonist" of a hobo writer's books. That's it...THAT'S the plot. It's ludicrous and nonsensical in the extreme. What is genius about the novel is that it works. As in his other works I have read ("Cat's Cradle" and, most especially, "Slaughterhouse Five") Vonnegut toys with reality and the notion of an omniscient narrative versus one who participates in the story: In this novel, the narrator is in fact BOTH! We are told right up front that the two main characters are in fact his creations, but before the end of the novel, he will meet them both.
Is the "narrator" in fact Vonnegut? Is the story his own or is it somehow out of control beyond even his means? The levels of irony and narrative conceit are so multilayered that untangling the meta-reality of it all is part of the novel's extreme pleasure. As is Vonnegut's language, his cynical tearing down (with glee) of American mythology and the "okie-doke" way in which most of us live our daily lives.
What he has done is created characters to both destroy and love via a narrative that is absurd but eminently enjoyable. As with all of his work, the Vonnegut snideness is alive and well, and combined with this most experimental of books, creates a read that is beyond unforgettable.(less)
I'm kind of at a loss on how to critique this book that is so well loved by so many without seeming like a complete philistine. Maybe it's because I d...moreI'm kind of at a loss on how to critique this book that is so well loved by so many without seeming like a complete philistine. Maybe it's because I didn't read it when I was younger and this type of irony and satire would've been fresh upon me at a young age. Perhaps I'm too cynical. Perhaps the first ten pages were so dynamite that I never felt it picked up again. Whatever the case, I wasn't enthralled with THGTTG. I found the tone and the jokes repetitive. I was so taken with the opening, Monty Python-esque chicanery that I prepped myself for a wild ride that, as I said, became repetitively pounding of the same throughout.
All the same, I appreciated the talent of Mr. Adams in writing something that, upon first publication, must have been revolutionary as there really hadn't been anything like it before in terms of ludicrous, anarchic styling. It was also amazing to see how ahead of his time he was in imagining such things as interactive media (the "Hitchhiker's Guide") and communications technology. He was clearly a talented and humorous man.
Maybe I'm not the right audience. Or perhaps all of the major premises--"42" and "the towel" and "Don't Panic!"--were so familiar to me by now thanks to pop culture and my literate friends that there wasn't much to be surprised by. Also, as I picked up a Kurt Vonnegut book immediately after finishing this one, perhaps I'm prejudiced as I'm more attuned with Vonnegut's sense of satire and slyness.
Judge for yourself. This is only one man's un-humble opining. (less)
One of the great privileges of my life came a year ago when I threw caution to the wind and boarded a flight to Australia, where I spent three weeks t...moreOne of the great privileges of my life came a year ago when I threw caution to the wind and boarded a flight to Australia, where I spent three weeks touring the "Fatal Shore" and neighboring New Zealand. It had been a dream more or less since the Sydney Olympics. Now that it's officially scratched from the old bucket list, my hunger to learn more about the continent's history was stoked. Fortunately, my father then handed me "The Fatal Shore."
TFS is not--I repeat, NOT--for those who have anything less than a passing interest in the history of Australian colonization. Mr. Hughes has sincerely done his homework, spending years in Australia's national archives, digging deep into the voluminous correspondence from settlers and British bureaucrats back to London as the experiment of trying to create a continent-wide "prison" was underway. In retrospect, the 1,000-mile-wide penitentiary scheme seems the height of folly, not the least so given "Australasia"'s distance from Mother England, the untamed terrain, hostile natives, turbid ports, reefs that tore ships' bottoms to shreds, wildlife and soils unfamiliar to European hands, and general attempt to "colonize" a truly forbidding continent that was months' sail from home.
Hughes begins with the arrival of the First Fleet into Botany Bay (named by Captain James Cook's botanist on the "Endeavor" in 1770) in 1778 with prisoners drawn from England's "hulks." (London's powers thought that they could rid England of the "criminal class" once and for all. One of the books more fascinating aspects is its look at the foundation of modern penology theory.) The scheme was of course twofold: reform *and* colonize. From their arrival, through the first impossible years of near-starvation, and on through nearly a century of history until "transportation" was formally abolished, Hughes delves deep. In his foreword to the book, Hughes makes the incredibly salient point that in Australian history, the voice of the convicts themselves was seldom, if ever, heard, partly due to a national desire to simply "forget" that the country was in fact begun as a jail. One of the most amazing aspects of the book is how Hughes weaves the letters and testimonials of convicts and "Emancipists" in with the writings of settlers and bureaucrats to form a more true picture of early Australia.
As I opined in the opening staves of this review, "The Fatal Shore" is not for the casual historian. The text is as dense as it is fascinating--a true comprehensive recounting of perhaps the most unlikely founding of a nation in world history. Hughes' prose is by turns academic and acerbically dryly humorous, and his usage of Down Under slang makes the 602 pages (plus footnotes, endnotes, bibliography, works cited, etc.) even more time-consuming due to the need to consult the Web for help.
This was a commitment to read, and took me a total of eight months to finally complete. I'm glad I read it, I'm glad it's done...and now I can't wait to head back Down Under with all due speed!(less)
Europeans conquered the world, yes, but why? In his exhaustively researched, unsparing look at the history of civilizations’ rises and falls, Jared Di...moreEuropeans conquered the world, yes, but why? In his exhaustively researched, unsparing look at the history of civilizations’ rises and falls, Jared Diamond takes an unbiased, uncondemning—but no less unfiltered—look at the hows and the whys behind the picture of the world appearing as it now does. For one, Mr. Diamond makes such assertions that Native Americans and Pacific Islanders and Aboriginal Australians and Africans are no “less smart” than Europeans, thus disputing a typically racist assertion that such peoples were destined to be conquered by the whites of central and western Europe throughout the last millennium due to some implied “deficit” in their genetic or collective makeup.
Beyond that, Diamond asks such questions as why did Pizarro, with but a few hundred Spaniards at his disposal battling unfamiliar diseases and in unknown terrain, more or less walk into the realm of Inca emperor Atahualpa, with thousands of warriors who viewed him as a god at his command, and destroy both the emperor and take over and annihilate his entire realm within a few days time—especially considering that the “friendly meeting” requested by the Spanish was an obvious trap? Among many reasons elucidated, Diamond states that Atahualpa had not the benefit of history and the written tales of a thousand years of previous conflicts that Pizarro and the Kingdom did. This is but one reason among many as to why the history of the Americas was doomed for the Natives in just a few short decades following European contact. (Then came the European diseases that all but wiped out those unfortunate enough to survive the armed conflicts and enslavement.)
Diamond goes back to the very nascency of civilization, to the cultivation of the first crops in Mesopotamia and other sites around the world. These passages, to me, got a tad long-winded and bland, especially following as they did on the heels of the more “exciting” chapters on conflicts between Europe and the Americas, but they’re important as laying the building blocks for what civilization is and how it came to be started where and when it was in human history.
Despite the relatively (OK, extremely) grim nature of the material, Diamond’s writing is actually rather entertaining and frequently witty, which actually served to make me laugh out loud frequently—and rather unexpectedly. History is typically not the most chuckle-inducing of writing out there, but Diamond does an incredible job not only of condensing 10,000-plus years of human history (and even farther back in geological time) into 500 pages but also of keeping the reader engaged with his frequently humorous asides. (One of my absolutely favorites was during a chapter on the African island of Madagascar, when he described some of their native warriors paddling east “into the sunrise.”)
Other such observations include that the Eurasian continent was uniquely situated to “favor” its inhabitants thanks largely to its east-west axis, which biased Europeans (and, to an extent, East Asians) toward optimal crop growth cycles, which directly or indirectly led to the rises of civilizations, the exchange of technology across the continent and to the development of written language and, ultimately, to the cultivation and maintenance of professional armies and generals with a knowledge of military campaign history at their disposal—all of which were lacking in Africa and the Americas thanks to their north-south axis (and climate dispersal) and geographic barriers.
Diamond doesn’t judge, only educates his readers, which is a good thing considering how easily such a work could have turned polemical (the word “anti-white” comes readily to mind). He even allows for alternate, apocryphal readings of history that one might assume based on the current map—mainly that a non-student of history might be forgiven for mistakenly believing that England was set up as a satellite of the United States and not the reverse. His background in anthropology and his work in Polynesia and New Guinea gives him a unique perspective on some of the world’s “forgotten” cultures that have either remained free of Western influence until recently or not at all. This allows him a singular, evenhanded view of history, present and future from all sides.
It took me a while to work up the stomach to tackle "Prisoner of X," chiefly as my own stretch as a Hustler employer left some rather hefty emotional...moreIt took me a while to work up the stomach to tackle "Prisoner of X," chiefly as my own stretch as a Hustler employer left some rather hefty emotional scars. Thus, it's hard to review this book objectively, but MacDonell can, and does, tell you way more than I ever could about his two decades working for Larry Flynt, from fledgling copy editor (my old job) and moving all the way up the ranks to running Flynt's flagship magazine. The writing, to my tastes, is a bit sloppy and slovenly, but, having been in the belly of the beast for four years myself, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Still, there are some interesting tales about interviewing such notorious notables as Night Stalker Richard Ramirez behind bars.
If you got nothing better to do...I suppose give it a whirl, especially if you're into seedy tales of sex and drugs.
It's all here: the uber amounts of the sex, the drugs, the rock n' roll, but also fascinating anecdotes from half a century's worth of a front-row sea...moreIt's all here: the uber amounts of the sex, the drugs, the rock n' roll, but also fascinating anecdotes from half a century's worth of a front-row seat at the table of rock royalty. In this tell-all memoir, "Keef" takes you on a carnival ride through the back alley of all things Stones, from his numerous affairs, lovers, booze, pills and battles with narcotics. No surprises there, but what is equally--if not more--fascinating are his tales of being a wee lad in post-War, depression-laden London, run-ins with blues icons and influences (including how Chicago bluesmen often fled the U.S. for better treatment in the UK) and his behind-the-scenes feuds with veritable brother Mick Jagger. In one of the book's most surprising revelations, Keef tells that there was a period of roughly 15 years when he and Mike were so estranged that their "collaboration" on writing records was done from afar and never in the same room. Amazing that despite such estrangement that they still continued to pen tune after tune of the Stones' signature mix of blues and rock that has become the most recognizable brand in rock n' roll for a half century and to continue to sell out arenas the world over.
On the eve of the Stones' rumored 50th anniversary tour, this is a great read for both rock fans like myself and the general fan of 20th century latter history as seen through the eyes of one of its most paramount figures of the Counterculture. Yes, he *should* have been dead a hundred times over by now, but like the band that he and Mick started as London schoolkids, the legend of Richards continues to get more interesting as the decades pass. May he and the boys continue to rock--and write about it--into their centennial!(less)