Rambling quasi-memoir stuffed into pseudo "rules" format, but sinful fun
This entertaining trek down Baer's highly-redacted past misses the meat and seRambling quasi-memoir stuffed into pseudo "rules" format, but sinful fun
This entertaining trek down Baer's highly-redacted past misses the meat and seasoning of the full story like a meal of salad and fish soup. Focusing on Baer's own hunt for one Mid-East antagonist that ends with him "high-tailing out like a three-legged jackrabbit" when his quarry appears to turn the tables, this picaresque collection of anecdotes and killing techniques is at its best when Baer's formidable mother pays him a visit. She never deserts her quarry, never misses an opportunity and fearlessly skewers all the Nazis, philanderers and corrupt bureaucrats that seem to pop-up when she's on scene like tin rabbits in an arcade shooting gallery. Baer himself is enamored of the elegant mano-a-mano putting down of societal impedimenta and despises the sterile nouveau-drone world where air-conditioned jump-suited glorified RC hobbyists take orders from contractors in Utah sifting through screens full of dots glowing with ever-increasing levels of risk-denoting hue stemming from cyber-analytics. He prefers those who dress in scuffed shoes and jeans, share three cups of tea with his quarry, inhale the aroma of his world, admire the music and women that surround him, assess the extremity of risk he presents first-hand in the target's tongue, then inject a drop of adenosine with a 50-gauge needle into his nictitating membrane while a team of like-minded operators hold him still in his bed. Ah ... the good old days.... Unfortunately, the book amounts to little more than bare sketches of publicly-released accounts of Mid-East mayhem thinly tied to the hunt for the killer of Navy diver Robert Stethem and author of such horrors as the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon. There are tales of Mom for comic relief, and the aforementioned "rules." A good adventure read, but devoid of context, reflection and depth. Thankfully, it's most admirable aspects are the author's charming humility coupled with a complete lack of admiration for things that go clank. While hardware is definitely part of the story, we get the feeling that Baer would be as mystified by a modern automobile engine as the next fellow. Definitely relatable, Baer's greatest gift in this little book is to appeal to the secret assassin inside us all. After all, murder mysteries are wildly popular, and what boy doesn't fantasize about being on the third floor in Abbottabad, dropped in by Blackhawk, with an "arrest" warrant in his Velcroed pocket?...more
(Available on Kindle, quality paperback and small paperback.)
Thorough research with apparently impartial fact-checking, a feel for narrative flow, cle(Available on Kindle, quality paperback and small paperback.)
Thorough research with apparently impartial fact-checking, a feel for narrative flow, clear diction and flawless editing make this book a little wonder. I picked it up at Hong Kong International Airport for an airplane read in January, 2014. A few days ago I noted the receipt I've been using as a book mark has "International" in decorative script as a boilerplate header (probably for "International Airport"). Given the subject's deep involvement with the origin of the "Fourth International," I found that ironic, as I did the price, marked in a large yellow sticker on the front cover with a dollar sign (Hong Kong as well as US monetary designator), "$39" -- about US$5. It was evidently remaindered as a low-selling 2010 paperback reprint of a 2009 London publication.
Starting long after Trotsky's involvement in the events of 1917 Moscow and treaties that ended the Great War, we find Trotsky already in Coyoacan, Mexico (today a section of Mexico City), ensconced in the "Blue House" home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and involved in multiple intrigues: an affair with his hostess; concerns about security with both the NKVD and GRU after him and him in turn vocal about their efforts; his involvement with the Fourth International, a pipe dream given his situation; desperate finances due to inability to publish quickly enough to satisfy readers or publishers; and defense of his legacy, starting with Dewey Commission investigations into Moscow show trial charges.
There is no prelude about Trotsky joining the Bolsheviks before Red October, no mention of his leadership of the Red Army or his handling of negotiations for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that gained time for the Soviet Union to form, giving up huge chunks of real estate.
Philosopher John Dewey headed a quasi-legal investigation of Trotsky, who was supported by John Dos Passos, Reihnhold Niebuhr, Suzanne La Follette, Edmund Wilson and others. Dewey found the Moscow activity fabricated to discredit the Bolshevik née Menshevik. The verdict bolstered Trotsky's spirits but did nothing to dispel well-grounded fears Stalin would view the decision as a trifle and continue destruction of the counter-movement leader and his family.
Before the inevitable conclusion, Trotsky is depicted as a man devoted to the revolutionary duty to maintain a strong physicality. He hunts, fishes, and hikes to dig up cacti in the Mexican desert, often wearing out younger, presumably fitter bodyguards.
A falling out with Rivera and Kahlo caused Trotsky to move from the Blue House to a house shaped like the letter "T," still in Coyoacan, depleting his finances for remodeling to house his guard/secretaries and enhancing security. Walls were heightened, alarms installed, bodyguards hired. Money was tight.
In this house one night not long after the Trotsky's moved in, a well-planned full-on frontal assault by a group of men armed with pistols, bombs and sub-machine guns led by the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros and backed by the NKVD failed to wound a single member of the household despite fifteen minutes of fire and over 300 rounds. Later investigation uncovered the body of an infiltrator in a shallow grave elsewhere in Mexico City -- the man who had unbolted a door allowing the assassination crew inside without setting off alarms.
The assault prevented further excursions to the countryside, and Trotsky turned to tending his beloved rabbits and cactus garden in the T-house grounds, with its 14-foot barrier, installed in part with funds supplied by a mysterious American benefactor known only as "Mr. K."
One-by-one, we watch as Trotsky's children disappear into the Gulags and anonymous graves of the Stalinist era. Trotsky and his wife sink into depression and despair, yet attempt to keep spirits up with thoughts of publication and political change, busying themselves with household duties and friends, one of whom turns out to be a second NKVD assassin.
They remain devoted to each other, are obviously deeply in love despite Trotsky's amorous malfeasances, and mourn the dissolution of their family and legacy together. He comforts his wife when their son dies blaming Trotsky in writing for not rescuing him as he sinks into disease, wasting away alone in a foreign land. She in turn comforts him when he suffers recurrent fevers, sweats and pains, perhaps stress-induced psychosomatic illness suffered since the war with the Whites during the Russian Civil War. This same illness struck him as Lenin died, and his well-publicized failure to attend Lenin's funeral is discussed in detail.
In latter chapters, we watch along with Trotsky as Europe descends into the horrors of WWII, as the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact is signed, Poland is divided, and Russian history books and speeches regarding German fascism are rewritten, providing the background for Orwell's descriptions of journalistic memory holes in _1984_.
Agents of Moscow surround Trotsky's small group of trusted secretaries, guards, drivers and associates, creating plan after plan for assassination and submitting them to the NKVD for approval. (Parallels with hare-brained CIA plans to do in Fidel Castro come to mind.) At the end Trotsky is murdered. Like Lincoln, he takes hours to die of a head wound. There is surgery, lucidity, paralysis and a final coma. The event's description dispels many myths. There was no icepick. Trotsky was not struck from behind.
Mexican police behave laudably and with skill. We see what happens to the plotters as justice takes its odd course. The aftermath to Trotsky's family is described, to his wife and poignantly, to a granddaughter he never knew he had, decades later.
As a coda, during the reign of Khrushchev while the USSR went through de-Stalinization, there was no resurrection of the reputation of Leon Trotsky. During Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, while other thought criminals were brought out from behind the curtains and smoke of history, cleaned off and put back on shelves, Trotsky was not. China referred to Gorbachev as a "Trotskyite revisionist" -- still the ultimate insult, decades after his death.
It doesn't matter if you're interested in the history of Trotsky, the Russian Revolution, Stalin or Communism -- this book is a mystery novel, dense biography of the latter portion of an important historical figure's life, and soap opera.
Although I give this book 4 and not 5 stars, that's only because I wished it were longer and contained even more detail. I also gave this book the implicit praise of slow reading, because I didn't want it to end.
References are thorough, the index well wrought, editorial judgment light-handed and tactful. There is no heavy Stalin bashing or effulgent praise of Trotsky. The author is not a Communist but an historian. This is an historical record and treated as such, yet with obvious understanding and some affection for the travails of the "Old Man" as he wrestled with his monstrous enemy. ...more