The simplistic way to describe this is to say it is a true story of one family's Hurricane Katrina experience, and overcoming the destruction and many...moreThe simplistic way to describe this is to say it is a true story of one family's Hurricane Katrina experience, and overcoming the destruction and many challenges they faced before, during, and after the storm. Oh but there is so much more to the story. Abdulrahman Zeitoun owns a successful construction and rental property business in New Orleans. Before the storm hit his wife and children fled the city, and he stayed behind to hold down the fort on their home, business, and customers. He rides out the storm, and then the flood comes. He protects what he can of the family home, sets out in an old metal canoe to do help his neighbors and check in on his customers (and feeds the abandoned neighborhood dogs.) You come to know him as a hard working and compassionate person. Meanwhile, his family finds shelter with family first in Baton Rouge, and then makes their way to close friends in Phoenix. Zeitoun (the gentleman is commonly referred to by his last name) stays in contact with his wife through phone calls he is able to make from one of their rental houses whose phone box and service survived the storm. After several days it is clear that Zeitoun can no longer stay in the city, and as he sets out to find a relief center to navigate his way out of town, he is suddenly arrested. Wait, what? Why? He has no cash, no weapons, committed no crime, and has been rescuing people on his own, what on earth . . . ? What happens from this point on is nothing short of a nightmare.
For those of us who did not experience Katrina it is impossible to fully appreciate what was going on at the time. From the city, state, and federal response that we witnessed through media accounts, you can draw your own conclusions about what was, and was not, happening. Not everything that happened to Zeitoun and his family happened to everyone in New Orleans, but the fact that any of it happened at all is near unfathomable.
The overlay to all of this is that Zeitoun is from Syria and he and his family are Muslim. Life for many Muslims and other immigrants of Middle Eastern heritage has been foisted into a different experience in this country since 9/11. This book delves into some of Zeitoun's background in Syria before coming to the U.S., his upbringing, and religious views. He is not evil, nor was he raised to be anything less than diligent, respectful, and peaceful.
What happens to Zeitoun starting with his arrest going forward is a mishmash of utter breakdown by everyone and everything. The breakdown of law and order, the justice system failures, the complete lack of government leadership and coordination, everyday encounters with people who don't understand folks different from themselves, it's a long list. But stop to consider the perspective of someone who, by virtue of his ethnicity, is treated differently. Are his captors abject racists? Is the system biased? Is it all just a really big mess brought on by the uniqueness of the Katrina disaster? Is how Zeitoun is treated reflective of policy decisions about the U.S. proclaimed war on terror?
There is so much power in this simply told story. Great book, enlightening and necessary story. (less)
Read this awhile ago, 1992 I think and recall it being quite good at the time. He's opinionated and as he is known to do makes a good case for his tho...moreRead this awhile ago, 1992 I think and recall it being quite good at the time. He's opinionated and as he is known to do makes a good case for his thoughts and writes intelleigently and persuasively. I had never heard of Gerry Spence until this was recommended by a friend. Glad I read it.(less)
The history of the FBI from its inception up to the early days of President Obama's first term in office. The FBI is an institution cloaked in secrecy...moreThe history of the FBI from its inception up to the early days of President Obama's first term in office. The FBI is an institution cloaked in secrecy and mystique, not all good, in the eyes of many Americans. What is great about how this author writes and approaches his subject is to dig deep into the details, line them up so that the facts tell the story all while drawing together disparate parts and weaving together relevant pieces to lay the story all out there. Victories to missed opportunities, he leaves nothing out. He gives detail and analysis without imposing too much of his own judgement, and keeps the story line moving.
The content sometimes scared the hell out of me, frankly. The tactics instituted by J. Edgar Hoover of secret wiretapping and mass imprisonment went too far. Perhaps that is too easy to say in hindsight, but the reality is that Hoover was convinced that the communist threat (to the extent there was one) was behind the civil rights movement and therefore justified wiretapping of civil rights leaders and their lawyers and others around them including hotel rooms they used when traveling. To find what? Nothing, as it turns out. At some point it seemed like the fact they were finding nothing spurned them on to look even harder. It was not a good foundation for an agency that is entrusted with keeping the country safe. Secrecy was ingrained in the FBI for decades. Hoover kept secret files that no one knew about until after his death, not even within the agency.
At the same time you have to admire Hoover's tenacity in how he wielded power and influence with all the different President's under which he served. They didn't all like him, and I don't think he cared too much about that, as long as he could get what he felt he needed to do the job he believed he was charged to do.
By the end of the book I was not in complete shock and despair. Things get better - they get worse for awhile, but they get better by the time we get around to the present day FBI. I have a great deal of repsect for what the women and men of the FBI are tasked with, and like any job there are good and bad among the bunch. It is clear to me that the leader of the organization plays a critical role and has the hardest job of all, to pursue a vision that keeps our country safe in a way that protects civil liberties and follows the rule of law. An intense book but very well done.
Full disclosure: I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway through The History Book Club. Thank you Random House!(less)
A memoir full of conflicting feelings and actions told with amazing personal grace. Strom Thurmond was the longest serving Senator when he retired at...moreA memoir full of conflicting feelings and actions told with amazing personal grace. Strom Thurmond was the longest serving Senator when he retired at the age of 100, and easily one of the most controversial figures over the course of his career. Many remember him as a staunch segregationist. Which makes the circumstances of this book all the more confounding - the author is his daughter, who was the product of an affair he had as a very young man with his family's black maid. Essie Mae grew up in the early years of her life thinking that the two people who raised her were her parents. She was being raised by her mother's sister and her husband. Surprise! This discovery was dropped on her in the most unusual way, first by her mother, and eventually her mother introduced her to the man who was her biological father, the Senator. This book tells the story of Essie Mae's discovery of her unusual family lineage, her eventual relationship with her father, how she kept it a secret until after his passing, and her reconciling of her feelings throughout the course of her life. Strom Thurmond's politics always made my stomach turn and this book did not endear him to me at all, despite the generous forgiveness bestowed on him by Essie Mae. Even though I read the book, I am still trying to imagine how she came to terms with her feelings and her father. Remarkable. (less)
I remember walking into a keynote address by the author several years ago where all I knew was the topic was related to diversity in the legal profess...moreI remember walking into a keynote address by the author several years ago where all I knew was the topic was related to diversity in the legal profession. Before he started speaking I remember thinking I was going to hear a lecture from a white academic who had no personal insights. I could not have been more wrong!! The first ten years of his life he had every reason to believe he was white and no reason to question it. He learns otherwise, which alone might give rise to some revelations, but his living circumstances change dramatically when he is suddenly sent to live with his black relatives in the upper midwest and is immediately living life in a highly segregated community. From the instant he is identified as black, everything about his world changes. How he is treated by the educational system alone is appalling, but there is so much more. His unique story of his upbringing and being thrust into confronting issues of family and racial issues at an early age is very compelling. He recounts his experience in such a way that the reader gets the raw, unvarnished feeling of what he was going through in the moment. Written with elegance and simplicity, yet direct and compelling. Excellent book.(less)