"Living History" by Hillary Rodham Clinton Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins
Similar to the sentiment expressed in the July 2 Joe Bob's America column, "Hillary's Magnum Opus," once I began this 562-page memoir by Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady and current Senator from New York, I came to feel that I'd *always* been reading it. My nightmare was that I would awaken and find that my bookmark had been moved back one hundred pages--because another hundred pages had been mysteriously added in the dead of night. Agh!!
It's not that what Senator Clinton has to say isn't interesting. She quickly establishes her identity and her time in the opening chapters. She comes from a solid Midwest family that lived a fairly quiet existence. She is virtually untouched by the world until the turbulent times of the 1960s, which lead her to question and challenge that identity and those times. She comes to move away from the Republican roots of her family and on to the Democratic Party values she now embraces. Clinton zooms along, from her newsmaking speech as the first student speaker at a Wellesley College graduation in 1969, to her meeting with and eventual marriage to Yale Law School classmate and future Arkansas Attorney General, Arkansas Governor, and U.S. President, William Jefferson Clinton.
It was no secret that Senator Clinton was paid an $8 million advance to write this book, and that it was to focus mainly on her eighty--I mean *eight* years--as First Lady in the White House. But at over 500 pages, it's hard not to wonder if there was a dollars-per-word minimum requirement in the contract. In lots of ways, as a woman and as an American, I was fascinated by the dozens of trips to dozens of countries that Clinton made, speaking out and encouraging various cultures worldwide to value their female citizens of all ages, insisting on schooling for girls and financing for women's independent businesses. Her personal encounters with dozens of leaders and their spouses helped these people and their nations come alive for me in a way that none of the 24-hour news cable channels or weekly newsmagazines ever have.
Also evident is the gentle naivete that belies all of her (and, some would say, her husband's) work: an unwavering belief that the way things have always been run not only isn't good enough but also can be changed. This belief did pave the way to successful welfare reform. But it could not disentangle the snarl of health care reform. In leading the latter project, Clinton made herself perhaps the most visible and politically active First Lady ever--or should that be most visible political target? It's hard to remember a time when Clinton was in her husband's shadow, if she ever was. But as much work as she took on in the White House, it seems America was most happy with her when she was performing the more conventional role as mother to daughter Chelsea.
The book inadvertently poses the question of what might have happened if Clinton had paid more attention to her other more conventional role as wife. Certainly President Clinton is wholly responsible for his own actions and his admitted infidelity with intern Monica Lewinsky and its consequences. But the months prior to the impeachment and attempted removal from office show a flurry of trips and extended visits overseas, where Senator Clinton was home for only days at a time. I'll be surprised if President Clinton's own upcoming book doesn't at least hint at the fact of his wife's many long absences.
Joe Bob likened this tome to a speech, but I'll go one step further. As Clinton is a lawyer by trade, I'd say "Living History" is the testimony about her life and activities that she wished she could have given to the federal government during the Whitewater investigation. Clinton clearly establishes who the innocent and guilty parties are, and what everybody had to gain by prolonging this smoke-and-mirrors case, including tying in the Paula Jones civil suit. She makes good use of the books already published about the investigation, especially former adversary David Brock's "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," in which he admits exaggerating and fabricating stories that put the Clintons in the worst possible light.
Hopefully, the book--and its runaway success, which prompted at least one conservative analyst, Tucker Carlson, to eat his disparaging words and, as he promised, his shoe (well, a cake in the shape of his shoe)--has been therapeutic for Clinton and allowed her to more fully move ahead to the challenges of being a new member of the U.S. Congress. She makes no mention of any future political aspirations--she presents her decision to run for senator as more responding to a dare than anything else--but it's hard to foresee an American political future in which she will not figure prominently. Four stars.
Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think by Chris Matthews
Naturally, on election day, November 5, 2002, Chris Matthews was on fire. As John Bloom noted in his column the next day, "Networks dazed and confused ," other television news reporters robotically reported the vote counts and the winners and losers (under garish overlighting, perhaps to hearken back to 1960s-era election night coverage?) while Matthews enthusiastically peppered his onscreen group of political experts and his offsite drop-in broadcast guests with nonstop questions and observations. MSNBC's Matthews seemed like the only commentator full of joy and passion for America's unique political system, while the other talking heads seemed to reflect the ennui and apathy of recent generations raised with the narcotizing presidencies of Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and two Bushes.
"Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think," Matthews' third book, goes a long way toward explaining why this is so. A combination of opinion and memoir, Matthews lists the public figures as well as the personal life experiences that have shaped his own political point of view. It's the backstory to the awareness that he expresses on both "Hardball with Chris Matthews," his daily one-hour program (named after his first book, "Hardball: How Politics is Played, Told By One Who Knows the Game"), and on his half-hour Sunday program, "The Chris Matthews Show," which airs at various times on NBC affiliates. He also has a "Hardball" weblog, which is maintained on the MSNBC web site, at . His various newspaper bylines throughout the 1970s and 1980s coalesced into a nationally syndicated column written for 15 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, which ended just recently, in September of 2002.
Matthews does know the game--he used to be *in* the game. His professional resume famously includes stints as a speechwriter for President Carter and top aide to Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, as well as an unsuccessful 1970s bid for Congress. In the book Matthews drops a lot of names, mostly politicians and journalists. He devotes clusters of pages to specific political figures--presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush, former U.S. Presidents Kennedy, Clinton, and Reagan, former boss O'Neill, and former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill. He briefly weighs in on various political hot-button issues, including race relations, abortion rights, gay rights, and AIDS in Africa. He takes us back to his coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, stopping to walk through the Buchenwald concentration camp in the process, and also revisits the first all-races election in South Africa in 1994. Most importantly, however, Matthews takes us to the African nation of Swaziland, where he was charged with helping the businessmen there develop their economy, while serving in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1968 to 1970. It was the lessons learned there that turned the Catholic Philadelphia native away from his parents' Republican values and over to becoming a Democrat.
The real strength of this book is Matthews' connecting the dots, so to speak--showing how the words of a few can affect the lives of so many (a point of fact that can be applied to both politics and journalism). So many people see politics as a meaningless exercise, a nagging means to a hollow end. That is not his view. A visit to Washington, D.C., in 1954, when he was just 10 years old, greatly impressed upon him the power of American politics. Later life experiences presented him with a rather pragmatic definition of freedom and therefore perhaps a deeper appreciation of what American democracy is able to accomplish.
This is why Matthews was able to shine without peer on election night. He knows the truth, that election night is what American democracy is all about. This country should only truly worry about its future if the light ever goes out of Chris Matthews' eyes. Three and a half stars.
The Free Press, 2001, $25 Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins ...more
Let me tell you everything that this newest book by Rosie O'Donnell is not. It is not an autobiography, although the openly gay stand-up comedian/film actress/talk show host and mother of three adopted children (with a child on the way from her somehow pregnant partner) does share a few snapshot moments. When she was a kid, Rosie let a mean trick be played on her brother, and she still feels guilty about it. After her mother died, when she was 11, a clueless teacher, upset at Rosie for not having her homework, yelled that he would be calling and telling her mother about her behavior, which spurred Rosie to run screaming out of the school and hide in a neighbor's home nearby. In middle school Rosie stood up for a female classmate who was the victim of cruel taunts after it came out that she'd been sexually attacked by a group of boys at a drunken brawl. Rosie remembers going to the flea market with her mother and how it was never the same once her mother passed on, and she remembers the time her father returned the $60 a bank teller had given him in error.
Get the idea? All we get are emotionally unrevealing vignettes stuck here and there throughout the book. No attempts are made to draw these moments into a meaningful whole. There are dozens of things even I, a casual fan, wouldn't mind reading about Rosie. What's it like to be a female stand-up comedian in this very male profession? When she started, did she feel isolated and discouraged? If so, how did she manage to overcome these things? How did her family handle her choosing to go out on the road and do comedy? Were they supportive? What was it like to be a VJ in the early days of cable channel VH1 (especially since she had previously been turned down for the job on sister channel MTV)? How did her relationship with VH1 grow to the point where the channel gave her a program on which to give aspiring stand-up comedians valuable television exposure, including helping New York favorite Mario Cantone and Caroline Rhea, who years ago landed a role on the sitcom "Sabrina" and now will be "replacing" Rosie on her talk show this fall? Was she thrilled at first to make the jump to movies, but then happy to return to doing TV? What was it like to do Broadway? More personally, what made her, a single woman, want to adopt not just one, not just two, but three children to raise on her own? Does she feel she had an unfair advantage in adopting them because of her wealth and fame (as radio shock jock Howard Stern has often accused)? Did she feel comfortable finally coming out of the closet, walking in the path laid out by Ellen DeGeneres and Lily Tomlin, or does she still feel some trepidation? How committed is she to reversing current Florida law that refuses to let gays adopt children?
This book addresses not one of these questions.
Don't believe the hype you may have heard--that Rosie speaks in this book about her sexuality and her current partner, Kelli. She does not. Kelli is barely mentioned, much less revealed to be Rosie's girlfriend, and there's certainly no treatment of the fact that she's expecting a child (and HOW she's doing that). To make matters all the more confusing, the only romantic relationship Rosie does mention is with a man!
So what is this book? Basically it's a narrative of events that occurred in Rosie's life, beginning LAST SPRING and developing over the next year or so, leading to her decision to end her talk show. It's not exactly clear how these events helped her make the decision, but Rosie seems to feel that she explains it all. Throughout the book she assures the reader, "There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason."
But Rosie never provides any reasons. She goes on for page after page about how she got caught up in the troubles of a young teenager she hears about through an adoption agency that she funds. The teen has a devastating story as to how she became pregnant. Rosie is instantly touched, and she crosses the line, choosing to contact the teen herself, instead of leaving it to her agency professional. And this is the entire focus of the book. Rosie tells about how she starts to spend hour after hour on the phone with the teen, making herself endlessly available throughout the day and into the night for this young woman she's never met. She freely admits that she became obsessed, neglected her own family, and rejected the advice of friends to dig deeper into the teen's melodramatic story. This book is nothing if not proof of Rosie's stubborn yet naive determination--but that is all it is.
The progression of the relationship allegedly provides the context for the flashbacks, but any connections we're supposed to make from the teen's experience (which, as you might expect, is not quite as it seems) and Rosie's life are not on the page, and can't even be guessed. Thrown in are other various episodes and meanderings, from Rosie visiting her tattoo artist to her relaying yet another dream starring pouty movie actress Angelina Jolie. Meanwhile, her television show's producers assume her declining to renew her contract is merely the typical tough negotiating stance expected from such a star, and keep offering her increasing amounts of money to continue. Rosie keeps turning them down flat, citing as her main reason that she can't "be herself" on the show. Is she alluding to her much-criticized decision to not come out of the closet until the show's demise, or something else? If she wanted to show another side of herself, why does she still not renew even when the producers offer her the option to change the show's direction to talk more about social and political issues? Is she just tired of the daily grind of television? Or does she want a more dramatic end to the "Queen of Nice" perception in order to return to doing comedy with more of an edge (as an appearance at the June 2002 Mohegan Sun Casino Grand Opening Celebration seems to suggest)? As far as this book is concerned, your guess is as good as mine.
I can find no good reason for this book to have been written. Even the fact that Rosie is donating the profits from this book to charity don't help. If you want to donate money to charity, just give your money to them directly--no need to go through Rosie. Besides, it's not like she takes the time to mention what charity she means.
Even the publisher knows this isn't really a book. The font is larger and the pages are slimmer than the average novel, and the whole publication is barely over 200 pages long. Yet there are 39 chapters! Laughably, there are four chapters, including both chapters one and two, that are only one page! With all the jumping between her memories and the present day, from musing about her sad childhood to insisting that she can't be herself on her television show and going on and on about what she calls her "superhero complex," this is obviously a book written by someone who doesn't usually write, for people who don't usually read. "Find Me" is the worst kind of celebrity memoir. Rosie may protest that she is revealing her soul, but there's no real intimacy here. The best metaphor for the book comes when Rosie talks about the visit to her tattoo artist. Rosie has a scar on her left wrist which resembles the kind of scar left by a suicidal slit. When the artist gingerly asks her about it, she assures him it isn't as it appears. She didn't try to kill herself. But then she doesn't reveal how she got it, either.
The title of the book sounds like a promise when you pick it up. By the time you finish--a few minutes later--it sounds like a cruel taunt. Zero stars.
Warner Books, 2002, $23.95 Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins ...more
Death in Paradise: An Illustrated History of the Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner by Tony Blanche and Brad Schreiber
With the cover's dramatic black-and-white photograph of a toe tag, stamped over with a bloody red blotch that proclaims in block black letters, "As seen on Entertainment Tonight," you'd think this was nothing but a gossipy tome full of The Grisly Details of The Deaths Of Hollywood (gasp)! But it is actually quite more than that. This book really does illuminate the activities of the LA County Coroner's Office, laying out the facts as concisely, fully and accurately as, well, a coroner's report.
The prologue presents the county of Los Angeles, both its dreamy Hollywood mythology and its gritty "To Live and Die in LA" reality, working in the statistics that, at present, nearly 200 people die in the county each day, and that the staff of the Department of the Coroner, including its photographers, perform 20-odd autopsies per day. The first chapter recounts the history of the coroner as a profession and the development of forensic medicine and pathology into respected sciences (once these disciplines got past the periodic accusations of being abominations against God and man, that is). The second chapter chronicles the history of the original El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, from the stream of wild west murders in the dangerous Calle de los Negros area in the 1800s to the suspicious St. Francis Dam Disaster in the early 1900s.
Later chapters fill us in on more recent history, explaining how Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the so-called "coroner to the stars" who served as chief medical examiner of the department from 1967 to 1982, was a true visionary who moved the Department of the Coroner quite literally out of the dark and into the light, taking it out of the dank, ill-equipped, and poorly ventilated basement of the Hall of Justice and moving it into the fresh new four-story Los Angeles County Forensic Science Center in 1972, along with a funding plan to ensure the facility would stay on the cutting edge of forensic technology. Further, Dr. Noguchi pioneered the concept of "total investigation," and the idea of having all of the various scientists and investigators conduct their case work under the same roof. Currently the LA County Coroner's Office handles not only work in their own jurisdiction, but occasionally takes on difficult cases referred to them from other states as well as other countries. And the book includes sketches of a few particularly difficult cases, explaining how they were eventually solved.
But obviously this book wasn't featured on "ET" because of its Autopsies 101 bent. At its heart are indeed The Grisly Details of The Deaths Of Hollywood. And, as mentioned in the book's subtitle, they come with pictures. The illustrations are mostly black and white photographs, many coming directly from the Coroner's Office files. (Don't read this while you're eating.) When the photographs of actual corpses are used, some are whole, some aren't. The photos are horrific in a way that movies only hint at.
Which brings us to the disturbing Black Dahlia and Lipstick Murder case files of the late 1940s, both of which consisted of not only the killing but also the brutal mutilation of a young woman. Two decades later, eight-months-pregnant actress Sharon Tate would be savagely attacked in the home she shared with husband Roman Polanski, along with four of her friends, by Charles Manson and his associates, who managed to bring a vicious end to the lives of Gateway supermarket chain owner Leno La Bianca and his wife, Rosemary, before they were captured. And just moments after winning the 1968 California Democratic primary election in an increasingly hopeful bid for the White House, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was struck by two shots to the body and one shot to the head from a .22 caliber revolver by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.
Drug abuse and depression have worked together to claim the lives of various talents within Hollywood, from forgotten silent film star Barbara La Marr to 1970s TV icon Freddie Prinze. There's some bitter irony in that everyone knows how one particular actress took her own life, but no one really knows her name, and she killed herself because she was not able to transfer her successful stage career into becoming a big name in films: Peg Entwistle, who took a flying leap off the 50-foot "H" of the famous "Hollywoodland" sign in 1932.
There's a whole group of cases which continue to mystify simply because in some ways they don't add up to suicides--and here, the authors are relatively restrained in an attempt to balance the dozens of authors who have used the mystery to craft fanciful stories about the imagined causes of their deaths. Enough of the right questions were asked about the long-assumed suicide of 1950s TV "Superman" George Reeves that the case was officially reopened to allow for the strong possibility of murder. But did legendary 1950s sex symbols Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Dandridge both ingest lethal doses of drugs accidentally--or did they both actually plan not to see another day? Did either 1930s actress Thelma Todd or 1960s singer Janis Joplin make a similar decision?
The most shocking deaths in LA County remain the various unsolved murders. Some cases are considered unsolved due to the technicality of not having enough evidence to convict the suspected killers, such as the murders of silent film director William Desmond Taylor, famed gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, and mob lawyer Sam "The Great Mouthpiece" Rummel, who were all "mysteriously" gunned down in cold blood. Some murders did get to trial, but the outcomes remain controversial, such as the stabbing of hardened gangster Johnny Stompanato, which was confessed to by petite 14-year-old Cheryl Crane, who came away with an all-but-guaranteed justifiable homicide ruling, much to the relief of her mother--and abused Stompanato girlfriend--Lana Turner. No police officers, including Deputy Thomas Wilson, were ever disciplined despite their clearly and unjustifiably causing the death of journalist Ruben Salazar with tear gas bombs during the "Days of Rage" Vietnam war protests. And the final case file detailed in the book, in which professional football player and actor O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, does deliver the sobering note that even compelling evidence assembled by the best possible forensic technology mean almost nothing if mistakes are made by officers of the court.
Throughout the book Blanche and Schreiber make note of how Hollywood has reflected back the history of the LA County Coroner's Office through films like "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential." But most significant to them is the Glen A. Larson television series "Quincy," which ran on NBC from 1976 through 1983. The series starred actor Jack Klugman as Los Angeles Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Quincy--and, perhaps as a nod to Dr. Noguchi, co-starred actor Robert Ito as Quincy's sidekick lab assistant, Sam Fujiyama. Coroner's Office staff served as script and technical consultants for the series, which showed Dr. Quincy as a kind of superhero forensic pathologist who would let nothing get in his way of finding out the truth, even if it meant bumping heads with crooked politicians or dangerous criminals. "Quincy" developed a following all over the world, and brought an even higher profile to the real Coroner's Office. The show's crowning achievement has to be when its 1982 episode, "Give Me Your Weak," spurred Congress into passing the Orphan Drug Act, and in 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. From then on, drug companies who devoted time and resources into curing so-called "orphan," or rare, diseases would receive tax breaks from the government.
Unfortunately, this book was originally completed in 1998, and so has no mention of the current hit CBS TV show, "C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation," which is set in Las Vegas, or the popular NBC series, "Crossing Jordan," based on the Boston Coroner's Office. The authors also neglect to mention that few episodes of any of the various "Law & Order" shows are complete without a visit to their forensic scientists. Further, Blanche and Schreiber noticeably omit from their book deaths well known to LA County, including the fatal drug overdose of actor John Belushi, the accidental drowning of actress Natalie Wood, and the shotgun murders of Beverly Hills couple Jose and Kitty Menendez by their sons, Lyle and Erik. It can only be assumed that they chose to include only those cases that could be most fully examined and reported from a coroner's point of view. For example, the cause of death in these three cases was never uncertain; it was the fact of the deaths themselves and the somewhat unknown circumstances leading up to them that spawn the questions.
Blanche and Schreiber conclude their tour with a trip to the gift shop. Yes, the Coroner's Office has an actual gift shop, called "Skeletons in the Closet," where they sell such items as toe-tag key chains and chalk-outline beach towels. The gift shop actually provides the funding for the Coroner's Office's many community programs, including those centered around drunk driving and child abuse, as well as their programs for educating future coroners.
As you might expect, only in Hollywood. Three stars.
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000, $18 Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins ...more
Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
A review of this controversial book demands full disclosure, and I'll freely admit my views lean leftward. So I fully expected to be challenged and provoked by this expose of allegedly prevalent liberal bias in television news by a retired Emmy-winning CkBS reporter. But that was not what happened at all. Alternate titles for "Bias" could be "Bernard Goldberg: Why Dan Rather Should Stop Being So Mad at Me" and "Bernard Goldberg: All the Things I Wanted to Say in My CBS News Exit Interview."
The book sprang from a single article: a February 1996 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece written by Goldberg (included in its entirety in the appendix) entitled "Networks Need a Reality Check." In it he criticizes a CBS colleague's report that attacked then Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes and his flat tax plan. Goldberg argued that his colleague's report, which was relentless in characterizing the flat tax as "wacky," was indicative of a larger crime: the news is always filtered through a liberal eye and presented in a liberal voice. Conservative voices are either not heard or mocked as suspect when they are.
There may be some legitimacy to this idea, and there may even be a book in it, a book which closely examines the news media and presents some compelling conclusions. Despite Goldberg's best intentions, "Bias" is not that book. Certainly Goldberg has some good stories. He shows how news stories featuring people stricken with AIDS who "look just like us"--the "us" being white middle class Americans, or, more to the point, the "us" that makes up most of the viewing audience--would intentionally misrepresent the true circumstances of the "us" people affected. The reports would also present such people not as rare single cases, but as indicative of a disturbing trend, as proof that AIDS would soon be running rampant all over the country. Likewise, homelessness was presented in this way, with forecasts for the number of homeless inflated haphazardly into the millions. Goldberg alleges that the media did this with both the blessing and assistance of the AIDS and homeless lobbies, in order to generate more sympathy for their causes. Further, he shows how stories on those surging numbers of homeless, which dogged the Republican administration in the eighties, seemed to cease overnight once Bill Clinton took office.
Goldberg also claims that network news divisions go to great and occasionally irrational pains to make sure that there aren't "too many" black criminals shown on their national early evening news broadcasts, to make up for a past time when it seemed the only black people on the news were criminals. He contrasts this with the prime time news magazines, including CBS' "60 Minutes," ABC's "20/20," and NBC's "Dateline," where the rules change and such attempts at image correction vanish. The reason for these seemingly contradictory policies has to do, he says, with the news magazines becoming extensions of the networks' entertainment divisions. The networks were pressured by the NAACP in 1999 over the lack of diversity in entertainment programs, and research showed that blacks and whites clearly watch different programs, with people showing a preference for cast members from their own race. That's why, according to Goldberg, there is an intentional focus on the white middle class in the reality magazines, where an abundance of black criminals would not be considered such a bad thing. It's the whites who are regarded as more likely to purchase the cars, computers and other items advertised. And Goldberg also fearlessly opines that the networks are not above distorting the news because of their own personal lives. He says a story on how day care harms children's development was not well reported because it indicted the female news reporters themselves, many of whom are mothers with children in day care programs.
Goldberg insists that his book isn't a "me vs. them" blame game. And to prove it, he takes the time to list absolutely every single major political and social issue in contemporary American life and breathlessly tells us the unquestioningly liberal view he holds about it. After all, he comes from a "blue-collar, Democratic" family, he says, and he's just trying to help his former colleagues, by providing to them this book of irrefutable evidence that the current media slate does not reflect the full range of political sensibilities. But this statement never comes off as anything more than a cheap ploy to try to give his arguments more weight.
Despite the news stories covered in this book, "Bias" mostly sets its sights on thrashing the three network news anchors and their broadcasts. Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS are further distinguished by having quotes listed in the "Bias" chapter titled "Liberal Hate-Speech." As you might expect, the bulk of Goldberg's criticisms are focused squarely on Rather, his former CBS colleague, and this reveals the real weakness of the book. At the time of the editorial, Rather quickly and repeatedly let it be known just how much he disagreed with Goldberg's assertions of liberal bias. And so a lot of this book is devoted to Goldberg's responses to Rather's comments, making it come off more like a monologue from a disgruntled ex-employee instead of a serious news analyst.
Most irritating to me was Goldberg's unctuous writing style, as though he's the reader's best friend, tossing an arm around our collective shoulders and cheerfully ingratiating himself into our confidence. Like a guy who likes to hear himself speak, or a car salesman softening us up for the pitch, Goldberg's chapters are dotted with asides, witticisms, joke set-ups and pay-offs, and lots and lots of italicized exclamations! Sure, those devices can serve to establish a voice, but are best used in moderation. A heavy reliance on them means you may not have full confidence in your own opinions.
I agree that there should be a book that addresses this issue, as this seems to be the question that won't go away. It could be argued that the current success of conservative journalist Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Channel is indicative of the viewing public detecting and rejecting the liberal bias which supposedly rules the three network newscasts. And perhaps the real problem is not one of politics at all, but a by-product of the increasingly blurry lines between news, commentary and entertainment. There must be a way, however, to explore such theories without coming off as having an ax to grind. Two stars.
Regnery Publishing Inc., 2002, $27.95 Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins ...more
Okay, first thing you need to know: "Confessions of A Street Addict" is not some world-weary tale of heroin abuse, which the title and the author's hardboiled cover photo might make you assume. (Okay, maybe that was just me.) The "Street" referred to is Wall Street, and the experiences James Cramer relates here describe his time in the trenches.
Cramer wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His passion for the stock market begins in his youth in a middle-class home in Philadelphia, and is an enduring hobby through his scholarship years at Harvard and blossoming career as a newspaper reporter. A later stint writing for the magazine American Lawyer convinces Cramer that he should be a prosecutor, and he gets into Harvard Law School. Cramer does get the degree--he's even picked up by Alan Dershowitz to be one of a handful of the school's students working with him on the infamous Klaus Von Bulow appeal case--but by then Cramer's realized that his destiny is with his real first love, the stock market. Professional boot camp comes in the form of time served at the brokerage desk of the legendary Goldman Sachs, which formally introduces Cramer to The Street. More importantly, it introduces Wall Street to James Cramer. Neither has ever been the same since, especially once Cramer left Goldman Sachs and began his own hedge fund company, Cramer Partners.
What follows is comparable to an athlete's story--the fast and furious game of the contemporary American trading desk. Cramer makes sure to explain the often mysterious jargon and terms of the stock market, in clear descriptions for the layman, so that everyone is along for the ride. He revisits the highs and lows of both his career and his life, and we see how one affects the other. In the earliest days of having his own firm, renting office space at brokerage firm Steinhardt Partners, he has his first audience with one of their traders, Wall Street's so-called Trading Goddess, Karen Backfisch, who not only uncannily predicts the stock market crash of October 1987, keeping Cramer's company from becoming a dim memory, but also comes to join Cramer in both professional and very personal partnerships. Another major player in the life of James Cramer is Marty Peretz, a wealthy college professor whose faith and direction are invaluable in Cramer's trek from law student who leaves weekly stock picks on his telephone answering machine (Peretz makes so much money off these picks he arranges a meeting with then student Cramer and simply hands him $500,000 to invest) to head of a successful Wall Street hedge fund responsible for moving hundreds of millions of dollars through the stock market. A summer research associate hired in 1992 named Jeff Berkowitz proves so impressive in his stock picks that by 1998, Cramer officially recognizes his partnership status and renames the company Cramer Berkowitz.
Most extraordinarily, this isn't enough for Cramer. In the 1990s he teams up with Peretz to begin TheStreet.com, a website dedicated to informing people about the stock market--an update of sorts of his old telephone answering machine announcements. His market expertise, coupled with his volatile personality and journalism talents, make Cramer the stock market's "king of all media," as he writes and is written about in newspapers and magazines, makes regular appearances on cable television financial news programs (including "Squawk Box" on CNBC) and on various network television programs, and, to this day, continues to contribute to the hard-won success of the now publicly-traded TheStreet.com.
It has not been easy. Cramer makes sure we see the trail of broken promises to his family and wrong-headed personal choices and decisions behind the big, bright dollar signs. He's been guilty of several missteps with the press since his days at Goldman, and these are well documented. You can see how TheStreet.com was either his most brilliant idea or his dumbest; its creation and maintenance and eventual IPO (initial public offering) brought him into contact with some very colorful characters who did some real damage to his career and reputation, and nearly destroyed his longtime friendship and partnership with Peretz.
But Cramer is the very definition of a survivor. Plus, how can you lose if the Trading Goddess is by your side? Even though Cramer has many talents working for him, Harvard does play a pivotal role in his success--and skirmishes. Noticeable are the times a situation has spun around to his favor simply because certain roles were played by former school friends and classmates. But to be fair, this same association has occasionally left him vulnerable to sudden attack from former school nemeses. It's not what you know or who you know; it's how they know you and what they think of you.
"Confessions of a Street Addict" is a very grand ride through the ups and downs of the financial world in the last 15 years. From his bead on Reebok as a good buy in the early 1980s to the unprecedented, violent stock market activity (due to economic downturns in Russia, overvalued tech stocks, and the new Internet day trading) in the late 1990s which almost led to the closing of his firm, Cramer gives you a front row seat. Put down that "Investing for Dummies" book! It may teach you the words, but you need Cramer to teach you the music. Three and a half stars.
Simon & Schuster, 2002, $26 Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins ...more
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People: A Memoir by Toby Young Reviewed by Valerie Hawkins
You have no idea who Toby Young is. And actually, that's the point. Toby Young is a British journalist who long ago put the idea of being a journalist in New York--the rustling, bustling, hustling New York of 1930s Hollywood screwball comedies and the Algonquin Roundtable of Dorothy Parker--up on a pedestal and pursued it with dreamy-eyed optimism. When he received "the call"--namely, a phone call from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, to come join the writing staff of the famed Conde' Nast periodical--he practically floated to New York on his dreams and expectations.
What follows is its own screwball comedy, with Young piling social blunders on top of faux pas, causing himself all sorts of professional and personal peril, until he's ostracized all his erstwhile supporters. Perhaps someone in Tinsel Town may want to make a film of Young's escapades, but they'll cast Hugh Grant in the lead and completely obliterate the point. Young is British, but he is not tall and handsome with mischievous floppy hair (in point of fact, he's short and bald). He seems to be charmless, manages to say exactly the wrong thing to the wrong person, and has a talent for humiliating himself in front of as many people as possible. Young admits to sweetening a few of the episodes related here for humorous effect, but for the most part, the events and conversations that make up this book actually happened. Which is perfectly frightening.
Throughout the narrative, Young provides an intellectual and philosophical analysis of his five years in 1990s New York, of the mythological lively metropolis and its wisecracking reporters that he expected to find, and the actual hard-hearted urban sprawl of a city and the brusque, unforgiving Conde' Nasties and their peers that he did find. He compares and contrasts contemporary British culture and society with its American counterpart, examining the distinctions in ambition, drive, contentment, and lifestyle. But not before telling you of how, in vying for the attentions of a shapely editor's assistant and wanting her to see the frat boy side of his rival co-worker, he hires a stripper to come to the office on his rival's birthday. Which Young neglects to notice is also Take Our Daughters to Work Day! He boldly sneaks into an empty, unassigned first-row seat at a Calvin Klein show during New York Fashion Week, only to be loudly barked out of it and shamed back to his standing-room-ticket place in the back of the room by boss Carter, simply because, in Carter's eyes, he's not yet "earned" the right to sit there.
Young makes some name-dropping friends, including Candace Bushnell of "Sex and the City" fame, but she participates in a true nadir of Young's personal life, a February 14th paid counseling session in which he watches, behind a two-way mirror, a group of his female friends discuss his potential as a date and mate. The women are aware of his presence and Young worries this fact might weaken their honesty. He needn't have worried; suffice to say that the name of the chapter retelling this event is entitled "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre."
Perhaps the strongest counterpoint in the book is the figure of Young's friend, Alex de Silva. The two arrive from their native England at roughly the same time, but achieve widely different fortunes. While Young ticks off celebrities from New York to Hollywood, de Silva easily schmoozes the Hollywood elite and sells a film script mere months after graduating from the famed University of Southern California screenwriting program--which he'd attended on scholarship. Young loses the love of his life, de Silva is told he's "better than De Niro" by his supermodel girlfriend. Young is finally fired by Vanity Fair and crawls into a great many liquor bottles, de Silva hobnobs with Madonna and Jim Carrey.
Although it's a book and not a movie, as each chapter progressed, I found myself merrily cringing and closing my eyes, laughingly hesitating to read the next assured disaster of a personal/professional/cultural/medical/sexual nature. It may sound wrong, but I mean it in the best way--I truly enjoyed reading about Young's misfortunes!
However, there are those who feel differently. While public relations trade publication PR Week celebrated the book by placing it at number four on their year-end list, "10 Books Everyone (Said They'd) Read," Entertainment Weekly placed Young's book at number five on their list of "The Five Worst Books" of the year. And I'm sure that this opinion had nothing whatsoever to do with Young's musings in the book on how entertainment journalists are at the mercy of publicists; tick off a star's personal public relations person and you can kiss access to that star--and any of the publicist's other celebrity clients--goodbye. And it's access to these stars--interviews, photo shoots, etc.--that drive the publication, the sale, the very existence of such magazines. It's almost like "EW" would have to harshly criticize Young's book in order to ensure their very survival. But I'm sure that's a wholly unreasonable jump to conclusions. I can be so petty!
Despite the various trials and tribulations, Young's book does end on a happy note.
No, really, it does! Three and a half stars. (P.S. Toby's story continues, in a fashion, on his Web site, at www.tobyyoung.co.uk.)
I liked reading this book. She was a lot more blatantly honest about things than I expected. There's a lot of pain that I hope was released for her inI liked reading this book. She was a lot more blatantly honest about things than I expected. There's a lot of pain that I hope was released for her in writing this book. Yes, she stayed in the marriage too long.
In a way, it's a biography, with most of the weight stories seemingly tagged on at the end. But better that than the other way around. ...more
Very interesting story, how they worked the system. Brilliant and brilliantly told. Yeah, now I've heard there were composites and maybe some embellisVery interesting story, how they worked the system. Brilliant and brilliantly told. Yeah, now I've heard there were composites and maybe some embellishments--really nothing much different than any other nonfiction retelling.
And I can see why Hollywood optioned it and has made the story into a film. HOWEVER, NOT HAPPY that Hollywood changed the nationality of nearly all of the college students from Asian/Asian American to good ol' American white kids. Hollywood, GROW UP!...more
Interesting and weird, really open and revealing--and that's not some cute double entendre on some of the nude photos. Jenna lets you know who's hustlInteresting and weird, really open and revealing--and that's not some cute double entendre on some of the nude photos. Jenna lets you know who's hustling who, and how she got where she is. Cautionary tale or porn career handbook--you make the choice!...more
Well, Traci tells her side and tells it her way. Most of it is pretty straight on, but there is some serious cherry-picking of memories here--which isWell, Traci tells her side and tells it her way. Most of it is pretty straight on, but there is some serious cherry-picking of memories here--which is valid, it's her story. But it's not all here; be prepared to accept that some questions are just never going to be answered.
Reviewed for ALA's "Booklist" magazine -- appears in the September 15, 2007 issue. If you have a subscription, you can read my review at BooklistOnlinReviewed for ALA's "Booklist" magazine -- appears in the September 15, 2007 issue. If you have a subscription, you can read my review at BooklistOnline.com at: http://www.booklistonline.com/Wicked-...
Well-done story brimming with memorable characters and great escapades, mixed in with both a sense and some actual facts of history. A few early misstWell-done story brimming with memorable characters and great escapades, mixed in with both a sense and some actual facts of history. A few early missteps are more than redeemed. If Hollywood was smart, it would start the casting immediately--!
Teri's life has been both charmed and, well, somewhat cursed. But she offers plenty of insight into relationships and growing to be comfortable in youTeri's life has been both charmed and, well, somewhat cursed. But she offers plenty of insight into relationships and growing to be comfortable in your own skin....more