I'm torn between a 3 star and 4 star rating on this book. I'm going to recommend reading it, as it is compelling from a sociological perspective. ButI'm torn between a 3 star and 4 star rating on this book. I'm going to recommend reading it, as it is compelling from a sociological perspective. But the author's personal narrative was a bit too strong, and in comparison to the first half of the book (which was truly excellent), the second half just... sort of... petered... out.
The gist is that the author was given unrestricted access to Louisiana's Angola Prison and followed five inmates involved in the prison rodeo as well as the "reformist" prison warden. I'd suggest following this book up with Ted Conover's Newjack for a more holistic insider's view f prison society. ...more
With BAD, James Carr was historically notable in that he co-founded The San Quentin Wolf Pack, an early prison reform movement and a predecessor to The Black Panthers. Otherwise his life would have been pointless; this autobiography is one of the few I've read by someone wholly without a conscience (William F. Buckley aside).
That he found himself a historical footnote is purely a coincidence. James Carr was a true sociopath who committed atrocious acts of violence mainly to alleviate ennui. He eventually embraced Marx and Lenin and the vague notion of "revolution" with a pedantic zeal but without having any experience in the world against which to apply those philosophies. Even his supposed redemption in marrying and fathering a child, creating a nucleus of intimacy and difference, before being gunned down was punctuated by words and actions that belied any semblance of being more than a domesticated monster. It's also worth noting that the sentences he earned that resulted in his spending the majority of his life spent in prison were, without exception, wholly justified.
In any struggle for an oppressed people to gain freedom, equality, rights, or whatnot, an important early step is expressing and moving past very real and very justified anger. But too often people — and entire movements — get mired in anger, refusing or unable to move past it to to make their voices heard and their positions respected. Too often they end up setting the cause for which they are working back. You see this in the sputtering populist rage of Tea Party types, in the smashing and burning of corporate symbols by the ultra left at G8 protests, in the impotent century-old calls for oppressed workers to arise in a Socialist revolution. None of these groups will ever see their agenda succeed until they move past focusing on anger and onto constructive change. Most likely none ever will.
That James Carr is celebrated as a hero and cultural icon is due to his life being an expression of rage against the world. And that in a way was necessary for the times in that his expression of anger, even though it didn't contain even a speck of altruism, was used by others as a catalyst, albeit vicarious, for an early stage of overcoming oppression. But based on his own words, the highest form of nonviolent emotion Carr was capable of expressing was one of prison fraternity. I doubt he had the emotional capacity to move beyond a primal stage to actually make a difference. And it's doubtful Carr could have come to any other end than one of pointless violence.
Still, the detached voice in which he unapologetically describes his life — raping, murdering, stealing, maiming — made this a captivating book, and a study of a man without emotion swept into the larger current of a movement others embodied in him and a movement I can't decide if he helped or hindered....more
The Second Oldest Profession is a straightforward sociological study of pimps and their relationships to the prostitutes they manage, the judicial system, society at large, and to themselves. It approaches the profession in an unjudgmental manner, not surprising given Reitman's relationship with so-called undesirable classes. Where it is interesting is in the pre-Depression language and attitudes towards sex, prostitution, and pimpery. Although he was a deeply religious man, Reitman was also an anarchist, early promoter of contraception and birth control (which earned him a term in jail), crusader against gonorrhea, founder of the Chicago Hobo College, advocate of polyamory, and all about rapscallion and scalawag. Reitman's personality and somewhat contradictory beliefs bleed through what is supposed to be a scholarly work and adds an informality and biographical feel for the time and people about which he is chronicling.
I probably would not suggest reading this book unless you are familiar with him via The DAMNDEST RADICAL or Hobohemia. But as a an interesting footnote to his life and the world in which he worked, this is a must....more
That said I expected a lot more more from this collection of his essays. Of them only the first in the book ("BreakfJon Stewart is a pretty funny guy.
That said I expected a lot more more from this collection of his essays. Of them only the first in the book ("Breakfast at Kennedy's") stood out, which is why this is getting 2 stars rather than one. The rest, while I appreciated his mixing absurdist comedy with Borscht Belt humor, seemed strained. The book as a collection was disjointed and seemed cobbled together as an effort to cash in on his early popularity by publishing... well... anything....more