While a very tough book to read in terms of the human factor, the relevance of this story to our own time cannot be understated. As the author notes aWhile a very tough book to read in terms of the human factor, the relevance of this story to our own time cannot be understated. As the author notes at the end of this book,
"Today black women are still afflicted by the social, political and economic vices that predisposed them to arrest, conviction and incarceration in the past...In order to better understand the modern carceral state and the complex relationship black women have with it, we must confront the past and listen even when it seems to be silent."
There are at least four main issues that permeate this book and which continue to resonate over more than a century: gender, race, crime, and punishment; add resistance and you get a good feel for where this book will take you. In this study, the author also looks at African-American women in the "carceral state" and how as bound women they were affected by the ongoing assertion of white supremacy and control in the post-emancipation "New South." This book reveals, analyzes and most thoroughly discusses the above-mentioned contemporary "social, political and economic" factors while allowing some of these women's voices to be heard after more than a century of silence. As the author notes, her work is "chiefly invested in rebuilding the historical viewpoint of the unwaged, bound black female worker."
Don't expect a history for the masses sort of thing here. Chained in Silence is an academic monograph and a solid work of history in which the author offers her arguments, supports them with personal accounts, recorded data, and other research in the field. She then provides in-depth analysis to make her case. In some areas her work is hampered by lack of data, but she makes this very clear in the telling. She also realizes that there is much more work to be done and offers topics for future researchers. At the same time, she makes this book very approachable for readers like myself who believe that the best history is told from the perspective of those whose voices never quite seem to make it into the historical record. This book, for lack of a better way to say it, is just brilliant and deserves widespread attention.
I have only limited time for the next week plus, so much more to come about this book after I get home. The very short version is that it is painstakiI have only limited time for the next week plus, so much more to come about this book after I get home. The very short version is that it is painstakingly researched, sad, eye opening and very well written. Whatever you do, do not miss the endnotes - go the extra mile and read through them. This book deserves major accolades, awards, and should be read by everyone, most especially government officials from the city level on up. Just effing brilliant. ...more
If you'll pardon the expression, WWII history involving U-boats and battles at sea just isn't in my wheelhouse, but this book is a wee bit different.
If you'll pardon the expression, WWII history involving U-boats and battles at sea just isn't in my wheelhouse, but this book is a wee bit different. First of all, it focuses on the Merchant Marine and its involvement in the war, which I knew nothing about and second, the people highlighted in this book are rather unique -- they're all from one small, isolated county in Virginia on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It was a place where, as one man who grew up there noted, "You farmed, you fished the Bay, or you went to sea. Those were your only options." Mathews men had been on the oceans since colonial times, and were sought out by a number of shipping companies for their seagoing prowess. This small, remote county was also a place where, during World War II, pretty much every family could claim a personal connection to the U-boats that prowled the seas. In The Mathews Men, Mr. Geroux focuses largely on one single, seafaring family, the Hodges, of which seven sons spent much of the war trying to avoid becoming casualties of the U-boats. They were all there on the high seas during World War II doing their best to keep the war effort going, sometimes at great personal cost.
I'm going to be very honest here. While I love love love history, I'm not a huge fan of stories about actual battles and military engagements, and there is quite a lot of that sort of thing in this book. However, life at sea isn't everything that's covered here: the author goes into Mathews County history, into what life was like for those living there before the war, and then what went on with those left behind in Mathews County and how they coped while their men were serving during the war. One of the most interesting ongoing stories in this book is that of Henny Hodges, who kept the home fires burning while tending the 60-acre family farm. Her husband, Captain Jesse, was at sea for most of their life together; Henny was a strong woman who managed "forty acres of crops, a barn full of horses and cows, a hog pen and smokehouse, a chicken house and two docks." She had raised her own children (all 14 of them) and "several" of her grandchildren (27), pretty much on her own. The author revisits Henny and other women in Mathews County periodically while telling of the men's exploits at sea, and he is also able to vividly describe the U-boat operations from the points of view of the captains using valuable firsthand accounts. There is a LOT of interesting stuff here: the U-boats approaching the east coast of the US with very little resistance; the lack of military support for the Merchant Marine that in some cases resulted in unnecessary deaths, and the fact that although the men of the Merchant Marine were engaged in the war effort, they had no status or benefits as veterans once the war was over.
Since I have an advanced reader copy, I'm not sure if there are photos in the finished product, but if there are not, the lack of photos is a huge drawback. There are excellent maps provided, but since I got so invested in the lives of these people, I would have also loved to have been able to connect names with faces. However, even if, like myself, a reader is not all about battles at sea, there is so much more to this book than simply U-boats vs. ships, certainly enough to keep pages turning. I'd definitely recommend it to maritime history buffs, or to those who are interested in World War II, but I'd also say it's of great interest to anyone interested in Virginia's history or the history of what was happening on the home front. ...more
my thanks to the people or algorithms at LibraryThing and the early reviewers' program for the opportunity to read this book.
First thin3.8 rounded up.
my thanks to the people or algorithms at LibraryThing and the early reviewers' program for the opportunity to read this book.
First things first: this is not like other popular historical accounts written for armchair historians -- this is the real deal so it's often very tough going. However, sticking with it is rewarding for true polar-exploration history devotees like myself.
April, 1853. While their ship is imprisoned in the Arctic ice at Mercy Bay, four men from HMS Investigator are hard at work "hacking out a final resting place" for a "departed shipmate." The captain of this vessel, Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, was speaking with the first lieutenant when suddenly they saw someone coming toward them from the entrance of the bay. The arrival of the newcomer saved the lives of McClure and his crew after what was indeed a hellish expedition that had started in 1850.
McClure, along with Collinson, commander of a second ship, HMS Enterprise, had been tasked with searching for any signs of the missing Franklin expedition, which had left England in 1845. It wasn't the first such expedition, but by the time McClure and Collinson were heading toward the Arctic, no one had yet discovered any clues as to the fate of the crews of the Erebus and the Terror. The Investigator and the Enterprise were supposed to have taken up the search and head into the ice together, since the Admiralty had decided that two ships would be safer than one alone, but McClure, a man driven by ambition, had other ideas, and decided to risk going alone. After all, finding the Northwest Passage was "the holy grail" of the time, and he saw an opportunity for future glory, fame and of course, the hefty reward that was being offered for doing so. Discovering the North-West Passage details the story of the outcome of McClure's ambition, which would ultimately land him in the same fate as the Franklin expedition by 1853, but thankfully for the crew, with a much better outcome. Obviously, there's so much more to this story than I'm describing here, including a horrendous plan McClure was planning to set into motion just before help arrived that really reveals just how far gone in his egomania he'd become, but I'll leave it for others to discover.
It is a fascinating story, to be sure. A look at the bibliography alone reveals close to 15 double-columned pages of source material, much of it primary sources that includes the journals of some of the crew. He also adds an entire appendix about these first-hand accounts. It seems that McClure, who was a bit of an egomaniac, had ordered all of the crew who had kept an ongoing journal to turn their diaries over to him once rescue arrived, but these seem to have been destroyed when he realized that Investigator was going to be left behind in the ice. The surgeon, Armstrong, was the only one whose journal survived intact, and it is through his eyes that we get a good feel for what was really going on during the expedition, often countering the more rosy, untrue accounts given by McClure. However, at the same time, the wealth of documentation used by the author in presenting his absolutely riveting account does tend to become the book's own worst enemy -- there is so much minutiae to sift through and a lot of what I would consider unnecessary detail that tends to bog down an otherwise incredibly interesting and eye-opening account of another chapter in the history of polar exploration.
The author is an outstanding researcher and I can understand why he would want to include a great number of his more extraneous findings here, but when it comes right down to it, there has to be a time when a writer needs to hold back or at least let an editor help him out and this is one of those. Conversely, I was so wrapped up in the narrative that I quickly figured out what was important and what would add to my own knowledge, and what I could easily skim without losing the main flow. This is an account that by the time I'd finished reading, chilled me to the bone knowing what could have easily happened to these poor men who had already suffered enough had it not been for the arrival of salvation on that April day in 1853. Definitely recommended....more
I think for me this book gets about a 3.5 star rating. In this book, the author looks at the "untold story of the underground era" in America, in a tiI think for me this book gets about a 3.5 star rating. In this book, the author looks at the "untold story of the underground era" in America, in a time frame that lasted from 1970 through 1985. It is a very detailed, chronological look at the rise and fall of several underground radical revolutionary groups that existed during this time period, exploring motivations behind their actions, as well as attempts by law enforcement (primarily the FBI, but also police departments across the country) to put an end to the violence. Combining personal interviews, written accounts and other material on both sides of the fence, he has put together what he calls a "straightforward narrative history of the period."
At the same time, it seems to me that one of the biggest goals that Burrough has in mind with this book, is to break down the "myth, pure and simple," that this revolutionary violence was aimed more at specific symbols rather than people. He notes at the beginning of the book that
"It is ultimately a tragic tale, defined by one unavoidable irony: that so many idealistic young Americans, passionately committed to creating a better world for themselves and those less fortunate, believed they had to kill people to do it."
He also wants to "explain to people today why all this didn't seem as insane then as it does now."
He examines several violent revolutionary groups here -- Weatherman (which will ultimately become Weather Underground), the Black Liberation Army (BLA), a violent offshoot of the Black Panthers whose members were in touch with Eldridge Cleaver who was then in Algeria; the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) of Patty Hearst kidnap fame; FALN, a Puerto Rican group whose members advocated for Puerto Rican independence through deadly bombings, one of which killed several people at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City; the New World Liberation Front, at work in California's Bay Area; The Family, who targeted armored cars and cops, and the United Freedom Front, the creation of Ray Levasseur, who came out of prison with a dream of becoming the leader of his own "underground army."
To me, a good historical narrative is set well within the larger context, and here, a lot seems to have been left out in terms of what was going on in America, politically, economically and socially, but more to the point, what was going on with the nonviolent left at the same time. (As just one example, there's very little here on COINTELPRO and abuse of government/police powers.) What often takes its place is instead detail about the less-political side of these radical organizations (e.g. sex, drugs, and a repeated litany of violent acts), sort of throwing the politics to one side, which to me is less history than journalism, so that there are a number of times when it felt like his history verged toward more of a true-crime account. I will also note that despite the fact that he sees his work as a straightforward history of the period, Burrough does let his own judgments become pretty clear throughout the book.
On the other hand, much of this story is completely new material for me, and since I wasn't anywhere close to being old enough to be involved at the time, I had no expectations political or otherwise going into this account other than how much I could possibly learn about this relatively unknown (to me) story. There were parts I found absolutely fascinating -- I had no clue that some of these groups even existed, so in terms of revisiting the "forgotten age of revolutionary violence," it was a highly-informative book and the author deserves a large amount of credit for his hard work in putting it together. It is most definitely a work that anyone interested ought to read, and keeping in mind my issues with this book, it's one I'd recommend.
The Narcotic Farm is a companion book to a PBS documentary of the same name. The film itself is available on Vimeo -- I watched it yesterday and justThe Narcotic Farm is a companion book to a PBS documentary of the same name. The film itself is available on Vimeo -- I watched it yesterday and just sat here sort of spellbound the entire time. I've posted more about this book on the nonfiction page of my online reading journal if anyone is interested.
I first heard of this book while reading Sam Quinones' Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic - up to then I had absolutely no clue that this place even existed. The United States Narcotic Farm opened in 1935, just outside of Lexington, Kentucky; it was, as the book notes,
"an anomaly, an institution where male and female convicts arrested for drugs did time along with volunteers who checked themselves in for treatment."
In the 1920s, increasingly-strict drug laws and "aggressive enforcement" led to addicts being sent to prison "in droves," where they proved troublesome -- bringing drugs inside and getting non-addict prisoners hooked. The authors note that by the late 1920s, about "a third of all federal prisoners were doing time on drug charges." Social progressives of the time also took issue with the arrest of addicts, believing it to be "unjust" - so in 1929 two "government bureaucrats" lobbied for a measure that would create prisons just for convicted addicts, and by 1932, the construction of first of these institutions (the other in Ft. Worth) was underway. Its administration fell under both the US Public Health Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons - and on the day it opened the first director, Dr. Lawrence Kolb stated that addicts would not be sent to prison for what was basically "a weakness," but they would be able to receive
"the best medical treatment that science can afford in an atmosphere designed to rehabilitate them spiritually, mentally, and physically."
The book and the documentary together detail the story of Narco (as it was known by the locals) from its beginning in 1935 through its final days forty years later. Some interesting highlights of its history include a few notables who passed through its doors -- both William S. Burroughs senior and junior, as well as a host of jazz musicians including Chet Baker, Lee Morgan, and Sonny Rollins. Both Burroughs, father and son, wrote books about their time at Lexington: Senior in his Junkie, where there's an entire section about him signing himself in," and Junior with his Kentucky Ham (which I'm planning to read soon) detailing his time as a patient there.
Good book -- eye opening to say the least, especially when some very disturbing facts about the research going on there are revealed. ...more
Just to be clear here, this book is neither an exposé nor a voyeuristic look into the lives of all of the meth addicts in this town, nor is there anything along the lines of say "Breaking Bad" here, so readers who are into that sort of thing should probably move along. This book is serious business and deserves to be read as such.
Methland is a book very much worth reading. Even if there are people out there who pooh-pooh the idea that there's a meth "epidemic" sweeping small-town rural America, what really struck me was the bigger implications of, as the dustjacket blurb notes, "the connections between the real-life people touched by the drug epidemic and the global forces behind it." As Mr. Reding states in an interview,
"...people are trying to destroy small town American life. And they're doing it economically...That's what big agriculture is doing and that's what the pharmaceutical industry is doing. Going back to the Clinton years, there's this notion that globalization is somehow beyond criticism, that it's a pure form of self-sustaining economic perfection. It's not true, and if you'd like to see where it's least true, go to Oelwein."
Oelwein, Iowa is the launching point of this book; it's a town which has been "left in the dust by the consolidation of the agricultural industry, a depressed local economy, and an out-migration of people." It's also a place where "the economy and culture" are
"more securely tied to a drug than to either of the two industries that have forever sustained the town: farming and small businesses."
However, it's not just Oelwein that is facing some pretty serious issues in this story. While he makes people in Oelwein the central focus of his book, and examines the town's changes and its problems through their eyes, it is also very clear that what has happened there is happening throughout the midwest. Oelwein, which was "on the brink of disaster" by May 2005, is just one focal point for examining how the lobbyists and government supporters of both Big Agriculture and Big Pharma, as well as the effects of free trade (vis-a-vis NAFTA) have all contributed to catastrophic changes in rural, small-town America, which in turn contribute to the rising meth epidemic in these areas.
Methland is also a story about real people in a real town with real lives, some of whom have shared their experiences with the author to offer firsthand accounts. Many of them have through no fault of their own been caught up in circumstances largely beyond their control; some of them do what they can in what seems like a hopeless situation. The author's research and his own observations make for great reading on a human level as well. This is also a book that seriously pissed me off -- as it should for anyone who reads it. ...more
I HATE giving star ratings, but if I have to, this one is somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.5.
The Rackets Division of the Brooklyn DA's office wasI HATE giving star ratings, but if I have to, this one is somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.5.
The Rackets Division of the Brooklyn DA's office was where the author (Michael Vecchione) of this absorbing memoir "always wanted to be." With co-author Jerry Schmetterer, Vecchione invites his readers to join him in a look back at his career. Vecchione headed the division for over a decade, and was involved in several very high-profile cases that "struck Court Street like an earthquake." I have to say that it took me longer than normal to read this book, not because of the book itself but because as I started to become more absorbed in his story, I grabbed my iPad and spent quite a bit of time finding more info on these big corruption cases as I read.
To whet potential reader appetites, here's just a very brief preview of a few cases that readers will find in here, most of which had repercussions that spread outward like a ripple in a pond:
- the crooked ADA known as the Undertaker, "the nephew of a community political leader" - a judge who held up the disbursement settlement in the case of a "permanently brain-damaged" baby by demanding $250,000 from the family's attorney before signing any papers - another judge who ruled on the side of whoever would pay him the most, took bribes and gifts from attorneys (this one just killed me -- a woman's custody of her children hung in the balance) - a huge case that brought down the "corrupt Democratic county leader and number three man in the New York State Assembly," which Vecchione notes would expose "the dirty political machine that ran Brooklyn politics -- a huge eye opener for me as Vecchione reveals how things worked in Democratic party politics at the time (and face it, probably still works on some level in the same way even now) - two "Mafia cops," NYPD detectives who were "carrying out hits for the Mafia" -the case of the theft of bones from a funeral home used to build a doctor's fortune
and more. Personally, the corruption doesn't surprise me -- I'm sure that these sorts of things continue to happen on a daily basis in cities throughout the United States.
Crooked Brooklyn makes for compelling reading. Some of the cases in this book would also make for great movie material. The downside is that I found it to be a little disorganized in the writing itself -- for example, Vecchione would be talking about a particular case and then in the middle of the story, would go back in time, most of the time talking about something in his personal life that would bring us right up to where he'd left off. To be very honest, from a reader point of view, when he would do that it was a bit distracting when all I wanted to do was to get back to the cases that to me were the high point of this book.
I have to say that I disagree with the reviewer who wrote about this book in Kirkus Reviews, who stated that
"the author’s focus on courtroom maneuvering and investigative procedures can become tedious without greater context regarding New York’s labyrinthine government and history of corruption."
I didn't find this to be the case -- a) he does briefly touch on the Tammany machine in this book, b) it is certainly not at all tedious; in fact, the opposite is true, and c) "New York's labyrinthine government and history of corruption" are not the focus of this book, so I don't think that the reviewer is playing fair here. The dustjacket blurb says that this book is "perfect for fans of television shows like Law & Order, readers of true crime, and those hungry for details about the system that keeps us safe." Having watched hundreds of hours of Law and Order in my day (the original -- not the spinoffs), and cheering on Jack McCoy in his long-running, but not always successful crusade for justice, I'd say that the blurber gets it right.
Paul Theroux has written some incredible travel narratives -- my favorites (of the ones I've read) are his Great Railway Bazaar and Riding around a 3.5
Paul Theroux has written some incredible travel narratives -- my favorites (of the ones I've read) are his Great Railway Bazaar and Riding the Iron Rooster, but there's something to enjoy about all of his books. In Deep South, it's the author's ability to a) reflect the beauty of the southern landscape through his writing and b) encourage strangers he meets to open up about their lives that really made this narrative work for me.
Theroux has traveled all over the planet, but in this book he's changed directions and stays in his own country -- more specifically, he makes several tours through the "deep south," discovering and examining the paradoxes that exist there. Making his way through South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta area by car, he spends four seasons visiting some of the poorest rural areas in this part of the country. He takes to the "proud highway, the rolling road," starting from Cape Cod with no specific destination in mind, at least on the first trip. What he discovers (among many other things) is that, as Faulkner noted in his Requiem for a Nun, "the past is never dead. It's not even past." I will leave it to others to find out why and how this is true, because I could go on at some length about what he encounters on his various sojourns -- there's a lot packed into these pages.
To be very honest, there were parts of this book that were repetitive that I didn't care for much -- the repeated visits to gun shows and the discourse on why there are so many Patels who own seedy motels in the South are just two examples of overkill here -- but if you can get past that, he does have some very good points to make in this book. Most eye opening to me is the idea that many of the poorest areas in the southern United States are that way because of the ongoing legacy of the South's racist past combined with the loss of industry (moved to foreign countries after NAFTA was passed) that put huge numbers of people who had decent, steady jobs out of work and into the margins of society. There's another thread running through this narrative about how the US Government spends way more money on helping people in third world countries with housing, etc., while ignoring its own people; the upside, however, is that there are a number of people in these small pockets of rural poverty who are there to help the locals through various programs supported by grants and other sources of funding. It's not enough, but it is definitely a move in the right direction. Here, as he notes, the poor are "less able to manage and more hopeless than many people...in distressed parts of Africa and Asia," and that the United States, "singular" in its "greatness," "resembles the rest of the world in its failures."
Maybe Deep South isn't perfect, but I've been on some of those roads in Alabama when we did an African-American Heritage Trail roadtrip and I have to say, he's captured the landscape, the poverty and the racism that I witnessed for myself along the way. He has also captured the cautious but overall warm attitudes of the people he meets on his travels that I experienced as well. Let's just say that whoever says we're living in a post-racial society hasn't seen what I have during my own travels. There is at least one professional reviewer from the Washington Post who sees this book as reopening "Deep South cliches," and there are several naysayers among readers, but this is a book a reader must judge for himself or herself. To me it was a real eye opener of a narrative -- strengthened by the stories of people who live the realities of the Deep South on a daily basis.
Recommended but watch out for the ongoing repetition that just sort of needlessly weighs this book down.
It's insomnia time again so I'm managing to get quite a bit of reading done while I'm miserable. If I must rate this book, it's about a 3.2. More at mIt's insomnia time again so I'm managing to get quite a bit of reading done while I'm miserable. If I must rate this book, it's about a 3.2. More at my reading journal here.
The crime under study here is in England, 1864, and begins with a train stop at the "midway point on the line" between Fenchurch Street and Chalk Farm. As a train guard is fretting over being behind schedule while the train is stopped at Hackney Station, he hears a "commotion" at the front of the train. Two bank employees had just stepped into a first-class carriage, only to discover that it was filled with blood, still wet, spattered everywhere. Then he heard complaints from some women who had just exited the compartment next door, whose "dresses and capes had been stained by drops" that had come through their open carriage window while the train was still en route. Blood is everywhere, but where is the victim? All that remains in the compartment is a "black hat, squashed nearly flat," with the maker's name inside, along with a "thick cane topped with a heavy ivory knob" also containing "a few red spots" and a black bag. No one in the adjoining compartment had heard anything. The guard instructs the stationmaster to wire the railway superintendent at the end of the line; he then locks the compartment door and the train starts its journey. When the train reaches its final destination, it is met by the station superintendent who checks out the compartment and calls for the police; the hunt begins for whoever may have done this horrific thing.
Overall, it's a good book and of particular interest to anyone interested in the Victorian period. There's a lot of cultural detail here around the crime that is quite interesting. On the other hand, it gets a bit boggy in the reading, with a lot of unnecessary repetition and to me some uninteresting bits about how this crime was a diversion from the American civil war, since the Inspector's pursuit of the suspect brought him to our shores. I am happy to have read it though, since I'm a huge fan of historical true crime. I'd recommend it to others who are interested as well. ...more