Between September and October of 1912, all but a very few of the 1,098 African-American citizens (according to the 1910 census) liviIt's a 4.5 for me.
Between September and October of 1912, all but a very few of the 1,098 African-American citizens (according to the 1910 census) living in Forsyth County Georgia had been run out of the county. The idea of "sundown towns," or communities which purposefully excluded African-Americans from living there, is nothing new, but this book reveals that not only were these people driven out of the county, but also that a "deliberate and sustained campaign of terror" on the part of white residents kept African-Americans out until the last few years of the 20th century.
in September, 1912, three young African-Americans were accused of the rape and murder of a white girl. Just about a week or so earlier, the screams of another white woman had aroused people to the fact that she'd woken to find an African-American man in her bedroom. Four young men were arrested, and a black minister horsewhipped for casting aspersions on the woman's character. The second crime, however, unleashed a coordinated campaign to get rid of every black citizen in the county -- involving "night riders," threats, arson, and worse -- any kind of terror imaginable at the time was utilized here to run these people out of the county completely, including threats against the more upper/middle class white residents who had black household help. As time went on, white people just sort of laid claim to land previously owned by the former Forsyth residents so that soon any vestiges of what were African-American homes, farms, churches, etc. soon disappeared, and life went on in a now-all white Forsyth County, basically erasing the fact that black people had even lived there. Things were so white that even the once-in-a-while visit by other African-Americans to the county would result in threats, which often included loaded guns pointed at the faces of black chauffeurs of visitors. Scariest yet -- none of this changed at all until determined marchers in 1987 came to Forsyth county to hold demonstrations; even then law enforcement wasn't enough to control the white anger and hatred, and even afterwards when Forsyth made national news, things were very slow to change.
There's so much going on in this book and obviously I can't possibly say everything I want to say about it here. It's an incredibly difficult book to read and just damn scary because here it is 2016 and we're doing a backslide into this sort of intolerant, ugly and just downright frightening behavior yet again as white supremacy once again raises its head in this country. Just a few nit-picky things: not keen on the connection between the ouster of the Cherokees and the African-Americans -- this part needed a whole lot more, in-depth comparison to make it work for me. Secondly, even though Phillips did a great job in revealing how the president of the United States at the time reneged on campaign promises he used to gain the black vote leaving many African-Americans poor, without hope of jobs and often fired from the positions they held in Washington DC, I wouldn't have exactly labeled that as "racial cleansing" in the same sense he uses it regarding Forsyth County. But once again, the best part of this well-researched book lies in how he traces the sad history of events to give his readers an insight into "the process by which racial injustice is perpetuated" here in the United States.
Personally, I think everyone should read this book.
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.
Thinking about the subject of slavery in America will, for most people, conjure up horrific images of Africans taken from homela4.5 stars rounded up.
Thinking about the subject of slavery in America will, for most people, conjure up horrific images of Africans taken from homeland and families, packed in confined spaces on ships and enduring unimaginable conditions and treatment once they reach their destination. It is a tragic and vile chapter in our history, and a reminder of the horrors that humans can inflict on other humans in the name of economic power and gain. But, as the author of this book reveals, Africans were not the only victims of the slave trade in America -- "the other slavery" involved indigenous people. This "other slavery" didn't replace African slavery; on the contrary, it was, as the author notes, "there all along."
Starting with the Caribbean, the book moves through parts of Central America and on into North America to reveal that while the practice of slavery had already long existed between tribes in these areas prior to European contact, it was the arrival of the Europeans that caused a major transformation in the practice itself. As they spread throughout these areas, "the other slavery" was "never a single institution," but became a "set of kaleidoscopic practices suited to different markets and regions." As the dustjacket blurb notes, "what started as a European business passed into the hands of indigenous operators and spread like wildfire across vast tracts of the American Southwest." This transformation also had a tremendous impact on and helps to better understand the shared history of Mexico and the United States.
This book is not only eye opening, but eye popping as well. It is a difficult book to read at times on an emotional level, but even though as one GR reader put it is "heavy on historical terminology," it is still very accessible readingwise. Just don't expect the history for the masses approach going into it and you won't be disappointed. And of course, I've written a longer post found here if anyone's interested. ...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
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
It's very interesting that Shane White would choose Jeremiah Hamilton as the subgood book. Like a 3.7 rounded up to a 4.
(thanks, St. Martin's Press!!)
It's very interesting that Shane White would choose Jeremiah Hamilton as the subject of his study, since there is very little information on this man to be had. Even though he was "Wall Street's First Black Millionaire," "sui generis, typical of nothing," almost nothing is known about him, which seems quite odd -- after all, in the 1850s, an African-American man with the kind of wealth Hamilton had amassed was unusual; given that he was also a "Wall Street adept, a skilled an innovative financial manipulator," it seems to me that there would be a LOT of material out there from which White could pick and choose. But it didn't turn out that way -- Hamilton, in White's words, "became all but invisible" for over a century, even though he'd lived and worked in New York for more than forty years. No dissertations, no articles, and not even a mention in the African American National Biography completed in 2008 to be had about this man. So Shane White had to rely on New York City's public records for his study -- "Newspapers, court cases and government files," as he notes, but there is pretty much nothing directly from Hamilton himself. I mention the lack of documentation here because it is important to remember this fact as you go through the book. It is important for the reader to understand that while there is certainly plenty going on in Hamilton's orbit that White carefully puts together, sometimes the book ranges off into looking at other, more influential people of the time rather than staying focused on White himself. What really sold me on this book though was the combination of what little could be found on the man and the background history of the attitudes of antebellum white New Yorkers toward African-Americans.
Just briefly, Jeremiah G. Hamilton starts in this book as an enigma. Even his birthplace is unknown -- he either came from somewhere in the Caribbean or from Virginia, both of which he claimed as true on various census reports. In Haiti he was involved in a huge counterfeiting scheme as a very young man, but managed to escape imprisonment and come to New York, and the people behind the whole criminal enterprise remained a mystery while being grateful. Hamilton began borrowing cash left and right (spawning several interesting lawsuits since he decided he'd much rather not pay back the money and really pissing off a lot of people), but the kicker came with Manhattan's 1835 "Great Fire" when a number of records were destroyed and Hamilton decided that with nothing legal linking him to anything, all he had to do was to deny that any transactions had occurred, walking away with the cash. This is how he ended up being known as "The Prince of Darkness." He "never believed in turning the other cheek," was the instigator of several lawsuits himself, using "the fine print in legal documents as a razor." He was also a man that a person never crossed without some sort of retaliation, as one judge found out the hard way. His eccentricities included wandering the streets wearing a long, dark, flowing wig, but people were used to this. Hamilton was married to a white woman with whom he had children and lived well; this fact came to a head only during the Draft riots of the early 1860s when a mob took issue with the mixed marriage and stormed his house looking for him. But on the whole, he was a lucky man -- White notes that
"To a considerable extent, money insulated from the worst of the city racial problems. He could live in his nice house on East Twenty-Ninth Street, looking back down to the city, and feel that he and his family were relatively safe."
Hamilton didn't really socialize with other African-Americans, and actually at one point had to declare bankruptcy. Interestingly enough, as White notes, in the census reports of 1850, 1860 and 1870 he "was counted as a white individual;" even when he died of pneumonia in 1875 the doctor failed to fill in the entry for Color. According to White,
"it seems that, neither for the first nor the last time in American history, money lightened the color of an individual's skin."
Hamilton was indeed lucky -- as White points out, racism was rampant in New York City of the time, and segregation akin to what would later become known as Jim Crow was everywhere. The background history of racism in New York was actually my favorite part of this book -- a definite eye opener. White does an excellent job linking the overthrow of Haiti's colonial masters to the rising fear of African-Americans in the United States of the time, both north and south.
While I enjoyed this book for the most part, the problem with White's account lies in the very fact that there's very little real information about the guy outside of the public records and newspapers and he seems to want to make up for it by adding in more than is technically necessary. As a result, along with the history of race relations of the time (which as I've stated was quite good and definitely a much-needed part of this book), he tends to expand sections by telling his readers about the growth of the newspapers, the lives of other prominent people in New York (both white and African-American), etc., and sometimes I found myself sort of skimming through hoping to get back to Hamilton. I'm someone who can sit down with books of history that are not meant for the general public and love them, so I don't think it's my attention span.
Overall, I don't know if I'd really classify this book as a work of history for the general public, but it is definitely well worth reading on many levels. If nothing else, just the fact that Hamilton was the first African-American millionaire but he's not even listed in the African American National Biography begs the question of why he's been ignored for so long and why historically, he's a forgotten figure. And considering that Mr. White spent years of his life trying to find out who this man really was and had very little to go on, I'd say he's done a fine job here and gave his subject as much life as he possibly could. You really can't ask for much more....more
Excellent book. Actually, it's beyond excellent. I will say that with some exceptions, one would think he or she is reading about attitudes that existExcellent book. Actually, it's beyond excellent. I will say that with some exceptions, one would think he or she is reading about attitudes that exist currently in this country, rather than in 1936. It's frightening that with all of the "progress" we've made since the 1930s, some things never seem to change.
I decided against the actual "review" route, and what I ended up writing is pretty long, so I'll direct you to my online reading journal where I talk about a few parallels between Pozner's observations in 1936 and our current society in 2014 that have their origins in the protection of free-market capitalism and corporate profit, and which are strikingly similar in terms of the effects on the middle class, various racial and ethnic groups, and the average people of this country.
Since I'm into history and the publisher mailed me this book a while back, I've just finished Pulitzer-prize winner Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The LifeSince I'm into history and the publisher mailed me this book a while back, I've just finished Pulitzer-prize winner Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. I'd never heard of Robert Ames before, but now I'll never forget him. I've made a very lengthy post at the nonfiction page of my online reading journal, so if you want the long of it, click through. Otherwise, you're just getting my impression of the book here.
Ames' life and work as a CIA agent and then Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, as well as the glimpses behind the scenes at politics and policymaking are all very well portrayed here, and there may be some small merit in the author's thesis that when Ames was killed in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, a sizeable chance for peace in the Middle East died along with him. He had the both the ear and the confidence of formidable players there, he worked tirelessly to help put out flames before they became raging fires, and gave up much of his family life in the interests of peace. A Good Spy is a most excellent read, and it is definitely a book that a)I'll never forget b) I urge everyone who has an interest in trying to understand the current situation in Middle East to get a copy of and c) has definitely spurred my interest in further reading.
I'm still in a little bit of shock after having finished this book. Well worth every second. ...more
A couple of weeks ago in between airplane changes I caught a brief glimpse of a TV interview of some sort and heard the words "FBI office," "70s" andA couple of weeks ago in between airplane changes I caught a brief glimpse of a TV interview of some sort and heard the words "FBI office," "70s" and "burglary," and I mentally promised myself I'd check on whatever that might have been when I had some free time. When I finally got the chance, I put those exact words into google and came up with The Burglary, by Betty Medsger. Looking at the synopsis, I knew I absolutely had to read this book. Now that I've finished it, I'm recommending it to everyone. It's that good. And, with the exposure of the NSA's surveillance on ordinary American citizens that's been on people's minds lately, it's also appropriately timely.
It's not that J. Edgar Hoover's abuses of power have been a secret up until the publication of this book; au contraire: there have been several very good books published by credible authors on just how far reaching those abuses have been, as well as a number of documentaries about the same. However, if you're thinking that this is just another book out to trash J.Edgar Hoover, so why bother, think again. Ms. Medsger starts her work from an entirely different place. Her focus is on how the burglary of the files from a small FBI station in Media, Pennsylvania committed by a small group of nonviolent, antiwar activists led to the "opening of the door" of J. Edgar Hoover's "Secret FBI." It was through the theft and then publication of most of these files (the ones containing ongoing "real" criminal investigations were not publicized) that the public got its first glimpse of how Hoover and his agents were actively violating the constitutional rights of American citizens through surveillance, "dirty tricks," and other less than above-board measures. These files revealed that
"...there were two FBIs -- the public FBI Americans revered as their protector from crime, arbiter of values, and defender of citizens' liberties, and the Secret FBI. This FBI...usurped citizens' liberties, treated black citizens as if they were a danger to society, and used deception, disinformation and violence as tools to harass, damage, and -- most important -- silence people whose political opinions the director opposed,"
and revealed an FBI that was "obsessed with monitoring what seemed to be, in many cases, lawful dissent." The publication of the information discovered in these files, aside from revealing a "government agency, once the object of universal respect and awe," that had for years been "reaching out with tentacles to get a grasp on, or lead into, virtually every part of American society," also became the catalyst for the first-ever real investigation into the activities of the Bureau and more pointedly, those of its Director; the revelation of just what the FBI with its squeaky-clean image was really up to also started the first national dialogue regarding the fine line between domestic intelligence vs. civil liberties in the context of a free and democratic society.
If you're at all interested, you can find the full thrust of what I have to say about this book here on the nonfiction page of my reading journal; if you don't want to read the long version, just hear me out on this point: it's a book that despite its nearly 600 pages, reads extremely quickly and packs a big wham!throughout. It's also one I HIGHLY recommend. ...more
If you are at all interested in women's history, the history of America's nuclear program, or Cold War history, The Girls of Atomic City should be oneIf you are at all interested in women's history, the history of America's nuclear program, or Cold War history, The Girls of Atomic City should be one of those books that gets added on to and then moved up to the top of your tbr pile. It is one of the most thought-provoking nonfiction books I've read in a long time. As always, you can read the shortened version here, or click through for the longer one.
In a nutshell, Girls of Atomic City explores some of the women who helped keep things going during the war in a project located in a facility in what is now Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one that was geared toward putting an end to the war,as well as a place that tens of thousands of people called home. The women were trained to do only very specific tasks without understanding the overall project that their labors helped to create. They were not allowed to talk about their work, nor were they allowed to question anything, and they never knew who might report them if they did. The project was so secret that wives couldn't talk to husbands about their work, dating couples couldn't discuss their jobs, workers couldn't talk to families or friends on the outside, and violations of that rule often ended up with people simply disappearing, never to be heard from or seen ever again. The women, along with the majority of men working at Oak Ridge, had no clue at all that everything they did helped to contribute to the production of the atomic bomb that was used first in Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki. It was only when the bombs were dropped that the news was released, and people finally realized what it was they'd been working on, with very mixed reactions. In The Girls of Atomic City, the author examines the personal and professional lives of some of the women who called Oak Ridge home for the duration. It can get a little boggy sometimes with too much detail, and in some cases doesn't seem to go far enough in terms of questions that imho weren't asked, but despite these flaws, an overall look at the big picture makes this a history well worth reading. It also made me wonder whether or not something like an Oak Ridge might be possible today in terms of the sheer amount of secrecy involved. The book is definitely thought provoking and also provides a look inside the America of the WWII years. Highly recommended. ...more
My thanks to the people at LT early reviewers and to Henry Holt for my copy of this book. Simply put, it's amazing.
If you've ever just sat for a momeMy thanks to the people at LT early reviewers and to Henry Holt for my copy of this book. Simply put, it's amazing.
If you've ever just sat for a moment and wondered about why so much of the world hates us here in the US, this book will provide a few of the answers. It examines, among other things, how the brothers Dulles, Allen and John Foster (Foster), through their incredible political power and family/corporate/foreign connections, helped to shape our current world, paving the way for American policy abroad to best serve corporate interests. The overt and covert means they employed to protect American interests throughout the globe set into motion events that continue to have repercussions today and will probably continue on well into the future. As the author notes, "Fundamental assumptions that guide American foreign policy have not changed substantially" since the Dulles brothers were in power, and this book is a great place to learn exactly what encompassed American foreign policy during their time and why their "approach to the world" has had deleterious effects on our nation. He also examines the concept of "exceptionalism" as a guiding force in setting policy, a belief that is still held by many today, that somehow the US is more moral than other countries, so that as a nation, we have the right to "behave in ways that others should not." That belief encompasses another idea in which we should be able to take out governments "we" don't like or do other deeds to help shape the course of history.
Aside from examining exactly what the Dulles brothers did over the course of their respective and then combined careers, and how their policy led to such immense episodes of global upheaval, the author also delves into who these two brothers were, how they got their start in the combined areas of finance, multinationals, politics, foreign relations, and the murky world of US intelligence. Trust me, these are not people you will like; there is nothing redeeming about either of them -- they had zero empathy, no compassion and could care less about how many people were killed in the course of their operations.
The book is extremely well written, and is not at all difficult to read; you need no expertise in history, politics or foreign relations to understand it. It's important if you are at all curious about why our government does what it does or how we seem to involve ourselves in sticky quagmires all over the world and what the government is not telling us. It's also a must read, because as the author notes, even though the brothers' actions were products of their time, their story is also the "story of America," and tells us a lot about ourselves as Americans.
Frankly, I have to say that not much really catches me by surprise any more: the political front, the spins on global events, the media as the monkey to the big power players, the disregard for the common people and the Constitution, and this book just goes to show that while the players have changed, really, the same sort of stuff was going on during the heyday of the brothers' power and influence. But back then It was just kept more tightly under wraps and better concealed from the public. The Brothers is simply a stellar work -- and I recommend it highly. ...more
Super book about one of my ultimate favorite jazz musicians.
"What he gave the horn, it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot."
The ultimate reaSuper book about one of my ultimate favorite jazz musicians.
"What he gave the horn, it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot."
The ultimate reading day for me includes the following: rain (which we get a lot of down here in the south), a cup or two or three of strong black coffee (no pods -- I love freshly ground) and most important, the jazz music playing in the background. One of my favorite musicians is Charlie Parker, about whom this book was written. I have been wanting to read a biography about Parker for a long time; when Kansas City Lightning was published last year, I scooped it up. But here's the thing: this is less of a biography than I thought it would be. At first I was disappointed, but I kept flipping back to the book cover with its subtitle "The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker," and came to terms with the fact that a standard biography was not the author's intention. I say that up front so that if you start reading and Parker disappears for long periods of book space, don't despair and keep going. The end product as a whole is informative and frankly, quite a ride, one not solely for the jazz lover. It also speaks to African-American culture of the time, and expands out into a look at blues, swing and jazz in the context of a wider American culture.
Starting out at New York's Savoy Ballroom, the "Madison Square Garden of the battles of the bands", the story takes you back in time to the Kansas City and the origins of Parker's eventual rise to fame. It was a place where musicians held court at 18th Street and Vine, where the blues morphed into a new form of jazz. The book is filled with the people, music, culture etc that influenced Parker, often related via interview by people who were there who had a connection with him. There are also times where the author goes off on serious but informative tangents and not just in the world of music: he spends time talking about the Buffalo Soldiers, the impact of D.W.Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," which portrayed African American men as the white man's worst enemies vis-a-vis white women; there is a also a brief history of minstrelsy which eventually serious African-American musicians refused to be a part of; the rise and downfall of boxer Jack Johnson and his later betrayal of Joe Louis among many others. But it's when he's into the music and the musicians that the writing shines; the descriptions of after-hours jam sessions where musicians were free to be themselves are amazing. Even though there are a number of gaps in Parker's personal life story here (as the author notes, it's largely because so much of his early years remain undocumented), the beauty of this book lies in the world surrounding Parker and how it influenced his near fanatic drive to create something new, something already inside him needing to come out.
While sometimes the writing meanders, when he's ready to bring Parker back into the scene, he's in tight control. Some of these parts are reimagined, while others are based on personal memories and research. At the same time, he lets the reader know when discrepancies arise -- for example, stories told by Parker's first wife Rebecca don't always mesh with the eyewitness accounts of her sister. But while in places the writing might strike an off-key note (for me there were a few, especially when he equates "Charlie's curiosity about narcotics" to his affection for Sherlock Holmes mysteries) taken as a whole, the book has a cool flow to it, filled with vivid jargon in a style that is truly his own.
Reader response has been generally favorable toward this book; after perusing several professional reviews, the same is true on that level as well. I also discovered that Kansas City Lightning is just one of a two-volume set, so I'll sit tight and eagerly anticipate the next book. In the meantime, I can very highly recommend this book, especially to fans of jazz and of Charlie Parker, but also to anyone who is into African-American history. A definite no-miss. ...more