I think that you have to read and consider this book as a product of its times (originally published in 1968). I mean, everyone who cares knows that EI think that you have to read and consider this book as a product of its times (originally published in 1968). I mean, everyone who cares knows that Eldridge Cleaver went on to become a member of the Mormon church (although he wasn't very active), then dinked with some other religious groups, merged with the right wing, ran for the Senate as a Republican, and supported Reagan for president. So -- people change. But at the time this book was written, Cleaver was an angry man, and this book reflects a bit of the invective espoused at the time, and not just by Cleaver. Furthermore, he had every right to be angry, considering what was happening back then in the area of civil rights -- Vietnam, the death of Malcolm X, race riots, etc. Put into historical perspective, you've got an awesome source for the viewpoint of some radical Blacks of the time, you know, the ones who felt like Black America had to get up and do something.
And, if you judge this book by the writing, Cleaver is considerably eloquent, able to express himself well through the written word.
I'd recommend this one to people who want to put themselves in the mindset of one facet of that era. I wouldn't espouse his politics, but you do have to take into account that had their not been people like Cleaver, or Angela Davis, or Malcolm X (and the list goes on), who didn't sit quietly and hope for change, African-American people might just find themselves continuing to live in the status quo of that time, and then where would someone like Obama be? Not that I agree with their methodologies, but at least people took notice. ...more
The Mapmaker's Wife is a history of scientific exploration, as well as a story of one woman's survival through the Amazon rainforest; the best parts oThe Mapmaker's Wife is a history of scientific exploration, as well as a story of one woman's survival through the Amazon rainforest; the best parts of this book were the descriptions of Isabel Grameson-Godin's journey alone through the Amazon. I was really drawn to this section of the book; sadly it just didn't last long enough!
The book begins in 1769, with Isabel (nee Grameson) Godin deciding that it was time she make the journey down the Amazon to meet her husband. Jean Godin was a part of a group of scientists from France who had come to the equatorial region of Peru to make studies of the shape of the earth (which was still unknown at the time). By measuring a degree of longitude, they would be able to determine whether or not the earth bulged at the equator; simultaneously, another expedition had gone up north to Lapland to see they could prove that the earth flattens toward the poles. Politics between Spain and France, Spain and Portugal, and France and Portugal changed and changed again within the scope of the 20+ years this book covers, and this had a definite impact on the story of the explorations as well as on Isabella's journey.
The first part of the book discusses what was known about the physical geography of the world up until the 1700s; it also discusses the Enlightenment movement and politics in Europe. The author has done a huge amount of research. Then the book focuses on the expedition itself and the various trials and tribulations of the French party as they tried to keep their research going. When Isabella is only 13 she marries Jean Godin; she has dreams of going to France. He would like to take her there, but he has never been paid for his work and was stranded in South America. Godin decides to go to the other side of the continent and work to raise money; he then thought he would go back to Peru and take Isabella and his daughter with him back down the Amazon and on to France. But as things usually go, his plans fell through, and ultimately the couple were separated for 20 years. Isabella decides that she must find her husband and go on to France, and she and a small retinue set out to go down the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean. Her journey through the Amazon, as I noted, is the best part of this story and I was amazed by what this woman was able to endure.
The positives about this book: the author definitely did his homework and a LOT of meticulous research. You really get a feel for politics, science & the mistreatment of the natives at the hands of the Europeans.
The negatives: maybe a little too much science history at the beginning; I really like history & I enjoy reading it, but I felt like I was overwhelmed with fact fact fact here. Getting into the story, I felt like the title was a little misleading. The voyages down the Amazon and through the rainforest were fascinating to read but the "murder" part of the story was way underdone so if you were expecting something lurid, forget it.
All in all, it was an okay book, and if you're interested in mapmaking, European politics, science during the Enlightenment period and the history of the Amazon region in general, you'll like it. ...more
I expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstandinI expected this book to be excellent simply by virtue of having been written by Caroline Alexander, whose previous work, The Endurance, was outstanding. If you haven't read that one and you are interested in Shackleton, I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it.
The Bounty is another one of those marvelous histories, which although documented (sources for each chapter are given at the end & thus there are no footnote encumbrances), reads likes a novel. I literally could not put this book down.
Sunrise, April 28, 1789. William Bligh, who was actually a lieutenant captaining the ship Bounty, sent from England to the South Pacific to gather of all things breadfruit (you have to read the book to understand this)was rudely awakened at swordpoint from his bunk to be informed that he would be leaving the ship. In charge of this operation was Mr. Fletcher Christian, (and God help me, I can't help but think of Mel Gibson every time his name was brought up), who explained that he was in Hell and could no longer abide the captain's behavior. Wearing only a nightshirt, Bligh was bound and lowered into a launch. Others soon followed suit...the ship was then in the hands of Fletcher Christian and a few others of it seems, like minds. So...the question is what brought on the mutiny? Was Captain Bligh really as nefarious and evil as history has painted him? What conditions led to Fletcher Christian's decision? And then, in probably what is the true meat of this story, how were the majority of the mutineers rounded up & brought to justice? We all know that Fletcher Christian and a few of his associates landed on & settled Pitcairn Island, which lay largely undiscovered...so what was the real story here? So many questions, so many answers, from various viewpoints, keep this account lively & leave the reader wanting to read more.
The book opens with the collection & transport of the mutineers who had escaped to Tahiti; some of them voluntarily going to the ship & thus their certain fates and others who had to be rounded up. The story then moves to part two, in which we are introduced to each of the crew members including Captain Bligh & Fletcher Christian. The voyage of the Bounty commences, and this part of the book ends with the mutiny. Part three recalls Captain Bligh's feat of navigation and getting himself & the others consigned to go with him back to civilization, and investigating his court-martial for losing the Bounty. Part four...the political wheelings & dealings involved with the trial of the captured prisoners...and then finally, how the name of Captain Bligh came to be permanently associated with martinet-like behavior & came to be a dirty word. Here too you will find differing views on what happened once the main body of mutineers reached Pitcairn island.
One fun piece of information is worth noting. The night before the mutiny, Captain Bligh got into it with his officers about some missing coconuts. He called upon all of them to account for how many they'd eaten. Not that this is earthshaking in itself, but those of you who have read The Caine Mutiny (one of my favorite books of all time) will remember the dastardly Captain Queeg and the strawberry incident. I couldn't help but laugh and draw parallels & even wonder if Herman Wouk had incorporated this part of the Bounty mutiny into his own work.
I would very very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this type of thing. Read it and savor it. Take it slow. Because Alexander (like any historian worth her salt) relies heavily on primary documents, the wording is often a bit difficult to read, but it is well worth the time you will take on it....more
Every time I go to my favorite liquor store I eye the beautiful green bottle of absinthe sitting near the counter, but have never given in. I still prEvery time I go to my favorite liquor store I eye the beautiful green bottle of absinthe sitting near the counter, but have never given in. I still probably won't give in, but I can tell you that while reading this I kept thinking about trying it.
Baker's book explores the fascination and lure of absinthe among influential artists, poets and authors since the 1800s, as well as on the public at large. Many of the names are familiar: Van Gogh, Lautrec, Wilde, Rimbaud; the accounts of these celebrated artistes and their experiences with absinthe make for great reading, and serve as a commentary on the Bohemian lifestyle. The book also discusses the ban on the spirit after the French government decided it was detrimental to the health and well being of its people; then goes on to look at its resurgence. Baker also provides a glimpse of the deleterious effects of wormwood on the brain of the user, likening it to a 1940s-era cocktail known as the "Mickey Slim," which added the extra little touch of DDT to provide the extra kick. Hmm.
This is a very well-written account that could be read and understood by anyone. I was surprised to find out that absinthe is totally verboten to any US servicemen while overseas, or any government agents, but wait! There's Hillary Clinton sipping it in Prague (or did she just drink it without swallowing?)
I think I'll stick to my Campari and soda, thank you very much.......more
If you are at all a fan of Billie Holiday, then you will want to read this book. It is not your average biography; the author presents basic facts inIf you are at all a fan of Billie Holiday, then you will want to read this book. It is not your average biography; the author presents basic facts in a timeline up front, then proceeds to tell Billie Holiday's story through the words of those people who worked with her or knew her in other ways throughout her life. Most of the interviews were actually done in the 1970s by another person, who was going to write a book based on these interviews, but who committed suicide before the book went to press. Julia Blackburn took these interviews, did a great deal of work on her own, and has put them down in the words of those who knew Billie Holiday. Fascinating book and story of a tragic figure. I VERY highly recommend this one. My only complaint is that there's one picture in this book outside of the cover picture, but that's okay. ...more
A fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that thiA fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that this is not a novel, but a history, and that as such, even though it moves quickly, there are times when the author doesn't go from point A to point B as in a novel but stops to present factors that led up to this period in time.
The case in question begins in 1925 in Detroit, when Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife move into a house that is outside the boundaries of the "colored" area (I'm just using the terminology in the book here which was appropriate to the time period). Ossian, his wife Gladys, Ossian's brother Henry & some friends were over at the house all preparing to eat the first meal in their new house when a neighborhood mob moved in front of the house & began pelting the house with stones etc. They prepared themselves for the worst, but nothing more happened. On the second night, Ossian was ready. He had gathered the same people & a few more (at that time 11 total in the house), and when the mob gathered again and the rocks started flying and actually broke windows in the house, Henry & whoever was upstairs with him started firing into the crowd, killing one man & wounding another. The police took everyone in the house in custody, & eventually all 11 were charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. The state contended that there was no mob at all and that Ossian's brother & friends had fired into the crowd unprovoked, killing a man. Eventually the group was put into prison, awaiting trial, and were ultimately defended by Clarence Darrow.
That's the central case; what this book does is to examine the factors behind the allegations, and to examine the motivation of Ossian's neighbors as they worked themselves into mob frenzy. It also looks at racial attitudes on both sides of the coin prevalent at the time, politics both locally in Detroit and nationally, the use of this case by the NAACP, among other issues. In telling Ossian's story, the author also goes into Ossian's family history, as well as that of his wife Gladys from slavery onward, and the history of racial attitudes both North and South.
For example, Boyle goes into great detail about the southern migration of blacks to the north and their attempts to escape Jim Crow only to find themselves victims of the same types of prejudices. Specifically discussing Detroit, the author goes into great detail explaining that the police department was filled with KKK members; he explains the economics behind why, beyond the simple reason of prejudice, white people did not want blacks in their neighborhoods and what happened to those African-Americans who moved into those neighborhoods; he also goes into the politics involved in organizing a defense for the 11 accused & battles fought based on this case against segregation in all aspects of life.
It is really a captivating story, backed up by personal interviews & other primary sources as well as other references. I definitely think if you are interested in the topics of segregation, civil rights, racial attitudes or the workings of the NAACP, you will not want to miss this book. ...more
n Cold Blood is one of those books I've owned forever, and one I take out periodically to reread just because I like it so much. I don't have many ofn Cold Blood is one of those books I've owned forever, and one I take out periodically to reread just because I like it so much. I don't have many of those. Long before there were two biopics about Capote's experiences in Kansas and the writing of this book, In Cold Blood had already captured not only my attention, but my respect as well.
I won't delve into the details of the story because they are so well known it's not necessary to rehash them here. And we all know that with this one work, Capote created a new and at the time rather unique type of quasi-journalistic reporting which led many future writers of true crime to rework their research into novel-like form. But unlike many of the writers of that particular genre, there's nothing over the top or sensational between the covers, neither is there the "just the facts, ma'am" approach. It's an intelligent book that demands participation from its readers.
Part of the reason, I think, that this book works well is that the author works into it some anticipation on the part of the reader. For example, by page 5 we already know that there were "four shotgun blasts that all told, ended six lives," then again on page 13, we find out that that particular day of work for Herb Clutter was going to be his last. And so it goes, with each family member, until we get to the actual killings. Interspersed throughout the story of the Clutters is that of their murderers, and we know that at some point in time the two stories are going to meet up in one tremendous bloodbath. But it's the getting there that is the best of this book -- we have to meet the inhabitants of Holcomb, Kansas, the KBI agent and his family, et cetera et cetera, until Smith and Hickok make that trip down the driveway lined with trees and make their way into the Clutter's home. But even then, Capote doesn't give away what actually happened, but rather moves on to workers coming to do their chores at the Clutter farm, and then the events that led up to the discovery. It's some time before we learn what really happened. The pacing of the book is impeccable. We get to the heart of the matter only after we've spent time with the Clutters, their neighbors, and the killers, getting to know each a bit at a time.
If Capote was trying to evoke some kind of sympathy for the two murderers, he didn't get it from me. There's one spot in the novel where, in trying to make the case that the two killers were legally insane at the time of the murders, someone watching the trial later says something along the lines of "well, I had a tough life, but I didn't kill anyone," or something to that effect. On the other hand, one of the things I like about this novel is the backstory of Hickok and Smith, because I have this inherent need to know what makes people do what they do. During this reread, during the scenes of the trial, I couldn't help but think that today it would be likely that a defense lawyer could probably a) get both of them off for several reasons, or b) get their sentences reduced to spending time in some sort of institution for the criminally insane. But in the 60s, that wasn't about to happen. There's food for thought right there.
In Cold Blood remains one of my favorite books, and whether or not it's real or, as some have criticized, a blend of fiction and reality, it doesn't change anything for me. I loved it the first time I read it and I still do. ...more
Including a glossary of terms, this book is only 106 pages long, but packs a wallop! Gary Kinder, himself an author, wrote the introduction to this smIncluding a glossary of terms, this book is only 106 pages long, but packs a wallop! Gary Kinder, himself an author, wrote the introduction to this small narrative, and his ending words were "As you sit in your chair, the subliminal thought recurs: My god, this really happened." I knew then I was in for a good read.
synopsis: The first mate of the whaleship Essex, Owen Chase, set down a chronological narrative of events that happened to himself and the crew of the Essex, after the fact. In November of 1820, the whaleboats of the ship were out trying to make progress on capturing & killing sperm whales when the Essex was rammed by another whale. This attack left a hole in the ship, and although the crew were able to board the ship & take out provisions, they were all forced to take to the whaleboats out in open sea. Twenty men started on the journey; only five survived. This book narrates what happened between the shipwreck & rescue. When you read this, you must consider that this book was a product of the times, so the reader gains the vantage point of one of the survivors, making the book all the more intriguing.
I liked this book very much; I will probably wish to reread it at some point. Highly recommended....more
probably the best book on the civil rights movement I have ever read in my life.
If you are at all interested in this topic, by all means, buy, borrow probably the best book on the civil rights movement I have ever read in my life.
If you are at all interested in this topic, by all means, buy, borrow or steal a copy of this book.
On page 423, the author notes the following: "Blacks had struggled for their freedom in Mississippi since the earliest days of slavery an continue to fight for their rights as citizens down to the present. Still, the period beginning with World War II and ending with the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 encompasses the most intensive and comprehensive period of grass-roots organization and protest in that state's history; as a result of that campaign, Mississippi experienced more sweeping changes in the area of race relations during those three periods than at any time since the end of the Civil War."
The book's title says it all; it is the story of black Mississipians who often gave their lives in the ongoing fight for civil rights & freedom over the above-mentioned time period.
My book is filled with post-it notes, well dispersed throughout the book's 400+ pages but I will only make brief comments on my impressions of this book.
What I did not realize before reading this book was that the Mississipi government's (state/local) methods of dealing with anyone connected with Mississippi civil rights programs were virtually totalitarian in nature, called by one journalist "something akin to NKVD among the cotton patches." (60). The State Sovereignty Commission, created in 1956, kept tabs on everyone through wiretapping, bugging, keeping dossiers of anyone who might even be suspected of belonging to or working for any kind of civil rights group. Locally, Citizens' councils began right after the Brown v. Board of Education decision was made in 1954, when talk of desegregating began. But the Citizens' councils went beyond the question of desegregation: it served to promote & ensure white supremacy through whatever means possible -- be it through violence, economic intimidation, whatever. In order to begin to try to secure basic human rights, as well as those afforded to them through the US Constitution, black Mississippians began to fight back. While other blacks had been killed & lost property in their early struggles, it was (as the author notes) the killing of Emmett Till in 1955 which garnered the attention of the country, making an "indelible impression on black teenagers eerywhere." (425) With the help of various organizations (SNCC, CORE) that came into Mississipi to volunteer to help in the fight for civil rights & freedom, the local people were able to organize more of the black population and get them to freedom schools to become more literate to be able to pass the tests set up to block them in their attempts to register to vote or to demand better conditions as human beings. The personal commitments and sacrifices these people had to make are the focus of the book. It sheds light on the Freedom Summer, the various marches for freedom, the hard work of the volunteers, demonstrations & mass movements, but also serves to enlighten its readers on the political plays going on in the background, between the groups helping the locals to fight for their rights, as well as at the top levels of national government, where getting the Federal Government to do anything was often impossible even after numerous deaths & media exposure showing the harsh realities of black life under a white supremacist regime in Mississippi. The politics and power plays among the civil rights activists also gave rise to the "Black Power" movement, something else I did not know.
I could go on, but you really should just read this book for yourself. I do have to say that I was reading this book over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and wondered why no one ever thought to make a holiday for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, a REAL African-American hero in the fight for civil rights. Not to belittle Dr. King's efforts, but this woman deserves to have a day of her own. And Fannie Lou Hamer knew when she died that the struggle wasn't over when she noted "...we ain't free yet. The kids need to know their mission."
Local People is an outstanding work, and I know I'm going to come back to it again. It takes a while to read, but it is worth every second....more
George Francis Dow put this book together actually in 1927; this version is a Dover Reprint (thank God for Dover for publishing long-forgotten books!)George Francis Dow put this book together actually in 1927; this version is a Dover Reprint (thank God for Dover for publishing long-forgotten books!). What it is is an examination of the slave trade out of Africa, told through first person accounts of persons actually involved in the slave trade. Sadly, what's not here are slave voices.
The least reliable stories, imho, are those of the captains & the traders, who set the scene in telling about the dangers faced by the crews & by the white people in their zeal to collect slaves off of the coast of West Africa. While the dangers themselves are real (terrible, often mortal illnesses and the fear of being attacked by Africans who have been either kidnapped or taken as war hostages for sale into slavery), the reports of how slaves were treated once on the ship made it sound like the captains were doing the captured Africans a "favor" by taking them out of their homeland. However, this is balanced by the reports of physicians who reported the truth of the conditions of the slave ships & of the psyche of those torn away from their families and homes.
Considering this is such an old book, and written before the term "political correctness" was coined, I thought it had a lot of insight into the slave trade. There was one story in here written by a former ship's medical assistant that was most likely fiction (and would have made for a sequel to Wide Sargasso Sea) so I discounted it, but the other nonself-serving entries really opened my eyes to the horrors of the slave trade.
I would recommend it, most definitely. If you read it, keep in mind that it was written at a time when the epithets used to describe Africans were perfectly acceptable and that the author was not intending this as a racist history....more
If you have read "The Executioner's Song," then Shot in the Heart is a great follow up. I'm one of those people who has this undying curiousity regardIf you have read "The Executioner's Song," then Shot in the Heart is a great follow up. I'm one of those people who has this undying curiousity regarding what makes people (especially "abnormal" people) tick and what makes criminals act the way they do. Mikal Gilmore is the brother of executed killer Gary Gilmore (the subject of the Executioner's Song) and he bares all in this honest and shocking story about his family life and the background of Gary Gilmore.
I would definitely read The Executioner's Song first, then this one...not just because the Mailer book is itself excellent and one of my top ten of all time books, but because you wouldn't understand Mikal's book without reading about his brother.
Geared toward those readers who enjoy true crime, or who enjoy reading about abnormal psychology....more
I would love to have rated this book higher, since J Edgar Hoover, past director of the FBI, is one of my favorite all time bad guys to read about. HoI would love to have rated this book higher, since J Edgar Hoover, past director of the FBI, is one of my favorite all time bad guys to read about. However, the author's writing reminded me of a graduate student putting together a thesis or paper -- either way too much detail about meaningless stuff (like the contents of various meals, including his last, or what he wore, or description of the day -- e.g. "the snow was coming down in flakes as big as blueberries" etc etc etc) and not enough depth into what I would consider the meat of the story. Every time Hack would get going on the FBI's involvement into this or that (and his wording would promise that you were really going to find out something incredible), he seemed to stray toward another tangent and I would be left wondering where the promised juicy tidbit went.
But aside from those problems, the book was interesting, and I learned a lot of good ole J.Edgar that I had not known before.
brief synopsis Puppetmaster examines both career and personal life (and rumors involving his personal life) of J. Edgar Hoover. By the time Hoover died, he was 77, and had been in office over 50 years and had served something like 8 presidents. While Hoover felt that he was doing his best to eradicate such evils as Communism and insurgency within the borders of the US, he was a man whose personal beliefs were rigid and did not evolve with the changing needs of the country. He was overly impressed with himself; no one could cross Hoover without finding the contents of his or her secret file being released to the public in some form or other. He built his reputation by conducting illegal activities and gathering intelligence on anyone he considered to be even remotely a threat either to the US or to the FBI (as in reputation), and authorized the use of "black bag jobs" such as illegal eavesdropping to build up his files. The man was a one man power base and had everyone afraid of him. He was often identified as the head of the American "gestapo" or "nkvd" and this description wasn't too far off the mark.
Hoover is a fascinating study. I do recommend this book with the caveat that it is told simplistically so if you are looking for something rather more in depth, you won't like it....more
The difference between this story and other "shipwrecked at sea; out on the open ocean, had to eat one of the survivors" type stories is that the authThe difference between this story and other "shipwrecked at sea; out on the open ocean, had to eat one of the survivors" type stories is that the author goes on with what was at the time an incredibly sensational trial of the Captain and the other 2 survivors of the wreck of the Mignonette. Up to that time in history if crew members had to resort to "the custom of the sea" by drawing lots as to who would die for the good of the others, they were not held accountable for their actions since most people understood that they were in dire straits and had to do this to survive. However, the captain of the Mignonette, a Tom Dudley, upon his arrival back to terra firma told his story and expected to be home for dinner that night, was instead held for murder along with the two other survivors of the shipwreck. The author has done a great deal of research into the wreck, the trial and the aftermath and put it all together into this very well-written book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic....more