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" and...moreA 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. (less)
Considering that I'm not at all a sports person, it seems odd to me that I would even be reading a book about the University of Washington crew team....more Considering that I'm not at all a sports person, it seems odd to me that I would even be reading a book about the University of Washington crew team. I didn't know what to expect, but after reading the first chapter I was totally hooked. It only got better from there. The brief review is this: I loved this very well-written, carefully-researched and compelling book, and the bottom line is that it's one I can recommend very highly -- a book that absolutely should not be missed. You don't have to know jack about crewing (I certainly didn't) -- the story will move you anyway. In terms of nonfiction, it's probably the best I've read this year.
The longer version of this brief review is at my online reading journal nonfiction page, so feel free to click and read it there. (less)
If you've decided after reading about this book that it's too bleak, well, consider what the people in this book and others who...morefinish date: 12/27/2013
If you've decided after reading about this book that it's too bleak, well, consider what the people in this book and others whose stories didn't make it into this book are going through. Or their wives, who married a guy, said goodbye to him as he deployed, and found that the man who came back home was someone entirely different.
Rarely in life does a book come along that has me telling everyone I know that they have to read it. I just finished Thank You For Your Service, and if you have friends or family returning from military deployment, you may find this book to be an invaluable resource. Yes, there are a number of books on PTSD out there on the market already, but trust me -- you will have never read anything like this one.
Mr. Finkel's prior book The Good Soldiers, had him embedded with men in an army battalion in Baghdad during the 2007 surge. Thank You For Your Service finds him embedded yet again, but this time here in the US, after the soldiers' deployments are finished. As the dustjacket blurb states, "He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments" in a period he calls the "after-war," as these men begin the process of trying to recover. The book focuses on soldiers returning with "the invisible wounds of this war, including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety," causing emotional, mental and physical scars, often finding their outlet in spousal abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and sometimes suicide. But it's not just the men -- the author also offers the viewpoints and voices of wives or girlfriends who try to adjust to their men being home but broken. In most cases, the women are simply not equipped to handle the changes and they often wonder what happened to the men they said goodbye to at the start of their deployment.
The Army does offer some help for their men, but it comes largely in the form of medications -- often a high-powered combination of meds to control anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. There is also the possibility of entering Warrior Transition Battalions (WTB), but just getting in is a bureaucratic nightmare. One man had to collect over 30 signatures in a given amount of time, only to find that some of the offices he had to visit were closed or manned by inadequately-prepared staff. And although these soldiers have to sign a Contract for Safety, including a promise that if they are feeling suicidal they'll let someone know, the suicide rate continues to climb. In Washington, at least one man, General Peter Chiarelli, took the suicide rate very seriously, demanding accountability for each and every self-inflicted death at regular meetings. However, his efforts were often at the mercy of senators and other high-ranking officials, whom he had to wine and dine and who sometimes had other things that were more pressing. In trying to put together "lessons learned from the cases," details revealed that it was "difficult to learn much at all." Attempts to find patterns in the suicides remained elusive, and trying to get at a cause for both suicide and PTSD was nearly impossible:
"...could the cause have something to do with the military now being an all-volunteer force, and a disproportionate percentage of those volunteering coming from backgrounds that made them predisposed to trauma?"
or more importantly,
"Could it have nothing to do with the soldier and everything to do with the type of war now being fought?"
Have we asked too much of these men? There are other treatment options but for men like Adam Schumann, the veteran whose story is central to most of this book, it would mean, as his wife notes,
"...seven weeks of no work and no pay. That's two missed house payments. Car payments, too. Electricity. Gas. Phone. Groceries."
The rehab treatment place where Schumann eventually received help was saved from closing at the last minute by an anonymous donor.
The soldiers and their families who agreed to participate in Finkel's work did so knowing that everything would be public and on the record, and this openness is what makes this book so haunting. Sometimes I had to put the book down, regroup emotionally, and then come back to it -- and when a book can do this, the author has done an excellent job. Most highly recommended; my favorite book of the entire year.
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 one...moreIf 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. (less)
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 mome...moreMy 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. (less)
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 rea...moreSuper 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. (less)
Empty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long revi...moreEmpty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long review you can read by clicking here, or just stay for the shorter version. Either way, right up front I'll say that you probably haven't read another book like this one.
Empty Mansions is a book that proves the old axiom that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and, I would add, just as captivating. The centerpiece of this book is Huguette Clark, a privileged, incredibly wealthy woman who chose to live her life happily by staying hidden. Huguette's story may seem to some to be the stuff of madness, but the the authors disagree, calling her a "modern-day 'Boo' Radley," someone who shut herself away in order to remain "safe from a world that can hurt." Huguette died in 2011, at the age of 104, two weeks shy of 105, but her death isn't the end of this story. Empty Mansions takes you from the wide Montana prairies to the smaller world of the privileged elite; from a beautiful mansion topped with a golden tower on Millionaire's Row in New York City to a hospital room next to a janitor's closet in this strange but well-told and thoroughly-researched story.
The book takes the reader through the life of W.A. Clark, former senator from Montana and self-made multimillionaire known as the "copper king," and his family -- his wife Anna La Chapelle, daughters Huguette and older sister Andrée. Clark had other older children from a previous marriage, but lived with his second family on New York City's Millionaire's Row in a six-story mansion at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-seventh street. The sisters grew up in opulence and lived privileged lives, all before tragedy struck with Andrée's death at the age of 16. After having lost her sister and best friend, Huguette was sent alone to a school for the "daughters of elite," where her dance teacher was Isadora Duncan. In 1925 her father died, but due to the terms of his will, Anna and Huguette moved to an apartment at 907 Fifth Avenue. Huguette married in 1928, but it didn't last, and she was divorced by 1930. As time went on, Huguette began to stop seeing visitors, becoming reclusive, and eventually stopped leaving her apartment. Anna died in 1963, and Huguette "throws herself" into her art -- which consisted of painting and meticulously furnishing dollhouses, or more accurately, storyhouses where she could move her dolls (a massive collection) through the rooms, having them do different things, and studying cartoons frame by frame. She spent tons of money on these projects, and was also very generous with her money among friends and supporting worthy causes (along with paying for upkeep of the "empty mansions" she'd inherited) from her "fairy-tale checkbook," but above all valued her privacy, trusting in her attorney and her accountant to handle all business transactions. But Huguette had also been getting treatment for skin cancer, and when her doctor died in 1990, she didn't look for another one, and all the while she was getting worse. A friend persuaded her to go the hospital for treatment, and she ended up at Doctors Hospital, a "treatment center for the wealthy," in New York City.
At the age of 85, within two months of Huguette's surgeries, she becomes an "indefinite patient," at Doctors Hospital, choosing to remain there for the rest of her life, never telling family where she was, ordering everyone to respect her privacy at all costs. According to the authors, within a month, one of her doctors alerts the hospital's powers-that-be Huguette is the daughter of a multimillionaire, and that he'd be willing to help develop an "appropriate cultivation approach." Behind her back, they made fun of her, but the hospital officials hold meetings to figure out how to get her to give up some of her money. The president of the hospital, again according to the authors, boldly says that
"Madame, as you know, is the biggest bucks contributing potential we have ever had."
The doctors go all out trying to get her to cough up in a number of measures that can only be described as coercive.
It wasn't just the officials or her doctors who got part of her money, either, one of them outright blackmailing her into loaning him an extra $500,000 on top of the million she'd already given him. Her private nurse/companion is Hadassah Peri who also came to benefit from Huguette's generosity, as Huguette gave her and her family several "gifts" of cash and property, coming to over $30 million dollars. By the time of her death, Huguette was cash poor, and had been selling off extremely valuable possessions to pay for the little "gifts" she gave out as well as the taxes attached to the gifts.
I will say that the first parts of the book that went back to the days when W.A. Clark was making his fortune and building up a tarnished reputation as a Montana senator were pretty dull, and that I almost put the book down. Once the early history was finished, however, the story picked up with a vengeance. There were parts that shocked, parts that made me downright angry, and parts where I couldn't tell whether Huguette was mentally disturbed, easily taken advantage of or coerced, or whether she was just exercising her right to spend her money the way she chose to. I just wanted to know her story and how she got to the point where she chose to stay in a hospital for twenty years, but it turned into much more than that. There are some really good questions raised in this book, but in the end, I discovered that it actually raises more than it answers. That's not a bad thing, and there are probably things that will never be known, even when this upcoming trial gets underway.
Definitely recommended, and while not all reviews have been positive, I don't really pay attention to them when I find something I've really liked reading. If you are looking for something beyond the ordinary, you'll definitely find it here.