Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

Friday, February 26, 2010

Two Books I Read and Can Recommend

By: T.R. Slyder,, AndyDisco on Twitter

I May Not Get There With You: The True Marting Luther King Jr., by Michael Eric Dyson and

Metal Men: How Marc Rich Defrauded the Country, Evaded the Law, and Became the World's Most Sought-After Corporate Criminal by A. Craig Copetas

The first book is awesome. I hadn't read a book about MLK and thought I probably should, especially with it being black history month. I'd seen Dyson on Real Time with Bill Maher and a few other tv spots and was always impressed by him. His book is insightful, and exhaustively researched. It's a great combination of hard facts about MLK, and commentary. I wanted to learn about MLK from the book, obviously, but I didn't want a dry excerpting of his works, or some puff piece telling me how he was objectively the best person of all time. This book was ideal to achieving that.

Dyson just tells it like it was and is refreshing honest and fair in his assessment of King. What I learned from the book is how King wasn't just the voice of people with dark skin, but someone who tirelessly crusaded for the economically disenfranchised. King's policies were more about human rights and making sure even the most downtrodden have at least a chance of success. He wasn't so much about saying, "hey you guys kept us as slaves for generations, and we are pissed off!" it was more about saying, "look, everything available to poor people totally sucks. Our schools don't give our kids a chance, colleges won't accept anyone from these schools because they suck so bad, and there are no job opportunities in largely black areas, and the white areas don't admit black people. We need to do something here so blacks/downtrodden have a chance to stand on their own two economic feet and contribute. We don't need a hand out, just a more level playing field, so that we can contribute to the economy and help ourselves, and society in so doing. I'm not asking for a bushel of apples, but I'd like to have the right to buy the seeds to grow my own apple tree." kinda thing.

I also didn't know that MLK was an adulterer and accused repeatedly (and rightfully) of plagiarism. The last thing that struck me about the book was how relatively radically were MLK's opinions about Vietnam and Socialism.

If the word ceiling can be used to represent the highest limit of achievement, (e.g. she shattered the glass ceiling"), then we should be able to use the word "floor" to mean the opposite- the depths of economic depravity. The book made me view MLK as less of a race-centered thinker, and more concerned with "raising the floor" of America's impoverished.


The second book is about rogue trader/treasonist/slimeball/alpha male Marc Rich. Chances are that if you have heard of him, you heard of him because he was the sketchiest person that Bill Clinton pardoned during his last week as President.

Initially I went to the library to find this new book about Rich, but it wasn't available, so I went with Metal Men. It's all about the life of Marc Rich and how he cut his teeth with uber-trading firm Phillip Brothers. The firm was the perfect incubator for a guy like Rich who apparently cared ONLY about work, and dominating his office as the smartest guy in the room, the biggest earner, the hardest partier, most intimidating guy, etc. He achieved those ends quickly at Phillip Brothers and quickly his ego, appetite for risk, and questionable ethics grew too big for the relatively conservative firm.

Rich started off on his own and wasn't necessarily drunk with power, as much as he went on a 7-month, Vegas coke binge with a gaggle of hookers, a few midgets, circus animals and a pony- with power, metaphorically speaking. Rich quickly became even more wildly successful and roguish. Eventually he was doing business with enemy-of-the-State Iran, and defrauding the US of hundreds of millions of tax dollars by virtue of a banking shell game based out of Switzerland, with tentacles in the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, and South America and New York.

I guess I'm not making the book sound all that interesting, but it is. It's very informative about how the trading industry works, the pressures involved, the risk and the profit potential. It's a fascinating look at an industry that wields unspeakable power, but few people really understand. Rich began as a metal trader, which essentially means, he and his cohorts controlled the world's supply of metal. Kind of a big deal. His first firm, Phillip Brothers, owned metal mines all over the world and Rich's job was to be the middle man between the mines and firms looking to buy their various metals. After striking out on his own, Rich was trading metal, oil, weapons and probably everything else between whoever was willing to bid for his goods. Warlords, the Shah of Iran, governments, stand-up businessmen, and shady businessmen. If someone had money, Rich would relieve them of it. Then with his complex network of banks and lawyers, Rich would defraud the US of tax money, and manage to somehow keep even more of his astronomical and shady profits.

It's an entertaining, informative and quick read about a true American asshole. He makes Ted Turner or Larry Ellison or John Rockefeller, or whoever else you thought of when you thought about wealthy, bristly titans of business look like a thumb-sucking altar boy. Rich was so good at being an asshole on such a grand scale, that you just have respect him for being so fucking good at what he does. Even if that makes him an anus.

That's how I roll.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where Awesome Happens Book Review 2.0

Butterfly in the sky? I can go twice as high!

Where Awesome Happens Book Review 2.0: And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

This book was an uber-doozie. It's also my favorite kind of book. Namely, the kind of book that is about a topic you had never heard of, and after the book is over makes you want to go research that topic and read 4 other books about it.

Before I get to the review itself, I'll set this up a bit. Kerouac and Burroughs are two of the "Big Three" Beat Generation writers, (Allen Ginsburg, being the other) and this book was published in 2008, despite Burroughs dying in 1997 and Kerouac dying in 1969. So for this book to be just coming out, is like what it would be like for Jazz fans if a collaboration between Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday were just discovered. The book was written in 1945, while these two writers were still completely unknown and was rejected by publishers. As Burroughs was quoted in the Afterward, regarding no publishers being interested, "And it hindsight I don't see why they should have been. It had no commercial possibilities. It wasn't sensational enough to make it [...] from that point of view, nor was it well-written or interesting enough to make it [from] a purely literary point of view. It sort of fell in-between. [It was] very much in the Existential genre, the prevailing mode of the period, but that hadn't hit America yet. It just wasn't a commercially viable property."

Further pushing back the publishing date is that this is a VERY slightly fictionalized account of an actual murder, between two friends of theirs. In short, what happened was that the murderer (Lucien Carr), who remained friendly with both authors all his life (and theirs), outlived both of them. The estates of Burroughs and Kerouac both promised Carr that the manuscript would not be published in his lifetime. After doing 10 years for the murder, Lucien Carr went on to be a regular family man and hold down a successful job as a news publisher, where virtually no one who knew him was aware of his murdery past.

To me, all of that was just as interesting as the book itself. It was kinda like watching the new Star Wars movie where you're thinking "Wow, a NEW Star Wars movie that not everyone has seen yet!". The book is written in short chapters that alternate being written by Burroughs (from his character Will Dennison's point of view) and Kerouac's (from his Mike Ryko point of view). Much like on Dragnet, the names have been fictionalized to protect the innocent. Well, and the guilty, too I guess. It takes place in WWII New York in 1945 and is basically a biography of a group of beatnik writer friends who never have any money but somehow keep finding enough money to get drunk and party-hop, nonetheless.

Reading the book with no a-priori knowledge of the ending, you'd never know it was a book about murder. Which I suppose, is probably very realistic in a lot of deaths in life- you don't always see the writing on the wall for months leading up to it. Sometimes they surprise you. This wasn't much different; you get some young drunk kids, one of which seemed to be an annoyance to the other, and strange things can happen under those circumstances. The murder occurs in about the third-to-last chapter, then the final chapters deal with how the murderer should turn himself in and that's it.

Like a lot Beat Generation writing, this isn't so much about plot intricacies or surprise endings, but about how it was written, the imagery and the pace of the book. It's fast, hip, crisp, lots of dialogue and makes you feel like you are actually there with them, and not having a boring author report to you in a flowery way about the events. It serves very well as a period-piece for 1945 New York City.

In regards to the actual events of the murder. The afterward does a better job of expanding upon it than I will here, but it happened when they were all very young. Kerouac was like 22, Ginsburg 19, Carr was 17, and Burroughs was 30. Ish. Then the guy that got murdered was like 33-ish. So they were all very young, and the murder had a significant impact on the future writings for Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsburg, and it more or less represented an enormous loss of innocence for all parties involved.

I'd label this book as highly recommendable. If this were purely fiction by two authors I'd never heard of, it would still be a good read. But given it's authors, it's half-century delay in writing, and the interesting story it tells, it all makes for a great story outside of the book as well.

Where Awesome Happens Book Review

Butterfly in the sky? I can go twice as high!

By: T.R. Slyder,

Where Awesome Happens Book Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula kicks effing rear. The reason I felt obligated to call it "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and not just "Dracula" is to indicate that Bram Stoker's is the original Dracula. Stoker made up Count Dracula and vampires. Since then, as you know, there have been countless other stories about Dracula, and I wouldn't want you to be confused as to which book I was talking about.

The book was a lot different than I thought it would be. I thought it would be more of the horror/action genre where a group of guys were always getting attacked by Dracula, or there were a lot of physical encounters. It turned out to be much different than that. Since this was the first Vampire book, it assumes the reader had no idea what a vampire was or who Count Dracula was, or what they did. So the bulk of the book is about a group of 5 people trying to compile all the their facts about this shady Count Dracula character, and see how they can put an end to his misdeeds before it's too late.

Stoker's writing style for the book was as original as his subject. The entire book was written as a compiled series of diary entries and letters of correspondence, among his 4 most main characters. That convention heightened the urgency for the reader since the reader was able to know exactly what the characters knew or didn't know. I found that convention to be much more original and dramatically exciting than the often used omniscient narrator. Being that the book was mostly written as diary entries, it provided great characterization in a short amount of time, and let you in on the characters secret fears regarding Count Dracula that they dare not let on in front of their friends.

Dracula, was also a much faster read than I had anticipated and wasn't at all burdened with the usage of any kind of Dickensian-era English whatsoever.

As far as recommendations go, I can recommend this highly. I'm not a big horror/sci-fi fan, so it certainly helped for me that I read it right before Halloween. But after having read it and being surprised at how un-horror-y it was, I think anyone could enjoy it at anytime of year. I was very impressed by this book.