By: T.R. Slyder, TRSlyder@yahoo.com, 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.