Category: AM – Autobiography or Memoir


On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

Please consider leaving your comments below 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

The Defense Never Rests

January 5th, 2019 — 11:17pm

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

My family and I were renting a house for the holiday season and I picked this book from a large bookcase in the rental home. It was published in 1971. The author was one of the most well-known and successful defense attorneys in the history of the United States. He has defended the accused in the famous “Torso Murder Case,” the people involved in the “Great Mail Robbery” as well as Sam Sheppard, Albert DeSalvo (also known as the Boston Strangler), Dr. Carl Coppolino and many years after this book was published he defended O.J. Simpson.

This book is written in the first person and clearly conveys the Bailey’s passion for his work. He not only believed in giving his clients the benefit of every possible legal defense but he also clearly was very passionate about the law and the judicial system. A good part of this book includes the exact wording taken from court records of examinations and cross-examinations from many of his high-profile cases. It is quite fascinating since he also provided the behind-the-scenes discussions with clients and other people involved, that shed light on the cases being litigated and the personalities involved.

Two recurring themes throughout this book deal with subjects that most of us don’t have much insight about. The first is the polygraph or lie detector. Bailey was a strong advocate of this instrument in allowing many of his clients to establish that they were telling the truth even though this test is not allowed in most courts. Another interesting subject which Bailey utilized was hypnosis. At times he brought in experts in this field to explore a client’s motivation and to demonstrate various aspects of the veracity of them.

I do acknowledge that at times I could not follow Baileys’ logic or trend of thought as he delved into the law and was preoccupied with his passion for establishing the grounds for his client’s innocence or the right to an appeal.

I am sure that this book has inspired many young people to enter the legal profession and has been a factor in young lawyers choosing to specialize and become a criminal defense attorney. Even if this is not a factor for you, this book will be a very interesting read.

Please consider leaving your comments below 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Becoming by Michelle Obama

December 7th, 2018 — 12:36am

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story should be of great interest to many people because it is a great example of the American dream of a family who worked so hard that their children could have an opportunity for a good education and success in life. It is a story of how a Black-American was able to overcome the prejudices that still exist in this country. In addition this is a first hand account of an intelligent, ambitious woman who not only achieved success in life but also has worked incessantly to give others a fair chance to make the most of their lives. And of course, it is about a woman who married a man who became president of the United States, which gave her the opportunity to become first lady of this country. In this position, she was able to give hope and opportunity to many others. It is also the inside view of the fascinating life in the White House for eight years during Barack Obama’s presidency.

If you were looking for Michelle Obama’s deep-rooted feelings about Donald Trump, you won’t get too much of an inside story. She was angered by Trump’s supporting the false idea that her husband was not born in the United States and she believed that this endangered her family. She reiterated the fact that he is a misogynist and was appalled of the way he has treated women in the past.

It is not surprising that this Princeton University and Harvard law school graduate can write quite well. Although she credits many people for helping her with this book, I am sure she would be just as clear and interesting in any personal conversation as she was in this very readable and worthwhile book.

Please consider leaving your comments below 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Educated by Tara Westover

August 7th, 2018 — 11:59pm

Educated by Tara Westover

One of the good things about being a member of a book club is that you get to read books that you might not have chosen on your own. This book is in that category for me. It is a nonfiction story which is the first hand account of a woman who grew up in a rural area in Idaho, where her family was fundamentalist strict Mormon. In fact, her father believed that the end of the world is coming and that he and his family should be constantly preparing for this cataclysmic event. He had them preserve and store food, buried gas tanks in the ground and built underground bunkers. The family did not send their kids to school and did not provide any organized home schooling. The account of their lives is written by one of the daughters of the seven children who was taught to read and write by her mother. She kept a diary upon which most of the book was based. It is a paradox how women were treated as inferior and subservient to men, although the author’s mother was a midwife and her father was a laborer who spent most of his time preparing for the end of the world.

However, the most fascinating part of the story is how the young girl who was the author of this book  was horrendously treated by one of her brothers with no support from her parents, was especially put down by her father and had no schooling through high school. However, she was able to take an entrance exam and be accepted to Brigham Young University and ultimately obtained a PHD and became recognized as one of the outstanding scholars at Cambridge University in England.

There is also a  subplot here,  how her father may have had a mental illness and how the author struggled with her  ambivalent feelings about her siblings and parents. She had psychotherapy which occurred when she miraculously became a college student. I wish that she could have elaborated a little bit more about her insight into this component of her life. Nevertheless, this is a unique story that I found to be a fascinating read.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

And then All Hell Broke Loose by Richard Engel

March 17th, 2018 — 5:59pm

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel

I have always enjoyed Richard Engel’s television reports from the Middle East. He comes across as a brave, dedicated, knowledgeable reporter. More recently, I have seen him on NBC with a helmet and flak jacket reporting riots and in the middle of dangerous situations. Therefore, it was quite interesting to read about his determination as a young man to be a reporter and why he chose to specialize in the Middle East. He certainly was ambitious, but he was willing to put in hard work and to climb a ladder going from a freelancer to NBC’s go-to person in the Mid East. His adventures included a situation where he was captured and held prisoner. The book had the makings of a interesting movie or documentary.

The history of this area of the world has always seemed quite complicated to me. As part of this book, Engel makes an effort to trace the history of this part of the world back to ancient times. He makes a professional attempt to describe the history dating back to Mohammed and even earlier. He explains the differences between various groups and sects, such as Shiites and Sunnis and goes into great detail about the various leaders (mostly not elected) who were strong in the various countries and describes how they have impacted the history of this region. He tells how each one came to power as well as why they were able to stay in power or were toppled by opponents, sometimes with or without the help of the United States or other outside countries. I wish I could say that I am greatly enlightened by these descriptions and that I now have a coherent understanding of the history and the various power of factions in the Mid East but unfortunately, that would not be true. While Engel is clearly a knowledgeable scholar of the history and of the intricacies, they still blend together in my mind although I have not given up on trying to master an understanding of them.

While I am sure Engel would disagree, I did feel that he was somewhat unsympathetic to Israel. He noted at one point when he and his young first wife lived in Jerusalem, most of the Americans that he met there “were deeply involved in their temple groups.” He went on to say that he was “never able to break into their close-knit communities.” Also, in describing the Israeli ministers at all level, he noted, “I never saw such a well-oiled public relations machine.” When describing life under the Oslo Agreement, for the Palestinians living in the West Bank, he emphasized how blatantly unfair it was to the Palestinians, “it was a strange system which Palestinians had different rights depending where they lived.” He made the statement that “Many Israelis then and now, scarcely saw the Palestinians as human.” During the confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians throwing rocks at them, he noted that the Israelis shot rubber bullets, which he then added, “could cause fatal hematomas” as if the rocks thrown at the soldiers were not dangerous. Furthermore, in his description of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, I thought he was negative towards Israel. I have never doubted Engel’s attempts at being an objective reporter, but as noted, I did think he was unfairly unsympathetic to Israel.

Despite my feelings about his one-sided view of Israel and my own difficulty in grasping a substantial piece of the history lessons he tried to give, I found this book a very a interesting and worthwhile read from a familiar television reporter for whom I have great admiration.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

10% Happier:How I Tamed the Voices In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works- A True Story by Dan Harris

January 16th, 2018 — 11:36pm

10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris.

I never had a desire to meditate or develop mindfulness. This may be because in my work as a psychiatrist, I am always exploring the past to understand the present. I also seem to be attuned to capturing the present moment for future reflections rather than be intensely into the present. Frequently, I am moved to take photographs to hold on to a special moment. However, that does not mean that I am not curious to understand why many people whom I respect are into some form of achieving mindfulness. I was not quite moved to go to a retreat or read some esoteric books about Buddhism, meditation, or the like. However, when someone recommended this New York Times bestselling book by Dan Harris, a TV news reporter and anchorman, I thought I would give it a try.

This is a down to earth, humorous at times but a genuine journey by a guy who is bothered by the voices in his head (no real hallucinations), racing thoughts (no apparent manic problem) which he felt made him anxious  a good deal of the time. He had tried what appeared to be a reasonable run at psychotherapy, which may have helped somewhat, but his curiosity about exploring mindfulness persisted.

Mr. Harris met some serious practitioners of various forms of mindfulness and meditation, which he describes in a very readable style. He tried very hard (and I believe he succeeded) in explaining his journey and his personal experience. He gives a blow by blow (or should I say breath by breath account) as he learned to look inward to his breathing and his inner thoughts. He carefully describes the various steps, which he has tried as he learned to meditate and tells how it has been meaningful to him. In a humorous and at times self-deprecating manner, he seems to be quite sincere as he shows and discusses his various attempts and experiences. It appears to have worked for him. Not only has it worked for him, but also I believe he has written a very readable and successful book.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

October 2nd, 2017 — 11:29pm

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“History is written by the victor” is a quote by Machiavelli. In this case, it is a loser who tells what happened. Actually, this book is more than an accounting of what happened in the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton had 2.9 million more votes than did Donald Trump but lost the Electoral College and thus lost the presidential race. This book provides an insight into the persona, personal development and most important, the hopes and aspirations that Hillary Clinton has for this country. She also shares her shock, surprise, disappointment and, devastation that she experienced in losing this election.

Hillary does deliver what the title of the book promises. She explains the story or should we say the non-story of her, “emails. ” and essentially states that FBI Director Comey’s suggestion that she was being investigated for criminal activity concerning her emails which in fact was a very minor situation and that he did not mention that Trump’s campaign was being investigated for the serious activity of colluding with the Russians was quite harmful to her. The suggestion that she was participating in criminal activity that really had no basis but nevertheless gained the news initiative and allowed her opposition to use it against her essentially changed the outcome which all the polls were projecting as a win for her. Clinton also discussed the role of the Soviet Union in cyber attacks on the United States election which are now being developed in the current news stories.

Although she is fairly confident that she would have won the election if it had not been for the timing of Comey’s ill-stated unfair public statements, she also makes an effort to examine how her opponent had tapped into a segment of the U.S. population that was hurting and believed that they were not understood. It’s quite apparent that Hillary Clinton was unambivalent as to her opinion of the character of her opponent. She felt that Trump was a narcissist and a liar. A couple of years ago, I read an interesting book titled The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It tells how ex-presidents of the United States get together from time to time to share experiences and engage in discussions and activities which are usually quite cordial and constructive. I could not help but wonder how Hillary might interact with Trump should she be accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to such a gathering in the future.

I have a photo of Hillary with my then 10-year-old granddaughter which was taken during the 2016 campaign which I titled, “Two future presidents”. Clinton does share her sadness that she has disappointed so many women, young and old, who were expecting her to break through the glass ceiling. In fact, her planned victory speech was going to be in a room with lighting that would give the illusion of a shattered glass ceiling. Hillary shares with the readers how painful it has been to disappoint so many people who pinned their hopes on her for changes and opportunities that would have been related to her accomplishment in being the first woman president of the United States. However, she does appear to be coming around to recognizing that she has set the stage for another woman to accomplish this feat which she hopes will happen in her lifetime. She plans to continue to be active in many ways and I am sure that she will continue to make a difference.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

Just Mercy -A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

February 20th, 2017 — 2:56pm

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I must admit that when I started this book, I was not in favor of the death penalty, mainly because I felt there might be some isolated cases where someone might be executed when they were innocent and actually did not commit premeditated murder. Now after having read this eye-opening excellent book. I am strongly against the death penalty for many reasons. I have a much more enlightened view of the criminal justice system in the United States and the tremendous injustices brought about by mass incarceration particularly in the south, to blacks and also to children who are often tried and sentenced as if they were grown adults. I had no idea of the miscarriages of justice that occur in this country.

The person I have to thank for this new valuable insight is the author of this book, Bryan Stevenson. Through his writing, I learned how as a Harvard law student, he volunteered to assist a small group working in Alabama to appeal death sentences of of prisoners on death row. His interest in this work led him to devote his career to working in this area and ultimately founding the Equal Justice Institute in Alabama. He has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant.

In this book, Stevenson allows the reader to understand in great detail how in many cases, clearly innocent people were railroaded through the criminal justice system to a guilty and death penalty sentence. Improper jury selection, failure of defense lawyers to bring in witnesses or important exculpatory evidence, prosecutors who hid important evidence from the defense and judges making improper rulings were just some of the factors which put innocent people on death row. There also were numerous examples of people being sentenced to death in prison (meaning a life sentence) often for non-homicidal crimes. There also was a description of the treatment of children to the same fate. Many of these teenage kids, sometimes 13 years old, were clearly innocent or were only peripherally involved in a non-homicidal crime but nevertheless were sentenced to death in prison via a life sentence. The predominance of these injustices occurred in southern states mainly to blacks which revealed this phenomenon as an extension of slavery in this country. Speaking of slavery, I could not believe the forced coercion that occurred in many prisons which was clearly cruel and unfair. Any failure of these prisoners to participate in such activities which might be picking cotton or operating sometimes dangerous machinery for long hours could lead to very uncomfortable solitary confinement as well as beatings and other violent attacks.

It is one thing to discuss all this issues with statistics and general statements which were then documented. In fact, seven and a half percent of this book was made up of documented lawyer-like references or citations to substantiate the terrible injustices described. However, it is even more effective when the author goes into great detail describing the history of real people whose lives are destroyed by unfair imprisonment and horrendous treatment. Mr. Stevenson’s personal interaction with many of these prisoners brings them to life in the pages of this book and makes a need to improve our justice system all the more imperative. It is also easy to empathize with his feelings not only for the innocent unfairly treated adults and children, but even those who were guilty of crimes and may deserve some punishment but also deserve our mercy.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, O - Other - Specify, P - Political

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

December 16th, 2016 — 1:05am

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-59-30-pmHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis

by J.D. Vance

This is a compassionate view of the white lower working class in which the author grew up. It provides an insight to the part of rural America which supported the incoming President of the United States, Donald Trump. The author proudly wears the name “hillbilly” and acknowledges that many parts of America look down upon that designation.

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio after his grandparents immigrated from Kentucky where coal mining jobs and other work were drying up and the mills and factories of the Mid-West seemed to offer opportunity for employment and some upward mobility. As we know, more recently there have been rough times for this area which became known as the “rust belt.” If you are not coming from a family of some means that is handed over to you, one must rely on the character traits that you have that will motivate you and allow you to navigate in this world. Family is very crucial here. J.D. Vance certainly did not have a role model from his parents. His mother, who showed flashes of caring for him did not provide emotional or any other type of support. She was a drug addict who ran through about five different husbands.

J.D. Vance’s saviors were his grandparents. His grandfather known as Papaw was probably an alcoholic who at least had a job but didn’t form any strong bond with the author. The most important person to him in his youth was his grandmother known as Mamaw – a very tough woman with whom he periodically lived and who gave him confidence in himself. He was obviously bright but came very close to dropping out of high school. Thanks to Mamaw, an occasional teacher and perhaps one or two other relatives he developed the “right stuff” not only to graduate high school but then had the where with all to join the United States Marine Corps where he served for four years. Having recently seen the movie “Fences” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, we also appreciated another situation where joining the Marine Corps after high school, in this case a young black man was able to receive support and direction that he couldn’t get from his family.

J.D. Vance’s success in going through Ohio State University after the Marine Corps and working at various jobs to provide him money that he needed reflected his determination. He was then surprised at getting accepted at Yale Law School with very good financial support because he was probably the most needy student that was admitted that year. His observations of what it meant to be a student at Yale Law School were notable. He made the point that it was the connections and the networking which made all the difference in the world and opened so many doors for him.

Mr. Vance on one hand makes the point that self-will and determination are the necessary ingredients to succeed in the world but he also says that he wouldn’t have succeeded without the love and confidence in him provided by his grandparents. Without these factors he is sure he would not have made it out of Appalachia. This book informs us about the lives, trials and tribulations of people that many of us might never meet. It provides important insight and raises some very stimulating questions. It is a book well worth reading.

 

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

My Way by Paul Anka

November 21st, 2016 — 4:44pm

My Way by Paul Ankascreen-shot-2016-11-21-at-2-08-00-am

I have always enjoyed the music of Paul Anka. So when someone told me that he wrote this book and told all about the behind the scenes goings on of the Rat Pack in Las Vegas, I thought it might be worth reading, especially since Frank Sinatra has always been one of my heroes.

Well, it turned out to be a very interesting book, but the heroes moved down a couple of notches. Frank Sinatra turns out to frequently be an unpleasant drunk when he drank lot which he often did. Sammy Davis, Jr., is shown to be a promiscuous bisexual but interestingly enough, Dean Martin wasn’t the lush that was often his public persona and apparently avoided the wild drinking parties of the other Rat Pack members.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that women were objectified by this group. Sinatra apparently surprised his friends when he said in response to a question that the women who was best in bed wasn’t Ava Gardner but was Angie Dickinson, adding according to Anka that he said he “really loved that woman.”

Paul Anka was born in Canada and burst on to the world stage as a teenager. He is a very talented singer and songwriter who has reinvented himself several time and still is performing into his ‘70s. His love of his work clearly comes through in this book. His song writing ability and his decision to write for other performers as well as himself makes him quite unique. He wrote Frank Sinatra’s signature song “My Way” and even wrote the Tonight Show theme song among numerous other mega hit songs. He has performed in just about every major venue around the world and has recorded bestselling albums in the United States and in other countries, as well as in different languages. Not only was he friends and part of the Rat Pack but he was also good friends with Elvis, Bobby Darin, Bob Dylan and numerous other big name stars.

The person who writes the book gets to paint his own history and is able to tell about others any way that he wishes to do so. For example, Anka relates how Ed McMahon was a somewhat stingy guy and one time Anka played a joke on him by calling his hotel room and pretending to be the hotel staff. He told McMahon that there were going to be noisy renovations taking place near his room and that they can move him to another room or let him stay there for free and give him ear muffs to block out the sound which was the choice that McMahon made.

The reader gets the impression that Anka avoided heavy drinking and drugs and we only get a vague reference that he had all the girls he wanted early in his career. He tells how he loved his parents who were quite supportive of him. His mother died at an early age and his father helped him in his business. Anka had five daughters from his first marriage which lasted 38 years and then was briefly married for 18 months. He revealed very little about his personal foibles but I thought his description of his long marriage and the breakup was notable and I will quote part of it here.

I am a singer of love songs, I sing songs of everlasting love, how you’re the only one – and I believe in it. But sometimes these things don’t work out in your private life. I was married to Anne for 38 years and I love her still. She is the mother of my five daughters who have all brought terrific son-in-laws into our family and we had a great life together. I love this woman. I always will. Getting divorced from Anne was just something I had to do for myself. Our kids were gone, our lives changed, our relationship changed. I can’t remain in something – even a long time of loving marriage – when I’m no longer experiencing things honestly. I didn’t want to be dishonest to someone I love even if that meant separating and so in 2001, Anne and I were divorced. There was no animosity, no big fights – I just wanted out of the box. We talk almost every day… I gave Anne everything that was legally hers and I threw in our art collection (that is worth millions) because I know how much she loved it, and other considerations but I said, “None of this down the middle stuff.

Anka appears to be very gratified for his great success as a performer, he describes many musicians, managers, agents, and performers who were his good friends. He detailed his relationship with Steve Wynn, the wealthy Las Vegas hotel mogul and his many interesting stories about him including one about Donald Trump which is in character with his current persona.

Towards the end of the book, Anka clearly describes how he feels every time he performs and steps on the stage. The intensity of that experience and his connection with the audience is very impressive.

I am sure he didn’t write this book for the royalties that it might bring. He probably chose to share at least part of his life and perhaps try to influence the legacy that he will leave. It was a nice read but he need not worry, as his music will live on and define Paul Anka for many generations. To listen to one of Paul Anka’s biggest hits click here.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Back to top