Category: B – Biography

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev by Julie Gray

May 14th, 2022 — 12:16pm

The True Adventures of Gidon Lev by Julie Gray

Gidon Lev is one of a small number of children who survived the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt. He went on to travel through Europe and then spent time in Canada and the United States before settling on a kibbutz in Israel. He has led a full fascinating and complicated life including two marriages and several children. Gidon met Ms. Gray who is 30 years his junior and is an experienced and accomplished memoir writer. They collaborated for what must have been several years traveling together throughout the world tracing Gidon Lev’s fascinating life, which included many tragedies, complications, and great joys. She put together a memoir that is written by her but interspersed and weaved together with Gidon’s first person account.

It happens that I read this book while the world was witnessing the tragic war in Ukraine. The television news is filled with videos and stories of the killing of innocent civilians and refugees including children who witnessed these tragic killings, now traveling to new countries. I could not help to conflate these tragic accounts with Gidon’s description of his own refugee days with these present experiences.

There was one time period in the 1960s when Gidon lived outside of Jerusalem and described in detail the growth of the young Jewish state and the atmosphere that he experienced. It just so happened that my wife and I as students spent the summer in that time period, working at Hadassah Hospital and then we were a given a fascinating tour throughout Israel. This experience made Gidon’s description of the spirit of the people of Israel something that we could relate to and had some firsthand understanding about.

Then of course, when Gidon wrote about his experience during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and Israel being attacked by hostile Arab countries, once again our daily TV stories of the Russian invasion of Ukraine made a realistic visual impact for the words I was reading in Gidon’s description.

This book is not just a firsthand historical journey, it is also a very personal story of Gidon’s life including his reconnection with his children after his first wife unexpectedly took them to the United States with little clue to Gidon where they might be living.This is an unusual collaboration between an accomplished memoir writer and the subject who spent significant time together retracing and reexamining Gidon’s life. The book is a worthwhile experience and an insight into history as well as the study of the character of a remarkable man.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, B - Biography

A Woman Of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

August 2nd, 2019 — 2:33pm

Woman of No Importance-The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

Virginia Hall was born in the United States, grew up in Baltimore and studied at Columbia University. She moved to France prior to World War II. As a young woman, she also had a tragic accident during a hunting trip where she shot her leg and ended up with a wooden prosthesis.

When World War II broke out and the Germans invaded France, circumstances plus dedication and brilliance led her to become one of the key figures in the French Resistance Movement. The author of this book, Sonia Purnell, spent a great deal of time and effort painstakingly studying the life and the amazing accomplishments of this woman who worked with the French underground. Virginia used numerous forged documents and also had a cover of being a correspondent for the New York Post, but in reality, she was organizing and participating in deadly sabotage against the occupying Nazis. She trained hundreds of members of the French underground. She risked her life numerous times in various operations. She went to extreme efforts to secretly maintain contact with the British for whom she was working via radio coded message. She guided many missions which included arranging the parachute drops of guns, explosives, and other supplies needed in the activities of the French underground against the occupying Germans. She devised complicated plots to free captured prisoners. She had many close calls and could have been captured and tortured as was the fate of many of her comrades. After D-Day she arranged numerous attacks on the German troops who were heading towards Normandy.

As a reader of this book, we got the feeling that we are by her side as she plans and carried out dangerous missions. She then escapes France via walking through the snow-covered mountains through Spain. Ultimately, Virginia falls in love with a young man who she encountered in her work and they eventually got married. This book is well written and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Virginia was ultimately awarded many medals including the highest French Medal of Honor. After the end of World War II, she worked for the CIA, assisting in spy activities directed against the communists.

As exciting and informative as this amazing story was, at times, I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters many of whom had French names. I also could not always picture the exact geography as she moved through different parts of France as well as during her escape via Spain. It would have been great if there could have been a directory of the many characters that we meet in this book and a brief description of them as well as a map where the reader could trace her adventures and travel. That being said, any student of history, especially if one wants the inside view of World War II should read this book. It also will be a satisfying read for anyone looking for a well-written spy story.

If you wish to purchase this book from Amazon please click here

Comment » | B - Biography, HI - History, P - Political

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

February 28th, 2017 — 4:49pm

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

As is often the case, 30-year-old Jeff Hobbs had drifted apart from his college roommate when he learned that Robert Peace had tragically been killed. (No spoiler here as the title suggested it all). They had occasionally been in contact in the seven or eight years since they graduated from Yale. Hobbs was a budding writer with a novel under his belt. It must have been a combination of his knowing that his old roommate’s life was a story worth telling and his own grieving process that made him embark upon this project.

Once Hobbs decided to write a full book about Rob’s life, he spent about three and a half years talking to Rob’s family, especially Jackie, his mother, close friends, classmates and even some drug dealers. Hobbs basically reconstructed Rob’s life with a vivid description of events and circumstances including meaningful conversations that Rob had with various people in his life. The reader gets an insight into this young man’s intelligence and his feelings about other people. The story gives us a painting of how Rob grew up and how hard his mother worked to support him and motivate him. She worked numerous hours while also caring for her own sick mother. Rob’s close relationship with his father was very important to him. He visited his father in prison frequently for many years until his father died in prison while Rob was in college. Rob also worked even as a teenager, studying legal books to try to help his father appeal his conviction for murder for which he may have been wrongly convicted.

The reader understands Rob as a poor, very bright African-American young man who learned to navigate the streets of his New Jersey neighborhood Orange near Newark, as well as a Catholic High School and then Yale We appreciate how Rob handled the drug environment where he grew up and the mostly marijuana use that he saw at college and even became a trafficker in it. We viewed Rob at times as a scientist who studied molecular biology as a student and a researcher. We viewed him as an outstanding water polo player in high school and college and even after college, we see him struggling to find himself and plan for a possible future career at the same time that he was supporting himself by selling marijuana. He was a sensitive, empathic friend to many who was always ready to be very supportive in any way that he could.

The reader has to ask the question, did Rob’s life have to end the way that it did? It wasn’t just bad luck. There obviously were things that he could not overcome. Since this has become a popular book, it will be read by many young people including some poor bright kids like Rob, probably many African-American young men. Most will probably ask this same question, did his life have to end the way that it did? At one point while in college, he was called on the carpet by the school dean for selling marijuana. He could have been expelled but he was given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again. We know that you can’t force people to enter therapy but I can’t help wondering if Rob had ever found his way into psychotherapy and had a meaningful relationship with a therapist, maybe he could have made the connections that might have derailed him from the bad decisions and indecision that occurred in the last year of his life.

This man obviously impacted many men and women as a teacher, coach and friend. In that way, he made a positive difference in people’s lives. This well-written book will also allow his life story to continue to influence others so the short life of Robert Peace won’t be so short after all.

To obtain this book from Amazon, please click here

Comment » | B - Biography

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

January 21st, 2016 — 10:26pm

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 2.17.50 PMThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough

We all know that two wrongs don’t make a right. So when I showed my 9-year-old granddaughter this book that I was reading and asked her if she knew what it was about, she gave me the riddle, “What do two rights make?” An airplane of course.

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author for Truman and John Adams has taken on two additional American heroes, Wilbur and Orville Wright. McCullough had a trove of documents to work on, mostly now residing in the Library of Congress and in museums in the Wright Brothers hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Obviously there were no instant messages, iPhones, or e-mail correspondence during their lifetimes and like many of their contemporaries, they wrote numerous letters and kept extensive diaries. McCullough mined these sources as well as the newspapers and magazines of that era.

Wilbur was four years older than Orville. They had two older brothers and a younger sister and there were two twins born in between Orville and Wilbur who died at birth. Their father was a Bishop in the Church of the United Brethren of Christ who traveled a great deal. Their mother, who it was said to had given them their mechanical ability, died three years before their first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1902. The family was very close and supported each other. Katharine, the sister, who was a teacher shared very much in the Wright Brothers’ success and traveled with them at the time that they received worldwide acclaim.

Perhaps it is a screen memory (an unconscious one constructed in retrospect) but the brothers recalled their father bringing home a toy for them when they were quite young which was a helicopter which flew with twisted rubber bands and suggested that this possibly was the origin of their interest in flying. A first-grade teacher remembers Orville sitting at his desk with bits of wood and telling her he was making a machine of a kind that he and his brother would fly someday.

Wilbur and Orville were obviously extremely bright although they never went to college. They opened a print shop while in high school and went on to open a bicycle store where they made and sold bicycles. This was the environment in which they began working on a flying machine.

McCullough traces with the accuracy of the historian that he is, each step of the Wright Brothers journey. Initially building a glider and then the development of intricate wings that could do special movement that the brothers meticulously developed. He describes the addition of the motor and propeller. We learned about the people throughout the world who were trying to be the first in flight and their relationship with the Wright Brothers. This book focuses mainly on an approximate a 10-year period from Kitty Hawk to the glorious flights in Paris and New York.

Overall, there seemed to be great camaraderie between the various pioneers of flight throughout the world with the Wright Brothers. However, there were some conflicts and some patent disputes that the Wright Brothers had with other flyers of the day. Ultimately, there was tremendous acclaim for the Wright Brothers. I think it is worth quoting the words of President Taft upon presenting the Wright Brothers with some awards in the White House. He said:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done.I am so glad perhaps at a delayed hour to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American – by keeping your noses right at the job until you have accomplished which you had determined to do.

According to McCullough there was rarely friction between the Wright Brothers themselves. They were a well oiled team who understood each others’ strengths and worked very smoothly together. While their relationship was detailed very clearly, what seemed to be missing was their personal lives. Either the author chose not to include any special social interactions or there essentially were none. It is hard to believe that there is no mention of any girlfriends or romantic interests. When Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45, Orville and his sister Katherine moved into a new house with their father. Orville became involved in their business details which now were quite complicated as the famed inventor. When at the age of 59 his sister decided to get married, Orville was reported to be very disturbed and negative about her plan which she carried out anyway.

I, probably like most of you, take flying for granted. I am more concerned about the arrival time, legroom, and how I should occupy myself during the flight. David McCullough’s book provides an unforgettable tribute to the brothers from Dayton, Ohio who made all of our flights possible.


Comment » | B - Biography, HI - History, T - Recommended for Teenagers, Uncategorized

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

December 25th, 2014 — 5:52pm

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand– I read this book and wrote this review prior to seeing the movie by the same name. I do plan to see it and will review it in Shot 2014-12-25 at 1.30.47 PM (click here to see review)

Louie Zampereini was an Italian-American boy from a poor family who was raised in Torrance, California. He was a rough and tumble kid who had a propensity for stealing things and getting into trouble. He was fast on his feet and ultimately developed into a record breaking track star who participated in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. When World War II came about he signed up for the Army Air Force and became a bombardier. Early in the war his plane on a mission crash-landed in the Pacific Ocean where he and two other airman survived in rafts for 47 days as they drifted 2000 miles. During this time they battled starvation, dehydration, hungry sharks and storms as well as Japanese planes that strafed them with machinegun fire. If you think this was bad you should see what happened after they were rescued at sea…by the Japanese and made prisoners of war (although they were never treated according to the Geneva Convention rules for POWs). We see how things were absolutely terrible and how demeaning the treatment of American Prisoners was, ironically clearly much worse than the German Nazis reportedly dealt with their American captives. Louis was apparently treated much more savagely once he was recognized as an Olympic track star.

Being a member of the Silent Generation and having come of age in the decade following WWII, I grew up as a kid reading all sorts of stories and seeing all the movies about this war. Even now as an older guy I am still drawn to a book such as this one. I am sorry to say that reading about the awful treatment by the Japanese of the helpless American prisoners, my old negative prejudiced feelings about the Japanese people were awakened. I know these are irrational and are related to issues from a previous generation. Although a few kind guards were mentioned, there clearly was, at that time, an institutionalized culture of cruel, vicious treatment of the Americans who were starved, tortured and made to do slave labor. We see these atrocities through the eyes of Zamperini who was officially considered dead by his government although his family seemed to have never given up hope for him. We trace his ordeal as he is moved to various prison camps and was never registered with the Red Cross as a POW although that was the usual procedure mostly followed by the Japanese who nevertheless hid their maltreatment of their captives.

The book does not end with his liberation at the end of the war. It follows Zamperini’s reintegration into civilization and his seeming resilience but also his very dark and destructive periods, which were almost as bad as you can imagine. The author Laura Hillenbrand, who previously wrote the best seller Seabiscuit had access to diaries, newspaper articles, radio and television interviews and a gigantic trove of people to interview who knew Zamperini in the various phases of his life including those who were imprisoned with him and close family members. She also had the opportunity to interview Zamperini himself more than 75 times and became quite close to him before he died in July of 2014 at the age of 97.

At times the book seems overly repetitious. Perhaps it felt that way because it was so painful. I am not giving away the ending because the title clearly does that but this book is also about the human spirit. As an outsider who didn’t live through his ordeal and didn’t live through this time as an adult, I can only try to get into Louis’ head through this book. When we try to do this, there is a tendency for us to be traumatized. At one point in the book we learn that recently there was a commemorative memorial made by the local Japanese people at the site of one of the camps at which Zamperini spent much of his time. It honored and remembered the prisoners who were there, many of them who had died there. We are also told that there are pictures of six birds flying in the sky as symbols of the memory for 6 of the prison guards who were tried as war criminals and executed! On the day that I am writing this review there is a front page article in the New York Times that discusses the current Japanese Prime Minister Abe and his hope to bring about a change in the Japanese constitution which was written post war by the Americans and forbids Japan from ever going to war again. Time marches on.


1 comment » | B - Biography, HI - History

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Rossevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

February 11th, 2014 — 1:09am

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism- by Doris Kearns Goodwinimages I always thought that I was fairly well educated in American history but now after encountering this magnificent book I realize how little I knew about two great American presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Doris Kearns Goodwin, more recently known for Team of Rivals about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, chose with good reason to couple Roosevelt and Taft in this massive writing project. My electronic reader had about 4870 pages (this will vary with the size of the screen and font) and Amazon showed the hard cover version having 910 pages including the index. In fact by my count almost 15% of the book were footnotes and the index, which is keeping with the scholarly approach of Ms. Goodwin. This does not mean that this is a slow or dry read. To the contrary, the reader is drawn into the lives of these fascinating men and the time period in which they were making American history. I had to remind myself that I was not reading a novel. Quite early in the book Ms. Kearns has chosen to demonstrate that these two men had become very good friends and in fact Roosevelt was of prime importance in allowing Taft to follow him as President after his two terms. But shortly after Taft became President, there occurred a rift between the two that essentially at one point made them bitter enemies. The book exams each of their lives and follows their trajectories. This is done by alternating chapters that shows in depth the various stages of their lives. In the course of seeing their individual assents to the top, we learn they became friends, colleagues and the nature of the extremely close relationship that developed. Ultimately we also were able to follow the lives of these two men and their careers, which is the story of the progressive movement in the United States. It also tells the amazing story of Sam McClure and the muckraker journalists. In a world where there was no mass media, no radio, television or Internet; a magazine by the name of McClure’s Magazine was extremely popular. The magazine evolved from the leading literary magazine to one that provided extensive investigations and in-depth exposes, which led to political and social changes in the regulation by the government of several monopolistic industries. Some of the respected authors and journalists who wrote for McClure include Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When McClure moved to important political issues his authors included Ida Tarbell who told the story behind John Rockefeller and the Standard Oil monopoly, Ray Baker who wrote about the Right to Work and the terrible treatment of those who attempted to organize labor and Lincoln Steffens who was best known for his writing about political corruption. There was also a discussion about the well known muckraker Upton Sinclair whose novel The Jungle told of the horrors of the meatpacking industry. It is most striking how these writers not only had great impact on the public but also how receptive Teddy Roosevelt was to meet them in person and learn first hand of their investigations. This all led to the major reforms that were started by Roosevelt and carried forth by Taft and how Congress was pressured to respond with the needed legislation. In order to appreciate the depth and insight that Doris Kearns Goodwin was able to achieve about these two Presidents and the events of the day, you have to understand the sources, which she used. As would be expected, there are numerous quotes from the newspapers of that time which followed the contemporary political events and personalities. The personal method for communication was letter writing. A great deal of the personal and official correspondence of these figures has been preserved. There also are available to historians and writers, the diaries of many of them as well as those of people close to them which often reflect the details of events as well as the emotional tone, which occurred in various interactions. Eventually many of the key players wrote autobiographies and others wrote biographies about them. Kearns and her fact gathering team pieced things together so the book read like a well-written novel I imagine that different readers will come away with varied impressions, particularly about these two U.S Presidents. It does seem that I now know more about them than I do about many important people in the news today and probably more than I do about many everyday people with whom I interact. As much as I admire Teddy Roosevelt and appreciate his accomplishments and determination to do what he believed was right for this country (and was subsequently proven to be correct), I also appreciate his shortcomings. He became a national hero when he led, the Rough Riders into Cuba to needlessly risk his life and others which was more likely a personal ego trip. His break with his very close friend William Howard Taft was clearly his doing because he felt slighted for clearly insignificant reasons. Even his formation of the ill-fated Bull Moose Party which cost Taft the chance to serve a second term seemed to be another ego trip. On the other hand, Taft came across to be a very sincere person who not only cared about the people he served but had the ability to feel empathy for the individuals in his life including Roosevelt. It is ironic that Taft who would have chosen being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court over being president, which he probably never really wanted to be, never-the-less accomplished so much in his one term as president and then fortuitously had a chance to serve as Chief Justice in his later years. These are just a few samplings of the type of insights you may get as you read about these men and the history of their times.

Comment » | B - Biography, HI - History, P - Political

Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

December 1st, 2013 — 1:13am

1016BOOK-articleInlineJohnny Carson by Henry Bushkin Imagine that you have a good friend with whom you visit on a regular basis for more than 15 years . He died several years ago and you learn that someone who knew him very well has just written a book about him. You probably would be very drawn to want to read that book as was I when this book came out about Johnny Carson. I would periodically watch the Tonite Show, which he hosted for thirty years between 1962 and 1992. The book was written by Henry Bushkin, who Carson once described as his best friend. Bushkin met Carson in 1970 when he was interviewed by him and hired as his personal attorney when Bushkin was just a few years out of law school. As I got into the book I developed the uncomfortable feeling that not only was the author not being a very loyal friend by revealing Carson’s personal life and depicting him as mostly not a very nice guy, but that he also was breaching his code of ethics as a lawyer by discussing things that were told to him in his role as Carson’s attorney. (I understand that lawyers may debate the issue of whether such lawyer client privilege exists after death.) For example very early in his tenure as Carson’s lawyer he accompanied him and a small raiding party that broke into Carson’s second wife’s apartment in which she was living while they were separated. She wasn’t there at the time and the purpose of the break-in was to discover evidence that she was having an affair which they did find. Bushkin was ready to answer the police if they were caught by claiming that it was Johnny’s apartment since he was providing all his wife’s financial support at that time. There was a time during Carson’s run with NBC when his contract was due to run out and he was being courted by ABC. All the behind the scenes secret details how  Bushkin and Carson led ABC on to think that they might go with them while using the inducements being offered to them by ABC to extract more from NBC were revealed. Johnny’s marital infidelities were also freely discussed with a hint that Bushkin was also cheating on his own  wife. In fact, Bushkin’s explanation for his own wife leaving him was because she couldn’t tolerate his putting Carson over her as he would be frequently away in the evening as well as out of town whenever Carson traveled and needed him. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this book was the depiction of  Johnny Carson’s character  as a superficial man who had very little capacity to care about other people. He was shown to have no meaningful relationship with his sons when they were children or adults. When Joan Rivers,  who he invited to be a substitute host for him on his show many times, accepted a deal to have her own show on another network opposite his show, he never spoke with her again. His need to be praised and adored by others, as well as his questionable honesty, was illustrated by how he played tennis. Bushkin who apparently was an excellent tennis player was expected to play tennis with Carson, who loved the game, Bushkin noted that Carson would frequently call line shots in his favor even when they were not and would accept (and apparently expect) Bushkin calling them in Carson’s favor even when they were not.  Bushkin attributed Carson’s inability to have genuine caring relationships to be related to his mother Ruth who was described as a nasty person. It was clear that Bushkin became a very wealthy man himself as result of his association with Carson and participation in some of the business deals that he helped set up for his boss. Carson eventually fired Bushkin in 1988 because he felt that he was not being totally loyal to him and did not put Carson’s interest above his own.  Therefore it should be of little surprise as with this book Carson’s “good friend” and attorney appears to care little about preserving his legacy and  reputation as the warm likeable guy that so many people spent so many evenings with as they enjoyed The Tonite Show. The end product which he produced is really quite superficial and probably doesn’t “tell all” but certainly “belittles much” about Johnny . Don’t reward the author as I did by purchasing this book.  If  you must read it, take it out from the library.

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Whitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

March 30th, 2013 — 11:56pm

Whitey BulgerWhitey Bulger: American’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice by Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy

As I write this book review, Whitey Bulger sits in jail after being on the run for than 15 years before he was captured with his girlfriend in Santa Monica, California where they had been living under assumed false names. Whitey is scheduled for trial in June of this year (2013) in Boston where he is accused of committing numerous murders plus other crimes which took place over more than fifty years. The statue of limitations is 20 years for all crimes except murder.  Even now prior to this long anticipated trial  there are numerous legal maneuvers taking place, the latest being the replacement of a federal judge who was ordered to step down from the trail because he was  federal prosecutor in Boston in the 1980s at the time Bulger was working as an FBI informant while allegedly committing crimes including murder.

This book which is written by two award winning   Boston Globe crime reporters who have researched book in great detail which is documented at the end of their work. The references include various books and articles as well as interviews with many  of criminals who were at one time confederates of  Bulger, federal and local law officers, as well as an assortment of other people whose paths crossed with Whitey Bulger.

There is no doubt that this man is one of most remarkable criminals of our time and yet on the other hand is a typical product of the south side of Boston for his generation. Not that most of the young men who grew up there at that time became criminals. Whitey’s own brother Bill Bulger became one of the most prominent and popular members of the Massachusetts state legislature. Others of the kids in his neighborhood became lawyers judges, doctors businessmen etc. Perhaps what characterized them was being children of immigrants (in this case Irish  whereas in other nearby locales it was Italian), poverty, hard working parents, competitiveness, being a street fighter when necessary and usually intense loyalty to one’s buddies. Why some kids would choose a life of crime, drugs or drug dealing, be gamblers, or run protection schemes and shakedowns is a complicated questions and even this insightful book couldn’t really figure it out. What is clear, is that Whitey Bulger grew up as very smart tough guy and served honorably in the US military, became up a budding criminal  and as a young man spent a lot of time  in federal prisons including Alcatraz. An interesting sidelight of his early years of incarceration in the 1950s and 60s, is that while in prison he volunteered, in exchange for some time off his sentence, to be subject in the infamous government sponsored research about LSD. He had no way of knowing about the resultant persistent hallucinations and periodic paranoia that he would have for several years before they faded into the background. This is not to suggest that LSD was responsible for his subsequent life of crime but it is an early  example of how his life became greatly impacted by the federal government.

Upon his release from federal detention after serving a substantial number of years, still in his 30s perhaps with some intention of going straight, he soon became very involved with the crime and the gangster world of the Irish gangs vs the Italian (Mafia ) gangs. He became enmeshed  in a life of crime which mostly included bank robberies, shakedowns and protection for the gamblers and drug dealers, as well as an occasional murder of another bad guy who from his point of view clearly deserved this fate. During the course of this life style he made the acquaintance of some FBI guys – one in particular who were interested in using him as an informant as was a common practice of the G-Men.  Whitey got drawn into this role along with one of his partners in crime , although they didn’t  take money for passing on information particularly info about their competitors in the Mafia. His relationship with the FBI is probably the most revealing aspect of this book and an area which has already been a fascinating subject for students of this era and are sure to be a focal point of the upcoming trial of Bulger. Some of the FBI agents grew up in the same home territory as Bulger. They themselves were seemingly fascinated and intrigued by the underworld of crime which they interacted with as they extracted information from their informers which allowed them to eliminate many of the leading criminals of that time. At least one of Whitey’s FBI handlers received great honors and commendations from his higher up in the FBI. Whitey on the other hand was often tipped off in ways that protected him from being caught and which also identified other criminals who were working against him . This led to Whitey having to eliminate some of them.  It seemed pretty clear that these FBI people knew of Whitey’s high crimes including many murders which on occasion even accidentally murdered the wrong person and at least two times killed  women for various reasons. Now that Whitey Bulger is coming up for trial and a new generation of agents and prosecutors appear ready to ask for whatever justice is possible for society and the families of these murdered victims, what will this now 83 year old man reveal about his life of crime and his relationship  with the FBI ?

The authors have done a very good job in documenting this man’s life and his relationships. At times,  I thought they overdid descriptions of his everyday mundane life in the name of being as complete as they could. Of course they were writing in the third person and they could only imagine his inner thoughts and feelings, based on all their sources which included people quoting Whitey and telling and even a few of his writings and letters. As interesting as the story and the life of this man is, I did not have any certainty that they really got inside of his head. I could not help compare this book to another story of a gangster criminal that I recently read, “I Heard You Paint Houses” which is the story of the man who says he killed Jimmy Hoffa and describes the details in a very believable fashion. That book was written by Charles Brandt, a former prosecutor based on interviews and the cooperation of the subject, another Irishman Frank Sheeran who was very close although not a full fledged member of the Mafia. It felt 100% genuine. Nevertheless the Bulger story is unique enough and one that is known to most Bostonians and should be known by anyone fascinated by crime in America. This is especially true  as the trial goes on  which is scheduled to take place June . It  will be certainly in all the  newspapers and featured on all those news magazine tv shows, and this book  will allow you to have a deeper understanding of one the most important criminals cases of the last century as it comes to it’s final conclusion.

Comment » | B - Biography

My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn

April 21st, 2012 — 11:13pm

My Father’s Fortune—Michael Frayn is an accomplished author and playwright who has written the story of his father’s life which is in part  an autobiography of his own youth growing up in the outskirts of London. The author has already exceeded the life span of his father who died at the age of 69. The book is Frayn’s attempt of a remembrance of his father, which he wishes to pass on to future generations of his family. By his own words, his father was not a remarkable man, rather quite typical for the times. His son is able to put  this story in public view because he is an accomplished writer who writes quite well and has a history of successful award winning novels and plays. It is not because it is a captivating unique, particularly insightful view into the human psyche. As a psychiatrist who has had the privilege of listening to many family histories in great detail over the years, this one as presented doesn’t not rate very high as one with complex  or unusual revealing psycho dynamics. Of course it was not the purpose of this author to purport his story as anything more than the tale of his beloved father.

Certainly since the author’s mother died when he was a pre-adolescent, his father took on a more significant role in his life . This was especially pertinent because his subsequent stepmother never became very important to him or to his sister. His father was a poorly educated man who had a difficult childhood, had a hereditary hearing deficit (which was not passed on to his sister or himself) and worked as an asbestos salesman for most of his life. He never had much money and would always prefer to buy something second hand or improvise even when he could afford things. He wasn’t particularly affectionate to his kids and actually made his son feel that he was a disappointment to him because he never quite caught on to the British national sport of cricket. In retrospect, the author appreciated his father’s effort to see that he had a good education which made a difference in his life especially  because he became a man of words.

It should be mentioned that the picture which he painted of his only younger sibling was not very flattering. He noted that she chose not to talk to him or his second wife for most of his adult life, without any reason known to the author. In the end, the book as broadens the reader’s cultural awareness, by describing a close up look at one family in London, in the generation spanning before, during and after World War II. The family highlight was the family’s experience with the “doodle bomb”  which was the Nazi’s pilot less rocket bombs which frequently attacked their neighborhood and all of London.
We cannot fault this talented author for wanting to tell the story of his family for future generations of his progeny. However, it would have been twice as good a read had the author instead written a novel and weaved a plot or an interesting storyline on top of all the descriptions of the events of his family.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, B - Biography

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