Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

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MURDER OF A MEDICI PRINCESS. Caroline Murphy. Oxford University Press.

In Murder of a Medici Princess, Caroline Murphy describes the spirited but all-too-brief life of Renaissance princess, Isabella de Medici.

The second daughter of Duke Cosimo I, ruler of sixteenth-century Florence and Tuscany, and Eleonora da Toledo, Isabella lived a vivacious life more reminiscent of a modern-day celebrity than of one restricted by archaic Florentine gender-based roles and royal rigidities.

In her study, Murphy celebrates Isabella’s charisma by sharing intimate details of the princess’ family-life, providing readers with a true sense of character that goes beyond strict ‘historical basis.’

As Murphy demonstrates, Isabella’s adventurous nature and blatant flouting of the era’s gender expectations (coupled with her unique beauty and a feminine sweetness) made her the focus of both the Medici court and her father’s affections.

Isabella was Cosimo’s second daughter (his first girl had died at the age of six) and she was quick to receive her father’s undivided attention, affection, and protection, as Cosimo became intent on keeping his favorite daughter happy and safe.

Through historical records and epistolary correspondence between court secretaries, the childrens’ caregivers and Isabella and her siblings, Murphy tells the collective story of the Medici family with great detail, smoothly weaving her own speculations and interpretations with the fabric of historical fact – this book that reads as much a dramatic novel as it does a historical biography.

The ornate family residences in Florence and Tuscany provide rich backdrops for Murphy’s narrative, and the author describes Isabella’s familial relationships in great depth while artfully acknowledging the rumors that would surface regarding the unusual closeness between the princess and her father (as well as between her and her younger brother, Giovanni). However, to Murphy’s great credit, she does not dwell on this part of the story, instead leaving readers alone to draw their own conclusions.

The princess’ life was one of turmoil, adventure and bold self-expression, and Murphy is able to capture this in an engrossing style. In one particularly memorable passage (following Cosimo’s death in 1574), Murphy writes of Isabella’s deteriorating security and independence as her moody older brother, Francesco, took the reins.

Suddenly, Isabella found herself in a very different world than the one presided over by her father, who had been a lover of aesthetic beauty and ruler committed to the plight of the people.

To the contrary, her brother harbored a deep disregard for Florence and Tuscany and this caused anti-Medici sentiments to swell. And Francesco would not be swayed. Power-mad, he authorized the murder of Isabella’s sister-in-law and close confidant, Leonora, citing treason and extramarital affairs. Soon after, Isabella would be murdered for the very same reasons.

In Murder of a Medici Princess, Murphy takes her readers on a compelling ride through the dark allure of Renaissance Italy, taking us deep into the drama of the Medici hierarchy in a story that brims with both beauty and corruption. In the end, it’s a story that illuminates a hidden world that likely defines many a royal family past and present.

Order from amazon.com

by Chelsea Kerrington

© Chelsea Kerrington. All rights reserved.


Chelsea Kerrington is a freelance writer and graduate student at Emerson College in Boston. Reach her through The Electric Review

BEHIND OUR EYES: STORIES, POEMS AND ESSAYS BY WRITERS WITH DISABILITIES. Sanford Rosenthal. Edited by Marilyn Brandt Smith. iUniverse.

Behind the eyes, minds and pens of the twenty-seven contributors of this captivating book dwells a heightened sense of being memorialized in the flawless beauty of the written word.

As readers will immediately note, even though most of the authors collected here are without sight, they are not without and an interesting story or poem meant to help the public better understand blindness.

For example, “Bud and Me Around the World,” written by Sanford Rosenthal, paints a picture of what everyday life is like with a guide dog – offering readers a real chance to explore the challenges that this disability presents.

And just what kinds of “problems” might blind people encounter because their eyes are attached to the eyes of a dog? Apparently, despite clearly written laws, it is generally an uneducated public that causes the most trouble for the visually impaired; as Rosenthal writes:

“There were many places where we were refused accommodations.  Apartments suddenly became occupied when we arrived.  Sometimes they blatantly stated the obvious; one of us was a dog.  It didn’t matter to them that the law was on my side.”

(Page 36)

Stepping further into the collection, Albert Cooper’s “Oh, Thank God I’m Blind” serves as an interesting cry for society to begin to recognize people with disabilities and their vital role in the American workplace.

Specifically, Cooper asks that lawmakers, corporations and the general public acknowledge people with disabilities as important, productive members of the community, saying [that] “It takes a great deal of strength to overcome biased attitudes against individuals who may appear to be different, but every now and then we need to take a reality check and stand up for what is right.” (At page 109).

In sum, this book is filled with intimate stories and poems that awaken the mind and spirit of the reader. Simply, what is most striking about Behind Our Eyes is the amount of courage and conviction required to tell these stories – each of the contributors inspiring us to look beyond preconceived notions of ‘disability.’

Basically, Behind Our Eyes forces each of us to confront the harsh reality that says that life is cruel. Bluntly, a disability can strike anyone at any time – blindness taking no discretion as to who it affects and when.

However, the writers of this book teach us that behind every disability is still a strong- willed human spirit with the ability to persevere. As Rosenthal and his co-writers demonstrate, with the help of aides, canes and guide dogs, a dark world can be permanently illuminated and a quality life savored.

Order from amazon.com.

by Miranda Orso

© Miranda Orso. All rights reserved.


Miranda Orso is a freelance writer currently residing in Philadelphia.  She graduated from Penn State University in 2002 with a degree in Journalism. Reach her through The Electric Review.

GOOD GOVERNANCE FOR NONPROFITS: Developing Principles and Policies for an Effective Board. Fredric L. Laughlin and Robert C. Andringa. AMACOM.

In Good Governance, the authors begin their text with a caustic statement by Peter Drucker – that “[a]ll nonprofit boards have one thing in common. They do not work.”

However, as many commentators in this area have previously noted, the higher standards imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (now seen as a model for nonprofit and for-profit entities alike) are reasons enough for nonprofit board members to implement effective corporate controls and oversight policies over all financial transactions.

Readers will note that the spectacular oversight failures Sarbanes-Oxley was created to protect against are at the very core of the collapse and subsequent bankruptcy of the nonprofit Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation health system.

The Allegheny Health debacle is especially instructive of a board’s exposure for failure to provide effective financial oversight, since it resulted in, among other issues, allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission that two senior officers had not only overstated a subsidiary’s net income on its annual financial statement but had also failed to provide “continuing disclosure” in financial secondary markets.

Given the possibility of such grave consequences, Laughlin’s and Andringa’s text offers a primary ‘nuts & bolts’ roadmap detailing the written policies to be followed by a working board in order to satisfy the principles of effective practice for charitable organizations as mandated by the Advisory Committee on Self-Regulation of the Charitable Sector. In addition, the authors provide a sample template of a Board Policy Manual, which they consider to be the first prerequisite of an effective governance management system.

Good Governance provides a one-of-a-kind manual outlining in cogent and practical detail how non-profit governing boards should go about their business. Since the information in this book provides a snapshot of the typical non-profit’s structure, it should be required reading for non-profit administrators and for the members of the volunteer boards charged with ‘steering the ship.’

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

HOW TO GET THE HEALTH CARE YOU WANT. Laura L. Casey. 1 Life Press.

Health care is topic one on everybody’s plate. How do you afford to see the doctor? How do you cope with the astronomical rise in the cost of medical insurance? How do you choose a prescription plan if you’re senior? And probably most important of all – how do you find a doctor who is going to provide the kind of care that is right for you and your family?

Indeed, these are all good questions which do not enjoy the benefit of formulaic answers. So…just where does that leave the consumer?

How to Get the Health Care You Want, written by patient advocate Laura Casey, is a good place to start, a stepping-stone across a torrent of information that gives us a well-designed road map from which to begin our journey.

How to Get the Health Care You Want is about navigating through the overly-confusing labyrinth of the American health care system, a book centered on how the patient/consumer should go about developing successful relationships with their doctors (and related care-givers).

Basically, those select patients who do not dread going to the doctor are good communicators who see that the impact of medical treatment is lessened by knowing what to expect. Accordingly, each of us needs to become comfortable with asking doctors questions as we seek to understand the things which are occurring to our bodies.

And that’s where Casey’s book excels, outlining how patients can obtain the information they need in order to make informed and sensible decisions about their health care.

And the author writes:

“Never hesitate to advocate and communicate about everything. Communicate with your caregivers so they know and understand what hurts, what is important to you, why you are seeking care, how you feel, that you are scared, confident, happy, and that blueberries don’t taste good anymore. Whatever you believe is important information for you to communicate with your healthcare providers. What the provider does with that information will tell you whether or not this provider is a good match for you….”

(Chapter 2)

It all comes down to realizing that the doctor-patient relationship is about you. Yes, you indeed have a say in the process. Too many times, people enter a physician’s office afraid to ask questions, afraid to look stupid or seem pushy. And this is absolutely the wrong approach for patients (and one of the main reasons so many people dread the idea of doctor visits).

The simple truth remains that doctors are not deities. To the contrary, they can be approached in the same fashion you approach any other professional you are hiring to provide a service (in this case, the difference is that service is directed at healing a breakdown within your body).

In sum, the best aspect of Casey’s How to Get the Health Care You Want is found in the way she teaches her readers that, in order to get the kind of medical care you want, you must take the point and become a less passive patient. For just as in every other business and personal relationship, the best doctor-patient relations are forged through dialogue, awareness and mutual understanding.

Recommended to all consumers as a general reference text. Simply, this book deserves to be in our homes because it strives to teach us to not be afraid to tailor our medical care to our own specific needs. In addition, anyone with kids will find this an indispensable guide, stressing the fact that parents need to ask the right kinds of questions to insure their children receive the right kind of medical attention.

Order from amazon.com.

READING DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: BEYOND THE WHITE PICKET FENCE. Janet McCabe. Kim Akass. I.B. Tauris.

I am an educated woman, and, typically, I am not supposed to be addicted to a television show. Yet, every single Sunday, I find myself carefully planning my time so that I will be sitting in front of the television at 9 p.m. anticipating the next installment of Desperate Housewives.

Truthfully, I have spent hours analyzing my need to see this show every week.At first I thought it was the genre that was attracting me, but what exactly is the genre? Soap opera, murder mystery, comedy, or drama?

So imagine my delight when I discovered that this is in fact a prominent topic in the essays that make up the new I.B. Tauris release, Reading Desperate Housewives: Beyond the White Picket Fence.

For example, in the essay titled Murder and Mayhem on Wisteria Lane:A study of genre and cultural context in Desperate Housewives, the editors include a well-developed discussion of dramedy:

“Dramedies blend the comic and the serious in different ways; some separate comic and dramatic storylines, while others combine drama and comedy together.”

(Page 131)

The term dramedy first appeared in the 1980’s to describe a wave of genre-blurring television series such as Moonlighting and The Wonder Years. It used not only elements of drama and comedy, but also employed idiosyncrasy, exaggeration, absurdity and incongruity to drive a point home.

In the last decade, the genre has grown to include not only hour-long series, but also half-hour sitcoms with more serious plots which have not been shot in front of an audience.Examples of half-hour versions odramedies include M*A*S*H, and Hooperman.As far as commercial appeal, the hour-long series have generally fared better, spawning a list of current hits that include Desperate HousewivesBoston Legal andSex and the City.

“As Cherry [creator Marc Cherry] acknowledges, the series uses dramatic and comedic elements to reveal the tragedy beneath ‘the antics these women face’.Bree Van de Kamp provides the best example of this serio/comic blend.Her obsessive/compulsive housekeeping, though comic, has a serious origin.She tells Zach that when her mother was killed by a car, she washed away the blood.It made her feel better. So, while Bree’s domestic achievements may be funny by virtue of their excessiveness, their effects are rooted in tragedy.”

(Page 132)

So then…perhaps it is the genre that draws me to the television week after week. Still, genre alone can’t be the only thing that keeps me watching, waiting, wondering, and wanting more.Thus, it must also be the shapely assemblage of characters, too.

As long-time viewers of Housewives know, the women of Wisteria Lane are each an icon of post-feminist America.Specifically, Gabrielle, the Nuevo-riche trophy wife, is bored by her marriage and seeks satisfaction outside the bonds of marriage; Susan, the attractive divorce’, longs for someone to take care of her; Bree, the seemingly perfect wife and mother, serves as a throw back to June Cleaver; Lynette Scalvo is a high-powered business woman who gave it all up to be a stay-at-home mom; and lastly, Edie Britt – the single independent one seems to have it all…or does she?

“The secrets of the four main protagonists are not as immediately shocking as Mary Alice’s. Materialistic Gabrielle is a ‘drowning woman’ and John, her teenage lover, is ‘her life-raft.’ Her secret is that, although she has everything she wants, she must ‘have been wanting all the wrong things’.For Lynette is the façade of being the perfect stay-at-home mom.When she meets old colleague Natalie Kline, in the supermarket, who asks ‘Don’t you just love being a mom?’ she responds ‘as she always does,’ narrates Mary Alice, with the lie, ‘it’s the best job I’ve ever had.’ Under the immaculate surface of Bree’s home, there is a disastrous marriage to a man secretly needing to express sexual dominance, and highly problematic relationships with her children.Behind Susan’s door is emotional chaos, a messy divorce and an inappropriate dependency on her teenage daughter.”

(Page 37)

This blend of characters (their relationships and motivations), coupled with style and plot (and everything that happens behind closed doors) is what keeps America (and certainly this reviewer) watching.

And actually, that’s also the beauty of Reading Desperate Housewives – the book serving as a vehicle that allows for fans of the series to examine themselves in the context of the characters that populate the show, examining how and why this dysfunctional group of screen faces has come to captivate the American consciousness.

And when writers are writing about a television series, the best they can hope to accomplish is to open up our eyes and force us to ponder exactly why we watch. In this regard, Reading Desperate Housewives is an absolute success.

Recommended to all viewers who follow the series. Further recommended to libraries in both the public and private sectors as a long-term reference. Like the Deadwood Reader also published by Tauris and reviewed below, this volume helps to define the art and ideals of the culture.

by Cathy Houts

© Cathy Houts. All rights reserved.


Cathy Houts resides in Northern California, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Santa Clara University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Design from Boston University. From 1988 through 2001, Houts worked on staff at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California, teaching theater and directing for the stage (in addition to serving as Resident Designer at C.O.S. for nearly a decade). Houts has also worked at many regional theatres throughout the United States during the past 25 years. Reach her through The Electric Review.

READING DEADWOOD: A Western To Swear By. Edited by David Lavery. I.B. Tauris.

“More than providing services to ‘em, taking people’s money is what makes organizations real, be they formal, informal, or temporary.”

E.B. Farnum, Mayor of Deadwood.

Like David Chase, who created The Sopranos, David Milch uses Deadwood as both a vehicle to exorcize his personal demons and a device to expose the random hypocrisy which allows America to conduct business as usual – a process novelist James Ellroy has termed “mass-market nostalgia.”

Near the end of Deadwood’s third season, while being queried about his war service by robber-baron George Hearst’s unnamed, grizzled henchmen, Al Swearengen, a proud member of the “69th New York” and proprietor of the Gem Saloon (Deadwood’s first bagnio and commercial establishment), caustically replies that he spent his time during the war cutting throats as a member of the “Cocksucker’s Brigade” and “commander of the all-whore detachment.” Just like Milch in real life, Swearengen ardently rejects the myth of American expansion in order to expose imperialism for the historical fraud it truly is.

In one scene, Swearengen stands on the Gem’s balcony and overlooks the camp, suddenly recognizing that, with the arrival of Cy Tolliver and Francis Wolcott (Hearst’s front man and a murderer of defenseless whores), his world will soon be castrated — eviscerated by unseen and malevolent forces symbolized by the construction of the first telegraph poles. As he watches the first poles being erected, Swearengen disdainfully utters: “Messages from invisible sources, some people think of as progress.”

In this text, David Lavery, Chair in Film and TV at London’s Brunel University, has complied a diverse series of essays which investigate the characters and themes which populate the landscape of Deadwood’s first two seasons.

One of the most insightful of these essays is titled “Divining the Celestials,” written by Paul Wright and Hailin Zhou and exploring the use of the Chinese subculture in the seriesWright and Zhou begin the piece with a quote from Ellroy’s novel, American Tabloid, acknowledging that “[o]ur continuing narrative is blurred past truth and fiction. Only a reckless verisimilitude can set that line straight.”

It is interesting to note that, like Ellroy, Milch intuitively understand that history is not only created by world leaders, but also by the legions of bottom feeders our leaders generally ignore; and the authors of “Divining the Celestials write:

“Deadwood, both as a historical stage and in the unflinchingly Hobbesian imagination of show-runner Milch, offers us a fascinating, disquieting glimpse into the cauldron of civic ambition, predatory avarice, Machiavellian statesmanship and unrepentant vulgarity all of which fueled the American project to transform an untamed frontier into a domesticated heartland…Milch’s series unapologetically explores the darkest aspects of American expansionism and economic adventurism.”

(Pages 157-158)

If any episode symbolizes Milch’s descent into America’s heart of darkness, it is the final episode of Season One, entitled “Sold Under Sin.” This episode comes to chronicle the evolution of Wu – charting the Celestial and symbolic severance of his ties to his birthland and his coming of age as a citizen of Deadwood (culminating as Swearengen’s counterpart in “Chink Alley).”

Like Swearengen, Cy Tolliver and George Hearst, Wu “sees the fuckin’ possibilities of things” (“Plague” 1.6); still, Swearengen constantly warns Wu to avoid being a sucker, to avoid believing that any form of justice or fairness exists: “Where did you start thinking that every wrong had a remedy, Wu? Did you come to camp for justice or to make your fuckin’ way?”

In the scene that closes Season Two, Wu answers Swearengen after having massacred Hearst’s Celestial, Lee, while Lee was in the throes of an opium dream. In turn, Wright and Zhou’s analysis of the aftermath is noteworthy:

“When Wu emerges victoriously from the carnage, he cuts off his queue in a public demonstration of defiance, autonomy, and, ‘according to Al,’ his bloody purchase of an authentically American identity. Holding up what remains of his braid, Wu shares his triumph with his mentor, who presides not only over the marriage of Deadwood to the Dakotas, but of Wu and the Chinese to the USA: Mr. Wu: (his braid in hand): Wu! America! Al: That’ll hold you tight to her tit! Mr. Wu (holding crossed fingers up to Al): Heng dai! [loosely translated: “Brotherhood!”] In a moment that is imagined as both birth and death, as nursing at the bosom of America and sacrificing at the alter of her cult of success, Wu has murdered both his rival and, symbolically, his Chinese identity…a primal bargain with assimilation…”

This series makes it clear that both Hearst’s empire and the industrial capitalism require the game to be rigged in order to “secur[e] the color.” Further, through George Hearst, Milch has artfully synthesized Deadwood’s marriage of fantasy and reality into one character. Cornishmen, celestials, the whores of Chink Alley who service his workers – they are all necessary sacrifices unto Hearst’s vision – and his version – of American destiny.

In fleshing out a Nineteenth century version of extreme corporate success, Milch seems to follow Ellroy’s Hobbesian dictum to “embrace bad men and the price they paid to secretly define their time”. Or, in the dark and caustic words of Al Swearengen: “Every fuckin’ beatin’ I’m grateful for. Every fuckin’ one of them. Get all the trust beat outta you. And you know what the fuckin’ world is.”

In these mad times amid a world over-torn in strife, these are words to live by.

Deadwood, along with The Sopranos and The Wire (all HBO features) embody the best of modern-day film making; accordingly, Lavery’s study comes to capture the heart of Deadwood and its colorful landscape. Fans of the series will gain much from the text as it allows readers to touch and taste the characters. Recommended to all viewers who follow the series; also recommended to libraries in both the public and private sectors as a long-term reference which serves to define the art and consciousness of the culture.
Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE INFLAMMATION FREE DIET PLAN. Monica Reinagel. Julius Torelli. McGraw-Hill.

This time of year, diet books abound! As summer takes hold, every other author seems to have the answer to weight loss and better health contained in their latest release. Yet, in reality, most of these books only serve as rehashes of old ideas that offer little substantive help.

But not so with Inflammation Free by Monica Reinagel (one-time Managing Editor for Medical Digest): This book simply crackles with a wealth of new information that should enlighten even the most skeptical of readers.

Science has established that the damage inflammation causes within arteries and cell systems can contribute significantly to myriad disorders, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers — conditions that affect tens of millions of people throughout the world causing untold hours of suffering.

Like with so many other forms of disease, we have identified inflammation as a deep-rooted problem — but what’s the answer to controlling or mitigating its affects? According to Reinagel’s in depth treatise, the answer to reducing the incidence of inflammation comes in regulating the things you put in your body. Read: Diet. Diet. Diet.

Inflammation Free explains in detail the role inflammation plays in disease and how it adversely acts upon the body. After providing this necessary background, Reinagel sets forth a tangible dietary plan that the general consumer can use with ease — plotting out what foods are needed for proper metabolic balance and then including several potent recipes to show the direction one should be going in.

According to Reinagel, things like fish oil and certain aromatic spices (ginger, cayenne, turmeric) can significantly reduce the amount of inflammation in the body and lessen the pain common with conditions like arthritis. However, rather than take these items in supplemental form, it is better for the over-all health of the body to ingest these properties naturally through the foods you consume.

The best option for success is to customize your inflammation free diet to your specific needs and tastes, carefully limiting fats and carbohydrates in sensible and sustainable ways. As with any diet, however, healthy dishes must be appealing or the dieter won’t last long on his regimen. To this end, Reinagel includes a variety of recipes that make it easy to be health-conscious while not sacrificing taste (things like avocado salsa, tomato crostini and ginger marinated tuna) bristle with flavor and serve to make eating an event rather than dietary drudgery.

The never-ending battle against weight and its impact on the body has plagued man for centuries (at times shortening his life-span and the quality of his day-to-day existence). However, advances in science have recently given us the opportunity to know what is happening within ourselves, giving us the opportunity to do things that will result in less damage to these delicate systems of blood and bone.

In short, it all begins with education. And Monica Reinagel’s Inflammation Free is a $25 resource that brings the classroom right into your home.

Recommended to the general reader, and especially to anyone fighting against diabetes, hypertension or heart disease. Original without the fake flash, Inflammation Free is a skillful blend of scientific theory and common-sense application – a smart resource with the health of the reader in mind. Should you step out and give any new diet strategy a try this year, Reinagel’s should be the one.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

ECOLOGY OF BEING. Peter White. All In All Books.

By his own admission, Peter White gained entry into America’s power elite in ultra-quick fashion – initially as a junior member of a legal team working on the Watergate case, then as the government’s chief counsel in a major antitrust suit against the petroleum industry; and finally, as a partner in Fulbright & Jaworski (once again paired with Leon Jaworski).

However, somewhere along that path, White also came face to face with his own mortality as his perfect existence fell apart at the seams, falling into an abyss of alcoholism and multiple divorces. At one point in the text, White refers to an “irresponsible personality” caught in the “cyclical interplay of fear and greed” — terms which seem to describe his own secret life of binges and self-loathing.

Although White chronicles his intensely personal passage in chapters with pithy titles such as “Human Systems,” “Conversation,” “Community,” and “The Practice of Intended Uses,” he could have just as easily used epigrams or some other poetic form of expression (since his unspoken spiritual mentors might fall in line with Heraclitus, or the Cold Mountain poet, Han Shan).

In his treatise, White not only speaks eloquently of the pressures of an inhuman and inhumane business culture which destroys those at the top as well as the bottom, but also writes of a degradation of moral values now endemic in these mega-systems of Capitalism.

Moreover, White deftly acknowledges the doctrine central to Buddhist thought: This idea that suffering exists to be conquered – the only pathway to true enlightenment. Or as White states in his final chapter: “Humanity may die in cataclysm or it may live in spiritual ascension, fully accepting the end of days. Which will it be?”

Recommended to libraries in both the public sector and at the college level: This is a unique book from a unique man who has been at the top of both the business and political worlds, only to come to find that the money and fame are hollow. The lesson: Our salvation comes through many solitary and internal journeys.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

SCARS OF WAR, WOUNDS OF PEACE: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. Shlomo Ben-Ami. Oxford University Press.

Shlomo Ben-Ami has been Israel’s Ambassador to Spain, a member of the Knesset, a participant in the 2000 Camp David Summit and Minister of Public Security (before ultimately becoming its Minister of Foreign Affairs).

Given these lofty credentials, Ben-Ami’s bitter criticism of Israel’s Zionist leaders and their conduct against the Arab populace is both noteworthy and thought provoking, and the story he paints in Scars Of Warwill no doubt captivate the most stoic of readers. Speaking here to the founding fathers of Zionism, Ben-Ami states:

“‘Zion’ however, was not an empty land waiting only for the Jews to claim and possess it. When David Ben-Gurion, the future founder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister arrived in Palestine in 1906, the country consisted of 700,000 inhabitants, 55,000 of which were Jews, and only 550 could be classified as Zionist pioneers. The bulk of the Jewish population was made up of religious communities that did not see themselves as political Zionists.”

(Page 2)

Although Zionism originally espoused principles of self-help based on “Jewish labour” without having to resort to the exploitation of the local population, Ben-Ami’s unique perspective traces the movement to its genesis, dissecting its layers with a multi-dimensional precision:

“Zionism was also a movement of conquest, colonisation and settlement in the service of a just and righteous but also self-indulgent national cause. An enterprise of national liberation and human emancipation that was forced to use the tools of colonial penetration, it was a schizophrenic movement, which suffered from an irreconcilable incongruity between its liberating message and the offensive practices it used to advance it.”

(Page 3)

Israel’s nationalist policies and colonial aspirations became readily apparent after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War (June 1967), when, as Menachim Begin noted, ‘it was decided not to decide’ issues relating to future Palestinian autonomy that could ultimately give birth to a Palestinian state. However, this decision by Israel’s leaders ‘not to decide’ would bring disastrous consequences; Ben-Ami writes:

“Israel’s sin in the aftermath of the war lay in her total misunderstanding of the conditions that were created by her victory. She developed, therefore, no reasonable strategy as to best turn her military supremacy into a political tool and use her exploits in the battlefield in order to change the nature of her relations with the Arab. world. Instead, she fell back conveniently on the politics of immobilism and faits accomplis. There was no Israeli peace initiative, and there was no credible and thoughtful response to the initiatives coming from others. In fact, the first to understand the meaning of the new conditions created by the war were, surprisingly, the local Palestinian leaders throughout the West Bank and, conspicuously, also junior Israeli officials… [S]hocked by the rout of the Arab armies, the Palestinian local leaders were nevertheless quick to get back on their feet, assume responsibility for the destiny of their people and plead for a peace deal with Israel. [pp. 125-126.] . . . Israel was wrong to assume that she could acquire new lands and have peace at the same time. But the Arabs had an illusion of their own: to get back their territories without offering peace in return. Nasser’s persistent search for a national and Pan-Arab purpose, and the belief of the Ba’ath in Syria that only through direct confrontation with Israel could the lost territories be recovered and the problem of Palestine be settled, fed the cycle of Arab rejectionism and Israeli inertia. The Israelis’ hubris and the Arabs’ sense of humiliation proved to be a fatal combination.”

(Page 130)

In Scars Of War Ben-Ami does not pretend to be tactful in describing either Israeli or Arab leaders; instead, he opts to offer unflattering portraits of both.

Of Golda Meir, Ben-Ami writes:

“She was a self-righteous, intransigent and stubborn iron lady who turned political inaction and righteousness into a system of government. Her unwillingness to question the position of the complacent military, and the support she received from her close relations with President Nixon, who was more concerned with the task of curbing the Soviet penetration into the Middle East than with the need to advance an Arab-Israeli peace, made her premiership one of an almost inevitable decline toward war.”

(Pages 130-131)

Of Gamal Abdel Nassar, Ben-Ami asserts:

“He would not accept a separate peace with Israel or the demilitarisation of the Sinai peninsula. Nassar simply would not consider peace on the basis of military defeat. His major concern at that point was not how to negotiate a reasonable compromise with Israel, but how to acquire sophisticated weapons from the Soviet Union in order to erase the impact of the 1967 defeat.”

(Page 132)

And in describing Arafat during the period of the Oslo peace process, Ben-Ami notes:

“The expression ‘peace of the brave’ used ad nauseam by Arafat never convinced anyone, not even Rabin, that the commitments Arafat undertook were indeed irrevocable. Notwithstanding his pledge to renounce violence, he never really relinquished the terror card. It was precisely this that destroyed Rabin politically before he was destroyed physically by a Jewish zealot. It was that same terror card that would also bring about the defeat of Shimon Peres and the ascendancy of Benjamin Netanyahu in the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat excelled in destroying his peace partners and in directly enhancing the prospects of the hard Right in Israel.”

(Page 213)

In sum, Ben-Ami’s text is a remarkable study of this torn region of the world presented from an insider’s perspective. Here, Ben-Ami eloquently and forcefully tells of the failures of a government and its personalities, revealing the faces of the failures which ultimately gave rise to the ‘killing fields’ and the abattoir mentality that now typifies ‘business as usual’ in the Middle East.

As Ben-Ami himself stated in an interview with Yedioth Aharonoth:

“We have created a state, we have been admitted to the UN, we strive to have orderly relations with the international community, yet we still continue to behave as if we are a Yishuv. The entire peace enterprise of this government is aimed at leading the nation to opt, once and for all, between being a state or a Yishuv.”

(Page 274)

Recommended as either a primary teaching text in history or poli-science courses that seek to examine the evolution of the Middle East nations through their on-going conflicts. Scars Of War is noted for its impeccable writing and its enormous depth — an authoritative and wide-reaching treatise that touches on many new perspectives. Further recommended to all libraries in both the public sector and at the college level as a general reference text.

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by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, A LIFE. Abraham Pais (with supplemental material by Robert P. Crease). Oxford University Press.

The late Abraham Pais, himself a leading theoretical physicist, science writer and most importantly, friend and colleague to J. Robert Oppenheimer, opens his biography with lines by the poet, John Dryden:

Great wits are sure to madness near allied,

And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Pais’ text begins with the shocking revelation that, while engaged post graduate work at Goettingen (in the company of pioneers like Max Born who were exploring the newly discovered territory of quantum mechanics), Oppenheimer sought psychoanalysis for what he believed was schizophrenia. On another occasion during the same period, Oppenheimer reportedly crept under a cafe table in Goettingen and began barking like a dog. [p. 12.] Pais’ text also includes searing observations with regard to Oppenheimer’s private life (and especially about Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, who Pais says was an alcoholic):

“Quite independently from her drinking, I have found Kitty the most despicable female I have ever known because of her cruelty . . . To an outsider like me, Oppenheimer’s family life looked like hell on earth. The worst of it all was that inevitably the two children had to suffer. I have seen how Kitty and Peter did not get along well and was surprised when Peter left home for good in his late teens and broke all contact with his mother. Toni, the daughter poor dear Toni ended by taking her own life.”

(Page 143)

None of this anecdotal evidence, however insightful, can take away from Oppenheimer’s work in theoretical physics or his entry on the world stage heading the Los Alamos project in development of the atomic bomb. Although Oppenheimer had no apparent administrative skills, he was chosen by Colonel Leslie Groves as the scientific head of the then top secret Project Y in October, 1942. Pais spends only a few pages chronicling the Los Alamos project, but prophetically notes that when the first atomic bomb explosion occurred in 1945 near Alamogordo Air Force Base in a desolate area aptly known as Jornado del Muerto, Oppenheimer recalled a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.”

Yet, the most informative portion of Pais’ text concerns the hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission that was convened to revoke Oppenheimer’s security clearance. This hearing began in December, 1953 and revolved in part around Oppenheimer’s reluctance (according to Edward Teller and others) to delay the development of the hydrogen bomb. Pais’ analysis, together with the summary of material provided by Robert P. Crease, provides a microscopic view into the post World War II world of fear-mongering and intellectual slander.

For instance, Crease notes that Teller was the government’s key witness against Oppenheimer and the only actual witness who approaching Oppenheimer’s scientific expertise. And Crease bluntly points out:

“Having been fortunate enough to have escaped Nazi Germany, Teller wrote in his Memoirs, ‘I had the obligation to do whatever I could to protect freedom.’ But he often interpreted ‘protect’ to mean stigmatizing colleagues who insufficiently shared his political enthusiasms. Philip Morrison, Robert Serber and Steven Weinberg were among the eminent U.S. physicists whose careers Teller denounced or otherwise tried to harm careers in retaliation for their political views.”

(Page 244)

In the end, Pais believes that Oppenheimer’s real tragedy was not that he was at the epicenter of the Communist witch hunts of the 1950’s, but instead, that he failed to achieve the lofty heights in physics that his early worked appeared to guarantee. As Pais’ wrote of his former colleague: “His tragedy was that he was almost a genius.”

This text is recommended to all libraries in the public sector as a general reference title.

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by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE ORIGINS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: Problems in Focus. Edited by Peter R. Campbell. Palgrave.

A French wag once remarked to me — not altogether in jest — that the French aristocracy retains a genetic memory of the events that led up to the Revolution in the summer of 1789, further asserting that they do not intend to repeat their past mistakes.

In light of the national riots this past fall originating in the suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois among the current underclass of sans-culotte, it appears as if the France is once again collapsing into the ancient stench of unrest (a fact that was artfully soft-pedaled by the international press). However, as Roger Chartier has noted, revolutions are indeed possible once they become conceivable (an assertion which forms the core of The French Revolution).

In William Scott’s superb chapter, “From Social to Cultural History,” he warns that any analysis based upon current culture may itself create a new intellectual blindness. Yet, as Scott himself notes, the social revolution surrounding the Paris upheavals of May, 1968 was indeed intellectually exciting:

“With experience so diversified, questions of identity and self-expression challenged old solidarities, often imposed or inherited . . .Questions of gender and sexuality attained a new openness. New links and loyalties were forged, from choice and affinity . . .Historians of France could not but be aware of the new intellectual currents from Paris. Michel Foucault opened up for unprecedented scrutiny both new areas of inquiry and old institutions and activities. Prisons, hospitals and clinics, and asylums, though often secretive and murky, had produced ever-expanding discourses of power and knowledge. Claim to expertise were used to justify the extension of their powers of control over matters of health and sexuality and therefore over each person’s body. The historian’s take was to use a ‘genealogical’ method to trace back such discourses to their often ignoble origins, to use ‘archeological’ means to uncover structures, in order to subvert them . . . All these intellectuals derided any ‘scientific’ pretensions history might have. Truth was relative to positions occupied in the contest for power.”

(Page 123-124)

Scott’s writing is always careful to balance all parts of the story. For example, he provides a detailed acknowledgment of the diversity of knowledge that the study of the Revolution requires (while never failing to address the intellectual debt every student owes to the first historian of the Revolution, Jules Michelet):

“Jules Michelet, whom many historians of whatever school, see as the greatest historian of the Revolution is unclassifiable — partly because of his passionate engagement with the issues, shunning the alibi of cold objectivity. Michelet’s interest in popular beliefs, customs, folklore, myths, forms of sociability; his sensitivity to feeling; his attention to the cultural role of women; the evocative poetry of his descriptions; the power of his imagination; even his own contorted psychology — all make him especially attractive to cultural historians. But his times and ours are very different.”

(Page 138)

Yet, despite his concern over what he views the “uncritical prominence of cultural history today”, Scott notes that “[whether ‘revolution’ is a thing of the past or not, the end of the history of revolutions and their origins has evidently not arrived…” [Id.]

This text is a beautifully written testament to one of the most important periods in European history — an event that should serve as a warning single to governments across the globe now confronted with the chore of stifling class wars and mending cultural divides that span the breadth of the world.

Recommended as a primary class text in courses focused on the history of France. Would also prove valuable as a reference text for both academic and public sector libraries for its long-term research value.

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by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Also of Note From Palgrave

WHY THE BOERS LOST THE WAR. Leopold Scholtz. Palgrave.

This selection marks a brief and lucid account of the Anglo-Boer War written by the son of Afrikans historian, G.D. Scholtz, who himself was born only a few years after that conflict ended.

The book begins with a sharp and thunderous punch, as the author asks in his preface “[if the Boers] were so brave, fought so well and so often had the Rooinekke (“Red necks”) on the back foot, how did it then happen that they lost the War?”

Scholtz approaches this question by using Mao’s theoretical model of guerrilla warfare which is conducted in three stages. In the first stage, the struggle begins slowly, expanding into a widespread war. In the second stage, the guerrillas consolidate their position and establish an alternative government. Finally, in the third stage, the guerrillas are able to attack the government forces and defeat them in conventional warfare. [p. 93.]

Viewed from the perspective of a century of international conflict, Scholtz’ analysis of one of the first guerrilla wars of the Twentieth century makes interesting reading. Consider the following:

“There is no doubt that the larger part of the Boer republics and the two British colonies were well suited to guerrilla warfare from the geographical point of view. Guerrilla forces flourish, in geographical terms, in inaccessible territories. These would include areas with an underdeveloped infrastructure. In modern times — and because of the comparative ease of aerial reconnaissance and rapid troop deployment by aircraft and helicopters— this would generally mean mountainous terrain and/or terrain with dense vegetation, as the experience in Cyprus, Vietnam, the former Rhodesia and Namibia/Angola has indicated. In order to combat the guerrillas they need to be pursued relentlessly and, in doing so, it is necessary to keep track of their whereabouts.”

(Page 90)

And this:

” The last two factors — attitude of the local population and the strength of the guerrillas— are interdependent and should be regarded together. The attitude of the local population id often decisive for the successor failure of any guerrilla movement. Mao Zedong coined the catchy phrase that a guerrilla can be compared to the local population as a fish to water. Just as a fish cannot survive without water, so a guerrilla cannot subsist without the active assistance and protection of the local population…” [Id.]

From Scholtz’s perspective, it is apparent that the Boers did not follow Mao’s model due to a combination of factors, including a divided leadership and loyalties and the ferocious independence of the Boers themselves. An instance of such divided loyalties late in the conflict is reflected in the following passage:

“One of the leaders of the Burgher Peace Committee was General Piet de Wet, Christiaan de Wet’s brother. In February, 1901, he wrote an open letter to his brother, trying to convince him of the futility of further resistance. Similar efforts were undertaken vis a vis Transvaal officers, but all of these efforts failed miserably. The Boers reacted by arresting the Committee’s emissaries and severely horsewhipping them. At least two of the envoys, Meyer de Kock and J.J. Morgendaal, were executed. De Wet also threatened to kill his brother like a dog if he ever encountered him….”

(Page 106)

In the end, the Boers were caught in a stranglehold led by British General Kitchener, whose objective was to drive the Free Staters in front of a single, unbroken line, the so-called “New Model Drive,” which left behind scorched earth and concentration camps:

“Another aspect of British operations concerned the establishment of concentration camps. We have already seen that the sympathy and support of the local population is an indispensable condition for the success of a guerrilla war. Because Kitchener knew full well that he would never voluntarily obtain any support of the Boer women and children on the family farms, he simply confronted the problem by relocating every woman and child, almost without exception, to the concentration camps…The USA in Vietnam and the Rhodesians also used the same method. Although the practice and execution of each differed in more ways than one from Kitchener’s the underlying policy and motivation remains the same. “

(Page 123)

This is one of the only texts to examine the fall of the Boers with such clarity and flair. A natural choice for instructors teaching courses dedicated to the history of South Africa. Further recommended to all college-level libraries as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

SOLIDARITY FOR SALE: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise. Robert Fitch. Public Affairs.

Corruption as we know it began early in the American Labor Movement, epitomized by the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in the early morning hours of October 1, 1910. The bombmasters were actually brothers (John and James McNamara) who would come to be hailed as innocent martyrs to labor’s cause by its highest-ranking czars, (including Samuel Gompers and Eugene Debs).

The bombing of The Times would come to be a watershed event, for even after the McNameras acknowledged their guilt, progressives such as Debs and Louis D. Brandeis continued to argue that the brothers were the victims of the great trusts and corporations that were quickly over-taking the American landscape. However, Fitch points out:

“The progressives’ defense would have been more effective if either of the McNamaras had actually been wage earners. [fn] John didn’t work on an office building, he worked in one: the Ironworkers’ Indianapolis headquarters, in the American Central Life Building. He provided his brother with a $1,000-a-month expense account —nearly $19,000 in today’s dollars. Most of it was spent on the union’s dynamite projects, but a lot went to his several mistresses. [fn]”

(Page 111)

Furthermore, as Fitch documents, terrorism was an accepted means of doing business in this new America: “[f]ar from being frantic gestures of desperation, the bombings were premised on cost-benefit analyses. Bombers justified their high fees on business grounds too: Well, you know, explained one bomber, it costs something to get the wind to blow the right way.’ ” [p. 112]

As inferred by the title of this text, solidarity was definitely for sale in Chicago in 1905 when Con Shea led a “sympathy” strike for the alleged benefit of 17 garment workers against corporate giant Montgomery Wards (this after Shea himself had lobbied the local Teamsters Union to make such strikes illegal):

“Why first make sympathy strikes illegal and then carry one out ? One plausible reason was to make sure that genuine, freely given solidarity was legally impossible. That way, he could sell his ersatz brand. Employers want to know who can turn strikes on and off. To the extent that workers make their own decisions, Shea would have been superfluous.”

(Page 126)

Perhaps such collusion is the reason that the AFL-CIO have been opposed to progressive health care plans obtained in Germany, Great Britain and Canada decades ago (and the reason why employee health care benefits continue to erode on a daily basis). As an example, witness the Bush Administration’s push for “consumer-directed health care” — this bureaucratic gobblyspeak that really means that in the future all “laboring stiffs” will have to pay their own way.

Some of the richest material of Solidarity For Sale is found in Fitch’s chapter “Pension Fund Looting for Dummies,” which details the looting of union pension funds by the Genovese crime family (a con that couldn’t be more timely to our current state of affairs):

“The point, of course, was to make it seem as if the properties weren’t overvalued. For this, it was necessary to reach out to ‘connected’ real estate appraisers. Alfio DiFranco, an Ozone Park Realtor and a Genovese associate, explained how the abandoned, decrepit buildings in central Brooklyn near the Holy Cross Cemetery would soon be worth even more millions than he was estimating: ‘Real estate in this general area is now coming into its own’ he explained in his report to the pension fund trustees, ‘with values excalaterating [sic] due to the unique structure of the subject.’ Satisfied by this analysis, the trustees asked no questions and bought the Brooklyn properties for over $3 million. The plan was to rehabilitate the buildings. But only four months after the purchase, one of the Brooklyn tenements, which was being used as a crack house, collapsed before its anticipated ‘excalateration’ in value.”

(Pages 130-131)

To a jaundiced eye, the Genovese scheme bears little difference to the Bush Administration’s flooding the market with cheap money disguised as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans ear-marked for residential construction. In actuality, these loans only serve to artificially inflate the values of millions of suburban houses (as well as promoting a temporary swelling of the GDP). In turn, one must wonder how many of these bloated values have been transformed into “bundled securities” and purchased by the administrators of union pension plans throughout the country for the supposed security of the rank and file?…

As Fitch notes in his final chapter, “[r]epublics are best defended not by advanced missile systems, but by citizens who form common bonds. Without those felt ties —without solidarity— the pursuit of common interests is impossible.” Accordingly, if the era of organized labor movements is indeed in its twilight, perhaps an apathetic rank and file has only itself to blame.

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by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Winner of the 2005 Bard Fiction Prize

CRAWL SPACE. Edie Meidav. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Crawl Space

In Crawl Space, Edie Meidav follows up her critically acclaimed and masterfully constructed The Far Field, introducing the most unlikely of protagonists in a quest to excuse the wrongs of which he’s been accused.

In the story, Emile Poulquet is a war criminal, a former Vichy prefect responsible for deporting thousands of French Jews during the war; some fifty years later, he is finally standing trial for his crimes.

After fleeing incarceration in Paris, Emile returns to the land of his childhood to deliver his last will and confront the woman he blames for manipulating his sordid and haphazard life. Emile arrives incognito at the site of his prefecture only to find it over-run by Jewish refugees and international journalists attending a wartime reunion. Maneuvering among the survivors of those he had condemned during the war, he finds himself in the same situation as those refugees he’d displaced: hunted by the government and by his own haunting guilt.

The book’s title, intimating visions of Anne Frank tucked uncomfortably in her small attic, becomes ironic in its reference to Emile’s life in hiding. As a fugitive discovering old age, Emile must rely on the kindness and compassion of strangers to shelter and care for him. As time spirals, he straddles the divide between his need for anonymity and his desire to reveal himself (and the power he once held to the world around him). Despite his countless facades, Emile commands our complete attention — maintaining a startling lack of pretense, completely at ease among the gypsies and runaways who adopt him as their own.

The way this character springs to life is a testament to the skill of its creator. Accordingly, Meidav writes with absolute authority, revealing the deep grays of the human condition, the overlapping of morality, demonstrating how the monsters of our history were not so much evil as weak.

Here, adrift in Emile’s world, the desire for mutual love and companionship equally inspires man’s greatest deeds and most horrific crimes. Finally, instead of arousing in us a dark vengeance or rage against him, we merely feel pity for Emile’s wretchedness (the distanced reflections of ourselves witnessed in his desperate motivations). In between these lines reads the message of a universal guilt: we are all culpable, and only distinguished by our degrees of regret.

As Meidav reaches the end of the path, there are no grand de Gaulle pronouncements, no terrifying Hitler proclamations. Instead, we find ourselves in the midst of many lost people trying to purge their physical and emotional childhood scars, all clinging to deluded versions of history in order to survive.

Historical. Riveting. Multidimensional in plot and scope – Crawl Space is a major event in fiction this year. Moreover, in addition to the splendid characters and vital depiction, this remains a story about each of us: An epilogue to the wars among the petty, this portrait of a place where people hide out among their overflowing skeletons as their crawl space quickly runs out of air.

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by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Author Interview: Edie Meidav On Crawl Space

Tell me about your background, Edie.

Well, I was born in Toronto. My father, he was born in Poland, and grew up in Israel. As a child, I lived in many places throughout the United States, but the truth is that I didn’t feel very American. Actually, I developed an ironic slant on the American culture. Questioning anything that seemed like a cultural orthodoxy ended up being the household religion.

And where were you educated?

I went to school in Oakland and Berkeley [California] during the height of bussing in 1970s and 80s. For college, I went to Yale for my undergrad work and then to Mills College [Oakland] for my Masters. Along the way I did a lot of things, studying film and dance. Looking back, I would say my main education happened between high school and college when so many new ideas opened up…

Who are your influences — what writers do you go back to and who laid the foundation for what you are doing now as a novelist?

I was influenced by poetry, really. Writers like Rilke, Yates, Ashbury, Stevens– and of course the Romantics were very meaningful to me. I also read the Beat Generation writers in high school. As a woman author it’s hard to locate yourself in the beginning. I guess, looking back, I wanted to be a Beat writer and I lived that lifestyle for awhile, traveling extensively.

How does your current position at New College of California in San Francisco (Director of Writing and Consciousness at the Master’s Level) assist or impact your work as a writer?

I feel the classroom is a utopian experiment — especially in San Francisco in this particular college in this particular program (which encourages such a deep freedom of expression). The classroom can be a crucible for society, and at New College, the students’ diversity creates a wonderful heat. In actuality, they teach me as much as I teach them. I care for my students, sometimes so much that their concerns colonize my mind — which is probably a good thing…

“Crawl Space” is a unique and important book on many levels — something totally fresh in many respects. How did you come upon the unique subject matter of this book? Where was the seed of its genesis born?

Well, as I said before, my father was born in Poland, and much of his family was exterminated. Ostensibly, my ancestry traces back to second-century Palestine, and I something of a complicated relationship with Palestine/Israel. But getting back to how “Crawl Space” evolved, I was teaching in New York at the time, and one day I was walking through an exhibit of French deportation camp photos (these pictures showed countless skeletal French citizens, soon to be deported to the death camps in Poland). Shortly after that experience, I traveled to France and lived for a time in a tiny rural town. When I got there I began to write — it was an effort to examine what it is like to inhabit the mind of evil. If I lived during those times [of the war and wholesale exterminations], would I have really been “good” and “noble”? Would I have been part of the Resistance or part of the Vichy regime? I think as a child I felt I was prone to evil…prone to petty childhood moments. “Crawl Space” has come to be about all that.

I understand that you have a small child. How has motherhood changed your writing, and have you attempted to fuse these changes with your creative work?

It’s a deep and daily on-going question. I try to sneak out of the house every day at 5:30 or 6 AM and go to a cafe to write for at least an hour. If I can touch the page once a day I feel happy and come back to my daughter feeling replenished. My daughter has given to me a new-found sense of stakes and responsibility. And that responsibility is vast — all consuming. But I think it’s helped to focus me and has given my writing greater maturity. Having a child and writing at the same time — it’s a great dance, a lesson in balance!

Would you share something about your work patterns? Do you work in fiction on a daily basis or only when a certain mood strikes you?

I have a background in the visual arts and, to speak figuratively, I have many canvases going at one time. No matter the other smaller projects I am working on, I always like to have a novel in the works: it becomes the prism for all reflections. In terms of writing, I like to give myself a quota — something like 1,000 words a day. I think the idea of a quota helps me to outwit the superego and avert subliminal censorship. Because you have to write, you tap into the subconscious and get out of your own way: then the story emerges.

OK, so where do you go from here, from the truly amazing plateau you’ve reached with this book?

When I was writing “Crawl Space” I was living in Mendocino. I was very isolated, and it was during my pregnancy. I felt as if I were milking a stone, trying to get that story out. And then after I wrote it, I felt a combination of pity and love for the book. Now, beginning a new novel, I am back to that place: wondering if I am wandering in the dark.This new novel is set in California and it looks at girlhood friendship, motherhood, dystopia, and the death penalty. Honestly, I often feel like an eighty-year-old man in a woman’s body. My first few novels were written that way — looking at the world through the eyes of men. Now I’m writing in a female voice, tapping into that side.

“Crawl Space” delves into a murky historical darkness that might be hard for some people to accept. Have you had any adverse/harsh comment on it or on your depiction of the subject matter?

While writing the book, I found myself imagining various ideal readers, and then also someone who might feel their strong Jewish identity threatened by the story. After “Crawl Space” was published, it got mostly a warm response. It was warmly received by the New York Times, but I somehow felt the reviewer might have been threatened by the underlying theme of evil being explored. Still, I think most readers take the book for what it actually is: an exploration of “good” and “evil” in a given historical context that can be read without threatening too many orthodoxies.

And the essence of its message?

That history always judges us…..

by John Aiello

PAINKILLER. Will Staeger. William Morrow.

Summer is upon us, and like the home state of our esteemed President, ‘tis the season where everything becomes bigger. Blockbuster movies with big characters and big explosions (with some of them based on big books). And Painkiller, Will Staeger’s debut novel, is destined to become just one of those big books.

In it, a rogue Chinese general has concocted a conspiracy to impose nuclear war upon America, while only a retired CIA officer and his junior (though undoubtedly attractive) CIA analyst possess the knowledge and wherewithal to do anything about it.

Painkiller’s protagonist, W. Cooper, is equal parts Jimmy Buffet, Jack Ryan and Gary Cooper (his namesake). The type of gruff, chauvinistic hero reminiscent of Ian Fleming spy novels and Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, Cooper is aging, antisocial and perfectly content to live out the remainder of his life amid rum drinks (from which we get the title) and conch fritters. But such a idyllic retreat is not in the cards for him.

Possessing a seemingly endless pool of wealth, Cooper begins his expedition to abate the ghosts that haunt him. Along the way he encounters Haitian slave zombies, criminal expatriates, crooked politicians (of course!), fundamentalist muscle-bound Chinese terrorists and, à la Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, even a homicidal albino (why are poor albinos always getting a bad rap?).

Make no mistake, Painkiller is a quick-paced page-turner. Structured with not-so-typical cliffhanger chapter-endings, this endless stream of action constantly ratchets up the reader’s acceptance of conceivability, until you find yourself on a trail you never thought you’d be on.

While it’s true that the story does, at times, prey on our post-9/11 insecurities – rogue terrorist factions, nuclear war, fascist extremists – the plot never strays far from the realm of fictional reality. Accordingly, we can enjoy the tale despite its frightening parallels to real life because its recounting is so sensationalistic. In effect, it offers a reprieve from our daily tension by giving us an exaggerated image of precisely that which is threatening us.

In the end, Painkiller doesn’t leave the reader with any epiphanies or realizations — nor does it claim to. Instead, it serves as an enjoyable potboiler of a political thriller and on that count alone, it delivers nicely.

Incidentally, the modest hometown of this reviewer and The Electric Review (Mount Shasta, California) makes a memorable appearance after falling in contact with a nuclear bomb.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Orso’s Recommendations

As we move head-long into 2008, Miranda Orso, contributing writer to The Electric Review, offers these recommendations for New Year’s stocking-stuffers:

WINGED CREATURES. Roy Freirich. St. Martin’s Griffin. 

Roy Freirich’s depiction of the aftermath of a senseless shooting in Anytown, America offers an intimate glimpse of what is becoming too common an occurrence – the sad story of the victims always told in the same way, whether the shooting takes place at a restaurant, the mall or a college campus.

Usually, an estranged gunman with a history of mental problems and a stockpile of weapons unleashes his wrath on the unsuspecting.  People die, and blood is shed. Later,  over tears and coffee and candlelight, a community attempts to rebuild itself – until the next chapter of the same story is rewritten.

And as the watchful eye of the media and the public it serves focuses on the juicy next newsbyte, Freirich’s story attempts to dissect the reasons behind these random acts of brutality.

In Winged Creatures, a truly captivating story unfolds as we explore both the lives and the recovery process of six victims of a shooting at Carby’s restaurant.  Here, through  a combination of the characters’ vivid memories and the author’s masterful style, a universal tale of tragedy is brought to life.

In one dark and stunning passage, we kneel beside Anne Hagen as she watches the gunman open fire and shoot her father. In her search to come to terms with the incomprehensible, Anne forms an extremely close relationship with God.  And it is here,  through her faith, that she is able to cope with (and rationalize) the irrational.

However, as we make our way though Winged Creatures, it  is the children’s recovery process that is both the most heart-wrenching and the most riveting. Obviously, children have a hard time discussing violence, and they often seek to be brave in silence. Basically, as the author teaches us, kids think that if they don’t talk about their fear it doesn’t exist.  Yet, eventually, young and old alike realize that “not saying anything” doesn’t bring any closure.

Everyone who witnessed the shooting at Carby’s has a story to tell.  In one poignant passage, a driving instructor named Charlie veers down a path of self destructive behavior before stumbling on a turning point; and Freirich writes:

“Charlie wipes grateful tears…and a nod and a bow return him to a portion of his bounty, that he now knows is the sole opportunity in his life to provide a life worthy of his family’s love and of himself, since he as twice been spared the worst and lived to tell.”

(Page 209)

Through counseling and self-revelation, each of these characters comes to learn how to live with their grief. Yes, their eyes look back into memory and recount a story that is at once devastating and heartbreaking. Yet, the light that Freirich sheds on the recovery process shows each reader that hope can indeed exist in every life should we allow it to blossom.

by Miranda Orso

THE SEEKER IN FOREVER. Alan Fox. StoryFocus Communications.

Be forewarned – you may need a tab or two of Dramamine to navigate through the mind-bending world that’s been created by novelist Alan Fox in The Seeker in Forever, as this flight through the imagination requires a full and complete appreciation for the raw, elemental beauty of the human experience.

In The Seeker in Forever, Fox builds a surreal yet engrossing series of poignant characters that tell an enchanting story of a young man and woman as they are thrust into a world gone weary with corruption (the “he-being” Miles Roark and the “she-being” Daphne Fox left alone to defend themselves against the unknown and its vast ‘unreality’).

Throughout the story, the duo’s fight to understand reality is a struggle strewn with brutal physical exchanges and philosophical feelings, as well as with moments of enticing sexuality – the audience introduced into a whirlwind of life’s pleasures and pain as seen through the eyes of two searching specters.

For example, at one point in the story, Miles, in the company of his deluded mentor, Scofield, questions the idea of existence itself; and Fox writes:

“Difficulties, slaps, and knocks, blows. Hammerholds and hammering death. Troubles…this was where the trip took on its full force gale.  And all of the people in this world.  All of the people, in this whole wide world…”

(Page 91)

As the story unfolds, Fox directs us down a path where every twisting turn results in visceral reactions from mind and body – it’s almost as if the author is waiting for the audience to stand up and say: “Here’s to being wild! Make every moment come alive…Here’s to being wild as wild can be!”

And there’s no doubt that life and its journey (as told by Fox) are anything but boring; the lucid landscape he paints in this book creates an engrossing fantasy-world that tells the tale of battles being waged in both the internal and external world.

Ultimately, it’s a story that has no end.

by Miranda Orso

1941: THE YEAR IN SPORTS. Mike Vaccaro. Doubleday/Random House. 

It seems as though there was nowhere to hide in 1941.  Men from every corner of America were searching for ways to avoid war and the women who loved them were forced to watch them go.

In this wonderful novel, Mike Vaccaro draws readers into another series of historical, ground-breaking battles being fought – this time in the wide world of sports (as man and animal shared the bright spotlight in the midst of international turmoil, war and discontent).

As Vaccaro recreates these magical moments from the worlds of baseball, boxing and horse racing, he draws readers deep into the breath-taking excitement of every event:

“But as Whirlaway began to make his move, as his ears perked up, so did the crowd’s spirit.  Slowly the roar began to build, and slowly the horses out ahead began to wonder what all the commotion was about, something they’d learn sooner than any of them could have imagined.”

Read on, and you can hear the thunderous roar of the crowd as the enigmatic thoroughbred Whirlaway speeds to an exciting Triple Crown victory – this perfect recounting of one of the most fantastic stories in the history of sports.

Now read on: In one of the boxing pieces, the ring spins to life; suddenly, you can smell the blood pouring through the headlines that memorialized Joe Louis’ deepest wounds.

This book has the capability to appeal to sports fans, history buffs or John Q. Public – the true-life-magic of this one undeniably great year ‘on the field’ now beautifully preserved in Vaccaro’s captivating memoir that carefully weaves together America history with the history of sport.

by Miranda Orso

BRAINWASH: THE SECRET HISTORY OF MIND CONTROL. Dominic Streatfield. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.

I hate to use puns, but this book is truly mesmerizing.  When I began reading it, I was ready to journey into the realm of classified CIA secrets and mind control.  As it turned out, I was in for one strange trip indeed.

Streatfield simply does a stellar job of exploring various brainwashing techniques, expanding the collective mind of his audience along the way.  In one particular chapter, he describes, in extraordinary detail, one of the first documented accounts of a human ingesting psychedelic mushrooms:

“To Wasson, it suddenly became clear that the walls of the house had been blown apart, or dissolved, the spirits of the men inside ejected, catapulted at great velocity over the jungles of southern Mexico and into the mountains that rose, tier above tier, into heaven.”

At another juncture, Streatfield also delves into the mystery of the stigma of heavy metal music and its ability to inspire the unstable to commit acts of violence.

For years, critics have said that evil ‘satanic’ metal lyrics were literally driving people mad.  In addition, parents all over the world have alleged that behind locked doors, America’s youth were drunk on music – it’s underlying core brimming with covert messages of death and destruction. Here, Streatfield’s treatise shows us that the metal movement is not only an important moment in the history of music, but also a big moment in the history of brainwashing that’s been overlooked.

In the end, the author’s engrossing writing style recreates some very interesting and very bizarre moments in the history of mind control.  I dare say that parts of this book are truly…hypnotizing.

by Miranda Orso

COMPETITION: THE BIRTH OF A NEW SCIENCE. James Case. Hill & Wang.

I experienced a wide range of emotions when I started reading this book. At first, curiosity reigned supreme as I wondered about the science of competition.  But then, as I scanned over the author’s background, I started to get worried (for Case is a “math man” with a Ph.D. in Mathematics).

Immediately, I had flashbacks to more than one awful moment in math class when I would find myself completely lost while some faceless teacher drew funny symbols on the chalkboard and assigned value to imaginary numbers.

However, just as quickly my dread and worry were put to rest when Case let readers know [that] “though every effort has been made to minimize the number of pages infected with mathematical symbolism, I know not how to eliminate them all.”

Readers will note that even though Case is a highly school mathematical expert, he does try to keep up his end of the bargain and limit the numbers-attack on his audience.  For example, in chapter 5, he breaks down the “primal conflict” between the pitcher and batter in baseball (using multiple diagrams to successfully deconstruct the various pitches and their numerous intentions).

While some of the author’s other ideas end up marred in muddy mathematical theory, other concepts are set forth simply and are easy to follow.  For example, in chapter 8, Case dissects the art of auctions byway of the story of three scientists who studied the process of a sealed-bid auction.

This information was not only deeply intriguing, but it also served to set the tone for the compelling places Case could bring us (once we waded beyond our subconscious aversion to the idea of higher mathematics).

by Miranda Orso

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE: AUTHORITARIAN PERIL IN THE AGE OF BUSH. Joe Conason. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.

In his sequel to Big Lives, Joe Conason leaves no question as to what side of the political fence he sits on. Basically, this book is a wake up call and an answer to the 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can’t Happen Here (a popular story based on “a clownish, sinister, and brutal homegrown fascism, spurred by patriots and preachers”).

Here, the author draws on the obvious and not-so-obvious parts of Lewis’ poignant novel that eerily foreshadow America’s current political situation.

The story begins as an elected official uses the idea of war to infringe upon the rights of the whole for his own personal power and wealth (haven’t we heard this scenario somewhere before?). The story goes on to expose various aspects of the political underground where Americans are invited into the puppet master’s lair.

Will we make it? Will we survive?

Conason is right – the story is undeniably close to what Lewis penned 52 years ago.  And it really is not a good thing.  It Can Happen Here shows readers how much “it” really does happen here on a daily basis.

And the author begs the question: Are we headed toward the end of American democracy? According to past and the present events – the answer lies in the idle hands of the often overly-complacent American public.

Will we make it? Will we survive?

Perhaps the answer is echoed in the words of Abraham Lincoln (which begin Chapter 4):

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

by Miranda Orso

HOW COMPUTER GAMES HELP CHILDREN LEARN. David Williamson Shaffer. Palgrave-MacMillian/St. Martin’s Press. 

This book raises some very interesting and worthwhile questions about our reliance on a standardized approach to education.

Specifically, while we have integrated computer labs and technology into most school curriculums, Shaffer points out that we still have yet to harness the potential of “epistemic video games.”  In turn, he suggests we should combine these various electronic technological advances with these burgeoning generations of beta babies in order to create a modern approach to the educational demands of the new millennium.

According to Shaffer, by incorporating video games into the classroom, teachers can better prepare students for common ‘real world’ situations. And in the course of his treatise, the author makes a valid argument for the power of the gaming mentality, showing us how it can be applied to the process of learning.

In one particularly compelling passage, Shaffer talks about “The Debate Game” (where students engage in debates in order to utilize the knowledge they are acquiring). As Shaffer points out, by implementing his method, students are forced to participate and engage in active discussion (which will eventually lead to mastery of the subject).

In addition, Shaffer has developed his own computer games designed specifically for learning purposes (and to simulate real-world professional scenarios).  For example, in Escher’s World,” Shaffer built a game based on a studio course in order to encourage young architects in training to refine their design skills (and harpen their understanding of geometry).

In the end, Shaffer brilliantly supports his theory that video games can actually help children learn by using an array of examples that show that in every virtual computer world there lurks a clever teacher full of new ways to educate America’s tech-savvy youth.

Order each from amazon.com.

by Miranda Orso

© Miranda Orso. All rights reserved.


Miranda Orso is a freelance writer currently residing in Philadelphia.  She graduated from Penn State University in 2002 with a degree in Journalism. Reach her through The Electric Review.

For the Consumer

THE MEDICARE PART D DRUG PROGRAM. Making the Most of the Benefit. Jack E. Fincham. Jones and Bartlett.

Probably no other government benefit has caused senior citizens more consternation than the Medicare Part D Drug Program which was launched on January 1, 2006. The program, with many footnotes and exceptions and with many conditional riders, threw both providers and beneficiaries for a loop as seniors wondered what plan to choose to best meet their particular needs.

Jones and Bartlett Publishers and author Jack Fincham (University of Georgia College of Pharmacy) should be commended for dedicating themselves to creating this manual, for it serves as a primer for both pharmacists and Medicare beneficiaries, documenting the core of the Part D Program in clear and concise terms.

Here, readers will be presented with information on just how the program works and how it can be used in conjunction with other coverage to provide the best protection for the individual.

Will I lose my existing insurance coverage if I apply for a Medicare Part D Plan? Do I qualify for extra help and how do I apply for it? What is this donut hole everyone is talking about and how will this impact me? Will my pharmacy take Part D plans or is this only good in certain places? Will my medication be covered, or is this Plan only good for generic drugs?

Every senior presents with their own unique set of questions and it can be a daunting task to formulate these questions in such a way to elicit the right answers. And that’s where Fincham’s book comes into play, as it affords seniors, medical professionals and dedicated caregivers a one-stop source for the ‘right answers.’

Accordingly, topics ofcoverage include an overview of the Medicare Program and how Part D marries to it; an overview of the Part D component and how to determine if your needs fit into its myriad frames; how to choose a plan; how to apply for extra help; in addition to what drugs and pharmacies are covered (to name highlights).

However, the best aspect of this text (in addition to the data it collects) is the way that it has been organized and presented. Even though Fincham is a professor of Pharmacy Care with deep knowledge of his subject, he has written this book with the elderly consumer in mind. To this end, chapters are written in a ‘step-by-step’ manner that gives the reader the information they need in clear, ‘no-frills’ language. Simply, Fincham’s goal is to educate his audience and he has taken great pains to insure that he speaks to his readers – and not over them.

In the end, Medicare Part D is a wonderful public resource dedicated to educating the elderly and their primary caregivers on an insurance program that has the potential to provide great help for many (as long as they can approach the application process with knowledge on how to pick a carrier that best fits their life-needs).

Recommended to all Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers – this manual that contains answers to all the important questions pertaining to the Medicare Part D Drug Program. In addition, both Pharmacists (and pharmacy-technicians) will find answers to many complicated and commonly-asked questions here. If nothing else, Fincham teaches consumers what questions they need to ask about the Part D Program; for this reason alone, Medicare Part D should be available at counter-racks in pharmacies throughout the country. Priced at only $20.00, this handy reference will pay for itself immediately.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

DR. PATRICK WALSH’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING PROSTRATE CANCER. Second Edition. Patrick C. Walsh. And Janet Farrar Worthington. Warner Wellness.

The jacket of this book proclaims – “every man needs this book!” And this emphatic statement couldn’t ring more true. As cancer continues to threaten the lives of millions every year, tumors of the prostate remain every man’s over-riding concern: For just as breast cancer creates the specter of female mortality, prostate disease brings men face-to-face with their greatest fear – the loss of virility.

Here, Dr. Patrick Walsh (one of the leading experts in the study of prostate cancer and a professor of Urology at Johns Hopkins) has created a manual that is meant to educate the lay reader on maintaining both prostate health (in addition to teaching us how to deal with a diagnosis of disease should we one day be challenged by it).

Above all else, Walsh sets out to tell his audience that this disease is not some formulaic set of symptoms that strikes every patient in the same way. To the contrary, each man presents with individualized symptoms and unique concerns – -the lesson if you are a patient is not to feel as if you need to ‘fit a certain mold.’ Instead, as Walsh teaches, you must develop a proper care-plan that suits your basic needs.

In addition, Walsh brings his readers into the classroom for a crash course on prostate health. Topics of coverage include the causes of the disease and how to assess individual risk factors (including age, heredity and diet); how modifications in lifestyle can delay and in some cases prevent the onset of cancer; the importance of the PSA test and the digital-rectal exam as a means of preventing the onset of cancer; advancements in prostate cancer treatment; and methods for maintaining potency and continence after treatment has taken place (which are two of the most worrisome aspects of prostate cancer for the typical man).

What sets this book apart from other similar manuals on prostate health is Dr. Walsh’s prowess as a writer: Walsh has attained the ability to write science for a general audience, carefully delineating complicated medical concepts in a clear and insightful way that imparts vital information while not overwhelming or frightening off the reader.

In Guide, Dr. Walsh succeeds in building a relationship with his audience because he knows that the men coming to this book are scared of this kind of cancer, these men in need of patience and understanding if they are to reach a place where they might conquer the taste of fear and fight back their disease.

As noted, this is title belongs in the library of every man 45 years and older: Like it or not, all men eventually will have to deal with the idea of a prostate disease as a normal component to the aging process.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SUGAR SHOCK. How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life– and How You Can Get Back on Track. Connie Bennett. Stephen T. Sinatra. Berkley Trade.

In this day and age, when the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes are steadily rising, we have all been put on notice – it has now become time to bear full responsibility for yourself and learn to control those things you are consuming.

It is beyond question that diet is at the core of good health; simply, a diet low in saturated fat and processed sugar, but high in fruits, fish and vegetables, can reduce the long-term risk for cancer and heart disease. In this book, Bennett and Sinatra confirm the work of scientific researchers who have for decades subscribed to the fact that too much sugar and too many carbohydrates can ravage the body’s balance and cause an over-all system meltdown.

Sugar Shock, which has enjoyed wide-spread critical acclaim, was written by journalist Connie Bennett (in collaboration with Dr. Stephen T. Sinatra), and it tells the story of how Bennett was able to kick her sugar habit, in turn healing herself of an array of symptoms (including long-standing bouts of fatigue).

Bennett, a confessed “sugar addict,” found the key to better health in a revision of her diet. And as we read through this book, Bennett’s transformation provides keen insight into the simple fact that over-indulging in carbs and sugary treats can literally throw the body into ‘shock’ – confusing the metabolic process and altering the way organ systems assimilate nutrients.

What’s best about this book (aside from the wealth of practical data it imparts), is that Bennett’s story is told in common terms – this isn’t some distant scientific treatise steeped in nutritional charts and long-winded medical-center diatribes. To the contrary, Sugar Shock excels at speaking in a conversational tone that is at all times empathetic to the plight of the reader.

Obviously, Bennett has been in your shoes and has played victim to an imbalanced diet. Accordingly, she is able to tell her story in blunt and human terms, inspiring her audience to take a more proactive role in monitoring their meals and protecting themselves.

Recommended to readers who are battling obesity and struggling to kick a reliance on ‘quick energy foods’ – in short, Sugar Shock is about coming to terms with the fact that the foods you are eating could be causing you to feel sick and lack drive. Further recommended to libraries in the public sector as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Exercise & Fitness

FITNESS MADE SIMPLE. The Power to Change Your Body; the Power to Change Your Life. John Basedow. With Tom McGrath. McGraw-Hill.

Many folks dream of dropping those extra pounds and replacing the flab with svelte muscle. The only thing is – they not only don’t know how to get there. They don’t know where to start.

Yes, it’s quite a daunting task – figuring out how to lose weight figuring out how to effectively exercise so those nagging pounds stay off and the motivation to move stays sky-high.

Enter John Basedow.

In this new book from fitness expert Basedow, readers will be presented with a step-by-step manual on how to confront the idea of exercise and diet in a rational and effective manner. Instead of writing another meaningless ‘how to diet’ book long on words and short on stamina, Basedow has taken a different approach – looking to teach us that the key to weight control can only be discovered when you change the composition of your body: In essence, the secret is only as simple as replacing fat-mass with lean layers of muscle.

Again, easier said then done, right? Well, not necessarily.

Here, Basedow shares his secret to a healthier and stronger body – namely, combining elements of nutrition, exercise and nutritional supplements in order to safely reverse the path of a body gone out of control. And he writes:

Fitness made Simple gives people great results because it works with human nature, not against it. It’s not a short-term diet; it’s a lifestyle change. I’ll get into details starting in the next chapter, but right now I’ll give you three basic ideas that make Fitness made Simple work:

  • Train smarter, not harder.
  • Eat more, not less.
  • Supplements are great as supplements, not as substitutes for an effective workout and nutrition program.

The program I created based on those three ideas has helped people 18 to 80.”

In these brief paragraphs, Basedow begins to forge his permanent road to good health – simply, it’s about changing your lifestyle, not the things inside your refrigerator. And it’s about motivating yourself to move rather than recline in front of the television set. Simply, it’s a commitment to change bad attitudes and unproductive habits as you go about changing the face that stares back through the tangled lips of the mirror.

Yet, going further, what’s best about this manual is the way Basedow integrates passages of his own story into this fitness guide that offers heart-healthy recipes appended to instructions on how to effectively work out your body so fat lines slowly give way to muscle and tone.

As we make our way through Fitness made Simple, we learn that Basedow himself had many personal challenges to overcome. And rather than running away and hiding, he met his challenges head-on, fighting against passivity, committing himself to a way-of-life and not some week-long fad.

In sum, Fitness made Simple is a book about losing weight that shows rather than tells. Is it going to be easy? No way! Is it going to be worth it? Only you can answer that question – after you’ve honestly made the attempt to change your ways.

Recommended to anyone looking to lose weight and sharpen muscle tone in a safe and sensible manner. Noted for its honest and straight-forward tone that never wavers in its mantra – ‘success is up to the individual and not the process.’ 

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Non-Fiction

NERDS: WHO THEY ARE AND WHY WE NEED MORE OF THEM. Dr. David Anderegg. Tarcher/Penguin.

Who would’ve thought that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow could be so destructive?

In Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need Them, David Anderegg uses Sleepy Hollow as one tool to explore the nerd stereotype in America and its effects on our society – especially on our children.

When delving into the roots of our nation’s nerd stereotype, Anderegg engages two bright American icons: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s speech about the American Man of Action; and Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow.

Most of us have come to view Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman as a vital piece of Americana after reading the story as children.  However, here, Anderegg causes the reader to step back and see this story from a fresh perspective: As the “nerd,” Ichabod, lanky and bookish and interested in unnatural pursuits, is defeated by the strapping and not-so-bookish Brom Bones.

Accordingly, Old European learning is defeated by American Action. And in the end, it is American Action who gets the girl.  Yet, just what kind of message, Anderegg argues, is this sending to our children?

Sit back and contemplate the question for a moment and you begin to see his point.

The nerd stereotype seems to be a permanent part of modern life.  At first, it seems harmless enough, a topic we can joke about, because, after all, we know that nerds can get by just fine on their own; thus, what’s the harm in joking about them?

But children see the equation much differently. Utilizing humor and thought-provoking analysis, Anderegg illustrates that the nerd stereotype is harmful to a child’s development, evidencing his points by-way of pertinent pop-culture references, research data and a poignant series of interviews with young people on the subject.

“We act like it’s all in good fun to communicate to our kids that people who are smart and do well in school and like science fiction and computers are also people who smell bad and look ugly and are so repulsive that they are not allowed to have girlfriends. And then we wonder why it’s so hard to motivate kids to do well in school.”

(Page 33)

In short, Nerds is a call to arms for America.  As a society, we shame kids when they use stereotypes for race or disability, so why then, Anderegg asks, do we foster this hurtful stereotype that ridicules those whose personalities deviate from the accepted norm?

Anderegg argues that as children become more self-conscious, specifically between the ages of eight to thirteen (the “tween” years), they will do whatever it takes to be labeled as “normal.”  Anderegg asserts that “tweens” “are precisely the kids who should be protected from nerd/geek stereotypes, because…they use these rigid stereotypes to make decisions (like concluding that “taking advanced math and science is for nerds”) that affect their school careers for several years.”  (p. 173).

Anderegg completely exhausts the topic of “nerdity” in this book. For example, in the opening chapter, The Field Guide to Nerds or Why Nerds Are so Gay, he defines the universal face of the nerd and then effectively explores the connection between nerds and magic.  Packing the pages with detailed information, Anderegg makes Nerds a delight to read, giving us a fresh perspective on this harsh stereotype while inspiring readers to think twice before they use the word in the future.

Moreover, this book will prove itself invaluable to parents as they start to teach their kids what words and nicknames can do to the one being labeled.  Basically, if we want our children to succeed in disciplines like math and science and to have a true love for learning, we must nip this stereotype in the bud.

Ultimately, Anderegg wrote Nerds to make us aware of the stereotype and of the problems it causes. And that, it seems, is the first step to our collective recovery.

Order from amazon.com.

by Rebecca Thomas

© Rebecca Thomas. All rights reserved.


Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer from Southern California. Reach her through The Electric Review.

KNOCK YOURSELF UP. A Tell-all Guide to Becoming a Single Mom. Louise Sloan. Avery.

Initially, I was going to assign this book to a contributing writer to The Electric Review – more specifically, I was going to assign it to a female writer who I thought might better be able to deal with the vast female perspective of Louise Sloan’s very personal memoir.

However, after being sucked into the vortex of this story by Sloan’s evocative and layered writing, I decided that perhaps that tact would not do justice to the passion of her book or to its important message – the purpose of this book to bring attention to the changing perspectives of the culture and its traditional familial structure.

Here, Sloan tells the story of her choice to become pregnant without having a husband, carefully escorting her readers into the every nuance of that decision. In Knock Yourself Up, we learn of the random things bouncing through Sloan’s head as she sought a sperm donor as she grappled with questions about the inevitable changes that motherhood would bring to her life.

Tough questions, indeed – with no formulaic answers at the ready. Instead, it’s all comes down to individual eyes and how to make the process applicable to your own path.

In Knock Yourself Up, Sloan throws down the gauntlet and frankly confronts the idea of single parenthood by choice. Stepping back and looking at this equation objectively is difficult, since everything we’ve been taught is centered in the tradition of the mother-father family unit (as evinced by our television culture where “Leave it to Beaver” serves as everyone’s picture of the perfect home-life).

Yet, as Sloan shows us, “Leave it to Beaver” isn’t everyone’s dream, and there are women out there who hunger to know the wonders of motherhood without being married; and Sloan writes:

“My original intention with this book was to start with the idea that a mature single woman with adequate resources having a baby thoughtfully on her own was an OK thing to do, and move on from there…”

You see, above all else, Sloan is writing about freedom, writing about the idea of liberty, writing about the concept of individuality. Basically, this book says that it is perfectly fine to be yourself and act in your best interests, saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to live your life as you see fit rather than as someone else expects you to live.

Yet, going further, Sloan makes an even deeper statement – that individuality doesn’t have to stop at questions of dress or sexual orientation; instead, these questions can extend to how you choose to structure your family and how you choose to help further the collective cause of the world.

As readers will quickly learn, Knock Yourself Up transcends ‘straight versus gay,’ transcending ‘right versus left.’ Rather, the book’s about the idea that single parents can in fact present a child with an ordered and happy home life…if they themselves are strong individuals with self-actualized cores and a true understanding of their place in the world.

I surmise that many traditionalists will take umbrage with Sloan’s point of view and with the family unit she has created. However, even if you disagree with her ideals, you must tip your hat to this lady’s guts – for it takes a strong stomach to step out alone into these uncertain times and raise a child without ‘dad’ around.

In addition, it takes much courage to step out as a writer and tell the world such a personal story. Accordingly, readers will be touched not only by Sloan’s writing but by her passionate honesty and fragile human-ness.

Recommended to all women thinking of becoming mothers – even if your married, the themes Sloan touches on here are universal in tone and speak to the mission of mothers in both traditional and non-traditional relationships.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

PHILOSOPHERS WITHOUT GODS: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life. Edited by Louise M. Antony. Oxford University Press.

Many of the essays in this text are intensely autobiographical ruminations, such as Stewart Shapiro’s introductory essay, subtitled “Ruminations of a Fool” (from Psalms 14:1). Here, the Orthodox Judaism of Shapiro’s childhood cannot survive his questioning of the literal reading of Genesis, eventually falling victim to God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Viewed in the context of the demands of the “War on Terror” on both the man of faith and the doubter, some of Shapiro’s skepticism hits very close to home:

“Lots of people did what Abraham was prepared to do—sacrifice a close relative in obedience to a higher power…Nowadays, we read almost daily of people who kill innocent human beings claiming that they are doing what God wants. We call them terrorists, or would-be terrorists, if (like Abraham) they are stopped at the last minute…Whatever else we may think of such people, I presume that we do not doubt the sincerity of their beliefs. They must be sincere, since many of them deliberately kill themselves in the process. It is the beliefs themselves that are sick, demented, irrational. No God would want this, we tell ourselves. The philosopher in me still asks the question: What’s the difference between the near sacrifice of Isaac and contemporary religious terrorism?”

Like Shapiro, Edwin Curley’s doubts began in adolescence, at a time when he could not accept the articles of religion (including predestination), nor accept the doctrine that said that “most people, whatever their shortcomings, had sinned so extravagantly that they deserved eternal punishment.”  In addition, Curley also could not reconcile the dilemma of the free will defense (which argues that freedom and the moral goodness which may result from it can solve the problem of evil). As Curley puts it:  “There is a problem, of course, about appealing to human freedom to solve the problem of evil when you also believe in predestination and divine foreknowledge.”

Once again mirroring Shapiro, Curley is outwardly troubled by God’s admonition to Abraham in Genesis 22. And in his distress, he offers a lucid description of his heretic conversion:

“If there is a God who is liable to command anything, and if our highest loyalty must be to this God, there is no act — save disobedience to God — that we can safely say is out of bounds, no act of a kind that simply must not be done, not even genocide…If the mass slaughter of the innocent is not wrong, then we don’t know how to tell the difference between right and wrong, even in what would appear to be the clearest cases. We must either give up Christianity or give up morality. I choose heresy.”

Who are we and where are we going? Do we need God to light the way? Or is this concept of the divine but an illusion that provides a thick salve for our failures, allowing us to cope with death and make it one more day?

Obviously, these are questions for the ages, and they speak to the holy mysteries that have haunted man since the dawn of time. In turn, Antony’s text brings these concepts to the forefront of the consciousness, this eloquent and thought-provoking treatise that challenges all of earth’s children to define their place in the world.

Recommended as a supporting class text in all philosophy courses that examine the idea of religion. In addition, the general reader will likely find this book compelling as they proceed forth on their own solitary journey.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Ten Minutes With Author Louise Antony

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I grew up in upstate New York and Western Massachusetts, in a devout Roman Catholic home.  My parents were of German and Irish ancestry.  My father was an elementary school administrator, and my mother often did substitute teaching.  I also have a sister, ten years older.  My great-aunt, Louise Edwards (my namesake) lived with us for a good part of my childhood. My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was eleven years old, leaving my mother in a precarious financial condition. Although my mother was no feminist, she was stalwart in her support of my ambitions to develop a career of my own; I suspect her struggles after my father’s death bolstered her resolve to make me an independent young woman. I was able to attend Syracuse University on a scholarship, where I majored in philosophy, and graduating in 1975. I continued my education at Harvard University, and eventually met my husband, Joe Levine, there [Levine was a graduate student in philosophy at the time and is a contributor to Philosophers Without Gods]. As I described in my essay “For the Love of Reason,” it was my burgeoning interest in philosophy that led to my loss of religious faith. I have found the pursuit of philosophy to be both intellectually and personally rewarding, and have never had the slightest inclination to return to the Church. In fact, I have been involved for a long time in peace activism, and have also worked for reproductive rights for women.

What was the genesis of this book and how did you become interested in approaching the idea of religion on this level?

The immediate inspiration was another book published by Oxford University PressGod and the Philosophers, in which a number of prominent analytic philosophers explained the bases of their religious faith. Quite a few of the contributors described conversion experiences, and many discussed the apparent conflict between religion and reason, or religion and science, offering views on how reconciliations could be effected. But the tone of the essays was not academic; instead, the authors were speaking from the heart, in a personal vein wholly unlike their usual professional voices. At that point, it occurred to me that those of us in the discipline who had had “anti-conversions,” or who had examined religious doctrine and found it intellectually or morally lacking, should speak up, too — that the public perhaps needed to see that thoughtful and morally engaged persons sometimes rejected religion, and that we felt as passionately and deeply about our own commitments — to morality, to rationality, and to the truth — as religious people felt about theirs. Finally, I discussed the idea of this sort of complementary volume with an editor at Oxford, Peter Ohlin. He was enthusiastic about the project, and encouraged me to move ahead. I contacted a few close personal friends, whose views on religion I knew well, and then, through word of mouth, assembled a roster of — I think — extremely distinguished philosophers willing to speak in this personal way about their own experiences as non-believers.

There is an interesting dynamic to this work – namely the study of philosophy without adhering to the idea of a greater ‘being.’ What has the reception been to the book in the vast realms of the academic world?

I’m not sure what you mean when you speak of our not adhering to the idea of a greater ‘being.’ While none of the contributors believe in supernatural beings of any sort, we all believe in truth — that is, we all believe that there is a definite way the world is, independent of what human beings think of it.  We also all consider that the rules of logic and evidence ought to govern all of our inquiry, and that the rules of morality, the facts about what is good and what is not, ought to govern all of our actions. So we do all think that there is something “larger” than human experience, in a sense. But we don’t think that it’s mysterious or occult — it’s accessible to anyone with a willing mind and an open heart.  Tony Laden, Ken Taylor, and Simon Blackburn discuss these issues in detail in their essays. That’s not to say that nothing is lost when one turns away from religious belief.  Joe Levine, Dan Farrell, Dan Garber, and David Owens all discuss, in their essays, ways in which they feel somewhat bereft in a world that has been (as Owens puts it) “disenchanted.”  Levine talks about losing the sense he used to have (when he was an Orthodox Jew) of a personal connection with the Creator of the Universe — an intoxicating feeling, he reports. Farrell describes his loss of a sense of absolute purpose in life.  Garber speaks longingly of a community whose belief system he can admire and study, but cannot come to share. Owens suggests that our most fundamental conception of self probably rests on the myth that there is something beyond our own goals and desires to give guidance to our choices. But for all that, none of them can embrace theism, because they simply do not see how it can be true.  That seems courageous to me. As for the book’s reception in the academic world: I won’t know in a general way for a while, not until the reviews start coming in. But quite a few philosopher friends, and some in other disciplines, have written me to say they liked the book. No hate mail, as yet…

What was your mission with this work? What is the lesson that the reader should ultimately walk away with?

I wanted to demonstrate a few things about atheists: first, that we are not all arrogant know-it-alls. Second, that we have moral commitments every bit as serious and as demanding as those held by religious people. And third, that we are extremely various in our attitudes toward religion and our reasons for rejecting it. Ultimately, I’d like to “normalize” atheism — make it seem just as respectable a position as any religious position, and containing the same degree of diversity as theism does. I’d love it if this book challenges religious people to consider the possibility that they do not have a lock on moral value. In sum, I wanted to demonstrate that one can believe in good, without believing in God.

Much of the underlying premise to this book builds into the ultimate question of life (i.e.): Is our time on earth ‘it’ or does it serve as but a stepping stone to a greater experience in the afterlife? Accordingly, do you want readers to use this book as a means to think deeper about their place in the universe, or is it meant to only be a historical record detailing how some philosophers approached the question?

I think that any kind of serious reflection is a good thing, regardless of whether it concerns one’s “place in the universe,” so if the book provokes deep thought about anything, I’ll be very pleased. That’s what philosophy is all about, after all. So I reject the idea that there is some one “ultimate question.” There are lots of extremely puzzling and disconcerting things about human existence, and about non-human existence, for that matter, and there’s absolutely no reason why any of them have to be addressed through a religious perspective. Many of the contributors in the book discuss what they think becomes of some of these questions when they are “secularized” and they don’t all agree with each other. That’s generally the way it is with philosophers. As I mentioned, Laden, Taylor and Blackburngive very specific explanations of the ways in which they think such notions as the “transcendent” and the “sacred” can be reconceived in secular terms.

Have any readers shared stories with you after having read this book in terms of it changing their perception of God/faith/religion?

Quite a few people have expressed some surprise at the variety of reasons people give in the book for rejecting theism, so I think the book may succeed in showing people that atheism is not itself some kind of creed. No one has yet told me that their own views on religion have been altered. But it’s not a proselytizing book.  Although there are several argumentative essays in the volume (and mine’s one), it really wasn’t intended as an anti-religion tract. If, for some religious people, it raises some questions that they haven’t so far considered, I’d be delighted. And if religious people raise some considerations that we contributors haven’t taken into account, that would be terrific, too — a really interesting challenge…

by John Aiello

Of Related Interest

PHILOSOPHY IN THE MODERN WORLD. Anthony Kenny. Oxford University Press.

Sir Anthony Kenny completes his New History of Western Philosophy with this lucid and compelling fourth volume that looks to unlock the secrets to the philosophical doctrines of the modern era. The final chapter, appropriately titled “God,” presents an analysis of modern philosophical thought related to faith and theism, providing keen insight into ways that we have come to address our place on earth and what waits ‘beyond.’ In turn, this book provides philosophy instructors at the college level with a useful and practical tool that can easily serve as either a primary or supporting text in all modern philosophy courses.

Order each from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

BLOOD AND THUNDER. Hampton Sides. Doubleday.

The Western has captivated Americans for decades, spanning Gregory Peck to Johnny Cash, spanning Billy-the-Kid and Pat Garrett to the bloody hawk-like film-hymns of Sam Peckinpah – this genre that illuminates the seminal core of our history and brings us face-to-face with our many triumphs and betrayals and inhuman failures.

Yes, even after all the movies and books and documentaries that have come and gone, we still want to know more; simply, we must know more as we strive to revisit a world that defines us.

In Blood and Thunder, award-winning Memphis writer Hampton Sides presents a book that offers a step back in time to a place we just can’t leave behind. At once lyrical, at once poetic in the barest of senses,Blood and Thunder provides a mystical journey across the saddle-sore prairies at dawn as we come upon these ghosts who settled the new Americas.

And the author writes:

“Carson was present at the creation, it seemed. He had witnessed the dawn of the American West in all its vividness and brutality. In his constant travels he had caromed off of or intersected with nearly every major tribal group and person of consequence. He had lived the sweep of the Western experience with a directness few other men could rival….”

Blood and Thunder tells the story of our taking of the Western heartlands, chronicling the mechanics of how we came to put the grand doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” in motion and then made it seem rational. However, in actuality, it was all anything but rational. And anything but humane.

For decades (up to the mid 1800s), the Navajo people (guided by Narbona), tried to beat back the endless battalions of soldiers. To the Navajo warriors, these roaring platoons of storms clad in matching blue uniforms were the personification of the devil. Make no mistake, the Navajo people were not just fighting a war, but instead, they were defending the roads of their holy land, defending the very realm where the ghosts of their ancestors roamed.

Inasmuch as it’s a story of ultimate American victory, what’s best about Sides’ narrative is that he does not run away from the questions of contradiction that linger: Was this just a grand maneuver to steal away the land from the natives that was everything we wanted and needed, or was it a true settlement of a wild and torn country-side?

It’s a difficult plot-line, indeed, and Sides is quite gutsy to have written his treatise in a way that leaves his readers grappling with tough questions about themselves.In light of America’s invasion of Iraq, it makes this picture of theOld West all the more relevant, all the more revealing and timely.

Insofar as his mission as a writer, Sides understands that he has an ultimate obligation to make his audience think about the bigger picture. Accordingly, he does not run from the challenge; to the contrary, he embraces it.

Still, as much as Blood and Thunder is about the settling of the West, it is also a book that seeks to crack the kernel of Kit Carson: The legendary American scout and trapper was also a paradox of deep emotion, split by myriad motivations, a man hunting for his identity amid a tumultuous era when man killed man in order to survive to the next hour.

And the author writes:

“In the two decades he had lived and wandered in the West, Christopher Carson had led an unaccountably full life. He was only thirty-six years old, but it seemed he had done everything there was to do in the Western wilds—had been everywhere, met everyone…At first glance, Kit Carson was not much to look at, but that was a curious part of his charm. His bantam physique and modest bumpkin demeanor seemed interestingly at odds with the grandeur of the landscapes he had roamed. He stood only five-feet four-inches, with stringy brown hair grazing his shoulders. His jaw was clenched and squarish, his eyes a penetrating gray-blue, his mouth set in a tight little downturned construction that looked like a frown of mild disgust. The skin between his eyebrows was pinched in a furrow, as though permanently creased from constant squinting. His forehead rose high and craggy to a swept-back hairline. He had a scar along his left ear, another one on his right shoulder—both left by bullets. He appeared bowlegged from his years in the saddle, and he walked roundly, with certain ungainliness, as though he were not entirely comfortable as a terrestrial creature, his sense of ease and familiarity of movement tied to his mule.”

In the end, Blood and Thunder is a glorious and compelling dissection of a period in time that has been lost toTV Land depictions which often skin these great characters into hollow caricatures with half-born faces. But when Hampton Sides enters the equation, he is able to reconnect us to the subtle truths of the Old West– the triumphant reign of the American settlement forever shadowed by the corpse-drunk stench of greed and immorality now impossible for any of us to run from.

Blood and Thunder ends as a stunning book beyond ridicule, full of intensity and great purpose: This mystical ride through the bloody thunder of our collective past.

Recommended to all aficionados of the American West and anyone interested in how these western territories came to be settled. Further recommend to all libraries in both the public sector and at the college level as general resource with long-term reference value.

Go to bloodandthunder.com or order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SNIPER. Training, Techniques and Weapons. Peter Brookesmith. St. Martin’s Press.

This volume by weaponry expert Peter Brookesmith serves as the definitive reference manual on sniper warfare. For centuries, soldiers in the field have been trained to fear the sniper – fearing these deadly marksmen who possess the ability to embrace the rifle as an extension of the self, these icy-cold and emotionless men who can sever the heart of a target from distances as great as 1,000 yards.

Here, Brookesmith presents a historical overview of the sniper in terms of training, shooting techniques and weapons. As background, Brookesmith chronicles the history of the sniper from the English Civil War and the American War of Independence through the World Wars and the modern-day actions in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. This historical record traces how the sniper-specialist has evolved over the years and how military squads have used these deadly shooters as a means to secure territory and drive back the enemy.

In addition, Brookesmith provides deep introspection into ‘the mind’ of the sniper, and this material serves as the true centerpiece of the book. At this juncture, we come to be given entrée into the brain-centers of these trained killers: What enables a man to detach himself from his emotions and exist only in the moment, without past or future? What enables a man to detach himself from all points in the distance except the point of his target? What enables a man to breathe through his weapon and visualize the mystical moment when bullet tears flesh? And finally, just how much of this skills-set is innate and how much is learned technique?

Brookesmith carefully dissects the mind of the sniper in a way that provides us with an intimate glimpse into these components of war, stripping away the myths of media in order to paint this realistic and practical picture of our war-time history.

Also particularly note-worthy is the material on the different weapons that snipers have employed through the years. This data is presented in crisp and clear terms as Brookesmith uses illustrations and short capsules on each rifle to give students of military history useful data in an immediately accessible package.

Readers will find Peter Brookesmith to be a fine writer with deep knowledge of the military and its place within world history. In sum, what’s best about this book is that it creates a captivating read not only for students of the discipline, but also for novice readers curious as to just how common techniques of warfare have evolved to their present-day point.

Recommend to all students of military history as a practical and easily accessible summary documenting the evolution of sniper warfare. In addition, this text could be used in college level military history courses as a supporting class text. Finally, recommended to all libraries in both the public sector and at the college-level as a general reference text.

Order each from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

THE SAVVY AUTHORS GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLICITY. Lissa Warren. Carroll & Graf.

I have known Lissa Warren for many years. She’s noted in the book industry and among media as a publicist who doesn’t play games, doesn’t blow off your inquiries, and doesn’t promise the moon which she can’t deliver. In short, Ms. Warren is the consummate professional who places her authors’ best interests at the heart of her daily calendar.

In The Savvy Author’s Guide, Warren (Senior Director of Publicity at Da Capo Press) has stepped out from behind her desk and created a classroom on paper, setting out to share the experience she picked up from a decade-plus in the high-level game of book publicity. Thus, if you are an author or a book agent or a would-be publicist, this book is a must — for it tells exactly what you need to do in order to maximize your chances at positive press and increased sales.

More than anything, Savvy shows that good publicists face the marketing of books in an artful way. The kind of publicity necessary to assist the work of writers is hardly some formulaic process, but instead, an individualized craft that requires the publicist to intimately know the author, the genre, and the landscape of the media: The idea here is not to shotgun review copies everywhere, but to put books into the hands of the right kind of reviewers – reviewers who are likely to consider the depth and strength of each title in relation to the events of the day.

Accordingly, Warren fills the pages of her guide with indispensable advice that allows her readers to peek inside the offices of what are the major leagues of the publishing world. Simply, Ms. Warren is not offering her opinions as to what you should do to market your book. To the contrary, she is telling you how it is done as publicists focus on trying to capture the widest possible audience.

To this end, Warren covers her topic in comprehensive terms, offering information on myriad subject areas. The chapters on the publicity process and what happens at different junctures of the ‘game’ are invaluable, not only to authors but to anyone affiliated with this ever-changing business. In this section, Warren deftly takes us through the twists and turns of literary PR, mixing the creative with the traditional in order to create her own unique style of publicity management:

“The process for securing an event at a chain bookstore…involves approaching the events person who handles your publisher nationally. That means a call to the Borders headquarters in Ann Arbor and the B&N offices in New York, even if you’re looking to speak at stores in Philly and D.C. While this centralized method seems a bit odd, it actually works quite smoothly. However, these chain events coordinators prefer not to deal with authors directly. So ask you publicist to place the call.”

(Page-87)

Additionally, the information on showing writers how to assume dual roles and become directly involved in the plight of their books is especially insightful, premised on teaching first-time authors what they need to know to effectively begin the never-ending task of marketing their books in an internet-driven world.

Beyond its wealth of “inside” information, what makes Savvy particularly useful is Warren’s writing style. By the time you reach page 3 you realize Warren has taken great pains to make her chapters accessible — topic outlines succinct and to-the-point serve to high-light the fact that this is a quick and competitive business requiring all writers to become masters at saying what they mean – quickly and efficiently.

As I’ve said, if you’re a writer who has just published a book, then Lissa Warren’s The Savvy Author’s Guide To Book Publicity is indispensable to your mission. Like your dictionary and Writer’s Marketreference, this title will help you understand each of the dos-and-don’ts germane to the PR side of your profession. For in years to come, this text is likely to be known as the ‘bible of book publicity.’

In addition to recommending this book to authors (with the soft-cover priced at under $15, it’s a steal), I believe it should also be included in libraries within the public sector as a general reference text (geared toward journalists, librarians and writers new to publishing). As a book review editor, this is the kind of text I’d buy for myself as a reference guide. And given the amount of books I encounter every year, that’s the biggest compliment I can offer any writer.

Order each from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

An Interview With Lissa Warren

A Publicist’s View

From the Editor: Authors and publishing-insiders alike should take note of Lissa Warren’s book, The Savvy Author’s Guide To Book Publicity (reviewed above), since Warren (Senior Director of Publicity at Da Capo Press) is a veteran of the East Coast publishing world and full of insight on how to maximize a title’s potential for media attention (and, consequently, sales). Warren, like her book, is a refreshing conversation – direct and ever-attentive, a careful listener who has the innate ability to read between the lines of a book and its writer and see where they might fit into the cultural landscape at a given moment. In this interview (which took place in early November as she enjoyed a break from a work-filled weekend),Warren shares a few remarks on her background and how she got here: Propping open half-hidden doors, offering writers in all genres a few secrets on how to win the battle for publicity in an ever-evolving business.

Tell me a bit of your background Lissa.

Well, I went to college first at Miami University in Ohio. I took a B.A. in English Education with a double-minor in American Literature and creative writing. Afterwards, I went to Bennington College and took my M.F.A. in poetry.

And how, then, did you find your way into book publicity?

While I worked through my Master’s program, I got a job at Godine Publishing as an unpaid intern. After working my way up the ladder at Godine [Lissa was there for 4-plus years), I was hired by Houghton Mifflin and worked as a senior publicist in Mifflin’s adult-trade division. And just a short year later, I was stolen away from Mifflin by the Perseus Books Group. Eventually, after changes within the structure ofPerseus, I became the Director of Publicity at Da Capo Press [an imprint of Perseus]. All totaled, I’ve been at Perseus for seven years. And in that time I’ve been a part of some wonderful projects. For example, atDa Capo we’ve been able to establish the Life-Long imprint which serves as a place for us to house and spotlight all our health and women’s titles. Looking back, when I left college, I always thought I would get a job as an editor. But, actually – and this might seem strange to a lot of people – you get to do more writing as a publicist, creating different kinds of press releases, exchanging correspondence with media and authors and editors…

I think the thing that stands out about Savvy is its clear-honed focus. How did you come to want to write a book about the inner workings of book publicity?

Well, one day, I was sitting in Marnie Cochran’s office (the Executive Editor at Da Capo) moaning about one of my authors, who was hitting me with a barrage of questions about publicity for his book. And as I told Marnie, I was in a position where I could either spend my time answering all of his questions and educating him about the process, or I could actually go out and find publicity for his book. At this point, Marnie said that maybe I should consider writing a book about what I had just said and what I was going through with this author. So that night I went home and started shaping an outline and the skeleton of a proposal. And the book just took off from that point.

And what were you trying to get at with your project? What was the mission?

I wanted to write a book that could educate all authors – not just the ones I worked with or the ones who write for Perseus, but authors everywhere. I believe that we all benefit from having an educated author-pool. My goal is for authors to compete for publicity in the world of books and entertainment; in turn, this strengthens the work we are all doing.

Was there a particular model that you used in the construction of Savvy?

No, not at all. I simply did a ‘data-dump,’ taking everything that was in my head and putting it on paper in my own voice. Working full-time, I didn’t have time for endless research; plus, I only had four months to write it. So I was forced to take everything I knew about book publicity and write it in my own voice. I think, though, I was very fortunate to have Keith Wallman as an editor: In keeping with what the best editors do, Keith just steps back and gets out of the way and lets the writer write.

What has the response from other publicists and book people been?

It’s been very favorable. I am often told by publicists that they have purchased the book for some of their authors, and that is a great compliment. And sometimes I am told by publicists that they have purchased the book for junior members of their staff – and that is an even bigger compliment. The truth of the matter is that senior publicists don’t always have time to mentor young staff, and Savvy is able to do some of that work for them. Many publicists have also expressed relief that they now have a resource they can point authors to – a book that tells it like it is and doesn’t sugar-coat things. People sometimes make it sound easy to get high-level publicity. And it is anything but easy….

Looking back on your decade-plus in publishing, what projects stand out?

There are so many! I immediately think of all those first-time authors who were such a joy to work with, people who were so grateful for all the publicity you got them – both big and small. I enjoyed working with David Wolman a great deal; he is a very bright and interesting person. And Dr. Berry Brazelton, who is one of the country’s leading pediatricians having written 40 books. Of those 40 books, I’ve worked on about 10. Berry is now in his late 80s, always appreciative and energetic. An absolute joy to work with.

Do you think that by sharing some of your secrets in Savvy you will make authors more effective with regard to the process of dealing with the media?

I think it’s really very difficult for authors to be effective in getting publicity for themselves. My book is meant to make them more effective in working with their own in-house publicist – or to assist them with getting freelance media opportunities. In actuality, the media is not open to hearing directly from authors. So writers are extremely limited on what they can do for themselves.

Given the substantial responsibilities of your job at Da Capo, how were you able to simultaneously take on the task of writing a book?

By reducing my hours of sleep to 4 per-night! [laughing briefly] Plus, I wrote every weekend and every night. I actually found it very helpful to be working full-time, because when I got home I had rich examples to use while I was writing. My job gave me a lot of fodder for the book I was creating.

Can you give a snapshot of a typical day for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for a publicist, as we are all slaves to breaking news. I always start the day by listening to NPR. And if some news has broken that one of my authors can speak as an expert to, then that becomes my focus. A ‘typical’ day might include writing press releases and galley letters, reviewing media lists, preparing for author meetings, fulfilling media requests, things of this nature.

So if you could offer one piece of advice to writers who have just published books – what would that be?

Get on your publicist’s good side. Publicity is a business of relationships. And the one you have with your publicist is the most important one you are going to have. So make it good. In the course of my job, there are books I have to work hard on because we have spent a great deal of money producing them. And then there are other books produced on a smaller scale that I don’t have to work so hard on because nobody’s watching me. But if I like a book and the writer, I am going to work just as hard for them whether the book is big or small….

by John Aiello

WHERE HELL FREEZES OVER. David A. Kearns. Thomas Dunne Books.

On New Years Eve, 1946, what remained of the crew of the George I lay in the wreckage of its fuselage, this small group of men lying in the oil soaked snow just moments after their plane had crashed into a mountainside of Antarctica. Since none of the crew had any survival training (except for one member who had been an Eagle Scout), the severe blizzard conditions left little reasonable chance for rescue.

Looking at these events with an objective eye notes that the survival of such an ordeal would require the use of common sense in concert with a deep understanding of nature in one of the most desolate places on earth. For this crew, this seemed like an impossible task.

Where Hell Freezes Over is the story of a thirteen day nightmare told by the son of co-pilot Bill Kearns, who was at the control of the George I when it crashed. And except for Kearns’ text, little would be remembered of this tale of survival, since the rescue was quickly forgotten in the wake of America’s growing conflict with North Korea (and President Truman’s re-election campaign).

A two-page accident report blames a pair of the survivors for the crash, stating that the plane commander should not have continued through “unfavorable weather” in unreliably charted terrain, adding that pilot Kearns “misinterpreted” a snow covered mountain for open air space. Yet, in reality, it was the patriotism and stoicism of young men just back from World War II that allowed the U.S. Navy to map out the uncharted wilderness of Antarctica with the limited technology of the day.

In essence, Bill Kearns’ story (and that of his crew) is a gripping tale of rational beings who did everything they could to maximize their chances of survival “without receiving the slightest reward from fate.” It’s the story of a group of men who simply refused to die.

Well-written general interest/adventure title which will likely appeal to myriad readers (and especially to historians of the World-War Two era). Where Hell Freezes Over is also recommended to all public sector libraries as a general reference with broad appeal. ~The Editor

Order each from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE YAGE LETTERS REDUX. William Burroughs. Allen Ginsberg (Edited and with an Introduction by Oliver Harris). City Lights Books.

This seminal correspondence between William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg tracks Burroughs’ search for the hallucinogenic properties of the yage vine, while also serving as a robust travelogue of South America in the 1950s – the book chock full of Burroughs’ dry observations of last gasp towns at the edge of rotting jungles as the sly brujos (medicine men) plied their trade on so many unsuspecting westerners.

As a novelist, Burroughs was the ultimate remittance-man searching for that final fix, the gems of his cynical but ever-observing eye exposed here time and again in these pithy excerpts which shine and burn in living detail:

“The boat gave out with a broken propeller at Las Playas half way between Manta and Guayaquil. I rode ashore on a balsa raft. Arrested on the beach suspect to have floated up from Peru on the Humboldt Current with a young boy and a tooth brush (I travel light, only the essentials) so we are hauled before an old dried up fuck, the withered face of cancerous control. The kid with me don’t have paper one. The cops keep saying plaintively: ‘But don’t you have any papers at all?’”

And this:

“Now you must understand that this is average non queer Peruvian boy, a bit juvenile delinquent to be sure. They are the least character armored people I have ever seen. They shit or piss anywhere they feel like it. They have no inhibitions in expressing affection. They climb all over each other and hold hands. If they do go to bed with another male, and they all will for money, they seem to enjoy it ….South America is a mixture of strains all necessary to realize the potential form. They need white blood as they know “Myth of White God” and what did they get but the fucking Spaniards. Still they had the advantage of weakness. Never would have gotten the English out of here. They would have created that atrocity known as a White Man’s Country…”

And finally:

“Rolled again. My glasses and my pocket knife. Losing all my fucking valuables in the service. This is a nation of kleptomaniacs. In all my experience as a homosexual, I have never been the victim of such idiotic pilferings or articles no conceivable use to anyone else…Trouble is I share with the late Father Flanagan ‘he of Boy’s Town’ the deep conviction that there is no such thing as a bad boy.”

The Yage Letters has been around for awhile and is known among students of the Beat Generation for having captured two friends in an intimate conversation. However, this edition also contains a meaty introduction by Burroughs’ scholar Oliver Harris that sheds an interesting light on the events leading up to the publication of the first edition of the book (including Ginsberg’s tireless promotion of Burroughs’ work).

For instance, Harris points out that only one quarter of the manuscript came from real “letters,” the remainder of the text manufactured from Burroughs’ notes, illustrating that Burroughs and Ginsberg were themselves consummate literary brujos plying their trade in the marketplace.

Order each from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Yale University Press

Among the University presses, Yale has one of the most varied catalogs that we have seen. Yale’s list is built on multiple genres and quality presentation, and the sterling illustrations that grace so many of its art and design books often surpass the efforts of commercial publishers. Simply, Yale’s authors bring to their readers a certainty of vision that captures both mind and soul. In many instances, these projects are not mere editorial endeavors, but rather spiritual pursuits, with the writers inviting us to accompany them on their personal journeys. To this end, the following releases from Yale stand out, as we found these impeccable references suitable for both classroom and library alike.

WILLIAM WEGMAN: FUNNEY/STRANGE. Joan Simon. Yale University Press.

If anything, William Wegman has been under-noticed by the art world. I would imagine that, due to Wegman’s amazing versatility and his defiance of pure classification, the critics don’t know where to “put” him. Thus, many ignore his vast contributions to so many idioms.

To say now that Wegman is a “Renaissance Man” is to thoroughly under-sell the point, as he has created relevant work as a writer, photographer, painter and video artist (including conceptual segments for the “Sesame Street” and “Saturday Night Live” television shows).

In this text, Joan Simon (Contributing editor, Art in America) offers an in depth review of this brilliant artist who has been able to dissect intricacies in a multiplicity of realms with flair and innovation; and Simon writes:

“Wegman has in fact seen the idealistic promise of ‘60s vanguard art come true, an iconic, double-edged achievement that bears critical examination and is explored later in this book. His videos reach a broad and diverse audience via broadcast; his publications do the same through mass-market circulation… Pioneer video-maker, wry conceptualist, performer, photographer, painter, found-object finder, draftsman, and writer, Wegman is typical of his generation in his multimedia reach but unusual in his audiences…”

(Pages 3 & 5)

In looking at Wegman’s work, there is quite a lot to catch you attention. Serving as both an erudite art-survey and an incisive commentary, Funney and Strange expertly dissects the man behind the art by presenting him through his creations. Accordingly, readers are offered a sampling of Wegman’s drawings, photography, Polaroids, paintings and videos.

Wegman’s drawings and prints are truly stunning to behold. Take for example the plate on page 45 depicting a hand arranging slices of Cotto Salami on a white plate: The image awash in the dimensions of the simple, a sliver of time memorialized and left to evince man’s ultimate journey – to glean meaning from this quest for sustenance.

In actuality, Wegman’s vision as an artist is no more apparent than in his black and white photographs. Here, the artist blooms as a result of the image he captures on film: Each moment frozen within this iron spirit of time is also a snapshot of the self, a spontaneous birth outlined in the essence of our personal perceptions (this the essence of life itself).

And Simon writes:

“Perhaps the key event in Wegman’s artistic life in 1970 was a moment he later described in a text called ‘Eureka,’ a day’s events that led him to start stage scenarios for the camera so that the photographs would become the work rather than a document of it…

(Page 39)

In this brief capsule – Simon has eloquently captured the mission of William Wegman and of all artists in all mediums: A mission to record life in its in-between shapes, interjecting yourself byway of the act of creation.

Funney and Strange paints a vital picture of an important artist – Simon’s treatise wide with discovery, drunk on the taste of enlightenment. In short, this is a book that truly does justice to its enigmatic subject.

Recommended to all libraries in the public sector and at the college-level as a general reference text. Also suitable as a supporting class text in college-level photography courses as Wegmans work provides stunning example of depth and originality.

by John Aiello

THE YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS. Edited by Fred R. Shapiro. Foreword by Joseph Epstein. Yale University Press.

Books of quotations are hard to assess from a reviewer’s standpoint, since these texts are based on things we have already seen and heard. Accordingly, originality is not the defining factor is assessment; instead, reference value is. Here, the Yale Book of Quotations presents a mammoth collection of quotations that serves to illuminate both the changes and the consistencies within the many cultures of the world. The tome collects sayings from the major figures of world history, with the likes of Einstein, John Keats, John F. Kennedy, Karl Marx, Poe and Plato brilliantly represented (among countless others). The text also contains several “Special Sections” (advertising slogans, film lines, ballads, radio catchphrases) which show the development of the world through its culture. The material on ad-lines is especially insightful, as we are able to look back on ways business has attempted to envelop our consciousness through pithy-cool catch-lines (“Leave the driving to us;” “We’ll leave a light on for you”). Superbly edited by Fred Shapiro (Associate Librarian Yale University Law School, and a recognized authority on quotations who also edited the “Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations” in the past).

Imperative for inclusion in all libraries in both the public sector and at the college-level. Simply, this volume is the true living definition of a ‘reference work.’ 

by John Aiello

SEARCHING FOR SHAKESPEARE. Tarnya Cooper. Essays by Marcia Pointon. James Shapiro. Stanley Wells. Yale University Press.

OK, so we know the poems and plays the great bard composed. And we’re relatively sure we know what he looked like. But, then again, are we really sure? And do we have a real honest-to-God portrait of the writer who has most certainly influenced the literature of the world? In this book, Tarnya Cooper takes to an interesting road, gone in search of Shakespeare’s portrait in an exploration of his work and legend which extend throughout the annals of theater. Basically, Searching For Shakespeare centers on whether an actual contemporary image of the poet exists. A stunning piece known as “The Chandos Portrait ” is used as the foundational point from which Cooper begins her examination, analyzing Shakespeare’s work in relation to the visual images of him in circulation (in turn reopening the debate as to whether or not we really have seen a portrait that captured the essence of the face behind the plays and poems). Readers shouldn’t be misled into thinking this is some ‘boutique’ idea meant to rekindle interest in an over-written subject. Instead, Cooper’s Searching For Shakespeare is an interesting dissection of Shakespeare-lore and the historical context of his times, peering into the culture of the era through pieces of the bard’s work. In the end, Cooper’s treatise serves as a unique and vibrant study that brings readers back to the work of our greatest literary figure whose ghostly lines continue to endure, haunting both the living and the dead hundreds of years after they were born.

This would make an ideal Christmas present, appropriate for serious students of literature who will be exposed to some new material on Shakespeare’s life and times. Further recommended to libraries in both the public sector and at the college-level as a general reference text.

by John Aiello

Previously Reviewed

JOHN WILKES: THE SCANDALOUS FATHER OF CIVIL LIBERTY. Arthur H. Cash. Yale University Press.

Even though it’s not always remembered these days, journalists in the four corners of the world owe much to John Wilkes, whose dedicated spirit and tireless work helped to formulate the British free press (in turn forging the path for media freedoms throughout the world).

As a journalist, Wilkes realized he would have to battle the government in order to insure that the press be able to serve as watch dog and conscience for the community. However, this noble cause did not come without a stern price, as Wilkes often clashed with the politicos of his day. True to his cause, he was even imprisoned for raging against the constraints of the Parliament.

In Scandalous Father, Cash has written a biography that teems with many little-known facts, thus illuminating the man-within-the-man, deftly sketching a definitive portrait of Wilkes now set against the time in which he lived. More than anything else, Wilkes’ life is a testament to the old adage that says the environment shapes the man. And if this is indeed true, than the man is ultimately powerless to do little else but go along for the ride.

But no matter how the persona of John Wilkes came to be formed, every writer who enjoys the privilege of speaking without fear of censorship owes a great debt to this “scandalous man” who seemingly lived to test the limits of the boundaries. His mission was to stretch these limits until they gave way to the depths of a greater, stronger world.

Accordingly, Arthur Cash tells John Wilkes’ story in tight and erudite prose, compassionate and incisive, in turn presenting us a resource that will come to assist generations of students in their pursuit of personal freedom.

Recommended to instructors in World History courses that investigate the growth of British culture. Would further be a useful supporting text in advanced Journalism courses: it’s not enough to teach young journalists the mechanics of the profession; instead, they also must be made aware of how the ideals of a ‘free press’ came to blossom. To this end, Scandalous Father provides a magnificent and eloquent road map.

by John Aiello

Also From Yale University Press

MODERNISM IN AMERICAN SILVER: 20th Century Design. Jewel Stern. With Kevin Tucker and Charles Venable. Yale University Press.

This book is the first reference that we have seen to investigate the influx of modernism into 20th-Century silver design. To the general reader, this may seem like rarefied territory, with some wondering, “just how does this touch my life?” The answer to that would be: “In many many ways.” Think silverware. Think the average household. Much of what we use on a daily basis is owed to silver design, and Stern’s text is a marvelous examination of ways modern designers (and their techniques) have expanded the industry and widened the breadth of its artistic expression. Discussion includes the work of designers Michael Graves, Tommi Parzinger and Belle Kogan, as well as lesser known artists like Donald Colflesh (who is turning the heads of scholars in the field).

Recommended to students looking to chart the changes in silver design over the last century. Also recommended to University-level libraries as a unique and one-of-a-kind reference text.

EDVARD MUNCH. Behind The Scream. Sue Prideaux. Yale University Press.

Just as Hitchcock’s suspense thrillers imbedded themselves into the conscience of the cinema, so, too, has Edvard’s Munch’s great painting, The Scream, come to define our perceptions of the subconscious pain of the individual. Munch was an original and influential artist whose work helped to shape the invisible canvass for so many painters and sculptors that followed him. In her book, Prideaux does a masterful job at revealing the core of the man at the heart of the artist, this great dissection that serves to expose the face behind the painter, the mind behind the eye of his art. What’s best about Prideaux’s chronicle is the way that she is able to examine Munch’s life both in an intellectual and a spiritual sense: the mission here is to realize that the growth of the artist occurs over many landscapes over a sustained period. Consequently, the audience can never come to truly appreciate a work of art until they understand the history of the soul that created it. In addition to the wealth of information she presents, Prideaux augments her text with stunning illustrations that help to carry this book to another level.

Recommended as a supporting class text in Art History courses that go beyond superficial study of the period, bringing students unto the most dynamic artists of each period. Would further prove indispensable to University-level libraries as a general reference text.

COMPOSERS’ VOICES FROM IVES TO ELLINGTON. An Oral History of American Music. Vivian Perlis. Libby Van Cleve. Yale University Press.

Composers’ Voices creates an erudite summary of the work and artists that came to define the most influential period in American music (1900-1930). Perlis and Van Cleve are exhaustive in their coverage of the period, and the authors analyze myriad topics, including Ragtime and Eubie Blake; the road of the early modernists, with chapters on Leo Ornstein, Edgard Varese, Carl Ruggles, Dane Rudhyar, Charles Seeger and Henry Cowell; the Jazz Age/Gershwin; and the other major ground-breakers of the era who helped to change the face of the idiom for decades to come (Nadia Boulanger, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, Roy Harris). Moreover, the text features wonderful illustrations, sidebar-articles and interviews with the likes of Copland and Cowell, thus peeling away the masks from those artists responsible for changing the focus of the American landscape and her music. Includes 2 CDS that capture the subject matter of the text in the sounds of its times.

Recommended as a primary class text in music appreciation courses centered on the early 20th-Century. Further recommended as a general reference text in libraries at both the University level and in the public sector.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

UNDER THE LOVING CARE OF THE FATHERLY LEADER: North Korea And The Kim Dynasty. Bradley K. Martin. Thomas Dunne Books/St.Martin’s.

This book, by Bradley K. Martin, a respected journalist and former bureau chief of both The Asian Wall Street Journal and Asia Times, is a trapdoor into the mind of North Korea and its leaders, Kim Il-sung (who ruled North Korea with a iron fist for almost a half-century), and his son, Kim Jong-il.

Accordingly, Martin is to be complimented for exposing, in these personal vignettes of North Korea’s struggling populace, the fabric of a society which has become insane. For example, the extent of mind controlused by North Korea’s leaders on its citizens was described to Martin in the following incident:

“When I was in the third grade in elementary school my friend Yong-il had a bowel movement and it froze. He said, ‘It looks like Mount Paektu.’ Others reported him and he had to write statements of repentance in his notebook for a couple of months. After all, Mount Paektu was where Kim Il-sung participated in the Japanese struggle.”

(Page 233)

In societies built upon a cult of personality, of which there has been no shortage in the Twentieth Century, it is expected that a ‘pecking order’ be created based upon one’s socioeconomic status. And in this respect, North Korea is no different than any other country. What is different with North Korea, however, is that this socioeconomic position, or songbun, extends into the countryside’s violent teenage street gangs which are born in its school yards:

“Most interesting in Dong’s account, I thought, was his description of the makeup of the gangs. ‘There were basically four groupings throughout the grades, ’ he said, and all of those were from the elite. ‘Ordinary people’s children could hardly be part of the gangs. Say you had a fight and hurt someone. You’d go to prison. If your parents were influential, they could get you out. But the ordinary people would have no chance of getting out, so they didn’t join . . . The leader of each gang was whoever had the most important father .’”

(Pages 227-228)

Moreover, consider the first impressions of Pak Su-hyon, once a member of Kim Il-sung’s bodyguard service for seven years, uttered after he defected to South Korea (by way of China) in 1993:

“I first looked at people’s shoes, because in North Korea shoes are often stolen. South Koreans are much taller than North Koreans. And I noticed that compared with North Koreans, South Koreans are heavy. They have more meat on them, look like they have drunk a lot of milk. If there’s a war between North and South, the North Koreans don’t have a chance physically . . . I saw a sign after I arrived in South Korea that said, ‘Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.’ I was astonished to think that South Koreans had the concept of love.”

(Page 431)

As Kim Il-sung’s power grew, he intensified his march toward complete control of the region. In turn, his desire to be a nuclear player on the world stage also intensified (at a human price which he apparently considered negligible):

“Kim Dae-ho, one of the teenaged gang fighters featured in chapter 12, matured enough to become a model soldier and was able to land a job with many special benefits including extra food rations. However, it was a job that turned out to have some serious disadvantages. Starting in 1985, he treated waste water at the Atomic Energy April Industry, so named because it had been founded in the month of Kim Il-sung’s birthday . . . ‘The authorities claimed they’re concerned about the environment, but it’s not the case,’ Kim Dae-ho told me. ‘The trees next to the river died and so did all the fish. Worker’s white blood cell counts were down. They had liver problems and their hair fell out. In 1990, I had to work in vanadium processing, using sulfuric acid. I worked in that for about a week. For a long time blood seeped out of my mouth. Even now if I put something in my mouth and suck on it I can see blood.’”

(Pages 437-438)

As his text moves forward, Martin notes that some American scholars, following the arguments advanced by I.F. Stone, felt that Truman and his aides had intentionally overstated the danger posed by North Korea’s invasion of the South in the summer of 1950 (for reasons other than America’s security interests in the region). And then, over a half-century later, following the attack on the World Trade Center, the Bush Administration likewise advanced the argument that North Korea poses an immediate nuclear danger to the world and must be resisted (presumably like Iraq, at all costs).

Although Martin asserts that Kim Il-sung was rumored to have stated that he would destroy the world rather than accept military defeat, Stanford scholar John L. Lewis has identified recent radical changes in Il-sung’s position, including the emergence of the beginnings of a market economy in the North. However, as Michael Breen, the author of Kim Jong-il; North Korea’s Dear Leader, has cautioned: ” Kim Jong-il is neither insane nor evil, but he benefits from being at the top of a system which . . . is both.” [p.849.]

At its very core, Bradley Martin’s treatise is an expert journey into the politics and culture of North Korea’s Kim Dynasty, serving as a stark reportage on the evolution and intellect of this still-growing nation.

Recommended to all libraries in both the public sector and at the college level as a general reference text. Should further be considered as either a primary or secondary teaching text in history courses which touch on this unique region of the world.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

NEW YORK SKETCHBOOK. Text by Jerome Charyn. Paintings by Fabrice Moireau. St. Martins.

New York, in tandem with Paris, is probably the most photographed city in all the world -seemingly every artist with brush and pen tries to bring his own particular vision to these great mystical places. Thus, with so much material already out there, it’s really a challenge to come up with an original slant on the subject.

However, Charyn and Moireau have cleared this hurdle by personalizing New York, infusing it with their own unique take on the magnificent metropolis. In watercolor and bare-boned sketch, the authors have come up with a layered and deeply introspective look into the naked soul of New York City:

“The ‘curse’ of bin Laden has shown us how precious we are, how we have to protect what we have, how we can no longer take our history for granted, how we have to guard our past, even as it slips away from us. Standing on the corner of Sullivan Street in SoHo a couple of weeks ago, long after nightfall, I looked uptown and saw the spire of the Empire State Building, decorated for Thanksgiving in red and green. Perhaps it’s a bit banal, the emblematic colors of American pilgrims and their turkey dinner on top of the Empire State, but it still stirs me, because a building almost two miles away seems to sit right in my lap.”

(Page 17)

The key to this collection is in its depth — by taking on the images through this “simplified” approach, Charyn and Moireau have achieved an extra dimension, allowing us to look at these scenes as if we’re the mirror dissolving into the holy shape of the eye. And the colors envelop us. And the streets assume a perfect and secret identity. And the buildings loom over the moon like giant cool misty storm-lit clouds.

There are numerous high-lights, and they strike with snake-like quickness. Note the image of “City Hall” — the building itself almost secondary to the street. And Moireau has captured it all: The people. The street lamp hanging over the taxi in the shadow of an Indian Restaurant in the shadow of the sad storefront morning.

More than anything else, the authors have captured the real scenes of New York in real time — unadorned soft pale staring out from the picture like the lost faces of our ancestors:

“The rambla ends abruptly at 116th, where the streetscape disappears and is replaced by colleges, cathedrals, and seminaries, with very little for the eye to catch. But it picks up again around 135th, in West Harlem, a Latino fiefdom, where the storefronts reflect a culture of constant movement – old men playing dominoes, younger women, boys, and girls parading in the streets, along their very own ramblas….”

(Page 16)

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by John Aiello

ORIGINS OF EUROPEAN PRINTMAKING: Fifteenth Century Woodcuts and Their Public. Peter Parshall. Rainer Schoch. David S. Areford. Richard S. Field. Peter Schmidt. Yale University Press.

Origins of European Printmaking marks a spectacular publication which chronicles the passage of the religious medieval mind. The woodcut depictions collected here are absolutely extraordinary, while the text provides fascinating insights that will engage both historian and casual reader alike.

The depiction of The Man of Sorrows with the Arma Christi (Instruments of the Passion) and the Five Wounds of Christ, colored woodcuts in a manuscript, circa. 1480-1490, are especially illuminating:

“Although the woodcuts are not unusual in their subject matter, the way in which they have been integrated into the manuscript is startling. Instead of creamy vellum, the single-sheet prints are glued to folios that are painted to appear as if they are bleeding. . . [T]he manuscript opens with three pages which seems to foreshadow the book’s contents. Each is painted black with several bright-red drops of blood raining down. . . In addition to the lance and sponge, twenty other Instruments are displayed in the compartments of the framing border. These emblematic objects are designed to promote mental recreations of the key events of Christ’s suffering . . .”

(Pages 185-186)

Apparently, the late medieval period produced what amounted to a cottage industry centered around the Passion, including “the desire to quantify not only five, but the thousands of the wounds of Christ . . .One typical formula yielded 5, 575 wounds and 547,500 drops of blood . . .” [p. 186.]

As the authors note in their comments on another manuscript, Sister Regula’s Life of Christ, these works were intended to instruct the medieval viewer not only to meditate on aspects of Christ’s life, but to also graphically envision the suffering of the Passion. For instance, in a depiction of Christ in the Winepress, taken from Isaiah 63:3, the Messiah is seen as a wine treader in a great wine-press — wounded and bleeding:

“Beneath his feet, his blood mingles with the juice of red grapes and pours into a chalice in the foreground . . .Here, word and image are inseparable . . .”

(Page 255)

The sheer variety of the manuscripts and woodcuts compiled on these pages is astonishing: from the ghostly image of St. Jerome in a dark wood depicted in the Girdle Book of the Fifteenth century merchant, Hieronymus Kress [p. 195], to the Munich woodcut of a Buddha-like Christ-Child embracing a parrot [p. 199], each selection comes to represent a true medieval consciousness of the world.

As passive readers, we immediately note that this realm is often over-run with violence. Yet, for the faithful, it ultimately remains a place of celestial order.

This selection is highly recommended as a supporting class text in advanced Art History courses that survey the period and its focus. Also would be useful to libraries at both the college-level and in the public sector for its long-term reference value.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

LEARNING CONSTRUCTION SPANGLISH. A Beginners Guide to Spanish On-The-Job. Terry Eddy. Albert Herrera. Forward by llan Stavans. McGraw-Hill.

In California, and in many other parts of the country, Spanish-speaking laborers are vital to the American work-force. Specifically, Spanish and Mexican workers are prevalent in industries like produce and construction, and because of this, it has become necessary for English-speaking supervisors to be able to competently direct their work crews (VERY important in terms of construction jobs, since this work is so dangerous).

Here, Eddy and Herrera have developed a pocket-sized dictionary specifically for individuals directing Spanish-speaking construction workers (a book for those who must blend English with Spanish as it pertains to construction). Accordingly, the book covers everything the foreman and crew will encounter, rising slowly from quick phrases to more complex material (like Spanish pronunciation). At this point, once the reader has become competent with the basics, he will be equipped to learn the foundations of sentences (nouns and verbs), allowing for declarative and directive sentences to be constructed:

“In construction, it appears, you talk, talk, talk in whatever way you can, and then, some months later, there’s a building to show proof that the act — and art — of communication was successful.”

– From Stavans’ Foreword

Eddy and Herrera have done a fine job in not losing the ultimate mission of their text: to make sure that English-speaking workers can communicate with Spanish-speaking workers in a clear and concise way allowing for maximum productivity on the work-site. In light of this, readers of Spanglish are not going to get a college-level course dedicated to every aspect of the Spanish dialect. Instead, they will find here a manual meant to help direct workers from different ethnic backgrounds around a building site in a practical way.

Unique in scope and mission, with English/Spanish and Spanglish/English glossaries that help readers find their way to phrases ‘on-the-fly’ with hammer in hand. This book is indispensable for any builder who employs Spanish-speaking workers. There should be racks of these dictionaries in all building-supply stores — there to be sold along-side the hammers, nails and dry-wall.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

RIA FEDERAL TAX HANDBOOK. 2005. Thomson RIA.

OK, so you’re actually brave enough to be doing your own taxes without the guidance of a CPA? Well, if so, you should be well aware that the extension deadline for late filing is quickly approaching. And since August 15 is roughly 6 weeks in the offing, it’s high time you take a refresher course on the finer points of the Federal Tax Code.

Thus, if you’re really going forth without the advice of a CPA, you should attempt to obtain the correct information from a trustworthy source. Enter the 2005 Federal Tax Handbook from RIA.

This volume is a handy reference that does a sparkling job at paring down the code into digestible segments which can be followed relatively easily by anyone with a working knowledge of the vernacular (however, it is presumed that if you’re doing your own taxes and filing different schedules that you already have some basic understanding of taxation).

Federal Handbook offers a comprehensive compilation of Federal tax rules. It is indisputable that America has one of the most complicated tax systems in all the world. And books like this make it easier for non-accounts to gain some insight into what their specific obligations are under the tax code. Accordingly, new information is provided on the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004and the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.

The aforementioned issues (among many others represented herein) demonstrate how vast the coverage is here: Instead of putting together some flimsy/abridged manual that gives sparse and uninformed definitions, RIA has published a handbook that sets forth substantive analysis of myriad tax subjects in an effort to provide the tax professional, attorney and lay reader with a resource that can be directly applied to the preparation of a return.

Anyone doing their own taxes should consult this book immediately. Recommended to attorneys and CPAs as an in-office reference. Finally, should be included in all libraries in the public sector as a general reference with community-wide value.

Order at RIA.

by John Aiello

SEX SELLS!: The Media’s Journey From Repression To Obsession. Rodger Streitmatter. Westview Press.

Rodger Streitmatter, in his book Sex Sells!: The Media’s Journey From Repression To Obsession, describes the explosion of sexual content in the media (from the socially oppressive Eisenhower era to our current milieu of “Zippergate” — including sexually explicit reality television).

Streitmatter breaks down this progression into eighteen readily accessible chapters, each analyzing a moment within the last fifty years that heralded a new wave of sexual acceptance (and literacy) into our culture. From the adevent of the birth control pill to the emergence of such groundbreaking television shows as All In the Family, Three’s Company and the contemporary Sex In the City, Streitmatter describes the content of his subject through the idea of its sexual controversy.

A former reporter for the Roanoke Times (Virginia) & World News, Streitmatter approaches this material from an objective, journalistic point-of-view, withholding his own personal judgments on these often incendiary topics that discuss the repercussions of sexual explicitness on society.

However, this is not to say that Sex Sells! is a strict historical analysis. To the contrary, Streitmatter reveals an ulterior motive for his chronicling of American media’s sexual progression: Sexual literacy. Due to the incredible influx of sexual content in the media – whether through television, popular music, cinema, magazines or the internet – Streitmatter argues that it is essential for the young media consumer to develop important critical thinking skills in order to recognize and analyze the myriad sexual messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

As Streitmatter maintains, it is not necessarily the sole responsibility of artists and entertainers to censor their product; instead, this duty ultimately rests in the critical eye of each viewer (no matter the medium). Thus, the best defense against a sexually debauched society (and likewise, a censorious, oppressive state) is education — it takes an acutely sharpened intellect to separate the wheat from this chaff.

In the end, Sex Sells! is truly an entertaining effort. Whether reliving the absurdity of the Clinton scandal or the birth of advertising’s unabashed use of sexuality to sell products as varied as tube socks and avocados, Streitmatter rarely fails to engross and enlighten us.

Recommended as a teaching text in all media and sociology courses that explore the impact of sex on the society. Further recommended to all college-level libraries as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

BOILING POINT. Ross Gelbspan. Basic Books.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ross Gelbspan, in his book Boiling Point (How Politicians, Big Oil and Coal, Journalists and Activists Have Fueled the Climate Crisis–and What We Can Do To Avert Disaster), details the imminent threat of a global climate change on our economy and our environment — calling into question our ability to survive this phenomenon.

By synthesizing myriad scientific data gleaned from some of the world’s most respected environmental scientists, Gelbspan outlines the various factors leading to an inevitable climate change and further identifies those who have consciously fueled the crisis.

Interspersed between these sobering essays, Gelbspan paints us seven Snapshots of the Warming, each a vignette of the various fronts of global warming (from the melting of the Arctic ice caps to the rise in malnutrition and the resurgence of disease-carrying insects).

Without question, Gelbspan focuses a large portion of his attack on the corporate officials of big oil and coal: What began as a normal business response by the fossil fuel lobby–denial and delay–has now attained the status of a crime against humanity.

Yet, the author’s criticism does not rest solely on these figureheads. Indeed, Gelbspan ascribes the blame to humanity itself — from the stubborn denial of our national government to the apathy of our news media who ignore what is happening.

However, despite the sobering, apocalyptic vision that Gelbspan paints for us, our climate crisis is still a problem with a readily available solution. In the final chapters of his treatise, Gelbspan discusses three separate solutions to the situation, followed by his own solution: The World Energy Modernization Plan.

Whether or not Gelbspan’s proposed solution would be successful is arguable, but what is not debatable is the imminent threat of global warming. Boiling Point could not have been published at a more propitious moment, as our nation’s officials convene for the G8 Summit in an effort to tackle this potentially life-threatening cycle.

Each of the eight men charged with this task would do well to read this book. And so would you. The lives of your grandchildren could depend on it.

Recommended as a teaching text in all physical science courses dedicated to investigating the long-range effects of climate change on the environment. Further recommended to all college-level libraries as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

POLITICAL EDGE. Edited by Chris Carlsson. City Lights Foundation.

“The Goddess of Political Lying flies with a huge Looking-glass in her hands to dazzle the Crowd, and make them see, according as she turns it, their Ruin in their Interest and their Interest in their Ruin.”

– Jonathan Swift (quoted in the Chapter, Engagement and Enragement, by Michael “Med-o” Wilson)

This text is comprised of intensely personal and inventive vignettes by volunteer workers who mobilized a thirty-day campaign on behalf of Matt Gonzales in his failed attempt to win the Mayor’s office in San Francisco during the last election. Even though Gonzales was defeated, his campaign exposed the effects Willie Brown’s use of political cronyism (disguised as land use politics) had on the city.

It is no secret that the economic and social structure of the Bay Area is fueled by corporate and government subsidies. To paraphrase Thomas Carlyle, in San Francisco, the hell most feared is the hell of not making money. Accordingly, “Da Mayor” made no secret of the fact that “[i]f you don’t make $50,000 a year in San Francisco, then you shouldn’t live here.”

Further, as Quintin Mercke’s essay, McFrisco makes clear, the dot.com frenzy was effectively fueled in da Mayor’s City Hall: “[T]he transformation during Mayor Brown’s administration of what was once the Department of City Planning into a Department of Development Facilitation stunned even the most jaded observers.” But even more ominous was the inaccessible bureaucratic gobblespeak of the land use planning mavens and developers: “Deploying this language are the translators and native speakers, the real players and dealmakers who are found every Thursday in City Hall’s room 400 for the weekly meetings of the Planning Commission. Within that room social engineering is allowed by law and is driven by language that reinforces and strengthens our society’s historical divisions of race, class and gender.”

Matt Gonzales was the true antithesis of Brown — a former public interest lawyer, punk rocker, and member of the Green Party whose original supporters apparently consisted of a ragtag group of neighborhood and anti-war activists, artists, squatters, as well as a former Barnard College alumnus and North Beach dominatrix (Marlena Sonn). Yet, as this book documents, these disenfranchised and often desperately urban poor were able to organize a grass roots mobilization (“130 parties in 30 days”) which posed a genuine threat to San Francisco’s entrenched real estate developers and vested corporate interests .

Gonzales’ opponent in the election was Gavin Newsom, a confidant of the Gettys and no stranger at all to the wheeling-and-dealing of City Hall, and there is little shortage of venom in Michelle Tea’s description of the young mayor:

“Gavin Newsom. A name born to be shunted out from the mouth in a tone I’d recently heard described as ‘WASP-y lockjaw.’ You know the accent. Think James Spader in any movie he did during the the 1980s. Gavin with his famously bad hairdo, rising like an Exxon oil-slick tsunami above his bony brow.”

But Tea’s venom is not reserved exclusively for Newsom:

“He pulled up to the curb before the Bell Market parking lot, and behold- it is Gavin Newsom. It is him in the flesh, in the hair. He stands with his wife, Kimberly Newsom, who I was once sort of hot for, watching her cool in the background in footage from the dog-mauling trial, but when I learned she was married to Gavin I lost respect for her. And to be honest, she seemed slightly less hot in person, but again, this could have been due to the proximity to her husband.”

(Note: Kimberly Newsom, after a short stint as an Assistant District Attorney, is now reported to have exited the Mayoral bed and joined the current crop of television hyenas posing as legal analysts for one or another of America’s diversionary show trials.)

Although the dramatization of the Gonzales campaign and the collective hangover resulting from his loss make interesting and enjoyable reading, Quintin Mecke bluntly describes the social failure in exclusively utilizing political campaigns and electoral politics as the preferred method of change:

“What became of all that energy, excitement and talk of a movement after the campaign ended ? It was quickly deflated as the chosen progressive vessel, Matt Gonzales, bowed out of public life only months after proclaiming that he, or rather he-representing-us, would act as loyal opposition to the Newsom administration when needed. And with that simple decision, the Left was presented with a self-reflective scathing critique of why communities need to invest in themselves and not in politicians.”

After reading this captivating account of the sordid face of San Francisco politics, we should perhaps heed the words of William Cowper Brann (the long dead fiery editor of The Iconoclast), who once remarked that most of the martyrs, saints and heroes whose memories we so revere are one-third fraud and two-thirds fake.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

EMILY POST’S ETIQUETTE. In the 17th Edition. Peggy Post. Harper Resource.

Originally published over 80 years ago (1922), this classic on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of society has been retooled and updated to reflect changes in the mores and landscape of the new millennium.

Here, Peggy Post (a respected journalist and consultant on matters of etiquette) continues the impeccable tradition of Post musings on decorum and proper behavior. The book contains detailed direction on how to deal with myriad social situations, including direction on correspondence, wedding planning, hosting parties, and entertaining house guests. Readers are also provided salient advice on cocktail party table manners – for who among us has not had occasion to shudder and question ourselves when confronted with such an awkward situation:

Juggling Acts

How on earth do you juggle your drink and your plate and shake hands at the same time? Only with great difficulty, so try to find a place to set one of the items down.

Standing close to a table could solve the problem. Just make sure the table isn’t set or decorated in such a way that even the temporary addition of a wineglass spoils the effect or your dish could be confused with whatever is being served. Another option: Some people are poised enough to joke about their dilemma, asking someone to hold their glass while they extend their hand. The important thing is to make the effort to greet another person in a pleasant way.

What to do with toothpicks after you’ve eaten an hors d’oeuvre? There’s usually a small receptacle on or near the food platter for used ones. If not, hold any items (including drink stirrers) in your napkin until you find a wastebasket. Don’t place used items on the buffet table unless a waste receptacle is available.

(Page 475)

Peggy Post has done an outstanding job in revitalizing this book, making it relevant to today’s reader. In addition to the standard material on the rules of politeness, she has added material on subjects such as road rage, cell phones and on-line dating – themes that serve to modernize this material for the changes that have taken place in our world.

The underlying concept of Post’s original manuscript in 1922 was to remind folks that we owe a responsibility to each other in terms of how we behave in public. And even though society has embarked on a techno-driven age, the fact that we owe a debt to each other remains constant. A tour through Emily Post’s Etiquette in its 17th edition will remind you of this in truly elegant style.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

THE ANTI INFLAMMATION ZONE. Dr. Barry Sears. Regan Books.

Dr. Barry Sears (author of The Zone and known throughout the world for his analysis of how hormonal balance is impacted by different foods) wrote this unique text that addresses how silent inflammation occurring undetected within the body can lead to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and malignancies.

The phenomenon of silent inflammation is not well understood in the medical community, and Sears’ text intends to clarify and illuminate the differing theories on the subject:

“You may be asking yourself, What on earth is silent inflammation? Even more perplexing, How can inflammation be silent? Silent inflammation is simply inflammation that falls below the threshold of perceived pain. That’s what makes it so dangerous. You don’t take any steps to stop it as it smolders for years, if not decades, eventually erupting into what we call chronic disease…If you have high levels of silent inflammation in your body, even if you are not actively sick, it means that you simply can’t be well.”

(Pages 3 & 4)

Sears (whose book The Zone spoke out against the dangers of high-carb maverick diets) addresses the idea of inflammation in detail here, looking at how obesity increases the occurrence of this condition — which then increases an individual’s susceptibility of falling victim to heart attack, dementia, diabetes or cancer:

“Obesity is one of the biggest generators of silent inflammation. Since nearly two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, this means that the epidemic of silent inflammation is also out of control. By the same token, our diabetes epidemic has also grown by 33 percent in the last decade. It should come as no surprise that all three epidemics have worsened in recent years. All three are intricately connected with a condition known as insulin resistance.”

(Page 235)

According to Sears (and taking off where The Zone left off ), inflammation is directly related to hormone balance; moreover, Sears contends that hormone balance can be achieved and maintained in accordance with proper nutrition. In addition to explaining these theories, Anti-Inflammation includes sample meal plans and sample exercise programs that allow its readers to help take control of their own bodies and well-being.

Even though this subject is quite complex, Dr. Sears has done a laudable job speaking to a mass audience — the material well-organized and presented in a logical and meaningful manner, the writing well-detailed and easily accessible. The idea here was to create a book that would be of long-term use to the reader, and that goal has been achieved nicely.

The incidence of silent inflammation is an acutely important one, and it has the potential to alter the lives of millions of people. Individuals throughout the world need to become aware of this potential, in turn taking steps on their own to mitigate the risk; this book offers a natural starting point. Beyond the lucid health information, you will also note several recipes and meal plans that are easy to prepare, flavorful, and nutritious.

As Anti-Inflammation shows, the state of your health cannot be left up to your doctor alone. Instead, each of us must begin to take an active role in how we combat the risk of debilitating disease. Read this book. It holds answers to several pressing questions.

Recommended to the general reader for its relevant consumer health value. Further recommended to all libraries in the public sector as a general reference text: as more research is done on this topic, it is likely that Dr. Sears’ book will come to be hailed as a ground-breaking achievement.

Order from amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

THE LIVES OF AGNES SMEDLEY. Ruth Price. Oxford.

Like fellow revolutionary John Reed, Agnes Smedley grew up in the American West and was ultimately laid to rest far from her native land in a cemetery for revolutionary martyrs. Agnes Smedley is known now, if at all, for her fiery feminist novel, Daughter of Earth, and for her firsthand accounts of the Chinese Revolution (Chinese Destinies, China’s Red Army Marches and Battle Hymn of China).

However, as author Ruth Price notes, the same Western hardpan independence that made Smedley a heroine to the generation of post-Sixties American feminists came at both a heavy personal (and political) price. Smedley drove herself into an early marriage, which produced only sadness (as well as two abortions).

But Smedley, fueled by the ideas and oratory of Upton Sinclair, Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs and the IWW Free Speech Fights, had bigger fish to fry. She would write her husband: “I do not want to be married; marriage is too terrible and I should never have endured it … I want my name back also.” (Page 54).

Alone again, Smedley would first reinvent herself in Greenwich Village as a cub reporter for the Socialist New York Call and then as an office manager for Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review – proving herself a defiant, uncompromising and self-taught agitator who did not consider herself bound by any form of journalistic ethics.

Smedley’s first person reporting of the march of the Red Army is equaled only by John Reed’s account of the Bolshevik Revolution:

“By summer’s end, Agnes wrote that she had observed rickshaw coolies fall dead in their shafts. she had seen poverty, disease, starvation, and physical and spiritual exhaustion to a depth she had previously thought unimaginable; she had learned of hundreds who were weekly being arrested, imprisoned, shot and beheaded, their skulls paraded on poles in the streets under the KMT’s reign of anti-Communist terror.”

(Page 192)

Smedley returned to the United States after twenty years, finding a Cold War America that had little patience with idealistic radicals. Smedley’s books were soon targeted for a “cleansing campaign” by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and she also was investigated by General Douglas McArthur, who considered her a dangerous Soviet operative. In addition, she was accused of being a spy in the finest tradition of Hearst tabloid journalism.

Smedley died in 1950 before the full force of HUAC and McCarthyism rose against her – lonely and troubled, but forever unrepentant. Accordingly, Smedley’s last will says it all. Cursing “American Fascism,” she instructs that her “ashes … lie with the Chinese revolutionary dead…”

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. Richard Wormser. St Martin’s/Griffin.

This book by Richard Wormser comprises the companion text to the Peabody Award winning PBS series, chronicling the complex phenomenon of “Jim Crow” in an enthralling compendium of pictures.

Like the PBS series, this compilation of still photos speak the language of a thousand ghosts, telling the story of “free” blacks who work in the cotton fields under the gaze of a white overseer on horseback. In one particular stunning picture that depicts the aftermath of a lynching, we see a member of the mob cut off the victim’s toes to take home as a souvenir.

In this land, Jim Crow was alive and well for over a hundred years.

In 1898, the Democratic Party of North Carolina launched an openly racist campaign using posters depicting black vampires symbolizing “Negro Rule” as a threat to white women. America’s rise into the Twentieth Century ushered in the worst of times for blacks, prompting “a malicious negrophobia- a pathological fear and hatred of blacks” which was not confined to the South. For instance, Edward Drinker Cope, a noted professor of zoology, claimed that black mental growth was permanently arrested at age fourteen. And whites openly sang the ditty:

“Coon, coon, coon, I wish my color would fade.

Coon, coon, coon, I’d like a different shade.”

Sadly, Jim Crow also widened a gap between those middle class blacks who felt that disenfranchisement was appropriate for “poor” blacks, but not for “educated, economically successful and morally upright blacks.” As an example, Booker T. Washington made it a point to socialize with rich philanthropists willing to fund black education, thus acquiring the political power to determine which black schools would be able to survive.

Yet, black colleges and churches would somehow survive – and even thrive – in the midst of Jim Crow, while men like W.E.B. DuBois were not cut from the “conciliatory mold of Booker T. Washinton.” Rather, DuBois, like Frederick Douglas before him, fired the first salvo against Jim Crow in The Souls of Black Folk and Bishop Henry Turner thundered that he preferred “hell to the United States,” proclaiming the United States Supreme Court “an organized mob against the Negro.”

As Wormser notes, change would come slowly through many unknown activists, like Ned Cobb, an Alabama tenant farmer, who organized for the rights of black sharecroppers and farmers in the 1930’s. Cobb served thirteen years in prison for participating in a shoot-out involving a fellow union member. In fact, Cobb was offered a lighter sentence if he would supply the names of other union members, but he refused.

In the times of Jim Crow, personal belief was built on a road of unending sacrifice.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

ISRAEL ON THE APPOMATOX: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War. Melvin Patrick Ely. Alfred A. Knopf.

Virginia aristocrat, Richard Randolph, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson, died in 1796, and his Will served as an indictment of the institution of slavery, granting freedom and 400 acres of land to his slaves. This piece of land would later become known as “Israel Hill,” as it was intended to be the promised land to Richard Randolph’s black Israelites upon being freed from bondage.

Ely, a professor of history and black studies at the College of William and Mary, came upon an old textbook with an obscure reference to a social experiment before the Civil War and was determined to learn whether this experiment had succeeded or failed. However, he was aparently not prepared for what his investigation revealed about freedom, bondage and the inherent relationship between the two:

“[S]lavery and white supremacy corrupted everyone they touched: they made hypocrites of the nation’s founders and their children, helped seduce masters like Richard’s uncle into vice and parasitism, fed base impulses to tyrannize and torture other human beings, and put manly independence forever beyond the reach of the blameless black victims and their indolent masters alike.”

(Page 32)

Ely’s research challenges present day assumptions about the institution of slavery. Unlike Jefferson, who disapproved of slavery but kept slaves, Richard Randolph was consumed with guilt. In his Will, written in his own hand, Randolph “humbly” begged forgiveness for “usurping the rights of our fellow creatures, equally entitled with ourselves to the enjoyment of Liberty and happiness.”

Although Randolph’s wife, Judyth, apparently shared her husband’s views and proceeded to emancipate one slave, Syphax Brown, as soon as her husband’s Will was proved, a decade would pass before Judith completed the emancipation her husband had envisioned. Judyth Randolph’s personal and philosophical struggles to honor her husband’s wishes graphically illustrate the intense economic pressures created by the institution – pressures that even had impact on “enlightened” whites.

Ely’s research nonetheless refutes the stereotype accepted by black and whites today, a stereotype that said that black slaves, even freed black slaves, remained psychologically dependent on white society.

Reflects Ely at the end of this excellent historical text:

“I thought I knew a great deal about cruelty to slaves before I began this project. Then I discovered descriptions of Hillary Richardson’s beating a slave repeatedly and mercilessly from eye to thigh and yanking out the man’s teeth while compelling another slave to restrain the victim. I had read various accounts of masters and slave traders breaking up black families. But to encounter such breakups repeatedly in primary sources drove the point home more wretchedly than ever, especially since I myself by then was the father of young children. As my friend and former colleague, Christopher Brown, once remarked, there are times when a historian, reading the evidence of what some human beings have done to others, feels the need to leave the archives reading room and go outside and breathe some fresh air.”

(Page 442)

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review. 

THE ROSEDALE DIET. Ron Rosedale, M.D. (with Carol Colman). Harper Collins.

Written by Doctor Ron Rosedale, an expert on nutritional and metabolic medicine from Denver, Colorado, Diet marks a true revolution in the way the medical community might approach the treatment of obesity and over-eating.

This book is the culmination of more than two decades of research by Rosedale, during which time he explored the reasons why some people can only seem to gain weight and not lose it. We’ve all heard the statements: “I always seem to be hungry!” “I don’t know what it is, but an hour after dinner I just wanna eat again – it’s crazy. I just seem to get fatter!”

“Americans may be getting fatter, but it’s not for their lack of trying to slim down. Many of my patients have desperately tried to lose weight on their own, bouncing from one weight loss diet to the next. Many have joined gyms and have tried to become more physically active, but they have not been able to make a dent in either their obesity or their diabetes. In fact, most have gone from bad to worse …”

(Page 34)

But why is it happening?

Finally, we might have a real answer to the mystery — and it’s not just because you have no will power and can’t control yourself. Instead, Rosedale’s research has uncovered a link between the hormone leptinand the reasons why we tend to gorge ourselves all day long. According to Rosedale’s research, the body’s intake of food is controlled by leptin, which basically tells the brain when to consume food. However, some folks produce an excess of leptin and eat much more than they need to – accumulating fat instead of burning it away.

But Diet, just released by Harper Collins Publishers, provides a way around this vicious circle: By combining a diet high in healthy fats with moderate exercise, the amount of leptin can slowly be taken back to its normal range, thus allowing the body to lose weight naturally.

Folks should take particular note of this book because of Rosedale’s perspective, as he advocates a safe and conscientious way of losing those pounds. Ultimately, this diet is not about starving or denying yourself, but instead, it’s about understanding exactly how the human body works and then giving it the kinds of food it needs to replenish itself.

Aside from the fountain of information that reports on the physiological reasons behind over-eating, Rosedale presents some really wonderful recipes to help get you used to the changes in your diet (working to create low-carb selections that offer healthy alternatives rather than bland substitutes).

In the end, most people will not diet if they feel they’re suffering, or if they think they can’t have anything that tastes good. Life is simply too hard these days, and most of us derive joy from what we eat. Consequently, there has to be some happy medium for a diet to succeed.

And that’s what Rosedale promotes: a diet stressing safety and tasty dishes. It’s a book most of us can’t afford not to read.

Order at amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

INTERNAL BLEEDING (The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic Of Medical Mistakes). Robert M. Wachter and Kaveh G. Shojania. Rugged Land.

Internal Bleeding, co-written by a pair of Professors of Medicine at The University Of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is the ultimate testament to patient safety — an informative and impeccably researched book that focuses itself on the question of why errors occur in hospitals, further examining just what doctors (working in concert with their patients) can do to mitigate these mistakes.

Patients receiving the wrong medicine. Doctors operating on the wrong person or leaving instruments buried inside of body cavities. Doctors ignoring tell-tale symptoms and delaying treatment to perilous results. Fatal drug interactions. The list seems endless.

According to their research, Wachter and Shojania estimate that a shocking 100,000 people die each year because of blunders doctors and nurses make in the course of treatment (“the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every day!”). This figure, based on a series of Harvard Medical Science studies, calls into question just how safe we are when we step into the hospital and turn over the “keys” to our bodies to our health care providers:

“Mr. Adam’s autopsy showed he had suffered a massive pulmonary embolism – a big gooey blood clot had formed in his legs, broken off, and found its way to his lungs, in an instant knocking out half of his breathing capacity. Looking back, Bob realized his patient’s ‘presentation’ (the symptoms he reported and his findings on exam) was textbook – heavy perspiration, shortness of breath despite clear lungs, the time interval between major hip surgery and the onset of respiratory problems – all of it fit. The only problem was that it was a textbook the second-year med student hadn’t yet read, and Bob was too naive, scared, insecure, proud, and anxious to fit it in to ask a real doctor to help out when it might have done some good.”

(Page 187)

This is scary stuff. I know Wachter and Shojania didn’t write this book to intimidate or frighten us; instead, they authored this work as a means to begin educating the medical community and its patients to the reality that grave problems exist in the way hospitals function. This notwithstanding, the ideas presented here are quite worrisome, because they demonstrate that there is a very real chance that human error by a doctor could kill you before your affliction ever does.

Initially, upon reading this material, there is a tendency towards denial (This can’t be! Not with all the advances in medical science and technology. It just can’t be!). But advances in technology don’t guarantee safety. In point of fact, they contradict it: because hospitals are moving faster and faster, and because doctors are more and more stressed trying to fulfill multiple commitments, the chance of error rises dramatically. The concept of medical treatment may be better than it was fifty years ago, but it isn’t necessarily safer: unfortunately, fancy x-ray machines and computer programs cannot insure a physician’s (or nurse’s) full attention to detail.

So where do we go from here? As the authors so aptly note, patients can be the first wall of defense and must take an active hand in protecting themselves:

“First, introduce yourself …. And don’t be cowed by the hospital’s intimidating, class-oriented dress code. Just because you’re in an ugly, backless hospital nightgown and the person addressing you is in a suit and tie or crisp white lab coat, your well-being is still the focus of his or her attention. Ask questions politely and persist until they’re answered.”

(Page 365)

More than any other book we’ve seen this year in the arena of medical science, Internal Bleeding is truly written with an eye towards protecting people from needless harm — a real and honest statement on behalf of the hospital ‘consumer.’ The fact that Wachter and Shojania stepped out to tell painful truths about the clubhouse that one enters upon earning the distinction of M.D. could not have been easy (how many doctors or hospital administrators want to admit that these things occur and occur regularly?). Yet, both the authors (who remain active on the UCSF Patient Safety Committee) proceed forth nobly, writing in a sharp and evocative style, intent on educating us, intent on the prevention of needless and foolish deaths.

If you are at all concerned about your role in the health care systems of America, you should find a copy of this book: reading it could actually save your life some day.

Recommended to all college and public sector libraries as a general reference text on consumer health issues.

Order from amazon.com. For further reading on the subject, See webmm.ahrq.gov.

Robert Wachter On Internal Bleeding

Let’s begin by you telling me how you became interested in medicine.

Well, the answer should be that I like science and want to help people (laughs). In my case, I didn’t like science that much. But I truly wanted to help people and solve interesting problems. I was Political Science major in college and enjoyed those classes more than Science and Chemistry. And it seemed to me that there was a role in medicine for somebody like me who wanted to solve interesting problems with a human dimension. I had a real interest in organization and how medical systems could work more efficiently. And the way the world has evolved, it has played into my strengths.

OK, so then how did you become interested in the topics of patient and hospital safety?

It’s been a little bit of an evolution over the course of my academic career, the combination of a lot of interests coming together. When I first became interested in improving health care systems it was by-way of ethics and resource allocation – how to better deal with patient interests without bankrupting the system. From that, in the mid 1990s, I became interested in the investigation of hospital care. I’ve really been lucky. This was a new specialty – how to make the system work better for patients. As the Chief of Medical Service at a big academic hospital, I saw that the old approach of dealing with the problem of errors in hospitals – suing and shaming providers – was not the best model to follow. Obviously, there was an opportunity to make a real difference in the field, and I was able to meld several different disciplines, things like engineering and tort law, synthesizing different ideas, making a case for change.

How was this book born?

My colleague Kaveh G. Shojania and I had this idea to use case studies to help people understand the issue of medical mistakes. In the history of medicine it’s always been the practice to use case studies to teach. The drama of a case opens people’s eyes to the true nature of the problem. There was never a time in American medical literature that I’m aware of when the case presented was about medical error instead of diagnosis and treatment. So you see, Kaveh and I had a very controversial idea and consequently we had a hard time placing it for publication. The first case we published was in the Annals of Internal Medicine in June 2002. The article was titled “The Wrong Patient,” and it detailed a story where 17 different errors occurred on one patient. It was a train wreck in slow motion. The publication of that article was followed by a feature in the New York Times. And from that, Rugged Land became interested in the material and we began to explore writing the book. The true challenge came in making an academic subject engaging enough for the general audience to want to read.

What has the reception been like among other doctors and colleagues? Do they fear this project could foster an increase in medical malpractice lawsuits?

Five to ten years ago it would have been quite difficult to expose the dark under belly of medicine. Today, however, the response has been surprisingly positive – very gratifying. Now the medical community has gotten past the idea that we don’t have a problem, accepting the notion that hospitals are indeed more dangerous than they should be. I think the minimal backlash we’ve felt relates to this: doctors are concerned that they’re not going to get credit for all the hard work and good things they do….Our book basically says that there needs to be a sharing of information and an openness. But with that comes a concern that we could be sued because of that openness – and this naturally stifles the discussion. It’s a real issue. It’s a tricky issue that has made it harder for physicians to talk about error.

The statistic in the book that says that nearly 100,000 deaths occur annually as a result of hospital error is astounding. Just how reliable are these figures?

The figure is as a good as we have – it’s drawn from two studies, and that fact in itself speaks to how little research has been done in this area. The primary research was drawn from the Harvard Medical Study. I personally think the numbers are probably pretty close. Yet, whether or not the stats are right is not important: this is nevertheless a big nasty problem that we need to do something about. The system is basically fundamentally unsafe, and that needs to change.

Do you think your work and research will ultimately play a role in reducing these numbers?

I hope the book is saving lives. I’ve actually had an opportunity to speak to many groups, and the feedback we’ve now gotten is that people understand this problem in a richer, deeper way. And that is helping to point them toward a solution. People seem to like the fact that it’s a fairly optimistic book which looks toward fixing the situation.

What’s your advice for the patient upon entering the hospital? What steps can be taken on the patient’s part to reduce the chances that a fatal error might occur?

Patients should ask questions and remain vigilant at all times. Make sure nurses are addressing you by your full name when you’re in the hospital, when they’re taking you to procedures. Bring your medicines so they know what you’re taking. However, the bigger issue patients need to understand is the way in which doctors and nurses communicate and the problems that relationship poses. It’s about being an informed consumer. It takes people asking questions to drive the system to be safe. But the other piece of it is, in 2004, should a patient come into a modern hospital and have to worry that we’re going to cut off the wrong leg? And the answer to that is ‘no,’ they shouldn’t have to worry about that stuff on top of being sick.

From your experience as a doctor, what single thing poses the most serious threat to the patient? What thing holds the greatest margin for error in the typical patient’s hospital stay?

I would say it’s communication problems. Information in hospitals needs to move flawlessly across the system, whether it’s from doctor to nurse or from nurse’s station to x-ray. And we don’t a system in place that can do this flawlessly. And this is actually the root cause for you being given the wrong medicine, being taken to the wrong procedure, having the wrong part cut off. It’s a complex system. Time pressured. Fragmented. And it just can’t be fixed by a smart doctor who is careful. It can only fixed by revising the system and creating a different culture with regard to the way that hospitals do things. 

ATKINS DIABETES REVOLUTION. Based On The Medical Practice of Robert C. Atkins, M.D. With Mary C. Vernon, M.D. and Jacqueline A. Eberstein, R.N. William Morrow.

Along with hypertension and high cholesterol, diabetes is a serious condition that compromises organs, resulting in an increase in the risk for heart attack, stroke and cancer. However, as noted in the first chapter of Atkins, this is one phenomenon we can actually stop:

“…[T]here is one, all-too-common killer disease over which we have a great deal of say. Most people do have a choice when it comes to Type 2 diabetes. Astonishing as it sounds, this epidemic disease is almost entirely preventable. Of course, no one consciously chooses to get diabetes. Various factors – some in our control and some not – combine to create the unfortunate scenario. But if we all took proper care of our bodies and kept vigilant rein on the factors that are within our control, there would be no diabetes epidemic…”

(Chapter One at Page 3)

Are you interested in avoiding an early death by-way of diabetes? Atkins provides the insight, telling us in clear and unadorned prose just how we can protect ourselves. After moving through a well-defined lay explanation of the origins/causes of diabetes, the book begins to explore how both healthy individuals and at-risk patients can stave off this often deadly affliction. The key, according to the late Dr. Atkins (who authored several diet books) and many other endocrinologists, is in early detection of diabetes; the idea is not to delay, but instead to eradicate, the on-set of disease.

Still, before this can be done, a person must under-go testing to determine what their blood sugar levels are. Careful monitoring of blood-pressure, heart function and lipid levels should be evaluated in conjunction with glucose levels. Once readings of each of these is obtained, individuals should concentrate on lifestyle changes that promote exercise and proper dietary focus.

There are many note-worthy elements in Atkins (including detailed case studies and advice on fitness regimens), but the real gold here is in the meal plans and recipes that have been provided: in addition to giving the reader a few suggestions on what to eat, they force us to think about the things we are putting into our mouths and consuming.

Remember, diet and obesity are huge factors that promote diabetes: all too often our busy lifestyles force us to sit and eat a donut at our desks. And nothing could be worse. But these recipes help to remind us that if we are to reach a healthy retirement age, we must pay attention to how we’re living today.

Recommended to the general reader as a consumer health title chock full of new and pertinent data. A must-have for diabetes’ patients or individuals at high-risk for developing the disease. Further recommended to all public-sector libraries as a strong general health selection.

Order at amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

Notable from Penguin/Avery

GETTING OLD WITHOUT GETTING ANXIOUS. Peter V. Rabins. With Lynn Lauber. Avery.

Dr. Rabins, who teaches on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University, is known to many of us for his manual that set forth a plan for increasing the quality of life while in the throes of Alzheimer’s Disease (“The 36-Hour Day”). Here, Rabins continues his mission of merging medical concepts with issues of universal social importance with this treatise that directs us on how to age with grace, dignity and confidence.

The importance of Getting Old cannot be overemphasized, for this is a book about how to cope with the internal changes of the self that occur as a natural component of the aging process. These gradual changes which consume the consciousness as a person grows older burden us with anxiety as we fight against the loss of independence and the waning of physical strength — so many of us depressed that we are ‘not the people we used to be’ (struggling to reinvent our identity in the wake of isolation and retirement).

In his book, Dr. Rabins sets out to outline various anxiety disorders that specifically afflict the older individual, in turn seeking to increase understanding of the symptoms created by these conditions (with the idea that an increased understanding of these topics will allow both patient and caregiver to comprehend that the anxieties inherent with old age are natural and unavoidable occurrences that, when dealt with properly, can actually enrich one’s life experience and familial bonds):

“Sometimes we think we know our parents so well that we don’t pay close attention to what they’re telling us, and we may surprised by our blind spots and misperceptions. It’s important to listen closely to what a parent says when reporting anxiety symptoms. Besides helping in the eventual diagnosis, closely attending to an elderly parent’s feelings and complaints can be therapeutic in itself.”

(Page 22)

Dr. Rabins is an expert writer, and he dissects his subject with the keen eye of a social scientist on a mission to educate the lay reader. After introductory chapters on identifying and understanding both the varied symptoms of anxiety and their root causes, the author explores the major problems the typical geriatric patient encounters, including analysis of depression, general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and phobias. As he weaves his way through these chapters, Dr. Rabins carefully speaks to things the parent/patient are likely grappling with (as he illuminates the role the child/caregiver should play in helping to comfort and soothe a frightened parent):

“When people are in danger or under threat, their brains release hormones that prepare them to fight or flee. To prepare the body for action, the heartbeat quickens and the muscles tense; vision and hearing become more acute and focused. But when a susceptible person…is faced with too much anxiety or fear, these appropriate physical states take on a life of their own…”

(Page 30)

Getting Old is a noteworthy book that strives to forge a road of understanding for both the elderly patient and their family, urging children to become directly involved with assisting their parents to cope with the day-to-day fears that the passage of time creates. Simply, the idea here is to help the older individual transcend changes in body and mind through a deeper awareness of the signs and symptoms of anxiety. Once this can be accomplished, there will be less need for tranquilizing drugs together with a heightened quality of life for parent and child alike.

This book is highly recommended as a resource for physicians and nurse practitioners with geriatric practices and should be shared with elderly patients and their caregivers. Retailing for about $15, this is an immediately affordable reference with useful information that will naturally alleviate tension for readers. Further recommended for the counter racks at pharmacies like Walgreens and Rite Aid: Dr. Rabins writes with the public and patient in mind and this material should be readily available to consumers in all walks of life. Finally, Getting Old should be included in all libraries in the public sector as a resource for readers on limited incomes who might not be able to afford a personal copy.

Order at amazon.com.

Notable from Harper

THE E MYTH. Michael E. Gerber. Harper Business. Innovative remarks focused on the practice of medicine and how doctors can make the profession more efficient and more profitable. Rather than just work on trying to accrue the most patients and the most cash, Gerber speaks about a radical mental over-haul that is necessary if doctors are to better manage their offices.

Recommended to all physicians in private practice.

SECOND ACTS. Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. Quill. This book’s about inspiring courage within the self, with the key being not only dealing with change as it occurs, but actually promoting it. Second Act is about giving yourself a second chance at life — be it through a career change, a change in residence, or a second marriage. Change takes guts. But looking beyond this, we each have to learn to be gutsy. Pollan and Levine offer us some direction in this regard.

Appropriate title for all libraries – both academic and public. Would be useful to psychologists as well, since Second Acts would have merit to individuals in therapy.

THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. Harper Collins. Girl’s Guide is a manual written specifically for women entering the business world — not as subordinates, but as managers. For years, women played second fiddle to the male-dominated corporate world of America. But the times have indeed changed. The last two decades have finally seen women in decision-making roles, and this book offers insight into how a woman who is considering launching a business should do it. Written by a couple of ladies who’ve been there and conquered the obstacles.

Highly recommended as a teaching text in women’s studies courses — blending social relevance with sharp business savvy.

WINNING WITH THE DOW’S LOSERS. Charles B. Carlson. Harper Business. Wall Street is a very complicated world that exists unto itself. To make money there, it takes some true understanding of stock market trends. Here, Carlson tells us how to invest in “underdog” stocks — revealing some of his secrets for buying at stripped low prices and then turning the portfolio over for a profit.

Appropriate for the public sector libraries as a general reference title.

WINTER WORLD. Bernd Heinrich. Ecco. Heinrich has been compared by some critics to nature poet Gary Snyder, and it’s a wonderfully apt comparison, for this biologist brings a deep mind – obviously, Heinrich understands the exactness of nature on its most fundamental, primal and holy level. In Winter World, Heinrich observes animals in their natural habitats, reflecting and recording what he sees: the prose is at all times sharp and evocative, with the author’s understated illustrations bringing each passage humming into life.

Recommended to field biology instructors as a change-of-pace class text — useful at both high school and university level. 

Order at amazon.com or go to harpercollins.com.

Notable From Other Houses

SHOOTERS. Myths and Realties of America’s Gun Culture. Abigail A. Kohn. Oxford University Press.

In 1997, while a graduate student at the University of California, Abigail A. Kohn began an anthropological study of the American gun culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even in the heart of ultra-liberal America, Kohn discovered that active and enthusiastic “shooters” not only exist, but thrive. And as her project continued, Kohn herself began frequenting shooting ranges, taking self-defense courses and practicing cowboy action shooting.

As Shooters demonstrates, Kohn appears to have enjoyed herself. Most importantly here, Kohn documents a shooting culture which extends well beyond the conventional media clichés depicted in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine.” In contrast to Moore’s perspective, Kohn identifies vocal pro-gun groups among blacks (the Tenth Cavalry), feminists (the Second Amendment Sisters) and gays (the Pink Pistols), showing us that this American “shooters” culture extends far beyond the ideas of militias and vigilantism – concepts that so many misinformed people now view as synonymous with the word gun.

Instead, Kohn is one in a growing number of academics who speak objectively and, perhaps somewhat sympathetically, about individuals who refuse to accept the current trend to politicize victimization (as one pro-gun lesbian and feminist/activist explained to the author): “I want the twenty year solution of improving the world. But I need the twelve second solution that will keep me around to do it …”

Shooters constitutes a true break-through: readers will discover an even-handed analysis that examines the gun amid these American landscapes.

Recommended to the general reader interested in the evolution of this important topic. Also recommended as an under-graduate teaching text for anthropology and sociology students. Would be useful to libraries at both the college and public level as a general reference text.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Focusing On Children

DOUGAL DIXON’S DINOSAURS. 12 New Dinosaur Discoveries. Third Edition. Dougal Dixon. Boyds Mills Press.

Science is often a difficult and intimidating subject for many youngsters to grasp. Given this fact, when a text comes along with the power to command a kid’s attention, it’s worthy of note. Accordingly, Dougal Dixon’s Dinosaurs is one of such book, full of compelling information and colorful graphics that will likely capture the curiosity of even the most fidgety student. In this book, Dixon examines the history of the dinosaur and its  role in relation to the scope of animal-evolution. In the midst of this journey, Dixon also analyzes12 new ‘discoveries’ relevant to the age of the dinosaur. In addition to being a wonderful survey of the history of the dinosaur, Dixon’s text is a thoughtful exploration of the science of the subject, as readers search into how dinosaurs evolved to there final state (digging through discussion of their complete lifestyles and physical characteristics, including the way that they looked and moved and how they found food and cared for their young). More than anything, a science text aimed at the youthful reader must carry a big punch –educating as it entertains and enlightens. In turn, this is a very good addition to children’s literature, a book about dinosaurs that also serves as an entry-level text about anthropology and paleontology and geography likely to open myriad doors in the young mind.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Also Of Note in Children’s Literature

JEANNETTE RANKIN, POLITICAL PIONEER. Gretchen Woelfle. Calkins Creek.

This is an excellent reference detailing the life and times of Jeannette Rankin, the first congresswoman in history. It is safe to say that without Rankin leading the way, there would be no Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton. Simply, Rankin was a tough-minded and brilliantly savvy woman who defied great odds on her journey to the forefront of the national political scene. Woelfle does an excellent job at sketching a complete picture of Rankin’s life and person set in the context of the era in which she lived. At all times, Woelfle’s prose is vibrant and engaging, careful never to lose sight of its specific audience. In sum, this is a first-rate book on a woman many have forgotten about, but, who nonetheless remains, one of the key players in the development of our 20th century history.

Order from amazon.com.

TOUGH BOY SONATOAS. Curtis L. Crisler. Illustrations by Floyd Cooper. Word Song.

This is a damn gutsy book, and one of the best titles we have seen premised on sharing the real flavor of the urban life. Tough Boy is set in Gary, Indiana, and it presents the voices of the young men of the city in original and compelling form. In this collection of incisive peomscapes, we see the city as the young eyes of its citizens do – a world stripped bare to the bone, ravaged and worn, struggling to taste a meaningful breath amid endless scenes of suffering and pain:

“Luke. No air for me, as world sweats happy in its humidity. I wouldn’t have hit little sister in head with wooden spoon, she kept touching my Action Jackson. She knows rules, I’ve told her a thousand times. Now, for millionth time, Mama and me bump heads…”

Do you wonder what kids in cities think? Do you wonder how they feel? Do you wonder how they see our world? Tough Boy tells us in no uncertain terms, its poetry vine-ripened  intense, a true statement of these cold dark broken streets.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

PIRATEPEDIA. Alisha Niehaus, Editor. DK Publishing.

Piratepedia serves as one of the most creative children’s books to hit the shelves in a long long time. Here, Niehaus has created a mini encyclopedia focused on the world of the pirate and the shape of the sea. Immediately, both parents and youngsters will note that this selection has the power to compel like a comic book and teach like a documentary – Niehaus scaling the line between ‘educational’ and ‘fun’ with amazing dexterity. In Piratepedia, children will be presented with a journey into the realm of previous centuries as they explore pirates from different parts of the world in a story that spans hundreds of years (from the ancient past to modern times). In the course of this summary, Niehaus explores everything from the pirates’ ships and motivations to their garb and predilection for on-the-edge adventure: This complete sketch of an image that has, in recent years, been rendered more a media-fueled caricature than an actual part of our history. Stylistically, Niehaus carefully melds an array of facts about these masters of the water with bits of classic literature which has helped to form our definition of pirate (showing the young reader how deeply previous generations were drawn to the mysticism of the Buccaneer). Well-edited and sharply conceived – this book demonstrates that it is indeed possible to educate kids without making the ride bland or static.

Recommended for kids 8-12 years of age. Further recommended to all school libraries at the junior high school level. Finally, history teachers might also consider using this as a reference tool for the young student – this creative way to bring the distant memory of the sea back to life.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

THE PRINTER’S TRIAL: The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press. Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek Books.

Gail Jarrow has earned a reputation for writing high quality texts for children and young adults – and her account of John Peter Zenger’s arrest, imprisonment and trial for seditious libel, is no exception.

In this volume, Jarrow’s lucid prose is further enriched by broadsides, pamphlets, maps and newspaper articles, as well as by the paintings and engravings of Alfred Babbitt, Howard Pyle and Harry Fenn.

Throughout, Jarrow’s narrative teems with realism. For example, she uses the fact that the Courts of the day were used as a mechanism to prevent Zenger from printing articles critical of British Royal Governor Cosby and the Crown as a means to illuminate a world where the ones in power could silence anyone who threatened to cast too much light on their processes.

As Jarrow points out, Cosby was hardly subtle in his efforts to crush Zenger: At one point, Cosby fired Chief Justice Lewis Morris and appointed a Crown lapdog, James De Lancey, in his place. When Zenger’s attorneys, James Alexander and William Smith, argued that the appointment of De Lancey was illegal, the lawyers were summarily disbarred.

Here, Jarrow expertly details the behind-the-scenes defense-strategy employed by Alexander and Smith, revealing the details of Zenger’s trial before a rigged court. Interestingly, Jarrow notes the aftermath of the Zenger trial did not instigate a change of law relating to seditious libel (as the legal challenges continued for decades to come).

At the end, these events took a huge personal toll on Zenger. Apparently, the praise he received from the public for courageously opposing the Crown made him lazy, and he eventually lost his thirst to expose the corruption of the system. In the words of one of his lawyers, William Smith, it finally “ended…in the ruin of his family.”

The Printer’s Trial serves as an outstanding summary of a sometimes forgotten battle, bringing young readers now accustomed to television and the internet a deeper understanding of just what ‘freedom of the press’ means.

Appropriate for readers ages 9 to 12. Noted for its clear and logical organization and its ability to bring an important event in American History to the attention of the intermediate student. Parents and instructors would do well to include Jarrow’s volume in their teachings as it helps to give a face to one mans battle that was waged in the name of Democracy.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

BERNIE BURN. Sarah Cruz. With Christopher Cruz. Illustrated by Sarah Cruz. Little Boots Publishing.

When you have a small child around the house, danger is literally lurking around every corner. Aside from choking, one of the most serious threats to any youngster comes in the form of  hot objects — in a mere matter of seconds, one burn can alter a life forever.

Sarah Cruz, a Registered Nurse who resides with her family in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, learned this the hard way in 2001, after her infant daughter, Azurae, suffered a second-degree burn subsequent to an encounter with a blistering-hot oven door.

Once their child recuperated, the Cruzes decided their scare should serve as a wake-up call for parents and toddlers everywhere. To this end, they went to work and launched Little Boots Publishing and created Bernie Burn – a interesting and creative children’s book meant to educate tots and their caregivers on ways to prevent burn injuries.

“Some things in a child’s life cannot be controlled or prevented,” notes Sarah Cruz on the Little Boots Web site. “But some things are preventable — like burn injuries. Each year 250,000 children in the U.S. are seriously burned, 200,000 of them by contact with hot substances and objects. Through our own personal experience, we learned that it’s never too early to begin protecting your child in the home and teaching them about burn injury prevention.”

And this, then, cuts to the core of Bernie Burn — a storybook focused on toddlers ages 6 months to four years written and illustrated by Cruz and her husband, Christopher. More than anything, Bernie Burn provides the very young with a road map of dangers that hide in a house — an attempt through words and pictures to steer tiny hands away from things that could sear through skin and cause a serious burn. Cruz writes:

“Baby Rae doesn’t want to sit and play anymore. She’s curious and wants to explore. Mommy tells baby Rae, ‘The Stove is hot! Bernie Burn! He’s not cool. Don’t touch Bernie Burn, or you’ll get a boo boo!’”

The Cruzes have done a very imaginative job here, first creating a believeable narrative and then marrying it to well-honed illustrations that children will readily identify with – the images springing to life and striking interest in the mind of the young reader. The text is augmented by a pediatric First-Aid Guide for burns/scalds, as well as hints for helping your child avoid serious injury in the kitchen. Finally, as an added attraction, the Cruzes have included blank images at the end of the text which children can color themselves, in turn refreshing the young reader’s mind on the lessons they’ve just learned.

Like the Captain Kangaroo show of yesteryear, Bernie Burn makes a fun ride out of the necessity of teaching your child about life-threatening dangers around the house. Further, instead of turning the task into a lecture, the Cruzes have chosen to make it an event that parents and children can experience together through a storybook hour – the pictures and true-to-life plot-line meant to make children see what they are not to touch.

Bernie Burn is recommended to all parents of children one to five years old, and should be shared as parent reads through the book page-by-page with the youngster. This selection would further be a useful teaching tool in pre-school classes a means to address dangers in the home.

For further information, see littlebootspublishing.com.

Other Children’s Books Of Note

PAINT ME A POEM. Poems Inspired by Masterpieces of Art. Justine Rowden. Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

This unique little book should become a standard among elementary-level instructors looking to excite kids about words, language and art.

Paint Me A Poem is the creation of poet Justine Rowden, who conceived of the book one day while at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.. Specifically, as Rowden was looking at Sam Francis’s painting Speck she heard some invisible song play out in her head and saw the colors on the canvass move to the hooves of melody in her mind:

Ziggidy, zaggedy

Ziggidy, jiggidy colors

Jaggedy, zaggedy music;

Maraschino-cherry reds

Chevy Blazer blues

Mustard yellows

Lime jello greens…

Turn the pages here, and you will quickly realize that you don’t have to be a child to be moved by Rowden’s deep love of language. More than anything, this book is about passion — one writer’s passion to try and capture the echoes she feels move across the mouth of her mind as she bears witnesses to the art of the great masters from centuries past:

WITH MY FATHER

Come and I will tell you

About when I was a little girl,

How I rode on horseback

Through the countryside

Holding onto my father

As we rode

Down quiet roads…

This poem, inspired by Auguste Renoir’s Madame Henroit, immediately calls to mind Frost’s Stopping By The Woods — at once vivid and poignant, awash in the memories of a child now lost within an older self.

Paint Me A Poem is comprised of fourteen verses that have been aligned with paintings by artists such as Henri Matisse, Renoir, Francisco de Goya and others – this splendid marriage of language to the visual arts. The ultimate goal here is for the child-reader to borrow from the book’s vibrant – almost brazen – creativity, suddenly inspired enough to want to write what they themselves see in the paintings. No righteous censorship. No fear of what anyone else’s perceptions might be — instead, just write what you see. Create. Move to the rhythmic motion of your mind moving against rusty wheels of time.

More children’s writers would be well-served to abandon the contrived formulas of past trends and move toward more original avenues of expression. This book by Justine Rowden lights a beautiful way.

Recommended for children 6-13 years of age, to be used as a classroom aid for any course material dedicated to bringing the language arts to life.

Order at amazon.com.

Other Boyds Mills Titles We Recommend

FIRST SALMON. Roxane Beauclair Salonen. Illustrated by Jim Fowler. Boyds Mills Press. This book takes a step toward trying to help youngsters come to grips with loss and death. The vehicle the authors use to tell their story is an inventive one — the Salmon season in the Pacific Northwest. The story is told through the Native American point of view, as a young boy (Charlie) tries in vain to celebrate the dawning of the first salmon without his beloved Uncle Joe. The story moves swiftly, and uses individual character development to help Charlie see that his uncle isn’t really gone at all; instead, the old man’s spirit will forever be a part of him during the celebration of the First Salmon.

OLIVER’S MUST DO LIST. Susan Taylor Brown. Illustrated by Mary Sullivan. Boyds Mills Press. Life in the 21st century moves FAST! Sometimes it’s going so fast that our “things-to-do-lists” bulge to ridiculous proportions and we can scarcely make time for the kids. Oliver’s Must Do is a book meant to teach kids how they might get our attention away from our pesky day-to-day worries — and back on what’s important in life. But going a step further, this book also can teach parents that kids don’treally understand busy: in a child’s eyes, a parent’s mad work paces feels a lot like being ignored.

Order each at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Sports

THE SPORTS ENCYCLOPEDIA: Baseball 2007. David S. Neft. Richard M. Cohen. Michael L. Neft. St. Martin’s/Griffin.

All hail the American pastime! Spring is here with a brand new baseball season as folks flock to the ballpark to see if Bonds can break Aaron’s hallowed homerun mark, to see if A-Rod might break Bonds’ single-season homer record on the heels of the greatest April any batter in history has ever had. Yes, a new season in parks across the nation has renewed our interest in the sport as fans wait on this year’s All-Star Game slated for July in San Francisco. In this encyclopedia, the authors set forth the definitive resource detailing the histories of every player, team and season (spanning 1902 through 2006). This, simply, is a statistical feast that will keep even the most hard-core and knowledgeable fans glued to their seats for awhile. Separated by year, with sharply written season summaries that introduce each chapter, Baseball 07 is a fact-filled and completely up-to-date library in book form, a reference which chronicles the history of baseball through the performances of its teams and players. Especially compelling are the complete stat sheets for each club which contain a synopsis of a given season, allowing fans to refresh their memories on what a favorite player produced on their way to that ‘66 pennant. In an age when so much information is contained on the internet, Baseball 07 brings us back to Red Smith and those great sports writers of yesteryear – this handy scorecard companion that should serve hardball fanatics for generations to come.

Order at amazon.com.

Shorts

THE ART OF THE X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. From Concept to Feature Film. Edited and designed by Christopher Measom and Timothy Shaner. Forward by Brett Ratner. Newmarket Press.

This book sets out to document in stunning and explosive terms the making of the third installment in the X-Men trilogy. As Ratner notes in his evocative forward, the making of “comic book films” is a rarefied occurrence presenting a director with a unique chance to bring the magic of the illustrator’s pen to big-screen life. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. It’s all kind of a grand roll of the cinematographer’s dice as multiple variables determine if the project succeeds or fails. Insofar as X-Men is concerned, the movie soared to epic proportions, thrilling its audience with myriad twists and turns, with abrupt jumps and jerks. Accordingly, this book is a beautiful companion to the film, chock full of the very same on-the-edge-tension that nailed viewers to their seats. Here, the editors have stitched together a book of illustrations and photos that tell the story of the film, placing readers in the director’s mind as we come to examine set designs, story boards and special effects shots documenting each of the celluloid characters with whom we came to bond. Over 360 illustrations coupled with Ratner’s well-defined introductory remarks serve to create this real-time‘biography’ of the film and its genesis. Finally, once The Art Of X-Men is in your hands, the plot and sub-plot of this fantastic series of films becomes secondary to the idea of cinema and its creative labyrinth. As the title implies, this book is more about the process of art rather than the picture in the frame.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SPIES AMONG US. Ira Winkler. Wiley.

The internet is a wonderful resource and a tremendous tool that assists us in all facets of our lives – from finding maps/directions to discovering information about health and legal issues. However, because of its instant accessibility, it has also spawned several new types of criminal: the hackerthe identity thiefthe fraud with a web site selling non-services forlow monthly fees’.

Here, Ira Winkler (formerly of the National Security Agency) has presented us with a book that no one can afford to live without. Believe me – that’s no exaggeration; instead, it is the bottom line truth.

Spies Among Us is written for folks everywhere as a primer course on how to avoid falling victim to information thieves – these opportunistic marvels who prey on nonchalant folks like you and me (hunting down vital personal data that just might have been left unconcealed or unattended):

“Determining the value of the information in your business or personal life is an essential first step toward developing an effective security plan. If your information isn’t worth anything – monetarily or otherwise – it won’t matter how vulnerable you are to attack. No one normally spends time collecting worthless data….”

(Page 41)

Winkler has written this book as a means to teach us the methods these modern bandits use, further striving to teach us what measures we might take to help ourselves dodge disaster. Look at what stories are being broadcast on the news. Look at how many stories there have been recently about security breeches at banks and at major corporations. If these big corporate giants can fall victim (given all the firewalls and extra security) don’t you think that you – John Q. Citizen with his E-Bay and Pay-Pal accounts- can be just as vulnerable?

It’s time to really learn what’s going on in this new world of electronic information and then take pro-active steps to protect yourself. Winkler’s book is a necessary reference and has become required reading for anybody with a checking account.

by John Aiello

Of Related Interest

DARKNET. Hollywood’s War Against The Digital Generation. J.D. Lasica. Wiley. Another release by Wiley that investigates the changing landscape of our world is found here.Darknet discusses advances in technology and the impetus on the part of Hollywood and big-business to quash those advances and rein us in. Remember, a public listening to its own forms of media can’t be readily controlled or manipulated and won’t spend its cash as easily…Anyone with an ipod and a penchant for burning CDS will want to check Lasica’s book out – it’s a winner.

Recommended to libraries at both the college and public sector level as a general reference text. Techno-heads will find the subject matter particularly interesting.

Order at amazon.com.

THE EL-EVENTH HOUR. Lily G. Stephen. Blooming Rose Press. The El-eventh Hour (the second installment in a trilogy) written by Mount Shasta, California writer Lily Stephen marks a step away from the mainstream, stepping off alone in a unique direction. Ultimately, this novel is an extension of the fantasy genre, a book that modernizes Tolkien’s vein and incorporates the idea of mythology with the pure imagination of fiction, this pure leapful discourse of spirit riding wild veils of time: “First Sappho, the shimmering goddess, and then Branicor, her handsome counterpart with the dance of humor in his eyes…dissolved into swirls, ribbons and spirals of myriad hues…” Here, every passage and every paragraph reads like the beginning line of an epic new poem. We are captivated. We are awash in the stark thirsty moonlit beauty of language. Spellbound, looking into the hallway, looks for the Door that will reveal thee.

Order at amazon.com.

VOLKSWAGEN MILITARY VEHICLES OF THE THIRD REICH. Blaine Taylor. Da Capo. Most folks are familiar with Volkswagen as an economical alternative to gas guzzler “American Boats” — a little compact bug-shaped mobile born of 1960’s ingenuity. However, nothing could be further from reality. In actuality, VW was the brainchild of Adolph Hitler born during the period of the Third Reich. Hitler in fact used the VW during the second World War in his efforts to take over Europe and the world, employing a hyped-up Jeep-version of the famous “Beetle.” Yet, Hitlers’s vehicle was designed for real “off road” battle, this jeep now truly amphibious, rugged and built indestructible, a distant cousin to the Hummer that has become the poster child of the American war effort in Iraq. Taylor’s book proves exhaustive in nature, recapitulating the history of the Volkswagen during the Third Reich, recording the unique traits that would come to evolve into the modern-day version of the economy car so many have fallen in love with. Finally, the countless never-before-seen photographs serve to demonstrate just how advanced the German mechanical technology of the era really was.

Recommended to libraries at the college level and in the public sector for its long term reference value recollecting one of the most important periods in world history.

Order at amazon.com.

BEATON IN THE SIXTIES: The Cecil Beaton Diaries as He Wrote Them, 1965-1969. With an Introduction by Hugo Vickers. Alfred A. Knopf.

Name dropping among the rich and famous is a tradition, and occasionally, it becomes a rarefied art. Oscar Wilde had the knack of it, as did photographer, artist, writer, designer and unrepentant snob, Cecil Beaton.

Beaton was living in London when this portion of his diaries begin. Even though Beaton had a cold on January 30, 1965 (the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral), it doesn’t stop him from shedding “lotions of tears” as he recalls the last time he saw Churchill and “Clemmie.”

Beaton was at the height of his creative powers in the Sixties, and London was one of the epicenters of café society. Yet somehow, Beaton leaves the impression that he really didn’tget the Sixties. For instance, Beaton recalls that the film classic Easy Rider left him “very much bewildered”.

Instead, Beaton is on more familiar territory reminiscing about earlier times with Garbo, “Coco” and Kate. Although many of Beaton’s entries appear dated after the passage of forty years and the entry into a new millennium, a few of his diary passages remain quite moving. Note this description of his secretary’s funeral:

“Maud’s funeral was pathetic. St Mary’s Cadogan Street cold, dark and almost empty. Maud’s coffin under a black velvet pall that had been used at so many hundreds of funerals that it had become shabby, poor and covered with stains. The flowers, too, were very meagre. Her sister had come over from Portugal and Francis Rose, wearing my old clothes, was introduced to her by Beryl Ashcroft. ‘Ah,” said the sister. ‘These are the names I’ve heard so much about.’ “

Recommended to libraries at the college level and in the public sector for its interesting slant on one of the most studied decades of the modern era.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

From the Business Desk

SLAPPED BY THE INVISIBLE HAND. Gary B. Gorton. Oxford University Press.

Gary Gorton’s Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007 was originally written for a conference of the Federal Reserve. Now expanded, Groton’s treatise offers what might be the best description of the cause and effects of the recent economic crash.

The “invisible hand,” according to Gorton, extends from “a world where private decisions are unknowingly guided by prices to allocate resources efficiently.” For example, the difference between the Panic of 2007 and the bank runs of 1907 and 1893, was its invisibility. Simply put, the crisis was created by “a run by banks and firms on other banks.”

Moreover, it’s a good bet that the average citizen had never heard of the markets involved nor have they ever used terms like subprime mortgages, asset-backed commercial paper conduit, structured investment vehicle, credit derivative, securitization, or repo market. In contrast, in meltdowns-past, people could actually see others rushing to their bank to pull out their money (as the wonderful pen and ink illustrations Groton includes of 19th Century panic show).

Slapped by the Invisible Hand is the definitive history of the 2007 meltdown. Groton, a former consultant to AIG Financial Products, is a Professor of Management and Finance at the Yale School of Management and he has also taught at the Wharton School for 24 years while working in the Federal Reserve System – a collective experience that has helped shape his unique ability to analyze financial crises and banking panics.

In one passageGorton explains that there have always been bank panics, noting that these panics occurred about once every ten years leading up to the Great Depression (which directly led to the implementation of deposit insurance).

As Gorton points out, no systemic panics followed for decades until deregulation occurred, bringing us back to the bad old days. However, this time there are tangible differences in the story. Today, the villain comes in the form of the “shadow financial system” – these institutions that most of us don’t encounter in our day-to-day banking lives.

If your picture of a bank panic is the scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then Groton’s Slapped by the Invisible Hand is a great place for enlightenment. In fact, that very scene from Bedford Falls comes to mind throughout and Groton actually mentions it himself in his final chapter called, “A Note to Those Reading This is 2107.” Here, one of his conclusions is that panics may always be destined to happen because legislation fails to address precipitating factors.

Groton’s advice for stability in the future?: “Measure correctly and often and follow the money.”

Complete with footnotes and graphs designed for the novice, Slapped by the Invisible Hand will probably be quoted for years to come.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jackie Jones

© Jackie Jones. All rights reserved.


Jackie Jones is a freelance writer from the Bay Area. She has been reviewing books professionally since 1990, with her pieces appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, Verdugo Monthly, Exurb Magazine and El Petit Journal.

AMACOM: The Voice In Business Management

From the Editor: As 2008 moves into its first month, the economic climate in the United States is awash in great uncertainty (plummeting stocks and record inflation taking us to the threshold of another recession). Bluntly, no one in Washington really knows how to right the ship, as both the President and the Federal Reserve Chairman grapple for answers on how to weather the storm. Notwithstanding this precarious state of affairs,Amacom (short for the American Management Association) has a bevy of new books in various subject areas to keep us thinking and moving toward our own answers (as these texts bring practical counsel to the classroom, the investor, and the nuts-and-bolts business executive alike).

Highlights from the current Amacom catalog include:

TECHNICAL ANALYSIS OF STOCK TRENDS. 9th Edition. Robert D. Edwards. John Magee. W.H. C. Bassetti. Amacom.

This volume was the first book of its kind to offer readers a precise methodology for predicting the behavior of both the market and its investors. In sum, Technical Analysis shows its readers that top-level investors have both courage and vision – teaching us that success in the market requires both the ability to anticipate trends and the guts to act on your intuition. As Edwards and his co-authors show, it is possible to make money on Wall Street regardless of what the market is doing (providing your approach is well-formulated and disciplined rather than merely reactive). This 9th edition includes expanded analysis ofMagee’s “basing points” procedure; in depth dissection of the Dow Theory; well-developed and informative chapters on commodity trading; and important discussion of short term trading. Today, on January 18, 2008, as the market dips and bounces amid the tumult of the Iraq War and the mortgage meltdown, veteran investors would do themselves a favor by checking out this text – for it offers a real glimmer of hope based not so much on partisan politics, but instead, on a time-tested methodology that has proven its worth over years.

by John Aiello

EBAY THE SMART WAY. Joseph T. Sinclair. Amacom. 

As the economy spirals downward, people across the world are either searching for the best bargain or looking for new ways to make an extra buck. Accordingly, this handy desk-top manual proves itself to be a roadmap through “the world’s most popular auction site.” Topics of coverage include strategies for mastering and winning the auction game; how to write auction-site copy and display product images; and ways to become both credible and visible on the internet. The key to the equation is to realize that if you are an EBAY user, you are not alone. Basically, every other person out there has an EBAY idea and thinks that they hold the secret to the next million dollar bash. Thus, facing such keen competition, you must do your homework and learn just what to do and just what not to do as you navigate your way through the ripples of the electronic marketplace. Bluntly, if you’re an EBAY novice or a tried-and-true veteran, this text holds your best chance for sipping a sweet taste of success.

by John Aiello

Of Related Interest

THE EBAY SELLER’S TAX AND LEGAL ANSWER BOOK. Cliff Ennico. Amacom.

But wait – how to maximize your profits on EBAY isn’t all you should be thinking about. Going a step further, the world of the internet is afloat in a sea of potential minefields that will no doubt test both your fortitude and your business acumen. Simply, the whole issue isn’t about making money, it’s also about staying inside the bounds of the law. And this means paying your taxes (yes, the government considers on-line selling a for-profit business and you are obligated to maintain complete records and pay your taxes just as you would with any traditional brick-and-mortar shop). Here, Ennico offers clear and concise advice on how to approach the specter of the tax man, in addition to basics on how to cope with and resolve common legal disputes inherent with on-line buying and selling. As April 15th and another tax season quickly approaches, this guide book is absolutely indispensable for anyone who owns (or is about to launch) an on-line business. The 20 bucks you’ll plunk down for this book could potentially save thousands in attorney’s and audit fees.

by John Aiello

THE EMPLOYER’S LEGAL ADVISOR. Thomas M. Hanna. Amacom. 

It is sad fact about the American workplace, but employee claims (yes, lawsuits!) are an ever-growing area of concern that cost tens-of-millions annually as employers are forced to defend themselves against charges of discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and disability bias. As corporate executives know, it can cost as much a two hundred thousand dollars to win a lawsuit, which is why many companies choose to pay quick settlements (mitigating their losses and the potential harm to their reputations). Here, Hanna (a veteran St. Louis Labor lawyer), presents a practical resource showing Human Resource departments how to approach legal issues in order to reduce the chance for an unfavorable outcome. Topics of coverage include how to properly investigate claims; how to approach ‘problem’ employees and complainers; how to defend against unemployment claims subsequent to discipline; how to document employee conduct and keep effective records; how to hire an attorney who will best serve your needs; how to avoid invasion of privacy claims; how to discipline and discharge employees; how to protect against costly discrimination actions; and how to be an effective witness in your own defense. Based on the information contained here (in addition to Hanna’s impeccable writing style that delivers the goods without intimidating his readers), The Employer’s Legal Advisor is a must for all Human Resources Directors and for anyone charged with managing a staff. One of the best lay-level legal handbooks we’ve seen in the last two years.

Order each from Amacom.

PEAK: HOW GREAT COMPANIES GET THEIR MOJO FROM MASLOW. Chip Conley. Jossey-Bass.

Chip Conley is known in the inner circles of the hospitality industry as a mover and shaker – the founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality coming to us a man of boundless conviction this man with a deep belief in the self motivated only by the magic of the human mind.

Obviously, Conley is not your typical stolid MBA caricature consumed by spreadsheets and PR portfolios. Instead, Chip Conley dedicates his path to the teachings of the maverick psychologist Abraham Maslow (and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Yes – you read it right; it’s not your standard business posture by any means – but to reiterate, Conley is hardly your picture-model of the standard hotel Czar.

Readers will note that Joie de Vivre Hospitality (JDV) is the second largest boutique hotel chain in the world, known for its splendid facilities and dedication to the consumer. However, the fields weren’t always so bountiful for JDV, as the falling economy (due in part to 9-11 and in part to the tech-bust that accompanied the Millennium) threatened to collapse this close-knit family of hotels.

Given the bleak road ahead, many would have cut their losses and run. But that’s hardly Conley’s style. Instead, he turned an objective eye on himself and looked inward for answers, hell-bent on turning this inevitable tragedy into the introductory chapter of an epic story.

And he writes:

“I was speechless. I’d been holding my breath ever since I heard the pop of the bubble bursting. I had a moment of clarity. The downturn was proving to be a true stress test for my business, but it was also a stress test for me personally…A couple of days later I snuck into the Borders bookstore around the corner from Joie de Vivre’s home office…There among the stacks I came upon one of the masters of twentieth-century psychology, Abraham Maslow….I couldn’t put the book down. Everything Maslow was saying made so much sense: The Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization, peak experiences. In the midst of crisis…this stuff reminded me why I started my company…”

 

Peak is certainly a different kind of business primer – memoir segueing into personalized textbook outlining how to effectively structure a hotel business amid the ever-changing climate of the world. In sum, Peakis about stepping out of the box and away from those formulaic tomes of plot and theory as you return home to your own personal motivations. Here, locked inside of  Maslow’s world, there is no fear of failure; to the contrary, if the mind motivates itself and ascends its own great blue peaks, there can be only triumph.

Thus, the line always draws back to you: Why did you go to school? Why did you pick this focus of study? Why did you embark on this particular path? Why did you decide on a career in the kinetic world of business rather than opt for that safe little job as a bureaucrat in the controlled environment of 9-to-5?

In Peak, Conley confronts each of these questions in blunt terms while simultaneously showing us how to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to any business situation and any personal challenge. Above all else, the idea here is about transcending monetary considerations and third-party perceptions in honor of your individual mission.

In the end, as Chip Conley shows us, it’s all about reconnecting with the threads of the self and finding the guts to take a step forward. Again, as Conley shows us, if you are willing to take those forward steps, there is no possibility of failure.

Peak is recommended to the general reader who will be moved by Conley’s human-ness and by his ability to look at himself in stark and realistic terms. Further recommended to anyone in business or contemplating starting a business – the ideas this book sets forth provide great inspiration and a roadmap for ‘defying the odds.’

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SAVING AND INVESTING: Financial Knowledge and Financial Literacy that Everyone Needs and Deserves to Have! Michael Fischer. Authorhouse.

Michael Fischer is an investment expert who has worked for both Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse First Boston in the areas of sales and trading, and in this text, he presents readers with analysis of a difficult and complex subject in a clear, straight-forward manner.

Furthermore, Fischer provides compelling ‘food for thought’ by analyzing the function of the various central banks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada (in addition to the European Central Bank) – entities which exist to adjust monetary policy, either by changing interest rates or by manipulating the amount of money in circulation throughout the world economy.

And as Fischer points out, certain central banks perform a secondary (if little known) function:

“Some central banks including the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States (‘the Fed’) also set a required reserve ratio, which is the percentage of their customers’ deposits that commercial banks are required to hold at the central bank. It is money that commercial banks cannot lend out. By lowering the required reserve ratio, commercial banks can lend out more money that then flows into the economy. To reduce inflation, the central bank can raise the required reserve ratio, thereby leaving less money for lending purposes and taking money out of the economy.”

(Page 88)

Thus, the policies of the Federal Reserve Bank and other central banks in determining the required reserve have a direct impact on the amount of excessively cheap money entering the economy at any given time:

“[If] the government is spending more than it is receiving, it is said to be running a deficit. A government that is running a deficit will need to borrow more money in the bond market than it otherwise would. With this deficit, the government’s debt would increase, and at some point in the future they would be expected to repay the debt to all of the bondholders that bought it.”

(Page 91)

Depending on whose figures one chooses to rely on, combined state and federal debt exceeds $14 trillion (and could be approaching as much as $20 trillion). Sooner or later, this bill has to come due.

However, similar to the ways of its government, the idea of saving has become a mystery to most middle-class Americans, as statistics now show that fewer and fewer people are putting money away on any sustained and regular basis.

For those individuals, Fischer’s opening chapter, “Compounding,” is required reading. As the author notes, compounding “means repeatedly earning a return on an amount of money – as the amount of money grows with each return that is added, each subsequent return is larger than the last one and the money grows faster and faster.”

This concept, called the eighth wonder of the world by Albert Einstein, and common knowledge to most of our grandparents, has apparently been lost as individuals now borrow on their future “equity” to pay current bills that have come due.

Accordingly, these folks should immediately consider buying this book: It will likely open some important doors and inspire better financial decisions that could spare real catastrophe down the road.

Recommended to all individuals who are now in their mid-years and worried about building a sufficient retirement. In light of all the baby-boomers approaching retirement age amid forecasts of trouble within Social Security’s framework, Fischer’s analysis is of particular importance.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

COMMODITIES RISING: The Reality Behind The Hype And How To Really Profit In The Commodities Market. Jeffrey M. Christian. Wiley.

Jeffrey M. Christian, Managing Director of the CPM Group (specialists in precious metals and commodities research), opens his text by debunking the myth of the “Chinese Consumer Giant” whose emergence “will lead to an inexorable and irreversible growth in demand [for consumer goods like] “cars, washing machines, computers and other items that require copper, steel, gold, platinum and other materials;” Christian writes:

“There is a tremendous income disparity within China, and it is worsening. The vast majority of Chinese individuals still are excluded from the economic miracle occurring in parts of the country. Commodity hype has it that every household in China will want to buy a stainless steel frying pan, boosting nickel consumption to astronomical levels. The same arguments are used to promote western investments in everything from cotton to silver to copper. Most Chinese households cannot afford stainless steel frying pans, however, let alone, cars, computers, cameras, televisions, and the rest of the consumer goods common in the West.”

(Page 28)

However, such facts did not discourage London commodities brokers in late 2003 from issuing reports projecting massive increases in nickel demands, further prompting hedge fund managers to buy nickel, thereby shooting up its price on the international market. But, when reality finally set in, “the price of nickel fell nearly 25% in one day. It was the hedge fund buying, much more than the Chinese fabricators’ demand, that had been driving nickel prices higher.” [p. 32.]

As Christian caustically points out, the hedge fund managers either ignored – or were ignorant – of the very real economic fact that “850 million people there live on less than $2 per day…” [p.31]

It is interesting to note that had the decisions of the hedge fund managers been based on a historical perspective, rather than driven by unsupported speculation, they would have likely been cognizant of the journals of Marco Polo, since Polo likewise mistakenly concluded eight centuries ago that “China represented an enormous market for European goods, and the demand for such commodities…would be almost unfathomable.” [p.30].

This book is recommended as a supporting class text in Economics or Business courses which examine the ways investment-speculators ply their trade, in turn providing valuable insight into the history and development of the Commodities market. Also recommended to all college-level libraries as a general reference text with long-term reference value.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

GLOBAL TRADE: Past Mistakes, Future Choices. Greg Buckman. Zed Books (Palgrave).

This text by Greg Buckman is simply superb — a well-written analysis of the global trade issues that control the world’s economy (with the typical reader needing only a few pages to realize the importance of this material).

Specifically, Buckman’s chapter on trade and poverty should be required reading for anyone interested in the consequences of international agreements (as much of the author’s statistical information is, to use his own phrase, “chilling”). Take note of the following data:

“Whether the [World Bank] is right or not about the trend in world poverty, their statistics are chilling. It is nothing short of a global disgrace that a fifth of the world’s population live on less than US $1 per day and that just over half live on less than US $2 per day. Few people in high- income countries could conceive what it would be like to live in grinding poverty of the sort suggested by these figures.”

(Page 144)

As Buckman astutely points out, global trade decisions have far-reaching and often unintended consequences. Consider the case of Mexico and its entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

“Before the early 1980s Mexico pursued a policy of import substitution supported by a large public service which for several decades enabled it to significantly reduce poverty [fn.] but which also left it with a high foreign debt on which it defaulted in 1982 (sparking the start of the Third World debt crisis). The response of the then president, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, was to refocus Mexico as an export economy [fn.] – a strategy that was deepened in the 1990s with the signing of NAFTA. The results of this strategy have been mixed . . . The Carnegie Endowment found that far from reducing Mexican inequality NAFTA increased it to high levels (in common with much of Latin America) thereby undoing many of the gains of previous decades. [fn.]

(Page 126)

Buckman goes on to note that Mexico lost more than a million jobs in agriculture as a result of the myriad cheap, subsidized US farm products that poured into the Mexican market after NAFTA was born:

“…NAFTA has not enabled Mexican workers to convert productivity gains into higher after-inflation wages. The net effect of falling wages and the huge decline in rural employment has been that rural-based Mexicans in particular are now more reliant than ever on remittances from relatives who have moved to other parts of Mexico or the United States and the level of those remittances has reached record levels in the past few years. [fn.] Unsurprisingly, immigration to the US from Mexico has also increased dramatically in recent years. [fn.]”

(Pages 126-127)

Chapter-by-chapter, Buckman teaches us new things about the inner-workings of business. For example, the mainstream media regularly portrays the protests which occur at meetings of the World Trade Organization and World Bank (and inferentially, the opposition to WTO and World Bank policies) as the work of small groups of anarchists. However, Buckman asserts that the opposition to such global policies (termed the “Global Justice Movement”) is, actually, an organized, principled and diverse undertaking that warrants serious and sustained consideration.

And in his concluding chapter, Buckman ominously predicts that the increasing scarcity of oil and the growth of global trade imbalance are our two greatest threats (threats not only to international trade, but also to the economic and environmental stability of high-income industrialized countries and their impoverished neighbors).

Global Trade by Greg Buckman serves as a clarion call to those who will choose to open up their minds and listen. And with the per-gallon price of gasoline hovering near $3.50 in the United States, it is obvious that there are both present and future consequences to the global face of business. Thus, can any of us really afford not to listen?

Recommended to all libraries in both the public sector and at the college level as a general reference text. Should further be considered as a secondary teaching text in economy or global finance courses that survey the impact of NAFTA on the world economy.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER: The New Mindset for Real Business Growth. Robert M. Tomasko. American Management Association.

Those of us who have memories which extend beyond the last financial quarter can easily remember the laundry list of corruption and accounting scandals involving such former Wall Street darlings as Enron, WorldCom, MiniScribe Corporation Phar-Mor, Inc, Tyco International, and Adelphia Communications. As the result of these financial frauds and irregularities, both investors and creditors of these companies suffered massive losses. For instance, in the Phar-Mor case, alleged overstatements of net worth and alleged embezzlement by top officials drove that company into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and resulted in more than $1 billion in losses to investors.

Robert M. Tomasko is a specialist in organizational effectiveness, and the second chapter of Bigger (“A Bigger Stock Price is Not Always a Good Thing”) is worth the price of admission. Written in crisp, clear language, Tomasko exposes the mindset at work on both Wall Street and in the corporate culture which often sees the artificial inflation of stock values at the expense of both the company’s growth and the shareholder’s bottom line.

Accordingly, Tomasko points out that unwarranted rising stock prices provide a false comfort that distracts money managers from closely scrutinizing the inner workings of a company. Consider the conduct of Scott Livengood, former chief executive of Krispy Kreme, once the “hottest brand in the land”:

“Livengood spent most of his tenure trying to grow the company fast enough to justify its once-soaring stock price, first by adding so many retail stores that the brand lost its novelty, then by trying to sell a product meant to be eaten right out of the oven in cellophane-wrapped boxes that sat for days on supermarket shelves. A stockholder lawsuit alleges that when both of these moves failed to produce profit growth, the company applied its cooking prowess to its bookkeeping, sometimes shipping twice the number of donuts actually ordered to some grocers. Eventually, the unwanted donuts would be returned, but not until Krispy Kreme had a chance to issue temporarily inflated revenue numbers.”

(Page 34)

Michael Jensen, now professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, has termed overvalued stocks as being the equivalent of managerial heroin: “Like a narcotic [Jensen says], they make you feel great. Your company is on TV; banks are throwing money at it; your stock options are going through the roof. The only problem is that all this requires a financial performance that is impossible to maintain.” [p. 35.] However, over time and as a direct result of these over-exaggerated values, share prices sink rapidly and companies falter. In just the few companies studied, Tomasko states that declines totaled over $100 billion.

This book is chock full of striking realizations. Tomasko correctly points out that many high-ranking executives engage in addictive behavior and distorted thinking based upon mistaken perceptions of reality; feelings of omnipotence, grandiosity, invulnerability and egocentricism are often root causes that drive them toward bigness. Still, these CEOs and CFOs are not the only blameworthy participants. As Tomasko notes, business analysts and money managers live in a quarter-to-quarter world:

“They like it that way. They are not forced to look very far into an uncertain future, so their credibility is at less risk. When the numbers of the company they once championed do not rise each quarter, anxiety sets in which they quickly relieve by downgrading the stock. Executives, who are well aware of this proclivity, use two tactics to stay in the analysts’ good graces. Some ‘smooth’ the quarterly numbers, managing them though accounting discretion so that the results show a gentle, but constant upward rise . . .”

(Page 37)

Bigger is a well-conceived text that serves as a primer on how Wall Street thinks and, for that reason alone, it proves invaluable to even casual investors (and absolutely imperative to financial analysts and those on 24-hour market watch). As Larry Bossidy (former chief executive at Honeywell) once cautioned: “Most companies don’t face reality very well.” Given that astute observation, it is left to each of us to maintain a connection to reality for them.

This text is recommended to all libraries in the public sector as a general reference title.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

FINANCIAL MODELING OF THE EQUITY MARKET : FROM CAPM TO COINTEGRATION (FRANK J. FABOZZI SERIES). Frank J. Fabozzi. Seirgio M. Focardi. Petter N. Kolm. John Wiley and Sons.

Given today’s volatile economic climate (with rising oil prices and rising interest rates muddying an already tenuous war-time economy), the ability of both corporations and individuals to adequately create practical financial models has never been more important. To this end, Frank Fabozzi and his co-authors have created a well-balanced text analyzing financial models pursuant to the equity market which should prove useful to both students of finance and to practicing economists, accountants and specialty attorneys.

Financial Modeling of the Equity Market focuses on outlining how to model equity portfolios, using mathematical formulas in conjunction with conceptual analysis. The authors cover myriad topics, with in depth discussion of long-run modeling, estimation issues (including dimensionality reduction), Bayesian estimates, the Black-Litterman model, random coefficient models, advances in transaction cost measurement/modeling, and robust optimization (to name obvious high-points).

The strength of this text is in the ability of the writers (all highly qualified financial experts with impeccable mathematical and economic backgrounds) to convey complicated and layered data in a clear-minded format. Business textbooks that portend to analyze “markets” are volatile commodities in themselves, since these markets are constantly shifting and adjusting to ancillary factors in distant parts of the world. Accordingly, Fabozzi and his contributors do a laudable job in capturing their subject, with inclusion of the most up-to-date information as related to equity portfolio models and single return analysis.

Moreover, the authors have gone to great lengths to ‘personalize’ this information as much is realistically possible, augmenting their treatise with real-business-world examples/scenarios that serve to re-enforce key points and premises within the process. Insofar as creating a useful textbook on an admittedly rarefied segment of finance, Fabozzi has done an exceptional job. In short, this book will serve the professional office and the cold glare of the university classroom with equal precision.

Recommended as an in-office reference text for all quantitative analysts, investment analysts, specialty accountants and business attorneys. Further recommended to instructors who are lecturing in courses dedicated to teaching the ins-and-outs of modeling equity portfolios.

Of Related Interest

COMMITMENTS OF TRADERS: STRATEGIES FOR TRACKING THE MARKET AND TRADING PROFITABLY. Floyd Upperman. John Wiley.

This text released in December of last year is an indispensable reference for financial analysts and stock traders reliant on the perpetual motion of the Wall Street wheel. Here, Upperman (a leading expert onCommitment of Traders Reports) has created the definitive resource for brokers and investors, detailing how to dissect Commitment of Traders Reports (COT Reports) and then use that data to accurately forecast (and anticipate) market movement. Basically, success cannot be attained on Wall Street until potential traders come to understand the varied activity of the commercial markets (learning to use observed trends to foretell the future direction of the market). Obviously, this is a difficult endeavor that requires experience and refined financial acumen on the part of the trader (reader). In addition, traders must be able to investigate myriad reports and compilations of data and then marry these independent pieces of information together: the idea is to hear each of the things the market is telling you through the records of its past performance. In order to do this, one must seek the key pieces of the puzzle in the buried data of the COT Report. Accordingly, Floyd’s treatise builds a deft road map through the layers of the COT Report, allowing for readers to use briefings on past trends (in relation to current production and consumer models) to competently predict future market activity. Flawlessly presented and immediately accessible, Floyd takes a very complex subject and extrapolates the most material facts, escorting his readers to the depth of its core.

Recommended to all market analysts, professional brokers and traders who depend on the elements of the COT Reports to guide their clients through the investment process.

Order at amazon.com.

STRUCTURED FINANCE AND INSURANCE: The ART of Managing Capital and Risk. Christopher L. Culp. John Wiley.

This is another in the Wiley Finance series specifically aimed at finance and investment professionals. The text was written by Christopher L. Culp, a Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, and it addresses the concept of ART (or “alternative risk transfer”) as related to the fields of finance and insurance.

Although Culp’s text is not for the uninitiated, he and the other contributors present complex material in an organized and well-defined manner, making it appropriate for the classroom. In particular, the chapters on risk transfer in the insurance industry (in the context of reinsurance, credit insurance and financial guarantees), are worth the price of the book alone.

For example, the following excerpts from Chapters 10 and 21 illuminate Enron’s creative use of surety bonds issued by multiline insurance companies (instead of traditional letters of credit or “LOCs”) prior to falling into collapse and bankruptcy:

“Perhaps the biggest controversy involving the enforceability of surety bonds concerns advance payment surety bonds (APSBs) and their use by Enron as credit enhancements for certain transactions undertaken with JP Morgan Chase (JPMC). By 2001, Chase Manhattan Bank and later JPMC had arranged a total of about $3.7 billion in prepaid forward purchases of oil and gas from Enron —contracts in which JPMC had made an up-front cash payment to Enron in return for the future delivery of oil and gas at a prespecified price and quantity. When Enron filed for bankruptcy protection, JPMC was owed $1.6 billion in defaulted oil and gas deliveries, about $1 billion of which had been guaranteed with APSBs (Roach, 2002). JPMC initially required Enron to obtain bank LOCs that could be drawn by JPMC in the event of a default by Enron on its future delivery obligations. Beginning in 1998, Enron asked JPMC to accept APSBs in lie of LOCs as collateral for the future deliveries. That Enron preferred surety bonds to LOCs is hardly surprising. Recall that Enron was keen to avoid taking on new balance-sheet debt. An LOC would have counted against Enron’s balance-sheet credit lines, whereas APSBs did not.”

(Bold emphasis added)

(Pages 217-218)

Apparently, J. P. Morgan Chase was hesitant to accept these surety bonds in place of LOCs and requested that all the sureties backing Enron function as the equivalent of letters of credit, thus insuring that these financial instruments act as “absolute and unconditional pay-on demand financial guarantees.” (Emphasis added.) [p. 218.]

These assurances were apparently obtained from the providers of the surety bonds which included insurance companies Liberty Mutual, Travelers Casualty & Surety, and St. Paul Fire and Marine.

As Culp notes, most of these companies were domiciled in New York; therefore, they should have been well-aware of the fact that New York law defines a surety bond as insurance that is unrelated to the payment of a debt obligation. Culp writes:

“On December 7, 2001 — just five days after Enron filed for bankruptcy protection — JPMC filed written notice with Enron’s sureties of the nearly $1 billion due under the APSBs. The sureties declined payment, arguing that the APSBs ‘were designed to camouflage loans by [JP Morgan] Chase to Enron and that [JP Morgan] Chase defrauded the surety bond providers into guaranteeing what were purely financial obligations which they otherwise would not, and statutorily [under New York law] could not, have bonded.’ [fn] In other words, the sureties claimed the prepaids were not really commodity delivery contracts, but rather, were ‘term debt’ in disguise. The APSBs thus represented financial guarantees that cannot be offered by multiline insurers under New York insurance law, thereby ostensibly relieving the multilines of their payment obligations. On January 2, 2003, JPMC announced that it was taking a $1.3 billion charge in the fourth quarter of 2002 largely to deal with Enron litigation matters. That charge-off reflected a settlement with insurers reached on the same day the trial was to begin. Under the settlement, the 11 insurers agreed to pay about 60 percent of their obligations to JPMC under the APSBs, or $655 million out of the $1 billion total owed.”

(Page 218)

Moreover, Culp ends Chapter 21 with a forceful warning that Economists and market-players would do well to heed:

“No matter how much the market for risk finance, risk transfer, and pure financing has converged at the level of the corporate users, the same cannot be said for regulation, case law, accounting, and tax. Users of these products must remain vigilant and clearly aware that they may be standing on a slippery legal slope.”

(Page 484)

Clearly, Enron was using surety bonds, in part, as a mechanism to hide debt from its shareholders and, based on the information provided by the author, a case can be made that both J.P. Morgan Chase and the 11 insurers should have been on notice of that fact. Accordingly, one must wonder where the SEC and the New York Department of Insurance were in this sordid mess: Has our corporate-dominated culture with its bulky financial transactions become too complicated and collusive? Have the government agencies responsible for the overview of these companies abdicated their responsibilities, hiding their collective regulatory heads in the sand until the next Enron, WorldCom, Tyco International or Adelphia Communications debacle rocks the media waves?

In addition, one wonders how the Enron surety bonds would have been reported under the independent audit requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, enacted in direct response to Enron’s collapse. (See Robert R. Moeller’s Sarbanes-Oxley and the New Internal Auditing Requirements, also published by Wiley). Until such answers are provided, Americans should have no intention of investing their money in companies which operate without regard for that “slippery legal slope” (and in utter disregard for the interests of their shareholders).

Recommended as a teaching text in business-law courses which examine aspects of insurance law in addition to risk assessment and asset management. Would further be useful to accountants charged with limiting risk for the Corporate client.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE WASHING MACHINE. How Money Laundering And Terrorist Financing Soils Us. Nick Kochan. Thomson.

In the wake of 9-11, there has (finally) been a focused interest in the way that terror-based criminals are using the world banking system to “clean” up money and transfer it to international points so that it can be used to fund illegal enterprises. Whether or not most us realize it, the problem is huge — and worsening by the week.

Washing Machine, a recent release by Thomson (written by financial researcher and seasoned journalist Nick Kochan), is an expert attempt at solving some of the mystery behind ways that criminals clean up large parts of cash, in turn, offering insight on ways governments within the world’s chain of banks might come to forestall these practices.

As the bombing of the World Trade Center showed, the result of money laundering has far-reaching consequences, as much of this illegal cash seems to be finding its way to terrorism groups. These groups are then using it to wage war against countries they see as threats to their perverted and self-serving perception of reality.

Basically, any “war on terrorism” must begin by 1) deciphering how these factions are manipulating the banking system; and 2) stopping their ability to move money. However, a big problem in keeping a step ahead of criminals is technology — computers and computerized banking have allowed for a certain level of anonymity that didn’t exist 25 years ago. Kochan writes:

“The need for the system to ‘know its customers’ has another, much more general context. The huge sums of money handled by a machine or computer in a digital form has lowered the levels of accountability and scrutiny and opened the way for abuse. When a criminal enters the system, computerization allows him to move greater amounts of money faster than was ever possible when money was in a intangible, note form…”

(xvii)

Kochan’s treatise is an absolutely vital tool allowing for an in depth understanding of the techniques that criminals use to attack legitimate financial systems in order to broaden their ability to distribute ‘dirty money.’ The author’s specific expertise with the mechanics of world finance make his analysis that much more piercing: this is not some academic voice spouting off in the classroom, but instead, the discussion comes from a man who has worked (and reported on) various economies for decades. Accordingly, this rare knowledge allows the writer to tear through the complexities of the subject and dissolve it to readily digestible prose.

Kochan writes:

“International money movements are such a critical part of the drug money laundering process that the largest cartels and groups have devised a system for mingling dirty money with legitimate trade to keep their intentions from the authorities gaze. This is called the Black Market Peso Exchange…The BMPE is said to total 500 billion a year…”

(Page 137)

These figures are indeed mind boggling, and serve to demonstrate how much of a problem the influx of illegal funds into the banking system has become. As Kochan’s sharply written and impeccably researched text teaches us, the war on terrorism does not only entail keeping violent criminals off planes, it further requires keeping money out of their pockets so they can’t use it to wage war on countries like the United States who oppose their vigilante tactics.

As Jack Blum said in his jacket notes praising Washing Machine: “Financial professionals, government investigators, and bank and brokerage compliance people should all be required to read it because of what they will learn…”

Recommended to the general reader interested in developing a keener understanding of how terrorist groups are able to manipulate aspects of the world’s economic systems. Further recommended as a supporting class text in university-level economics courses examining security issues within the labyrinth of international finance. Finally, should be included in all libraries in both the public sector and at the college level for its long-term reference value.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

IS THE AMERICAN DREAM KILLING YOU? How “the Market” Rules Our Lives. Paul Stiles. Collins.

This incisive and eloquent book by Paul Stiles (a former Intelligence Officer at the National Security Agency and one-time trader on Wall Street) is something most Americans can’t afford not to read, for it speaks to our collective flaws as a nation, addressing how our national lifestyle is destroying us as a People.

Above all else, this is a gutsy undertaking by Stiles, who is telling hard truths that many of us really don’t really want to hear. Most working Americans want to believe their path is the right one: Purchase a house, amass equity, resell, rebuy, go ‘high-risk’ into the mutual fund market and then retire at 50 on an easy six-figure return.

Over the past two decades, this mind-set has become a national obsession with very detrimental consequences. Sure, we might be getting richer as individuals and as a culture, but we’re paying for those BMWs and condos with blood. It is a brutal picture that tears at the soul of a country that once prided itself on the refinement of the Democratic way. Now, America is driven by its layered commerce markets — thepeople fallen to second-place on the priority meter:

“In the past few decades, the market experience has greatly changed. The temperature of our society has been rising, year after year. There is no single thermometer to directly measure this rise, but numerous different gauges, their readings confirmed by a great deal of everyday experience.

“One of these is the pace of life. Here the title of James Gleick’s book on the subject says it all: Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. Such acceleration is not just the pace at which we move, it is the number of things we do in a day, and the many ways in which we order our lives to maximize them. Our communications have been stripped down from thoughtful letters to e-mail burst transmissions, without even a salutation. Over half of Americans now skip lunch at work. We are a people, as Gleick points out, who wear out the “close door” button on the elevator just to save us those five seconds.”

(From Chapter One)

As Stiles points out, we are so focused on money and the next step into the marketplace maze that we are forgetting ourselves, our bodies, our families, our minds. The pace is so fast and the demands so kinetic that we have allowed the idea of the market itself to govern the way we think, the way we teach our kids, the way we tend our elderly, the way we tend ourselves. Step back for a moment, and you can see how destructively mad it is: why give up total control of your being just to feed the tireless movements of a modern-day economic machine?

Notwithstanding Stiles treatise, it seems to me an irrefutable fact that our lifestyles have turned against us. National statistics on cardiovascular disease related directly to poor diet and work habits have climbed steadily during the last 25 years. The obesity epidemic has now infiltrated the youth culture (see Elaine Herscher’s book reviewed in the Non-Fiction section of this page). Additionally, there is so much insomnia in America that drug companies advertise on network television, encouraging patients to ask their doctors to prescribe certain sleep aids.

However, what’s most troubling is the incidence of borderline mental illness in America — millions of us are on Prozac-like medications for anxiety and depression as we grapple with what we perceive to be personal failures; the pressure to reach that next level is literally driving minds mad:

“Why is it that mental illness is so common, and so persistent, in market economies? Is the Market driving us all crazy? Yet as obvious as that question is, you will look a long time before you find anyone investigating it…One reason we fail even to consider such a connection is that it has become politically incorrect to criticize the Market, particularly in America, where the Market has become wedded to our national image. To associate the Market with mental illness is like saying Uncle Sam is on Prozac.”

(From Chapter One)

What’s best about American Dream and Paul Stiles writing is that he has the stomach to re-evaluate a world that politicians and universities and media moguls seemingly regard as sacrosanct. Stiles wrote this book and called America out, calling the people themselves to question their system and the personal routines that have started to ravage the invisible layers of the flesh from the inside, out.

American Dream says that it’s time to make a change in the way we do things. But do you have the courage to take a step back and begin a new journey? As the poet Kenneth Patchen wrote many years ago: “The one who comes to question himself has cared for mankind.”

This important book makes a valuable Christmas gift: the more you circulate these ideas the better off the American people will be. Further recommended to sociology instructors at the college level as a supporting class text that speaks to the way economic systems alter the culture.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

I’VE SEEN A LOT OF FAMOUS PEOPLE NAKED, AND THEY’VE GOT NOTHING ON YOU!: Business Secrets From the Ultimate Street-Smart Entrepreneur. Jake Steinfeld. Foreword by Steven Spielberg. AMACOM.

This book offers a titillating look into the world of American business, revealing techniques and secrets that only insiders like Jake Steinfeld know. Here, Steinfeld gives “working Joes” everywhere a crash course into how to climb out of your own wage-slave doldrums and take a shot at making some real cash.

Understandably, the course is not by any means easy. However, Steinfeld’s text shows us that it is indeed possible. It’s all about a marriage of hard work to some creative and original idea. It’s all about mental perseverance married to a deep belief in one’s self.

Steinfeld rose to prominence as a Los Angles-based personal trainer who was known for getting Hollywood bodies into fighting shape. But the story doesn’t end there — it only begins at that point. In reality, Steinfeld wasn’t just some exercise guru to the stars, he was a man whose antennae were rigid and aware: he was absorbing information all along the way, sifting through ideas, learning processes, making inroads.

As Steinfeld came to find out, blind luck is only a small part of the equation of how to insure success in life. Instead, good fortune grows from tireless effort, “street smarts” and a refusal to give up. Thus, after wrapping up his work in LA, Steinfeld took the lessons he’d learned and applied them to his own business ideas, creating Body By Jake — a multi-million dollar enterprise focused on bringing fitness to all four corners of the world.

In Famous People Naked, Steinfeld sets out to share his road map, offering practical advice that the general reader can use in his quest to enrich his life. In these pages, Steinfeld uses his story (and the stories of celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford) to teach us that success in business is achieved through myriad factors, with one common denominator: a belief in the self that goes beyond contemporary “norms.” Moreover, Steinfeld offers practical advice on how to initiate and nurture a business, find investors, build brand awareness and create good will.

Most people, most typical 9-5 worker-bees, believe that there is some hidden secret to making money and thriving in business — it’s as if they fail to see that this bigger picture all starts in the exact same place: a man has an idea that he refuses to give up on. He works his butt off, investing everything he has into making this invisible idea a reality. He works and works some more. Until the fruits of tenacity are paid in material wealth in the “breathing room” which we all hunger to attain.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello

SARBANES-OXLEY AND THE NEW INTERNAL AUDITING RULES. Robert W. Moeller. John Wiley and Sons.

For the uninformed, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed by Congress in 2002, following the Enron implosion (when stockholders discovered that their share certificates were worthless and that the company’s books were filled with fictitious values).

As part of the Act, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a private sector non-profit corporation, was created to serve as a ‘watch-dog’ charged with overseeing the activities of the public accounting firms that audit public companies. The importance of these audits and the public’s ability to reasonably access their results cannot be overstated.

However, as Robert W. Moeller notes in this stylistic and easily digested text, “[f]raudulent activities often are easy to identify after the fraud has been uncovered.” As an example, Moeller points to the first corporation indicted for fraudulent accounting, the giant health care provider HealthSouth, Inc. Moeller writes:

“While this accounting fraud had been happening since the early 1990s, external auditors and others evidently ignored numerous signs of possible fraud . . .[including the fact that] HealthSouth’s year 2000 pretax earnings more than doubled to $559 million, although its sales grew only 3%. Pretax earnings for 2001 were nearly twice 1999 levels, although sales rose just 8%.”

(Page 215)

Moreover, Moeller points out that an ex-employee had put external auditors of HealthSouth on notice that fraudulent activity might be occurring and identified three specific accounts evidencing fraud; Moeller states:

“The external auditors launched some level of investigation but found ‘nothing.’ Internal management finally put pressure on the normally dominant CEO to back off from some fictitious financial reports, and that level of action started a chain of events that subsequently exposed the fraud.” [Id.]

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is intended to provide the controls to detect fraud through the use of independent internal auditors. However, whether such internal audits can realistically detect fraud at the highest levels of a corporation may be questionable.

Take the example of publicly traded health care corporations. As we have pointed out in reviews of other texts, it is no secret that health care providers have in the past billed for services which have never been rendered, billed for more lucrative services than the ones actually provided and billed for “unbundled” services in one form or another. These frauds annually cost the Federal Medicare and State Medicaid systems billions of dollars, in addition to artificially increasing the cost of health care services at the source — making basic health care unaffordable to millions of working Americans and their families.

As Moeller’s text reminds us, the Medicare payment system itself is incredibly complex. Consequently, any internal audit of payments or reimbursements requested by a health care provider would require the auditor to have a working knowledge of both the payment system and the potential for abuse within that system before being able to detect fraud. Furthermore, such auditors would also need a working knowledge of the software used by the providers themselves (such as the Amisys software systems used routinely by many health care providers in the course of daily business) in order to navigate through the many layers of data.

Finally, assuming arguendo, that the internal auditors have such sophisticated knowledge, Moeller points out that they must also have both the backbone and willingness to examine for fraud in “high risk areas” — i.e., beyond employee travel-expense reports and into the malfeasance of the sanctified corporate board room. As Moeller writes:

“Internal auditors, in particular, try to maintain a friendly, cordial atmosphere toward people in their organization. Because they encounter these same people in the company cafeteria or at an annual company picnic, there is usually a level of trust here. Internal auditors quite correctly try to give their audiences the benefit of the doubt.”

(Page 217)

Notwithstanding the statutory teeth provided by Sarbanes-Oxley, its practical application will unfortunately continue to depend on company-Whistleblowers’ willingness to identify both the fraudulent activity and the evidence establishing it. Specifically, Section 301 of the Act mandates the audit committee to establish procedures to handle such Whistleblower information.

“Whistleblower laws allow an employee or stockholder who sees some form of wrongdoing to report independently and anonymously that action with no fear of recrimination against the Whistleblower. Recriminations can take many forms, ranging form a supervisor’s ‘tut-tut’ comments to job downgrades or worse. The matter can be reported to the organization or to regulatory authorities . . .These Whistleblower cases can inflict serious damage on an organization’s reputation as well as on the careers of accused managers.”

(Page 89)

In the final analysis, the greatest risk and ultimate deterrent to corporate wrongdoers, whether operating as a publicly traded company or as an supposedly nonprofit organization, is the sustained public exposure of their crimes — something that results in the cold hard loss of both business reputation and customers. Simply, as long as the corporate boardroom is cognizant of this danger to its bottom line, the Whistleblower protections provided by both the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and similar statutory guidelines will be of broad and practical use.

Moeller’s treatise is well-designed and expertly detailed, and thus will be of real value to attorneys with broad corporate-based practices, as well as for in-house counsel at the corporate-level. We would also recommend it to accountants who have corporate practices which fall under the Sarbanes-Oxley umbrella.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

Travel

New Travel Guides

With Summer upon us, the new travel season has kicked off in earnest. Accordingly, it’s time to address some of the best and most affordable guides out there for the detail-conscious traveler. We have chosen to feature these selections for their readability, ease of use and in depth investigation – adventurers planning trips into these regions will not regret having any of these books in their carry bag.

O’NEW JERSEY. Robert Heide. John Gilman. Griffin Trade.

Before David Chase created the “Sopranos,” the state of New Jersey was the brunt of cruel-minded jokes and down-turned eyes — New York’s ugly little step-sister with nothing to offer us. However, as the “Sopranos” evinces, Jersey is full of interesting sites and authentic foods — a literal “melting pot” of cultures and influences. In this book, authors and Jersey residents Robert Heide and John Gilman have created a very interesting travel guide that serves to bring the hidden elements of the elder old “Garden State’ to life. O’ New Jersey benefits from its user-friendly format separating itself from the somewhat staid formula of the travel-book genre by creating 24 ‘day trips’ that direct readers on where to go in Jersey to eat, shop and play. In the shadow of New York, Jersey is often disregarded, little more than a stopping point on the way to Midtown. However, as Heide and Gilman show us, New Jersey teems with wonderful restaurants, waterfront destinations and gorgeous mountain-terrain that give a true sense of what America is really all about. The text is augmented with over 100 illustrations and 15 maps to help readers find their way around the perimeter of this forgotten jewel. If you think Jersey is only Springsteen and the Atlantic City Boardwalk, then you are in need of a refresher course. Begin with this book and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Order from amazon.com.

by John Aiello

Fiction

ANGEL’S REST. Charles Davis. Mira.

First-time fiction is always a tough sell; simply, many of the new novels to hit the stands each year are slow and derivative, so concentrated on being ‘clever’ that they hardly ever get close to ‘original.’

Not so with Charles Davis’ stunning debut novel, Angel’s Rest.

In Rest, Davis (a former federal law officer) is able to touch on many life-and-death themes – the seamless narrative barking and howling with a crispness of language, resonating with a depth that recalls the sensibilities of Wolfe’s early fiction.

Take for example, this passage, which sets forth the rhythm of the novel with certainty and introspection (the sheen of the words now cutting silently across the bones of eyes, the rhythm of words in naked relfex each image piercing with the precision of a sword-master):

“Like most people in Sunnyside, Virginia, I grew up on the side of Angel’s Rest, too. It was a big, blue-green wave that met the sky and went on forever with ridges that blocked out the sun in the afternoon. Mom told me folks named it Angel’s Rest because it was so high the earth’s caretakers took breaks on the peaks before they came down to help those in need of God’s assistance. I’d never been all the way to the top. Mom said it was always cold and windy up there. I didn’t mind the cold and wind, but I wasn’t in a hurry to meet a resting angel.”

Angel’s Rest is a mood-driven story about the cruel truth of all human life – a truth rooted in the fact that innocence must be sacrificed so that wisdom can bloom. Here, Davis’ protagonist, a boy named Charlie York, loses his youth at the hour when his father dies – shot dead in a barren instant that would come to define young Charlie’s ascent into manhood.

Who fired the shot that killed Charlie York’s father? Immediately, his mother is called into blame, and Charlie is removed to the care of Lacy Cole, an old man who comes to teach the boy that the same river intersects all human animals, flowing deep waters of hope and need, its stark waves wrapped in longing and regret; and Davis writes:

“Harry and George Wilson were strange from day one. About the only thing I can remember about first grade is those two boys showing up on the first day wearing matching red capes that their mom had sewn a big letter “S” on. The teacher told the class not to make fun of Harry and George because they both wore masks and stuttered something fierce, and we didn’t until they both locked themselves in a closet and stayed there all afternoon until the teacher finally convinced them to come out.”

Readers should not be misled into thinking that Angel’s Rest is just another ‘murder-mystery’ – it is not; instead, this is a brave story about the frailties and misdeeds of the human mind, a novel about salvation and the self as seen through the perfect mirrors of child-eyes.

Similar to Jack Kerouac’s musings on how the loss of his younger brother Gerard haunted those icy-gray streets of Lowell (Massachusetts), Rest deftly twists death into a great swooping metaphor. Here, darkness encompasses the vastness of eternity, revealing the mysteries of the horizon, bringing us unto that distant peak where electric angels sit in slumber:

“Once the whole troop had taken the sacred oath, Jimmy and me went up on the mountain to find a spot for our fortress. The Wilson twins were sent home to fetch hammers, saws and nails, and Alvin went home to steal a tin of snuff from his grandmother.

We all met a couple hours later at the reservoir, and it wasn’t long before we found the perfect site. The five of us stood, kicked dirt and looked for treasure when I walked down to the stream and took a cool drink. ‘It’s paradise,’ I said.

The name stuck.

Paradise was located on a flat spot in a hollow off an old grown-over path. It was beside a small mountain spring and was about a fifteen-minute hike from the end of the town road.”

In the end, Charles Davis leads us on a journey of grand proportions – taking us down the twisting roads of the self, past the idea of the light, past hunger and doubt, into the sweet wombs of redemption and grace. And we stop, spellbound, searching, drunk on the misty half-silhouette-shapes of our own eyes. And we pause, naked now, hunting the shadows, this place of limbo, this valley of echo, entering this sacred passage between music and song, entering the place of no masks where ‘angels rest’….

Our fiction pick for the quarter, and quite possibly for the year.

Order from amazon.com.

THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE. Anonymous. Fourth Estate.

Who wrote this novel? Is this a real diary or a seamless and wondrous piece of fiction meant to ravage and attack the senses at their very depths? What’s best about this book is the slap-you-in-the-face way it reads: rather than focusing on such questions, it simply swims forward – forcing each of us as reader to lose ourselves in the multiple faces of the narrator, forcing each of us to grapple with the cores of our own secret identities.

In more ways than one, The Bride Stripped Bare is a ground-breaking book; alas, it’s almost too honest for the watered-down and sanitized war-time mentality that now grips America. Make no mistake, Bride is revealing in the way that the best fiction is revealing – the author taking the kernel of an idea and recreating a universal voice with her story. Still, what makes this book so profound is that its subject matter is sex– this deep passion intertwined with the forbidden temptation of desire (right versus wrong taking a secondary position behind the concepts of need and want):

“There’s a beauty to his carefulness, his intent; you think, with some amusement, that he learns with the focus of a first-time driver whose never before sat behind the wheel. He’s so earnest and grateful. You teach him to touch with assurance, confidence; you teach him to mask his fear, but you can tell that love, for him, will be a vice when it comes, will grip him hard, will swallow him complete. Your heart already bleeds for him, for what is ahead.”

(Page 214)

The plot centers around the sexual awakening of a married woman whose blood burns hot with secrets and mystery. However, because of decorum, because of the mores of the society, she cannot tell anyone her thoughts. Thus, she commits them to word and paper; it is her only outlet:

“You’re a good wife, a good actress: it’s surprisingly easy, the cover-up. You were acting all along and scarcely realizing it. But you want to grow old with Cole, you still want that. You’d be perfectly happy never to have sex with your husband again, except to create a child…”

(Page 212)

The writer of Bride has kept her name hidden to avoid self-censorship. Without anyone knowing who she is, she is free to pluck the mystical ripeness from her feelings and expose herself without fear or shame; in the blink of an eye, anonymity offers a perfect and delectable liberty:

“Ease down, slowly, feel him all the way. And then you just sit for a moment, you are filled up and you smile into his eyes and very slowly you tighten your muscles and gather him inside you: you feel Gabriel with your skin. He looks at you, all wonder and surrender and shock, and you throw your head back, you can’t look at him any more, you need to savor this moment alone…”

(Page 196)

As we devour passage after passage, the truth glows with crystalline clarity: each of us creates ourselves, creating our beauty and our denials and our madness. We create these eyes and faces and the ways that we move through these tangled mouths of time. It is all illusion. In truth, our hungers are quite simple: we are only looking for warmth and acceptance and another person to hold us:

“But where does desire go? Will this fugitive feeling eventually die out? Or now that it’s loosened will it lurk within you into old age, all rangy and discontented, just waiting to trip up your life?”

(Page 212)

The Bride Stripped Bare is exciting and multi-layered erotica: piercing and honest and slathered in the feminine voice of desire – a beautifully written confession of hunger this half-wrapped statement of the self rising page-by-page like a stormy wave. And like the work of Henry Miller and Anais Nin that preceded it, The Bride Stripped Bare commands our full and complete attention.

Order from amazon.com.

THE LAST GOODBYE. Reed Arvin. Harper Collins.

As a reviewer, I don’t believe in retracing the plot of a work of fiction line-by-line (it’s the reader’s job to arrive here on his own). Instead, I like to touch on the bigger picture of the story — I want to cut to the meat of the book and identify how it affects and speaks to us as a collective whole. And in this regard, Arvin has made my job easy to do, for Last Goodbye is a top-notch thriller that packs action as well as intellectualism. Read on — each of Arvin’s characters has body: written in dimensions, swollen with contradiction, lost in the dirty haze of the human condition:

“The shape of pain changes over time. In the beginning, it’s all jagged edges and serrated knives. After a while – hours, in my case – it gives way to great encircling waves, crushing you under its weight. Then the nausea begins, pushing you out to sea, farther, farther, with no chance of swimming against its angry tide. Eventually – God knows how long later, because by now time has lost its meaning – it shifts again, turning and towering, unscalable mountains of ice.”

(From Page 229 of the advance galley)

In short, Last Goodbye tells the story of Jack Hammond, a attorney down on his luck, scraping cases from the bottom of the junk heap, a court appointed lawyer who has to take what he can get in order to get by (in this sense, the novel strips away some of the illusion about being a lawyer showing that a lot of these suits are no better off than we are). As we follow the story, we stand beside Hammond and watch him fall victim to the smell of lust mimicking love, a man drunk on the thirsty danger of shadows, a memory consumed in darkness:

“Robinson nodded. ‘You have to be willing to take chances or lose. Grayton was trying to hang on, but it’s hard to compete with the multinationals. And I knew more about hepatitis than anybody, including Ralston and his team. For all its beauty, Horizn’s drug is one generation removed from the most cutting-edge proteomics…’”

(From Page 197 of the advance galley)

What’s best about Arvin’s fiction is that real people with real faces populate these pages. A cut above most fictive works, Last Goodbye reveals secrets about the reader, telling us new things about our own mirrors along the way. Obviously, Arvin knows our voices and how the street talks, and he records his recollections of our collective sound in a sharp and compelling way. All the advance critical praise for Last Goodbye is dead on – in the world of mysteries and thrillers, they don’t come any better. This is Mickey Spillane good.

Order from amazon.com.

History Redux

Featured Selections From Alfred A. Knopf:

A GODLY HERO: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. Michael Kazin. Alfred A. Knopf.

LINCOLN: A Life of Purpose and Power. Richard Carwardine. Alfred A. Knopf.

Today, if William Jennings Bryan is remembered at all, it is in the form of caricature, often as the noble buffoon, William Harrison Brady (portrayed by Fredric March in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind — a role inspired by Bryan’s participation in the prosecution of the Scopes Monkey Trial). In actuality, much of this caricature is the result of the venomous pen of H. L. Mencken, who covered the trial and came to personally know Bryan (eventually growing to loathe him).

Certainly, Bryan himself did nothing to dispel the belief that he represented the ‘Great American Rube.’ In a footnote at the end of his text, Kazin quotes the reminiscence of a University of Nebraska player who recalled Bryan at a baseball game: “He was collarless, hatless and his great baggy unpressed trousers were held by one suspender strap, the other having dropped down to his throwing arm.” [p. 337.]

However, Kazin’s text is careful to look beneath such malicious caricatures and hastily drawn media portraits in order to examine a major public figure in his time. And in doing so, Kazin deftly exposes a culture which, quite distressingly, looks much like our own.

As Kazin’s treatise evinces, Bryan’s emotional makeup together with his evangelical religious fervor angered both enemies and potential allies on the Right and Left. Although the journalist John Reed (who would later find lasting fame in death during the time of the Russian Revolution) agreed with Bryan on many progressive issues, Reed, like Mencken less than a decade later, did not hesitate to make Bryan a primary target in his articles. Writes Kazin (in describing Reed’s 1916 piece for Collier’s Weekly):

“[Reed] reduced Bryan to little more than a sideshow for yokels and Bible-thumpers, a man whose time had decisively passed. [fn.] . . . For Reed, the setting was ideal for satire. In his eyes, the rural crowds belonging to a more predictable species than did the alligators or giant turtles who slithered past the boat. One local colonel declared himself a Bryan ‘convert’ and promised his entourage a glimpse of ‘two million gallons of God’s crystal beverage . . . pouring out form a thousand bubbling fountains.’ His fellow Floridians chortled, as if on key, when Bryan made fun of ‘jingoes’ who if war came, ‘would be too busy . . . loaning money at high rates of interest, to reach the front.’ And they solemnly nodded when he intoned, ‘We Americans should make the Sermon on the Mount real in the law of nations.’ Reed did pick up a few discordant notes along the way. A traveling salesman refused to pay the fifty-cent fee to hear the famous orator, and a black Republican, sitting in the colored seats, laughed at inappropriate moments.”

(Pages 243-244)

Although he was, in his time, a prominent figure on the national stage and member of Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet serving as Secretary of State, Bryan, like some character drawn from a Jean Giono novel, was at heart a true provincial; in actuality, Bryan possessed the provincial’s deep and almost pathological distrust of centralized government and corporate oligarchies. Kazin writes:

“Bryan articulated as clearly as any progressive, the faith that only a mass awakening could heal the damage done to the republic by men who thought only of their own narrow interests. ‘Men sell their votes, councilmen sell their influence, while State legislators and federal representatives turn the government from its legitimate channels and make it a private asset in business.’ “

(Page 138)

A fundamentalist Christian progressive, Bryan was a disciple of what is currently termed “intelligent design,” or as Bryan himself phrased it, “the Designer behind the design.” However, Kazin notes in his analysis of Bryan’s two hour speech, “The Prince of Peace” (which was delivered by Bryan time and again to Chautauqua audiences):

“[Bryan] agreed with liberal Protestants such as Jane Addams and the pioneering sociologist, Richard Ely that redemption could take many forms and occur through a variety of institutions, including secular ones such as settlement houses and trade unions. But unlike these modernist intellectuals, he always insisted that one’s moral compass was unreliable unless it pointed toward an absolute faith in the word of God. [fn.]”

(Page 140)

In retrospect, it is clear that Bryan represented the best of the evangelical Left, and he personally paid a heavy price for each of his beliefs. In opposition to America’s entry into World War I, Bryan resigned as Wilson’s Secretary of State, a move which provoked widespread condemnation among political insiders, the remarks against Bryan delivered with a vitriol that today is reserved solely for Al Qaeda :

“‘Unspeakable treachery,’ roared the World. Henry Watterson contended that ‘men have been shot and beheaded, even hanged, drawn and quartered, for treason less heinous.’ George Harvey and other political insiders assumed Bryan had acted partly out of jealousy; now he would certainly run for the nomination in 1916. Walter Hines Page cursed ‘the yellow streak of the shear fool; who longed to return to’ the applauding multitude.’”

(Page 239)

As time passed, Bryan’s moral celebrity would crumple as a direct result of his participation in one of the “Trials of the Century,” State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (kicking off a cultural war which prompted Bryan’s adversary, Clarence Darrow, to label him “the idol of all Morondom”). However, lost in Mencken’s descriptions of Bryan’s “theological bilge” was the interesting fact that the textbook actually used in Scope’s biology class, A Civic Biology (by George William Hunter) extolled the virtues of eugenics – one of America’s dirty little secrets of which little is known today. And Kazin points out:

“Clearly, the ‘civic’ in the title of the text was no accident. Hunter believed that the same principles of breeding that produced healthier, stronger horses could and should improve ‘the future generations of men and women on the earth.’ He described two families, the Jokeks and the Kallikaks, plagued for generations by ‘immorality and feeblemindedness.’ People like these, wrote Hunter, ‘are true parasites . . .if such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.’ “

(Page 289)

Unfortunately, such passages were lost to both Bryan and the public in the unprecedented media circus which the Scopes Trial became. Although he was the prosecuting attorney, Bryan was called to the stand by Clarence Darrow as a purported expert on the Bible and ruthlessly cross-examined. As Kazin pointedly states: “It was the seventh day of the trial, and Bryan should have rested …”

(Page 293)

Fittingly, Bryan died in Dayton soon after the trial ended. Perhaps a quote from Theodore Dreiser in Kazin’s Epilogue sums up Bryan’s grand persona best of all:

“Woe to the political leader who preaches a new doctrine of deliverance. And who, out of tenderness of heart, offers a panacea for human ills. His truly shall be a crown of thorns.”

LINCOLN: A Life of Purpose and Power. Richard Carwardine. Alfred A. Knopf.

In contrast, Abraham Lincoln’s personal mythology has fared far better than Bryan’s, partly due to the persona Lincoln projected on his public as revived in Richard Carwardine’s superb – and sometimes unflattering – biography of Lincoln which serves to expose his complexities, his hunger for power and his sorrowful personal tragedies:

“In consequence of what Henry Raymond called Lincoln’s ‘utter unconsciousness of his position,’ ordinary men and women regarded him more as a neighbor to be dropped in upon than as a remote head of state. ‘Mr. Lincoln is always approachable and this is greatly in his favor,’ explained the Washington correspondent of the New York Independent. ‘The people can get at him and impress upon him their views without difficulty.’ Though his visitors included in the words of one observer, ‘loiterers, contract-hunters, garrulous parents on paltry errands, toadies without measure, and talkers without conscience, ’ Lincoln was adamantly opposed to restricting access. ‘I feel — though the tax on my time is heavy — that no hours of my day are better employed than those which bring me again within the direct contact and atmosphere of the whole of our working people.’”

(Page 197)

Lincoln was also astute enough to know the value of media. Mass produced pocket-sized woodcuts and photographs, which Lincoln readily posed for, turned him into “a familiar and personal presence throughout the Union …[a] ‘Father Abraham’….”

Notwithstanding his image as kindly “Father Abraham”, Lincoln was still conscious of his position when it came to exercising the power reserved for a head of state, and he was often known to brandish his authority without regard for its (the State’s) founding documents. For example, Lincoln once came to the aid of General Ambrose Burnside who had arrested Clement Vallandigham, a civilian who publicly opposed Lincoln’s new conscription law. Burnside tried Vallandigham in a military court and imprisoned him for the remainder of the War. As Carwardine points out:

“Lincoln’s subsequent robust defense of Burnside’s action, in his ‘Corning Letter,’ a public address to the leaders of a mass protest meeting in Albany, New York, made no constitutional concessions to the administration’s critics. ‘Strong measures,’ Lincoln insisted, including military arrests of civilians, were allowable under the Constitution in time of rebellion. Overestimating, as did most Unionists, the real strength of secret societies and conspiracy, Lincoln maintained that those who championed habeas corpus, liberty of speech, and a free press included ‘a most efficient corps of spies, informers, supplyers, and aiders and abettors’ of the rebels’ cause. He did not concede that military arrests should be restricted to areas of actual insurrection: they were ‘constitutional wherever the public safety does require them—as well . . .where they may maintain mischievous interference with the raising and supplying of armies, to suppress the rebellion, as where the rebellion may actually be.’ . . . Lincoln was not squeamish about pushing the Constitution to its limits during a wartime emergency: the cause was just, extraordinary measures would cease with the ending of hostilities and most of the Union public supported them. He was angered less by the knowledge that there could be innocent victims of military arrests than by learning about obstruction to military mobilization. When judges blocked recruitment by ‘discharging the drafted men rapidly under habeas corpus, as they did to provoke a crisis in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863, the attorney general found Lincoln ‘more angry than I ever saw him.’”

(Pages 256-258)

Still, circumstances were catching up to the elder statesman — time, the endless slaughter of the war and the death of his son, Willie — had come together to wear on Lincoln’s pysche, promoting a deep depression:

“Carpenter described a man in torment, pacing to and fro, ‘his hands behind him, great black rings under his eyes, his head bent forward upon his breast, —altogether such a picture of the effects of sorrow, care, and anxiety as would have melted the hearts of the worst of his adversaries. ’”

(Page 314)

In these times of darkness, Lincoln found solace in selected works by Shakespeare; in particular, he was drawn to Claudius’s soliloquy, which begins with the words: “O, my offence is rank.” And Carwardine explains:

“Lincoln’s relish for the speeches of flawed legitimate monarchs like Lear and Richard II and the usurping rulers, Richard III, Macbeth and Claudius, cannot be plausibly explained by some sublimated tyrannical impulse in himself. Rather, the experience of those Shakespearian heads of state, whose ambition had won them ‘the hollow crown,’ spoke to the condition of a man whose restless desire for the highest office in the union had delivered a fearful, bone-wearying duty. . . From his knowledge of the stage, Lincoln would have known that in classical tragedy the victims are imprisoned by circumstances of their own creating, which render morally impossible their own escape.”

(Page 315)

As every schoolchild knows (or should know), Lincoln’s torment finally came to an end on Good Friday, 1865, at the hand of John Wilkes Booth (who ironically was an actor born to a family of renowned Shakespearians widely known for their portrayals of both tyrants and tyrannicides).

As Carwardine notes in his final chapter, Booth’s act assured Lincoln a lasting place in American mythology: There, in a tiny, cramped room across from Ford’s Theater as Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, stepped to the stage and pronounced: “Now he belongs to the ages.”

Each of these selections is recommended to college-level American History instructors and would serve well as supplemental/supporting class texts. Further recommended to both college-level and public sector libraries as general reference texts.

Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

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