Archive for the ‘Autobiography/Biography’ Category

The Courage of Strangers

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Courage of Strangers” by Jeri Laber, published in 2002. This autobiography describes the making of a passionate human rights activist.

The author grew up in privileged surroundings in New York City, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, and Jamaica Estates when the wealthy suburban enclave was in its infancy. This was because her Russian father was a multi-skilled home builder with his own business. On the family’s newly-constructed home: “Back in 1936, it was a technological wonder, with central air-conditioning, a built-in room-to-room intercom system, garage doors that opened automatically, and, buried under the steep cobblestone driveway, wires that heated up to melt the snow.”

In the early 1950′s, Laber wanted to study Russian in graduate school, but her father objected partly because it was the McCarthy Era, and because he felt over-education would hurt her chances for marriage. She defied him. In 1954, she got the opportunity to visit Moscow with three other students. Their tour guides tightly restricted their activities, allowing them to visit only tourist sites, and Moscow State University. She recorded her impressions of the people she met, including, “They have replaced God with Lenin and Stalin…These people are healthy and happy, as long as they conform.”

Excuse the cliche, but “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At that time, there was the “Military-Industrial Complex.” Now there is the “Military-Corporate Complex.” However, world annihilation via nuclear war was the biggest fear in the 1950′s. The continuing increase in global oppression via telecommunications and other underhanded means is the biggest fear in the early 2000′s.

The author was an eyewitness to the different speeds at which different countries threw off their communist yoke, as she visited various countries behind the Iron Curtain in turn. She writes that people in the former Soviet Union had lived under communism for decades longer than their Eastern bloc counterparts. The older ones residing in the latter had known a better quality of life prior to Soviet takeover. “They looked around them and saw corrupt, repressive governments, failing economies, contaminated water, polluted air, alcoholism, and apathy.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Read the book to learn of Laber’s career adventures in Eastern Europe, her checkered love life, the difference she made at meetings with top Soviet leaders and others by speaking out against injustice, and Eastern Europe’s radical political and social changes in the 1990′s.

My Mistake

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Book of the Week is “My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of a well-educated Northeastern American male typical for his generation who, born in the 1940′s, entered the publishing profession. However, his mother was exceptional for her generation in that she was an editor at Fortune magazine.

At the then-academically rigorous Swarthmore College, during spring of his senior year, Menaker was “… taking Honors exams– eight three-hour written exams and eight oral exams, all administered by professors from other colleges.” He spent most of his career at The New Yorker, and then switched to Random House about a year after Tina Brown took over the magazine in 1992. He wrote that she halved the quantity of fictional stories appearing in the publication and employees of both the fiction and nonfiction sections competed with each other in kissing up to her to get their pieces published.

Read the book to learn the details of Menaker’s work, of a traumatic event involving his older brother, and his bout with cancer.

Louis Renault, A Biography

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Louis Renault, A Biography” by Anthony Rhodes, published in 1969.

Renault, an automobile extrepreneur, was born in February 1877. When he began his career, there were only two classes of any real importance in France– the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Renault sold vehicles initially for commercial purposes like taxis, public buses and milk delivery trucks.

By 1905, there were 22 intensely competing European automakers. The year 1908 saw six-cylinder engines made by eight French, ten American, three Belgian and one German manufacturer. In 1909, Renault sold his cars in New York. The goal was to sell 1,200 to 1,500 of them.

In the 1920′s, Citroen, Renault’s chief rival, employed many women in his factories. He condutcted an ongoing direct-marketing campaign, mailing letters to potential first-time and new car buyers who had visited the local showroom and expressed interest in a purchase. He also made toy models of his cars for kids. Renault and Citroen competed in starting bus lines between cities in France. Citroen was taken over by Michelin after going bankrupt in 1935.

Read the book to learn of Renault’s accumulation of wealth, his company’s corporate culture and labor troubles, what transpired among automakers during the World Wars and through the decades, and how history dealt Renault a serious blow toward the end of his life.

Dirty Daddy

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Dirty Daddy” by Bob Saget. This is a tell-all autobiography. Some people are shocked to learn of Saget’s stand-up comedy persona–all toilet and sex jokes– because they knew him only as the goody-goody father of three young daughters on the 1980′s American sitcom “Full House.”

Saget writes that the development of his dirty image was influenced by his father, a butcher, who had a lively, shameless sense of humor. He rambles on a little too long about relationships– his own, and in general. Nevertheless, one should read this book to learn about the people and experiences that shaped his life through his gratuitous name-dropping and lighthearted anecdotes, if one can stomach occasionally repulsive scenes.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico” by Jorge Garcia Robles, translated by Daniel C. Schechter, published in 2006.

The author William S. Burroughs was of the “Beat” generation of the 1950′s. Such people engaged in an unconventional lifestyle, as they were artists and writers. Many took drugs and consumed alcohol in large quantities. In 1949, Burroughs and his wife Joan moved to Mexico, where there was lots of vice and corruption. He was a heroin addict and she was an alcoholic. They had a son and a daughter.

Read the book to learn the minutiae of the family’s lifestyle, and the untoward occurrence that engendered much grief for everyone involved.

I Stooged to Conquer

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “I Stooged to Conquer” by Moe Howard, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of the longest-time member of the comedy-movie troupe “The Three Stooges.”

“When I was a teenager, everyone interested in fairs, circuses, Broadway theater, vaudeville, and the stock companies read Billboard magazine.” In March 1914, the fourteen-year old Moe (full name Moses), living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with his family, answered a help-wanted ad for a movie actor in Jackson, Mississippi. He got the job through deception and fast-talking.

With persistence and talent for comedy, Moe broke into vaudeville. He assembled a blackface act with his brother Shemp and others through the years. On one occasion, as a prank, he grew a bushy beard on the right side of his face while shaving the other, and his brother, the left.  They horrified strangers on the street and embarrassed their mother.

In 1917, Moe and Shemp were able to work on vaudeville for both RKO and Loew’s simultaneously by appearing in blackface for the former, and whiteface for the latter. The very first version of the Three Stooges was called “Ted Healy and His Three Southern Gentlemen” and included Moe, Shemp and Larry– unrelated to the Howard brothers. They picked up Curly– another Howard brother– to replace Shemp, when they started making movies in 1930. Healy, the leader, swindled the group for years, receiving more than ten times the salary he paid the group.

Read the book to learn how Moe and his comedy partners also got swindled by Columbia Pictures; of their adventures in movies that continued into the early 1950′s; the sudden deaths of three of them; and what their pay had risen to by the late 1950′s.

The Education of a Coach

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam, published in 2005. This ebook describes the career of Bill Belichick, eventual head coach of two different professional American football teams from the 1990′s into the 2000′s. His excellence at analyzing films of players in action was instrumental in assembling winning teams and Super Bowl victories.

Job security is poor for coaching positions in college sports departments and in professional sports. There are many factors out of the control of the personnel, and networking is crucial for obtaining the next job, often in a different city. A newly installed athletic director could fire the head coach, and the assistant coaches would have to leave with him. Players could get injured or the team owner could interfere with the coaching of the team. Egos are big and the system for how players are chosen for professional football teams has changed over the decades.

Read the book to learn how Belichick rose to the top and why he ran into trouble in Cleveland but achieved tremendous success in New England.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the book, “So Far, So Good– The First 94 Years” by Roy Neuberger, published in 1997. This is Neuberger’s autobiography. He was born in July 1903. His father was 52 at the time. He was nine when his mother died and thirteen when his father died. His sister Ruth was twelve years older than he was.

In the winter, he would ice skate on the flooded tennis courts of Columbia University in Manhattan. Neuberger inherited lots of money from his father, who had been a successful businessman. He dropped out of New York University after a year because he felt he wasn’t learning enough to justify staying to join the tennis team when permitted to– in sophomore year.

In October 1929, Neuberger worked to record stock transactions via pencil and paper for a clearinghouse. The market at that time was open for two hours on Saturday. The borrowing power allowed for a margin account in the late 1920′s was 1000% but at the time of release of Neuberger’s book, it was only 100%.

Neuberger & Berman– the investment-managing business started by the author in December 1940– bought a computer in 1967, costing $1.5 million. It needed sixty people to run it, but was worth the cost because in 1970, “… five of the ten largest Wall Street brokerage firms failed, in part because they couldn’t keep up with the volume of trading.” And the market closed at 3pm in those days.

Read the book to learn of how Neuberger, along with his contemporaries amassed tremendous wealth and privilege, and a giant collection of fine art.

The Bite of the Mango

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Bite of the Mango” by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland, published in 2008. This ebook is the personal account of a victim who survived Sierra Leone’s eleven-year bloody civil war that started in 1991.

Kamara was born sometime in the mid-1980′s– she doesn’t even know exactly when. Her childhood began in a way typical for her culture. She lived in a rural village hut with extended family and several siblings and half-siblings– due to her father’s polygamy. Lacking computers and even TVs, they sang songs and told stories around the fire at night.

WARNING: the story escalates quickly into a gruesome scene in which child-soldiers recruited by anti-government rebels perpetrate extreme evil.

Read the book to learn how the author received a lifeline unlike others similarly situated, in a miracle akin to winning the lottery. Prior to her being singled out for special treatment, however, she had it worse than the others, because in addition to suffering a life-changing disability, she was subjected to an extra ugly act by a different criminal, that sapped her physical and mental well-being for a prolonged period.

This is yet another book that details the suffering of powerless victims of a war-torn country and/or ruthless dictator. The storyteller somehow beat the odds and got the attention of someone who helped publicize her plight. After apprising the world of her experiences, the survivor then returned home to assist her fellow citizens who were not so lucky.

Island Practice

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Island Practice” by Pam Belluck, published in 2012. This ebook discusses in detail, the life of a doctor who has been practicing general medicine and surgery on Nantucket for decades. He is a colorful character: having no qualms about cursing when providing psychotherapy (without a license); making house calls and treating patients at his own house; allowing patients to pay their bills through bartering; not charging indigent patients at all; treating animals as well; maintaining an extensive collection of operative firearms; occasionally allowing a needy person to live with him, his wife and three kids; and engaging in other offbeat pursuits.

Nantucket, a less-than-fifty-square-mile island in Massachusetts, is a socially isolated summer vacation destination for many wealthy celebrities. However, its year-round residents also need medical care, frequently for three serious tick-borne diseases, on which Dr. Lepore is an expert. When a patient has a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment, the doctor has them airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in the Boston area. In times of severe weather when aircraft are not flying, he must try to save the patient himself, by doing a Caesarian section or sewing up a hole in a duodenum in a case of pancreatitis.

The author prortrays Dr. Lepore as similar to the fictional TV character Dr. Gregory House in that he is often diagnosing “zebras” (rare medical conditions) rather than “horses” (common ailments) through his intuition and then heroically curing the patient while bucking hospital rules.

Read the book to learn of the doctor’s highly irregular approach to practicing medicine, the difficulties and controversies he and his family have faced through the years, and the precarious future that medical professionals like him face, with the introduction of Obamacare.

As an aside, it appeared that this book’s thesis, stated toward the end, is that Obamacare would force doctors such as Lepore out of business. This blogger thinks that that will not occur. The wealthy will always seek out the best medical care, and pay such doctors under the table if necessary, to obtain it. They will find the loopholes in national healthcare to avoid a bad HMO. They would gladly pay the fine for not signing up for Obamacare because the fine will never be sufficiently high to be a deterrent for making their own private arrangements for medical treatment. A major argument some people– not just the wealthy– have against national healthcare– is that it is unfair to make the healthy people pay the high medical bills of the people who knowingly engage in risky, self-destructive behaviors (smoking; poor eating habits, lack of exercise) that result in preventable medical conditions or that exacerbate certain conditions (cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc.) that require expensive medical care. [By the way, this blogger's medical bills were $0 last year and have been $0 so far this year (this includes out-of-pocket expenses)-- for you curious readers.]