Ian Fleming – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Ian Fleming, the Man Behind James Bond” by Andrew Lycett, published in 1995.

Born in May 1908 in Mayfair in England, Ian Fleming had a childhood befitting his place in an elitist, wealthy family. However, his older brother Peter was the favorite. Fleming was sent to boarding school at six years old. Then it was off to Eton and Sandhurst. His father was killed in WWI when he was nine.

Fleming’s strong suit was sport, not academia.  He failed both to become a military officer while in training, and the diplomatic-service entrance exam. This, after this wild child was sent to a language school in Switzerland and a finishing school in Munich. Then a school in Geneva.

In the early 1930’s, at wit’s end, his mother helped him go to work for Reuters. But she prevented him from getting married by telling his employer to deny him permission to marry– something it had the authority to do in those days.

In 1934, when he followed in his father’s footsteps by entering the lucrative banking field, he began to lead a charmed life. He took up gambling, golf, tennis, skiing, carousing, and sowing his wild oats. He played well with others and made lots of valuable contacts. Even so, banking was really not his thing either.

Although lacking the bent of a student, Fleming’s thing was bibliophilia. He developed the concept of amassing a library which was responsible for worldwide technological or intellectual progress since the year 1800– “books that made things happen.” The collection, spanning more than four hundred volumes from more than twelve nations, published from the 1820’s through the 1920’s, improved humanity and changed the world.

Through centuries, people have done so, too. They have been muckrakers, whistleblowers, dissidents and activists, and have been called heroes and martyrs. Most of them, even the famous ones, who risked their lives to counter political ideology that was oppressing a large number of people, are deserving of high praise.

The most recent examples of countless such individuals who saved countless lives include those who acted courageously during the Holocaust; two who come to mind are Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler. However, they need not have directly saved lives to have made an impact, though they made serious sacrifices for their causes: Mahatma Gandhi, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, Daniel Ellsberg, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, etc., etc., etc.

Ralph Nader is exceptional in this regard– he saved lives but did not risk his own life. In medicine too, there have been plenty of such individuals, like Alexander Fleming (no relation to Ian). However, politics is a more widespread subject of discussion and there are no barriers to entry. Therefore, more individuals’ names in politics enjoy longer historical recognition. Also– medicine is governed by politics because it’s a matter of life and death. Politics is all about tribal unity and public relations. Image management is all it takes to acquire a political footnote in the history books. Some individuals have been too power-hungry to care about their do-good legacies.

That’s the flip side of the coin– evil. Individuals’ evil can be quantified– by the number of deaths for which they are directly responsible. Comparing politicians who have made unfortunate remarks or have engaged in unfortunate actions or behaviors, to Hitler– is usually an invalid comparison. He was a genocidal maniac. The true comparisons to Hitler and others are displayed below in alphabetical order by last name (footnotes 1-3 are at the bottom of the fourth page).

Anyway, Ian Fleming played bridge with a literary social set. Yet, at 28, when he finally moved out of his mother’s home, he was still a megalomanaical, hedonistic schoolboy, a smoker and drinker.

The year 1939 saw him begin to engage in his true passion– intelligence gathering (and collecting weaponry), for the British government. He found subversion, sabotage and clandestine warfare so exciting.

After the war, he bought a vacation house which he called Goldeneye in Jamaica in the Caribbean, and became a journalism manager for the Sunday Times in London. He supervised spies who posed as journalists. They cranked out propaganda his way. “First drinks of the day were served at eleven in the morning.”

By 1950, Fleming’s mother had moved to Cannes for the purpose of tax evasion. Less than two years later, Fleming had written his first novel, Casino Royale.  The main character was a Renaissance man called James Bond who engaged in gambling, espionage and economic sabotage. He was all that men wished they were.

Nonetheless, his publisher in America requested that he tone down the sexual-sadism-and-masochism language for the good of book sales there. His stories tended to contain sicko characters who were improbably good at escaping from impossibly bad situations– designed to shock the reader and offend his sensibilities with their extreme goings-on.

Fleming made frequent visits to the United States over the years. He astutely concluded that Walter Winchell, Joe McCarthy, and J. Edgar Hoover were evil. Fleming had a large, diverse social set that included Noel Coward and Jacques Cousteau. They gave him ideas for his novels.

Read the book to learn about: the intellectual-property legal disputes among the various entities handling Fleming’s career; his family life; about the extensive research (including personal travel to experience various subcultures) he did when writing; and why reviews on his books suggested that he had various psychological issues such as a low level of maturity, sociopathic tendencies and sexual deviance.

Front Row At the White House

The Book of the Week is “Front Row At the White House, My Life and Times” by Helen Thomas, published in 1999. The cover of this volume hints at a career memoir, but the contents are mostly about other people and topics– namely, U.S. president-related information meant to entertain as much as inform, targeted at female readers.

Born in 1920, Thomas grew up in Detroit in a family of nine children. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, she hired on at United Press, a news wire service, assisting with radio broadcasts. When men went off to fight WWII, opportunities became available for women in journalism.

However, in the 1950’s, female journalists were forced to form their own press club; for, until 1971, they were banned from the National Press Club. Thomas was president of the women’s group for the 1959-1960 term. In 1975, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Gridiron Club. It is known mostly for having an annual dinner that roasts elective officeholders.

At the very end of 1960, the author was assigned to cover the White House. She did this for 38 years. It appears that she gathered “soft” news until around the Reagan Era, when her male bosses allowed her to do what the men had been doing. Nevertheless, she built a reputation for herself as a hard-hitting reporter (figuratively).

Initially, Thomas interviewed store owners that sold goods and services to Jackie Kennedy, and wrote about Jackie’s children. Acquiring such information was more difficult than it looked, as Jackie actively hid herself and her children from the media. The tabloid gossip during Lyndon Johnson’s administration included Thomas’ scoop on his daughter’s engagement.

Thomas wasn’t allowed to cover serious political issues until the 1980’s. Yet, ironically, here in the double-digit 2000’s, “journalism” has come full circle. The media is allowed to cover whatever they want. Yet, increasingly, in recent decades, they have continued to insult viewers’, readers’ and listeners’ intelligence. There used to be people called journalists who reported facts. And they checked them.

Now there are people on TV reading Teleprompters, on the radio reading scripts, and providing screen-based text stating their opinions on: the first lady’s clothing, the president’s diet, and all manner of comments from narcissistic attention whores on Twitter. Other outlets are commenting on the fact that their competitors are covering this stupid trivia. Ad nauseam.

Anyway, the author rambled on about press secretaries of Kennedy onward. She described the renovations done to the White House and Air Force One, and the food served in them. She also provided a detailed account of a Washington, D.C. busybody who got involved with the Watergate scandal.

Martha Mitchell (the wife of President Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and Justice Department head, John Mitchell) complained that Nixon wanted her husband to take the rap for the coverup. She also knew Nixon was evil and said– this was about a year and a half before it actually happened– the president should resign.  In August 1974, finally vindicated, she went on the talk-show circuit.

Thomas delved into the personal lives of the first ladies, and how they stood by their men. She showed how President Ronald Reagan’s best friends were plausible denial and willful ignorance.

Read the book to learn much more about trivial White House goings-on from JFK to Bill Clinton, but also– a summary of hard political and historical facts on each president’s administration. Perhaps the latter should have become a separate book– as it could be a valuable resource for a unit on American presidents for a high school social studies class.

The Way Things Ought to Be – Bonus Post

“The Way Things Ought to Be” by Rush Limbaugh, published in 1992, is a summary of the author’s opinions on major political issues he covered on his conservative-Republican radio talk show a few years prior to presidential election day of 1992.

Limbaugh related an anecdote as an example of how he aired a certain political message satirically in a way different from other information outlets. Some time later, change occurred on that issue, such as a proposed law, or a new communication style, or what have you.

Limbaugh contended that he was responsible for initiating that change. Not that there weren’t hundreds of other information outlets competing for viewers’, listeners’ and participants’ attention simultaneously on those issues. Everyone was listening only to Limbaugh, of course.

In 1988, Limbaugh hosted a national radio show from WABC in New York City. He admitted to using offensive language on the show. He wrote that in Santa Barbara, California, an advertiser (a restaurant) complained about his use of the word “feminazi.” That advertiser vowed never to purchase ad time again on his show. Limbaugh gave a free plug to the restaurant. It became mobbed with customers. The reader would have thought that other advertisers would wise up and threaten to pull their ads unless he gave them a free plug. But Limbaugh ended the story there. So the reader will never know.

Limbaugh challenged the reader to “… name one great entertainer who is great in large part because of his or her politics other than me.” Um… Al Franken?  And he’s funny.

Limbaugh believes in the voucher system of education. The idea is to distribute vouchers allowing parents to choose the school (not necessarily in their district) their children would attend so that their children could afford to get a religious education. Regardless of whether income inequality actually prevents people from getting a religious education– vouchers are utterly impractical. If the voucher system were really implemented for all schools in the nation, there would be chaos. There would be lawsuits galore due to overflow demand at some schools and none at others. An overwhelming amount of planning would be required to estimate school space capacities and personnel needs, not to mention a host of other issues.

It is also argued that vouchers give parents more choice of schools. Parents already have choices. If their kids’ education is that important to them, they will move to the school district where they want their children to attend.

It might be recalled that the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations were rocked by several scandals. In one scandal, Congress members were permitted to get away with bouncing checks left and right (getting no-interest loans, basically) from the House Bank. Following the disclosure of this and other disgusting, unethical behavior, Congress had the audacity to vote itself a raise. Limbaugh emphatically stated that Congress thought itself to be above the law. Further, in March 1992, he publicly declared in a TV interview that Congress had been doing nothing for twelve years, “… ever since Reagan was elected… Their only concern was to deny Reagan as many legislative victories as possible.” Sounds familiar. A more current example is Mitch McConnell’s treatment of Barack Obama.

Limbaugh also ranted that top executives at large nonprofit organizations were paid as much as corporate CEOs. “Many of these groups don’t even do charitable work. They are political agitators lobbying the government for money and regulations they can twist to their benefit.” Limbaugh claimed he doesn’t do activism on his show. For activism, in the summer of 1991, he formed the National Conservative Forum. Enough said.

On abortion, Limbaugh boasted that Reagan and Bush won a large number of states due to the fact that they were pro-life, and their opponents were pro-choice. Invalid argument. Incidentally, abortion isn’t the only issue voters consider when they choose a presidential candidate.

Limbaugh took issue with a strongly-worded letter complaining that Reagan appeared in a TV ad with an AIDS activist in 1990, but did nothing to help counter the AIDS epidemic while he was in office. Limbaugh didn’t address that valid point, but suddenly wanted to donate to a pediatric AIDS charity thereafter.

Limbaugh often compared apples and oranges.  He likened Anita Hill’s allegation that she was subjected to sexual harassment by Supreme-Court-justice candidate Clarence Thomas, to Patricia Bowman’s allegation against William Kennedy Smith. However, those were two women in completely different situations.

Hill had a high-powered career in a male-dominated field. She would kill her career if she uttered one word about inappropriate behavior that any of her male colleagues had directed toward her. As it was, any female who spoke out was inviting a tabloid field day. She would do so only if she wanted to change things for the future. She must have known the costs involved going in. In the Hill case, all the people involved had ulterior political motives for why they supported or opposed the accuser. The outcome would affect them personally.

Limbaugh felt that in the 1992 presidential election [prior to election day], “The key to change, though, will be found inside— not outside the system among politically experienced people who are ethical, honest, and moral– characteristics that do matter, despite how loudly they are pooh-poohed by the liberal elite. Outsiders, and those who present themselves as such, will ultimately end up as carcasses strewn across the countryside, false prophets of a false premise.” Hmm.

Read the book to learn of Limbaugh’s views on all the issues aforementioned plus animal rights activism, and the causes he believed in.

Made In America

The Book of the Week is “Made in America” by Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn, published in 1985. This book described what happened when Ueberroth became president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee which planned the summer games in 1984.

Ueberroth was elected in early 1979. He immediately had to begin to direct the preparations for the events due to the large scale of the ceremonies and athletic competitions to come. Eventually, thousands of people would work behind the scenes in finance, security, transportation, revenue raising (sponsorship), site selection, etc. in order to optimally enhance the image of the United States in the eyes of the world. Just some of the resources involved “…27 stadiums and facilities located in three states, nine counties, and 29 cities– including satellite soccer sites in Palo Alto, Boston and Annapolis… tougher than staging ten Super Bowls a day for sixteen straight days.”

Ueberroth had previously been a successful entrepreneur, running a travel business. As Los Angeles Olympic Committee president, he had to work with a board of directors consisting of 62 members of the committee, comprised of a few Olympians, and many local bureaucrats and businesspeople.

Numerous Los Angeles taxpayers strongly favored private rather than government funding of the Olympics. They forced the Committee to strictly adhere to soliciting donations from private sources. This was just one of many instances in which Ueberroth became a prime target of people’s wrath in connection with the Olympics. A group of radical aforementioned taxpayers went so far as to kill his two family dogs with poisoned meat. As the planning process progressed, he, his wife and four children were subjected to constant harassment and even death threats.

Everyone was banging down Ueberroth’s door with demands, complaints, suggestions and ideas. He had to worry about teams whose diplomatic relations with other nations were less than ideal, such as Turkey. An exception was made for it and Israel to allow them to hire their own security services.

The security of teams traveling from their accommodations to their various sports venues had to be tight all the way. For example, between UCLA in Westwood (site of accommodations) and Anaheim (the venue), law enforcement jurisdictions included the state police, the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and the Anaheim Police Department if all went well. If there was a detour, other agencies might have to join in.

Folks who wished to express their dissatisfaction had a Constitutional right to assemble outside the grounds of the athletic venues; the job of security was to protect the people inside.

American President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev were conducting arms-reduction negotiations at the same time that the Soviets were pushing to get special advantages for their own athletes. The Soviet Union was spouting propaganda so as to be seen as a freedom-loving sovereignty while keeping its athletes on a short leash to prevent their defections.

Not only that, Ueberroth hoped to minimize unexpected, expensive mishaps out of his control like labor strikes, natural disasters and sponsorship fickleness, not to mention diplomatic power struggles. The rules were more or less dictated by the Olympic Charter in an American presidential election year, in which, eventually 140 nations participated, the highest number up to that time.

Read the book to learn of the subsequent actions of other countries due to the Soviet Union’s behavior and the infinite headaches that Ueberroth had to deal with in organizing the Olympic games.

Johnny Carson

The Book of the Week is “Johnny Carson” by Henry Bushkin, published in 2013. This is a biography of the most popular late-night TV talk-show host of the 1970’s and 1980’s, as seen through the eyes of his attorney and closest non-spouse confidant in those decades.

Carson might have been a natural at stand-up comedy and interviewing celebrities, but his personal life was always a shambles. His psychological troubles began in his childhood. Both of his parents were emotionally distant, but his mother was a particularly detestable creature. Her treatment of her son gave rise to lifelong self-destructive behavior patterns in him, such as excessive drinking, smoking, and Jekyll-and-Hyde episodes.

A man typical of his generation, Carson believed all of the female stereotypes, and his confirmation bias inevitably led him to meet and marry three gold-digging, emotional women, and pay them big bucks upon divorcing them. He died before divorcing the fourth wife.

During his marriages, he was continually paying for his infidelity by showering his aggrieved partners with expensive gifts. Once he became a member of the super-rich set, he behaved like many of them, sparing no expenses on residences, vehicles and clothing, and throwing money at problems to make them go away.

Up until the 1970’s, prior to acquiring excessive wealth, however, Carson was getting swindled by all of the business professionals he had hired. He had naively chosen to associate with untrustworthy individuals. Upon meeting Carson, the author– who had barely started his career but had savvy legal bosses–  sorted out his financial dealings. He re-negotiated various legal situations to not only stem the bleeding, but maximize earnings for his new boss.

Read the book to learn much more about the impact Bushkin had on Carson’s life, and vice versa.

Appetite for Self-Destruction

The Book of the Week is “Appetite for Self-Destruction, The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age” by Steve Knopper, published in 2009. This is an account of how the American music industry, for the most part, reacted badly to the jarring changes wrought by technological advances starting in the late 1970’s.

For decades prior to the 1970’s, the music market in the United States had had a shady reputation– involving drugs, kickbacks, bribes and cronyism, among other vices.

Even after CDs proved to provide sound that was superior to plastic records, entities in the music industry supply chain resisted making CDs because it necessitated the reconfiguring of their: factories, marketing materials, store displays, etc. Modernizing everything was expensive.

In 1978, the Sony CDP-101 could play the first CD title:  “52nd Street” from Billy Joel. But only in Japan. PolyGram Records, CBS Records and Sony understood the value of the new product. Arista Records, Capitol Records and EMI didn’t.

In addition to the widespread introduction of CDs in America by the late 1980’s, the sale of CBS Records was another disruptive force in the industry, resulting in power struggles and lots of layoffs. The old-school record labels depended on MTV, radio and music stores to distribute their wares for another decade.

The tail end of the 1990’s saw a new technology that really turned the industry on its ear:  the World Wide Web. It enabled people to create software that allowed free (no-cost and no restrictions) electronic-music-file sharing. In December 1999, the organization regulating intellectual property rights on music, the RIAA, sued one of the major organizations doing the sharing– Napster– for copyright violations. By the following summer, the latter had approximately nineteen million users per month.

Read the book to learn of the outcome of the above and other legal battles; the new 1990’s and early 2000’s music conduits and devices, their relationships to the laws on music piracy; and many other actions taken by the American music industry that have fueled the current state of digital music sales.

Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The Book of the Week is “Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” by Al Franken, published in 2003. This was a comedic look at news reporters, commentators, politicians and even media outlets who and that intended to deceive, and succeeded in deceiving viewers, listeners and readers via distortion, misleading statements, exaggeration, outright fabrication and all shades of falsity in between. Franken did his homework with the help of Harvard students, and called people to get information directly from “the horse’s mouth.”

First, the author provided credible research results showing that there was no liberal media bias at least up until the book’s writing. In fact, one of countless examples was that Al Gore was covered more negatively than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Further, after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, former President Bill Clinton was criticized nonstop by media people of all persuasions.

At that time, cost-cutting measures in the media had also taken hold. In-depth reports cost big money– compared to two pundits who read one tabloid article on a popular political issue, and then heatedly argue on camera.

Franken provided ample evidence that political commentator Ann Coulter produced little or no support for her supposedly factual statements on conservative issues mentioned in books she wrote. The few sources she mentioned were in hard-to-find endnotes.

Former president George W. Bush lied numerous times during his 2000 presidential campaign and thereafter. One particular set of lies was about past crimes he committed for which he never spent a day in prison: insider trading, cocaine possession, drunk driving, and going AWOL from the National Guard.  The author cited reliable sources– it wasn’t just tabloid gossip.

When the book went to print, a particular Fox political show with four commentators which claimed to be “balanced” actually featured “…two hard-core conservatives and two centrists.”

Bill O’Reilly (remember him?) prevaricated pathologically. He had a “… shopworn inventory of boorish tactics– bluster, bullying and belittling– in order to advance a thinly disguised conservative agenda.”

Dick Cheney contended that his and Halliburton’s profiting in an extremely, extremely large way through Halliburton’s secret subsidiaries was unrelated to the United States government. Yet his company was able to completely ignore the law to do business with Iran and Iraq, anyway. In July 2000, Cheney made known on ABC’s This Week that he was allegedly ignorant (willfully ignorant, if he was, which is unlikely) of Halliburton’s business deals in Iraq. This continued while America  went to war with that member-state of the “Axis of Evil.”

The Wall Street Journal also insulted the intelligence of Americans by giving credit to former President George W. Bush for the drop in crime during the years former President Bill Clinton was in office (!)  Dick Cheney tried to credit his boss’s administration for the effectiveness of the American military in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in August 2000, prior to the wars, he said “A Commander in Chief leads the military built by those who came before him.” That would be Bill’s Clinton’s lookout, not Bush’s.

Although Sean Hannity probably truly believed what he was saying, he meant to dishonestly sway his viewers:  “I think the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] will be found. I don’t think we don’t have any doubt about that.” He gives viewers the false impression that he knows something they don’t know. And they believe him; otherwise, they wouldn’t watch him. In late May 2003, speaking to TV viewers in Poland, President Bush announced, “We found weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq].” Rush Limbaugh uttered similar opinions in the same vein. The dishonest utterances just went on and on.

Read the book to learn of a boatload of people and entities who and that, twisted the truth on important issues; to name just a few issues: George W. Bush’s tax cut, his education program erroneously entitled “No Child Left Behind” and the horrible pollution of both hog farms and coal mining operations resulting from Bush’s relaxation of health and safety laws; and the adversely affected parties– taxpayers, students, and residents near the farms and mines.

Endnote: It’s a shame that this physical book lacked an index, which would have outed the liars in a comprehensive list, immediately. Since the author was already stooping to their level in name-calling, he should have gone all the way and saved his critics time by telling them where they were mentioned. Franken would not have had to reply to a significant additional barrage of inane online comments. Lazy, angry people who don’t do their homework are going to lash out at people who attack their side with factual research results, even if they have the most comprehensive research tools in the world.

Lastly, this was a book of jokes, but it actually covered lies about serious issues– life and death, money, education, etc. The nation is still lying about serious issues, and it appears that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Ethel Merman, An Autobiography

The Book of the Week is “Ethel Merman, An Autobiography” with George Eells, published in 1978.

Born in 1912 in Astoria (a section of Queens in New York City), Ethel Merman started singing when she was five years old. Her parents encouraged her to do so. By the tail end of the 1920’s, she had acquired stenography/shorthand training and had become a secretary, just in case the show business thing didn’t work out.

Working full-time during the day, and singing in dives at night and on weekends, Merman was extremely lucky to be “discovered” in a matter of a few years. She got herself an agent and was off and running. She played in big-name clubs, movie venues and vaudeville theaters in and around New York City– doing five shows a day at the Brooklyn Paramount. She got to meet celebrities like singer Guy Lombardo and composer George Gershwin. She sang in the musical “Girl Crazy” on Broadway.

Merman never had singing lessons or a vocal coach; she was just a natural. Early on, Ginger Rogers got paid $1,500 a week, while Merman got $375. For a number of years, Merman moved back and forth between Los Angeles to make movies, and New York City to appear in Broadway musicals.

In the 1930’s, Broadway musicals thrived. The culture was such that “Nobody worried whether it [a song] fit logically into the score, and the successful songwriters thought more about reaching the top of the Hit Parade than integrating the song into the story.” She played Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” eight times a week for two years between 1945 and 1946.

The one beef Merman had about her fabulous career, though, was the media’s intrusion into her private life. Read the book to learn the details of her almost instantaneous and long-lived success, her psychologically troubled love life, and much more.

Funny Cide

The Book of the Week is “Funny Cide” by The Funny Cide Team with Sally Jenkins, published in 2004.

Sidenote: Here is yet another nonfiction book that fails to list any References, Notes, or Bibliography. And NO INDEX. The co-author is a respected journalist who lends credibility to the work, and omitting  backup documentation does cut costs in time and labor. However, this trend will open the floodgates to laziness and dishonesty among “nonfiction” writers whose names are not known because they have no reputations to uphold. They can avoid scrutiny by their critics because extra work is involved in tracking down information (since there is no index) and  sources for purposes of fact-checking. Arguably, audiences will believe the most prolific propagandists’ version of history regardless of the writers’ reputations, given the current fragmented and complex publishing environment in the United States.

This book is about a racehorse named Funny Cide that became successful in an unusual situation. Born in 2000 in Sacketts Harbor, NY– a place upstate slightly larger than a small town– the colt was tended to and trained by extremely passionate, meticulous personnel on a small farm. He was purchased by a group of about ten men who liked gambling. Having been close friends for years, they pooled their resources for fun and profit.

Read the book to learn about the horse-pool members; the first few horses they acquired; Funny Cide’s trainer (Barclay Tagg) and other attendants, his jockey (Jose Santo), why the horse was made a gelding; the numerous, different factors that affect a horse’s performance in races; and how Funny Cide performed in 2003 in front of upwards of 100,000 spectators.

Baryshnikov

The Book of the Week is “Baryshnikov, From Russia to the West” by Gennady Smakov, published in 1981. This is a biography of the famous ballet dancer who became Westernized.

Born in January 1948 in Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Baryshnikov started ballet lessons at twelve years of age. Despite the late start, he happened to be exceptionally talented, a natural. He was sufficiently versatile to play roles in both “schools” of ballet, classical and Romantic.

During Baryshnikov’s childhood, his country underwent major ideological changes. The generation gap between young and old grew much wider, especially when Soviet leader Khrushchev revealed the crimes of the previous administration under Stalin. There occurred a shift from designing and building structures toward liberal arts careers. Ballet was a nonpolitical one, whose chosen few participants were  extremely lucky to make a living.

Nevertheless, for  ballet students, living conditions were cramped (ten per room in the school dormitory) compared to those in industrialized countries, and upon graduation, not much better. The two major rival ballet companies at the time consisted of the Kirov and the Bolshoi. Baryshnikov joined the former, based in St. Petersburg in 1967. The pay was significantly better when the dancers were permitted to perform internationally. Of course, the KGB closely monitored their activities in foreign countries, fostering an environment of fear and distrust.

Read the book to learn the historical backdrop of Baryshnikov’s generation, the nature of shows in which he performed, how he  came to dance with the two major American ballet companies beginning in the mid-1970’s, and more.