The Book of the Week is “Savage City” by T.J. English, published in 2011. This book highlights particular incidents in the lives of three people– two black men and a white police officer– in New York City between 1963 and 1973. All three– George Whitmore, Dhoruba al-Mujahid Bin Wahad, and Bill Phillips– experienced the city’s criminal justice system for prolonged periods, subject to the whims of cultural and political forces.
The author describes the era as one of racism, violence, corruption and injustice. He discusses the activist political group, The Black Panthers, formed in 1967, at length. The white Irish Catholic forces of the law charged the African American group with conspiracy after several ugly incidents.
Another group, the BLA (Black Liberation Army), formed in 1971, was involved in more of same. “It was a bitter harvest of BLA shootings, bombings, and threats against the police…” Autumn 1971 saw the aforementioned Bill Phillips of the NYPD (New York Police Department) turn informant to expose the rampant corruption in his organization.
Read this set of sordid anecdotes to learn the details of the moral bankruptcy and negative traits of human nature that pervaded the aforementioned decade.
The Book of the Week is “The Birthday Party” by Stanley N. Alpert, published in 2008. This is the personal account of one man’s harrowing experience of being kidnapped off the streets of New York City by a group of dangerous criminals at their whim. On his birthday.
Alpert’s nerdy personality made him an easy target. Ironically, however, he had the street smarts that allowed him to maximize his chances of survival. Read the book to learn how this suspenseful, emotional cautionary tale played out.
The Book of the Week is “One of Us” by Tom Wicker. This is a biography of Richard Nixon, published in 1991.
This book discusses aspects of the late president’s psychology as well as his life story and historical events. Nixon had an inferiority complex. He always felt like an outsider in Washington because he was a Duke University, rather than an Ivy League, graduate. He used an apt phrase to describe the focus one needs to succeed in a law career: a “lead butt” that can sit in a chair for hours, reading.
Despite his shameful crimes and resignation, he still took some actions that benefited the United States, the most well known of which was “opening up” China.
The Book of the Week is “Growing Up Laughing” by Marlo Thomas, published in 2010. This book is part memoir, part biography of the author’s father, part snippets of conversations with comedians of different generations, and lots of jokes.
Marlo’s famous father, Danny, ran with a crowd of live entertainers, which included, but was not limited to George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Don Rickles, the Marx Brothers, Joey Bishop and Sid Caesar. Danny was mistaken for Jewish due to his nose and the company he kept, but he was actually of Lebanese, Catholic extraction.
In this book, Marlo chats with various personalities– Lily Tomlin, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld and Stephen Colbert among them– about how they started their comedy careers, and why their acts are funny.
Marlo is probably most famous for starring in the sitcom “That Girl” and co-creating– along with a group of other celebrities– the book, movie and record, “Free to Be You and Me,” a hodgepodge of songs and skits for kids.
The Book of the Week is “Against Medical Advice” by James Patterson and Hal Friedman, published in 2008. This book discusses the struggle of a teenage boy (Friedman’s son) with various psychological disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome among them.
Cory tried to live a normal life, but by his teen years, he had fallen woefully behind socially and educationally. He had friends, but they were misfits like himself. At one point, he tried checking into an institution but found his life was not improving. However, the law required him to stay there a certain number of days, unless his parents signed a document stating he was refusing to accept the judgement of professionals about his treatment.
A last-ditch effort saw Cory enter an extremely radical program– a survival camp, of sorts– in which kids were forced to cooperate with each other in a harsh environment, or literally face death.
Read the book to learn how Cory fared.
The Book of the Week is “Justice Brennan, Liberal Champion” by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, published in 2010. As can be surmised from the title, this book is about Supreme Court Justice William Brennan’s life and liberalism.
When Brennan was first appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower in the mid 1950’s, the United States Supreme Court was ruling on cases dealing with integration, Communism and censorship of pornography. “Brennan and his allies on the Court were being attacked by the mid 1960’s for encouraging racial mixing, coddling Communists and trying to drive God out of public life.”
The Court turned very conservative after Richard Nixon was elected president. Conservative politicians secretly investigated liberals for any conflicts of interest, or worse sins, to force the liberal justices off the Court. Brennan quit all teaching and lecturing to eliminate all of his own conflicts of interest and divested himself of real estate interests and stock. No other liberal justices took such precautions.
Although principled, legally obedient and even supportive of several women’s rights issues, ironically, Brennan refused to hire females as clerks in his own chambers. It was only after an aide wrote to him in strong language in the early 1970’s– that sooner or later, someone would sue a Supreme Court Justice alleging gender discrimination in clerk selection. Besides, Brennan would want his own daughter to be hired, if she were in a position to apply.
The Court stayed conservative for the rest of Brennan’s tenure. Read the book to learn the impact Brennan made on the Court nevertheless.
The Book of the Week is “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford, published in 1992. The author describes how the herd mentality in humans can start a riot.
Buford provides the example of European football supporters (who would be called soccer fans in the United States). Most of them work at blue-collar jobs during the week, and on the weekend– attend a pro football game at the stadium. Prior to and during the game, they drink a vast quantity of alcohol. The situation often turns violent after the game. Most people do not conceive of themselves as susceptible to the herd mentality– it is those hot-tempered people who cause all the trouble.
Read the book to see how people who are usually rational can get emotionally pulled into exhibiting extreme behavior, becoming a danger to themselves and others.
The Book of the Week is “Audition” by Barbara Walters, published in 2008. This is Walters’ autobiography, a detailed account of her personal and professional life. She had a long, illustrious career in TV News. She started out as a behind-the-scenes writer for the “Today Show” on NBC in the early 1960’s, when there was still a lot of discrimination against women. Nevertheless, her hard work at, talent and suitability for her job, over the course of decades, afforded her the opportunity to interview countless famous people; some, multiple times.
There were occasions when Walters received special treatment by her interviewees. In the spring of 1977, she was personally driven for six hours around the Bay of Pigs vicinity by none other than Fidel Castro. Later that year, she witnessed multiple Middle Eastern politicians gather all in one place when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat made (momentary) peace with Israel’s Menachim Begin. ABC interrupted a college football game with the “breaking news.” Viewers telephoned the network to express their displeasure, and after seven minutes of complaining, the viewers got their game back.
Walters was lucky to have helped pioneer the art of the TV interview and enjoyed its best years. She asked hard-hitting, sometimes personal questions that hosts do not ask anymore. She writes that nowadays, TV ratings rise with guests who are attention whores or criminals– whose stories are tabloid articles. Political leaders or celebrities with substance have become a rarity. “We really seem to care only if they are outrageous and call our president a devil or declare that the Holocaust never existed. Stand up and scream and we will interview you, or be reasonable and unheard.” Fortunately, the internet has become a source of intelligent discussion in some quarters– a source that is not under pressure to generate ratings.
The Book of the Week is “Fateful Harvest” by Duff Wilson, published in 2002. Here is yet another book that describes one of the countless ways humans are destroying the earth and themselves.
Wilson, a journalist, revealed an environmental problem (and by natural extension, health hazard) perpetrated by large corporations on people in a small town in Washington State. It is unknown how many people elsewhere are affected, since it is extremely difficult to prove proximate cause when it comes to cancer in people who have had unmeasured exposure to countless carcinogens throughout their lives. The story was reminiscent of the book and movie “A Civil Action.” However, in Quincy, Washington, there has yet to be a class action suit.
In recent decades, companies have found a way to save millions of dollars disposing of toxic wastes they generate. In the 1990’s, they paid $50-$100 a ton to have fertilizer companies use those wastes in fertilizer, which was then sold to farmers. They would have paid $200 or $300 a ton to dump the wastes in a landfill instead. The fertilizer companies take advantage of a loophole in the law, which regulates “wastes,” not “products.” Fertilizer is a “product” even when it contains fly ash, contaminated phosphoric acid, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and other toxins from automakers, zinc smelters, copper recycling plants and steel mills.
Food becomes contaminated when grown in contaminated fertilizer. The farmers grow the potatoes, corn and beans, etc., sold to food processing plants that make and sell French fries and other edible products.
Read the book to learn how this serious environmental threat was discovered, and the various reasons why outspoken farmers, a horse breeder and the mayor, among other adversely affected Quincy residents, could not acquire sufficient power and influence to close the loophole in the law.
The Book of the Week is “Tokyo Vice, An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan” by Jake Adelstein, published in 2010. This is a memoir about an American who went to work for a major newspaper in Tokyo in the 1990’s, and ended up investigating one of Japan’s major organized crime groups, the Yakuza.
Attaining fluency in Japanese was a major hurdle for him, but he managed. He discusses in detail how he survived his training, and the Japanese journalist culture. This includes personally visiting the home of the local police chief, and bringing ice cream for his kids. That is how Adelstein was able to report crime news before the competition. Unfortunately, he was a bit too passionate about rooting out corruption. For, he put himself and his family in danger. Read the book to learn their fate.