hankrules2011

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Posts Tagged ‘autobiographies’

A Review of I Am Malala

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 24, 2016

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished I Am Malala a few weeks ago and have put off writing a review for it for quite awhile because I was so overwhelmed by it. It had so much information, was so well written, was so emotional. Malala herself was so impressive, had so much incredible courage, as did her father, both of whom are lucky to be alive, is such a wonderful ambassador of Islam, is such an incredible ambassador of women’s/girl’s rights’ to education the world over, particularly in Pakistan. And she wrote this book at age 15, right before she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s frankly a most stunningly impressive person, a person destined for a lifetime of greatness, someone who has already accomplished more in her short years than most people do in their entire lives. This book was an amazing read. It was all encompassing. It was stunning. It was revealing. It was damning and indicting. It was amazing. And I’m again stunned that both she and her father remain alive. Her whole family is very lucky. I wanted to write a comprehensive plot synopsis and review, but I found one on Goodreads that does as good a job as any I myself could write, so I’m going to post it here myself, giving full credit to the author, one “Jean,” written December 30, 2015, and say it’s a darn good synopsis and the only disagreement I have with the author is she only gives the book four stars. For me, it’s easily a five star book. Easily. I would give it six stars if I could. Hell, ten. Twenty. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read and I think one of the most important contemporary biographies one could hope to read. This is a book I’ve already purchased and given to others and my wife is giving a copy to her mother this week. Hopefully, she too will pass it on to another when she is done with it. Malala is a most impressive person, one of the most impressive people I’ve ever encountered. We saw her interviewed on a show a couple of years ago and that’s how we first came across her. We were impressed with her then and only now finally read her book. It’s a shame we waited so long. I hope she continues to make a global impact on young womens’ education rights and anything else she can influence. I wish her continued luck and success. And I hope to read another book by her in the future. It can only be excellent if it continues in this tradition she has established here. I can’t recommend this book more strongly. Most highly recommended. Five stars easily.

 

 

 

Dec 30, 2015 Jean rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jean by: Angela M
Shelves: non-fiction, auto-and-biography, religion-and-beliefs

A few days prior to her 18th birthday, Malala Yousafzai has returned to Oslo, to attend the Oslo Education Summit, insisting that all children worldwide have a right to education. Her defiant slogan claims, “Books not Bullets!”

Malala claims, “I measure the world in hope, not doubt” and “Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism”. Last year in Oslo, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with another child rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi. They were honoured “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. At 17, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive this award; Malala Yousafzai is indeed a determined and remarkable person. In this book, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, she tells her incredible story.

The book is an absorbing read, an amalgam of Malala’s own memoir, plus a history of the troubled country of Pakistan. Most readers will have lived through some – if not all – of the times described, unlike the author, startlingly only 15 herself when she wrote it. To many of us this is not “history” but merely remembrance of current events happening elsewhere in the world during our lifetimes. Could she have a proper grasp of such complex issues of current affairs?

Malala is fluent in Pashto, English, and Urdu. She is articulate, brave, compassionate, informed, driven – and very focused. Growing up at the heart of an area targeted by the Taliban, she had a unique experience living under a developing regime of terror. When Osama Bin Laden was eventually discovered in hiding, it was, to everyone’s shock, just a few miles away from where Malala herself lived. Along with the guidance and influence Malala’s activist father has had on her, perhaps she was destined to become the person she is.

The book starts with a prologue, briefly describing the day when she was shot, from Malala’s point of view. The name “Malala” means “grief-stricken”. Malala was named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan. It was an unusual name, which many thought to be unlucky or inappropriate.

Reading her account, it is clear that her father knew from the start that there would be something different about this child. Malala was allowed to stay up at night and listen to all his political conversations with his friends, long after her two brothers had been sent to bed. She was encouraged to read and think; to have a mind of her own.

The Yousafzai family were part of a large Pashtun tribe in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her family consisted of her father Ziauddin and her mother and two younger brothers. They were very poor, but part of a strong community in Mingora. There were comparatively few modern amenities such as running water and electricity; waste disposal and disease were a big problem, but the valley itself was lush and beautiful, and Malala thought her home was wonderful.

This first part of Malala’s story is entitled “Before the Taliban”. Malala describes her grandparents and parents’ history, how events had shaped each generation in her family. There was her father, an outspoken poet and education activist, who overcame his chronic shyness to learn public speaking to impress his own father. There was her more traditional, uneducated mother, who too began school at the age of six – but stopped before the term was over. Malala includes many family anecdotes, explaining the varying cultural mores as she does so, and interspersing the account with the troubled political history.

The section has 8 chapters, and is over a third of the book. It takes the reader carefully though all the difficulties Pakistan has faced since its creation on 14th August 1947. Malala relates the views of her people, who regretted the loss of Swat’s identity when it joined Pakistan. Additionally, the creation of a “home for Muslims” within Pakistan’s boundaries was established too hastily, inevitably resulting in other faiths such as Hindus fleeing across the border to India. Economic chaos ensued, and peace has never yet come about.

Since then, Pakistan has suffered under various regimes. There have been three Indo-Pakistan wars, several military coups, and numerous unsuccessful attempts at a military coup. The regime has lurched between military rule and democracy, between dictatorships and brief periods when a Prime Minister such as Benazir Bhutto was in power. She served two terms, but was eventually killed, clearly assassinated, although Malala carefully chronicles the muddled events. Pakistan has had varying degrees of both political and police corruption and is in constant turmoil.

It is remarkable that any normal life can survive such conditions, but the life Malala describes is a happy one. Her father’s greatest love apart from his family was the Khushal Public School which he established. The values of education ring clear and true throughout, having been instilled in Malala from a very early age. She also begins to develop her own opinions, drawing from her experience.

One shocking episode helped to crystallise her views. Malala came across some scavenger children, who lived inside a huge mountain of rubbish. They had matted filthy hair, were dirty, diseased and covered with sores and lice. Picking out cans, bottle tops, glass and paper from the rotting pile of rubbish, they would sell them to a garbage shop for a few rupees, barely enough to live on. Malala begged her father to take a couple of these starving children into his school without pay, and inwardly vowed that she would work as hard as she could towards a time when every one of those children would have an education by right. In the meantime she wrote a letter to God, and sent it down the Swat river.

Towards the end of this first section, it is apparent that the Taliban’s influence had begun to be felt in the Swat valley. Across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban had enforced a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. In horror folk learned of the massacres, the brutality towards women, the denial of food to ordinary people, the burning of homes, crops and land.

Malala explains that the majority of the Taliban were made up of Afghan Pashtun tribesmen, simple ignorant people who had always been looked down on by many educated people, including those poor themselves, such as Malala’s family. Recruits were resentful of any who had advantages, such as good jobs, and easily influenced by a fundamentalist idea of Islam. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, with weapons in their hands, they took it. There were many variations of interpretation of Islam present in Pakistan, not to mention other religions, but Malala’s people could see others fleeing for their very lives as the regime continued. They were equally suspicious of the US, thinking that they inflamed the situation, causing innocent casualties.

The local “Mufti”, a religious leader, was making decisions for the whole community. He was very critical of Malala’s father’s school; the girls should not be seen, they must be segregated. They should not learn certain inappropriate subjects. He made increasingly outrageous statements, such as that Ziauddin was running a “harem” in his school. Purdah was insisted upon for younger girls, and more strictly. The Mufti was determined to enforce his own brand of Islam; individual interpretation was quashed.

The section ends in 2005, when a massive earthquake in Pakistan killed over 70,000 people. Fundamentalists seized on this as a sort of punishment, a seal of approval on all their edicts.

The second part is entitled, “The Valley of Death. Malala is now 10 years old, and she describes the arrival of the Taliban in her village. A self-proclaimed Taliban leader named Maulan Fazlullah had risen to power, through a popular local radio station in Swat, appealing mostly to the ignorant and uneducated. In his radio broadcasts he offered instruction on how to obey the Quran. He soon had many followers – including Malala’s own mother. His demands became more strident and fanatical, calling for an end to televisions, DVDs, and other modern technology. The public humiliations began of anyone who didn’t obey his interpretation of the law, including women who did any work outside the home.

The 7 chapters in this section are primarily about the suppression of the people of Swat, and the growth of Taliban influences. Some of the episodes referred to – the beatings, the beheadings – are harrowing, despite this being seen through the eyes of a young girl. Malala’s education continues, but the reader is wondering for how long this can continue. Many girls have been taken away from the school and sometimes Malala is the only girl in her class. Very competitive, she has two close friends, equally clever.

As time passes it becomes increasingly difficult for Malala to study. Military tanks are in evidence everywhere. On one occasion, travelling in a relative’s car, the driver panicked, asking her to hide a CD of music in her clothes. Malala often began to feel afraid when on the streets, imagining that every man she met was a member of the Taliban. She and her friends stopped wearing their school uniforms and hid their books as they travelled to and from school. The beatings and beheadings continued. A nearby school was bombed during a prayer service in honour of a fallen police officer.

When Malala is 11, she is approached by the BBC who feel that a child’s viewpoint would be very significant. She is asked to write an anonymous blog about her life, and chooses the pseudonym “Gul Makai”. People she knows, including some of the girls at school discover it but she wisely keeps it secret. The Taliban’s powers are increasing. They have instructed families to send them the names of marriageable women, so that marriages can be arranged for them. They have announced a date in 2009, by which all girls’ schools must be closed, yet Malala keeps hoping that something will prevent this. She becomes bolder and more confident, being taken in 2008 by her father to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. She has written a clear and passionate speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

Inevitably though, the final day of school arrives. Malala cannot believe it; her books are her proudest possessions. She is followed around by a camera crew from the New York Times, making a documentary. Her life seems empty without school, and increasingly the family are living in fear of their very lives. Malala compares their existence to a family of which she has just read, in “Anne Frank’s Diary”. Deciding they will have to leave their home, Malala’s family, like many others, flee to relatives. Others flee to friends, even though this means that in some homes the males have to leave. The Pashtun tradition of hospitality conflicts with the belief that an unmarried female should not reside in the same home as a male who is not her relative, but they respect both principles. Malala goes to school again with a cousin. She is now 12 years old, although everybody is living in too much turmoil to mark her birthday in the way they always had.

The third part is entitled, “Three Bullets, Three Girls”. We know what this section is going to be about, but now we also feel we know the girl herself; her history, and how her individual experience slots into the mess and bloodshed that is Pakistan’s inheritance.

It is three months later, and Malala’s family return home to find much of their village destroyed during the battles. The Taliban has gone, the Pakistani Prime Minister promises, but many people don’t believe it. Some return and eventually school resumes, but many stay away. During these 5 chapters, Malala’s beliefs become more fully formed. She wonders what it would be like to leave school at 13 to be married, just as one of her classmates has.

The climate of opinion changes. There are still tanks on every street corner, machine guns posted on rooftops, checkpoints all along a route, but now people blame the US. Why were they still there, 3 years later? There was even outrage at the American raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The details were unclear. Why had the US conducted the raid on their own, without telling the Pakistanis or seeking help from them? Conspiracy theories abound. Had the Americans perhaps even actually killed bin Laden years earlier?

Clearly the Taliban are still present, carrying out atrocities very close to their home. On Malala’s 14th birthday, when she is officially considered to be an adult, the family learn that one of Ziauddin’s outspoken friends has been attacked. Malala agrees to follow her mother’s advice, and even though the school is so close, she takes a rickshaw to school, and the bus home.

The section ends with the shooting which made world headlines. On 9th October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala through the head, neck, and shoulder as she rode home from school on the bus after taking an exam. Although Malala can remember very little about it, being preoccupied with her own thoughts, the masked gunman apparently shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all”. Her identity became obvious, at which point he shot at her. Two of her friends, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded, but survived.

Part four is entitled, “Between Life and Death”. It contains just 2 chapters, about a time of which Malala can remember very little. Immediately following the attack, she was rushed to Swat Central Hospital. There she remained unconscious, in a critical condition. The political machinations behind the scenes continued. The chapters give clinical details, and credit one doctor, “Dr Fiona”, for preventing Malala’s death when staff neglected to follow specialist procedures necessary for the brain and body to recover. She insisted that Malala be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK for intensive rehabilitation. Her parents were not able to travel to see their daughter, due to protocol. What comes across to the reader is the ignorance apparent at every level, but also a sense that it is possible for individuals to overcome this, even when the odds seem stacked against them.

The final, fifth part “A Second Life” also consists of 2 chapters. Malala now tells of her recovery more from her personal experience. By 17th October, she had come out of her coma and begun to repond. She was terribly worried about the cost of her treatment, thinking that her father would have to sell his land. She still had not been able to see her father. Eventually everything progressed to the point where the Pakistani government paid for her treatment, she was able to be visited by her family, and best of all, she had no lasting brain damage, only nerve damage.

On 3 January 2013, Malala was discharged from the hospital to continue rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home. On 2nd February she had a five-hour operation to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing. Since March 2013, she has been a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham. Although happy there, she evidently misses her old life, and would love to go home some day. She realises that her new classmates regard her as a children’s rights activisit, but sometimes longs to just be the normal simple Pashtun girl of old, in Minora …

The co-author of this book is Christina Lamb, a British journalist who is currently Foreign Correspondent for the Sunday Times. Her credentials for helping to write this particular book are impeccable. She first interviewed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in London in 1987. She then continued her work as foreign correspondent in Pakistan, journeying through Kashmir and along the frontiers of neighbouring Afghanistan. She has interviewed the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Always working in war-torn countries, she was even once deported back home. Commenting on the worsening devastation and destruction by the president Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front since she started reporting from Zimbabwe in 1994, she maintains that this has been her most harrowing experience.

In 2006, Lamb was reporting from Southern Afghanistan, meeting with town elders. The team were then supposedly directed to a safe route out, but soon after they had left, the British were attacked by Taliban fighters. Anyone who experienced running through irrigation trenches, with Kalashnikov rifles and mortar firing from all directions, for two and a half hours, is well qualified to co-author this book. Immediately after this book she wrote another about her many years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is critical of many missed opportunities by the US, to help resolve the long war, blaming the poor relationship US has with Pakistan for many of the continuing problems of terrorism.

Interestingly it is possible to see the seeds of that book within this one. Often the voice of Malala seems critical of the US, and their inability to be effective, even a mistrust of American troops. But whose is the underlying voice? It is impossible to really know.

Other parts of the book suggest the hand of an experienced foreign affairs correspondent. The indepth knowledge of both contemporary issues and the country’s history and political situation, as well as of the many different tribes, languages and customs within each region, is so very extensive. The issues are complex and quite difficult for the general reader, only aware of the basic schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, to assimilate.

The roots of the split are ancient, originating in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims such as Malala’s family follow the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam, which takes as its precedent the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims are followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, whom they claim as Muhammad’s successor, believing that only God has the prerogative to appoint the successor to his prophet. But there are massively complex distinctions between all the different factions within both Sunni and Shia. Could the complicated issues explored all be Malala’s work?

However Malala is an erudite speaker and writer. I have no doubt that the views, anecdotes, and probably the structure of the book are hers, and that the passion with which she explains her views is hers alone. It is well balanced, her own experience set within the ongoing political situation. But perhaps there is slightly too much input from history to make the memoir flow easily. Malala is a courageous, intelligent, indefatigable person. I would have loved to say this book merits 5 stars. It very nearly does, and I have a sneaky feeling that if she is ever inspired by events in her life to write a book again, it probably will.

The subtitle of the book is, “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.” Malala insists that surviving being shot in the head is not what she wants people to focus on, but the issues of children’s rights, women’s education and world peace. Surely that is what we should take away from reading this book.

“Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran … We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani.”

 

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A Review of Hyper-Chondriac

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 19, 2015

Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm DownHyper-chondriac: One Man’s Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down by Brian Frazer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting memoir. At times, it’s often quite funny. At times, it’s often quite sad. It’s about one man’s experience with coming to terms with and trying to overcome his rage, anxiety, tension, and violent outbursts. At least he recognized his problems and tried, right?

Brian grew up in a Long Island Jewish family where his mother had MS and was one angry, pissed off, horrible bitch of a human being who practically tortured his father for life and made life miserable for him and his siblings. They never ate dinner together, except for once a year. They only ate fast food. When Brian went to college, he didn’t know how to use utensils and ate, quite quickly, with his fingers and hands and thought all the stares were admiring stares of appreciation for his appetite. He literally ate everything as quickly as possible and with his hands. In fact, he was always in a hurry, always impatient, and blew up at anyone who got in his way or who let him down, especially as he was excessively punctual. He took up body building — he was rather OCD — and built his body so greatly that he won competitions. Then he took to eating ice cream competitions. And so it continued.

One thing I didn’t like about the book is that somewhere there’s a break in the book — and his life — where he apparently graduates from college, moves to Los Angeles, marries a girl named Nancy, and becomes a writer — and he doesn’t mention any of this in his own memoir. Um, okay. Yeah. Rather stupid, if you ask me.

The remaining chapters are about Brian’s attempts to get his life under control. He finally finds out he’s “abnormal” when he goes to a dermatologist who tells him he’s the most tense human he’s ever seen and proscribes Zoloft for him. He’s stunned. Of course, he knew he was guilty of tremendous road rage, but then, wasn’t everyone? So, he turns to other areas that might help him — yoga, tai chi, Ayurveda, cranial-sacral therapy, etc. Each chapter is on one of these and more. He learns something about himself and of value for his search for betterment in each chapter, no matter how ridiculous the scene or how badly he’s getting ripped off. Finally, he and Nancy get a dog near the end of the book and it’s a very calm dog. And it helps calm him, along with his stringent diet, yoga (which initially almost destroyed his hip), etc. Towards the end of the book, a sister calls him to let him know his mother is having serious medical problems and his father has thrown his back out and needs help caring for her, so Brian and Nancy take off for the East coast to help out, where he is immediately taken back to the anger and hatred of his youth. But he survives and moves on, wishing his mother could too. He leaves the reader with his status as a work in progress. It’s really an unfinished book. I wondered why he chose to write this particular book at this particular time in his life. I don’t know the reason and will probably never find out. Whatever the case, it’s a good read, if for no other reason then it’s very, very funny. Recommended.

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A Review of J.R.

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 27, 2015

J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in HockeyJ.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very enjoyable book to read, even if you’re not a huge fan of Jeremy Roenick. I gained a lot of respect for him as a player as a result of reading this. He obviously loves the game of hockey and played with a lot of passion. Over the course of his 20 year career, he became one of a very few American-born players to score more than 500 career goals. Pretty impressive.

Roenick grew up a hockey player. He was playing pee wee hockey at 10 and his parents were traveling to other states to take him to tournaments. He moved around a lot as a kid, mostly due to his father’s occupation, but as his hockey playing skills grew, his parents’ determination for him to succeed grew, so his dad did something totally bizarre. Rather than take a promotion to a warm weather city like Dallas or LA, he took an entry level demotion to move to Boston so his son could grow up entrenched in a hockey atmosphere, losing some 50% of his income in the process. Still, he must have been doing pretty well, because JR went to prep schools, where he dominated. So much that he got drafted by Chicago after his junior year of high school. He wasn’t even 160 pounds yet. Strangely, even though he wasn’t into academics, he decided to go to college and went to Boston College — for 15 minutes. Long enough to read the syllabus for a class and decide it wasn’t for him. So soon, he was NHL-bound. He played a year in the minors, but got called up to Chicago and scored. The rest is history. He had a tough coach, was surrounded by good players, was a tough player himself, could score a lot, was a fast skater, a scrapper, and excelled. He lasted eight years in Chicago before they shipped him off to Phoenix, where he stayed for five years. Then he went to Philly, where I think he was also there for about five years. L.A. for one abysmal year, then two years with San Jose, then retirement. Along the way, his body took a lot of punishment. Hundreds of stitches, many broken bones, most teeth busted. Abused. He also partied his ass off, even though he was married. Strangely the book evades the topic of groupies. Gee, I wonder why? LOL! He devotes a chapter to a gambling problem he had, which was pretty bad. He played a lot of pranks. He was the life of the party, an entertainer. When he retired, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he felt like he wanted to stay in front of the camera. So when NBC offered him his job as an analyst, he jumped for it. And I like watching him now. I think he’s very good. There’s a funny story in the book about a disagreement he and Mike Milbury had in the studio about a hit on Kris Letang which nearly brought them to blows. Speaking of Penguins stars, in the book’s first paragraph, JR calls out Sidney Crosby for not showing enough or proper leadership. Which I tend to agree with, and I’m a huge Pens fan.

This book isn’t the best autobiography I’ve ever read. There should have been more about the game of hockey itself and more hockey stories, with fewer party stories. But it’s still quite entertaining. One area of confusion. He goes out of his way to ensure you know he’s American, dammit! Yet the book is written in Canadian English (defencemen, cheque, etc). WTF? Whatever. I enjoyed it. If you like hockey, you probably will too. And even if you don’t like hockey, but you like a good story, this might be a good book for you. Recommended.

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A Review of Praying To The Aliens

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 27, 2015

Praying To The AliensPraying To The Aliens by Gary Numan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever since I heard “Cars” on the radio in 1979 at the age of 14, I’ve been a Gary Numan fan. He was different. He was strange. He made good music. I enjoyed his first few albums and then lost track of him. Well, recently, I’ve renewed my interest in Numan and have purchased quite a few of his albums, including some older ones I didn’t have and some newer ones that are quite different from his old sound. And I’ve really enjoyed listening to his music again. For a long time, I wondered what this unusual person was like. He obviously had been influenced by glam and Bowie. But how much? And the fascination with the synth? It’s like they were made for him.

I found out about this book last year and immediately wanted to get it. It’s Numan’s autobiography, but it’s from a British publisher and is apparently out of print because you can’t get new copies. It was also published in 1998, so it’s not brand new. Still, it sounded promising. A couple of months ago, I found a bookstore in England that had a good used copy they would sell me for an obscene price, but I bit the bullet and paid and it was for some reason shipped through Switzerland and arrived at my house last week. I was elated.

I dove into the book and couldn’t stop reading. It was everything I had hoped for and more. It’s an excellent autobiography, very personal, very telling, very detailed, very good.

Numan was born Gary Webb to doting parents who pretty much spoiled him. He was initially a good student, but as he approached his high school years, became rebellious and was kicked out of school. From an early age, he showed an appreciation of music and of airplanes.

He learned to play the guitar at a young age and played at being in a band with some friends. This was news to me, because I’d always thought of him as a keyboardist. I didn’t even know he played the guitar. He eventually formed a band as a late teen called Tubeway Army and they were signed to a small label, where they put out their first album sometime around 1977 or so. However, as Gary was the driving force in the band, they changed the name to Gary Numan and Tubeway Army and later just to his name. (He had come up with a more “interesting” surname than just Webb.)

His album Replicas came out in 1979 and was an immediate hit, much to everyone’s surprise. “Down in the Park” was a great song, and there were other good ones on it too. He then felt pressure from the music label to come up with something else, so later in the same year, he released the classic, The Pleasure Principle, which featured “Cars” and soon both the song and the album were number one on the charts. He was a star at the age of 20.

Now bear in mind, he was very much an introvert — except when he was on the stage. He was a loner, he felt uncomfortable with other people, he was socially awkward, and he liked technology more than he did people. When he discovered synthesizers in a studio, it not only changed his music forever, it changed his life. Now he was the front man, no longer playing guitars, and his band was synth heavy. In 1980, he released Telekon, which I believe also hit number one with great songs, such as “This Wreckage” and “We Are Glass.” His devoted parents were now part of his crew. His dad was his manager, his mother, his wardrobe designer and in charge of the new fan club. All of a sudden, he was rich and bought houses and cars and eventually even an airplane that he learned to fly. He went on tours of both Europe and America and even though he never played to big audiences, he usually connected with his fans in a big way. Except his tours lost money. A lot.

In 1981, Dance was released with the single, “She’s Got Claws,” and it too was a hit. His music company was putting pressure on him to become more dance-oriented, though, and his stuff, while it sometimes had a beat, was more tech-based. His lyrics were also strange, drawing on his love of Philip K. Dick and Williams Burroughs.

It was at this point he started to slip. In 1982, he released I, Assassin, but it didn’t do as well as his previous records and the press was absolutely just slaughtering him publicly, something he never understood and something that would never change in his career. The press hated him. As he continued to release albums, other New Wave, synth-heavy bands started competing with him and he couldn’t get any more radio airplay, which just killed his career. Soon, he split from his label, and finding little interest elsewhere, formed his own. However, instead of concentrating on his career, he stupidly signed insignificant indie acts and plowed money into them, which he subsequently lost. By the mid to late ’80s, he was no longer musically significant, even though he continued to produce records. And he went broke. In debt, even. He had to sell the houses, cars, airplane, etc.

Let me interject. He met other musicians along the way. At one point, he was elated to get to meet his hero, Bowie, to do a television concert. Well, Bowie blew him off and got him tossed off the show. That really hurt him. However, he also got to meet Queen, and writes that they were tremendously nice to him and he had a great time hanging out with them. That was cool, as I’m also a Queen fan.

During Numan’s down time, he decided to embark on a crazy journey — he flew around the world. It’s a really interesting tale in the book and it was a harrowing journey, including getting arrested in India on suspicion of being a spy! He got so good at flying, he eventually became an instructor and did air shows.

Back to the music. A couple of things happened in the mid ’90s to turn things around for Numan. First, popular bands started doing Numan covers in concerts and on their albums — groups like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Fear Factory, Hole, and many more. Many musicians cited him as being a major influence on their own career. And he came back out of the shadows and became sort of in fashion again. Also, he found a new sound. He moved to a heavier goth/industrial sound with more sobering lyrics and, as a result, gained a new audience. Since then, his albums have sounded this way and I have several and I just love them. They’re brilliant. Nothing like his early stuff, but that’s okay. Musicians have to grow and change or they’ll become stagnant.

It was around this time that he met his wife, Gemma, and they’re still together — I follow both on Twitter — and they have three daughters. He’s made back some of his money, although I don’t know how much, but things seems pretty good for him. And that makes me happy.

This book looks deep inside Gary Numan and it’s a real treat to read about his happiness, his insecurities, his victories and his defeats. It’s a very personal autobiography and I can’t endorse it strongly enough. Heavily recommended.

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A Review of iWoz

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 26, 2015

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing ItiWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! I loved Woz! He seems like a really cool guy. So I was shocked — shocked — at the many instances of overt hostility toward this book by so many reviewers. Man, they hate it! They think the writing is terrible, even though it has a professional co-author. They think he’s arrogant and conceited. They think he over-inflates his worth. I couldn’t disagree more. I enjoyed the writing. I thought it was intentionally conversational and easy to read. What do people want — a damn textbook??? It makes tech easy for anyone to understand and I think that’s good. As to his arrogance, when you’ve done the things he has done — and very few people have — you have a right to be arrogant, in my opinion. He was the youngest HAM operator is the world, quite possibly. He very likely invented the personal computer and changed everyone’s lives forever. He built, solely, one of the greatest computers ever — the Apple II. He invented the universal remote. And he’s not entitled to be proud of his achievements? Give me a break! If I had done this, I’d sure to tooting my own horn, that’s for certain. And as for the few dissenters claiming he didn’t invent the personal computer, it’s plausible there were earlier personal computers, such as the Altair, but hobbyists had to put them together themselves, they didn’t have keyboards or screens — just lights and buttons. He really did create the personal computer as we know it. Of course, he didn’t get where he got without the help of Steve Jobs, but if anyone was ever an egomaniac, it was Jobs, not Woz. Jobs was the biggest narcissist ever seen, I believe. I don’t know how Woz could have worked with him for so long. I enjoyed reading about his upbringing, about his early phone phreaking, about constructing and selling blue boxes, about his educational efforts, about his reluctance to start a new company, about his desire to remain a geek forever and never go into management, his thoughts about other people both in and out of the Apple world. I loved this book! I again just don’t understand why so many people hate it. It makes no sense to me. This is what I want out of an autobiography — a reader-friendly, true life account of an interesting person’s life and exploits. Excellent. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 4, 2013

About Face: The Odyssey of an American WarriorAbout Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior by David H Hackworth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Col. David Hackworth was a true American hero, a real warrior. He enlisted for the Army at age 15, just in time for the close of World War II, where he was stationed in Italy. He learned a lot there before shipping over to Korea to work a couple of stints in that disaster. He earned battlefield commissions and gradually moved up the ranks, but was always an infantryman’s man. He led, he taught, he learned, he thought, he spoke up and pulled no punches (which sometimes got him into trouble) — he was a real work of art.

I first learned of Hackworth when I was reading Soldier of Fortune Magazine back in the 90s and early part of this century. His column would be the last thing in the magazine and it was usually very insightful. Sadly, he died a few years ago and they replaced him with Oliver North, a man I don’t like nearly as much.

Hackworth loved being on the battlefield. He hated the peacetime, with officer’s clubs and parties to attend and papers to shuffle. He wanted to be where the action was.

After Korea, he was sent to Germany for awhile, before shipping off to Vietnam, where he learned a whole lot about the civil war in that country, how the French had lost before we got there, what was behind the Vietnamese people’s thoughts and minds, and how woefully under-prepared our troops were for guerrilla combat. He constantly turned lousy outfits into proud, battle hardened outfits with minimal casualties and pretty good successes. He tried to teach what he learned and knew to others, but others wouldn’t listen. They were trained to fight a “conventional” war in battalion style against countries like Russia on European battlefields. They weren’t prepared for the jungle. One of the first things that Hack learned was

“there was simply no point in taking an objective you had no intention of holding, no point in using men when firepower could do the job. Tuy Hoa’s battlefield may have looked like the hedgerows of Normandy, but if … the taking of such objectives one by one wasn’t ultimately going to lead you anyplace, and if … you were going to abandon each objective after you’d taken it, only to take it again and again and again and again, as the French did before us and as we were doing now — well, it wasn’t worth the life of even a single soldier. I’d learned.”

Another part of his education came in the States:

“Ideally all the training for Vietnam should have taken place in Hawaii or Panama or the Philippines, where the Vietnam-bound soldiers could at the very least clear the difficult acclimatization hurdle. It would have worked well, too, to have each training center geared for a specific region in Vietnam, given that the diversity of battlefields … made the conflict more like four or five different wars. Fort Lewis, for example, for three out of four seasons greatly resembled the Highlands. But to train men there in the winter months was a cruel joke. Yet no Pentagonian would dare try to close the place, even for those few months. Why? Because Fort Lewis was like any other Army camp on Army real estate in the USA: it provided jobs and income for the civilian constituents of senators and congressmen who were invariably running for reelection. Fort Lewis was big business to northwest Washington. Politicians demanded it be used in exchange for their nod on continued military appropriations, and the pussyfooting new breed of statesmen-generals didn’t have the balls, the moral courage, to stand up and say that some things were more urgent, that it as insane to train jungle fighters in the snow. Instead, it was somehow more acceptable to allow badly prepared Willie Lump Lumps to die all over the battlefield, and just go on answering the letters from brokenhearted parents….”

Obviously, Hackworth was becoming disillusioned with Vietnam and the insanity of its being waged by politicians based on statistics based on lies. To ease the public conscience. All a pile of shit. For Hackworth, the

“Cambodian exercise was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me about the war in Vietnam and the direction America was heading. Militarily the operation was correct: a basic rule of counterinsurgency is to deny the insurgent a sanctuary …. But what was wrong with it, besides the fact that it came five years too late … was that the way it was done violated all the principles the United States of America, the country I loved and soldiered for, was built on. Cambodia was a NEUTRAL country. Our incursion, at this time in the war, with no prior notice to the fledgling Lon Nol government or even to our ambassador to Cambodia, was not, to my mind, any different from the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In my estimation the exercise was an immoral, ill-thought-out venture, and one that would prove to be both an expensive tactical donnybrook and an irreparable strategic defeat.”

Wow! Strong words. I wonder what he thought about Bush’s invasion of sovereign Iraq? I need to look up some old Soldier of Fortune magazines and find out. This is true! This is right on. And this did it for him. America’s most decorated living soldier essentially gave up. He couldn’t take it any longer. He agreed to be interviewed for a tell all television program, and gave interviews to organizations like Newsweek, all with the agreement that nothing would be published until after his retirement in two months. So naturally, the Christian Science Monitor published an interview and everyone followed along behind, putting him on the run around the world. He was followed and monitored and threatened with court martial and the end of the book reads like a spy thriller, but ultimately, he was allowed to retire, dignity intact, and he moved to Australia, where he wrote this book in the late 80s.

In his epilogue, Hackworth takes a number of positions on a number of topics, speculating about America’s future involvement in places like Latin America, about the military’s continued poor training, about the absolute waste of billions of dollars on trash equipment, like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and tanks and other assorted things. (He raged throughout the book about the inadequacies of the M-16 rifle.) He writes,

“Today’s soldiers … are being placed in great jeopardy by the weapons and equipment now being issued from on high. Given the scandals and the resulting publicity that have rocked the Pentagon in recent times, it is not difficult to see why: the US military’s procurement system is out of control. Still, the bottom line of the whole business is simply this: the United States buys too many weapons it doesn’t need, pays too much for what it gets, what it gets does not do the right job where in counts — on the battlefield — and men’s lives are being risked unnecessarily.”

He ends this 900 page beast of a book by writing, the “United States must shape up. It is a great country with a great heritage; it has set a good example in the past and it can do so in the future, if only it begins to choose its battles carefully and makes sure its causes are right. It is time to reduce the military machine that has broken the back of the nation’s economy, and begin to rebuild the industrial plant that made us great.” This book was very inspirational to read. It bogs down at places with repetitive stories, mostly about the Korean conflict, but is full of insight and passion. I strongly recommend it to history buffs and military fans, as well as the general reader. You stand to learn a lot.

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A Review of Just Call Me Mike

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 23, 2013

Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and ActivistJust Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist by Mike Farrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mike Farrell is an interesting man. I bought this book (for fifty cents at a used bookstore) because of my love for his character in MASH. Truthfully, that’s what I thought the book might be about, although it’s subtitled “A Journey to Actor and Activist.” I just had no idea what an activist Mike is! It’s really overwhelming. I mean, if he’s done half of what he claims to have done, he should be sainted. He traveled to numerous south and central American countries like El Salvador to document human rights abuses. He went to Rwanda to document the genocide there. He became an advocate for prisoner’s rights and has fought hard to abolish the death penalty everywhere. Let me tell you, if you’re a conservative, you won’t like this book. I’m pretty liberal, and even I felt like I was being preached to too often at times! He’s very anti-Bush, but doesn’t hold back on Clinton either, as well as Reagan and Bush 1.

I was disappointed at how little a role MASH plays in this book. A little over a chapter is devoted to the show, with the only major story being about the final episode. I had hoped to read numerous behind the scenes stories about the show, and that was a big let down. At the same time, I didn’t know how much other acting and producing Mike has done, so that was interesting. He got Patch Adams produced (starring Robin Williams), although he was deeply disappointed with the final product, which he thought the director and writer butchered.

Mike’s devotion to his second wife and his kids is awesome. His wife had to go through so much, including a frightening liver transplant, but Mike stood with her the whole way. Mike never went to college, but his kids did, so he was proud of them.

At times, this book bored me, however. I wanted anecdotes, not proselytizing. I feel kind of ripped off by that, even though, again, the words on the book cover should have alerted me to the primary purpose of the book. I mean, most of the blurbs on the cover are from politicians. That should have been a big tip off. If you’re a MASH fan, don’t bother reading this book. You won’t learn anything. If you’re against the death penalty and other human rights abuses, this might prove an interesting read for you. If you’re pro-death penalty, you’ll just get a headache reading this book. I can’t say I recommend it and I’m a little relieved to have finished it. Somewhat of a disappointment, no matter how noble Mike might be….

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A Review of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 25, 2013

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I've LearnedNever Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a longtime M*A*S*H fan, I was elated when I found this book. I grew up loving Alan Alda’s character, Hawkeye, on M*A*S*H. He seemed so very cool, and the rest of the cast was awesome. So when I picked up the book, I was hoping for a lively autobiography complete with numerous M*A*S*H stories. BTW, it surprised me to see, while reading through Goodreads reviews, just how many people did NOT want that! It confirmed for me the fact that I’m a very different reader than most people. I like what most don’t, and dislike what most do. In this case, I wanted M*A*S*H stories while most people didn’t.

It’s painful, then, to say that the book barely mentions M*A*S*H. There’s a little over one chapter devoted to it about halfway through the book with barely any mention of cast mates or episodes, aside from one that he directed his father in. That was bitterly disappointing and it’s the reason I’ve knocked this book down from four stars to three. That said, it’s not a bad book. He spends a lot of his time telling us about his childhood, which seemed rather sad to me. He spent time with a mentally ill mother, a distant father, and he got beat up by the neighbor and school kids a lot. It’s amazing he’s as balanced as he is now! He spends a lot of time talking about religion, particularly Catholicism, which played a major role in his life. Indeed, I believe when he married his Jewish wife, it was in his Catholic church so he wouldn’t go to hell. The book discusses his struggles as an aspiring actor and writer and spends a lot of time on various plays he was in, both before fame and after. Strangely, when he gets to M*A*S*H, he basically glosses over it, as I said, and then moves on to Scientific American Frontiers, a show that he seems much more proud of. Isn’t that bizarre? The book basically ends with a harrowing tale of colon obstruction requiring colon re-sectioning while in Chile and his recovery from that with the support of his wife and daughters. It’s a good book, but it feels a little empty, a little hollow, like something major is missing, and it’s M*A*S*H that’s missing, which is a travesty. If you want to learn about Alan Alda, the person and writer, this is the book for you. If you want to learn about Alan Alda, Hawkeye on M*A*S*H, you’ve come to the wrong place.

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