A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’

Book Review on Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 13, 2021

Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of AmericaPatriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Brown. The John Brown Gun Clubs. He was controversial, hated by many, admired by some, likely a hero to many victims. A political/historical lightning rod. Some would agree he was a humanitarian and race patriot while possibly disagreeing with some of his methods and actions. Others will hate him and his legacy for eternity. I found his upbringing, strong convictions and willingness to do virtually anything and risk everything in order to do what he felt was not only right, but likely ethically and morally necessary. Yet while I agree with his views on the issues he faced and attacked, I remain bothered by one thing. He grew up in a very historically traditional Euro-American puritanical household, much like me in a stringent Calvinist family, much like many Americans historically. For these people, there is nothing but black/white, hot/cold, “right/wrong,” heaven/hell. In other words, no gray areas, no moderation, no compromise, and a total refusal to consider anyone else’s interpretation of their Christian religious beliefs (historically Calvinist or Calvin/Knox-influenced) could possibly be right when THEY are the only ones right. We’re talking many millions of Americans over the past 400 years up to today’s evangelicals/fundies. So while I think racism/slavery and his moral objections were right, the fact remains that Southern “Christians” used the very same holy book, the Christian Bible, to justify slavery and even argue Jesus/God demanded it — and like it or not (and I do not), Jesus (I think) and certainly Paul essentially condoned if not encouraged slavery in the letters, sermons, teachings, etc., attributed to them. So if John Brown was using the Bible as his moral compass for what ultimately started/resulted in the Civil War, he actually technically would likely have been very wrong! Which begs the question, if he (or anyone like him) were that fervent in America (like many other monotheists in other countries and cultures) to take one or more issues from their holy books and make it their lives’ obsession to the point of murders and even war, would anti-racists and progressives still support and praise him? Because then what would be the difference between them and “radical” Islamist jihadists? They’re referred to as extremists, but aren’t they possibly (because I’m not entirely sure) acting the most accurately of that faith in following through on their holy book’s teachings? Despite their methods and actions, which the rest of the world does not condone and for which they are termed terrorists? Wouldn’t US evangelicals, who took extreme views (and too many do) possibly using their holy book (too many of them don’t since virtually ALL of them cherry pick the hell out of anything and EVERYTHING they assert is required or banned by God while they conveniently ignore their god’s words and commands on many things they don’t like or agree with, proving them to be the worst of hypocrites) as justification to become a type of American Taliban? I mean, what’s the damn difference? So my concern with John Brown — and I’m EXTREMELY anti-racist/antifascist and I support the John Brown Gun Clubs — is that if he had chosen to focus on a different issue to the extremes that he did using the Christian bible as his justification, what if for example he had theoretically decided it was NECESSARY to practice a form of genocide on ALL known or suspected gay/lesbians in America, as well as any other issue he felt personally strongly about, strong enough to become a mass murderer while hero to many?

And just to drive that example in harder to make my point while also being 100% accurate in my descriptions of most influential US Christians today, what if he felt so strongly about “The [Jewish] Law” — because Jesus is quoted as stating he came to [earth] to abide by and follow The Law, a fact that is conveniently glossed over by nearly every Christian alive as they tell everyone that while the assertions that homosexuality is an “abominable sin” as seen in the Sodom story — in the Old Testament (“the JEWISH Bible”) — and some are willing to kill over that [as well as abortion], a) neither of which Jesus ever mentioned while instructing his followers to care for the old, sick and poor over 160 times in the Gospels and b) I’ll probably get shot for writing this, but the majority of practicing Jews are pro-choice and they are because they are largely convinced that the Judeo-Christian god is NOT opposed to it and hence is (essentially) pro–choice himself (sorry for the male pronoun). Before you firebomb my house, I know you Christians violently disagree, and for over 50 years one major reason I’ve heard my whole life is that it’s “Murder” (and millions of babies have been murdered because of it) … why? Because naturally life begins at conception, and of course God certainly made it that way, so we need to harass women who may be seeking one and kill doctors who perform them. Right? Uh, no. And you don’t know why because Christians not only don’t read their holy book, the Bible (they read convenient little devotionals with a couple of verses instead), but they sure as hell don’t read the Old Testament because it’s obsolete and doesn’t count cause it’s the “Jewish Bible” and the “angry” god of the OT changed to the Jesus/God of love and peace in the New Testament (which is an entirely different topic, but they’re wrong about that too, per his own words, but since they don’t read their bibles, they don’t know that).

Well, let’s address several things so I can return to John Brown. 1) If the Old Testament no longer counts (and I’ve heard that from hundreds to thousands of conservative Christians around the world — it is not a minority belief), then why fight to the death over OT homosexuality and perceived OT abortion issues? Why not fight to the death about shrimp if you’re going to be consistent? Or facial hair? It’s the epitome of cherry picking and it’s so hypocritical it’s almost beyond comprehension of any reasonably intelligent person. 2) The second point is Christians are wrong about the OT’s current lack of relevance besides anything but a history text. It’s THEIR bible and their god and you know why? Jews do. YOUR god states pretty damn strongly that he is the LORD God and HE DOES NOT CHANGE! Not then, not in the first century (CE), not today. So morons, just because you think Jesus is a better, different version of God, you’re wrong on two counts because your god states unequivocally he does NOT change and Jesus (God) was NOT about peace and love, but he stated he came [to earth] bringing a sword as he intended to destroy the family unit and turn family member against family member while also instructing his disciples to go out and buy swords. That wasn’t for catching fish. 3) Your god does NOT say life begins at conception and using that entity and the holy book you don’t read as justification for that assertion and the evil acts you do is dead wrong. I don’t have time to look the OT passage up (it may be in Isiah, but it’s been months since I read it — on my 18th reading of the entire bible from front to back), but you can look it up yourselves. Many/most traditional/orthodox Jews are pro-choice because there is a passage in “their” OT bible where God is attributed with instructing the chosen people that Life Begins At Birth — NOT conception! Doubt me? Upon birth, God breathes the Breath of Life into a newborn. Not in the womb, not in some magical holding place where spirits wait to get little bodies one day. You don’t like what you just read? Not my problem, not my fault. It’s YOUR god, your religion, your holy book — not mine. Many believe the Bible is the “inherent word of God” (and seeing their theologian apologists twist hard to explain the millions of contradictions to meet that standard is hilarious; one quick example is asking which creation story/myth do you believe and why? What, I’m the fool who thinks there’s more than one? Um, read the first two chapters of Genesis and you’ll find two different creation myths, so WHICH IS IT if the bible is the “inherent word of God?”).

Okay, almost back to the book except I still haven’t made my extreme theoretical point I mentioned long ago to drive that example in harder about Brown’s reliance on the Christian Bible for his moral code to justify his belief and actions regarding slavery. What if he were as devout as is claimed but instead of slavery (or the homosexual example I provided), he felt just as strongly about the Old Testament commandment that children are to obey and honor their parents so that if they somehow fail, all families (Abrahemic monotheists — such as Christians) are instructed to take them out and stone them to death? What, crazy? Don’t believe me? Read the damn Bible, the OT, cause that’s in there! And yes, it’s a crazy example, but that was my intent.

So if John Brown, relying on his Puritanical religious background and belief system did not decide to take on slavery but instead felt just as strongly about the previous example commandment, we wouldn’t have clubs and erect statues in his honor then if he had gone around stoning kids to death for back talking their parents! Thus while I essentially admire and support his conviction and legacy, if not his actions, it’s because I believe them to be morally correct. But I fear that if he had chosen a different controversial issue to engage in the same type of actions and outcomes using his religion to justify everything, I would seriously hate his guts and any legacy he left, because he could have become a Christian Hitler — basically what most current American evangelicals want out of Donald Trump and his fascist, white christian nationalist ilk as they proudly scream publicly that they intend to “exterminate” all minorities, immigrants (despite ALL of them coming from immigrants themselves), people of color, non-“Christians” (as if they know a damn thing about their religion, as I’ve repeatedly proven within a minute of talking to any of them), and most especially Democrats, progressives, liberals, etc., or simply everyone not like them. Do you see my point? He did the right thing, but he justified it with the wrong source, because that same source was used to justify the very reason he basically went to war, as well as millions of other historic atrocities in general, so he could simply have used that same source and “moral code” allegedly arising from it to justify any violent actions to and against anyone for any reason. And that has always bothered me about any such person and a legacy I otherwise admire as I, too, call him a true patriot. Thank goodness he actually acted more as a humanist — dare I say secular humanist? — than a stereotypical monotheistic religionist, because then he might have become a historical monster just as Hitler did as he (and Mussolini) made deals with the Pope to protect the Pope’s constituents provided the Pope supported, or at least remained silent, about what they were freaking doing. Oh, and I think I recall that Hitler grew up Catholic while many of the soldiers in the German Wehrmacht were devout Lutherans. Under the belief they were acting on behalf of Christianity and the Christian god while becoming devils (metaphorically) in the process.

I feel John Brown did the right thing and I admire him, and I admire his absolute commitment and the moral code he had in order to do what I and many others view as “the right thing” in fighting against slavery and freeing slaves. Yet I worry a part of me will always be bothered that his Calvinistic religious beliefs could instead have been twisted, much like many claim Islamic jihadists have, while showing the same level of commitment to other religious commandments as he chose to interpret them… Anyway, this book? It’s one of the better books on Brown that I’ve read. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of “Utopia for Realists”

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 5, 2021

Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal WorldUtopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World by Rutger Bregman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Yeah. Utopia for anything, any reason or topic always sounds good. Do you know how many descriptions like the one this book has here I’ve read over many decades from authors dating back centuries? Do you know how many were right or proven right? Yeah, I do. The answer would be NONE! Why? Cause no matter how brilliant they may seem or even be, these concepts and theories are little but pipe dreams. Fantasy. Let’s give the kids of the world some hope, some premise and promise, something to dedicate their lives too … and then not deliver. Again and again. Over and over.


An obvious example or two. One of the most obvious: Marx and Engels’ semi-brilliant (in theory) deconstruction of economic and political systems to even the playing field for the common man via communism (Marxism). It would be Utopia for the workers. Naturally most western capitalists will gleefully say it was BS, didn’t work out and died the ugly death it deserved. And despite their misguided arrogance, on the whole they’re technically right — in terms of the original and most influential communist system, with the collapse of the Soviet Union (and with China then sliding into a more Sinese type capitalist-centric system while retaining the power elements found throughout the history of typical communist countries), it might seem like communism was inferior to anything else, most notably capitalism. It didn’t work.


But before the Reagan worshippers get too frenzied, while hundreds of books have been written on this so I don’t need to, let’s look at two big, fairly related points. One, did Marxist communism fail to be Utopian, if even fair or safe, because it was a horrible theory, terrible idea, total BS? No. Here’s the truth about nearly every Utopian theory or premise ever thought up and advocated on nearly any subject at all throughout human history. They’re virtually all mere pipe dreams. Cannot and will likely never fulfill their promise, no matter how promising. Because they’re crackpot theories and promises? No, not necessarily and not in the case of communism. The problem is few people ever really take into account the one consistent variable nearly always at the root of any Utopian failure: human nature. Yeah, it’s so simple that it should easily be obvious every time but mankind has this bad habit of rarely learning from past mistakes.


Marx actually had some really good ideas. Like the author of this book. Yet Marx’s theories, when implemented – just as surely would seem to be the case with the author – were doomed to fail because not only are people different, but what seems reasonable, rational, logical, FAIR to huge numbers of people will ultimately typically die from within because despite any original good intentions, the fact is it’s impossible to stop power-hungry tyrants, autocrats, dictators, murderers, greedy, fascist EVIL people from being involved or becoming involved, or from falling victim to the lure or power and riches, that despite the original terms used in many such efforts and movements, they’re just semantics and largely meaningless. The Marxist Bolsheviks rebelled against the czar for the people, yet Stalin would become the most famous of the genocidal madmen there to destroy the Utopian dream Marx had described — because he could (with the aid of men like Yezhov and Beria). And he wanted to and took advantage of opportunities and lied and murdered and the term communism was always used but did it fail cause Marx was an idiot? No. Because at heart, much of human nature is evil and those people who “go to the dark side” (Did I get the Star Wars reference right?) abuse that as well as the huge number of people trying to make an honest, sustainable life of it, only to be crushed under the boot of tyranny. (Additionally, the Stalinist interpretation of Marx’s communism was rather warped — thus the war against Trotsky and the edging Lenin out so he could take over…)

However if you think capitalism is the obvious “winner” in this competition, think again. Those who have pushed the fantasy that it can be Utopian if you only pull yourself up by your bootstraps, work your damn ass off (and vote for the “right” political party) and then the American Dream will be possible for all is an even bigger pile of shit because while Marx and his colleagues were naively Ernest, those pushing this capitalist equation to obtain the American Dream, dating further back than “trickle down economics” – a theory so transparent in its lies, non-logic, hypocrisy and true goals, that the fact that so many chump Americans are still spouting bullshit like “America: Love It or Leave It” shows how pathetically stupid, naïve and easily manipulated we are — and sadly that’s not limited just to Americans.


(And Reagan isn’t to blame. It’s hard to pinpoint an actual individual or group of individuals responsible for foisting this dramady onto the American worker, thus forever using the stick and carrot routine which never fails to work brilliantly. Many attribute this “conspiracy” to powerful men such as JP Morgan, the Rockefellers, some of the major financial leaders (often theorists love to throw in the Rothschild family, which hasn’t been proven but can’t be discounted), but led by a mysterious visitor from Europe who, it was alleged, was. a Rothschild representative. When the Jekyll Island retreat resulted in the invention of a central bank, later to be called the Federal Reserve, or the Fed (and there are a dozen of them around the country, not just one…) — (an interesting aspect to this is the Fed never was and is not still a government agency or government anything, yet many people don’t know that. Why does a largely private bank control the country’s currency, interest rates, print the money, etc., on behalf of the government and the people when it is not at all related to that very government? Who then is benefitting from this little scenario? And when researching history combined with some reflection, it’s interesting to ponder about how a few mysterious but very rich and powerful men controlling the Fed have ultimate power over the country, if not the world, because with the simple unanticipated move by them, such as a serious loan rate change, a devaluation of the dollar, etc., the Fed can create recessions at will, can end them equally, conceivably start wars and more — and yet they’re not a part of the government despite being potentially more powerful.) that venture has and does beg the question or perhaps confirms the suspicions some people have of a “conspiracy” of rabid capitalists controlling various countries with the future goal of that dreaded phrase we hate so much and which I won’t bother writing here, but just think of the Euro as the first major step in that direction. And since I’m off topic with popular theories about the advent of a capitalist plot to create sheeple who lack critical thinking abilities and will do what they’re told by the authorities — something Orwell wrote about with horror, something that our educational systems have embrace, and something that has succeeded brilliantly and that’s not me — I’ve read interviews with top CEOs in journals like Forbes where they complain they can’t hire college graduates worth a damn anymore because everyone is a specialist, no longer generalists, and virtually all lack critical thinking skills, thus limiting them in the workplace. And to get through this aside, the other main popular conspiracy theory with any credibility is the ole Skull and Bones one, which many people laugh off without bothering to research the details of the Russel Trust or the Bavarian intellectuals who influenced those early Yale men, their colleagues who returned from Germany to found the University of Chicago, Princeton Theological Seminary (I think) and Johns Hopkins University and take on the role of the first presidents, who then installed said German immigrant academic intellectuals at their institutions and elsewhere, all allegedly influenced heavily by a bizarre Bavarian psychologist and it gets really crazy sounding, but when you do the research and find that Prescott Bush was a major player (who financed the Nazis throughout WW2, following Henry Ford), as well as a Dulles or two, both Bundy brothers, possibly two of the most powerful, devious and evil Americans of the twentieth century as McGeorge Bundy worked his magic on Kennedy and Johnson to get and keep the US in a southeast Asian unwinnable war while William rode shotgun at the CIA, and it gets crazier sounding when you dig deeper, but allegedly a S&B elite has run for president every cycle since Carter with possibly one exception, and certain Yale devotees were delighted to note that when W ran against Kerry, both candidates were Skull and Bones men, so they couldn’t lose no matter who won…

So after admittedly getting way off track on those potential initial starts at creating a capitalist system to ultimately do what it’s done, when I have the audacity to make a critical remark about US corporations being equal to people to enable the rich and powerful to buy elections, at best I get verbally attacked. Yet typically the atmosphere changes when I ask a simple question, which might be followed up with a couple more — “So, how’s capitalism working out for ya? You personally and your family? Are there any businesses or jobs left in your community and do the jobs even pay enough for you to have enough money in the bank if you have an unanticipated car emergency, like a wreck, requiring, say, $500 to get it fixed?

To answer that question, just in case you think it’s theoretical, the answer to people having jobs paying well enough to have $500 for an unanticipated emergency the next month is NO. Look it up if you don’t believe me. The average American (and this isn’t even “average” as it’s actually the vast majority) doesn’t have enough money to pay rent, buy a new set of tires, etc., for just one simple future month and the middle class that is now a distant memory has (had) to learn some hard lessons…and I would keep writing for hours, but I’ve already been doing this for several hours on a mobile device (takes me longer now that I’m old and feeble) and I’m tired and my arthritis is killing me (LOL!), so I’m just going to have to end prematurely. Capitalism, like Marxism, sounds good in theory, but like communism, in practice the Utopia of the American Dream is a lie and a pipe dream for over 90% of the people. Because of human nature, again. The sharks want power and money and see millions of suckers out there (who sadly and pathetically buy into their little game) and lie and manipulate to STILL ensure people are forever getting fucked by US capitalism will be willing to fight to the death against a critic despite their being victims of the very oppressive system they defend! So does capitalism work? Sure, if you have obscene wealth and power and are cutthroat and heartless enough to be hypocritical to your (typically American) religion and to betray and screw your fellow man just to keep edging toward the top, while the rest of us are now in such bad situations that the literal majority of US bankruptcies are for excessive medical bills but yet the powerful know we’re so stupid we’ll vote against our own interests in refusing to do what every other first world nation on earth does — act ethically enough to provide at least basic health coverage to their citizens for free. Even the tiny Republic of North Macedonia, which didn’t even exist as recently as 1990, provides free healthcare to its citizens. Jesus allegedly talked about aiding and caring for the sick and the poor more than any other topic in the Gospels. Yet today’s power brokers, often white well off evangelical “Christians,” are adamantly opposed to anything their messiah ever said, especially when it comes to helping or aiding the sick and poor. They want the sick and poor to basically die as they annually try to kill off the few pathetic “entitlements” Americans have while instead they focus on two topics — abortion and homosexuality — to the point of violence and murder (WWJD), despite the fact that Jesus cared so very much about these two most important issues that he NEVER felt compelled to even ever mention them at all, while aiding the sick and poor are mentioned over 160 times. Obviously his priorities were out of place for current American so-called “Christians.” Or maybe since they’re representatives and witnesses of their god and their religion, this whole Jesus peace and love bullshit is just that — hypocritical bullshit. Because the vermin have come out of hiding, already despised for their judgmental persecution of everyone else in the world while always claiming to be the only victims in America (I grew up in a hardcore fundie home and heard that brainwashing crap every day). They no longer feel the need to hide the fact that not only have they not read their “holy” book, but they don’t give a shit about it anyway, or like the Jews and Muslims, they might actually consider following it, rather than attacking and in some cases killing anyone who won’t convert — just like the Taliban. Funny how life works sometimes.


A point in that last huge chunk on capitalism was merely to give an example of people buying into Utopian bullshit and just displaying the rampant hypocrisy of it all. One could go on to mention many of the naïve Utopian ideals of the 1960s and ‘70s — flower power, free love, the thousands of communes, protesting the war, etc. — but just to end this with one last thought, American students protested the Vietnam war by the hundreds of thousands, claiming it was an immoral war and shouting about standing together with their South Vietnamese brothers in solidarity, which had an idealistic, somewhat Utopian narrative. Until it didn’t. Once “our boys” came home (to be ignored, abandoned, abused, criticized, thrown to the wolves), our great “solidarity” kinda disappeared since the Americans were gone and it was just poor little yellow/brown men against other poor little yellow/brown men and I guess the protestors shifted showing their solidarity by disappearing, shutting up, moving on to other things like the fight for the rights of oppressed American minorities (valid) while South Vietnam got crushed and essentially disappeared two years later. Did the solidarity protesters even care? One of the implicit points of this last example is that those hypocritical protesters were Boomers who took For Granted the American Dream OWED them (there’s a great book on that and I think I reviewed it here) as they went on to switch from Ginsberg and free drugs and sex to ‘80s Reagan Republicans, with many joining the Moral Majority and many more buying into the decade of greed — these, the hippies who rejected a traditional oppressive capitalist society guilty of colonial imperialism and genocide, living off the land in communes, many replacing currency with barter. A decade later, they were rich Wall Street tycoons before breaking into politics to work on destroying the country from the inside out, year by year regardless of party.

This book’s author wants to talk about good, generous wages, 15-hour work weeks, a new dynamic, a type of Utopia. I applaud that. While trying to decide whether to laugh my ass off or roll my eyes as another potentially great idea will be left to crash and burn once again, if it even approaches getting off the ground to begin with. What was that term? Oh yeah, “pipe dream.”


3.5 for decent, enthusiastic book/comments. A 1 for naïveté due to apparent lack of study and analysis of (recent) history, among other crucial topics. Ultimately a 1 because despite being an intriguing fantasy, it’s unfortunately little more than that and there are far too many fantasies better than this one. Yes, I’m sadly that jaded. Not recommended.

View all my reviews

[All photos in this piece have been obtained via Google Images and credit is given when required and/or possible.]

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Finally! A Few (Brief) New Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 27, 2020

Those of you who have been with me for a long time may remember I used to constantly write book reviews, for years, and in some cases, some very thorough, comprehensive in depth ones that took a long time to write. Unfortunately, my health really plummeted a few years ago and has gotten progressively worse ever since. I’ve been blogging regularly since 2003, often on a daily basis, but typically several times a week over the whole time, and while I’ve written on many different topics, my book reviews have typically drawn the most viewers. So when I went a year without posting anything while trying to stay alive, once I returned in 2018 for sporadic visits back here — sadly — I discovered that I still had a good number of followers, and hadn’t lost virtually any — technically. What I did lose, though, was virtually my entire reader base. And even though it’s been two years, I’ve never recovered any reader base at all, which has left me conflicted because my health has gotten very worse with the prognosis not too great and I’ve closed nearly all of my social media accounts and have very limited time, strength, energy, etc., to interact with people, let alone write much of anything, let alone READ much of anything — at least not like I used to. Nonetheless, I’ve been enjoying trying to get some more reading in and I’ve been writing largely brief reviews for many of these books, most just junk, but some fairly decent. But I am starting to feel like why write or post anything on this blog at all if literally no one sees or reads it ever besides myself. I’ve known others in similar situations over the years and the usual stock response is to do it for yourself as a form of diary, if nothing else. And that’s how I’ve been treating it. But if my expected life span is not that long, why the hell would I want to waste my time writing or posting stuff here if no one literally sees or reads any of it??? It’s a waste of valuable time and energy that could be better spent in other ways. Thus, while I’m starting to seriously consider permanently stopping blogging after 17 years and deleting this, my last, blog, I’m still hoping to work on a couple of blog posts I’ve had planned for the past couple of weeks, but just haven’t been able to do so while I ponder things. So I thought Why not post a few little reviews from some recent ones I’ve put on Goodreads? Which might be a way to jump start me and inspire me to move on to the bigger projects I’ve had in mind. So, forgive the lack of quality my book reviews formerly had. I’ve been woefully out of practice for a long time. But for the one person who stumbles across this blog post and decides to glance at it, I hope you’ll see something remotely interesting at least. Thanks, and cheers!




Doc: A MemoirDoc: A Memoir by Dwight Gooden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, the book’s okay, but not actually what I was hoping for. I remember when this kid came up. What a hell of a rookie year he had (and his second year was basically as good if not more so). You want strike outs? Serious freaking heat! He went from a name to a recognized world sensation in a month! It wasn’t long after that, with Daryl Strawberry supplying the lumber and former Expo catcher, Gary Carter, smacking a few out while providing clubhouse leadership, that they beat the Red Sox to win their first World Series in 25 universes…? Seemed that way.

I’m not a Mets fan, but this kid — they were starting to call him “Doc” — was a once in a life-timer. And then he seemed to just start to fade away. Eventually disappear. 15 minutes.

I guess I wanted to really hear about his coming up to the majors and his incredible rookie year, and on to the Series, instead of opening the book to him passed out in a drug den doped up and too screwed up to make it to the stadium for the big game. It’s not that that’s not important or what Gooden clearly wanted to do with his book. And it’s his prerogative to do that, sure. But it’s my prerogative too, as a consumer, to not care too much because that scene has been written about a thousand times in a thousand sports and entertainer’s books, while few of them ever approached the level of success he had in his first two years. It’s not that his focus isn’t valid — it is. It’s just, been there, done that a million damn times with players not even worth 10% of him, and I just wanted to read about a rookie season for the ages. I’m actually kind of sick of all of these screwed up athletes ruining their careers and lives and then NOT writing about what made them interesting when they were able to play, but instead writing almost exclusively on how down the gutter they all fell and what it took for them to make it back. And again, I don’t want to invalidate that. I’ve got my own stories too. But when reading a memoir of an athlete of this stature, I really just don’t want another “Insert pages of last athlete’s memoir, replace author/athlete names with current one, change book jacket, sell.” They’re redundant after awhile, so you almost start to not care anymore because you become so desensitized to it. Which is sad. I only wanted to read something fun for once, something decent, exciting, celebrating an amazing accomplishment instead of just another book on an athlete destroying their careers and lives. Hell, I predicted this exact outcome, but as I write this, former Steeler All Pros Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell just finished their first season after “escaping” evil cheap little Pittsburgh and neither of them really understood that they WEREN’T the damn straw the stirred the drink — they were an overall part of the drink, every part of the drink is replaceable, and frankly, Brown’s bitching about Ben really ticked me off because without Ben throwing him the ball — and Ben had PLENTY of other high drafted, very talented people to throw to, many of whom went on to become 1,000 and/or Pro Bowl receivers, often with another team rather than staying with the Steelers for their entire career — like respectable Hines Ward did, Stallworth, etc. The point is, Brown owes practically all of his stats to the 6th best QB in NFL history and possible the best offensive line for any one decade in NFL history, with three annual All Pros, two other decade-long starters, 2-3 going to the Hall of Fame one day? They thought they could spit in Pittsburgh’s face for whatever greedy, elitist reasons and continue to duplicate their numbers nearly ANYWHERE else? They obviously don’t have good agents or advisers because I would have bet my house that neither would do crap and that they just nuked their careers and their once probably HOF destinies due to total idiocy. See, we see a few Doc’s every year. And it’s not that they’re story, especially if redemptive, isn’t good, valid or interesting. I just wanted a good view into that incredible year for once rather than the downside of fame and riches. A different take. On something that I actually care about because I’ve seen and been around enough misery throughout my life around this planet to think there’s too much special about the redemptive stories — a ton of people could write the same thing — but they are the only ones who can write about what it was that made them household names. Whatever, I guess it’s just me. It’s an okay book but I’m kind of over these types of celebrity autobiographies, so while I want to give this book two stars for ticking me off, that’s subjective and probably not fair to the author, so I’ll give it three, but know what you’re getting before you get it so you don’t make the same mistake I did…

View all my reviews

Being ThereBeing There by Jerzy Kosiński
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Postmodern brilliance. Stunning in what is says in what it doesn’t say. I actually prefer Kosinki’s The Painted Bird, which is a little more brutal, but I honestly think Being There is the author’s best truly “postmodern” work, translated well to the screen, and perfectly holds a mirror up to society. Will they even glance at it? I did. Kicked my ass. Couldn’t be more recommended, but for those you don’t like minimalist postmodern, you may find yourself bored, possibly not picking up on some subtleties, or simply unimpressed. Or you may actually walk away feeling more and more impressed the more you think about it. (In fact, I was so impressed with it that I wrote a short paper on it from a Reader Response position and it was published in a peer-reviewed, MLA-indexed journal: The Arkansas Review. It’s titled “The Dialectics of Getting There: Kosinski’s Being There and the Existential Anti-Hero.” It’s actually online somewhere, but I don’t know what the policy here for giving our URLs is, so if you’re interested at all, you cane either do a search or go to my blog listed on my profile (hankrules2011), with hyperlink, and find it listed among a few publications. Feel free to leave comments re your own observations, if you’ve read it. It’s definitely not a universally admired or appreciated text. Which makes it all the more delicious for me. 😉

View all my reviews

The Bomb: A New HistoryThe Bomb: A New History by Stephen M. Younger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A lot of people seem to like this book, and it’s not that it’s not good — it is. It provides a solid history of how it came to be and what has happened since with some good technical details thrown in. And for those not already familiar with such information, it’s a good primer. However, in terms of the author’s present worldview, recent worldview, future worldview, again, while I don’t necessarily disagree, it simply seems a bit dated and it’s hard to believe this was published merely a decade or so ago, because this feels most definitely like an immediate post-Cold War book to me, and one wonders where the author has been the past 20 years… It’s like he hasn’t kept up with the changes he didn’t anticipate, or couldn’t have in 1990, but which were already taking place before he even published this book. Which again begs the question — are his assessments of present geopolitical conditions, military strategies, hegemonies, etc., accurate not only at the time of publication but today? I think most would argue, NO, they weren’t and aren’t. I feel fairly confident I could, most certainly. Which then begs the question of if he was and is so off base in his understanding of the present dynamics and his predictions of future dynamics and geopolitical likelihoods, how do we know how much to trust from this book, and further, is this book of any current relevant value? As a historical primer, it’s fairly well done. As a “New History,” it fails miserably. There are many better books out there and thus this is most definitely NOT remotely recommended.

View all my reviews

DeliveranceDeliverance by James Dickey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

God, I can’t tell you how much I hate this book, nor how much disdain I have for Dickey. He represents, for me, everything that is wrong with both southern literary fiction and general “acceptable” and virtually ordained “literary fiction,” per the academic establishment officially set up to define what is “acceptable” and what is not “acceptable.” Gotta love these people claiming the title of judge and decider of such things so they can dictate not only to virtually all English professors what they can and can’t teach but to all students what is accepted and what is not. As well as to discriminate between those worthy of NEA grants, inclusion into the Academy of American Poets (yes, I was a member for years), etc. I recall asking a professor as an undergrad why we always had to study Dickey, Faulkner, Wharton, etc., but never Kerouac, Ginsberg, Rexroth, Bukowski, etc. The scorn was palpable as I received a lecture on true and acceptable literary work and its craft and value versus populist drivel writers. I recall thinking that very narrow minded, but as I continued in my academic studies, research, publishing, later teaching and even later deciding I hated the academic bullshit and got out of there, I’ve come to conclude the majority of these academic sheeple don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, are just trumpeting the party line, seem to think themselves worthy critics yet aren’t good enough to write and publish anything as good as, not only the authors they teach, but the extremely popular and successful writers they diss. Those who can’t write teach, yes? There’s a reason that saying came into being decades ago. And obviously it’s not that some English and writing professors don’t write or publish, but I’ve rarely met any who A) were successful at publishing more than a couple of small quickly forgotten useless pieces of academic, literary mainstream pathetic crap or B) who were successful at publishing more than a few books, and generally were well written, well crafted, but in the vein of much literary fiction/poetry, just flat out boring as crap. I recall when I was publishing prolifically one journal standing out especially as a stereotypical university journal that I hated so much, as did many of my friends and colleagues. The Southern Humanities Review, I believe, would often have issues that were full of little but poems with titles like “sunset at deer lake” or “robin at rest” or “sunrise at ‘x” mountain,” etc. It’s like, have none of you academic writers ever ventured outside your ivory towers or gone anywhere besides rural America? Do you love Walden that much? Because that’s not been my life nor the life of many I know and maybe that’s why I was always initially drawn to Sandberg’s Chicago poems and the grittiness of ACTUAL reality for so many people, followed by both reality and actual creativity and talent in Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind (the biggest selling book of poetry in US history), or Ginsberg’s infamous “Howl” and especially nearly any of Bukowski’s books. The fact that he was one of America’s most prolific poets, most successful and popular poets, and a continual best selling author in many other countries around the world, and that countless books have been written about him, movies made from his books and about him as well, etc., is irrelevant to those in charge of teaching, instructing and molding the minds and skills of students when in fact, virtually none of these people have the talent, skills, success and credits to even compete at all with Buk seems lost on them. Which should show you enough about their intelligence, knowledge and critical abilities. Crap, I really don’t know or care how good or not Deliverance is. It’s just always represented and been a symbol of all I view as wrong with the canon. It’s not that I think the topics they write about or some of the writers aren’t good or legit. I just take issue with these assholes simply casually dismissing non-rural, gritty populist fiction and poetry as illegitimate merely because so many of these deal with topics, issues, people, cities they dislike or don’t want to dirty their pristine hands with because I guess they’re too damn delicate to enter actual REAL life that so many millions in this country face every day, as opposed to their fairy tales spun and regurgitated as the only life experiences that contain validity. I’ve often wondered how these people would survive and what they would then write if they were placed in John Fante’s life, Bukowski’s life, Antler’s, my own for that matter… I would wager many of them simply couldn’t make it. Yeah, if you buy into the brainwashing, this book may be for you, and if you legitimately enjoy southern fiction or “legitimate” literary fiction, this book may be for you and more power to you. However, I’d implore any and all of you to not close your mind to others not in the “official” canon because if you haven’t stepped outside of the imposed boundaries, you might find yourself surprised by the creativity and talent out there. And you might not want to go back…

View all my reviews

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by Philip Larkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never really enjoyed or appreciated poetry — especially that of the “masters” they continually shoved down your throat year after year throughout your educational experience. I mean, is there any official academic ban of a little damn diversity in poets and poetry being taught??? I recall asking a couple of professors why we never read or studied certain prominent poets and got the reply that they weren’t worthy of it, weren’t good enough to take seriously, etc. So while I have far too much education and too many degrees, the fact is as always, tradition academics devoid of open minds and creativity continually decide the appropriate “canon,” simply by recycling the same shit every year. I grew to hate Dylan Thomas with a passion, felt like puking when reading Plath, took years for me to appreciate Yeats, etc. If they didn’t cram it down your throat every year, I don’t think I would have been a poetry-hating English major! Thankfully, one professor quietly pointed me to Larkin as a poet who might appeal to me, and he was right! While not every poem resonated with me, I found relief in Larkin and simply quality poetry that was generally overlooked or ignored in academia. Naturally, I read everything of his that I could. LOL! It wasn’t too long, though, before I stumbled across the two poets who would both shape my own life and my own writing: Ferlinghetti and Bukowski, both of whom I had the pleasure of later meeting and getting to know and I will always treasure the various autographed books and other things they each gave me, but I’ve often wondered if I would have even found them, let alone come to appreciate them so much, if it weren’t for Larkin in the first place. I continue to remain grateful to him and his poetry for helping me to turn away from my hatred of poetry by realizing that there were many legitimate alternatives from the same old dusty boring “masters” forever taught in the schools and who gives a damn what some Ivory Tower academic says about what is or is not acceptable quality — it’s purely subjective, and the fact is, both Ferlinghetti and Bukowski have been far more popular and successful than any other American poets, with the sole possible exception of Ginsberg. If you haven’t read Larkin, do so and I think you may find yourself surprised at what you read, ideally in a positive way. Obviously recommended.

View all my reviews

Last Exit to BrooklynLast Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is without doubt one of my favorite novels of the so-called Accepted literary canon. I also think it’s Selby’s best work. Loved it a bunch, but I’ve always gone that way, whether it was Sandburg and his grim Chicago streets or John Fante in downtown LA or Bukowski on skid row and most of William Burroughs’ early work, like Junky and Queer. Of course, there’s the so-called “shock” factor. I guess academics (and I was one for many years) are a bunch of wussies then, because if they think this one is rough, there’s much rougher out there and just for shock value alone, I invite anyone to read de Sade’s Juliette. I read it in college and it blew my mind. The cool thing about that one is besides the sickness and perversion, de Sade goes into a great deal of philosophical thought/dialogue that should make many of the Enlightenment crowd pretty impressed. So twice the bang for your buck! Seriously, if anyone thinks this is too shocking (and they do), they’ve been sticking too closely with Jane Austen (whom I like), and ought to get their intellectual feet wet beyond the kiddie pool. Strongly recommended!

View all my reviews

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Review of Brother Number One

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2016

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol PotBrother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot by David P. Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first “review” I read when I came across reviews for Brother Number One was one by “Annie,” which stated, “More objective, non-sensational and honest than than ‘Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare’.” Funny, having finished both books now, I couldn’t agree with that statement less. I’ll get to the Nightmare book in another review (I think it’s an excellent book), but Brother Number One is for this one. It’s an interesting book. Since this is the “political biography of Pol Pot,” a mysterious man who I have wanted to know something of for quite some time, I thought this book would help me. And in a way, it did. But only in a way. For this book was published in 1992, five years before Pol’s death in 1997. It’s therefore an incomplete work. Moreover, and more importantly by far, the author claims that the subject is so very mysterious and so little is known about him and he has hidden himself in shrouds of mystery, at times for many years at a time, that it’s impossible to know anything of his whereabouts for years at a time. So that gives the author free reign to speculate as much as he wants, and boy, does he do that. First, he includes everything he possibly can about Pol’s, or Saloth Sar – as he was known most of his life – upbringing, including his childhood in a country village, to his upbringing with a brother and other relatives in the king’s palace, essentially, to his French education, first in Cambodia, then later as an elite student, in Paris where he became a communist, most likely around 1951. We learn of his return to Cambodia in the mid-50s, his rise in the Indochinese Communist Party, his helping to form the Cambodian Communist Party in 1960, his dealings with the Vietnamese, whom he needed yet always resented, his dealings with the Chinese, his resentment toward the French, toward the Cambodian monarchy, toward the US, his paranoia, his marriage, etc. But whole years are eliminated in this book. His whereabouts are claimed to be unknown. But that doesn’t stop the author, who begins numerous sentences with things such as, “It would be interesting to suppose,” or “One might assume,” or “It might be possible to guess,” etc, et al. If I had a dollar for every time the author speculates about Pol’s thoughts, feelings, or motives, I would be a wealthy man. Because that is all the author can do. He can only guess. There is very little recorded documentation at all, anywhere. The Vietnamese have some. The Chinese have some. Pol conducted some interviews in the late 1970s. Other than that, little accounts for the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s.

The author relies on numerous interviews for this book, but I’m assuming, as he often does, as Pol was still alive while the book was being written, that so many interviewees were aware of that fact and were scared to death of him, that few of them were willing to share many details of him or say many negative things about him. For instance, many of his secondary and college classmates were interviewed. He was known as a mediocre student, at best, but seemed to be liked by most. He had a pleasant smile, a decent laugh, and people differ on his effect on people and groups. Some say he had no influence on the Parisian communist groups, while others say he played a leading role. As a teacher in the 1950s, even though he never came close to completing his degree, he was known as a wise and good teacher, patient, well spoken, thoughtful, etc. The image doesn’t jibe with the genocidal maniac of the 1970s.

In fact, it’s hard to reconcile any image of him, pre-1970 or so, until 1975 really, when he started coming out of the woodworks and into the public eye. When he became public circa 1976, it was a shocker. No one knew who he was. He was alleged to have been a rubber plantation worked named “Pol Pot,” but when former colleagues saw him on TV making speeches, they knew at once he was Saloth Sar, the former teacher, childhood friend of the king and themselves, and they were shocked. How could this kind, good man be their new revolutionary prime minister, responsible for the deaths of a half a million people in the civil war which had just ended in 1975, and unbeknownst to anyone, about to become responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people in a probable genocide of epic proportions over the next three years? That’s over one fifth of the country’s population. Yes, Mao and Stalin killed many more people, but there were many, many more people to kill from. They didn’t kill one fifth of their country’s population. So, this was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

And the sweeping changes. Doing away with money. I mean, what the hell??? Emptying the cities? Seriously? Driving everyone out into the countryside, no matter where you were from or where your relatives were. Who cared if you lived or died? No one. Least of all the 12 and 13-year old Khmer Rouge soldiers. Illiterate peasant boys who couldn’t even read passports that were expected to be presented at all times. It was insane. Doing away with virtually all exports except for rice, and then if/when the rice crop fell through, what the hell happens to your country then? And the “base” people versus the “new” people. If you weren’t fighting with the revolutionaries when they “liberated” Cambodia in 1975, you were a “new” person, meaning you weren’t one of them, meaning you were an enemy combatant. Even if you were a peasant refugee who had merely fled to the city to escape the countryside fighting and had no irons in the fire one way or the other. You were the enemy.

S-21. It was the torture/interrogation center. Every communist regime has one, right? Hell, every regime of any sort has one. We have Guantanamo. The French had theirs too. S-21 was a former school. Over 20,000 people were processed through there in the three plus years it existed. Unless my facts have gotten jumbled up, and they may have, only about a half dozen people survived. All were tortured extensively, confessions of up to thousands of pages extracted, and all were killed, most brutally. The confessions typically said the person was a CIA agent, a KGB agent, and a Vietnamese agent. That the likelihood of one Cambodian person being all three, let alone any of these, was absurd as hell appeared to not have sunk in to Pol Pot and his colleagues. It made perfect sense to them that the Russians, their Vietnamese protégés, and the US, whom the Khmer Rouge believed they had defeated militarily in 1975 and who they thought had it out for them and was willing to work with its adversaries, would all be working together. Insanity sees reason everywhere.

This book is only 250 pages long, less than half as long as Nightmare is. It’s not nearly as detailed or in depth. It’s not nearly as well researched nor as well written. It relies far too extensively on speculation; at least 70% of the book is nothing but speculation. But as an introduction to Pol Pot, it’s an interesting book. I would suggest that, if it’s read, it’s read with this information in mind and then one would immediately read something more recent, ideally written after Pol’s death, such as Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, which as I said, I think is an excellent book and which I hope to review soon. It relies on speculation almost not at all. One of the things that struck me most about Pol, the man, was that in one of these books, and I can’t remember which, sorry, he was asked if he knew how many people his administration was responsible for killing after he had been deposed. His answer was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand and that was because he had been kept out of the loop, or it would have been fewer than that. Stunning, really. Interesting to know if he really believed that or not. Somehow I doubt it. But there does seem to be evidence that he was actually kept out of the loop on a lot of the executions and that many of the “zones” were self sufficient and didn’t really report much back to headquarters and communications were so bad that it could take weeks or more to communicate by messenger, so by that time, things would have happened with or without permission. So things happened. How much was due to Pol? I guess we’ll never know. Of course, since Pol set the tone, ultimately it was all his responsibility. Everything and everyone was ultimately under his control. Anyone who displeased him was purged. He had complete control. Virtually all of his old communist colleagues from Paris and the old days in early communist Cambodia were purged to ensure his power. So, if he thought anyone were abusing their authority by acting genocidal without his permission, he could have done something about it. And he didn’t. So, obviously, the buck stopped with him.

So, I could go on and on, obviously. But I won’t. I’ve got to save some stuff to say for my next Pol Pot book. I learned a lot about a bizarre, incredibly secretive, insane man, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It was surreal to read about, because this occurred during my lifetime and I remember a great deal of this, although of course not personally, obviously. The book itself is interesting, but for reasons already mentioned, not very good. Even though the author probably tried hard, he didn’t try hard enough. It’s probably a two star book at best, but I believe I’m going to give it three stars for effort because it’s one of the early Pol Pot books and it did make an impact of Pol Pot research, so that’s worth something. Still, it can’t be relied upon on its own. It’s not that trustworthy. It’s got to be supplemented by something more current in its research, so keep that in mind. I’m really not sure that I can recommend it. I can suggest reading it if interested in the subject matter, but only if you intend to read more than one source on the subject. If you intend to read only one book on Pol Pot, don’t let this be that source. It’s not reliable enough.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 21, 2016

The Life and Times of Grigorii RasputinThe Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin by Alex De Jonge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Grigorii Rasputin was a real enigma. Was he a true holy man? Was he a mere charlatan? Was he the “mad monk?” Was he a con man? Did he indeed have supernatural powers? Was he merely a sex fiend who used his position to take advantage of women throughout imperial Russia?

This biography attempts to answer these questions and more. Unfortunately, it bogs down somewhere in the middle and gets repetitive and somewhat dull, so it’s relatively hard to slog all the way through, honestly, but it’s an honest look at an infamous character from history who I always wanted to learn about, so that’s a good thing.

Rasputin was born a poor peasant in Siberia, where he always gravitated back to, and gravitated toward the spiritual, like so many of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russians. Some were Orthodox. Many were sects that had split off and were frankly doing their own thing, some quite odd. Many seemed quite insane. Most had ardent disciples as that period of Russia had a great deal of people undergoing spiritual searches and there were many people going on pilgrimages throughout the country and there were many monasteries where people would stop for spiritual retreats. Rasputin, though married with children, engaged in this behavior, and went on years-long pilgrimages, traveling throughout the country, as well as to the Holy Land, and he came to be viewed as a holy man who prayed frequently and who had supernatural powers, including the power of healing and the power of prescience. The author does not make too many attempts to confirm or deny these powers, but does acknowledge that apparently there were many witnesses to confirm his abilities in these areas, so it’s difficult to deny them.

Rasputin made his way to the capital with the help of influential friends he made over time, people who became benefactors and disciples, most of whom were women. He had power over women which was to manifest itself through his entire life. He had powerful, hypnotic eyes with which he could force people – women – to do whatever he wanted them to do, typically engage in sexual acts with him. He was a sex maniac. He would have parties at his place, dinner parties, although he didn’t eat meat, or wine parties, and would take women back to his bedroom one at a time and have sex with them although everyone could hear him/them and everyone would talk about what a great man he was, about how spiritual he was, about what a great healer he was, about how wise he was, about how he should be sainted by the church (???), all the while, while he was persuading women both single and married to have sex of all types with him whether they wanted to or not, and if they did not, he would often simply rape them. Sometimes he would tell them they had to sin in order to be forgiven by God. He could excuse everything using God; he was mentally quick.

He somehow came to the attention of the tsar and tsarina through very complicated and complex ways and met them finally, he a simple peasant “holy man” who refused to change his ways for anyone, royal or not. He ate with his fingers, for God’s sake, and felt his beard eliminated the need for a napkin. He spoke with the Romanavs and they came away impressed. They had several children, the youngest one, a small boy, was quite ill with a disease that made his leg bleed to the point where it could kill him if not treated quickly and even then, it only stopped the bleeding, it didn’t cure it. The tsarina was beside herself.

She had heard of Rasputin’s alleged healing powers and asked him about it. Her son was suffering. Rasputin laid his hand on the boy, prayed, told her the boy would be fine, and he got better overnight. That did it. Rasputin was part of the inner circle. And that automatically pissed off the aristocrats of the city and country.

The royal family started having Rasputin over on a semi-regular basis, when he wasn’t traveling back to Siberia, and the chief of the secret police put a dossier together of his dalliances and presented it to Tsar Nicholas, only to be rebuffed. The tsar wasn’t thrilled with Rasputin’s behavior, but he wasn’t about to risk his wife’s wrath by doing anything with her favorite person and his son’s savior, so he buried the information and did nothing. This happened several times. Meanwhile, Rasputin both continued to gain disciples as his fame grew, especially as he came to be known as the peasant who had made it in court, and his original religious backers started to back away from him, horrified of his sins of the flesh, which he barely hid, if at all.

Something else happened a little later that cemented his position even more. The tsar and his family traveled to Germany while Rasputin was in Siberia. Their son became seriously ill and they attempted to travel back to Russia for medical aid, but couldn’t make it home. They were forced to stop prematurely and it appeared their son would die. He was given last rites and out of desperation, the tsarina called Rasputin in Siberia and pleaded with him to heal her son. He asked for a couple of hours and said he’d call her back. He prayed diligently, by all accounts, called her back and told her that her son would be healed and live and hung up. Her son recovered, lived, was healed, they returned home, and from that point on, Rasputin could never again do any wrong in her eyes, nor even in the eyes of the tsar, no matter how much “evidence” of wrong doing was laid in front of his eyes by jealous competitors, security personnel, and religious personalities.

All of this is interesting to a certain degree, but at the same time, there’s a certain degree of redundancy in the book leading up to this point. The author goes on and on about the women, the parties, the travels, the sects, Siberia, the Russian political system, etc. Frankly, it got a little boring. I made it to page 214 out of 341 pages before deciding I had gotten a good enough picture of Rasputin. After all, he never was given an actual title. He had by this time gotten nearly as much power as he would ever have. I know he would be assassinated and by whom. What would the final 125 pages have to say that would keep me riveted? I had had a hard enough time getting to page 214, reading five other books, some longer, while reading these 200+ pages, simply due to boredom. Maybe if another author had tackled the subject, it would have been more interesting, I don’t know. Or perhaps Rasputin isn’t, after all, all that interesting of a historical personage. I don’t know. I’m a little disappointed. I’m not sure what to think. He was interesting, certainly. But I feel like he was lucky, a pervert, a fraud, a possessor of potential minor supernatural powers that he made occasional use of, and in the end, someone who helped bring about the downfall of the empire through his excesses, which is really bizarre when you think about it. After how he started out, how could this happen?

This isn’t a bad book, nor is it necessarily poorly written. It just didn’t really connect with me and it’s not overly scintillating. Somewhat interesting subject matter. Another biography might be better, I don’t know. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book over another biography of the same person. Three stars max. Simply for the extensive research. Otherwise, it’s a two star book.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Review of Mussolini: A Biography

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 17, 2016

Mussolini: A BiographyMussolini: A Biography by Denis Mack Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read numerous books over the years on infamous people like Hitler, Himmler, Ho Chi Mihn, Mao, and more, but I’ve never learned anything about Mussolini and I’ve always wanted to because I’ve heard so much about him, but really no details. So I happened upon this book recently and was thrilled. Just finished it and was really impressed. It’s well researched and well written. Details Mussolini’s life in a chronological fashion from birth to death in fairly good detail and in really sheds light on his mind and thinking and fascism and Italy’s role in World War Two. Fascinating.

To put it bluntly, Mussolini was completely insane. He was quite possibly the most delusional person who ever lived. He had no concept of reality. He insulated himself entirely, hired only yes men dunces for major posts, fired and/or executed anyone who criticized or disagreed with him, shut down any presses that weren’t ardently pro-Mussolini, made it impossible to obtain foreign journalism in Italy, was a master at propaganda so that his people believed the world feared and respected him and his country like no other. He had total command of the military during the war, even though he had no training and was a journalist by trade. He destroyed the military by not listening to his generals, even firing them for disagreeing with him, by making serious decisions about battles, etc., and not telling anyone at all, thus destroying logistics, supply lines, none of which were prepared. He bragged of having a ten million man army when he didn’t even have one million and even then, he didn’t even have enough uniforms for them, nor enough weapons. He bragged about his extensive modern weapons and he apparently fought the war with weapons from World War One. He bragged about his heavy tank battalions, when he had no tanks whatsoever. The only “armor” he had were armored cars. It’s literally stunning. And it’s impossible to know if he actually believed his lies or if he was just trying to impress Hitler and bluff the rest of the world. Unreal. He bragged about having the biggest and best air force in Europe. He had perhaps 400 serviceable planes, most of which were shot down. He bragged about his grand navy, most of which was destroyed by the British. He bragged about invading the great military country of Ethiopia. He had such a hard time, he had to send 300,000 troops and even then had to bribe the Ethiopian leaders to surrender after months of fighting. After he joined Hitler in forming the Axis, and of course Mussolini thought Hitler was a dolt while Hitler thought Mussolini was a fraud, Mussolini didn’t want to fight, just wanted Germany to fight and wanted to come in at the end of the battles to get “booty.” Hitler pressured him to do … something, anything, so he decided to attack Greece, without telling his generals. He said the war would be over in days. Within days, his army had been pushed out of Greece back to Albania where they remained in retreat for six months getting their asses kicked by a much smaller force before Germany intervened. Hitler pressured Mussolini to take North Africa from the British, particularly Egypt and Malta. Italy had a chance to take Malta and passed it up. They already had control of Libya and were poised to march on Egypt, but Mussolini didn’t understand the need for motorized vehicles for his army in the desert, thought they could march hundreds of miles in the heat with minimal supplies. His generals and he kept putting it off, so Hitler sent Rommel and German troops who promptly attacked the British and drove them back, kicking their ass, infuriating Mussolini, who was supposed to be in charge of the North African campaign and wanted all the glory for himself. Rommel did whatever he wanted and Mussolini finally sent his troops forward. They accomplished nothing. Mussolini kept bragging about his ten million troops. Of course, Hitler knew he didn’t have them, but he asked Mussolini to send 25 divisions to Germany to help with the war effort there. Mussolini didn’t have 25 divisions, only 10, so he ignored the request and pretended he never got it. Which was his normal course of action. He was the most indecisive man who ever lived. He changed his mind some 50 times a day or more. He gave people conflicting orders. He told people what he wanted them to hear and what he thought they wanted to hear. One moment, he decided he wanted to help Germany fight Russia. Ten minutes later, he thought that was insane and wanted no part of it. This was every day of his life. Of course, he ended up helping fight Russia, sending 100,000 men. The Russians slaughtered them. For some reason, he especially hated the British and looked down on the Americans. As the British and Americans moved up Italy after invading the country, he told the world that Churchill and Roosevelt were going to be tried as war criminals when they shortly lost the war. His country was embroiled in civil war with half the Italians helping the Allies, numerous people looking for the Duce, a price on his head, his already having been deposed once, his power and army shrunk, Germany losing the war, Russia at Berlin’s door. He was insanely delusional, although no one will ever know if this kind of stuff was mere bravado or if he insanely believed this shit. I think he actually believed it because no one told him the truth about anything, just what he wanted to hear. Only “good” stuff. He had no clue. He was a narcissistic, insecure, psychopathic, sociopathic, moron of the tenth degree. When it became apparent he was about to be captured, he took off with his few remaining fascist friends to try to cross over into Switzerland in disguise, but his own border guards recognized him, captured him, executed him and his colleagues, and sent their bodies to the capital for display. He had gone from being possibly the most beloved Italian leader in some time 15 years earlier to the most hated Italian leader in centuries, if not of all time.

Mussolini was born in a small village and was a sociopathic, psycho from birth. In elementary school, he was sullen and hostile and as he grew older in school, he was kicked out of a number of schools, several times for stabbing fellow students, among other things. He was constantly getting gangs together and starting fights, was a major bully, although he himself was not physically imposing. He always believed in violence as the answer to everything. He grew up a socialist in a royally screwed up parliamentary country with no good political system whatsoever. However, he seemed to change his mind about his politics on a near daily basis, which was a pattern he would follow in virtually everything for the rest of his life. After school, he became a school teacher and taught in several countries, but was either fired and his contract was not renewed after his first year at each location because of child and parental complaints that he was too cruel and violent and frightening and he then turned to journalism, since he had been writing columns for socialist papers at the time anyway. He eventually rose to the position of editor and eventually became editor of the biggest socialist paper in the country. But his views were changing. He was moving to the right and thought things should be more authoritarian, thought the socialists were too close to communists, which apparently was a bad thing even though he admired Lenin. He developed the idea of fascism, a totalitarian political ideology that would ultimately center around centralized authoritarian control in the form of a dictator – him – based upon violence, getting rid of the socialists, the liberals, intellectuals, and many others in society he disagreed with, by any means necessary, preferably through violence, ideally lethal. He formed roaming gangs of fascist men who used castor oil to torture and kill their opponents, as well as more normal types of weapons, and numerous people were killed and injured. The fascists gained power and eventually, several were voted into parliament, including Mussolini himself. He cozied up to the corporations, got the capitalists and their money behind him, told Italy they needed to toughen up, they needed to obtain greater standing in the world, get theirs, if you will. He promised to bring Italy to the forefront and started making rumblings about attacking France and Britain, as well as Austria and Yugoslavia, among smaller countries. He wanted to mirror some of the other countries in their imperialist ambitions and increase Italy’s empire. Which he did by annexing a couple of tiny neighboring places. BFD. Somehow, someway, the fascists ultimately gained total power as he talked the Italian population into voting for them and into buying into his idea of Italy becoming this great world power, this great military power. This was in the 1920s, long before Hitler and Germany came along to steal his thunder. Finally, at some point in the early 1920s, he was named prime minister by the king and had complete power. But it wasn’t good enough. As he started modifying everything all of the papers and magazines could write and publish, as he started controlling all of the media that went into and out of Italy, as he started trying to build up Italy’s armed forces, he worked hard to decrease Parliament’s power, so that in a few years, he was literally named “Dictator” and Parliament no longer had power, nor did his ministers or generals or anyone else. The only person in the country who could make any decisions was Mussolini. Unreal. So, years later, when he went to Africa to review the military situation and got stuck there for several weeks, everything in Italy literally ground to a complete halt until his return. It was a disaster. He refused to listen to his ministers or generals. His wife and children remained at his country home while he lived in a small apartment in the city and kept a mistress nearby. He kept to himself, virtually completely isolated and refused to take advice from anyone for anything because he knew what was best in every situation. When he had to meet with Hitler, at first, he tried to dominate their meetings, but as time went by and it became apparent he was full of shit and Hitler knew it, Hitler dominated the meetings entirely and lectured him and Mussolini was too proud to bring a translator with him, so he quite often agreed to things he didn’t even understand, thus making himself out to be an even bigger dumbshit than before in Germany’s eyes.

I could go on and on. This book was very revealing, a real eye opener, very educational. I can’t believe what a total dunce and fraud Mussolini was, especially when you consider his fearsome reputation. Italy did nothing in World War Two. I already knew they were Axis failures, but I didn’t know they were THAT bad. I mean, Greece kicked their ass! Mussolini was an insane tyrant who took his beloved country and literally destroyed it in two decades, slaughtering millions of people needlessly just to satisfy his stupid ego. For that alone, he deserves to burn in hell for eternity, if such a place exists. The book is good, a little dry, but that’s to be expected in a historical biography from an Oxford academic. I enjoyed it immensely and thought it was quite good. Is it a five star book? I’m not sure it is. But it’s certainly a four star book, no problem. If you want to learn as much as possible about Mussolini, this is definitely the resource for you. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »