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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Review of Andy Russell: A Steeler Odyssey

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 17, 2015

Andy Russell: A Steeler OdysseyAndy Russell: A Steeler Odyssey by Andy Russell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This much wanted book was a HUGE disappointment! I feel really upset about it. I’ve been wanting to get this book for two years, but it’s been out of print. I saw I could get a used copy via Amazon and put in on my Wish List some time ago, but recently decided to just go ahead and buy it for myself. It was only a penny, plus shipping. I waited eagerly.

For those of you who don’t know, Andy Russell, two-time Super Bowl Champion and seven-time Pro Bowler, was one of the all time great Steeler linebackers. Maybe the first in a long line of great Steeler linebackers. Drafted in 1963 out of Missouri, he played his rookie year, served in the army for two years, came back and was able to rejoin the team, played on some terrible teams in the 1960s and then on some incredible 1970s teams before retiring midway through the decade. He was a ten time team captain. He was a great player, a great leader, and a great person. And it just so happens that as I moved to the Pittsburgh area as a very young child in 1971, I grew up loving the Steelers and I remember hearing about him, but I really don’t remember seeing him play that much. I don’t remember many of those great early ’70s teams. I guess I didn’t really start watching until the mid-70s. So I pretty much missed out on his career, even though I had heard so much about him. And therefore I’ve always wanted to learn something about him. Thus, when I found he had written a book (actually two books), I had to get it. And here it is and I just finished it.

Let me tell you what I was expecting. I was expecting to hear about his great college career at Missouri, his rookie year with the Steelers, the army years, trying to make the team again when he returned from the military, becoming a starter, playing on all those losing teams and then playing on all of those amazing winning teams and the differences between them, stuff about the players from both decades, the coaches, opposing players, maybe the fans, the city of Pittsburgh, the media, what it was like to be selected for playing in the Pro Bowl, and even year by year details on important games. That’s what I expected. That’s not what I got.

What I got was a chapter about him that touched on his college career, where he got a lot of interceptions for a very successful coach and team, where he was drafted low but made the team, went to Germany, came back and made the team again, negotiated his own contracts, terribly, suddenly fast forwarded to winning a Super Bowl and then retirement. That was pretty much his life. He kind of left a shitload of stuff out. I have no idea why.

The next chapter came as a shock. It was about a 1968 USO tour to Vietnam with four other NFL players where they arrived in Saigon on the eve of Tet and everything got blown to hell and they got shot at and they got flown around to bases surrounded by Viet Cong and had to run from helicopters into the bases, where they got mortared, where they were driven around by maniacs intent upon not being killed by VC snipers, etc. When he went, he was a conservative hawk. When he left, after seeing all the senseless carnage and deaths, he was a dove and thought maybe all of those disgusting long haired hippies were right after all. It was an interesting chapter. It would have made an excellent chapter in another book. But not this one.

The next chapter began a series of player profile chapters with his best friend, center Ray Mansfield. It was interesting and I enjoyed it, like I enjoyed all of the player profile chapters. Those were the best chapters in the book. The players profiled in the book included Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Rocky Bleier, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, and coach Chuck Noll. The best one may have been on Noll, whom he respected more than just about anyone else he ever met.

After the Mansfield chapter comes another USO chapter, from the same tour, this time in Thailand with a group of American pilots. One night. A whole chapter about one night. He gets really introspective and thinks that instead of these men worshiping him and his NFL colleagues, they should be bowing down to the pilots and their colleagues, who are giving their lives daily. An interesting chapter, again, but for another book.

And then begins the most disappointing aspect to the book. Aside from the few player profile chapters, each chapter is basically about Russell and his post-retirement business partner traveling to mostly Asian and third world countries looking for investment opportunities. They hit the Middle East, where they’re basically laughed out of town by the super rich Arabs, and they finally strike it rich in Germany at the end of the book, but each chapter is about trying to do business in Japan, Singapore, Calcutta, and so on and so on. Like I give a holy shit about that! Honestly, does anyone buying this book, virtually all of whom are undoubtedly Steeler fans, give a shit about Russell’s post-retirement investment business opportunities?

There’s NOTHING about the teams and players from the 1960s, almost nothing about the teams and players from the 1970s, a little bit — just a little — about the first Super Bowl, nothing about his second Super Bowl, nothing about the fans or media, nothing about the city of Pittsburgh, virtually nothing at all about the Pro Bowls, practically nothing about opposing players, virtually nothing at all about specific seasons or even big games in his career!!! I mean, WHAT THE HELL???!!! What kind of football biography is this? What the hell does he think he is writing? How dare he? Why does he think people are even buying this damn book? What an asshole.

The only thing that saves this book from getting a one star review are the last two chapters. The next to last chapter is simply a chapter detailing information about other players he played with who he didn’t profile, including Hall of Famers like Mike Webster and John Stallworth, as well as lesser known players like JT Thomas and Mike Wagner. It was interesting to read the synopsis on each of the players and that was the type of stuff I had been waiting for throughout the whole book. The last chapter was his outlook on “today’s,” game, bearing in mind that this book was published in 1998. First, Russell states that current players, with their larger size and faster speed, could undoubtedly beat the better teams of the old days. But then he goes on to say what I’ve been saying for years. Despite their talent, they’re basically glory seeking, asshole fuckups. He doesn’t use those exact words, of course, but he bemoans the players who have to celebrate like idiots every time they make a damn tackle, saying — like me — isn’t that their job? Why are they celebrating for doing what they’re paid to do? Maybe if it was a big touchdown or something, okay, but just a simply tackle or a simple first down run? Seriously? Idiots. And they don’t know how to tackle anymore. They’ve lost their technique. They go for the big time tackle and simply miss half the time, and my wife knows I’m always screaming at players on TV to “wrap up.” For the life of me, I don’t understand why players don’t realize that the easiest way to make a sure tackle is to wrap up, but instead, these dolts, going for the big shots, lead with their heads or even their shoulders and the runners or receivers evade them or bounce off of them and keep going … because the stupid defender didn’t WRAP UP! It’s called tackling technique. And today’s players don’t have it. Russell also gets annoyed with the attention seeking players who get “injured,” lying on the field for five minutes, having to be helped or carried to the sideline, only to be back in the game three plays later. Frauds. He states that Mean Joe or Lambert would have never put up with that shit. When he was a rookie, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Earnie Stautner got a fractured hand where his the bone was sticking out through the skin of his hand and he just went to the sideline, after making two more tackles, wrapped some tape around the fracture, and went back in and played. A real man. It’s different now. Russell admits that every generation says the previous generation was better and he sounds like an old fogie, but that’s just the way he feels and I can’t help but agree with virtually everything he writes in this chapter. I despise most of today’s players and I hate the way they go nutso when they make a play or taunt their opponent after a play, etc. It’s pathetic. It’s not football. The 1970s Steelers played football. And so did Andy Russell. It’s just a shame he didn’t write about it in his book. One more thing. The publisher sucks. This is the worst excuse for a professionally edited and published book I’ve ever seen. There are so many grammatical mistakes and typos, it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe they apparently decided not to hire an editor. One example from a late chapter. Something should have “seemed” apparent, but in the book, it “seamed” apparent. Stupid mistakes like that are all over this book. And the few photos in this book are a joke! All black and white, the photos and text accompanying them bleed over each other on back to back pages, so when you’re looking at a page of two photos, you’re actually seeing four from two pages, with four paragraphs sitting on top of each other. It’s beyond unprofessional. It’s an embarrassment. As a former editing and publishing professional, I’m appalled. I’ve deleted his other book from my Amazon Wish List. If you’re a Steeler fan, don’t waste your time and money on this book. It’ll be a major disappointment. Definitely, definitely not recommended.

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A Review of Patrick Roy: Winning. Nothing Else.

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 4, 2015

Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing ElsePatrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else by Michel Roy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some who consider Patrick Roy to be the best goaltender in the history of the NHL. I’m not one of them. But I do think he’s one of the best, and perhaps the best if you go by some statistics. For instance, Roy played in more games than any other goalie in history. He won more playoff games than any other goalie in history, not even close. He won four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies. All really good statistics. But he played from 1984 to 2003, 19 years. And while he was named to 11 All Star teams (why not 15, 16, or 17?), he was named First Team All Star only four times and Second Team All Star only twice. I think that’s pretty telling. And even though three Vezina Trophies for best goalie in the league is pretty impressive, are you telling me that the best goalie in HISTORY could only win three in NINETEEN years and he’s still the greatest ever? No, I don’t believe it. Even though this book sings his praises and, apparently, so do many other people, evidently not enough of his peers and NHL management thought highly enough of him to honor him while he played so that says a lot to me. And even though both Montreal and Colorado retired his jersey after he played for both teams and even though he made the Hall of Fame, I consider him to be merely one of the greatest goalies ever, although I hesitate to say who’s the best. Perhaps I would put him up with Billy Smith and Ken Dryden, among others. Grant Fuhr, to a far lesser degree. Some of the older goalies from previous eras, too, no doubt.

The main problem with this book is it’s written by his father, who is a Quebec government official, not a sports writer or journalist, and certainly not objective. And to make matters more irritating, the first part of the book seems more intent upon describing the author’s own life and career rather than Patrick’s boyhood and beginnings. It’s rather hubristic. Eventually, though, Michel Roy settles down and starts telling Patrick’s story and it’s startling grim to start out with. His entire minor league career is ugly. He plays on horrible junior hockey teams, just wretched. And one thing I never understood is, while he was apparently decent, the few times his father listed his junior numbers, they weren’t that good, which his father attributed to his teammates’ ineptitude rather than his son’s, and so I never understood why Patrick went on to become considered the top junior goalie in the league at some point. His numbers sure didn’t reflect that and he sure never led his teams to winning seasons. Weird. Usually winners hoist their teams on their backs and lead their teams to winning seasons. Not Roy.

Finally, he got invited to Montreal’s camp. He barely spoke English and had to play mostly in non-Quebec cities for the first time. It was difficult. He didn’t last and was sent back down, but the following year was back. His (real) rookie year in 1985-86 was good, but not great. But when Montreal made the playoffs, something happened and he caught fire and never stopped. He led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup win and was named MVP of the series, which was pretty awesome for a rookie. And so it began.

He had a series of difficulties with coaches in Montreal. During his first few seasons, for some reason, he was forced to share goaltending duties with another goalie, which was pretty humiliating, considering he was much better. There was a possible reason. In the juniors, he had hooked up with this young, new untraditional goalie coach who had helped him develop a new “butterfly” technique of goaltending, which the NHL had rarely seen and detested. His style was frowned upon and he was actually punished by numerous coaches for using his own style no matter how effective it was. It wasn’t until he had established himself with a new coach in Montreal, and with this goalie coach, that his career took off and he started winning lots of games and he started getting career lows in goals against averages.

His second year was a down year, but then he came back and established himself. His general manager was always messing with the team though, trading good players to get new players, messing with the chemistry. It was tough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with that going on. Nonetheless, Roy won Vezina Trophies in 1989, 1990, and 1992. And he led Montreal to another Stanley Cup victory in 1993. However, the team and even some fans began to get somewhat disenchanted with Roy by then, for reasons I never entirely understood. He was making too much money and was standing up to a new asshole coach. Big deal. So they did the unthinkable and traded him to Colorado in 1995, their old Quebec Nordiques nemesis recently moved to the Rockies. Roy would have to start all over again.

By this time, Roy was married and had a couple of kids. One of my complaints about this book is his father mentions the fact that Patrick meets a pretty woman and starts seeing her. Later, surprise, they get married! Later, they apparently reproduce. The only time we actually see her at all is when they have a massive public fight on their front lawn in Colorado, which I thought was going to end their marriage, but which evidently did not. In fact, Michel Roy didn’t delve very much into Patrick’s inner being and psyche very much at all, other than to assert that he wanted to play and win more than anything and anyone else at all. Over and over again, he beats that into your head. It gets pretty repetitive.

Whatever the case, Roy adapts to Colorado pretty quickly. His coach is his old agent in Quebec. He leads the team to a Stanley Cup win his first season there and becomes a huge celebrity in that state, according to his father, bigger than any other athlete in the history of Denver or Colorado, including John Elway, which I personally find ridiculous and impossible to believe. Utterly impossible. Roy kept putting up good numbers and Colorado eventually traded for aging superstar Raymond Bourque, who would likely be a Hall of Famer but had never won a Stanley Cup. The team decided to dedicate themselves to winning one for him, for some reason, and Roy made it his obsession. And they did in Bourque’s last year, 2001, when Roy won his third Conn Smythe award for playoff MVP while winning his fourth Stanley Cup. He then retired in 2003. After his retirement, he got involved in coaching junior hockey in Quebec and is now the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, his old team.

This isn’t a bad book. At times, it’s fairly interesting. But I’ve read many better sports bios, as I’ve read a lot of them, and I’ve read better hockey bios. As I mentioned, I don’t think it helped that Patrick’s father wrote this. He really should have had an unrelated professional write this. It would have been more objective and written better with more and better information about the man himself, I’m guessing. Still, if you’re a fan of Roy, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a fan of Montreal or Colorado, you’ll probably like it. Even if you’re simply a hockey fan, it’s possible you’ll probably like it to some degree, like me. Otherwise, I’d probably avoid it. Cautiously recommended, but obviously only for hockey fans. No point in reading it otherwise.

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A Review of The Fugitive Game

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 5, 2015

The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin MitnickThe Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick by Jonathan Littman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I realized as I was reading this that I had read this before — 20 years ago when it was first published. I had forgotten that, but it came back to me as I read it again. And I really enjoyed reading it again, even though so much about technology and the Internet has changed since then. Littman wrote so that the information still seems relevant all this time later.

The book is, of course, about the world’s most famous hacker, Kevin Mitnick, and about the government’s insane obsession to catch him and bring him to their form of “justice” back in the mid-90s when he was a fugitive. Littman interviewed tons of people for this book and spent over 50 hours interviewing Mitnick himself, so I take Littman’s word over anyone else’s aside from Mitnick’s himself in his own autobiography of a couple of years ago (which was excellent), particularly those of John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura, the author/New York Times reporter and the NSA spook and super security expert/hacker who “helped” the FBI track and catch Mitnick.

The book details Mitnick’s unhappy childhood, his beginnings in ham radio and then computing and phone phreaking, his growth in social engineering and his troubles with the law as a teenager. It started early. And hacking became an obsession. However, Mitnick was an “old school” hacker. He didn’t do it for money or profit. He did it for the challenge and for information. He liked breaking into systems and finding out information and he liked breaking into phone systems. As a young adult, he was once again caught and sentenced to a fairly short term in prison, but he was put in solitary for eight months and it scarred him, permanently. He was allowed outside for one hour a day — with murderers. He wasn’t allowed access to computers, of course, or even to telephones, as the prosecutor had convinced the judge he could start World War Three by using the phone to launch our nuclear missiles, as insane as that sounds, and the judge bought it. When he got out of prison, he tried to get a legitimate job, but his probation officer would call these companies and tell them Mitnick couldn’t be allowed near money or anything secure, so he couldn’t get work. He grew even more bitter. He and his hacker best friend Lewis DePayne started doing some black stuff again.

Meanwhile, much to my initial confusion, Littman’s book actually pretty much starts off with the story of a different hacker, Eric Heinz, aka Agent Steal. Aka quite a few names actually. And one who is actually an FBI informant. And one who sets up Mitnick for a sting which the FBI will use to arrest Kevin again so they can put him away for a good, long time. Why? Don’t know. He had already done his time. He was doing no real harm. He was trying to live a decent life. So the FBI was trying to screw him over from day one. Nice. Great government watching over us. Mitnick and his buddy caught on, however, and started tapping the phones of the FBI agents watching them. Kevin was working for a detective agency at the time and found out its lines were tapped, as well as his father’s, so he knew what was going on. At some point, though, Heinz started screwing the FBI by doing some black hat hacking and when they went to arrest him, he went on the run, so their informant was a bust. Littman actually interviewed him over the phone a number of times.

Around this time, Kevin’s probation was about to run out. However, literally as that was about to happen, he screwed up and was almost arrested and he fled. All of a sudden, he was a fugitive on the run. And so it really began. Mitnick disappeared, although he apparently later went to Seattle because he narrowly escaped arrest there some time later. He and Littman got in touch through Lewis and the telephone calls began. Littman paints a fairly sympathetic picture of Mitnick, although not always. For instance, he wasn’t thrilled when he discovered that Kevin was reading his email on The Well, an ISP I used to use at the same time. When Littman told The Well’s tech support staff that a hacker had root access on their system, they said it was impossible, their system was impregnable, and they wouldn’t believe him. But Kevin had hacked their system and was not only reading email, but dumping huge files on their system, stolen source code he had hacked from corporations such as Motorola, Qualcomm, perhaps DEC, and ultimately over 21,000 credit card numbers he stole from Netcom, another ISP. Ultimately, the FBI would accuse him of stealing credit card numbers from computers all over the country, which wasn’t true, but they never accused him of actually USING any, as he never did, so he never gained anything monetarily from them. Furthermore, with all of his hacks of source code and programs, they claimed he stole $80,000,000 worth of stuff. But he never sold any of this source code, never profited from it in any way, never deleted the original source code from the companies he made COPIES from, never actually hurt them. So the FBI was clearly out to screw him. And when they ultimately got him, he was facing over 200 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the self described Kevin Mitnick “expert,” John Markoff, a New York Times reporter who had written a book on hackers a few years before, about a third of which featured Mitnick, was busy writing front page articles on Mitnick and the dangers he presented to the world. He wrote old allegations and myths that Mitnick had hacked into NORAD, inspiring the movie Wargames with Matthew Broderick, that he had hacked into numerous secure sites that endangered the safety of our country, that he was stealing phone companies’ software worth billions, etc. Markoff hadn’t even talked to Mitnick. Littman had. A lot. Markoff and Littman knew each other as journalists. They even had lunch together a few times. Littman never told him he was in contact with Mitnick, even as Markoff stated that he wanted to catch Mitnick himself. Littman was a little shocked by that.

So Kevin was on the run all over the country and kept calling Littman. Meanwhile, on Christmas day in 1995, I believe, Tsutomu Shimomura, a quietly well known NSA “spook” and super security expert had his personal computer broken into and everything in his computer stolen, which included a number of custom built “tools” which would enable someone to basically break the damn Internet and also cell phone code that would enable anyone to eavesdrop and trace calls without a warrant, among many other things. It made huge news and within hours, Markhoff reported it on the front page of the New York Times. At the same time, Mitnick called Littman, gleefully giving him a detailed account of how the hack attack took place, what happened, what was stolen, what happened to it, etc. Obviously, Littman was left to conclude that Mitnick did it, and everyone else concluded the same thing, based on Markoff’s article. Shimomura was mega-pissed and vowed to catch the person responsible as a matter of honor and immediately set about doing so. With Markoff at his side. Which was odd. What was an NSA spook and a journalist doing going about pursuing a federal fugitive with or without the FBI’s help? Were they deputized? No. Nonetheless, they flew to San Francisco, where the US Attorney and FBI agent in charge essentially put Shimomura in charge of things. He brought his own equipment with him and using it, as well as, perhaps, the equipment of the cell phone companies and the FBI, he was able to determine that Mitnick was in Raleigh NC, so he flew there immediately and joined a Sprint technician with scanning equipment. Where they were joined by an unidentified Markoff. And a couple of FBI agents. The Sprint guy and Shimomura located Mitnick’s apartment in 30 minutes. They then returned with Markoff holding the equipment for another look. A journalist playing the active role of law enforcement. Littman pulls no punches in how he views this. And when the FBI finds out about this, they lose it. Shimomura tries to throw his weight around, but they dump Markoff. Nonetheless, Shimomura still has enough weight to accompany the FBI to Mitnick’s apartment the next day to arrest him. As Mitnick is being handcuffed, he tells Shimomura that he respects his skills and Shimomura just stares at him.

But it doesn’t end there. Mitnick is eventually flown from North Carolina to California after being jailed there for far too long and after Markoff’s articles have made Shimomura a superstar. And surprise, surprise, Markoff and Shimomura sign a $750,000 book deal for a book on their tale of tracking down and capturing Mitnick. Then they sign a movie deal based on the book for a whole lot more money. It’s truly disgusting. Mitnick hires a good attorney, but the US Attorney hates this man and sets out to screw Kevin by indicting his buddy, Lewis. Mitnick’s attorney already represents him and can’t then represent Kevin too, so Kevin is left without a lawyer and the public defender says they have no one to take his case. He’s truly screwed and looking at 200 years in prison. But something happens. Magazines and newspapers start looking at and questioning Markoff and Shimomura’s roles in this event. It seems suspicious. For everything that happened in this case, Markhoff was prepared with a front page story within several hours, like he had written them ahead of when they actually occurred. Almost like Mitnick was entrapped by Shimomura on the Christmas day attack. And then there was the rumor circulating that an elite Israli hacker had actually been the one behind the attack on Shimomura’s computer and that, moreover, it wasn’t the first time his computer had been penetrated and that, moreover, a number of people had his files and programs. Kevin was just one of them. So was Kevin set up by the government and Markoff/Shimomura? They certainly appear to have used unauthorized wiretaps, illegal hacking actions, illegal hacking/phreaking tools and actions for which Shimomura had had to get immunity to display to Congress two years before, but which was still illegal, etc. There were a lot of irregularities with this case. And of the 24+ indictments, not too many made sense. There weren’t many that were absolute and provable. In fact, the only one that seemed solid was his probation violation. That’s it. He never actually broke anything. He never used anything. He never made any money. He never really did anything evil, unless you think tapping FBI agents’ lines who are tracking you is evil or reading the occasional illicit email. Really, this deserves 200 years?

The book ends before Mitnick is sentenced. The good thing is the book is old, so you can find out that Mitnick only had to serve five years in prison and is out and reformed and has his own security company now and seems to be doing well, so more power to him. Meanwhile, Shimomura lost his fame almost as soon as the media started questioning his actual role in things and Markoff’s legitimacy took a hit too. And they lost their movie deal. Boo hoo. Frankly, I think they were vindictive assholes, plotting to take down the world’s most famous hacker for no other reason than pure fame and profit on their part. I think they were mega-dicks. I’m pretty sure Markoff is still around. I don’t know what became of Shimomura. I assume he’s still at it, but if so, I hope he’s keeping a low profile and isn’t doing what he very obviously was doing then — illegal hacking and phreaking — for the feds. Fascinating book, even after all these years. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of The Boys of Winter

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 30, 2015

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey TeamThe Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was both an enjoyable book to read while being simultaneously frustrating as well. It was enjoyable because it gave the story of the miracle on ice, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team’s triumph over the big, bad USSR team which always won gold medals and which had just crushed the US 10-3 10 days before the game. You also get to read about the coaches and players and that’s cool. However, it’s frustrating because of the way the author chose to construct the book. I realize I’m in the minority here, as many reviewers have expressed admiration for this style, but it annoyed the hell out of me. He starts with the game. People are skating, the puck is being passed. Several minutes into it, a particular US player gets the puck and then you immediately are torn from the game and given a lengthy story on the player, beginning with his birth, his upbringing playing hockey, his pee wee days, his middle school days, his high school playing, his college playing and stats, his status on the Olympic team, who he married, how many kids he had, what career he had after the Olympics were over, and everything up to the present, which is 2005, when the book was published. These breaks last probably 10 pages or more and break up the continuity of the game endlessly. It happens all the time. It’s so damned annoying. Just as you’re about to get into a rush to the goal by the US, the author breaks away for one of these long profiles and you forget about the game. Or not. But by the time you return to the game, you’re so ticked, you no longer care. I have no idea why he chose to do it this way. If I had been writing it, I would have had profiles of all the players in one location, either in the front, the middle, or at the end, and then the game in its entirety.

So the Russians score first, of course. A lot of attention is given to goalie Jim Craig in this book, but deservedly so, because in my opinion, he single handedly won the game for the Americans. He stopped dozens of shots. He had an amazing night. We tied the game. They scored again. We tied it again. Then in the third period, another tie — 3-3. With 10 minutes left in the game, US captain Mike Eruzione, a household name back then, came down the ice and got one past Russia’s world class goalie to put the US up 4-3 and all the US had to do was hang on. And they did. Game over, America wins, stuns the world. And this was a semi-final. We still had to win the gold medal, which we did against Finland a couple of days later. Our coach, Herb Brooks, was a royal jerk to his guys, but he motivated them to win. The Soviets were stunned, but many drank congratulatory cocktails to the Americans later that night, which was classy of them.

It’s kind of funny how the day after I finished reading this book, I read how Jim Craig is putting all of his Olympic stuff up for auction for about $6 million. Weird how things work out. Brooks died in a car crash a few years ago. The team was at the funeral. It was good to catch up on guys whose names I had forgotten and to relive an event I watched on TV so long ago. It has a special memory for me. Aside from my criticism, this is a good book and the author is a good writer, so it’s recommended.

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A Review of The Innovators

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 9, 2015

The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating and entertaining history of the progression of the computer and related things, such as the Internet. I learned a lot and I’m glad I did.

Isaacson starts out with Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace. That’s right — in the age of the Romantics some 150 years ago or so! She’s generally credited with starting the computer revolution, as she envisioned a computing device based upon Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her writings on this “engine” show what appears to be the first algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine, and as a result, she’s often credited with being the world’s first computer programmer. Isn’t that fascinating?

The book tracks the progression of computing from the 19th century into the 20th and then into the 21st. Up comes Alan Turing, the ENIAC computer, which employed the first real programmers in history — all of them women! — the invention of the transistor and the microchip, Ethernet, and all of the wonderful inventions at Xerox PARC, where they invented the graphical user interface (GUI) for the computer screen, doing away with the command line prompt, the mouse, and networking, all of which was essentially stolen by Steve Jobs for the creation of the Mac. Of course, then Gates stole from him and Jobs was beside himself with the audacity. Ah, karma.

The book also introduces Gordon Moore, the originator of Moore’s Law, that states that technology will double in power and possibilities every 18 months. In addition, the author hits on Grace Hopper, Andy Groves, William Shockley, Gates, Jobs, Woz, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, Linus Trovalds, the inventor of LINUX, and the people who started Google. It’s an inspiring lineup of inventors and — key word here — collaborators. The author believes strongly that collaboration was the key to computing development and he might be right. He provides plenty of examples of people toiling away by themselves, only to be forgotten by history for missing the boat on what would have been a great product.

The reviews of this book are pretty good. However, I read one stunning one recently that said this was the worst history he’s ever read and that the biographies are mediocre. He even criticizes the author’s treatment of Ada as being insufficient. I thought he did her justice. I’ve never even seen her mentioned anywhere else before. He spends a lot of time on her here. This reviewer was on acid and I let him know what I thought of his lousy review. If you’re remotely interested in how PCs came to be, how the Internet was created and evolved, etc., et al, this is definitely a book for you to read. Recommended.

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A Review of The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973The Rise and Fall of an American Army: U.S. Ground Forces in Vietnam, 1963-1973 by Shelby L. Stanton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could have been an interesting book if the author hadn’t gotten so bogged down in minute details. It’s about the American military in Vietnam, circa 65-73, and it’s pretty comprehensive, at least through 1969. One of its faults, though, is that it spends an inordinate amount of time going over each year of the 1960s and then lumps all of the 1970s into one final chapter. It’s like the author gave up, just like the military did. Another fault I found was that the author made the US military out to be virtually unbeatable and told countless stories of us giving the VC and NVA beatdowns in the jungle, which didn’t actually happen all that often. He’s really gung ho about the US military and it’s just not authentic. He does go into detail on Tet ’68 and the US did win the battles of Tet, but we lost the war then and there — the war of public opinion — and from that moment on, we tried everything possible to extract ourselves from Vietnam and turn the war over to the South Vietnamese, who were worthless as fighters. Granted, I didn’t necessarily want to read an entire book of battlefield failures, but it should have been more balanced and it wasn’t. Another — major — bone I have to pick with the author is that he went on and on about the specific US, VC, and NVA units engaged in battle, to the point where it was simply mind numbing. Witness:

“Kontum was also struck early on January 30 and the 24th NVA Regiment, the 304th VC Battalion and the 406th Sapper Battalion crashed into the MACV compound, post office, airfield, and 24th ARVN Special Tactical Zone headquarters…. The initial assault was met by two Montagnard scout companies, which were rapidly brushed aside, and the 2d Battalion of the 42d ARVN Regiment, which fell back…. At noon the Americans rustled up the ground crews of the aerial 7th Squadron, 17th Calvary, fused them with the 1st Battalion of the 22d Infantry, and gave them tanks from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 69th Armor….”

Oh my freakin’ God!!! And on and on he drones. It’s a real snoozer. If the author had just said some soldiers and Marines were fighting the enemy, he could have shortened the book and made it a lot more readable. Only mega-history geeks will like this because it’s mind numbingly boring.

The author also kind of goes elitist on us. He attributes our loss to the draft, specifically to drafting poor men from racially diverse backgrounds, many of whom were allegedly on drugs. “By 1969 the US soldier in Vietnam usually represented the poorer and less educated segments of American society. He was often being led by middle-class officers and inexperienced sergeants, creating a wide gap between attitudes, abilities, and motivation.” Poor, inexperienced men on one year rotations just wanted to get home alive and stopped fighting, per the author. I really think Stanton thinks we could have beaten the NVA if we had kept fighting an offensive war without one year rotations. I don’t believe that, but I think he does.

I did enjoy reading about the various battles, but Stanton had this annoying habit of slimming them down to five sentence paragraphs, which obviously left a lot out, and then incredibly just jumping right into another conflict with no real transition visible. It’s bizarre!

I am giving this book three stars because I’m interested in the subject matter, but it’s a poorly written book that will bore the hell out of most people. As such, it really deserves a two star rating and I certainly can’t recommend it at all.

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A Review of The Presidents Club

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 11, 2013

The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive FraternityThe President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book wasn’t a page turner, but it did prove to be an interesting read. It’s about the relationships, bonds, and occasional bouts of bitterness between former presidents, current presidents, and future presidents, dating from Truman and Hoover up through Obama. I learned a lot of details about daily goings on and difficult decisions that have to be made, and it was interesting to read about the interrelationships between, say, Kennedy and Ike. I already knew quite a bit about Johnson and Nixon, so there wasn’t much new there for me, but it did reinforce some opinions I already held about these two men. It was interesting to read about how many of these men were reluctant to give up power and wanted to continue to “serve” long after their retirement. Even though the book is largely even handed, it does treat Jimmy Carter pretty harshly, making him out to be a near-traitor with his North Korea intervention and negotiations. At best, he was a loose cannon. I was also surprised to see what a great relationship Bush 1 had with Clinton, a man who kicked his ass in the election and whom Bush 2 never forgave for it. Additionally, it proved interesting to see what went on behind the scenes for so many of these presidents and the “club” of ex-presidents and how they called on each other for aid during tough times. The rationale for this was nobody but another president could know how difficult it is to be one, so you throw party affiliation aside as an ex and stand firm for your country behind the current president. Going back to what I wrote earlier about Nixon, I guess I did learn a lot about his early career that I hadn’t known. Oh, I also learned how much Nixon, Ford, and Carter hated Reagan. Hah! The political maneuverings are priceless and well worth the read. Like I said, you probably won’t stay up all night reading this book, but it’s a good book and I’m glad I read it.

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