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Prof. CJ "The Eclectic Professor" RSS Feed (North FL, USA)

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American Tabloid (Underworld USA)
American Tabloid (Underworld USA)
by James Ellroy
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.79
121 used & new from $0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Artful, hardboiled blend of fact, fiction, and theory, April 19, 2011
I've heard of James Ellroy and have enjoyed the films made from his books (such as LA CONFIDENTIAL and THE BLACK DAHLIA), but this was my first time reading one of his novels.

I was blown away and couldn't put the book down -- this was the first time in a long time that a novel has grabbed me like this. AMERICAN TABLOID covers the time period from November 1958 through November 1963 (ie, the five years
leading up to the assassination of JFK) from the viewpoints of three characters -- two FBI men and one former LA cop -- who are all involved in different ways with the FBI, CIA, the Mafia, and the Kennedys. While the three protagonists are fictional, most of the rest of the main characters in the book are not -- the Kennedys, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Guy Bannister, Jack Ruby and mobsters such as Sam Giancana, John Rosselli, Carlos Marcello, and Santo Trafficante, for example, were all real people.

The characters -- including the fictional protagonists -- are interesting, complex, and dynamic, and the narrative voice and the dialogue are fresh and punchy. Ellroy writes with a very unique, minimalist, hardboiled staccato style that I found very readable and entertaining. This is a brutal book in many ways, full of violence and immorality, and from that standpoint it probably gives us a more accurate view of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the powerful than do most history books, even though many of the specific events of the book are fictional.

If you're at all interested in the Kennedy assassination or the major events in American history from that era, and you're a fan of hardboiled crime, you'll love this book as much as I did. AMERICAN TABLOID is an intriguing combination of fact and fiction. I look forward to reading the next two books in this so-called 'Underworld USA Trilogy': Blood's A Rover and The Cold Six Thousand.

Update: I read the two sequels, and they were not as good as this book, particularly Blood's a Rover.

The Dark Age: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics
The Dark Age: Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics
by Dave Gibbons
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from $4.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting trip down memory lane, August 8, 2010
I grew up reading comics during the so-called "Dark Age," a period bookended by the mid-80s release of such important books as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN on the one end, and was essentially ended by the implosion of the early-Nineties speculative/collector bubble on the other. Because of that, this book really had a lot of nostalgaic appeal for me, and for the most part it delivered.

THE DARK AGE is a hodgepodge of topical essays, interviews, and lists (such as Dark Age Cliches, 10 Most Important books of the Dark Age, and 10 Most Ludicrous Books of the Dark Age) by writer Mark Voger. For the most part, I found it an enlightening and entertaining read. Voger's a good writer. My main complaint was that I wanted more -- more interviews, more details, more research, more perspectives. Maybe it's because of my training as a historian, but I just felt the book wasn't a complete narrative of the era. More like an overview.

Not that I neccessarily wanted Voger to have detailed every comic of any importance to the era. That would have been tedious and unreadable to all but the most die-hard comics fan (which I confess I am not, or at least haven't been since about 1994.) But the book was well under 200 pages, and had lots of illustrations -- which I'm not complaining about, obviously it's vital for a book on such a visual medium to be heavily illustrated. My point is that I would've liked more info packed in. Also, I wish Voger had tied things together a little more. Last, I thought he made an important omission in not covering the comic hero trading-card craze. In my experience as a youngster in the late-80s and early-90s, comic cards were absolutely huge at my school for a while. Even students who didn't read comics were into them. I thought they at least deserved a little coverage as an important part of the era that brought a lot of new people into comics.

That said, I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who can remember the days when comic heroes all seemed to be dark and violent, when comic artists were rock stars, when books constantly came in polybags, or with holographic (or metal foil) covers, when Image seemed to come out with a new super-team series every week, all of which kinda seemed the same and most of which didn't last beyond 2 or 3 issues, etc, etc,.....

American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies that the Government Tells Us
American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies that the Government Tells Us
by Jesse Ventura
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.45
178 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good conspiracy primer, May 11, 2010
AMERICAN CONSPIRACIES is a good, concise overview of a bunch of conspiracy theories in modern American history. Overall, 14 conspiracies are covered. They include, of course, several assassinations, from Abe Lincoln to the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. Ventura also raises questions about Jonestown, several of our elections, government drug dealing, September 11th, and even the recent Wall Street meltdown/bailout fiasco, among other things. In covering 14 conspiracies in about 200 pages, this book mostly raises questions rather than giving answers. It also contains an excellent list of 'further reading.'

Some important common themes emerge - CIA involvement is almost ubiquitous, for example, in most post-World War II conspiracies. Patterns are also clear in the case of assassinations - the standard story is always that a `lone nut' took out an important public figure, and then was either quickly killed or does not remember anything about what he did after the fact. And these `lone nuts' often have links to the CIA which, as Ventura reminds us repeatedly, has been proven to have been experimenting with various mind-control techniques for years (the most famous being, of course, MK-Ultra.)

On the downside, sometimes it seems that Ventura is stronger on the conspiracies than on the historical context. This can result in unbalanced analysis where, for example, Ventura strongly - and justifiably - questions the standard, official version of some important event, while simultaneously accepting the standard, official version of the historical figure or era in question. (For example, though he accurately exposes the coup conspiracy against FDR in the `30s, Ventura uncritically accepts the standard narrative that FDR was really working for the common man and that the New Deal was fixing the Depression. If you delve into the history of the `30s, though, you find out that both of these standard interpretations are, at the very least, questionable.)

In addition, the book could have been a little bit better written and edited.

That said, it's still worth reading, and I recommend it to anyone who's interested in getting at the truth of some of the major historical events in our country's history.

Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America
Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America
by Russ Baker
Edition: Hardcover
58 used & new from $4.50

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exposing the Bush branch of the Power Elite, March 31, 2010
In FAMILY OF SECRETS, Russ Baker has compiled an underground history of the Bush family focused primarily on Poppy (ie, George H.W.) and W. Much of it centers around Poppy Bush's longtime connections with the covert intelligence world, starting long before his brief stint as CIA head in the Ford Administration, and on W's rise, which is almost totally due to family connections, privilege, and deception. Baker connects Poppy Bush to such important events as the Kennedy Assassination and Watergate. This isn't speculation, either -- all of Baker's claims are well-documented.

In the case of W, we get a lot of damnging information, such as the mountain of evidence Baker presents that A) W got his spot in the Texas Air Guard entirely due to family connections despite being unqualified and B) W did in fact go AWOL, and never completed his required Guard service. (The evidence the Bush campaign produced to back up their claim that Bush did honorably complete his service is shown by Baker to be EXTREMELY questionable, despite the fact that it resulted in Dan Rather being fired and most of the media and the people accepting W's story.)

Along the way, we get lots of interesting information and connection to other American Power Elite families, such as the Harrimans and the Dulleses and many more. Personally, I would have liked to see more on the earlier Bushes, such as Samuel and Prescott, Poppy's grandfather and father, respectively, and their Power Elite/military-industrial complex connections, but since FAMILY OF SECRETS is already so large and extensive, covering those earlier generations would probably more appropriate for a seperate book.

Baker deserves a lot of credit for doing a lot of old-fashioned research, reporting, and muckraking. He also deserves credit for adopting a largely neutral, nonpartisan tone throughout the book. (His progressive partisanship comes through in a few spots, but for the most part he's remarkably even-handed in his delivery.) This book is exensively documented, well-written, and more than anything, eye-opening.

Education: Free & Compulsory
Education: Free & Compulsory
by Murray N. Rothbard
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.27
17 used & new from $5.27

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good sketch of why gov't schooling is bad, March 31, 2010
As far as I'm concerned, Murray Rothbard is one of the greatest unsung intellectuals of the twentieth century. He was also one of the most prolific, producing many works on economics, history, and philosophy. Always he took the side of liberty and opposed statism and coercion in all its forms.

So I was very happy to find a little book by him on education. Overall it was a very good, concise sketch of the ideology and history behind compulsory, government-run education in the West, with a bit about what's wrong with it on a philosophical level from the perspective of individualism. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer and even more comprehensive. It ends kind of abruptly with only a very brief overview of progressive education in the United States. I suppose in light of how prolific Rothbard was overall it's excusable that this work was so short -- still, I would have loved to read a 400-page book by Rothbard on this topic.

FYI, if you want to read a book that goes over some of the same ideas and history in much greater detail, check out The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling.

Hiking North Florida and the Panhandle: A Guide To 30 Great Walking And Hiking Adventures (Regional Hiking Series)
Hiking North Florida and the Panhandle: A Guide To 30 Great Walking And Hiking Adventures (Regional Hiking Series)
by M. Timothy O'Keefe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.19
35 used & new from $1.25

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chock full of helpful info, March 14, 2010
If you're interested in hiking in Florida, this book's for you.

I've lived in Florida all my life save a two-year stretch in grad school in another state, and I've camped and hiked in different parts of Florida quite a bit. So when I say that I learned a lot from this book that really says something.

The book is full of good information and pointers, and most importantly it goes through a huge number of different places to hike and gives detailed information on what's there, how long the hike is, what kind of access is available, if any special permits are required, and generally anything noteworthy about each place. As I read I jotted down a bunch of notes, so now have a long list of new places to hike all around North Florida.

The Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry
The Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry
by Massad F. Ayoob
Edition: Paperback
42 used & new from $2.30

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best All-Around Book on the Subject, March 13, 2010
I've read (and reviewed) several books on the topic of concealed carry of handguns over the past few years, and I can say without reservation that of those I have read, this is clearly the best all-around book on the topic.

A top law enforcement official, trainer, and gun writer for decades, Massad Ayoob is a top-notch expert on everything pertaining to the subject of carrying concealed hanguns for self-defense. He's also a well-above-average writer, too, unlike more than a few "gun writers" out there. He's able to get across a massive amount of information and keep it fun and entertaining to read at the same time. The book is very multifaceted, covering in detail everything from guns, ballistics, legal issues, hoslters, carry positions, and much more.

I can't recommend this book enough -- from neophyte to expert to all points in between, I think virtually everybody will learn things from this book.

An Honest President: The Life And Presidencies Of Grover Cleveland
An Honest President: The Life And Presidencies Of Grover Cleveland
by H. Paul Jeffers
Edition: Hardcover
45 used & new from $4.87

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, concise biography of an unsung Great President, February 21, 2010
Conventional historians generally tend to rate "Great Presidents" based on how much power they grab and exercise. They write from the unspoken assumption that the president's number-one job is being some sort of 'social engineer-in-chief.' Thus presidents who get us into wars, assert novel powers, issue a ton of executive orders, bully the other branches of government, add to the federal bureaucracy, take over various aspects of the economy, and generally stick their nose into all sorts of matters that are not their constitutional purview get the highest marks.

Presidents who exercise restraint, follow the Constitution, and keep us out of war are generally, regardless of how competent they may have been and how much they were appreciated by their constituents at the time, ranked at best as "good." This keeps presidents like Cleveland from getting a fair shake. H. Paul Jeffers' relatively brief biography (my edition was under 350 pages of text) somewhat revises the standard "good-but-not-great" view of Cleveland, though it doesn't go far enough or dig deep enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Perhaps because it was intended for a popular rather than scholarly audience, the book is lighter on primary source material and leans more heavily on previously written biographies than it ought to. Further, I would echo some of the other reviewers' sentiments that the recurring comparisons between Cleveland and Bill Clinton (almost solely based on the fact that Cleveland had a sex scandal come to light in the 1884 campaign) are a bit gratuitous and date the book, which was written in the late-1990s. It would have been okay to mention the parallel briefly in the epilogue or something, but Jeffers harped on it several times throughout the book.

The book is particularly light on Cleveland's second term, and doesn't delve enough into his foreign policy achievements -- such as standing up to a jingoistic Congress against going to war with Spain in his second term, a rarity for a president. Also, Mr. Jeffers could have used a bit of eocnomic analysis to illuminate some of the fiscal and monetary issues of the day. I still have yet to come across a Cleveland biography that I feel is definitive -- perhaps it has yet to be written.

Overall, though, despite its imperfections, the book is on balance more good than bad. On the plus side, the book is very readable and does a good job of explaining and substantiating Cleveland's virtues -- his honesty, work ethic, willingness to fight his own party, and dedication to following the Constitution come through pretty clearly. Cleveland was a man who literally agonized for days pondering an important piece of legislation. In such instances he was particularly concerned with constitutionality and cost, and he would unapologetically veto a bill -- regardless of its popularity -- if it was of questionable constitutionality and/or excessive cost.

Unlike almost all recent presidents, Cleveland believed one of his most important jobs was to be a good steward of the people's tax dollars. One can only wish in vain for such a brave and principled politician as Grover Cleveland in this day and age, when both wings of our one-party system are engaged in a perpetual contest to see which can run up debt faster.

In the final analysis, this is a good book about a GREAT president.

The Cellar
The Cellar
by Richard Laymon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
55 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, taught horror tale marrred by weak ending, February 13, 2010
This review is from: The Cellar (Mass Market Paperback)
Most of this book was pretty good -- a taught, fast-paced, well-written horror tale, if admittedly a bit heavy on the perversion. (Though that's par for the course for a lot of modern horror.)

As I was reading it, I was estimating a four- or five-star rating for it. However, the ending was so weak and abrupt it knocked it down to three in my estimation. With a stronger ending this could have been a top-notch horror novel.

The New Space Opera 2: All-new stories of science fiction adventure
The New Space Opera 2: All-new stories of science fiction adventure
by Gardner R. Dozois
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.15
102 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Adventure & Romance, Spaceships & Blasters!, January 18, 2010
This nouveau-retro anthology collects a bunch of top stories from top current authors in the scifi subgenre known as 'space opera' -- dramatic dramatic adventures in space in the tradition of pulps and Buck Rogers, though with modern sensibilities and sophistication. The overall quality of the stories in this volume is quite high, with the majority falling somewhere in between "good" and "excellent."

The stories use the subgenre's tropes -- space ships, blasters, beautiful alien women, etc. -- but mostly in fresh new ways. Some are serious, others quite funny and satirical. I found myself enjoying the latter stories the most -- such as "To Go Boldly" by Cory Doctorow, "Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rim" by Bill Willingham, and "Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz" by Mike Resnick.

These are the kind of stories that made most scifi fans into scifi fans in the first place.

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