KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI by David Grann

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(oil rigs in Osage County, OK)

From 1921 to 1926 a series of murders took place in Osage County, Oklahoma.  As the number of victims turned up more and more residents of the county became suspicious.  The history of these murders is recounted and analyzed in David Grann’s new book, KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI.  Though the book appears to be a work of non-fiction, in reality it reads like a serial murder mystery, as it leads the reader through the different layers of the crimes that were committed.

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Grann begins his narrative by introducing a number of important people, then goes on to describe the background history of the Osage tribe that was stripped of their land between the Arkansas and Missouri Rivers, and forced on to a reservation in Kansas.  When white squatters stole many of their plots in the 1870s the government moved them again, this time to Oklahoma.  By 1877 there were no buffalo remaining and government policy shifted from containment of Native-Americans to assimilation.  The forced acculturation made the Osage adapt the white man’s clothing, names, and way of life.  The government instituted an allotment plan that was designed to destroy the communal way of life to make Native-Americans farmers on given plots of land.  The Osage were the last to accept this system when they negotiated an increase in acreage per family.  They were wise to include in the 1906 treaty a caveat that stated “that the oil, gas, and other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.”  Lo and behold the land would contain the largest oil deposits in the United States, creating numerous “Red millionaires” as described by newspaper accounts  The problem was that in the early 1920s a series of murders of tribal residents began to occur.

Since the victims were “only Indians” the white power structure did not go full bore in their investigation of the developing “reign of terror.”  With a lack of forensics and other techniques the investigation really went nowhere prompting the tribe itself to fund further investigative work.  The number of people that were killed is open to question.  Grann puts the figure as around 24, but other historians believe it is significantly higher.  Many Native-American lived an ostentatious life style that only created further animosity against them.  The government instituted a “guardian system” to protect these incompetent individuals.  These guardians would become perpetrators of “theft, graft, and mercenary marriage” against the Osage.

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(Tom White and J. Edgar Hoover)

Grann’s story is a deep dive into who the victims were and why they were murdered.  Grann presents a series of important characters that are the key to events.  The Burkhardt family, including Ernest and Mollie emerge as extremely important when other family members are killed.  William Hale, who presents himself as a benefactor to the tribe, but in truth is rather duplicitous with his own agenda.  Tom White is appointed by J. Edgar Hoover, the newly appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the FBI) to take over the investigation when the killings continue.  Of course there is J. Edgar Hoover and numerous other characters from criminals, prosecutors, lawyers, snitches and on and on.

Grann’s approach is based on meticulous research as he has combed the available primary materials.  Interviews, investigative documents, and newspaper accounts are all employed.  What emerges are crimes that had infected the state and local government of Oklahoma, particularly Osage County.  Be it the courts, the governor’s office, or county officials there were layers of crimes being committed in the name of a cover-up for the goal of fleecing Native-Americans of their oil money.  Grann heavily focuses on Tom White, offering his background in law enforcement and his approach to solving the murders.  He must navigate the closed society that exists that seems to want to cover-up any evidence and when potential witnesses began to disappear the case goes cold.  White also must deal with Hoover who sees the case as a means of increasing the reputation of his new agency.  Hoover wanted things done in a certain way and have his agents follow his approach to “scientific law enforcement.”  Those who worked outside his parameters soon found themselves unemployed.

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(Mollie, Lizzie, and Anna Burkhardt)

The core of the book involves tracing numerous murders of the Osage.  A few would be solved, but many, perhaps a few hundred were not.  Grann will use the last section of the book to describe his own investigation into some of these murders.  He will interview descendants of the victims and the conclusion is very clear that an unknown number of the Osage community were killed over the oil wealth to the point where it is described as “the blood cries out from the ground,” or the Osage seeking justice a generation or two later.  Grann delivers what appears to be a detective novel just as he did in his previous book, THE LOST CITY OF Z and he has produced a wonderful work of non-fiction as a follow up.  As David Eggers points out in New York Times review of the book,  by interviewing contemporary Osage tribe members Grann presents “a far deeper” and sickening conspiracy against the tribe throughout its history.  As Eggers states, “history is a merciless judge.”*

 

  • Dave Eggers, “Solving a Reign of Terror against Native Americans,” New York Times, April 28, 2017.

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(a typical farm with an oil rig in Osage County, OK)

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THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A WORLD WAR I STORY OF TREACHERY, TRAGEDY, AND EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM by John U. Bacon

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(remnants of the north end of Halifax after the explosion)

John U. Bacon’s thoughtful and detailed approach in his new book THE GREAT HALIFAX EXPLOSION: A WORLD WAR I STORY OF TREACHERY, TRAGEDY, AND EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM results in one of the best “disaster” monographs in recent memory.  The author’s approach is based on empathy and what appears to be a personal commitment to write a clear, concise narrative that is meaningful as it covers all aspects of the catastrophe.  Bacon begins by laying out the crisis that came at 9:04 am on December 6, 1917, then retreats and provides a history of Halifax. Once you acquire a sense of the city and its geography, Bacon describes how two ships, the Mont Blanc, and the Imo seemed to come together to play a dangerous “game of chicken” in the Bedford Basin outside Halifax Harbor, a game that resulted in the deadliest man made explosion up until the bombing of Hiroshima.

The explosion must be seen in the context of World War I.  By the time of the collision the war had been ongoing for three years but it had reached a stalemate in the trenches.  Once Russia left the war, the Germans would turn their attention to the western front which created an increasing need for explosives to prevent any breakthrough.  The Mont Blanc was captained by Aime Joseph Marie Medec who had little time to familiarize himself with his vessel which would carry the largest cache of explosives ever loaded on to a ship – 62 tons of gun cotton, 246 tons of benzol, packed in 494 thin steel drums and stacked three and four barrels high, 250 tons of TNT, and 2366 tons of picric acid, a very unstable and poisonous chemical.  The cargo weighed almost 3000 tons, or 6 million pounds.  The plan was for the ship to be loaded in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn, NY and travel up the east coast to Halifax where it would meet a convey for the voyage across the Atlantic.  This plan was chosen to offset the threat of German U-boats as convoys of allied ships was deemed the safest way to reach Europe.

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(the Mont Blanc and the Imo after they collided)

Bacon presents an accurate portrayal of events leading up to the war in Europe and how the war was fought.  Further, he describes the importance of Halifax Harbor to the overall war effort and the contributions made by Canadian soldiers from Halifax who fought in overseas.  Bacon choses a number of Haligonians (Halifax residents) who volunteered for the military and fought in the trenches.  Through the eyes of Ernest Barrs who fought and was wounded in Belgium at the battles of Ypres the reader gets a true portrait of what life was like for soldiers.  Barrs story is an amazing one in that after surviving for two years he is severely wounded.  The day of the explosion found him rehabbing outside of Halifax and because of his own medical issues and familiarization with medical techniques he joined a Dr. Elliott to help administer to Haligonian survivors in December, 1917.  Bacon introduces the reader to other families whose stories are traced from before the explosion, what happened during the explosion, and after.  You become familiar with the Orr, Driscoll, and Pattison families who lived in the Richmond neighborhood in the North End of the city which would be almost destroyed on December 6th.  Bacon describes family life, occupations, schooling and the interests of the children to the point where one feels that they know them personally.

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The tragedy that took place was completely avoidable.  Bacon explores the leadership and strategies employed by the captains and harbor pilots for both ships and concludes it was the fault of Captain Haakon From of the Imo.  The most fascinating chapter is called “A Game of Chicken” where Bacon describes the path of both ships, the Mont Blanc heading north to meet a convoy in Halifax, and the Imo traveling south toward New York to load supplies for a return to Europe.  The Imo was supposed to stay on western side of the Narrows and the Mont Blanc on the east.  The Imo would move to the center and refused to accommodate the Mont Blanc which was following the correct navigational protocol.  The Imo finally decided, too late, to move to the side it was assigned as Capt. Medec moved to the east to avoid a collision, but it hit the Imo.  With the cargo on the Mont Blanc, devastation could only result.  Bacon provides a blow by blow account up until 8:46 am when the Mont Blanc’s cargo ruptured. The result was the total destruction of the north end of the city, the death of almost 2000 people, 9000 wounded, and the loss of almost half the homes in Halifax.

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Bacon takes the reader through the mobilization of resources, the bravery of first responders, and the generosity and selflessness of the survivors who tried to help the victims and each other.  At the outset many believed it was a German attack. However, soon reality would set in allowing Bacon to compare the experience of trench warfare and the catastrophe that befell Halifax.  The shock and emotions today would be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but at that time people did not know what they were dealing with.  The “instant refugees” wandered looking for parents, children, and other family members, for many to no avail.  Bacon returns to the families that he introduced earlier in the book and explains what they went through. Bacon goes on to describe the tsunami that resulted from the blast as well as the blizzard that arrived the next day in Halifax, furthering the suffering and hindering rescue and recovery attempts in a city that had 900 hospital beds remaining, with 9000 injured needing medical treatment.

A major theme of the narrative involves the historical relationship between Canada and the United States. For 141 years it seemed the United States worked to annex Canada provoking anger and fear on the part of our northern neighbors.  The Halifax explosion altered feelings between the two countries due to American support and generosity.  Many Haligonians were stunned by the massive relief effort that arrived from the United States, particularly the large number of doctors and nurses that resulted in setting up their own hospital to treat the victims.  A major result of this crisis was the cementing of Canadian-American relations, and an alliance that has stood the test of time up to the present.

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(the anatomy of the disaster)

Bacon’s account is extremely thorough based on letters, diaries, oral histories, and other archival material he consulted.  He describes how word of the disaster spread and how surrounding towns and communities provided doctors, nurses, soldiers, first responders, businessmen and others to assist as much as they could.  The people behaved in an amazing fashion, so much so that looting was not a problem.  Boston is singled out for their aid and assistance in a wonderful chapter describing the work of Massachusetts Governor Samuel W. McCall and Abraham C. Ratshesky (known as A.C.) who led Boston’s substantial relief effort.

The author follows the aftermath of the explosion taking the reader through the investigation and the long drawn out court proceeding over a period of years.  He concludes the narrative by bringing up to date information about the survivors and their families.  The book is a heart rendering account that is hard to put down, and highly recommended.

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(remnants of the Halifax pier #6)

COLLUSION: SECRET MEETINGS, DIRTY MONEY, AND HOW RUSSIA HELPED DONALD TRUMP WIN by Luke Harding

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(the Kremlin, Moscow)

Each day it seems as if the American people are exposed to the drip, drip of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the possible role played by the Trump campaign in collusion with the Putin government.  We hear about Christopher Steele’s “Dossier,” the link between Russian oligarchs and their ties to Putin, meetings with Trump officials, the role of Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager facing indictment, the flipping of a Trump foreign policy advisor to the Mueller investigation, and the latest, a deal between Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security advisor and the special prosecutor.  The latest twist seems to be conservative House Republicans calling for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the Special Prosecutor.  If names like Orbis, Fushion GPS, Gucifer 2.0, GRU, FSB, Sergey Kislyak, Carter Page, Robert Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and numerous other names boggle the mind then you might want to consult Luke Harding, a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, new book, COLLUSION: SECRET MEETINGS, DIRTY MONEY, AND HOW RUSSIA HELPED DONALD TRUMP WIN.

For those who are skeptical about Trump’s role in either obstruction of justice, or outright collusion with Russia they should consult Harding’s monograph.  In fact, as the confusion that surrounds the collusion becomes clearer and clearer one might say that Harding has done us all a service by preparing a handbook of all the characters, motivations, crimes, disingenuous behavior, outright lies/falsehoods, and other aspects associated with the topic.  Harding digs deep using his many sources based on a career that saw him posted to New Delhi, Berlin and as the former bureau chief in Moscow from 2007 to 2011, as well as his contacts in Britain’s MI6 and SIS, as well as the American intelligence community.  Further he has followed and written about the likes of Paul Manafort and his machinations in the Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych long before Trump announced his candidacy, and was also able to interview Christopher Steele.  What results is almost a legal brief that points to the guilt of the Trump campaign and the President in collaborating with Moscow, and doing all it could to deflect any investigation of what actually occurred.

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(Putin and Trump)

Harding begins by providing the background for the “Dossier,” authored by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele.  The famous “Dossier” grew out of Steele’s assignment to uncover the Kremlin’s innermost secrets as they applied to Donald Trump.  Steele’s investigation argues a number of points that anyone who has followed this story in any detail has heard numerous times before;  from Trump’s public call for Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, the Wikileaks leak of Clinton emails in June and October 2016, the hacking of Democratic and Republican National Committee computers, with only Democratic information leaked, Trump’s denigration of almost every politician domestic or worldwide, except for Putin who he constantly praises, the fact that Russian intelligence sources have been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years,” how Trump and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, claims that the FSB has compromised Trump through his past activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him, and a trail of money laundering and other acts that make one ask, what does Moscow have on Trump that he is afraid to criticize Putin, and constantly denies Russian involvement in the election, in addition to repeatedly interfering in the Mueller investigation?  All the answers to these questions are present in Harding’s narrative.

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(Christopher Steele)

The author takes the reader through the actions of Aras and Emin Agalarov, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and a host others along with a short biographical sketch of each.  We learn their role in the collusion through their interest and relationship with the Kremlin.  Harding explores Vladimir Putin’s motivations and goals as they relate to his hatred of Hillary Clinton, the desire to create chaos and doubt in the American electoral system, and most importantly gain a reduction or lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration due to Russian actions in the Crimea, Ukraine, and the 2016 election.  In Donald Trump, Putin found an American politician who could allow him to achieve these goals.  The question Harding raises is how do we establish the trail between the two men?  The answer he argues lies in following the money.

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(Carter Page)

The entire scenario would seem unbelievable if it hadn’t occurred.  Trump and his supporters can scream “fake news” all they want, but indictments are facts and Trump’s behavior throughout points to someone with something to hide.  Harding provides an in depth analysis of the Trump-Kremlin tie that dates back to 1987 when the KGB looked on the New York real estate developer as a meaningful target.  Harding traces Trump’s relationship with certain Kremlin linked officials, and oligarchs.  What emerges is a clear picture of how the Kremlin developed its relationship with Trump that would lead them to support his candidacy for president.  Harding explores the role of Donald Trump, Jr. and the infamous June, 2017 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, former KGB officer Rinat Akhmetshin, and others who offered the president’s son dirt on Hillary Clinton.  At first, as in most cases with Trump associates, Trump, Jr. denied the meeting, then said it was about something else, then finally gave in and admitted he met with Russians and was favorable to receiving foreign dirt on Clinton.

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Harding follows his own advice and follows the flow of money.  Offshore shell companies, multiple bank accounts, tax havens, payoffs, Russian oligarchs, laundering of funds, money disguised as salary or real estate deals, the role of Deutsche Bank, Trump’s New York creditor are all included in Harding’s expose.   Harding relies a great deal on Steele’s research and conclusions and believes that roughly 70-90% of what is in the “Dossier” is true, that being the case, it is clear as to why Trump wants to shut down the Mueller investigation.  In fact, Harding provides so many plots and sub plots that at times it is hard to keep up with the flow of information, evidence, and characters discussed.  For the Trump people it appears that almost every day they have to put out some sort of brush fire that relates to the Mueller investigation be it the testimony of Donald Trump, Jr., Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or the investigative work of Congressional committees.  One thing that is clear from Harding’s investigative work – the Trump Organization has been laundering Russian money for years, and without Russian money the Trump Organization’s many financial issues would have proven disastrous.

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(Michael Flynn addressing the Republican National Convention)

Harding also explores the relationship between former FBI Director James Comey, the role of the Justice Department, and Trump’s attempts to bring Comey on board in dropping the investigation of Michael Flynn.  The author takes the reader through the Comey firing and its role in obstruction of justice which the president even admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt.  Harding has gone a long way in disentangling the web of Trump’s financial empire, a structure that appears to rest on a great deal of Russian state funds.

One wonders why certain Republicans have cooperated with Trump’s campaign of fake news and obstruction.  Perhaps it is the current tax bill that they are trying to ram through Congress might want to achieve corporate tax cuts and follow the orders of their donors.  Be that as it may, if you are interested in learning what Trump is afraid of you to consult Harding’s latest book.

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(the Kremlin, Moscow)

THE CASTLE OF KINGS by Oliver Potzsch

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(The Trifels castle)

In a July 20, 2016 interview with the New York Times, author Oliver Potzsch remarked that in his latest book, THE CASTLE OF KINGS his goal was to write a “German Ken Follett” type novel.  The story is set in the Holy Roman Empire during the 16th century.  At the time Germany was made up of a large number of principalities whose princes owed fealty to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.  The period described in the novel is in the midst of the 1524-1525 Peasant Wars between the German princes and their peasants who revolted against the high rents they were charged to work the land.  The situation was also exacerbated by the continued religious struggle that was launched by Martin Luther that would lead to the Protestant Reformation.

The novel begins in the Palatinate, a small German principality that the Rhine River navigates.  Mathis a sixteen year old boy is returning from an errand delivering horseshoes for his father who is the blacksmith for the castle of Trifels.  On his route through the small town of Annweiler he passes a large gathering of people who are about to witness the hanging of three individuals, one of which is Mathis’ own age.  Due to the socio-economic catastrophe caused by the plight of the peasants, families were starving and the therefore resorted to poaching, a crime punishable by death.

The novel itself meanders with a Folletesque tinge.  We find a developing love story between Agnes, a falconer, and daughter of a knight who is the castellan of the Castle at Trifels, and Mathis, who is the son of a blacksmith.  As Agnes and Mathis are confronted by the mores and social norms of the time period one is reminded of the love story between Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald in Follett’s latest novel, PILLAR’S OF FIRE.

The novel presents two worlds that are on a collision course.  Agnes’ father Philipp Schluchteren von Efernstein represents the feudal code of knights and the courtesies that men offered each other even on the battlefield.  There are a number of scenes, both peaceful and violent whereby this plays out.  Efernstein’s beliefs are confronted by modernity, particularly when it came to the battlefield.  The development of gun powder and artillery is replacing courtly combat that relied on broad swords.  Efernstein has difficulty accepting this and the kinds of agreements one must make with other Dukes, Counts, and former knights in order to survive.  This generational gap is also seen in the relationship between Mathis and his blacksmith father, Hans Weilenbach who has casted swords and armor for decades and now must deal with a son who has become an explosive expert.

Potzsch has created a number of story lines which all seem to intersect.  Mathis’ development as an expert in the deployment of artillery and his relationship with Agnes who must deal with a stubborn father.  The presence of robber knights like Hans von Wertingen and their impact on the local economy and the lives of everyone, Dukes and peasants included.  Agnes’ obsession with her dreams which present a 13th century figure named Johannes of Brunswick  and his alleged conspiracy haunts her – what do they mean and what is his relationship to her contemporary world?  The relationship between Erfenstein and a young Count, Frederick von Lowenstein-Scharfeneck who enter into an alliance which has a major impact on all the major characters, the machinations pf Mayor Bernwart Gessler of Annweiler, the role of the Peasants Revolt and the rebels who live in the forest who organize to deal with the high burden of taxes and the demands not only by secular leaders, but the Catholic Church itself.  Lastly, and most importantly is Agnes’ quest to learn the history and significance behind a ring that belonged to Frederick Barbarossa that falls into her hands leading Agnes to a monastery where the secrets are hidden.

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Potzsch has woven an intricate and complex plot that makes excellent use of German history.  The conflict between Luther and the Church, the peasants and the princes, and princes against princes dominates.  What emerges is a series of flawed characters that Potzsch develops with remarkable detail.  Efenstein, Agnes, Mathis, and von Lowenstein-Scharfeneck have already been mentioned.  But individuals like Father Tristan, Agnes’ confessor and medical healer, Shepherd Jockel, a peasant leader, and Melchoir von Tanningen, a traveling minstral and swordsman, in addition to the brotherhood of 12 whose secrets can alter the course of European history contribute greatly to plot development.

Potzsch’s creativity creates many twists and turns as the murders and disingenuous behavior on the part of a number of characters continue to mount.  Potzsch describes beautiful landscapes, dark castles, Rhine River rapids, information about arquebuses, falconets, mercenaries, and a wonderful summary of the Hohenstaufen and Habsburg monarchies.  This is a big book, but an engrossing and enchanting one at times that is well worth the read.  Again, if you enjoy Ken Follett, you most certainly will enjoy Oliver Potzsch.

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(The Trifels Castle)

THE NIX by Nathan Hill

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(Police riot at 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago)

What does one look for in a first novel?  Perhaps an unusual beginning, then a scenario that immediately draws one in and makes you want to continue with great expectation as you are presented with a balance of sarcasm, humor, and seriousness.  These criteria are met in Nathan Hill’s thoughtful new novel THE NIX, which opens with an innovative approach by a woman who leaves her husband and son, followed by a scathing introduction to a Roy Moore type character, a former governor of Wyoming, whose evangelical conservative credentials are impeccable, one Sheldon Packer.  Packer seems to have been attacked in Grant Park in Chicago provoking a satirical YOU TUBE presentation as it shows a CNN type of approach to reporting about “Terror in Chicago.”

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(Poet, Allen Ginsberg)

This is the tip of the iceberg for Hill as he develops a series of fascinating characters ranging from Hill’s main protagonists, Professor of Literature Samuel Andersen-Anderson who is abandoned by his mother Faye Andersen-Anderson at the age of eleven.  It seems that Faye is the one who attacked former Governor Packer with a handful of gravel and is painted as a 1968 hippie type of radical who was being charged as a terrorist under the aegis of the post 9/11 Patriot Act.  Other characters include, Faye’s father, Frank, an intolerant factory worker, Bethany and Bishop Fall, twins, one of which is a violin progeny, and a brother who is abused by his school headmaster and winds up fighting in Iraq.  Laura Pottsdam represents America’s quintessential college student enrolled in Samuel’s literature class, but has difficulty carrying out the most basic assignment without cheating, but once caught she sees her duty to destroy her literature professor’s career.  Mrs. Schwingke is a Home Economics teacher that offers an interesting perspective on the role of women, particularly in light of the recent sex scandals that have emerged nationwide.  Pwange, divorced and lonely, and one of Samuel’s gaming partners.  Charles Brown, an undercover cop during the Chicago riots that witnessed the Democratic National Convention in 1968 who later becomes an embittered judge confined to a wheel chair.  Alice, a woman who settled along the banks of Lake Michigan who was close with Faye during the summer of 1968, and of course the poet Allen Ginsburg of 0mmmm fame.  Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks, and the famous journalist, Walter Cronkite make their appearances as do many others.

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(Chicago Mayor Richard Daley)

At times THE NIX reads like a John Irving novel with its irreverent approach to society, power, and politics.  Samuel Andersen-Anderson is very unhappy in his position at a university outside of Chicago.  It is here that Hill offers the first of a number of insightful views on America – academic life, administration of, and student participation in university life.  What we witness is the paper chase for tenure, administrators who bend to the will of students, who are not overly interested in education, but more of a free ride through the stepping stone to a successful career.  For Samuel, who had the potential of being a major literary figure earlier in his career, finds himself facing economic ruin if he does not deliver a manuscript that he has been paid for earlier.  The publisher, represented by his agent Guy Periwinkle, wants Samuel to write a book about his mother who in addition to attacking Governor Packer with gravel was supposedly a 60s radical who was arrested for prostitution.  The problem is that Samuel has not seen Faye for over twenty years and she refuses to cooperate with him to fill in the blanks in her life.

In addition to comments on academia Hill integrates views on the role of Hollywood memoirs, the publishing industry, Chicago traffic, high end suburban housing tracts with names like Venetian Hills, elementary school rules and regulations, life in a nursing home, the typical 1950s Home Economics education, life on convoy patrol in Iraq, and a wonderful critique of Disney world among other commentaries.  This approach apart from having a John Irving tinge, also has the feel of Kurt Vonnegut.

Hill offers a detailed description of Faye’s life and how it evolved, then turns to Samuel.  The pivoting point in their lives are clear, for Faye it is when she is eight years old and does not keep the secret of her father’s newly built bomb shelter from the neighbors.  For Samuel, it is when his mother, trapped in a conventional life that she never wanted, runs away from home, offering the advice that “the one you love the most is bound to cause you the worst pain.”  Samuel needs a crutch throughout his life and it becomes a “gaming habit” entitled, “Elfscape,” a vehicle to fill the time gaps in his life and maintain his anonymity at the same time.

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Hill creates numerous witty scenes that are quite entertaining, but some of those scenes could be left out reducing the bulk of this rather lengthy novel.  As far as Hill’s grasp of the history of the period he is quite accurate.  His portrayal of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the violence caused by Mayor Daley and the Chicago police is accurate in the confines of blending the history of what actually transpired, and Hill’s artistic license.  To get a true sense of what really occurred see Lawrence O’Donnell’s recent book, PLAYING WITH FIRE: THE 1968 ELECTION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF POLITICS.*   Hill moves seamlessly between 1968 and 2011 throughout the novel even integrating the Occupy Wall Street movement, the lost idealism of “boomers,” and the emergence of millennials.  The multiple story lines are juggled nicely, and the author has the ability to write so effectively that there is not a boring scene or sentence in the entire book as he journeys back and forth from 1968 and 2011.

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One of the more interesting analogies that Hill proposes resonates today.  During the summer of 1968 Hill argues that protesters and the police need each other equally.  Both groups need an enemy, someone to hate, so they can validate their own actions and beliefs and gain further support.  This is much like today’s politics. Trump and his supporters constantly point to their opponents as un-American and crooks, while Trump’s liberal opposition sees the president as mad, a threat to the constitution, and the implementing the deconstruction of the government.  Each side needs the other to validate their own beliefs and behaviors.  Only when this cycle is broken can the American people move forward.

The question must be asked is THE NIX presenting a tragic-comedy of American contradictions that fostered the election of Donald Trump?  I am afraid the answer is yes, and through Hill’s dialogue and characters we can gain insight into a president who emerged from a career in New York real estate that brought his emotional baggage and personality flaws to the White House.  THE NIX is a wonderful book, so sit back in a relaxing chair, with gentle music in the background, and enjoy the ride.

*Recently reviewed in http://www.docs-books.com

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(Rioting outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago)

It’s Aaron F****** Boone as the new NYY manager

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NYY GM Brian Cashman has placed his own career on the line by investing in Aaron Boone, a great communicator and baseball lifer as his new manager.  Boone has the DNA and/or pedigree to accomplish the task, but will be be successful?  Things he might consider:

(1) Maintain Tony Pena as the experienced bench coach that is needed who can also continue the development of the “Sanchize.”  Or perhaps return him to a first coaching position and bring in an experienced pro like Eric Wedge.

(2) Allow Larry Rothstein full control of the pitching staff.  He has done a wonderful job since 2011 and I am certain with the relationships he has established he will continue to be successful.

(3) Carlos Beltran would make a strong hitting coach and it would bring him under the NYY fold for the future, particularly if Boone falters down the road.

(4) Hopefully the fact he does not speak Japanese will not hinder him with the quest to sign Ohtani.  I wonder does Boone hable espanol?  It would certainly help.

(5) I would try and sign Chris Woodward as the third base coach.  I realize that would create a staff of most of the people who interviewed for the managerial position, but they all bring different strengths to their perspective positions and could facilitate Boone’s growth.

All of this may become academic if the NYY do not start off fast next March, but they have too much talent not to.  If they add a returning C C Sabathia or an Alex Cobb, along with Shohei Ohtani things will take care of themselves.  Boone is not that far removed from the game since his switch to an analyst position with ESPN – his combnation of a strong baseball IQ and communication skills exhibited will stand him in good stead.  All the best of luck – but remember the division over the Boston Red Sox, at least a wild card, and possibly a World Series appearance will be the measure of success.  Bring on Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Justin Sheffield and the next wave of talent and see what it brings.  The bottom line is that the 2018 NYY baseball season will be one to watch carefully.

Boone celebrates game winning home run : News Photo