Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Reviews-For the Sins of My Father, Powernomics, The Warlord Chronicles, Battles that Changed History

For the Sins of My Father
by Albert DeMeo
I had a pretty idyllic childhood. I hope you did as well. Most children go through a growth stage in which they are convinced that their parent (and I can only speak of sons and fathers here) is the greatest, smartest, toughest, coolest most wonderful person that ever did exist. It is part of the bittersweet maturation process when children become older and start to substitute their own judgment for that of their parents that the child's perception shifts. Eventually the child will get more knowledge and learn some things that their parent did that might not have been completely kosher. 

Maybe there are some aspects to the parent's life with which the child can't agree. Perhaps the child decides that the parent did everything wrong and gets trapped in bitterness. Maybe he spends the next two decades feuding with the parent. Maybe. For most of us who grew up with, at the very least non-abusive parents, if you are fortunate enough to have an adult relationship with your parent(s), you will probably judge them lightly and just enjoy the time you have left with them. After all no one's perfect, they did the best they could and guess what there's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny either. Get over your issues. 

Albert DeMeo didn't get to have an adult relationship with his father. His father was the feared Mafia soldier Roy DeMeo, top dog of the Gemini Crew and primary executioner and torturer for the Gambino Crime Family. We earlier reviewed the book Murder Machine here. The elder DeMeo was murdered just around the time of Albert's seventeenth birthday. Albert had to identify his father's body, (Roy had been shot seven times, three in the head) make all the funeral arrangements and deal with arrogant suspicious law enforcement agents (The NYPD made fun of his father's death while the FBI tried to put microphones and camera in the casket) as well as the deadly members of his father's crew who had murdered Roy and were ominously watching to see if they needed to kill Albert as well. That's a lot for a teen to deal with but we all have crosses to bear. As an adult Albert DeMeo looks back to tell the story.

This book points out the banality of evil. People that are evil and Roy DeMeo was, don't all walk around kicking dogs and rubbing their hands together with glee. No, whatever evil DeMeo did he generally did as part of business and did not, from the story his son tells, bring it home. Of course, like blind men describing an elephant, we must remember that Albert DeMeo tells this story from the vantage point of a doting son and one who is far removed from those times. His mother's or sister's stories may have been different. We don't know. We do know that Roy DeMeo, while he didn't necessarily bring brutality or meanness home with him, certainly did not go out of his way to hide what he was from his son either.

At first Roy is showing a six year old how to clean and dismantle guns. Later it's taking an eight year old to social clubs where the elder DeMeo loans money and receives payments. Then, while teaching a fourteen year old how to lay tile and frame concrete, Roy takes the opportunity to teach him how to make homemade silencers. It's the small things that count. If Roy DeMeo had survived would he have overseen his son's official entry into the world of crime? It's hard to say. What I can say is that Roy's murder and events afterwards pushed Albert DeMeo away from the Mafia. Albert made the critical mistake of calling his father's previous boss to ask for help and telling him he thought he knew who killed his father. Albert was then beaten very badly. He knew then beyond a doubt who had killed his father.

Can you imagine looking into the eyes of your parent's murderers as they ask you if there is anything that you need? This is a book with a limited but focused perspective. It's gripping reading. Roy DeMeo knew his time was approaching and one of the last things he told his son was forget about me, do not try to take revenge. Yes in some respects it's an apology for Roy DeMeo but as Albert DeMeo says some things he didn't know about his Dad sickened him. But he can only speak to the man he knew.

by Dr. Claud Anderson
The subtitle for this book is "The National Plan to Empower Black America". And that is Anderson's burning passion. Anderson is an economic nationalist from the old school pro-black perspective. He is most definitely not a conservative and does not concede the pro-business language that conservatives have seized on. If there is one point that he beats the reader over the head with over and over again it is that the three primary reasons for black people's well known economic disadvantages are that black people (1) do not own businesses, (2) do not work together as a group and (3) tend to be over consumers instead of investors.
Much like Harold Cruse and his theory of "non-economic liberalism", Anderson points out that integration and desegregation while perhaps important as a floor, simply do not provide for equal opportunity or equality. If other groups own everything then blacks are constantly in a "begging mode". For Anderson, power comes from ownership. We live in a capitalistic society and full rights only accrue to those with capital. Reactionary integration, which is where our remaining "civil rights leaders" and indeed black people in general tend to remain,does simply not address economic issues.

Black conservatives who discuss these issues tend to elide racism. Anderson does not. He explains in his book exactly how wealth is built, maintained and transferred from generation to generation. As generally speaking black Americans weren't even full citizens until sometime in the mid to late sixties, opportunities to build wealth were limited.
This is a good book and should be read and understood. He's rough and does not pull any punches. His solutions are that Black people must understand what slavery, segregation and exclusion did to them and work together to reject the dominant post-slavery narrative that still sees whites disproportionately as owners and blacks as workers. As you might expect he is not a huge fan of alliances with other so-called minority groups, unless those can clearly be shown to help black interests. As he points out over and over again, many businesses which cater to black customers are owned by white citizens or new immigrants but it's exceedingly rare to find a black business that caters to a non-black clientele or is set up in a non-black community. Quiet as it's kept many of the points that Anderson makes were made by Malcolm and believe it or not MLK. Anderson overstates his case of course, not every non-black American is a business owner and not every black American is working for someone else. This is actually a shot across the bow of the black professional class. This is a book you should have.  Speech  Speech 2

Enemy of God and Excalibur
by Bernard Cornwell
These are books two and three in The Warlord Chronicles trilogy. To a degree each book stands alone I suppose but I read one immediately after the other. The story does not make radical changes in style or characterization from each book.
I wrote in the previous review of the Bernard Cornwell book, The Winter King, that to an extent the relation between King Arthur and Merlin is akin to what I thought the relationship  between Tecumseh and his brother would have been. This analogy to foreign invaders (Europeans to America, Saxons to Britain) holds up and goes even further in these books. I am also reminded of the scene in Steve Barnes' alternate history novel  Lion's Blood, in which an Irish boy is heartened and excited to see his father come to defend him from Viking slavers, because his father is incredibly skilled with his weapon (spear), only to watch in shock, horror and disbelief as his father is casually killed by the Vikings' unknown weapon (a rifle). This conflict between the reality of one's existence and the fleeting "reality" of what used to be in terms of your religion or how you saw the world is a bit more stark in Enemy of God and Excalibur than it was in The Winter King. When there is a difference between reality and your religion what do you do? If you can't count on your God(s) any more you might go insane or convert to a new god. Think about it. How many people on the Middle Passage or in Auschwitz could have belief in their God?

Arthur doesn't put much stock in gods or magic; at one point he angrily stabs his "magic" sword Excalibur into the ground and calls for help from the Otherworld. At this a God and his Army are supposed to come to Arthur's aid. As Arthur bitterly points out, no army arrives.
But others, to a certain extent Merlin and to a much greater and ultimately tragic extent, Nimue, do believe in the Gods and are sickened, threatened and angered not only by the increasing Saxon encroachment but more by the amazing and threatening Christian numerical increase. Some Christians are live and let live type of people but many of them, especially the recent converts like Arthur's sister Morgan, do their best to stamp out paganism. Merlin and Nimue believe that something big is needed to bring back the Old Gods, something akin to a Celtic Ghost Dance. This will have similar tragic results, just as it did for the Sioux.

Arthur and the Britons seem doomed to lose. There are simply too many Saxons. They are the illegal immigrants of the day. Their invasion is relentless. A few of them have even taken to calling themselves Kings of Britain. The peace between the warring British tribes that Arthur has enforced through blood, loyalty, bribery, marriage and appeals to the common good is falling apart through greed on the outside and the ugliest treachery on the inside. Arthur is VERY similar to Ned Stark. He simply can not understand treachery or that people might actually want power. Arthur is an excellent example of the D&D alignment lawful good (though he's a bit more lawful than good) and of the limitations inherent in that alignment. Although often Arthur has the might to do as he pleases he generally insists on doing the right thing and living by the law. This makes some people, including his wife Guinevere, assume that he's a weakling or a dunce. By the time it dawns on Arthur that he probably should have eliminated a few enemies earlier and not worried about whether it was morally good, it's almost too late. Once aroused though Arthur can be an implacable enemy. When he captures one of his traitorous sons (who has helped murder children) he calmly asks the son why he was fighting for Arthur's enemies. The son lies and says that he thought Arthur was already dead. Arthur then quietly asks that if the son thought his father was dead why didn't he seek vengeance upon his killers instead of allying with them. The son angrily says Arthur was no father to him. Arthur forces the son to put his right hand (that he raised against Arthur) on a oath stone and then tells him that a son who raises his hand against his father is no son of his and that Arthur renounces both the son and the hand. He then chops off his son's hand.

Cornwell did his research and it shows. He gives excellent descriptions of shield wall fighting. You almost think you were there. You can't be a bada$$ war leader without coming up with some bada$$ insults and Derfel has quite a few. The author is pretty hard on religion. The self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the Christian converts is matched by some of the more repulsive practices of the pagans (a barren woman smearing newborn baby feces on her clothes to guarantee fertility, killing a newborn calf to ensure a healthy flock, and in certain circumstances, human sacrificeThe narrator, Derfel Cadarn, is revealed to be the son of a Saxon king, one of Arthur's enemies. Despite this Derfel remains, along with the Numidian Sagramor, one of Arthur's champions and a building block in Arthur's attempt to bring peace. But Arthur's story is a tragedy. Arthur's works fall, as much from treason and intransigence within as any Saxon threat from without. The trilogy is very good in total. These two books are worthwhile reading.

Battles That Changed History
Amber Books
If you are a history junkie and/or a military history buff or weapons guru you probably want to get this book. Although there are a few horrible exclusions (where is the Battle of Vertieres or the Battle of Isandlwana or the Battle of Bannockburn) it does list 47 battles from 1457 BC at Megiddo all the way up to operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 (which was really more of a campaign) Each battle is lavishly illustrated with prints and portraits of the typical soldiers and their commanders, as well as detailed maps showing each side's plans, weapons, tactics and what went wrong for one side or the other. There are some surprises here. For example the Battle of Agincourt is famous for supposedly showing the superiority of the English (Welsh) longbow. 5700 Englishmen defeated 25,000 French soldiers and Italian mercenaries. In point of fact though the longbow probably didn't easily get through the heavy plate armor of the French knights. But what it did do, with the aid of an aborted French charge through mud, was to kill the French men at arms without armor and break up the French charge enough to allow the English to run forward and finish them off with mauls and maces. Other battles described still rankled losers centuries afterward. For example the 1410 Prussian defeat at Tannenburg, Poland so bothered the Germans that in 1914, when the German general Paul Von Hindenburg, a Prussian, defeated a Russian army in the same region he named the battle Tannenburg.
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