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Non-Fiction Roundup: Reviews 2015

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End of year Nonfiction Reviews 

Unfortunately, I have not been able to review as many books as I would have liked this year- this is mainly due to a heavy workload at the Library that I work for, as well as a bout of illness that kept me from reading all of the great books that have been sent to me from publishers. This is a remedy of sorts, where I put all of the books that I have not reviewed yet into one big article.

The following are the remaining Nonfiction titles that I have not reviewed as of yet. I of course left out those that I felt were unworthy of review, because life is short, and I only have time for good books. Beacon Press has supplied the bulk of my favorite NF titles this year, as you can see- my hats off to them for publishing some very fine books. That said, rest assured that these five books are definitely worthy of your time. As always, comments are encouraged.

oneman

One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York

by Arthur Browne

Beacon Press (2015)

One Righteous Man is a Bio that has been in the works for decades, starting with the first draft by none other than Langston Hughes. In this present incarnation, the first to actually be published, the slow integration of African Americans into New York’s civil service ranks is closely inspected.

Being the first Black NYC police officer was no easy task, and Samuel Battle was up against many obstacles-all of which he hurdled with poise. This is an important book in many respects; in addition to race relations and equal rights, this story offers a social history of NYC  in the first half of the 20th century. Highly recommended.

Killers of the King

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I

By Charles Spencer

Bloomsbury Press (2015)

Charles Spencer offers a concise history of the  regicide of the 17th century English Monarch king Charles I by the forces of Oliver Cromwell. The story is told in an easy to follow style that  recounts the events that led to the trial and execution of Charles I, as well as the far reaching consequences of Cromwell’s actions.

our grandchildren redesigned

Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future

By Michael Bess

Beacon Press (2015)

Going beyond medical hot topics, such as bionics and stem cell research, Bess delves into the biotechnologies that will boost human capabilities through pharmaceuticals, advanced technologies and genetic modifications that will be able to produce “superhuman” capabilities. Society of the Near Future is not primarily about those new technologies, although much time is spent explaining the new advances in medical science that will enable humans to outperform their ancestors. Of the utmost importance here, are the changes in society that these breakthroughs will produce- such as the expanding gap between the rich and poor.

As with all technology, it is usually the rich that benefit from such advances, while the poor languish in the background, relegated to witness status. This may be one of the most important books of 2015, in that it is an early warning to us all, and it would benefit us to pay close attention. If you thought that our obsession with plastic surgery is out of control, try to picture people changing their bodies out in the same way that they trade in old Smartphones for new ones.

outlaws of the atlantic

Outlaws of the Atlantic : sailors, pirates, and motley crews in the Age of Sail

By Marcus Rediker

Beacon Press (2015).

An intriguing series of essays pulled together to tell the story of the age of tall ships, mainly from the point of view of the lower echelons of the seafaring class. Tales of forced labor aboard ships, pirates, scoundrels and slave traders, with the occasional voice from the landed gentry . This is a highly entertaining and educational read for those who are interested in the era when the seas were a playground for the world’s most lawless seafarers. This is one of my favorite Nonfiction books of 2015.

population wars

Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence

By Greg Graffin

Thomas Dunne Books (2015)

Being an old Hardcore Punk Rock fan from way back, I have followed Greg Graffin’s academic career, as well as his successful musical career for many years. In addition to being the frontman for one of the longest running punk bands, Bad Religion, Graffin also holds a Phd in Evolutionary Science, and teaches at Cornell University.

In his new book, Population Wars, Graffin  asserts that the human race would do better to cooperate, rather than compete with each other. His ideas concerning the assimilation of vanquished enemies into the victor’s society, rather than their destruction is certainly interesting, although I think that after thousands of years of history, this may seem easier said than done. Graffin has written a highly thought provoking work, and it is clear that he has done his homework, I just wish he presented it in a more concise, and less confusing manner.

Not a bad book at all-there are many excellent ideas explored here, although I think that there is room for improvement, particularly in his delivery. Definitely worth a read by anyone interested in Evolutionary Science.

Stay tuned for The Thugbrarian Review’s Fiction Roundup for 2015 which will be live any day now.

 

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December 27, 2015 · 6:52 pm

Review: Saul Bellow: There is Simply Too Much to Think About

bellow

There is Simply Too Much to Think About

by Saul Bellow (Edited by Benjamin Taylor)

Viking (2015), Hardcover, 544 Pages

Many readers of iconic American authors will tell you that they have read Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. They are classics, and Bellow has written many exquisite novels-Dangling Man (My favorite) and Seize the Day readily come to mind.

The Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate has left behind a large amount of non-fiction works as well. Editor Benjamin Taylor has compiled an excellent collection of Saul Bellows’ Interviews, Speeches, criticism and other non-fiction, which when read front to back, turns out to be somewhat of a grand tour of the mind of Bellows, as the writing spans five decades.

If this is not enough enticement, There is Simply Too Much to Think About also contains a good amount of uncollected writings. I cannot recommend this book more, whether you are a devourer of Bellows’ canon of work, or a college student who has just read Augie March for the first time.

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October 14, 2015 · 10:19 pm

Record Review: The Socials- The Beast Bites (Centsless Productions)

The Socials-The Beast Bites (Centsless Productions ‎– Centsless 16, 2013) 7″ 33 1/3

the beast bites

This little gem was recorded and released in 2013, but I was just turned on to this Cincinnati trio by the Bass player, Shawn Obnoxious, a familiar face in the Bloggerworld, which is how I met him online. There are a few major reasons why The Socials-This Beast Bites is on my turntable often, one reason is that it is the first REAL punk record that has been put out in decades IMO, although I can’t say that I have heard every little punk record that has been released on the thousands of indie labels, but of the dreck that I have heard, it is pretty much phoney piffle in my book.

First of all, the lyrics hearken back to the “sweet spot” error of Punk, 1976-1982.  For instance, the song Hot Tips throws out a Bags vibe that caught my attention quickly. Shawn’s wife, Mrs. Communication belts out the vocals, while playing guitar, tossing out fiery rhetoric with disjointed nonchalance:

Victory is found in steeped defeat

Silence is a deafening treat

Can’t start a fire without a spark

Bring a spoon to the gravy fight

Hot Tips

My Hot Tip to you is, If you like old school Punk/New Wave that is minimalist and has a distinct message, do yourself a favor and find this limited pressing (only 300 pressed). You will thank me profusely.

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September 27, 2015 · 1:18 pm

Review: The Real Tears-Still Drunk & Lonely

The Real Tears-Still Drunk & Lonely (CD)

still drunk and lonely

Norfolk, Virginia’s The Real Tears write crunchy, percussive songs that are the musical equivalent of a 2 minute smack to the lips.  Still Drunk & Lonely is about 12 minutes of expertly crafted Punk/Garage songs . The music is a cross between the Detroit sound that spawned the MC5, with equal parts Motorhead and Poison Idea.The seasoned guitar licks of Alex definitely gives the Real Tears a distinctive 70s punk quality, while the steady crunch of George on rhythm guitar , Dickie on drums and Darbe on Bass add enough punch to knock your eyeballs out.

Last but not least, add the dulcet tones of Darbe’s vocals, a throaty meat-grinder mincing an angry pitbull that’s tethered to a burning tree. A delightful mélange soaked in hatred and blind rage, freckled here and there with specks of melancholy, reflection and resentment. Songs tackle common subjects, such as my personal favorites, about the people who you only know from the bars, titled Night Time Friends, and Up,  which deals with the joy of futility. The whole CD rocks from front to back, 5 loud and fast punk songs like punk songs were meant to be played.

The CD comes out Friday Sept. 18th, and if you are in the Tidewater, Va. area, You can get your copy at the CD Release show at the  Norfolk Tap House, along with The Cemetery Boys, Late to the Party and from New York, The Virginia Gentlemen (Oh! Irony). That is a killer line-up, and there will be plenty of The Real Tears’ new CD Still Drunk & Lonely, as well as  new T-Shirts. If you are unable to attend the release show, you can order from their BandCamp page Here. You can also listen to the free stream of the album, or download a digital version at: https://therealtears.bandcamp.com/

 

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September 17, 2015 · 12:53 am

Review: Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, 2015)

Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Knopf (2015), Hardcover, 317 pages

As with past Kazuo Ishiguro novels, nothing is as it seems. Buried Giant is equal parts fantasy, historical fiction, action/adventure, and psychological investigation. The premise revolves around a disparate group of travellers on a quest- an older couple named Axl and Beatrice, both Britons, the Knight Sir Gawain of King Arthur fame, and a Saxon warrior named Wistan, along with his new charge, also a Saxon named Edwin, who sports a magical Dragon bite which connects him to the feared She-dragon Querig. This She-Dragon is responsible for spreading a mist throughout the country that leaves it’s citizens forgetful of the brutal past, when Britons and Saxon battled to a bloody result. This ability of the Dragon’s is a direct result of a spell cast on her by the wizard Merlin, as a way to attain a lasting peace by enabling the country to heal through the forgetting of  past barbarisms.

It would seem that all of these travellers are on the same quest, but as the plot thickens, it becomes evident that all have diametrically opposed tasks. The prose is beautiful-many times throughout the story, the images Ishiguro described were vivid in my mind. The characters on the other hand are less defined, but the mystery attached to each character is integral to the storyline, as each is unsure of their past, owing to the mist of forgetfulness that has spread across the land.

The title Buried Giant most assuredly refers to the buried giant that is memory, and how we can forget, with the flip side being the question of whether we are better off forgetting, which would also negate any sense of justice or reckoning. There are many lessons embedded deep within the story for readers to discover, and I am sure that each reader will find many different interpretations.

The end is not what is expected, and while many questions remain unanswered, I found this an extremely satisfying and entertaining read. Recommended  for readers of Historical fiction, Fantasy, action/adventure and Psychological mystery

 (4 out of 5)

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September 7, 2015 · 1:28 pm

Review: Soil by Jamie Kornegay

soil

Soil

by Jamie Kornegay

Simon & Schuster (2015), 368 pages

Sigh…It is always exciting to read a debut from a new writer before the public does. And I always give a debut author plenty of room to find their voice, usually giving a fair review based on the very best attributes of the story. And believe me, there are more than a few areas where Soil shines, from the highly detailed description of the land and surroundings of a Mississippi flood basin, to the dark,  Southern gothic  miasma that leaves a film over each chapter.

As debuts go, Jamie Kornegay has displayed a refined talent for writing, and I look forward to watching this author grow.  His writing at times reminded of Faulkner, but where Faulkner would leave spaces that challenged the reader’s capacity to understand the meaning, Jamie Kornegay left me with more questions than answers.

The story revolves around a series of characters, each grappling with various forms of mental illness, and while this is not the main plot, it is a subject that is investigated through each character’s actions.

Soil is “A darkly comic debut novel …about an idealistic young farmer who moves his family to a Mississippi flood basin, suffers financial ruin and becomes increasingly paranoid he’s being framed for murder.” ~ (Jonathan Miles, award-winning author of Want Not and Dear American Airlines)

Jay and Sandy Mize don’t find farming to be all it’s cracked up to be. Sandy leaves Jay, Jay goes mad, finds a body on his property, and becomes embroiled in a feud with the Sheriff’s deputy, a greasy man who has a peeper issue, and also has his eyes on Jay’s wife.

The sometimes comical, but always “backwoods”weird plot comes to a boil at the very last, where I feel like I was left with a cliffhanger. I am not sure if there is a sequel planned, but I feel as if the author either thought it was funny to leave it as it is, or perhaps he was trying to be artsy. There were many loose ends I think, and I wish I had some answers. That said, I enjoyed the book, there are signs of genius at times, and while the ending kind of pissed me off, I still found this to be a satisfying read, as well as an introduction to a writer that I think will grow immensely.

****

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July 27, 2015 · 10:44 am

Review: Wolfmen from Mars-Gamisu

wolfman1

Wolfmen From Mars-Gamisu (May 2015)

So, I was just turned on to Wolfmen from Mars a little while ago, and on the chance that you never heard of them, I am paying it forward. If you like garage, surf, electro-new Wave, industrial and metal, you will probably like these guys. Think Man or Astroman meets Throbbing Gristle, smothered in a thin gooey sauce of doom.

They have a whole bunch of releases available to download on their Bandcamp pageAlong with Gamisu, you will find Wolfmen of Mars vs The Mangled Dead (Pontiki Records). I really love this band, and my only wish is that they would put out some vinyl, cassette, or at least CDs of their catalog, because it needs to be heard by the unwashed masses. Like now! Wolfmen of Mars may be great.

read my full review on Core of Destruction Radio @  http://coreofdestruction.tumblr.com/post/125016150809/gamisu

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July 25, 2015 · 2:23 pm

Record Review: McRad-Lion Pure (2LP)

lion pure

McRad- Lion Pure (2LP, Not Like You Records)

Read my review of McRad-Lion Pure on Core of Destruction radio here

Skate Punk O.G.s McRad from Philadelphia, Pa, raised the bar in the mid 80s with the release of the EP Dominant Force (1984), and the LP Absence of Sanity (1987), and a few weeks ago, founding member Chuck Treece  released a massive 2 LP  collection titled Lion Pure, which consists of Dominant Force, and Absence of Sanity, as well as a few songs from comps, with some live cuts added. Most striking of all are the two new tunes (Another Chance and McRad Dub for Andy) with H.R. of the Bad Brains singing! The latter is a tribute to Andy Morris, an early drummer for McRad, as well as a close friend, who passed away a few years ago. H.R. digs down to bring up a bit of the old thunder, it’s some of the best recorded vocals he’s done in recent years. In short, this double album is the culmination of Treece’s years in the music scene trenches, and to have H.R. be a part of that is truly huge.

Available at:     http://www.notlikeyourecords.com/releases.html

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July 14, 2015 · 6:10 pm

Review: Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina

shots on the bridge

Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina

by Ronnie Greene
Beacon Press (Published 08/08/2015), Hardcover, 256 pages

Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina pummelled the Gulf Coast, all but destroying the city of New Orleans, Shots on the Bridge by Ronnie Greene revisits the Danziger Bridge shooting, the outcome of a police action gone terribly wrong days after Hurricane Katrina battered the city into submission. The result left 2 innocent people dead riddled with bullets, and 4 critically injured, including one woman having her arm literally blown off by NOPD  officers, who were answering an erroneous emergency call claiming that an officer was under fire.

Utilizing thousands of pages of court documents, including transcripts of the hours of testimony, and interviews with key subjects, Ronnie Greene is able to vividly describe the incident, the cover-up, and the trial, as well as the intricate political climate of past decades- a political climate that some claim  contributed to the events of Sept. 4th 2005.  The author offers the reader a biography of each of the participants- from the NOPD officers accused of gunning down unarmed hurricane victims, to the lawyers, judges and politicians, as well as the victims and witnesses (real and manufactured).

Greene’s storytelling ability combined with his scholarship meld effortlessly, leaving us an exciting read, as well as a complete report of this heinous crime committed against desperate, disaster victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crime itself, the killing of two and wounding of four, as explained by the defence team, can be attributed to the conditions the police were left in during the aftermath of the storm. No equipment, no supplies, no vehicles or communication, and most importantly- no leadership. Mayor Ray Nagin, and Police Commissioner Eddie Compass dropped the ball during Katrina and it’s aftermath- they had no viable plan for this eventuality.

This is troublesome on many levels, especially when the history of major hurricanes in the region goes back many decades. You would assume that a well thought out plan would be in place. We know now that this was not the case. Having said this, the segment of people who claim that the Mayor, and the Commissioner are just as responsible as those who pulled the trigger may have a valid point.

The fear and isolation experienced by the police, some of whom had lost everything in the storm, paired with the many false claims of rape and murder throughout the city, put forth by none other than Mayor Nagin and Eddie Compass, may have indeed contributed to the atmosphere that brought about this incident. That argument is not that far fetched when you examine all of the elements involved.

It is the second crime committed by the NOPD that should damn them. That crime was the attempt (a poor attempt to be sure) to cover up their terrible mistake. This is what this is all about-the fact that the officers involved conspired to hide the truth, while branding the victims as criminals who fired first,which was an outright fabrication. If it can be believed, this case is still ambling on to this day, even though some officers have come forth to tell the truth. If this erases your faith in Karma, consider the fact that former Mayor Ray Nagin is currently in jail serving 10 years for bribery and conspiracy, among other crimes. Small consolation for those impacted by this unfortunate experience.

With the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on the horizon, Shots on the Bridge is a timely reminder of how leadership in our cities can disintegrate rapidly during  major disasters. It is also another example of police violence against the people they are sworn to protect.  Greene presents a well written account of the events, as well as the issues responsible for the outcome on the Danziger Bridge in East New Orleans, and the effects that are still being felt by many today. Highly recommended to all readers.

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July 9, 2015 · 8:08 am

Lightsabres-Beheaded Out Sat. June 27th @12:00PM

stb records

Read my review of Lightsabres-Beheaded on the Core of Destruction Radio Blog at http://coreofdestruction.tumblr.com/post/122559788274/lightsabres-beheaded-out-sat-june-27th

 

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June 27, 2015 · 12:00 am