Book Report: Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1974)

Book coverAfter reading The Cross and the Switchblade, I picked up this book right away because I didn’t imagine a situation where I’d be more primed to read it than right after the first. The effect is a little like reading Jerry Kramer’s books (Instant Replay, A Farewell to Football, and Distant Replay) in short order as I did in 2015: You get autobiographical glimpses of a person doing something and getting note for writing about it, and then you leap forward quite a ways and see not only the aftermath of it, but where the person is now and how hopes and disappointments accrued after the Big Book.

At any rate, this doesn’t have the narrative first half that its precedent did. Instead, it takes a bit of topical look at how things have gone in the interim. Teen Challenge, the thing that Wilkerson started in New York, has gone international, and he’s gotten to be a popular speaker and crusader, but he steps back from it because he wants more one-on-one contact. He learns about the rise of drug use among suburban teens and starts drawing attention to them; he tries to motivate them with some serious eschatology (which might have later been broken into another book). His wife and he grow apart, partly because he’s so busy and in demand and partly because they both have some trouble dealing with her bouts with cancer in the early 1970s.

It’s a bit shorter and less focused of a book, but it does lead one to understand some of the challenges of being a prime evangelist back in the day. Wilkerson lived into the 21st century, so he had a Web site and everything, which is odd to think about when you read his earlier book from times of the Sharks and the Jets (allusion footnote for you damn kids).

I’m glad I read it when I did, because as a stand alone book, it’s thin gruel, but as a companion to the earlier piece, it’s interesting and engaging. Well, for someone who can allude to 50s musicals easily, I suppose.

Book Report: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1962, 1970)

Book coverI bought this book last fall in Clever. I’ve recently spoken with my wife in the merits of the parish model versus the congregational model, and I talked about a whole genre of books where the parish priest takes on crime in his neighborhood (maybe I’m just fond of Robert Blake’s series Hell Town). The edition of The Cross and the Switchblade is the movie tie-in edition, so I thought it might be the font from which the genre sprung. But the pastor in the book is Pentacostal, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. So his is also a congregational model.

At any rate, the book tells the story of Wilkerson, a pastor from the country, who sees an article in Life about several gang members on trial for murder, and he is moved to go minister to them in New York City. So he hops into his car, essentially, on a day off from his church and goes to try to see them. He tries to approach the judge in the courtroom and makes a nuisance of himself and gets ejected before the cameras of the press, so he becomes a bit notorious in his own right. He can’t see the boys on trial, but he keeps returning to New York without a definite plan and finds that young people, especially gang members, are willing to talk to him because he was in the newspaper.

The first half of the book deals with this fish-out-of-water story as he makes his forays into New York, especially Brooklyn, to minister to the gang members and the drug addicts there. The first half culminates in a revival at an arena where he has an altar call, and several gang members come forward, including one who started out particularly hostile but ends up a minister. From what I can see in the photos included from the movie, the film covers this first half of the book with some dramatic revisions. Confession: Erik Estrada stars in the film, so when I read his bio mention it in TV Superstars ’81, I decided to pick up this book next.

The second half of the book is a little less focused as Wilkerson builds up his ministry and creates a center for at-risk youth. He discovers the dangers of drug addiction, particularly heroin, and that’s about the size of it.

It’s an interesting book for many reasons. It has an interesting and adventuresome narrative in it. It’s an interesting look at the dangers of the bad part of New York City in the late 1950s. It’s also an interesting look at the Pentecostal way of doing things: it’s decentralized to a high degree (certainly compared to the Catholic church and the more conservative Lutheran denominations) and features things like altar calls and speaking in tongues, which is not something you see at my church. So, interesting all around.

Unfortunately, it’s still all-to-timely, as heroin is making its big comeback and violence in our cities is reaching a crescendo even as people become even less interested in the eternal than they were in 1960.

Book Report: TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackmann (1981)

Book cover“Verily, verily,” you say, “This is about the lowest one can go to reach 100 books in the year.” Well, gentle reader, I’d like to point out that Advanced French for Exceptional Cats has even less substance than this Weekly Reader book. Besides, I’ve already read TV Superstars ’82 and TV Superstars ’83. So I’m not just running up the score here. The score, by the way, is 100 books read this year with this title.

At any rate, as with the other (later) books, it features brief biographical sketches of stars from contemporary (then) television shows grouped by the show. So you get the stars of The Dukes of Hazzard together, the stars of WKRP in Cincinnati grouped together, and so on.

The book reuses (or the later books will reuse) bios from those whose programs are on the air, so I’d already read Tom Wopat and John Schneider’s bits from the ’82 edition (’83 has the scab Dukes). The differences in the books’ contents, though, illustrate the fleeting nature of “superstardom” as the shows come and go. For example, Eight Is Enough, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and B.J. and the Bear on television until 1981, so the actors in it are superstars in 1981, but mostly forgotten by 1983 (according to the book).

This book has, unlike the others, animal star bios: The dog who played Boomer (a dog named Johnny) and the Bear (a chimp named Sam). I don’t remember seeing those in the later books, but animal sidekicks seem to have passed out of fashion in the 80s.

The main bit of trivia I got from the book was reminding me of House Calls, a medical show with Gregory Harrison and Lynn Redgrave. It kind of got lost in the blur of the medical shows of the era, from Trapper John, M.D. to St. Elsewhere (which did not air concurrently, but they did in the era known as “my childhood”). So I’m ready if it comes up in trivia nights or on Jeopardy!, but it probably won’t since the window of viable trivia only extends back thirty years, apparently.

It is also a quick reminder, reading these books, how something that seemed to always be when you’re young might only reflect a couple of years. But a high percentage of your life in your youth, so it seems more permanent than it is.

Book Report: Skysweeper by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverYou might be saying to yourself, “Is he reading more of these Executioner novels to pad his annual total to 100 books read?” Gentle reader, you might not be far from the truth. However, I’d like to point out I’ve read over a dozen Executioner novels this year, so the padding started early.

This book finds Bolan on the West Coast, looking into a Soviet cell looking to steal or disrupt a laser-based missile interceptor program. He’s got some help from the inside, so any infiltrating he needs to do comes with an authentic security badge. He discovers that a former Vietnam POW, now the head of the program, was brainwashed while captive and is programmed to aid the Soviets when activated by following any instruction he’s given. In this case, it is to steal the Skysweeper and deliver it to the Russians. Except Bolan objects.

The structure of the book differs from the others in the series as the book makes a bit of a nod to the technothriller, but sometimes the loss of the earlier simplicity pushes Bolan into doing things that defy the suspension of disbelief. Of course, if I’m into these books for realism, I’m in the wrong place.

At any rate, the conceit of the book is more memorable than the actual book. I just had to crack it open to review how it ended since I actually finished the book last week. Spoiler alert: Bolan wins. Further books are not, in fact, a gritty reboot where The Executioner has been replaced by a fourteen year old minority girl. Well, at least, not the next one. Maybe.

Book Report: Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha (1976)

Book coverThis book is a small, self-published collection of poetry by a Midwestern farm wife circa 1976. It’s on some very nice paper stock, so it probably cost a pile to print. The woman was committed.

It is broken into three sections: poems about family and motherhood, poems about landscape and the natural world, and poems about other things, like church. The poems are decent; some are rote sorts of poems like you get when someone sits down and thinks, “I should write a poem about x.” The poem celebrating the flag is like that. Others have good sense of rhythm and good rhyme schemes. The poems I enjoyed most were in the first section, poignant thoughts about growing children and looking back at them. I’ve decided I feel the same way about poems as I do about paintings: I prefer to have people in them and don’t really enjoy landscapes unless there are human figures in them. Which might be why I have so much Wordsworth around but haven’t read much of it.

As I read this, I thought about the number of magazines that I take that still publish poems. Since I did not renew National Review (too expensive), I’m down to Chronicles and First Things. The poems I see in them don’t touch me, generally, any more or less than the poems in these collections I read by unknowns.At any rate, a good collection of poems by a normal person. One or two of them might have been worth tearing from the paper or a magazine and putting on your refrigerator or cubicle wall. Which is about the best you can expect of any poet, really.

Book Report: Prairie Fire by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book starts with a running man ploughing through Nebraska cornfields as professionals pursue him. Through flashbacks, we find it is Bolan, who was investigating some off-page MacGuffin that led to his capture and escape from a crew hired to hit him by the KGB. Bolan hides in a barn of a small farm, but finds himself captured by the farm owners and held until they start to believe his story that they’re in trouble with him there.

So the book turns into a tower defense story, with Bolan and the family hardening the household to withstand a nighttime assault. And so they do. Spoiler alert: Bolan lives.

It’s an interesting twist of a plot, as Bolan is usually on the offense so we get to see him build a defense. But sometimes I wonder how little experience with guns, military assaults, and whatnot the authors of the books have as they go on. When booby-trapping the house, Bolan makes a small IED with some C4 he recovered from an attempted carbomb, but he makes it so the trigger requires him to hit a small mark with a .22 shot–from a gun for which he has extremely limited ammunition instead of, I dunno, a tripwire? Also, the book describes the report of a .22 rifle as a falsetto yapping. I suppose that’s a metaphor that might work, except it doesn’t, especially when you don’t trust the author.

So it’s an interesting twist, but there are some things that give you pause. I can suspend disbelief until I start thinking I could do as good of a job as the professionals in the book. But those moments pass, and we’re through the book with some enjoyment in spite of it.

I only have 47 Executioner titles remaining on my to-read shelves, not counting the other related titles. If I keep at it at the pace I have this year, I’ll be done in under four years. Woo! Unless I buy more, which is always a risk.

Book Report: Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton (2008)

Book coverThis book is a British science fiction novel from B.O. (Before Obama). The copy I have is an Advanced Uncorrected Proofs version that I picked up some time ago at a book sale along with other ARC and proof copies of books. Which explains some of the typos I found, although fewer than one might find in John Donnelly’s Gold or the similarly self-published Lightning Fall.

At any rate, the plot of it: About 40 years in the future, the elderly inventer of the storage mechanism that allows the Internet of the future is chosen by the European Union for a revolutionary therapy that rejuvenates a human to the age of about 25. The treatment takes about a year and a half, and at the end of it he has to accustom himself to his new youth and to reconnect with his eighteen-year-old son, the product of a marriage of convenience to a much younger woman who is now older than the formerly elderly engineer. The newly youthful fellow does all of this by nailing all the young women he comes into contact with: the granddaughter of a close friend; the trophy wife with whom he’d never actually had relations; girls in his son’s circle; and finally, the son’s infatuation and something of a girlfriend.

All this boffin goes on against a backdrop of English seperatists who want the UK to break away from the EU and are becoming increasingly violent in their insistence. The pseudoclimax of the book takes place at a major right in England where the father and son end up on different sides: The father is inside a heavily guarded conference center to present a paper, and the son is carried along to the riot by peer pressure. They reconcile, and then the father dies from an unforeseen and untreatable side effect of the treatment. The End.

Well, it’s certainly got a 1970s science fiction vibe from it along with some of that later Heinlein “Ew, put it away already!” I saw on Wikipedia that there are a couple other books set in this same universe, but I don’t expect I’ll revisit it.

What did it get right? Well, people access the voice-enabled computer by saying a word ahead of it. I guess they were doing it on Star Trek, but it’s much more relevant now that every second commercial on television is people talking to the cloud. What did it get wrong? Brexit by violence 40 years from now (hopefully).

I suppose the title means it’s a commentary on misspending your second chances by wasting the time as much you did when you were younger anyway. Or maybe that’s being to charitable, but it’s certainly a theme that has resonance and is probably defendible. Maybe we’ll see in 40 years.

Book Report: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb (2014)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas book about this time of year. This year, I chose this book because it was the first one I could find on my to-read shelves.

The bottom of the cover indicates this is a Ballad novella; the author has written many best selling books in this series taking place in the eastern mountains of Tennessee, but you don’t need intimate knowledge of them to enjoy this book.

It’s billed as a novella, but it’s really two unconnected stories in the Ballad mythos. The sheriff and a deputy are tasked with arresting a man in the backwoods on Christmas Eve for a hit and run accident that damaged the car of the wife of a Senator (hence the importance of arresting him on Christmas Eve amidst the threat of a heavy snowstorm). When they find what they think to be his home, he says he will go quietly if they just help prepare his home for his absence to make it safe for his wife. The second story deals with a couple of Floridians who have bought a second home that used to be the county’s best home, the place where an old judge and his family lived. They decide to stay for Christmas with their tacky Florida ways. When strange goings on go on, they come to Nora Bonesteel, an elderly local medium, to see if she can guess what is wrong. It seems a spirit of Christmas past is not pleased with a pink Christmas tree decorated with flamingos.

On the plot lines, it’s pretty thin gruel, but the writing is dense and pretty enough to carry you along. Thematically, it’s a little light on the Christmas spirit, too, lacking any religious element of it or particular generosity of spirit. No real changes of heart or reunions of family. But pleasant enough.

I saw one of the author’s Ballad novels on the mark down table at Barnes and Noble while Christmas shopping, and I didn’t grab one for $6. Perhaps I’ll grab one if I see it at a book sale in the future to see what happens in a non-Christmas themed novel from the author.

Book Report: Ginger Snaps compiled by Dian Ritter (1976)

Book coverThis book is a middle 1970s collection of what we used to call proverbs, but by the mid to late 20th century had to be accompanied with some wry wit. Many of them are the sorts of things you’d find on Internet memes today, if Internet memes lasted longer than it takes to scroll past them on the social media sites. No, these proverbs of the pre-computer era would be photocopied with some cartoon and pinned to a cubicle wall or taped to a the breakroom cinderblocks.

Which is not to say they’re untrue or without their wisdom. As a matter of fact, this book includes lessons from Lao Tzu:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

We have Lord Whorfin (eight years early):

Character is what you are in the dark.

Aside from these, it’s got tweetable quotes like “I wish I were what I was when I wanted to be what I am now.” and “Be satisfied enough to improve, but satisfied enough to be happy.”

Given the time from whence it came, its proverbs promote hard work, character, skepticism of government, and trust in God. Which means modern people won’t be well versed in any, which might make the contents more unapproachable and archaic than they should be.

Book Report: A Bullet for Cinderella by John D. MacDonald (1955, 1985)

Book coverThere’s no car crash in this book; instead, a Korean veteran and POW camp survivor returns to normal life a changed man. He cannot abide his former life, so he takes off to Hillston, the home of a fellow campmate who did not survive the POW camp. The dead man had told the narrator about some money he had embezzled from his brother’s business and hidden to run off with the brother’s wife, but the war intervened. The only clue he leaves as to the location of the missing money is that Cindy knows. So the narrator starts talking to people who knew the dead hero under the guise of writing a book. He finds that another person from the camp has already gotten there–a psychopathic former Marine who hasn’t found the money himself but is willing to let the narrator keep a cut if he finds it.

As the narrator digs, he finds evidence of murder, blackmail, and so forth and finds some redemption and/or clarity in falling for the dead man’s former girlfriend.

As a paperback original, this book runs about 170 pages, and none of them are wasted with convolutions, exposition, or technobabble, so it makes for a quick and satisfying little read. It holds up well, as does most of MacDonald’s stuff, if you can remember or imagine a world before pervasive computers in every pocket. Heck, I still imagine that world since I don’t have many apps on my phone and don’t feel compelled to look at it whenever I have a moment without noise.

Book Report: Cry Hard Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald (1955)

Book coverI read Slam the Big Door in August, and it features a car crash (‘slam the big door’ refers to the sound of a car crash in the night on the backroads of Florida), and this book centers on a car crash. I wondered if this was from MacDonald’s CHiPs era.

But the books were published five years apart with many intervening novels. Perhaps he wrote them close together, or perhaps he rotated back into subject matter when it seemed fresh after the passage of time.

Unlike Slam the Big Door, this book centers on a big car wreck: it focuses on the individual stories of the people and families who are going to be involved in the car accident and the immediate aftermath for the survivors. We have a recemt widower on a trip to recover from his grief (see also Slam the Big Door. We have a nuclear family with a domineering father and an attractive teenaged daughter; we have a couple trying to rekindle their marriage after the husband becomes cold and distant; we have an ace truck driver considering moving into management; and of course, we have a couple of bad fellows on the run from an armed robbery and the funtime girl they picked up at a roadside bar. It’s vintage MacDonald, slamming all these people together (literally) and seeing what erupts.

The first part of the book, before the accident, is better than the last bit after the accident, but it’s still a pretty good read.

As I mentioned, I have a number of MacDonald books on my shelves, and I’ve been reluctant to read them because once they’re gone, they’re gone. However, given my ability to re-read the Travis McGee books from time to time, perhaps I should seek more of them out since I enjoy them and I can re-read them when I’ve finished all of them. And, to be honest, finishing all the John D. MacDonald books is a better use of my time than reading all the Executioner books (that is, the Mack Bolan books, not The Executioner, which is a John D. MacDonald book).

Book Report: Desperate Measures by Joe Clifford Faust (1989)

Book coverThis book is by the author of A Death of Honor; although I didn’t like that book a lot, the author Googled himself and commented on my book report on his blog and had better things to say about my book report than I had about his book. So the author earned some respect from me, and I thought I’d give him another chance.

Which turns out to be a good thing.

Whereas A Death of Honor was similar to Casablanca, this book is similar to Firefly–except the book preceded the television series, so it’s more in line with the genre of the scrappy interstellar traders. But the protagonists often operate outside the law, and the book features a Chinese syndicate, so in 2016, that earns a Firefly comparison. Which will be a known reference point for a couple more years, anyway.

You have May, a captain of his own ship (but indebted to the aforementioned Chinese syndicate) whose co-pilot steals the ship–or takes the ship in lieu of back wages–after a barroom altercation leaves the captain laid up for a while. May makes a drunken deal with a commodities trader on the planet who sells him beef at a discount for transit. But his new untrained co-pilot only meant transit to the other side of the planet, not another planet. Also, the beef might not have been his to sell.

The book is a series of such incidents without much of an overarching story arc aside from the episodic events, much like Firefly was before they screwed it up wrapping everything up in Serenity. This book is the first in a set of three, and I’ll keep my eyes out for the others in the series and the others by the author.

Book Report: Robotech Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming by Jack McKinney (1994)

Book coverThis book contains the first three novelizations of the original Robotech cartoon series called the Macross Saga. Within it, an alien super spaceship crash lands on the earth, and the nations of Earth put aside war to study the ship and to rebuild it to defend should aliens come looking for it. When the aliens do, ten years later, the crew of the vast ship have only barely begun to understand its secrets, but they must defend against the aliens who attack with greater numbers and greater technological understanding.

The first book, Genesis, introduces the characters and some of the history of Earth and the Robotech project. We’ve got a wizened commanding officer of the ship; an all-woman bridge crew; an ace pilot; an inexperienced young pilot; a pretty girl who might be interested in the young pilot; and so on. After the alien attack, the ship lifts into the air and performs a hyperspace jump from within the Earth’s atmosphere, which carries away part of the Pacific island on which it crashed and the town that had grown up to support the research. Instead of just reaching orbit, the ship jumps to the outer edges of the solar system. The ship, the SDF 1, and its crew rescue the people that jumped with it and rebuild the city in one of the vast holds on the ship.

In Battle Cry, the alien fleet has found the SDF-1 and attack it a couple times as the ship makes its way home to earth over a number of months (as they do cannot make a hyperspace jump).

In Homecoming, the ship has returned to Earth but brought the alien fleet with them, so the leaders of Earth want the SDF-1 to leave and draw the alien fleet with them.

The first two books in the omnibus here are the better two; the third kind of leads to a continuation of the series and is not quite as self-contained.

But, you know, I have read a lot of television and movie tie-in books, and this set adds a lot of depth to a television cartoon series. They read pretty well without foreknowledge of the mythos, and they delve more deeply into the alien psychology and the motivations of the humans. Better than you can get in 20 some minutes of imported Japanese animation, anyway.

So it was a passing bit of space opera, but I’m not eager to run out and buy the rest of the series. I was disappointed, as I implied, with the end of the last book and its mere passing of the torch onto the next in the series without some sort of story arc ending and fear that the other books in the series would be more of that same.

But I’ve started to watch the cartoon series with my children, so we’ll see if it spurs us onto better shared memories.

Book Report: Advanced French for Exceptional Cats by Henry Beard (1992)

Book coverThis book is by the same author as Poetry for Cats, and it comes from the same provenance (and perhaps Provence) as the earlier volume. In turning over my library this summer, it moved to the front, so I took the opportunity to read it.

A little less creative than the poetry for cats book, this book is a phrasebook for things cats might say translated to French. So it has sections about etiquette, taste, food, and so on. An Existentialist cat might say, “Have I caught this mouse, or is not I in fact who am trapped by the obligations of my own nature?” which is, in French, “Ai-je attrape attrapé cette souris ou est-ce que c’est moi qui suis en fait pris au piège de l’obligation de ma propre nature?”

So it’s an amusing browse, especially if you have cats. Apparently, Beard, a former National Lampoon editor, has a whole line of amusing education books for cats. I’ll keep an eye out for others at book fairs because they’re short and amusing, but I’m not going to run out to a book store to stock up on them. Which, honestly, I say pretty much about any author these days at best.

Book Report: Hiroshige: An exhibition of selected prints and illustrated books by Sebastian Izzard (1983)

Book coverThis book covers an exhibition of the works of Japanese artist Hiroshige, a printmaker from the early 19th century. As I have mentioned before in reviewing architecture and culture books from Korea and China, I prefer Western art to Oriental art, but I wanted to give a try to some more Oriental art to see if my judgment changes.

Well, not so much.

To be clear, this is a book of woodcut prints, which is different from pure painting and has a commercial purpose, which puts Hiroshige’s motivations more along the lines of Currier and Ives or Gil Evgren (Hiroshige even did some bijin-ga, beautiful women prints, when they were not illegal in Japan). Not that I’m dinging the commercial motivation for art; as the book reports linked suggest, I respect it and its productivity.

Hirohinge was very productive, with a number of series of prints over his decades-spanning career. Most of them are landscapes, but they’re landscapes with human figures. As I’ve said often when reviewing Monet’s work or other artists, I prefer landscapes with figures in them. So Hiroshige should fit right into my wheelhouse.

It’s interesting art, all right, and not bad to look at. I liked the snowy landscapes well enough. I imagine it’s on the more palatable (to me) end of Oriental art. The book, unfortunately, has most of the work in black and white with text describing the colors. Some of the items at the end are just listed without images at all, as this is something you’d probably have picked up at the exhibition and could follow along with as you went. (has the audio tour replaced this convention? You can’t take that with you.) Undoubtedly, it would have been better with the color images.

As I look at it, though, I wonder if I could turn any of these images into woodburning projects. As they’re woodcut block prints presented in black and white, I could perhaps stylize something. Perhaps if I get a table at a craft fair, woodburnings of Oriental themes would be popular.

So it’s worth a browse if you find one inexpensively and are curious about Oriental art. The book also served as a little bit of a wake-up call that, although I’ve looked into Chinese and Korean history, I’ve not read much up on Japan. Which I’ll have to do sometime. I don’t remember seeing any books about Japanese history at the library except where World War II is concerned. Maybe it’s off to ILL for me.

Book Report: The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant (1968)

Book coverThis book is a tl;dr edition of the Durants’ The History of Civilization series, which was ten volumes by the time this book came out and eleven now. Apparently, people asked them the lessons to glean from their other books, so he put out this slim volume. It weighs in at about 100 pages, the length of some of the lecture collections that I’ve been looking at recently (such as The Experience of Nothingness).

Each chapter takes a topic and looks at what the Durants have gleaned for it from their study of history. “History and Earth”, “Biology and History”, “Race and History” are pretty good musings on the natural world and what role they played in history, but when we get to chapters like “Character in History”, “Morals in History”, “Religion and History”, “Economics and History”, and “Socialism and History”, the Durants’ old left viewpoint comes out loud and clear. They list 1933 as a monumental year in history on par with World War I, World War II, and the like, but this is because it’s the inauguration of FDR. The Durants believe that the Soviet Union is a competing system, but not an enemy, and the United States should have told the USSR and China that we were their friends and would never do anything to hurt them. Also, Communist systems were moving towards freedom and the Western societies were moving toward socialism, so in the end we’d all be friends.

Welp, history is sort of trending that way, but the Durants missed a lot of how history after 1968 would work out. Of course, they were old Left, and the new Left that has arisen after turning over the old, tired institutions in academia, art, and entertainment went in a different direction (and one the Durants would have disapproved of in certain elements).

At any rate, after the first third of the book, I was eager to pick up the complete History of Civilization series, but by the end, I was wondering how colored the book would be by the Old Left sensibilities. On one hand, it’s not as invective as modern books, and it’s easy to read. We even agree on some things, such as the suckage of modern art and the perspective that all societies and civilizations eventually fall. But we differ on economic and cultural things as well as whether character and morals should be relative to time and place. There’s one thing to say that historically, moral norms were different, but I lack the intellectual detachment that allows one to say this is a good thing.

I’ll have to watch for the Durants’ The Story of Philosophy and The Pleasures of Philosophy to read before I take the plunge into the eleven volumes of their popular history series.

Book Report: Beirut Payback by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverSometimes, when I finish a book and it’s time to pick out a new one to read, I already have something in mind to read next based on some recent event or thought, something I just finished reading, or something I just bought. Other times, too many times, I spend thirty or forty minutes going through my bookshelves to find something to read immediately. As I’m going through them, I often find books I want to read, just not right now. After this period of terrible indecision, it’s good that I have a series that I can just say, “Screw it, I’ll read the next Executioner novel.” At times, it’s a bit of a punt: It will take me two or three evenings to read it, and maybe then something will jump out at me.

Which is why I read this book (and so many of its predecessors and followers).

This book sees Bolan travelling to Beirut in the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing. He’s on the hunt of a KGB bigwig, but he encounters a plan to assassinate the leader of the Lebanese government. So he navigates amongst Mossad, CIA, and KGB spies and militias of various stripes to prevent the assassination of the leader of the Lebanese government.

It kind of captures what a civil war looks like, with refugees, multiple sides, and urban warzones. Striking, because certain small elements of the American population seem to want a civil war, apparenrly thinking it might be something like a quick game of Call of Duty on the PlayStation that you’re sort of good at but you can turn it off after a couple hours. Civil war is not what’s depicted in the book, and it’s not a game. But this book serves as a bit of a reminder that it’s bloody.

Note the cover: In it, Mack Bolan carries a child while firing a gun. In this book, he does carry a young refugee through a long set piece of combat. I know it’s reinforcing the Sargeant Mercy bit, but, really? Also, as the series advances, I wonder if the authorship is passing from veterans to people who’ve never handled a firearm. They’re just that way: One bit sticks out where Mack Bolan is under fire (but not behind cover) where he holsters one weapon to draw another. What, did the book on how to write these books actually dictate how many times Bolan had to fire each gun? I’m only partly joking. Of course, the cover artist has no idea of the scale of firearms, either.

So it’s a book in the series, not one of the particularly better ones. Not one of the worse ones. In the end, it served the purpose of bridging the gap between other books I read, as I picked up something else quickly afterword to make sure I didn’t have to read two of these in a row. Just think, if I read two of these a month, I’ll complete my collection of them in a couple of years and could feasibly complete the entire series in a couple of decades.

Book Report: The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull (1969, 1970)

Book coverMost of us have heard of the Peter Princple: That a person tends to get promoted to his or her level of incompetence. That is, in any heirarchy, any person who does his job well enough to get a promotion will eventually get promoted to a position above the person’s competency, where he or she will not be able to do the job. This book is the source of that idea and not only includes it, but also includes other related observations about organizations.

For example, it explains how people who get put into those positions cope with their placement in jobs they cannot do: often, they substitute some task within the function to focus on. More frequently, though, their efforts go not toward doing the work/serving the customer/making money, but more toward supporting the heirarchy.

When a heirarchy becomes too laden with people who cannot do their jobs effectively, the company folds or the government falls. You can forestall this with by shuffling incompetent people or creating new positions to fill with people who have not yet reached the level of their competency. You cannot fix the problem with computers, as computers merely do what they’re told, and you’ll eventually have incompetent people in charge of them.

You can avoid this yourself by avoiding a promotion when you’re happy with your job, but to avoid stigmatism for not being ambitious, it’s best to fake a certain amount of incompetence to avoid being offered a promotion. Even if you reach the peak of your profession, you might be tempted to move to another heirarchy where you might find your level of incompetence eventually.

How does this book compare to C. Northcote Parkinson’s Parkinson’s Law? The book actually addresses Parkinson and says he does not go far enough because work can not only expand to fit the time allotted to it, but beyond if the heirarchy is too stuffed with incompetent individuals to get the work done.

The book ends with a chapter on the Peter Principle on the scale of the human race and fits in with the Malthusian zeitgeist of the time, unfortunately, but it doesn’t detract too much from the preceding chapters.

It’s a humorous, tongue in cheek look at heirarchies and has some truths in it. It is so tongue in cheek that I wondered if it was all a put-on, but Dr. Peter actually exists and did study heirarchies with numerous other publications, so I guess he’s for realz. A good, fairly quick read and quite a best seller in its day: this book, one year after publication, is the eight mass market paperback printing after 13 other printings, and the book is still in print today. So somebody likes it.

Book Report: Women The Children Men by Roberta Metz (1979)

Book coverThis book is another poetry chapbook I picked up somewhere. It’s from 1979, so it’s old school.

The title refers to sections of the book, one on women, one on children, and one on men. Each contains poems focused, kind of, on the experiences of each, but all of them are from an older, wiser woman’s perspective, whether it’s about being a widow, about having a sexual relationship as an older woman, having children, having men, and so on. Honestly, the men come off a little bit at a loss here, although it’s not entirely male-bashing.

The poet is a more professional poet than, say, Charlotte Osborn. You can immediately tell because the language is unabashedly contemporary (to 1979) and the lines lack end rhymes. Also, the metaphor and rhythm have a certain facility with them.

So a pretty good collection, a step up from the flowers-and-life poems of the housewife set, with a few lingering ideas and images.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Task Force Blue by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1997)

Book coverThis book is ripped from the history books and Obama-era law enforcement documents. The opening bit finds Marcinko’s group storming a hijacked plane where the Secretary of the Navy is being held hostage. Marcinko shoots the SecNav’s bodyguard in the process when the bloke draws his gun during the storming, which is the thing that puts the group outside the wire in their ensuing mission.

A billionaire has drawn a following and has recruited a number of ex-military to his organization. He seems to be amassing a large amount of stolen military weapons and distributing them to a wide variety of unsavory groups, from gangs to the militia-style group that hijacked the commercial plane carrying the SecNav in the first place.

The description of the billionaire could be molded to fit Donald Trump:

LC believed we needed a chief of state who was less the poll-driven, touchie-feelie-I-will-never-lie-to-y’all politician, and more like one of those Latin American caudillos–paternalistic, tough dictators like Trujillo or Bautista. There was a part of me that agreed with him. I want a head of state who is decisive–a man who leads from the front. LC certainly did that–he ran his businesses. He didn’t leave ’em to others to run. An in many areas, our philosophies were similar. He argued that we didn’t need a Department of Defense that ran resuce missions in the Third World instead of staying ready for war. I thought so, too. He thought we should lead, not follow, in world affairs. No argument there, either. He was tough on crime, and believed in education. Right on.
Where I got uneasy with LC was in the constitutional area. He never came out and said it in so many words, but it was kind of like he hinted that we didn’t really need the Constitution. I found that downright scary.
But guess what? Current polls showed that many Americans agreed with him–felt that we needed a strong man running the gummint, and to hell with the Constitution.

Of course, in 1997, the template would have been Ross Perot. But one thing these thrillers from the 1990s shows us that the same thing we’ve got going on in the 2010s has been going around and coming around for a long time. You can’t go back as far as the 80s, though, since those were mostly the remnants of the Nazis in the post World War II fat thrillers (although the thin men’s adventure paperbacks often show themes that continue to recur, like Islamic terrorism, as they spread their villany amid those, ex-Nazis, and militia threats).

At any rate, the book does not balance the fourth-wall-breaking expositon well with the action sequences–it has more of the former than the book can bear. Also, it’s a single twist away from being really good–when the Task Force Blue infiltrates the bad guy’s inner sanctum, they find that the general who has been controlling their shots has a new agenda: not neutralizing the threat, but instead putting the threat of civil disorder under the current administration’s control, for its own uses if needed. Which isn’t that much of a twist in the 21st century, where readers kind of expect that from any administration of opposing viewpoint, sadly.

Marcinko has kept writing these books to the current day. Most of what I’ve read comes from the 1990s so far. I wonder what I’ll find once I get into the 21st century books, as I will, probably, if I find them cheap in book sales. My continued interest in the series is the best endorsement of the book that I can provide. It wasn’t bad enough to turn me off to the series.