Saturday, December 15, 2018

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and and a Masquerade

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Rating: 1 Star

So here is the shorter version...

I haven't read something so ridiculous in a long time - and I am not even talking about the schemes and scams of 'Clark Rockefeller'. The author is seriously delusional if he thinks he is not like those he mentioned who wanted the prestige of being 'friends with a Rockefeller'. I skipped over the author's personal stuff because I didn't care. He inserted himself into Clark's story as much as Clark inserted himself into the lives of countless others. He seems pretty self-important and proud of himself, though I am not sure why or for what.

Here is the marginally longer version...

If you are looking for a book about the con man who went by the name of Clark Rockefeller, passing himself off a member of that old-money family, look elsewhere. I was psyched at first to see this on the shelf at the library as a book that had been withdrawn from circulation. I have been wanting to read up on this whole situation for a while and grabbed this one; I so wish that I hadn't.

It's terrible.

This book is not about Clark Rockefeller. It is about the author, who should never be allowed near a vehicle of any kind, as he managed to both run over his dog and his young son (seriously), and how he is a failing novel writer who randomly takes this random dog halfway across the country to 'Clark Rockefeller', who purchased the dog, and somehow they end up being frenemies. And even frenemies is not the right word, but they were not friends and the author constantly harps on how 'Rockefeller' isn't even all that nice to him. It was all so weird, and pointless. I guess we are supposed to feel sorry for him that he got conned by this guy who is actually a thief and a liar and a murderer, but I found that I did not actually care. To piggyback on my shorter review found above, it felt like this book was just one more way for the author to capitalize on his random 'friendship' with someone who ended up not being who they claimed. Like I said, he is inserting himself into the 'Clark Rockefeller' story, because there is truthfully not really anything of interest here. Definitely take a HARD PASS on this one!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Obama: An Oral History

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Warning: Some of this review is also venting about certain fucking idiots within our current government. I might drop a few f-bombs. #SorryI'mNotSorry.


Rating: 5 Stars

*Sigh*

I really miss having an adult in the White House.

Right up front, I am not debating politics with anyone over this review. I really like President Obama, though I did not agree with him on everything. Personally, I feel like he took way too long to come around on issues related to the LGBTQIA+ community. That aside, if you are trumplethinskin supporter who has stumbled here by mistake, kindly see yourself right on over to the next blog and be gone.

I love books likes this, especially when they are about a person or event that is important to me. I feel like these oral histories really get this raw reaction to events that one does not necessarily feel as strongly when written in narrative form. But having knowledge of several people interviewed, their voices, mannerisms, and habits, it was easy to picture myself sitting down for a conversation with them as they talked of Obama's campaigns and terms, and finally of him leaving in January of 2016. One of my most favorite photos, and also the photo that makes me the most sad, is mentioned toward the end, as the helicopter circles around and the photographer catches Obama looking down at the White House one last time before leaving the residence for good. Ugh. Just about brings me to tears every time.

I want to talk about trumplethinskin as little as possible in this review, because he doesn't deserve the attention. However, there is some necessary discussion, particularly pertaining to certain policies, as well as comparing and contrasting certain things related to each person's time in office, and naturally covering those final months when Obama was faced with the realization that everything he did and the legacy he left was going to be trampled by a giant man-baby who might truly believe that Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house. I mean, really. He is THAT stupid. More than trumplethinskin though, this will be a scathing look at what a fucking douchbag Yertle the Turtle McConnell is, and why he deserves all the mockery we can give him. Seriously, fuck that guy. Unsure why I have so much vitriol for McConnell? Because he is an absolute garbage human who went out of his way multiple times to say that his number one goal was blocking or halting anything Obama wanted to do while in office. Well gee, that's just great. Way to completely not care about your country or the people who elected you, you fucktard. Take a long walk, eh? But, we will get back to him in a bit. There will also be talk of Bernie's campaign, and some of the jerkwads supporting Clinton, who apparently think that she deserved the nomination 'just because', and dismiss the fact that Sanders mobilized so many young people to get involved and make their voices heard, even if in the end he was ultimately unsuccessful in becoming the nominee. It's not like the DNC was biased in favor of Clinton. Oh, wait...

Here is something I found extremely interesting, considering all the trumplethinskin supporters who raved about him legitimizing a dictator's regime on the national stage:

"One was this YouTube-sponsored debate in South Carolina in which he got a question about whether he would sit down with hostile leaders - Castro, Ahmadinejad, and so on - and he said he would, to advance America's agenda. His opponents jumped on him for being naive, for coddling dictators, and so on..." (6%, I accidentally cut off who the quote was from, ugh!) Isn't that INTERESTING, HMMMM? So the GOP wants to have a fit about Obama considering meeting with hostile leaders, but it's okay for trumplethinskin to actually go out and do it? Riiiiiight.

A few facts that made me both proud and sad at the same time:

"November 4 was a night the world had long awaited, to witness the US break a racial barrier and rid itself of the the stench from the Bush era" (10%). And now I would gladly take a third term of Bush if it meant getting you-know-who out of the White House. (Though we must remember that even though we are remembering W a little more fondly than we should, we have to keep in mind constantly that he supported Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court so...gross.) I was so proud to be an American, to see a black man voted in, earning the job and overcoming so much. The sad fact is, President Obama's election brought out the ugly side of our country too, a side I think too many of us thought was long gone. The disgusting rhetoric and horrifying threats he and his family endured for eight years - and still endure, it is all absolutely abhorrent. We have not advanced as a society nearly as far as we thought in terms of race relations, and outright racist assholes popping up and hanging effigies of Obama from trees. But, now we know these people still exist; the cockroaches can't scurry back into the dark, we see them and know who they are.

Fun/Sad Fact: "Approximately 130 million Americans showed up to the polls - more than any other presidential election in the nation's history" (10%). I love that so many more people were motivated to vote, especially in the wake of destruction that W left behind. But it pains me that still, so many people do not vote. And little by little, and in big leaps, the GOP is gerrymandering away, making voting harder and harder in communities already disenfranchised. This is unacceptable and we must fight this.

Now, back to Mitch McConnell and why he is a giant douchenozzle.

John Tanner: Mitch McConnell said his umber-one priority in the United States wasn't trying to do something about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said "the single most important thing (we want to achieve)" was to "deny Obama a second term. I'd never seen that (36%).

Barbara Boxer: Mitch McConnell basically said, "My mission is to defeat the president." The only thing I would say, I was able to get a lot done at times, but because it mattered to their states, whether it was a highway bill, a water bill, after-school care - it had nothing to do with the president. It had to do with self-interests and self-preservation...I did have colleagues to work with on specific issues, but they never disassociated themselves with what Mitch said, which was disappointing (36%).

There were numerous times throughout Obama's presidency that I was proud to have voted for him (twice). But perhaps one of the proudest moments I personally had as a citizen was seeing his response to the devastating mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012. On that day 26 people were murdered, the majority of whom were just babies still - 1st graders who must have been absolutely terrified in those last moments, not understanding what was going on. President Obama acted like a president that day, but more importantly he acted like a father in the days to come. He met with each family privately, he wept with them, and it was easy to see the genuine impact this horrific event had on him.

Pete Souza: He was riding high. He'd just won reelection, and a month later, about a week away from his annual Christmas vacation, was the worst day of his presidency...I think John had come up to the Oval like three different times, updating the president. I'm pretty sure this particular photo was when John confirmed to the president that twenty of the people killed were six or seven years old, first graders. Shit, I'm going to start crying as I think about this, because, you know, he's obviously being told this as a president, but I think he was reacting as a parent. He's putting himself in the shoes of every one of those parents. You send your kids off to school in the morning, and you never see them again because some madman just shot them to death (54%).

Cody Keenan: The president said that was his worst day in the White House. That was true for everybody...I got to work on the statement, and Favs and I took it up to the Oval Office to show the president, and he said, "This is right," except he took out one paragraph. I remember exactly what was in it. He just crossed out one paragraph and said, "I won't be able to get through this. It's too raw" (54%).

Danielle Crutchfield: I'd never seen the president look like that (54%).

I remember watching President Obama when he gave his statement. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I had found out just a month before that I was pregnant with Eleanor, and I usually had CNN on during my plan time while I worked. I didn't get a single thing done in that fifty minutes, I could not take my eyes off the television screen. Same goes for my lunch break that day. It was awful. I just kept thinking about all of those parents waiting to meet their children at that fire house, and finally it is down to just a few dozen people, and how do you handle that? How do you handle that your baby isn't coming home? I was a wreck, thinking about my own baby and how I could keep her safe, because this was the new "normal". I will never forgive the members of Congress who continue even now, how many mass shootings later, to accept blood money from the NRA. They riled up their members, talking about how Obama was "coming for their guns!" Really? Did he? Did President Obama himself kick down your door and seize all your weapons? Oh, that's right, he didn't. Fucking morons.

The day we as a society accepted the deaths of 20 first graders, is the day we lost our soul and our humanity. I have been disgusted ever since.

Cody Keenan: ...him thinking about his own girls in their classrooms, what it would be like if he got that all, what it would take to stop him from running in that school as fast as he could, how he wouldn't be able to breathe until he knew his own children were safe. He took all hat out and changed it to, "I know there is not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do"...Everybody kept saying how remarkable it was that members of Congress would tear up, and I remember people mocking the president for crying that day. Gimme a break (54%).

Pete Souza: He started crying from the podium. He, like me, would always get emotional thinking about that (54%).

Danielle Crutchfield: He's actually phenomenal in those instances, because before anything, he's a parent. He spent hours with the families (54%).

If you are from outside the US, and can not fathom for one moment how shit like this continues to happen, it is all about the money from the NRA (National Rifle Association).

Bill Dauster: It was a continuing frustration to us. Republicans were the problem. In contrast to the days of the assault-weapons ban a decade before, Republican senators came to view, it seemed, the NRA as part of the wing of the Republican Party, an important enough ally that they'd obtained greater cohesion with them than what was sensible for them (55%).

Carolyn Maloney: After Sandy Hook, when we had twenty children murdered, I really though that we would pas gun-safety laws. it's sort of like, how outrageous could it get before you did something? (55%).

And that is the million dollar question. So many mass shootings have happened since Sandy Hook, and nothing has changed. And no one should be surprised that this then comes back around to Mitch McConnell and his vow to completely block anything President Obama tried to do. McConnell and the Republican Party are two of the many reasons these shootings continue to happen. Don't even get me started on comprehensive mental health care.

Arne Duncan: In terms of actually getting any basic legislation done to keep kids and parents safe? W got an F. we absolutely failed. There is no other way to put it. The fact that we, as a nation, allowed the sheer quantity of deaths each year, it's a choice we made (55%).

Bill Dauster: The McConnell years were a study in ratcheting up dysfunction and obstruction from Republicans...It was remarkable to us that Senator McConnell was able to push his caucus to be even more obstructionist (55%). Exactly. THIS, right here. I've said it before and I will say it again: Fuck McConnell.

There are several more examples throughout that show just how difficult his terms in office were, due to McConnell and his posse of idiots. People then wanted to freak out over the number of Executive Orders issued by Obama, but what choice did he have? He was stuck with McConnell leading the way to literally block everything he attempted to do. I take comfort in the fact that despite this, I believe that Barack Obama will be remembered as one of our greatest presidents.

As the book starts winding down, we are brought by various conversations to the campaign season for the 2016 election. I am a loud and proud Bernie supporter, who wanted Sanders to get the nomination SO BADLY. We had a candidate there who actual meant what he said, who was not part of the establishment, who would follow through on what he said. I feel like Obama did a really great job staying out of the primary season, and he did not favor one candidate over the other, though he would later endorse Clinton. What struck me in this section of the book, was just how whiny Clinton and her camp were, and how they could never accept responsibility for their actions, which lead to the election of trumplethinskin. There were quite a few statements from Joel Benenson about how Sanders did this-and-this and said this-and-that, blaming Sanders for Clinton's loss. Well, here's a thought: maybe blame Clinton fr Clinton's loss. Novel idea, right? Time and again her people were told how unlikable she was perceived to be, how she was part of the same system that so many saw as broken. Clinton had to earn the presidency, it was not going to just be handed to her. In the end it wasn't, and good Lord our country is a hot fucking mess right now, but she and her team need to share the responsibility for the fact that the DNC was behind Clinton all along and the deck was rigged in favor of her. Had there been any semblance of an unbiased DNC, a Clinton vote would have been much easier to cast for those who decided to stay home on election day. Blame Clinton, not Sanders' supporters because the truth we all know is this: No one who truly supported Bernie and believed in his message could ever have fathomed turning and voting for trumplethinskin just because they were both 'outside candidates'. It simply could not happen. When I cast my vote for Clinton, it was not to elect her as president but to stop trump from getting the nod. I so wish Obama would have thrown his weight behind Bernie, but not-so-deep-down, I knew it was not going to happen. I will say that I 100% unequivocally believe that had the head-to-head been Sanders vs trumplethinskin, we would have a President Sanders right now, no question. There were some really interesting thoughts thrown around in this section, far too many for me to quote here, as I have already quoted so much. But I do appreciate these conversations being included, and those of the days following the election as well.

Kori Schulman: It was like a funeral. My eyes were full of tears (73%).

Rob O'Donnell: Everyone just wanted to get through their mornings before having any real conversations with anyone. Then, sometimes later, they held a meeting with the entire comms team in Josh Earnest's office. Josh and Psaki led it off, and then they opened the floor for people to talk...At first, fifteen people streamed in. He was like, "How many more people are there?" And if you look at the Pete Souza photo, it's a lot. Half of them are crying. And then he made a joke: "Well, I would have let you guys continue your communications meeting, but that didn't look like it was going particularly well" (73%).

Thanks to all of these people being so willing to share their time and memories, we have a beautifully comprehensive account of President Obama's time in office. It pains me that his legacy is being systematically dismantled right now. I can only hope that in 2020, we will once again be able to look to our president as someone worthy of respect, who is working for ALL, not just the ones who look like him, that gave him the most money. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916

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Rating: 3 Stars

Goodness, half this book was so SILLY.

A very academic way to start off the review, no?

Well then, let me explain. I firmly stand behind the use of the word 'silly', because half of this book is told from the imagined perspective of THE SHARK.

Silly.

I will at least say that what I appreciated from those chapters was the biological information about the shark. But the supposition about what the shark might have been THINKING was weird, what path it took (how would the author even know?), and I skimmed a bit because, come on.

Still, I persevered because I LOVE sharks. Shark Week (when it was about real sharks) was once one of my favorite times of year. And I'm not even sorry that I love the Sharknado franchise and have watched the movies multiple times. Jaws is also one of my favorite movies and it makes sense that I would find this book, as Peter Benchley based his book on these attacks. I also really love reading these kinds of books the look at how a specific place was impacted by a specific thing or event. So, to read another book about the shark attacks of 1916 was certainly something I thought I would enjoy, and I did - at least, the half the book that actually was factual and from the humans' point of view...

Well, I think we will actually have to say "mostly factual". After reading this book, as well as other books and articles and information, I do not necessarily think that one shark is responsible for all the attacks. As has been pointed out I am sure by others, the Great White can not survive long, if at all, in freshwater. It would not be able to maintain its salinity for very long. On the other hand, if we were to seriously entertain the idea that it really was only one shark that attacked multiple times in the area, the bull shark would be the most likely culprit, as it is the only shark (of the apex predator variety) to my knowledge (and a Google search to verify) that can survive in both fresh and saltwater.

Whether or not the shark was a Great White, a bull, or something else, the author does give some rather interesting quotes that I found to pique my interest, as well as provide some new information I did not previously know. His bias is obviously in favor of the Great White being the single culprit, but I still found more than a few quotes worthy of sharing. Some are more factual or scientific, and some I are just quotes I found interesting.

"In the spring of 1916, the great white swam on the surface of a world that perhaps knew less about its nature than it had in several centuries. Even in the twenty-first century, the white shark remains largely a mystery. The force of its bite has never been measured. The bite of a six-foot lemon shark has been calculated at seven tons per square inch. The great white, at nearly twenty feet, three hundred pounds, will not submit to dental examinations, and will not accept confinement. The fish is too big, too violent, beyond control. Man has never been able to keep the great white in captivity. When this has been attempted, the giant shark batters its head against its prison, unable to accept boundaries, hammering at the metal stays in the concrete that it sense electromagnetically. All that is know about the jaw power of the great white is that it must be immeasurably stronger than a small lemon shark's" (10%). Quite the introduction, isn't it? Basically, great whites are the baddest and no one can control them. This reputation is exactly why when shark attacks occur, people just assume it must be a Great White.

Fun Fact: "Every two weeks or so, the entire row of fifty functional teeth simply rolled over the jaw and fell out, and a completely new set of fifty rose in its place. White and new, strong and serrated. Broken or worn teeth were not and issue for the apex predator" (18%). But how do we know, if the shark has never submitted to a dental exam?! Okay, so that is mostly a joke from the previous quite, but come on. I did find this interesting though, as I did not realize that the entire set of teeth would fall out together. I thought if a tooth broke or something, a new one would replace it. I had no idea it was a new set every two weeks, that is pretty amazing. Mother Nature truly is awe-inspiring.

Buuuuuut...the whole 'shark point of view' thing got really weird and annoying, really fast. "Along the bottom of the night sea, the shark moved in cold thirty-foot indigo depths unilluminated by the light of the moon. Careful to avoid big predators, it dipped low in the water column while hugging the shore, the home of living things. The shark had killed and failed to feed, and discipline and wariness ruled its every movement. The spoiled attack on a large mammal, the noisome counterattack by many other mammals, deepened its preternatural caution" (36%). Did it really though? Like, how do you KNOW? And maybe it did know that things were not going its way in that attack, because it did not get to feed. But the shark would not think about it that way, the way we as humans would. Applying the human thinking/reasoning process to a fellow apex predator, no matter how intelligent it might be, doesn't make sense.

Fun Fact: The word shark possibly comes from the German word shurk or schurke, which means scoundrel or villain (36%).

At 65%, the author does address the issue of the shark moving from salt water to freshwater, and discusses the bull shark as being the only large predator of that species that can do so. But this is is not explored as fully as it could have been, as the author and so many others have concluded that this could ONLY be the work of a great white. I'm not saying that it was not a great white in some of the attacks, but I don't know that I even believe it was the same shark for every single attack recorded in that period.

Fun Fact: In the past carpenters have used the abrasive skin (called shagreen) of sharks to smooth the very hardest and toughest wood. So, when that shark goes in for the first bump against its prey, it is testing to see how big and/or strong it is and to cause convenient gashes so the prey will start to bleed out (68%).

As one might expect, these pesky little shark attacks were bad for business all along the shores of Jersey. All it would have taken to prevent further attacks was to close the beaches while all the would-be hunters patrolled the waters, seeking out any shark they could find and butchering without discretion (but to be fair, sharks were kind of a mystery to people at that time and everyone thought this was the work of an orca - at the time no one really believed sharks were dangerous creatures. Um hello...). But when there is money to be made, we can't have a little blood and death getting in the way of the almighty dollar, right? So for a while the beaches stayed open, until tourists started fleeing from the water and returning home, or finding an elsewhere to be for their vacation. The author states, "During the second week of July, the grand hotels, cottages, and guest houses from Cape May north to Spring Lake reported an average of 75% vacancies on some of the best beach days of the year. The threat of the shark prowling offshore cost Jersey hoteliers a quarter of a million dollars of lost reservations in a week" (83%). To that I say, oh well, seeing as how none of them bothered to be worried about people being killed. On the other hand, humans are pretty much invading the home of wild animals, so enter at your own risk and don't be surprised if a predator can't tell the difference between you and its regular dinner.

There is something that truly bothered me throughout the book, and that was the idea of the shark possibly 'developing a taste for human flesh'. It was not a constant from page to page, but was certainly used as a kind of sensational question at times and I found that to be rather ridiculous. The shark (assuming for the moment there was just one) was out of its normal element, yes, and we don't know why or how that happened. But it is not as though the shark ate someone and decided, "Wow, that human tasted great. I'm going to find more humans." She was not hunting us, she had no way of knowing that her path would continue to take her to further populated areas. And if the general consensus is correct that scientists believe sharks attack humans when they mistake them for their normal prey, then it completely makes sense that she continued attacking, without specifically looking for humans. Seriously, come on.

Speaking of 'she', yes the Great White hauled to shore one summer day that they believed had done all the maiming and killing, still had one more surprise for the men who inspected her: she was female. The fishermen apparently realized this when the saw the shark had no claspers - an anatomical characteristic of male sharks used in mating to deliver sperm into the female. The fishermen also determined that though she was female, she was too young to be pregnant. Apparently these guys thought that only male sharks would eat people, though it seems rather obvious to anyone with half a brain not filled with misogynistic ideas that there would be nothing prohibiting either gender from eating humans. The author goes on to say that, "...females are in some respects more formidable. Equipped with extra girth to sustain and protect its eggs, the female white shark grows even larger than the male" (86%).

It would be really interesting to still have the skeleton of the shark, but alas, we are out of luck. The author tells us that any trace evidence of the shark is gone, and that the carcass disappeared not long after it was killed. At one point the jaw had been seen by a scientist "hanging in a window of a Manhattan shop at 86th and Broadway, before it disappeared forever" (90%). I do wonder how this random scientist knew it belonged to the shark from 1916, but at this point I was really rather ready to be done with the book and did not check the notes.

Okay, so I know I have been ind of negative about the book, even though I gave it three stars. But really, the whole 'shark perspective' thing was weird and completely unscientific. I realize that if the author simply told the story from the human point of view, the book would have been much shorter. That would have been okay, because at least it would have been completely factual. I do not understand the point of these, other than for dramatic effect. The actual shark information would have fit just as well within the other contextual history provided, something I feel the author did very well all-around. The author did do a decent job re-creating the feel of 1916, and how these attacks were viewed and treated, in addition to information of the period itself. We are given tidbits about what was going on in the world, both their small world of the Jersey shore, and the wider world, the rumblings in Europe as WWI raged on, and plenty of info about bathing suits that were and were not appropriate. Since all the that information was provided in a well-researched way, I think the author would have been better off staying within that human perspective because there is simply no way to know exactly when and where the shark did what. Scientists still can't even explain what would have caused a Great White to  deviate from its normal hunting grounds far from shore. Theories have suggested the shark was injured or sick but those will remain theories. Whenever the author started to provide a motivation or thought process for the shark, I found myself rolling my eyes a bit. It would have been something to easily ignore, except it happened in every other chapter as perspectives shifted back and forth. The author also gave very detailed accounts of the shark's path as she terrorized the upper East Coast. I am fairly certain there is literally no way to know the shark's exact movements unless he was following right behind her with a little water-proof video recorder, or whether or not it ate other things besides humans in the two weeks it was chomping on people.

In addition to providing a thorough context of the time period, the author did get me to care about those involved, and those lucky enough to escape an encounter. Those parts were the most suspenseful, when we would be introduced to new potential victims, only to find out that so-and-so managed to escape, or so-and-so became another victim. I thought that made for far better drama than pretending to trail this crazy shark around and detailing its route. The only issue I had with getting to know those impacted by these horrifying days is that we never found out anything else about them once their encounters were over. It would have been noteworthy to discuss those who survived, or the families of those who did not. If there was no information to be found regarding specific families or individuals, a statement about that would have sufficed. I was genuinely interested in the people, and it kind of felt like the ending wasn't complete without something of their lives after 1916.

Whether or not the female shark brought to shore that day in the summer of 1916 was the sole killer, or one of many, we will never know. It is interesting to note that the attacks did stop, but there were so many sharks slaughtered in the frenzy to stop the "man-eater", that it is almost impossible to say which one/ones were responsible. I can recommend this book with some caution, for the reason outlined above. Definitely a library borrow, not a purchase.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII's Niece

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Rating: 1 Star

If you are well-versed in Tudor history, you know who Margaret Douglas is - the niece of Henry VIII, first cousin to Mary and Elizabeth, mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots. Her life was not as easy as one might expect for a member of the royal family, but when we remember this is the Tudors we are dealing with, it all starts to make sense.

Margaret had quite an extraordinary life with many highs and lows. It is fair to say that she had more than her fair share of lows. But to be fair, she might not have lost her first son, Lord Darnley (Mary, Queen of Scots second husband), had he not been a spoiled, pampered, layabout. No one asks to be strangled while they're half naked in the courtyard, fleeing an explosion in the basement, but if Henry had not been such an easily manipulated follower his end might not have been so soon (or so undignified).

However, I could barely be bothered to give this book more than one star because of how inaccurate the information is, and how poorly edited/written it is. One needs only look at the synopsis on Goodreads to find an error and I should have paid more attention. It says, "...it is the arrangement of the marriage of Margaret's son, Lord Darnley, to his cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, that unites their claims to the throne and angers her uncle King Henry yet again."

Except...think about that for a moment. Henry was angry at Margaret because her son married the Scottish queen? Quite the tricky feat, considering the fact that Mary and Darnley wed in 1565. Henry died 18 years earlier, in 1547. Elizabeth was piiiiiiissed, to be sure. But her father certainly wasn't, on account of being dead and all.

I wanted this to be a great book. I think Margaret is a highly interesting study of life just close enough to the throne to be in trouble for pretty much doing anything without permission from the king or queen, all while knowing despite that proximity, you will probably never get the crown. But there are just too many flaws to ignore. There, is, an, excessive, use, of, commas, that, drove, me, crazy. Some events were not explained thoroughly so as to give a fuller picture. Inaccuracies, like the one above, are not forgivable - especially for a subject where this information is readily available.

Margaret's death is somewhat mysterious, though there is no evidence of foul play. She was living pretty much in poverty after her sons and husband died, and caring for her granddaughter Arbella Stuart. Elizabeth I's most fave favorite, Robert Dudley, visited Margaret for dinner and within a few days, she died. To some this looks highly suspicious and I am not inclined to disagree, but the truth is that there is no historical evidence that Dudley poisoned her. Yet the author states about Dudley on page 208, "Certainly he was known to have disposed of others, including his wife." While it is also true that Robert Dudley's first wife died when her neck was broken, just how it was broken is still hotly debated to this day and the conclusion was that she had fallen down the stairs, where she was found at the bottom. This seems rather salacious, as no other explanation is given. Just as we have no hard evidence he killed his wife, the same holds true for Margaret. Now, I would not be at all surprised if Elizabeth DID order it, because I am inclined to always think the worst of her, but again, no evidence. Definitely some reckless handling of material in this case.

I also took issue with the author's handling of Mary, Queen of Scots trial for her involvement in the murder of Margaret's son, Darnley. This whole episode is rather complex and deserves more attention than what is given, with the statements made. On page 177 the author states, "Their veracity has long been doubted, but if the 'Long Glasgow Letter', supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell just before she took Darnley from his father's care back to Edinburgh, is genuine, it does prove her complicity in planning his death." Again, we have no way to prove or disprove that Mary wrote the letter. Generally it is believed that some of the so-called 'Casket Letters' are genuine letters Mary sent, but that many were doctored to provide evidence against Mary. This casket was claimed to belong to Bothwell, and magically found inside was evidence needed to tie Mary to Darnley's death. The originals are long gone and all we have to look on now are copies made; this makes it quite difficult to tell if they are forgeries or not, letters piece-mealed together from other writing Mary did at the time. It also needs pointing out that these letters and the supposed marriage contracts in the casket are literally the only evidence against Mary. And while we are on the subject of the Earl of Bothwell, the author describes Mary's marriage to him as them 'eloping'. This is also something that has been tirelessly debated for centuries. Some believe Mary was guilty of plotting Darnley's murder in order to marry Bothwell. Some think Bothwell and his men carried it out without Mary's knowledge. Events are not clear after that. Some say Mary willingly went with Bothwell and married him. Others say he ambushed her party and kidnapped her, then raped her, and forced her to marry him. She may or may not have miscarried twins at one point after the 'marriage'. But to call it an elopement also paints a very different picture of Mary than does anything else above and I think further explanation of all of this was necessary.

On page 72 the inaccuracies continue. The author states, "But Henry, remorseless as he had been to Lady Salisbury and to Catherine's aunt and predecessor, Anne Boleyn, ordered that she would be imprisoned at Sion from whence his niece and daughter had to be removed." Anne Boleyn was most certainly NOT Catherine Howard's aunt. For that to be true, Catherine would have had to be the child of Anne's brother George or her sister Mary. Catherine was in fact the daughter of Edmund Howard, who was Elizabeth Howard's brother. Elizabeth Howard was Anne Boleyn's mother. Anne and Catherine were first cousins. One might ask what this has to do with Margaret at all - she was at Sion at the time and had to be moved in order for Catherine Howard to be imprisoned there prior to her execution.

One more minor issue was the author's references to Mary of Lorraine. Nearly everyone else calls her Mary of Guise, she was Mary, Queen of Scots mother. It took me a few seconds to figure out who she was talking about when she repeatedly stated Mary of Lorraine. This is not necessarily an error, but is just less common.

In the same section when the author is describing events related to Catherine Howard (Henry's 5th wife) that impacted Margaret's life, she states on page 72, "It soon leaked out that Catherine's accomplice in her assignations was a foolish woman called Lady Rochester, whose husband, Anne Boleyn's brother, had been executed for supposed incest with his sister, an accusation never proven." So much wrong here, so so much. First of all, her name was Lady Rochford, not Rochester. Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) was George Boleyn's widow, that is about all that is accurate. I even take issue with her description of Jane as a 'foolish woman'. Jane made plenty of mistakes and paid for those mistakes with her life. But to simply dismiss her as foolish is not entirely accurate, as one has to consider the fact that the queen was asking Jane to cover for her, while Catherine carried on her affairs. It is not as though Jane could tell her no. I don't know that I believe Jane was a willing accomplice, and you will find plenty of historians and history lovers who feel the same way. Then there is the charge leveled at George and Anne. Even I, someone who so thoroughly dislikes Anne Boleyn that I can't stand her at all, can say without a doubt, Anne and George were certainly not guilty of incest. Anyone who knows a thing about Henry and Anne, know that the accusations against her were false - proven time and again by the fact that her itinerary places her at different locations than when her alleged affairs took place. Everyone knows that Henry just wanted an excuse to get rid of her, and Cromwell made sure to make some up. So to present this charge of incest as something that was 'never proven' is quite ridiculous. O

The final example I will share involving inaccurate information lies very early on in the book. On page 17 the author states, "It was reconstructed as a royal palace by Henry and Margaret's grandfather, Henry VII, and had been given to Catherine of Aragon." At first you might think, sure that is right, Henry VII was Margaret Douglas' grandfather. This is true. However, the above quote was referencing her mother, also called Margaret. Margaret and Henry were children of Henry VII, so their father, not their grandfather, reconstructed the palace. These mistakes are not acceptable, they simply can not happen.

In addition to those factual errors, I found the comma use seriously OUT. OF. CONTROL. There are many, many to choose from, but I have chosen just a few to illustrate why God invented the semi-colon and the hyphen:

Page 43 "Much to the sorrow of both Princess Mary and Margaret Douglas, his goddaughter, both grateful for his kindness, Cardinal Wolsey, castigated for his failure to gain the king's ambition, had been dismissed as chancellor in 1529." Not only is it an incredibly long and convoluted sentence, the author stated on other occasions that Wolsey was Margaret's godfather.

Page 56: "Known to have been a friend and great admirer of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, himself a poet of some fame, he may have had some access, again by surreptitious means, to Surrey's younger half-brother, Thomas, who now, in his bouts of fever, was scarcely able to write."

There were so many more to choose from, but I feel these best represented the insane comma use. This review would never end, otherwise.

As you might guess, I must say that I can not recommend this book. Margaret Douglas deserves a good biography. This isn't it.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's King of Beer

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Rating: 4 Stars

Well color me shocked that once again, wealth does not equal happiness. Or common sense. And any kind of personal management skills.

I loved Budweiser - Bud heavy, NOT Bud Light. When I was in college, that is what was flowing from the kegs and I drank many a free red Solo cups worth of the delicious liquid - until I turned 21 and then it was off to the bars downtown, conveniently just a couple blocks from campus. So, when I saw this book for sale, I knew it would be something I needed to read. I really enjoy these kind of micro-histories, and this is kind of three micro-histories in one. We get the history of the Busch family, the city of STL, and the company as well. The three go together and there's no way to tell one history without the other two, there simply isn't.

So, I was quite pleased to find it was a book I actually enjoyed. This is the first I have read about the Busch family, but from what I know and further researched as I was reading and when I finished the book, things seem to be accurate for the most part. I did notice a few reviewers make note of incorrect names, but otherwise I did not find anything else that was cause for concern.

This story is just as intriguing as any other family coming up in this time, making their fortunes like the robber barons we are so familiar with. It truly boggles the mind when one thinks about the wealth these families possessed, in the days before that pesky little thing called income tax.

My only real complaint about the book has less to do with the words and more to do with the photos included. I would have found it extremely helpful if the photos of the various generations of Busch men would have been scattered throughout the sections most having to do with them. Instead the photos were at the end and it took me a bit to figure out who was who, given the fact that everyone was named August or Adolphus. In the grand scheme of things, however, this was a minor issue and nothing a quick Google search could not solve instead of having to go back and forth throughout the text. This is one of my frustrations with Kindles, but alas, there's not much I can do about it.

This story truly is a remarkable one and I was especially interested in the parts that dealt with how the growing company survived during Prohibition. To see how the company survived and thrived makes the downfall that much harder to see. The men who built the company and made it what it became at its height...only to see that sense of the family business gone with the stroke of a pen when InBev took over in 2008. It also bums me out when businesses, even ones that have grown as large as Anheuser-Busch did - lose that sense of hometown feel, if that makes sense. However dysfunctional or downright ridiculous some members of the family might have been, or still are (I'm lookin' at you, August IV...), there was still that sense of family, and ownership (or, that they were able to keep that sense of family appearance, even when things behind the scenes were falling apart, relationship-wise). Now Anheuser-Busch is just another facet of a huge conglomerate and within days of the takeover, some 1000-1400 workers were laid off. While the author is brutally honest (with a possible bias against the family, though I personally did not see it - maybe because I have not read as much about the Busch dynasty yet?) about all the problems within the family, he also makes it very clear that InBev is all about the money; quality of product is secondary at this point. But hey, as long as the rich get richer though, right?

The unfortunate truth here though is that the company didn't have to be sold. At various times throughout it's long and storied history, Anheuser-Busch was run by intelligent, forward-thinking CEOs who continued to build on the foundation put down over a century ago. Yet the problem with inheriting something so important is that sometimes one simply thinks they're entitled to it, while doing nothing to prove they have the capabilities required to maintain the business. Perhaps had August IV not been allowed so many indulgences (and by indulgences I mean all the cover-ups for deaths and drugs. You know, usual kid stuff), he would still be at the helm today. My sympathy does not lie with him, so much as it does those who came before him, and built the company into the prize it became. Even so, it is a shame to see the company no longer in the hands of the family who created it. I can only imagine some of those men absolutely rolling in their graves with what befell the company with the Fourth leading the way, when InBev came in and was able so easily to takeover the company.

I'd like to touch on the point again of the suggested bias of the author against the family. I noticed this in a review I read before I picked up the book (I know, I know, reading reviews beforehand is a terrible idea). I didn't really get that impression at all, but as I was writing this review I decided to go back and see if other reviewers touched on this and more than a couple mentioned it. I am definitely interested then in reading other books about the Busch family to compare author treatment of the subject. Perhaps I don't see it because I don't know anything but what I have read here. My personal opinion was that some of these CEOs were pretty awful people (this time I'm looking at you, Busch III. Tossing your dad out of the business was low, any way you look at it. And as always, there's IV, who is lucky to still be alive at this point, given the multitudes of guns and drugs he seems to hoard). So, it makes sense that the 'warts and all' approach was used. Nothing is held back. We see time and again how the family was able to cover up so many things that would have become huge scandals - something that's not even an issue now that the company is out of the family's control. Busch IV is free to be as out of control as he wants and it no longer has the potential to impact the bottom line.

There were enough comments about a bias that I will be looking for further reading materials. Even so, I still highly recommend this look at the true rise and fall of one of the great American companies.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

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Rating: 5 Stars

This is one of the best true crime books I have ever read, hands down.

I guess I seem a little late to the game, just posting my review now when I read the book back in March. But sometimes life just gets in the way. I think it is also hard sometimes to genuinely review something that is so hugely popular, widely read, and widely loved (for the most part). Until McNamara passed away suddenly in 2016, I had never heard of the rapist/murderer she had dubbed the Golden State Killer. Then came all the hubbub about her book, how her assistants would finish it, and it was finally released in February of this year. I put myself on the library waiting list and got the book in March.

It took mere hours to read.

This can be deceiving. The book is not a perfect masterpiece - how can it be, with the untimely death of the author who was such a skilled true-crime writer? Still, it is easy to see what the book could have been, had McNamara herself been able to finish it. That is why I feel like a five star rating is appropriate, because the passion with which McNamara poured into the project is there, seeping through with every word she wrote. This was her mission and though she could not complete it, she left a fantastic road map for it to be completed without her.

I know I should have written a review earlier. There really is not a whole lot I can say that has not already been said. I had every intention of sitting down to write this thing on the day the killer was captured, not long after I finished the book. But then I got sidetracked by new books and well, here we are.

It is easy to see how this case became an obsession for McNamara and I admire her for sticking to it, even when it would have been the easy thing to do. Still, she kept going, immersing herself in the case. She read everything she could get her hands on, scoured the internet late into the night, and even interviewed victims. McNamara firmly believed that the evidence was already there, the thing police needed to catch him was already in their possession, and all it would take is the latest DNA testing to find the serial rapist/murderer who had terrorized California for over a decade. In the end, she was right. Thanks to a genealogy website and watchful detectives, this monster was finally caught. Some question what's the point, he is in his seventies, is the projected $20 million worth it that the case is expected to cost?

Hell fucking yes it is.

This monster stalked the communities he struck in, entering peoples' homes when they were gone, determining the layout and best routes to escape, before finally deciding when to strike. He destroyed families and stole so much more than whatever trinkets he took from the scenes. I liken this to the Nazis still being rounded up today, who fled Germany so long ago and managed to live rather well in the ensuing decades. Every last one of those monsters deserves to be hunted down and held accountable for their crimes. I don't care how old they are. The same goes for this guy. I don't care that this might take ten years to prosecute. When all is said and done, justice must be served.

And that was McNamara's goal. She didn't care who got the credit, as long as they got the right guy. She worked tirelessly for years trying to put the pieces together. I don't know enough about the case prior to her book, so I am in no way claiming that she alone solved the crime (she couldn't have, as she passed before it was finished), but I would like to think that he relentless pursuit of that justice kept the case on the minds of those involved. It's such a shame she was not alive to see him finally captured, but her words to him in the epilogue are absolutely chilling. I got goosebumps the first time I read them, and again weeks later when he was finally arrested and this excerpt popped up in magazine and newspaper articles everywhere.

"One day soon, you'll hear a car pull up to your curb, an engine cut out. You'll hear footsteps coming u your front walk. Like they did for Edward Wayne Edwards, twenty-nine years after he killed Timothy Hack and Kelly Drew, in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Like they did for Kenneth Lee Hicks, thirty years after he killed Lori Billingsley, in Aloha, Oregon.

The doorbell rings.

No side gates are left open. You're long past leaping over a fence. Take one of your hyper, gulping breaths. Clench your teeth. Inch timidly toward the insistent bell.

This is how it ends for you.

"You'll be silent forever, and I'll be gone in the dark," you threatened a victim once.

Open the door. Show us your face.

Walk into the light."

McNamara wrote these words, certain that the killer was still alive, out somewhere, going about his life as though he was not one of the most active serial rapists/murderers ever known. She knew he would be caught, and she wrote beautifully of absolutely terrible things. Her words evoked deep feelings and I found myself very quickly falling down the same rabbit hole she did. I wanted to know everything there was to know and I found myself constantly Googling people and places as I read. I'm not sure what it was about this case in particular, but I had to know more. I'm not even much of a true crime reader, it all makes me so depressed and terrified at the same time. But this book, it hooked me.

I've noticed some are dismissive of McNamara's role in the case, and I won't even pretend to know or care about some of the politics behind it. I feel like she very thoroughly and succinctly put everything together so that even someone like myself, who had no knowledge of this case, could understand and follow. (To clear one thing up, I do remember hearing of the Original Night Stalker, but who knew he would end up being so many 'criminals' all wrapped up in one - the Original Night Stalker, the East Area Rapist, the Diamond Knot Killer, the Ransacker - as it was not until the early 2000s that it was determined one person was committing crimes attributed to multiple anonymous men - thanks to DNA testing.)

As said before, McNamara didn't care who caught the Golden State Killer, or who got credit for it, as long as he was caught. Time and again this is evident in her writing. Even though we follow her journey, learn about how and why she came to be a writer, it is never about her. it is always, always, about the victims. She treats them as gently as possible, and at no time did the book ever feel exploitative, as so many in the genre seem to be. One of the reasons I don't usually read much true crime is that that so many crimes seem so sensationalized, it's all about the blood and gore. Not here. McNamara creates such empathy within the reader because she keeps her own humanity while reporting on such horrific crimes. The victims are real to the reader, not just a name on a page. Through McNamara's writing we were able to become part of the story without getting in the way. The way she wrote created such a realistic scene, while still being respectful of the victims, that we could see this unknown person slinking around, hopping fences, leaving side gates open, melting into the shadows. So many times you want to shout, "There he is!" but who was he? Something else McNamara's superb writing does is show us so many perspectives. We view the case through many different eyes - the survivors and their families, the detectives working tirelessly, and then McNamara herself. Through it all though, the victims are those who matter most. Despite the technical aspect, the forensics and all of that, the victims are not lost and the story moves quickly, albeit not in a linear fashion and that might be something that bothers some readers but honestly, once you're in it, the jumping back and forth isn't really an issue because there's so much to learn.

I knew going into the book that the killer was still at large. Even with that knowledge, it did not make the end any easier. It was frustrating to come to the end and look at all this work, research, countless nights spent chasing down possible clues...then knowing also that McNamara would never see the conclusion. Throughout the book we are told which sections and chapters were pieced together by McNamara's research assistants from her notes, which pieces were from previously published material, and so on. Even then her voice still comes through, it is still her work after all - just not quite as polished as the rest. Then there is the end, where the last chapter ends literally in mid-sentence and we are left wondering where McNamara would have gone next.

Over all this book was fantastic, even at its weaker points where sections were put together using earlier drafts and notes. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Queen of Thieves: The True Story of "Marm" Mandelbaum and Her Gangs of New York

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Rating: 1.5 Stars

Such a wholly fascinating woman deserves a much better book.

Prior to reading this, I had never heard of Fredericka Mandelbaum, described as a "poor Jewish woman who rose to the top of her profession in organized crime during the Gilded Age in New York City" (from the book page on Goodreads). When I found this one, it was a no-brainer, OF COURSE I would read it. Gilded Age New York is on of my favorite periods to read about and I am always on the lookout for new subjects from the era.

The problem then, is literally everything else. I can not count the number of times her appearance is referenced. We are told as many ways as possible that she was a large and unattractive woman. Finally the author gave in on what he seemed to be waiting for the whole time and simply called her fat. it was truly gross how often her physical characteristics were mentioned - as though it is somehow unusual that supposed ugly people find success in whatever avenue they pursue for their career of choice? Whatevs, I've no time for that. And normally, I would have chucked this to the DNF pile after the fifth, twelfth, zillionth time her appearance was mentioned. But I persevered because I know of no other books about "Marm" and wanted to glean as much information as I could, despite a completely sub-par attempt to give this woman a proper biography. One might be able to shrug this off despite the ABSURD amounts of repetition, except the author then goes on and does the same thing to one of Mandelbaum's proteges, Sophie Lyons, who he mentions time and again as being beautiful, using her looks to get out of trouble, etc. The complete and utter reliance on talking about appearances was not only ridiculous, but repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. Like, almost word-for-word repetitive sometimes, as we will get to in a moment in regards to the other colorful characters who fill the pages.

I am trying to not be a total negative nelly in reviews because writing is hard, and authors pour so much of themselves into their books. But said book has to be edited, it just does, there is no way around it. I feel like perhaps another couple of rounds with a good editor could drastically improve the text. I was at first impressed by the use of contemporary sources, but for quite a stretch there it seemed that those sources were taking up more room than the author's own commentary and/or analysis of said sources. I feel like this book has potential, but will never see that as long as the book remains as-is. Mandelbaum's story is practically THEE American Dream. She reached a height of wealth that others could only dream of, with the protection of the police, judges, and Tammany Hall. While it was not by honest means, for a Jewish woman to do so, while her husband turned a blind eye and knew "nothing" of her fencing stolen goods, is an honest to goodness miracle.

Despite all the repetitiveness, I did learn quite a bit about Mandelbaum's life, family, and her career. Her trial is covered as well, and on top of that, her escape to Canada. We are also, again REPEATEDLY, reminded of who her attorneys were, that they are partners, that she retained them for several thousand dollars a year, that she aided her circle of thieves in getting out of charges, who her attorneys were, that they are partners, that she retained them for several thousand...oh wait, sorry, I just realized I was REPEATING MYSELF.

I did select a few quotes of interest, because I do feel like Mandelbaum's story is worth telling, worth knowing. It just needs to be in the hands of a better editor, and possibly writer as well.

"At the height of her criminal career, every New Yorker knew their best chance to realize a profit from their ill-gotten gains was to trust "Marm" Mandelbaum. She was also partial to helping young women get a foothold in the criminal world. She was once quoted as saying that she wanted to help ant women who "are not wasting life being a housekeeper." Because of her efforts to help women find work, even if it was in the world of crime, some contemporary feminist historians view Mandelbaum as a Gilded Age heroine for her willingness to assist women finding work and helping them make more money than they could have as housekeepers, maids, seamstresses, or factory workers" (2%).

More than a couple times, the author mentions that Mandelbaum opened a "school for crime". How would this even work? Like, seriously, the logistics simply are not there. How does one go about opening a school for crime, and operating la-di-da like it is no big deal. Obviously police officers on the beat would have to be paid, but how was this ever a thing? We are given almost zero other information about it, which I expected because it would have had to have been pretty secretive - but how do we then have any knowledge of it to begin with? The story concludes with the author stating Mandelbaum "...allegedly had to close the school when it was discovered that that son of one of the city's most prominent police officials was enrolled in it" (3%). Really? Later the author comes back around to this topic, as he often and repetitively did, but this time at least added further information about this so-called 'crime school'. He detailed the 'courses' offered and marveled at the fact that the school was quite near the police headquarters. Mandelbaum apparently offered all kinds of classes to any aged pupil, and both male and female students. They learned about burglaries, safe-cracking, and blackmailing rackets. Additional advanced classes were taught as well in those areas, while supposed "doctoral level" classes were offered in confidence schemes and blackmail. Students who were particularly astute were given free advanced courses, and the "best and brightest graduates were offered salaried positions with Mandelbaum, but they had to turn over everything they stole directly to her and no one else". The school operated for roughly six years according to the author, until again we are told that the son of a police official was discovered as being enrolled, and thus Mandelbaum closed the school. I suppose when you pay the right people, anything is possible.

I did appreciate the author really setting the backdrop for how and why a life of crime might be necessary for survival in this period. it might sound a little sensational to someone unfamiliar with the city at the time, but I do feel like this quote sums up quite accurately what life what like at that time for those not part of the 'gilded' set.

"The worst of all the slums was the villainous Five Points in the Lower East Side, a den of almost unspeakable gore and horror. It was the home to the city's most vicious criminals, robbers, prostitutes, and confidence men. Five Points derived its name from the crisscrossing intersection of Anthony, Cross, Mulberry, Orange, and Water Streets. There were no legitimate businesses in Five Points except for a very few grocery, dry goods, and clothing shops. It was filled with narrow streets alleys running every which way...the nearly falling down tenements and sheds there housed hundreds of poor immigrants who were at the mercy of the gangs, many of whom worked for absentee landlords collecting rent...Day or night Five Points was the scene of an uncontrolled abundance of murder, mayhem, robbery, and theft. No one, including the police, dared to venture into this den of thieves and murderers..." (7%).

Here I have also chosen to include some of the many instances where the author refers to Mandelbaum's appearance. I did not include all of them, as there were so many. By 8% her height and weight had been referenced three times.

"At close to six feet tall and 250 pounds, she was a formidable presence. She was easy to pick out of any crowd" (8%) Not so bad, right? But then...

"...her clients, both sellers and buyers, knew that this huge, dark-eyed, corpulent woman didn't question whether the merchandise she traded in was legitimately or illegitimately acquired" (10%).

Also: "...as an outcast herself, both physically (her height and weight making her stand out)..." (10%)

And "Already an imposing physical presence, she kept her outward appearance unobtrusive...despite her criminal vocation and her height and her girth..." (20%)

And still more. "Mandelbaum saw in the young and beautiful Lyons the image of how she wished she had been. Mandelbaum, tall, fat, and unattractive was drawn to the waif-like beauty of Lyons" (37%). There are others also, but I think by this time one gets the point. The author is utterly fixated on what he perceives as her grotesque appearance and can not leave it for a moment. It is a constant throughout and totally unimportant.

While on the whole, this book is in need of some serious changes for it to be a worthwhile read, there is valuable information in there if you have the patience to wade through the rubbish and find it. Mandelbaum was no saint, but she was an unique woman living in difficult times. She managed to stay out of jail throughout her entire career, not for lack of trying on the part of reformers seeking to end the corruption at all levels. Even during the trial that would effectively end her career in NYC, she managed to elude the Pinkerton detectives who had so painstakingly built a case against her for months. Mandelbaum was highly intelligent and a more than capable foe for those seeking to put her and similar operations out of business for good.

"On February 26th, 1894, Fredericka Mandelbaum died in her home in Hamilton surrounded by her family and Stoude. The cause of death was reported as Bright's Disease, described in modern medicine as a chronic form of nephritis or kidney disease. She was sixty-five years old.  Although the obituary notice that appeared in the Hamilton Spectator took note of her criminal past, it called her 'a woman of kindly disposition, broad sympathies, and large intelligence'".

Mandelbaum deserved a much better biography than this.