Thursday, 29 December 2011

James P. Cole, "The Death of Elvis: What Really Happened?" (1991)

Ever since the early 1990s, when I was researching an article on Elvis' death for my university newspaper, I have found the death of the 'king of rock'n'roll' pretty fascinating. At the time, my interest was spurred by the conclusions of the rather inflated sounding Elvis Presley Commission. This book seems to be generally regarded as one of the less biased, and better researched texts on the topic.

While the book generally presents a fairly convincing case, it is written in the kind of 'crime thriller' rhetoric that intends to make the process of research (conducting interviews and archival digging) more exciting. I have to admit that the process was exciting, in that much of the research was conducted as part of a respected American investigative news program, and/or as part of a legal proceedings growing out of the program's work. Attempts by the authors to occasionally describe their participant's behaviour, or characterizations of what these persons were thinking sometimes rang as amateurish.

In short, the book provides a nice introduction to some of the issues around Presley's death, and given the descriptions of expert testimonies in legal proceedings, helps to build a strong case for the proposal that Presley died of a drug overdose or, at the very least, drug-related causes.

Frances Widdowson & Albert Howard, "Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry" (2008)

The subtitle for this book is "The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation."

This book is tough to read. Widdowson and Howard are not gentle in their criticism of aboriginal activists, government negotiators, academics, and the sundry hangers-on that speak in favour of a mythical 'golden' state of nature for aboriginals, and economic, social, and political solutions for contemporary Canadian problems based on that 'golden' myth.

More to follow.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Alexandra Highcrest, "At Home On The Stroll" (1997)

The subtitle of this book clarifies what it is really about: "My Twenty Years As A Prostitute In Canada."

In short, the story of a northern Ontario boy who moves to Toronto, begins working as a prostitute, finds the life not particularly objectionable (especially the money), makes some friends, conflicts with family, deals with some bad tricks, begins to experiment with living as a woman, leaves the trade, becomes an advocate. An intriguing story that doesn't wallow in polemicizing about the evils of prostitution, or preaching the virtues of liberal live-and-let-live economics. It is one person's story, one person's analysis, and a very humane one at that.

Belinda Beaton has written a very good review of this book in Books in Canada.

Vincent Bugliosi, "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy" (2007)

I worked on Bugliosi's epic (more than 1,500 pages, as well as a full CD of notes and sources) on and off from 2008 through to the end of 2011 (more off than on, I'll admit). It is compelling, if at times annoying, reading. It is to be expected that anyone who treads into such a storied and controversial subject will anger many, and 'speak truth' to others. Bugliosi gives short shrift to the abundant conspiracy theorists. He denies, flat out and without any apology, the prospect of any conspiracy being involved in JFK's death. He attacks, sometimes in quite vitriolic terms, the arguments and even sometimes the reputations of many conspiracy theorists.

Bugliosi has an impressive history as an American prosecutor. He successfully tried, for instance, Charles Manson. In the 1980s, he was hired by a British media firm to engage in a mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. The budget for the project was fairly large, and resulted in something close to 15 hours of television. Bugliosi's preparation for the case likely forms the foundation for this book.

Part of what makes Reclaiming History so compelling is simply the weight... or should I say, the volume... of the text itself. It's hard to argue with a book that offers such a comprehensive, overwhelming amount of text, and that appears to be based on an exhaustive search of primary and secondary documents related to the case. Bugliosi also, like a good prosecutor would, not only provides an overview of what he understands the events related to the case to be, but devotes chapters to demolishing a multitude of positions related to conspiracy proposals, including questions regarding Oswald's ownership of the gun used for the assassination, sightings of other shooters, irregularities of the autopsy, etc. For this, the book's encyclopedic coverage is tremendously useful.

Bugliosi's writing style is - to be kind - indulgent. The text often wades into annoying rhetorical questions, petty name-calling, and unnecessary speculation about other authors' motivations. The worst chapter for such indulgence is the second-last, which explores Oliver Stone's film, JFK, in depth. With much of the rhetoric and excess excised (something a good editor could and should have done, if they could have gotten through the whole of the text in less than a year) the book would have run to perhaps a far more manageable 1,000 pages.

The length of the text is its central shortcoming for casual readers. The book is not for the faint of heart, nor for the weak of arm. For those with a deep interest in the Kennedy assassination, you will get what you most need in the first ten chapters or so. Some may also find it useful to read the chapter devoted to the film JFK.

Bryan Burrough wrote a very good review of Reclaiming History for the 20 May 2007 New York Times:

You can watch or read the transcript of a 2007 talk by Bugliosi on the book:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Joseph E. Stiglitz & Linda J. Bilmes, "The Three Trillion Dollar War" (2008)

The full title of Stiglitz and Bilmes' much talked about book is The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. The central idea they propose in the book is that the way the costs of the war were discussed, by the great unwashed masses, the US government, and the US military, is wildly misleading, either by intention or error. They propose, through using a form of what I will call forensic auditing - for lack of a term I know that will be more correct - to identify heretofore hidden costs of the war, costs of the war that have not been discussed or built into short and long-term US national budgeting, and incidental or related costs of the war that do not go reported in calculations claiming to capture the cost of the war.

A decent, though cursory, outline of the types of costs the book analyses are laid out here:

Excerpts from the book can be read at:
National Public Radio, USA (NPR) -
Vanity Fair, Apr. 2008 -