Archive for June, 2011

June 9th, 2011

L.A. Noir by John Buntin

by Gwen

LA Noir

shortened goodreads blurb

“A fascinating examination of Los Angeles’s underbelly, the Mob, and America’s most admired–and reviled–police department, L.A. Noir is an enlightening, entertaining, and richly detailed narrative about the city originally known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Se–ora la Reina de los Angeles, “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.”

I grew up in Orange County and my parents got their sea legs in the outskirts of LA, so the book jumped out at me at the library. Parker Center was the headquarters of the LAPD until 2009. I knew that, but had no idea who this Parker guy was. L.A. Noir solved that problem, but it was a bit painful.

Chief Bill Parker rose to power at the same time the city did and the Mob tried to. Gangster Mickey Cohen’s antics made for some interesting reading, but the majority of the book was totally “put-downable” for me.

I wish that I could really put my finger on why this book was more of a chore or something that I just had to soldier through; as opposed to the history of my city. There were one thing though that stood out…..and it wasn’t the author’s fault….
Chief Parker was, in my humble opinion, an ass. I continue to be baffled why the guy could be so revered that he had a building named after him with this portrayal.

Closet racist, alcoholic, stubborn, opinionated, un-compassionate, verbally and a few times, physically abusive, couldn’t take criticism, totally obsessed with the Red Menace, Communism; I could go on and on about Parker.


“It is estimated that by 1970,” he told viewers of ABC’s Newsmaker program on August 14th, “forty-five percent of the metropolitan area will be Negro; that excludes San Fernando Valley….If you want any protection for your home and family, you’re going to have to get in and support a strong police department. If you don’t, come 1970, God help you!”

Mickey Cohen was the bright spot and only source of laughter in all of L.A. Noir. Even evangelist Billy Graham  loved the guy. In Mickey’s own words, “I wasn’t the worse. Neither was I the tops.”

My usual goal, in reading nonfiction, is to get a better understanding of the person/event and how they fit into the context of their era. I don’t have the love the subject when I am done, but I can’t think of any other time that I have been completely repulsed by one as I was with Parker. The guy reminded me of J. Edgar Hoover in many ways and Buntin pointed this out a few times as well. This distaste made it a really tough read for me and I just couldn’t understand why peopled backed him and continue to laud him. That is where I think L.A. Noir fell short for me. I found myself struggling to pick the book up and fighting not to put it down.

I wouldn’t call it “fascinating” like the blurb describes, more like shocking and able to leave a bad taste in your mouth about the luminary figure of the LAPD. I will also be asking my parents about their experiences with the riots, LAPD, and general feelings about growing up in LA. Any book that gives me something to talk about with them besides religion, current politics, and that my job isn’t a real job because I don’t wear pants with zippers is a bonus in my view.

Looking at other reviews, this seems like one of those books you either love or hate. Check them out at

L.A. Noir by John Buntin

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0307352080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307352088
June 1st, 2011

Genius of Place The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin

by Gwen

Genius of Place

I will give you the blurb first because they say it much more succinctly than I can…

Frederick Law Olmsted is arguably the most important historical figure that the average American knows the least about. Best remembered for his landscape architecture, from New York’s Central Park to Boston’s Emerald Necklace to Stanford University’s campus, Olmsted was also an influential journalist, early voice for the environment, and abolitionist credited with helping dissuade England from joining the South in the Civil War. This momentous career was shadowed by a tragic personal life, also fully portrayed here.Most of all, he was a social reformer. He didn’t simply create places that were beautiful in the abstract. An awesome and timeless intent stands behind Olmsted’s designs, allowing his work to survive to the present day. With our urgent need to revitalize cities and a widespread yearning for green space, his work is more relevant now than it was during his lifetime. Justin Martin restores Olmsted to his rightful place in the pantheon of great Americans.

Okay, so I knew that Olmsted was the man behind Central Park, the Biltmore and had a hand in the 1993 World’s Expedition in Chicago. (thanks to The Devil in The White City) The rest, I had no idea about. The dude was a dynamo!

Part of me really wants to tell you all about Olmsted, but really, I need to focus on Justin Martin’s work. One of the greatest things a biographer can do is not only cover that particular person’s life, but give us an idea of the time that he or she lived in. I want to close the book with a better understanding of the era that the person lived in, so that I am not comparing their achievements to more contemporary people. I want to see the bigger picture, if you get my idea.

Martin does this in spades. You get a sense of the 19th century; the innovations, the turmoil, the way that people went about forging their own path, the basic feeling that nothing was impossible and that the American’s were leading the charge into a truly golden age. Olmsted was a man of his time. The title/job description of Landscape Architect hadn’t even been invented until he came along. The idea that places should be made beautiful and accessible to all people was unheard of for the most part.

Another thing that I really appreciated about Genius of Place was that Martin didn’t play armchair Psychologist. Olmsted suffered some great tragedies in his life and from various illnesses. While Martin did point these afflictions out, he wasn’t quick to confirm a diagnosis like many biographers are apt to do. So many writers are ready to slap a contemporary label on things and I really think that it leads us down an incorrect path when trying to understand a person and their period.

I learned so much, each chapter was a revelation. Not only do I have a better understanding of Olmsted and a larger view of his work, but it radically changed the image I had in my head about the Pre-Civil War South. Martin never went on and on about stuff that I couldn’t care less about or get mired in the minutia. He was a dynamo, just like his subject.

Genius of Place is my favorite non-fiction/biography read this year. Like the man it is about, the book was enlightening.

Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818813