Archive for ‘American History’

October 28th, 2015

The Betrayal: How the 1919 Black Sox Scandal Changed Baseball

by Gwen

The Betrayal

Baseball. History. Scandal. Crime. Chicago. That’s like Christmas, my birthday, and everything good wrapped into one for me and just in time to watch my team duke it out with the Royals in the World Series.

Charles Fountain takes a big swing at separating the fact from gossip, what little can be known for sure and what has passed into legend, and while I don’t think that anyone is ever going to be able to put this game to bed, he makes a great slide into home.

Too many baseball metaphors? I’ve got more….many, many more.

Rumors were rampant that the fix was in even before Eddie Cicotte took the mound in 1919 for the White Sox against the Cincinnati Reds. However, the bigwigs of organized baseball didn’t want to hear it, it would have made America’s Pastime look bad to even check out the rumors. Journalists talked about it amongst themselves, but their editors squashed any actual mention of the idea in print, too controversial and this is baseball, it was too clean and fix something as big as the Series? That’s not possible.

What made it even harder to figure is that the boys played well, really well. They just lost. There were very few questionable plays and the bats were still active, balls were caught, runners were thrown out, etc.

It all fell apart a year later and just got more complicated from there with a myriad of complicated motivations to keep it hidden, get the truth out there, personal squabbles, ambitious lawyers, bitter players and the list is honestly endless, everyone had an oar in. Very few people walked away looking pure as snow, but this is baseball and America…we always bounce back.

You’re going to want to be a baseball fan if you pick up The Betrayal. It isn’t a book for everyone, more a book for every fan.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, the World Series is on and I’ve made some bets.

The Betrayal: How the 1919 Black Sox Scandal Changed Baseball by Charles Fountain

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199795134
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199795130


Sort of Like Gwen's Signature








April 20th, 2015

Days of Rage by Bryan Burrough

by Gwen



“During an eighteen-month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, nearly 5 a day.”

I was born in 1971. So there were 2,500 bombings happening while I was, um, doing whatever it is that babies do. That number shocked me. It’s easy to fall back into thinking that terror in the U.S. started in the last say, twenty years; we’re wrong. The massive difference, that is important to point out, is that most of those bombings in the 70’s had few injuries and even fewer fatalities.

Being in diapers and learning my ABC’s, “the Underground” wasn’t on my radar as a kid and while I’ve heard the name Weather over the years, I certainly had no idea what they stood for or just what their point was before reading this. Burrough’s book gave me a better understanding of the period…and it wasn’t just about protesting the Vietnam War. In fact, it usually wasn’t about the war much at all. That was the big takeaway. I look back and figured that everyone was busy bitching about the war, but there was a lot more going on, like civil rights, Puerto Rican independence, and more.

Days of Rage is well written and breaks up the various underground groups well, really well considering some of these groups were overlapping or active during the same time periods. However, it is far from a flattering portrait and I’m pretty sure that that isn’t Burrough’s fault. The various underground groups were a ragtag bunch; some idealistic, some angry, some drug-addled, etc. It’s hard to fathom this period in our great history where things  were so freaking bad that groups of people thought they had to start bombing and planning to kill people just to get their point across. (with the exception of the obvious mainstream things like the Revolution or the Civil War)

The book was interesting and well done…the subject, or really that should be plural, was just lousy. Burrough’s says it well here…

“In the end, the untold story of the underground era, stretching from 1970 to 1985, is one of misplaced idealism, naiveté, and stunning arrogance.”

Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (April 7, 2015)
  • ISBN-10: 1594204292
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204296

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature


January 11th, 2014

Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York by Phillip Deery

by Gwen

Red Apple

In it’s short history, America has had some dark times as we navigate not only our constitution but the changing times. i.e. our horrible native American policies, the Civil War, Slavery, Civil Rights, Gay rights, and the continuing battle to separate Church and State.

There was one period of disease that was so far reaching and so blatantly against what forefathers stood for that just peeking into that era makes me cringe with embarrassment for being an American.

When else have we persecuted people for their own thoughts and beliefs? When have we gone after a multitude of people for something that should be covered under one of the basic tenets of this great country, Free Speech? When have we hounded everyday citizens, pressuring them to turn in the fellow neighbors, friends, family, teachers, union members? The United States became like sinking ship and it was every rat for themselves.

One can say that we have some of that now with the fight against terrorism, but this was different. The U.S congress was tiptoeing along the yellow brick road to fascism. It wasn’t just the Hollywood Ten that classic film buffs, like me,  may know about.

Now McCarthy didn’t start it. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) became a standing (permanent) committee in 1945, but had it’s roots as far back as the Overman committee in 1918, headed by Senator Lee Slater Overman right through the Dies Committee chaired by Martin Dies Jr from 1938-1944.

Strangely, when many of think of HUAC, we think of the bombastic Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and that isn’t the case. Since he wasn’t in the House, had had his own committees in the Senate. We also tend to think that the Hollywood Ten were the only ones blacklisted, but Red Apple makes it painstaking clear, just by looking at six New Yorker’s lives and how they were changed, no ruined, by the Cold War and McCarthyism.

As far as the book itself, there were points that were a bit plodding and it was tough to keep track of all of the acronyms of clubs and government divisions, whether pro-communist, peace-based, anti-communist, etc. However, it was a revelation to me, made me so angry that the first three paragraphs of this review were written at 1 AM in long hand in the little notebook by my bed. It made me so irate that I just had to get some thoughts down right then.

Did you know that McCarthy actually made it into the dictionary. (thanks


the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, in manyinstances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.


the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.

Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York

by Phillip Deery


  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press (January 1, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0823253686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823253685



P.S. Thanks to the publisher for my copy, I think being so irate about things that I couldn’t change was great for my low bloodpressure.

February 21st, 2012

Ten Tea Parties by Joseph Cummins

by Gwen


Quick phrase association game-

When I say Tea Party, what do you think of?
Let me guess, you thought Boston and the beginning of the American Revolution. Right?
You may have also thought of the current political craze/party as well, but forget that for this exercise.

The Tea Party that rocked the world didn’t happen in a vacuum, it was actually a catalyst for many other tea parties all over the colonies. Towns up and down the Atlantic reacted to the passage of the Tea Act in 1773, sometimes with simple angry editorials or boycotts and other times by going so far as destroying tea and the ships that carried it.

We learned about the kerfuffle in Boston when we were in school, but most K-12 history books fail to mention that there were protests in many other places as well. For example, did you know that women for the first time, protested for rights in America?

The women of Edenton, North Carolina sent a letter to be published in the Morning Chronicle and the London Advertiser.

“We the ladies of Edenton do hereby solemnly engage not to conform to ye pernicious Custom of Drinking Tea or that we, the aforesaid Ladies, will not promote ye wear of any manufacture from England, until such time that all Acts which tend to enslave this our Native Country shall be repealed.”

The Colonists as a whole, male and female, Bostonian or Philadelphian, were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. They reacted, in a multitude of ways.

By choosing to highlight just ten cities, Joseph Cummins makes it clear that no longer were the colonies just scattered, selfish, and independent of each other. They were ready to band together and fight the oppression in a way that the English never saw coming. The book itself is easy to chew and digest for just about any reader because he gives enough detail to paint the differences of each city, but doesn’t go on and on like a more scholarly book might. That makes it a quick and enjoyable read. It is also great to learn that women took a more prominent role than what we have been led to believe from those musty old American history textbooks.


 Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot by Joseph Cummins

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books; 1 edition (January 17, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1594745609
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594745607

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