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BOOK REVIEWS BY TESSA HEBERT

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The Seven Stairs
Brent Stuart
J.K. Rowling:
The Wizard Behind Harry Potter
Marc Shapiro
Destined to Witness:
Growing Up Black In Nazi Germany
Hans J. Massaquoi
 Nightmare in Dallas
Beverly Oliver
Texas in the Morning:  The Love Story of Madeleine Brown and President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Madeleine Duncan Brown
JFK:  The Last Dissenting Witness
Bill Sloan with Jean Hill
Out of Bondage:
The Story of Elizabeth Bentley

Elizabeth Bentley

Woman of the Dawn
  Wabun Wind

The Life of a Communist Spy
Out of Bondage:  The Story of Elizabeth Bentley
By Elizabeth Bentley

ISBN:  0804101647

 Elizabeth Bentley has been described as "a blonde Mata Hari." She was accused of being a chronic liar.  Evidently she suffered greatly from alcoholism.  But her autobiography gives a picture of a dedicated and honest woman who worked hard and tirelessly to change the world for the better, even though her ideology was wrong.  I think the last paragraph of her book tells it best:
And now I looked again at these people before me in the Committee Room. They are spiritually dead, I thought with sudden and final release.  But I am alive and I can speak for them, for all those whom I have left behind -- those lost ghosts that have died for an illusion.  Telling their story and mine, I will let the decent people of the world know what a monstrous thing Communism is.
Elizabeth Bentley (1908-1963), native American and Vassar graduate, began her life as a Communist spy with idealism and a sincere belief that something must be done for the poor and oppressed.  As a young woman she spent a year in Italy and then returned to the United States of America in 1934 convinced that "Fascism was an ugly and dangerous thing."  Through a friend, she learned about and joined the American League Against War and Fascism, which claimed its mission was to enlighten the American people about the evils of Fascism and Nazism, but she was too naive to understand that it was a Communist-front organization.  By the time she learned the truth, she by then believed that Communism, particularly as was practiced in the U.S.S.R. (Russia), was "building up a new society that might well be envied by many of the more advanced nations."  The fact that the USA was still suffering the throes of the Great Depression no doubt influenced her belief that Communism offered a better way of life.

The book explains how Bentley was led through a serious of psychological maneuvers by the Communist Party to become a most willing and efficient spy, while leaving no doubt that her character set her up for such a role.  Her description of the long hard hours she worked and the many meetings lasting late into the night sounds very similar to the tactics used by most cults to wear down its new inductees into mindless obedience.  She tells her story plainly, but interestingly, and she names names, including Jack Hazard Reynolds, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, Frederick Vanderbilt Field, and Julius Rosenberg.

Eventually, she was assigned to work directly for Jacob Golos, a member of the American Communist Party and the Soviet secret police.  She and Golos became lovers, and she was his loyal companion and spied for him until his death.  She describes Golos as working himself to death in a suicidal fashion (perhaps because of his own disillusionment with Communism), yet determined to help and protect others in spite of his bad health.  After Golos' death, she attempted to assume his duties, but soon realized the truth about Communism.  She finally walked into an FBI office and told the FBI everything she knew.  

For a more contemporary look at the life and character of Elizabeth Bentley, I recommend the book Red Spy Queen:  A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley, by Kathryn S. Olmsted.  Ms. Olmsted's book is well-documented, has the perspective of looking back at history, and includes information from recently released government documents.  She is kind to her subject and portrays Bentley as more heroine than villainess.  However, I recommend reading the autobiography, too, because it was written not long after the events happened, by the subject herself.  
© 2003 by Tessa Hebert
Elizabeth Bently
In August 1945, a 37-year-old woman named Elizabeth Bentley walked into the FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut, and announced that she was a Communist spy who controlled a vast network of agents operating within the U.S. government.  Her defection precipitated the decade's first "Red Scare" and set off a chain of events that eventually led to the execution of the Rosenbergs.










Woman of the Dawn
By:  Wabun Wind
  ISBN:  0425126560

Can a woman with a career as a journalist in New York City find love and happiness with a Native American on a back-to-the-earth path?  Evidently not, but that woman can follow her path alongside her man, even if he is not romantically committed to her.  Unfortunately for Marlise James, her path mate led her down a road of financial and romantic poverty.  But your life's path is more important than your romantic dreams of happiness, right?

Marlise James had a career as a free-lance journalist.  She was a city girl and relatively well-adjusted to her role in life.  But her dreams of romance were unfulfilled.  And she began to have hallucinations that some might consider to be symptoms of schizophrenia, dreadful terrifying earthquakes experiences that were real only to her.  Then she heard about Sun Bear, a spiritual leader who believed earth changes were coming soon and people needed to know how to survive those changes.  So, she wrote to Sun Bear and invited him to visit her in New York, planning to write an article on him.  

Sun Bear arrived to visit, with his woman with him.  But his involvement with another woman didn't stop him from a romantic liaison with Marlise, who fell in love with him at first sight.  His relationship with the other woman evidently was ending on a friendly note, and Marlise had no problems with the other woman whom she found to be warm and friendly towards her.  Later the other woman told Marlise that she was pregnant with Sun Bear's child, but planned to leave him and live with another man who would make a better father for her unborn child.  

Marlise eventually closed the door on her life in New York and went out west to join up with Sun Bear, after Sun Bear convinced her that her hallucinations were visions of the future.  She worked with him to establish a tribe and to buy land for the tribe to live on.  She learned how to eat "road kill," farm, arbitrate community disputes, live in a car and live off the land.  They earned money selling Native-American jewelry at shows and traveled a lot.  A bath was a luxury while they traveled and pinched pennies to save up to buy land.  And before they achieved their dream of buying the land they were saving up for, Sun Bear found another woman to have a romance with, a woman whom Marlise did not like.  

Marlise told how she "embraced her shadow and it disappeared."  She finally learned to like and to be a sister to the other woman in Sun Bear's life.  

The dichotomy of a Native American wanting to buy land for his tribe was not missed by the author.  She briefly mentioned Sun Bear's discussion with her about how troubled he was about that, but supposedly he insisted that the only way they could establish a tribe that would survive would be if the tribe owned the land.  I couldn't help but wonder, haven't these people heard about reservations?  

Marlise, renamed Wabun Wind (the East Wind, the Woman of the Dawn) by Sun Bear, lived with Sun Bear for 20 years.  She co-founded The Bear Tribe with him in Washington state and became tribal community leader for a short time after Sun Bear's death in 1992.  Sun Bear continued to have his other romantic relationships, and Wabun Wind eventually met the love of her life (but that story is not told in this book).  

This book is an interesting read and an enlightening one, but it is not likely to convince you that the Native-American life is the true path for you or a life to be envied.  The author's road in life was a hard one, and I admired her courage for enduring her path.  I also appreciated that she shared about her learning experiences in her book.  Reading between the lines, the picture I developed in my mind was that Sun Bear was a user of women and he founded a life style that allowed him romantic freedom under the guise of a spiritual back-to-earth path and a goal of establishing a place for "his tribe" to live.

I am reminded of the words of Santanya:  Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.


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Texas in the Morning: 
The Love Story of Madeleine Brown and President Lyndon Baines Johnson

By:  Madeleine Duncan Brown
  ISBN:  0941401065 

After I read this book, I felt like I had been led through a fog, and occasionally the fog lifted and I was allowed to see a small confusing picture.  The fog was like cotton candy -- which padded and hid many things -- very sweet, so tempting, yet airy and light, and messy, sticky, and gooey when it melts and disintegrates.  And like yesterday's cotton candy, this tale is rank and it is indigestible.

The kindest thing I can say is she certainly lacked a good editor for this book.  Her ramblings about her sex life with Lyndon Baines Johnson tumble out amidst her questionable and incomplete renditions about her personal life and historical facts.  Foggy as her story may be, it paints an extremely crude picture of LBJ; a surreal look at various illegal activities by Texans; and her claim that she gave birth to LBJ's only son.  It also provides some sketchy details about what she claims to know about the assassination of President John Kennedy, along with her claims of having rubbed shoulders with some of the richest men in Texas, such as billionaire oil men like Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison, and H.L. Hunt. She name dropped a lot, but there was no evidence given to show that she knew what she was talking about.  Most of what she told about the rich, famous, and infamous could have been obtained from other sources, as well as what she recounted about historically well-known events.

The author does not spare the reader from details of her sexual exploits with Lyndon Baines Johnson, his love of watching homemade movies of animals mating, and his bellowing like a bull and other animals as he had sex with her.  Her writing sounds like a juvenile writing pornography, such as this paragraph about her first sexual encounter with LBJ:

Lyndon was trembling with agonizing anticipation as he rubbed my breasts and began running his hands over the silky terrain of my hips, thighs, and legs.  I thought I would go insane.
The title of the book comes from an exclamation LBJ made one morning, after a night of sex with the author:
As I readied myself to return to Dallas, Lyndon said, "Here, honey, I think you deserve a pussy award for all that wild fucking!"

Inside was a beautiful doll wearing a gold and white swimsuit with high heels.  Emblazoned in gold on a diagonal white sash were the words "MISS PUSSY GALORE!"  After I laughed and expressed my appreciation, Lyndon went to the window, as he had numerous times before and once more bellowed like a bull, "Goddamn, I love Texas in the morning!"

The author claimed her affair with LBJ began in 1948 at party held in LBJ's honor at the Driscoll Hotel in Austin, Texas, to celebrate his senatorial victory over Coke Stevenson.  At that time, the author worked as an ad executive for a Dallas advertising agency, was 23 years old, had one son named Jimmy Glynn Brown, and was separated from her husband James Glynn Brown.  She admits she duped her loving parents (who cared for her son Jimmy while she dashed off to Austin to have sex with LBJ) into believing that the many gifts she received from LBJ of perfume, flowers, and clothes, even a mink coat and a new car, were benefits of her job or gifts from the agency's clients. 

Supposedly, after she told LBJ that she was pregnant for his child in 1950, he arranged for her to be financially taken care of, through his attorney Jerome T. Ragsdale.  Initially, she was paid $200.00 a week during her pregnancy, then after her son Steven Mark Brown was born, she got $500.00 a week for living expenses, a 6-room house, a live-in maid to care for the baby, charge cards, plus all expenses paid, for 25 years (the money stopped arriving in 1975). 

That's quite a bit of money to provide for an illegitimate child and to keep her quiet about a sexual indiscretion by a then barely-known-but-ambitious United States senator.  She claimed she even got a new husband (Charles G. West in 1961), supposedly in name only, when LBJ wanted to take the heat off himself about his affair with her when he was Vice President of the United States.

The reader is supposed to believe that she got pregnant for LBJ because there were no contraceptives in 1950 ("Ladies didn't have contraception in those days.  The 'pill' was unknown.").  True, oral contraceptives for women were not available in 1950, but if you believe there was no contraception available in 1950, maybe you will believe that she was a lady.  The reader is also supposed to believe that LBJ was such a stud, she would drop whatever she was doing to race over (from Dallas to Austin) to a hotel for about a dozen one-nighters with LBJ, and in later years, a few 15-minutes of sex with him in the course of years without any.

Her story also includes historical details about such notable criminals as Billie Sol Estes, whom she claimed was a best friend of hers, and her naive opinion that Estes did nothing more than many rich men did in those days.  She suggests that Brown & Root's role in the Vietnam war may have been as a "secret government agency" -- a rather unbelievable statement -- but like so many other statements in her book, unsupported by any evidence.

One of the most curious stories she tells is the one about the maid, who cared for her son Stephen for ten years.  This loyal servant  mysteriously and completely disappeared, purportedly because she caught sight of LBJ with the author in one brief moment at a hotel.  The author claimed that LBJ threatened twice during that romantic interlude to replace the maid, after he realized the maid had seen him.  Does that mean that LBJ had the maid murdered?  What are we supposed to think?  Surely, if the maid completely disappeared for over forty years, would not her family and friends have insisted that some legal investigation take place?  This is just one example of the confusing pictures that emerge in the fog of this story, without relevant and subsequent details to make the pictures clearer.

After viewing the photographs in the book, I do not think her son Steven looked anything like LBJ, despite her statements that he did.  Another curious and upsetting story she tells is that after Steven filed a lawsuit against the Johnson family to claim his inheritance, he was arrested for being a deserter from the Navy (ten years after his Navy discharge on "humanitarian grounds") and kept for two months in a Navy hospital while he was dying of lymphatic cancer.  Supposedly, Steven's lawsuit ended because he was unable to appear in court while imprisoned in the Navy hospital, and any hope of proving Steven's paternity died with Steven in 1990. 

The author gave very few details about her first-born son Jimmy and none about what happened to him, yet she somehow ended up raising two grandchildren who apparently are Jimmy's children.

What she claimed to have known about the Kennedy assassination is stated below, in order to give you an idea of how little she revealed, although these claims certainly spiced up her story:

  1. She was introduced to Jack Ruby by LBJ's attorney Jerome T. Ragsdale, when she bumped into them while shopping at Neiman-Marcus during her afternoon break from work.
  2. She often saw Ruby and Ragsdale talking, occasionally spotted them with H.L. Hunt.
  3. She saw Jack Ruby "in deep conversation" with Lee Harvey Oswald. 
  4. Ruby waved a map of President Kennedy's motorcade route and had "specific knowledge of the President's entire Texas trip," which he talked with her and others about, as they were drinking in Ruby's club, before the assassination.
  5. The night before Kennedy was assassinated, she was told by LBJ, "After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedys will never embarrass me again -- that's no threat -- that's a promise," at a party at Clint Murchison's home honoring J. Edgar Hoover, after LBJ had a meeting in a closed room with others at the party.  And LBJ repeated his promise in a phone call to her the following morning, "That son-of-a-bitch crazy Yarborough and that goddamn fucking Irish mafia bastard, Kennedy, will never embarrass me again!"
  6. LBJ, in response to her questions about his involvement in the JFK assassination, angrily told her that "it was Texas oil and those fucking renegade intelligence bastards in Washington" who killed JFK.
This book reminded of me a child telling a story about the excitement and fun of a carnival, and while I might appreciate the child's viewpoint and comprehension of the carnival, I had the adult's perception of knowing better and wanting more.  This is a very incomplete and undocumented tale, like a child's leftover cotton candy --  a bad-tasting remnant from a trip to the carnival and a reminder of the flashing lights, the excitement, and a ride on the ferris wheel.  And like a child, the author told her story without a mature understanding of what a carnival really is --  a lot of flashing bright lights, games and rides, crowds, noise, dirt, and smoke and mirrors.  This book is at best, a foggy and romanticized rendition of historically important events.  I truly believe that posterity will demand a clearer picture and better documentation of the claims made by the author.
 
Reviewer's Disclaimer

As I pondered what I would write in this review, I found this quote, which made me wonder if I ought to be so critical of this book:

A bad book is as much a labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author's soul. 
                                                       -- Aldous Huxley
Writing this review was a hard for me, because of my bad feelings about the way the author told her story.   I realize that the author of the book must have labored and agonized over her writing, probably a lot more than I did about writing this review, and that if her story is true, it certainly must have been very painful for her to write it. 

I am sorry I am so critical, but I believe I owe it to my readers to be honest. 

As I struggled to translate my feelings into words about this book, I tried to find a kind way to state what I was feeling.  I re-wrote and revised this review several times, and was still so unsatisfied with it, I left it for more than a week before coming back to finish editing it.  But, at the end of a long process of sorting through my thoughts and interpreting my feelings,  I finally decided to publish my review as it is.  I apologize to you for how long this review is.  I hope you will understand that I provided so many details in an attempt to show what caused my questions about why the author left so many gaps in her story and to show that this book lacks evidence to prove and support the author's claims.

And I apologize to Madeleine Brown for my critical nature which provokes me to write such an uncomplimentary review.  I can only hope that my review and criticisms will be accepted as honest reporting and opinion, and that Ms. Brown will benefit from my review.  Like they say in Hollywood, "Any publicity, even bad publicity, is good."  And maybe this effort of mine will provoke Ms. Brown or another writer to give future generations more facts and documentary evidence, in another book. 

-- Tessa Hebert

© 2001 by Tessa Hebert
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JFK:  The Last Dissenting Witness
By Bill Sloan with Jean Hill
ISBN: 
1589806727

Jean Hill saw President Kennedy shot, she believed that at least one of the shooters was on the grassy knoll behind the fence, and she estimated that between 4 and 6 shots were fired.  Her story was heavily disputed by the Secret Service who kept her in custody for hours on that fateful day, the CIA agent who was present in her first meeting with the FBI, and the FBI who interviewed her extensively for days after the assassination, as well as the Warren Commission's attorney who humiliated and intimidated her before taking her testimony for the Warren Commission.  Some of the most interesting facts presented in this book are:

  1. Jean Hill saw Jack Ruby run at break-neck speed from the Texas Book Depository to the fence on the grassy knoll immediately after the shooting of JFK, as she ran towards the fence where she thought the shooter was.
  2. She saw a man in a Dallas-police uniform holding a rifle and standing behind the fence on the grassy knoll, immediately after the shooting, right before she was grabbed and escorted away by two Secret Service men.
  3. She stood in a restricted part of Dealey Plaza to watch the parade.  She and her friend Mary Moorman only got past the guard because she and Mary flirted with the Dallas police officer and name dropped.  There were not many people who had her close-up view of Kennedy as he was shot.  She was close enough to the presidential limousine to have actually touched it, just a moment before the first shot was fired. 
  4. Her boyfriend was J.B. Marshall, the Dallas police officer who was on a motorcycle to the left rear of the president's car and who's helmet and bike got splattered with JFK's blood and brains.  He told her that LBJ's Secret Service people instructed the motorcycle cops at the Dallas airport that these changes were being made: 
  1. the parade route was being changed to cut through Dealey Plaza on Elm Street;
  2. the motorcycle cops would not be at the front of the presidential limousine as they normally would have been, but would only be at the rear of the presidential limousine;
  3. the order of the cars in the motorcade was changed so that Johnson's car would not be immediately behind the presidential car, but that a carload of Secret Service would be in between the President's car and LBJ's car. 
Most shocking of all, was his report to Jean Hill that another motorcycle cop witnessed that LBJ started ducking down in his car at least 30 to 40 seconds before the first shots were fired.
  1. Arlen Specter, who questioned her in Dallas for the Warren Commission, was the one who proposed the "single bullet theory" that was adopted by the Warren Commission.  His butchered transcript of her testimony to the Warren Commission was "heavily edited, completely distorted and shamelessly fabricated." 

Author Bill Sloan does a credible job of telling Jean Hill's story and explaining her inner turmoil and emotional trauma about being a witness to the assassination.  He explains about:

  1. Why she refused to go to Washington to testify before the Warren Commission.
  2. That she was romantically involved with a married man at the time (J.B. Marshall) and how he repeatedly tried to convince her to keep quiet about what she knew, and how he evidently knew more than he wanted to tell her.
  3. That the FBI kept her home under surveillance for 15 months after the assassination.
  4. Why she would not testify in the trial of Clay Shaw in New Orleans, although J.B. Marshall and Mary Moorman did.
  5. Her eventual vindication and validation through experiences with Bill Marrs (author of Crossfire) who introduced her to others who witnessed the assassination, and her experiences with Oliver Stone and Kevin Cossner during the filming of the movie JFK.
  6. The details of the attempts on her life (most significantly, one almost-fatal car wreck caused by the steering-wheel bolts being unscrewed and another time when her car's brake-fluid line was found to be cut). 

The most inexplicable fact about Jean Hill's story is why was Jack Ruby running at break-neck speed towards the shooter behind the fence on the grassy knoll?  She did not know who Jack Ruby was until she saw him on tv, as he shot Oswald.  Her fear that no one would believe her about seeing Ruby running towards one of the shooters was increased when she was told by FBI agent Shanklin that eye witnesses had proved that Ruby was not at Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination.  Perhaps her identification of Ruby at Dealey Plaza is the clue to why her testimony was distorted by the Warren Commission, why she was intimidated and humiliated, and why her story is so important.  No doubt, historians, researchers, and future generations interested in finding out the truth about the JFK assassination will be grateful that Jean Hill's story is finally available in this book, published twenty-nine years after the assassination, without any distortion by those who would have preferred that it had never been told.

© 2001 by Tessa Hebert
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Nightmare in Dallas:  The Babushka Lady
By Beverly Oliver
ISBN:  0914984608

If you are a JFK-assassination buff, this book is a must-read for you!

Abraham Zapruder's film of President Kennedy's assassination shows a woman wearing a long coat, with a scarf on her head, who was also filming the presidential parade with her movie camera.  She was not asked to testify in the Warren Commission investigation, nor did the police or FBI interview her at the time of the assassination, even though one of police officers at the scene of the assassination recognized her and knew her as a friend of his wife.  In 1977, she was interviewed extensively by two representatives of the House Select Committee investigating the assassination, but she was subsequently not required to testify before the Committee.  At long last, her story was published in 1994, in this book titled Nightmare in Dallas.

Beverly Oliver was standing across from the Texas Book Depository, and she started her movie camera as the President's car made the turn onto Elm Street.  She kept filming as his car passed in front of her and the fatal shots were fired.  She had not had the film developed when two nights later, two FBI men appeared at her work to take the film from her.  What happened to her film has not been discovered, although unsuccessful attempts have been made to retrieve it from the government.

Beverly Oliver's story includes little that is not already known about the Kennedy assassination, but her story gives credence to those who have told their stories before her.  She met Lee Harvey Oswald at Jack Ruby's night club, when Jack Ruby introduced him to her as a friend "who's with the CIA."  She also saw David Ferrie on numerous occasions at Jack Ruby's bar.  She states that Jack Ruby had a strong dislike for John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy, although he admired Jacqueline Kennedy.  She claims that the shots that killed President Kennedy were fired from the fence on the grassy knoll.

Her story also includes the disappearance of Jada, one of Jack Ruby's strippers, which Beverly Oliver believes was not because Jada had left for a new job in New Orleans.  Jada had been interviewed by newspaper reporters who printed her quotes about how Jack Ruby had introduced her to Oswald a few weeks before the assassination.  A few days after the assassination, Beverly found that all of Jada's costumes were being sold and she was reassured by the bar manager that Jada would not be needing them any longer.  Obviously, Jada was no longer working as a stripper.  But what happened to Jada is not explained, or is still not known.  It seems to me that if someone was getting rid of everyone who saw or met Oswald at Jack Ruby's bar, there would have been a lot more people who would have disappeared, including Beverly Oliver.

At the end of the book is an interesting chapter, called "The Fake Ruby?"  While the reader is assured that there are credible witnesses to the fact that Jack Ruby was dead years before this incident, no explanation is given about why this impostor claimed to be Jack Ruby.

Beverly Oliver's story is told in the third-person, probably by Coke Buchanan the co-author. The facts about the assassination are interwoven in the story of Beverly Oliver's life as if some facts of her life are more important than what she knows about the assassination of a president.

Beverly Oliver's story begins when she was 15 years old, sneaking out of her parents' Garland, Texas home, in an attempt to start her career as a singer in the shady world of Dallas nightclubs, where she met Jack Ruby.  Besides her filming the JFK assassination when she was only 17 years old, the facts of her life which are covered in the book include:

  • She was an unwed teenage mother and gave her baby daughter up for adoption in 1962.
  • She was a singer in the Colony Club nightclub and often hung out in Jack Ruby's nearby club, the Carousel.
  • She had an her affair with a married man, who was often at the night club.
  • She was a friend and companion of Jack Ruby.
  • She married a gambler, who apparently unknown to her, was suspected of being a gangster and a murderer.  He threatened her life one time when she tried to tell his friends what she had witnessed of JFK's assassination. He later was murdered.
  • She was addicted to heroin during her marriage to the gambler, but was cured of her addiction when she found comfort in religion.
  • She married a minister and joined him in his ministry on the road.
  • Her second child died of a sudden illness and her third child suffered from a mysterious serious illness. She contributed to Oliver Stone's movie about the JFK assassination.
I have few criticisms of this book. I would have preferred a different writing style, such as a presentation of the hard facts in a more concise manner, than a romanticized version of the author's life interspersed with quotes from John Kennedy and imaginative writing about what he was doing that fateful day.  Also, I would have preferred a first-person narrative, with more of the author's feelings and her understanding of the events, balanced with researched statements of other facts that correspond to her story.  A critical deficit is the lack of an index, which makes it hard to locate the important events, names, dates, and places.

The reader is led through a winding tale of Beverly Oliver's life, without much resolution to many questions. Her naiveté about what was really going on is somewhat understandable based on how young she was.  I think the most important unanswered question is Why was she there that day filming the President's assassination?  Her location on the parade route was certainly an important one, because she had a perfect view of the assassination.  Not many people had a movie camera in those days, yet she had a brand new, experimental model that was supposedly given to her as a gift by her married boyfriend.

I would love to talk to Beverly Oliver and find out what she really knows about the assassination of John Kennedy, and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby.

© 2001 by Tessa Hebert
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The Seven Stairs:  An Adventure of the Heart  
By Brent Stuart

ISBN:  0671673949

Good books by book sellers are hard to find, and this one is not only good, but definitely a pleasure to read.  I wish it had included more details about how to succeed in the business of selling books, but I quickly realized that the author lived in an entirely different era than the one we have now of Internet book selling.  The author started in business at a time when the world was not sure that television would last and many wiser than he had not survived in the business of selling books. 

Originally published in 1962, this book is the autobiography of Brent Stuart, a successful Chicago book seller.  His venture into book selling started after World War II, when as a young man fresh out of the Army, he opened a small book and music store.  He admits he knew almost nothing about business, and he shares what he learned while struggling to survive.  He also shares about the people he knew, many of whom were very helpful to him in his early years.  He drops a lot of names, no doubt many of whom were very well-known in that era, among the most famous of whom are Katherine Hepburn, Gore Vidal, and Ernest Hemingway.  Unfortunately, the book does not have an index, which would be helpful when one is looking to find an interesting part that is worth reading aloud to friends. 

One of the parts of the book I found most interesting was his account of his business and social dealings with Dr. Lionel Blitzsten, a wealthy psychoanalyst.  Dr. Blitzsten encouraged and helped him to develop a current catalog of psychiatric books, and the sales of those books greatly helped his business to prosper.  He describes his first impression of Dr. Blitzsten in almost poetic yet graphic details:  "What was really arresting (and somewhat terrifying) about this fat, puffing little man was the face.  Above the glasses, the skull seemed all forehead; beneath, the clean-shaven skin was baby pink and the mouth shaped like a rosebud and just as red.  That was it, the mouth -- and when he spoke, the voice was musical, no longer deep, but rather high in pitch."  Dr. Lionel hosted social gatherings which many clamored to attend.  The author defines the social atmosphere at Dr. Lionel's home as a coterie, and his eloquent description of it is: 

The machinery of a coterie is simple; the reasons behind its operation and its subtle influence on the lives of those drawn into its orbit are complex almost beyond endurance.  Essentially, the coterie consists of a number of people who hold similar views on unimportant things.  Everyone admitted must observe a cardinal prohibition:  to say nothing fundamental about anything.  All must follow the leader, employ a common stock of expressions, adopt the same mannerisms, profess the same prejudices, affect the same bearing, and recognize a common bond of impenetrable superficiality.
The author also provides details about early television in Chicago and his role in a daily TV program titled Books and Brent, in which he reviewed books.  He also briefly gives details about his personal life, the businesses of publishing and writing books, his favorite cabin retreat at Bark Point in Wisconsin, and his adventures in a summer stock theater in suburban Chicago.  Some of his secrets about how to succeed in the business of selling books include hosting chamber music parties and author signings at his book store, as well as having the help and support of good friends. 

Save this one for a treat on a long winter night.  It is an easy and entertaining read, yet very interesting for its portrayal of the author and his era.  While the author does not preach or make recommendations about how to succeed in the business of selling books, his philosophy is shared in the telling of his stories.  His life is an American success story packed with interesting details about life and business in the 1950s.

© 2001 by Tessa Hebert
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J.K. Rowling:  The Wizard Behind Harry Potter    
By Marc Shapiro

ISBN:  0312376970

The publisher could have more accurately stated "An Imaginative Rehash of Everything Already Published," rather than "An Unauthorized Biography" on the front cover of this book.  At best, it is a summary of everything previously-published on J.K. 

Rowling and her Harry Potter series, embellished with creative writing, but lacking the courtesy of a bibliography that properly cites his sources. 

As an adult reader interested in the incredibly-successful phenomena of the Harry Potter books, I would rather have been given an adult view of the author and her life.  Instead, this book is written on a grammar-school level, with nothing on the book's cover to warn the reader that it is a juvenile presentation.  The book is a mixture of quotes from other sources and imaginative writing that reads like re-writing of the previously-published information without directly quoting it or its sources.  For example, sentences such as these, made me question where this information came from:  "Joanne grew into a bright child whose imagination was often the talk of the neighborhood.  This talent was also a topic during her first years in school, when her teachers would marvel at the maturity and creativity of her early reports and papers." 

The author (or publisher) lists only the names of his published sources, neglecting to give the reader the identifying data (publication dates, volume numbers, and web-site addresses) for the sources of his information.  Perhaps a look at those sources would reveal how much was garnished and re-written from them? 

Rather than blame the author, I blame the publisher for a rush-to-publish anything that would gain a corner of the currently successful Harry Potter book market.  An imaginative rehash of already-published information, that purports to tell you "answers to some of the most frequently asked questions" about J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books, it is certainly not an "enchanting book," much less a "touching, magical"  or "heartwarming story," as claimed on the rear cover of the book.

© 2000 by Tessa Hebert
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Destined to Witness:  Growing Up Black In Nazi Germany    
By Hans J. Massaquoi

ISBN:  0060959616

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this autobiography of a black man who grew up and survived in Nazi Germany.  Hans Massaquoi has great skill as a writer and his amazing story is enthralling.  He survived racial hatred in Germany, the bombing of Hamburg by the Allies, and near-starvation during the post-war years in Germany.  Then he lived briefly in Liberia, Africa and finally was able to travel to America on a student visa, where his education was interrupted when he was drafted into the Army.  After he finished 2-years in the Army, he earned a degree in journalism, and worked as associate editor of Ebony magazine.

Born in 1926 in Hamburg, Germany, Massaquoi was the grandson of the Liberian Consul General to Germany, who had previously been a Liberian King of the Vais until his abdication during a tribal dispute.  Massaquoi's African black father and his German Caucasian mother met at party given by the Consul General.  When Massaquoi's father returned to Liberia in 1929, Massaquoi and his mother remained in Hamburg, without any financial assistance from his father.  His mother worked as a nurse's aide in a clinic and they lived modestly until they lost everything in the bombing during the war.

The love and support that Massaquoi received from his mother is woven as a quiet and humble thread throughout his story.  He initially had a great sense of self-esteem as a young child surrounded by loving and adoring family.  His sense of self was greatly challenged during his school years, as he faced the realization that he lived in constant danger of being exterminated like the Jews.  Although he relates a few close calls, it appears that there was no concerted effort to eliminate the black race in Germany, which he explains in this manner  "Unlike Jews, blacks were so few in numbers that they were relegated to low-priority status in the Nazis' lineup for extermination.  Also, the unexpectedly rapid advance of the Allied military juggernaut kept the Nazis preoccupied with their own survival and in many cases crushed the Gestapo executioners before they could put the finishing touches on their racial cleansing."  Obviously, he miraculously "slipped through the cracks of modern history's most extensive, most systematic mass-murder scheme."

Massaquoi tells of his early childhood years in fascinating detail, including  his adoration of Hitler, the abuse he suffered from some of his teachers, the racial prejudice against him, and the enforced development of the Hitler Youth Group and the pressure put upon young people to join it.  Surprisingly, he states that in spite of the propaganda films to the contrary, not many youngsters wanted to join the Hitler Youth Group.  He relates how quickly the novelty of "going to meetings, on hikes, and to demonstrations" wore off for most youngsters, and he believes that most of his classmates were not true converts to Nazi ideology.  He explains the pressures that were brought to bear and the reasons most young people joined the Hitler Youth Group, although he himself was unable to do so.

His book is also full of interesting facts about life in Germany both during and after World War II.  Most entertaining is his account of his social life as one of the swing boys, who were the rebellious teenagers of the 1940s, and how he enrolled in dancing classes to circumvent the Nazi laws against dancing.  He writes of his adolescent dilemma of not knowing how to establish relationships with members of the opposite sex, which was complicated by the Nazi laws against racial mingling.  His description of Hamburg's red light district is a rare look into the seamy side of life in Germany, and the events that led up to his loss of virginity there are told innocently and simply.

Disturbingly, he tells of not knowing the true nature of the horrible secret of the Kohnstein or Concentration Camp Dora-Mittelbau, where the Germans used slave labor to develop the V2 rocket and mercilessly disposed of the worn out and starved slaves, although he witnessed the "living dead" being escorted there by the SS and saw the black smoke which "may well have originated from the crematorium."  His denial of the truth sounds like the typical denial of most post-war Germans who claimed they did not know the Nazis were annihilating the Jews, although his inability to do anything about the terrible atrocities is totally understandable.  His only other revelation about witnessing what happened to the Jews is a poignant story of a one-time viewing of a procession of young Jewish women, "like living dead," who were escorted by rifle-carrying SS as they cleaned the street outside the building where he worked.

One night he and his mother feared they would die when a firestorm caused by the bombing reached 1500-degree temperatures above their basement shelter and they struggled to breathe as suffocating smoke entered the air vents of the shelter.  Afterwards, they faced the harsh realities of being homeless and destitute.  After the war, food was almost impossible to find, cigarettes were currency, and the Americans had it all.  Hans began to pretend he was an American, and in spite of his having heard about the prejudice against blacks in America, he began to hope that someday he could live in America, .

Massaquoi's life includes some complicated contradictions.  Growing up black in white Germany was the first and foremost contradiction.  Ironically, he was an African-German who survived the twentieth century's most-malicious racial prejudice and then moved to America where similar prejudice against blacks prevailed.  Most fascinating of all, the school boy whose teacher wrote on his report card, "Hans-Jurgen has absolutely no talent for learning English" grew up to be a man who has a great command of the English language and has used his talent as an English writer to write a spellbinding autobiography.  Thank you, Hans Massaquoi, for giving us this most-interesting and well-written account of your early life.

© 2000 by Tessa Hebert
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