Book Review: Riveting biography of Kirk Kerkorian

Even though I lived in Las Vegas while Kirk Kerkorian was still a presence in Las Vegas, I never knew much about him other than what I read in the newspapers. It was through the book The Gambler: How Penniless Dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018) by William C. Rempel that I learned about him as a person, an entrepreneur, a risk taker, and the ultimate businessman.

Kerkorian (1917-2015) helped transform Las Vegas into what it is today. He is credited with developing the concept of the mega-resort. Three times he built the world’s largest hotel in the Southern Nevada desert.

The fascination with gaming started as a player and evolved into owner/developer. He was the ultimate gambler as a businessman.

But before Kerkorian began his gaming empire his first loves were boxing and then aviation. His heroics at the controls of various airplanes is well depicted in the book. It was through his flying pursuits that he was him to Las Vegas.

Kerkorian’s life is the quintessential rags to riches American dream. Rempel deftly tells the story through extensive research. His subject was private and seldom gave interviews. Part of Kerkorian’s life is public through court documents—business and personal.

This story is sure to be one to captivate most readers.

Book Review: Greens Chef/Author Writes Delightful Memoir

I don’t remember how old I was when I first went to Greens, but I do know it was my first vegetarian restaurant and continues to be my favorite.

But it wasn’t until this year that I knew Deborah Madison’s story. She was the chef at the San Francisco restaurant, her first cookbook was the recipes from there, and she has authored several other books. Her latest book is An Onion in My Pocket: My Life with Vegetables (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).

No recipes will be found in her latest book other than how to live an interesting life. Making it even more entertaining was listening to the book because Madison narrates it.

This memoir will take readers on a journey that is as much about Madison’s life with vegetables as it is the evolution of food in the United States. She didn’t grow up in a household where food was a central theme. It wasn’t until she was a young adult that she learned to cook and then it was under unique circumstances.

While many would associate Madison with the vegetarian movement, so to speak, the word vegetarian is one she detests. Vegetables—though, she loves, even though she now eats meat.

Madison doesn’t hold back on revealing embarrassing moments, triumphs and opinions. One definitely does not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy this book.

Book Review: A griping look into the paid prison system in the U.S.

The older I get the less it is that I seem to know. Thank goodness for books. I wrongly thought private for-profit prisons were a rather new phenomenon. Wrong. Very wrong.

Shane Bauer in American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment (Penguin Press, 2018) takes readers (or listeners as was the case for me) through the gritty details of prisons in the United States. If you don’t believe the system needs reforming, this book is bound to change your mind.

Bauer was a reporter for Mother Jones magazine when he went undercover in 2014 at a private state prison in Louisiana as a guard. What makes that undertaking even more profound is that Bauer had been a prisoner prior to that experience. He was jailed for more than two years in Iran on made up charges of espionage. He and two friends had been hiking when they were taken into custody.

In the book Bauer explains his approach to the story, how he collected information, and shares the personal changes he undergoes while working in the prison. But it’s much more than an indictment on the prison system and the company he worked for. Bauer delves into the history of prisons in the United States. It’s those details that were even more alarming to me.

The racism, barbarianism, the inhumanity of it all was overwhelming at times. I was repulsed, I got angry, and was sad.

Still, I wanted to know more. As I kept listening, I kept learning. This book is bound to open most people’s eyes to a topic many of us have little or no experience with. Yes, it’s about prisons. But it’s so much more. It’s about our history and how we continue to treat people behind bars.

It’s about how we are letting others make a profit off treating fellow human beings as subhuman. It’s not right. Bauer’s writing is excellent and will keep you turning the pages.

Book Review: Novel unearths atrocities at Tennessee orphanage

Thousands of lives were stolen or ruined in the first part of the 20th century all because one woman wanted to profit from stealing and selling children.

While Before We Were Yours (Ballantine Books, 2017) is historical fiction, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by Georgia Tann was very real. Between 1924 and 1950 this woman stole more than 5,000 children, and was responsible for the deaths of more than 500. Many were abused beyond being ripped from their parents.

Author Lisa Wingate weaves a captivating tale, focusing primarily on one family’s plight. In parallel story lines the book is set while the orphanage was operating and then in present day.

Like with many of the real families, the truth was hidden and stayed that way until generations later. Such was the case with the fictional family in the book. Wingate used composites of children from the center to form the characters in her novel.

While at times the book is gut-wrenching, it’s one of those sad chapters in the history of the United States that needs light shed on it. It is well written and definitely captivating.

Book Review: Former NOW leader’s autobiography still relevant

It’s amazing how reading a book published 25 years ago at times seemed like it was written in present day. Such was the case with What Women Want (Penguin Group, 1996) by Patricia Ireland.

Unfortunately, women still want so much of what Ireland writes about. Equal rights, equal pay, control over the decisions about our bodies—the list goes on. Maybe one day the efforts of her generation, those who preceded her, as well as the women (and men) who are following her will achieve what seems like basic rights.

Ireland was the president of the National Organization for Women when she wrote this autobiography.

Reading her life story is a journey through the struggles of women up until the turn of this last century. Ireland wasn’t a born activist. She was a late bloomer in some ways. Her experience as a flight attendant (known as a stewardess in her day) and then corporate attorney helped form her beliefs as a crusader for women.

While it was interesting to learn about Ireland’s life and how she evolved into the women she became, the book is such more than one woman’s life experiences. It’s also much more than a look at NOW. It is a history book of sorts about women’s rights, or at least the struggle for them.

It’s as relevant today as it was when it was written, perhaps even more important to read today.

Book Review: Hungry Cyclist a trip worth taking

Eating one’s way through a vacation can be normal. Even a long cycling adventure is not out of the ordinary.

Fifteen thousand miles of pedaling in more than 2½ years through North, Central and South America, well, now that’s an adventure that is neither normal nor ordinary.

That extraordinary feat is exactly what Tom Kevill-Davies did. The Hungry Cyclist: Pedalling the Americas in Search of the Perfect Meal (Collins, 2009) starts in New York and ends in Rio de Janeiro. He doesn’t hold back on the good and bad of life on the road. There were plenty of imperfect meals.

Each chapter ends with a couple recipes. Many will likely not be added to most people’s meal rotation, but they are intriguing—like Armadillo Stew and Beaver Tail Soup. Others could be keepers like The Perfect Fish Taco and San Ignacio Date Cake.

Because Kevill-Davies is British his stories about traveling through the United States are seen from a different perspective than had this been written by someone who grew up in the U.S. He goes through the northern states and parts of Canada before heading south through the three West Coast states. Then it’s onto Baja, mainland Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Besides his gastronomic experiences, Kevill-Davies is expressive about the people he meets, the land he traverses across, and the interactions he has. The Hungry Cyclist will take you on a delightful journey that most tourists will never encounter. One of the things I loved most about the book is that he sought out authenticity and he got it. It reinforces that the journey is so often more important than the destination.

Book Review: ‘Handmaid’s Tail’ a gripping, disturbing read

Disturbing. That is the overwhelming feeling I was left with after reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (O.W. Toad, 1986).

I didn’t know much about the book before reading it. I’ve never watched the television series, which begins its fourth season in April.

It was during the U.S. Supreme Court hearings last fall for then nominee Amy Coney Barrett that the word “handmaid” caught my attention. When I saw the book on a friend’s shelf I grabbed it knowing it would give me insight into what all the hubbub was about.

Having read it after Jan. 6 made it even more disturbing, especially considering it was published 35 years ago. The book takes place after the U.S. government is overthrown and a totalitarian regime is put in place. The new country is the Republic of Gilead.

The handmaids’ purpose is to bear the children of men they are not married to. Of course, it’s never the man’s fault if the woman does not get pregnant. Simply, it’s sex slavery.

The hierarchy in this new United States is completely about men and their dominance over women. While wives are above handmaids, their lives are also not their own to be lived.

The book was on the 2019 American Library Association’s list of most “challenged” books by parents and other community members because of its “vulgarity and sexual overtones.” To me, any book that is threatened to be censored is one that should be bought by the caseload.

While this is a work of fiction, one has to wonder how far-fetched the theme really is based on how the patriarchy of the United States is running scared.

Book Review: The life of Inez Burns captivated in riveting biography

Inez Burns (1886-1976) was no ordinary woman. She was San Francisco’s premier abortionist at a time when her profession was illegal. She never hid what she was doing, nor did she advertise it. She didn’t have to. Word of mouth had women showing up at her office, bribes kept the cops away.

Stephen G. Bloom in the book The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold (Simon & Schuster, 2018) paints an incredible tale about a woman who changed so many lives. While it is a biography, it is written more like a thriller.

Burns was an integral part of life in San Francisco. While she was poor growing up, she was not going to let that stop her from becoming one of the richest people in The City. The only problem was she could not use banks to store her money because it was obtained in an illegal manner. She learned that investing in real estate was one way to keep investigators at bay, at least for a while.

This is more than a story about an abortionist. It’s a tale about San Francisco in the first half of the 20th century. In many ways it’s a history lesson with a unique, flamboyant main character. It’s a look at social mores, and how they changed through the years. Women’s struggles are front and center. However, Burns’ dark side is not glossed over.

Pat Brown, the former governor of California, is a key player as district attorney of San Francisco. Other names are apt to be familiar to people who have a connection to the Bay Area.

Book Review: Ephron’s writing style makes ‘Heartburn’ a pager turner

Pledge all you want to love each other forever and live happily ever after, it’s not always the outcome. Nora Ephron takes readers on a whimsical, funny, yet poignant journey of marriage, infidelity—and food—in Heartburn (Vintage Books, 1983).

It’s a quick read. I finished it in two days. It’s a perfect book at the beach or indoors by the fireplace.

Rachel Samstat, a cookbook writer, is the lead character. She is seven months pregnant with her second child. It’s at this time she discovers her husband is having an affair. Naturally, she is devastated. She doesn’t know what to do.

While the topic might seem depressing, Ephron is such a skilled writer that she is able to make the reader laugh at her exploits in life, her vivid imagination, and as she figures out what to do about her future. The fact that recipes are interspersed in the book makes it that much more lighthearted and enjoyable.

It’s the writing that will keep you reading, not the plot so much. The book is based on Ephron’s marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein, so plenty of people are going to know the outcome.

Book Review: Sisters In Law a great read about O’Connor, Ginsburg

Women’s rights would not be what they are today without U.S. Supreme Court Justices Susan Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Life experience matters, especially when deciding the fate of other people. This is incredibly evident from Linda Hirshman’s book Sisters In Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World (Harper-Collins, 2015).

O’Connor and Ginsburg were the first two women to serve on SCOTUS. They were so different (political parties, upbringing, religion), and yet had many similar experiences. One main likeness was both had been discriminated against solely because they were women.

Their approach, though, to bringing about change was strikingly different. This book illustrates how they left their mark on women’s (and men’s) rights as they pertain to employment discrimination, abortion, sexual harassment and other issues.

While the book is about the women, it is also about their colleagues on the top court—interactions, thought processes and allegiances.

This book is part biography, part history lesson, definitely a legal tutorial, but also a study in human behavior. It’s also about friendship. I wanted it to keep going.

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