Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black PowerRadio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power by Timothy B. Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The more I read about North Carolina’s extremely racist history, the more shocked I am (I grew up in North Carolina), the more appalled I am, and the more the burn of injustice and just plain moral wrong wells up inside me.

On the other hand, my appreciation for my parents as quintessential leaders grows more profound and deep (my dad was a North Carolina native, who was born and raised in Burlington, while my mom grew up in Greenville, SC) because they taught me, and modeled without exception as an example for me, to treat everyone with dignity, honor, and respect, no matter who they were, what their skin tone was, where they lived, how much or how little they had, and what they did to earn a living.

The story of Robert Williams, who was maligned by just about everyone on all sides, including the NAACP, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panther party, and, until this book by Timothy Tyson, misrepresented and mischaracterized as something he was not (he was a smart man, a measured man, and actually avoided the polarized positions that seemed to be the norm, but he made mistakes and they, sadly, were what became his codified legacy) spotlights the depth of racism in North Carolina as it existed (and, I suspect, still does and probably has been given the green light to come out of hiding with the resurgence of extreme white nationalism throughout the country since President Trump’s election in 2016) in the 20th Century.

Monroe, NC, Williams’ birthplace, is at the center of much of Williams’ story. Monroe is a suburb of Charlotte, and the birthplace of Jesse Helms (NC senator who was a dyed-in-the-wool racist) and his father, a Monroe police officer who terrorized and severely beat African-American citizens just for fun.

Monroe was a hotbed for Klan activity and racial tensions there boiled over frequently throughout the last century. Williams fought fire with fire, with the aim for the African-American citizens of Monroe to be able to defend their families and their homes from attacks by the Klan and other white nationalist factions that found a welcome mat for their vitriolic rhetoric and their harassment and, often, murder of African Americans.

Williams ended up spending a little more than a decade as an expatriated American because of a trumped up kidnapping charge in which he was not guilty of the crime.

The charges against him were dropped by North Carolina in 1976, allowing him to return to the United States, but he never again lived in Monroe, instead spending the last twenty-two years of his life in rural Michigan out of the spotlight.

This is a piece of history that none of us can afford to be ignorant about, especially those of us who have chosen to pursue the path of quintessential leadership.

Racism, discrimination, and hate are the antithesis of quintessential leadership and being quintessential leaders. It is that simple.

I highly recommend this book.

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The Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And PoliticsThe Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And Politics by Bruce J. Schulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good and insightful overview and analysis of the Seventies and the “wasted generation” (for those of us who were kids in the 1970’s, this moniker is the one applied to us). (more…)

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information EmpiresThe Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fascinating book. Tim Wu is a big-picture guy and he writes from that perspective as he details the history of the information empires that have risen and fall in the last 120 years in America. (more…)

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston ChurchillClementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. As the author pointed out in her introduction to the book, Winston Churchill has gotten all the press and all the attention both during his life and since his death among the historians and biographers, while Clementine, his wife, was either invisible or contained to a single-sentence mention in passing. (more…)

The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They ShapedThe Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very interesting for several reasons. It caught my attention because the idea of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia’s lives being intertwined with each other seemed far-fetched because of the vast differences in these three people as individuals.

And yet, for several months in 1502 and 1503, the artist (serving as military engineer), the philosopher (officially representing Florence, imperiled economically and militarily, yet paralyzingly indecisive over political allegiances), and the warrior indeed were together as Borgia made his eventually-doomed move, with his corrupt and debauched father, Pope Alexander VI, pulling the political strings in the background from the Vatican, to begin the quest to rule a united Italy. (more…)

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana AlliluyevaStalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read in a long time. There are times reading about Svetlana Alliluyeva’s life when you just want to reach out – although she’s been dead for several years now – and hold her in comfort and fix all that is emotionally broken in her to give her peace and stability. And yet that is beyond me – indeed, it is beyond any human capability.

Even though she was the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Svetlana was also just another one of his victims. Stalin’s effect on his family, his associates, and indeed on the citizens of Russia shows what tyrants, despots, narcissists, and power-hungry people in positions of leadership leave in their wake. The damage outlives them and it is, in the end, their only lasting legacy.

Joseph Stalin was a cruel, heartless, and loveless man. Whether he began life that way isn’t clear, but in his effort to gain power and control over Russia after Lenin’s death, he lost any humanity that he may have had before he embarked on that quest.

He treated Svetlana’s mother, his second wife, with a cruelty that perhaps drove her away from her home and her children from the time they were born. (In many ways, Svetlana never had a mother, although she did have a nanny who loved her and whom she loved, but it was not the same as having a mother.) What is certain is that Stalin’s last act of cruelty to Svetlana’s mother was the catalyst for her subsequent suicide when Svetlana was 6 1/2 years old.

Stalin was in the midst of consolidating his power and his purges and gulags were already in motion when Svetlana’s mother died. Until then, both sides of the family were around and a part of Svetlana’s life. Because many of her mother’s relatives knew Stalin when he began as a Georgian Bolshevik, they also knew his secrets as a young man.

Suddenly, they began disappearing from Svetlana’s life into exile or the death camps that took care of Stalin’s problems and rivals. Death, secret police, and the constant threat of harm were things that Svetlana became aware of early on. Neither she nor her brothers were exempted from that threat or the sudden eruptions and violence that accompanied her father’s wrath.

Stalin and Svetlana had a push-pull relationship that was never secure for Svetlana. When she matured enough to realize how terrible her father was and the extent of his cruelty and disregard for human life, she began what would be a complicated love-hate view of Stalin the rest of her life.

All of this led to an emptiness, a restlessness, a searching in Svetlana that never got filled, not got eased, and never got found in her lifetime. The hole of emptiness was bottomless. The persistent restlessness never found a quiet, peaceful place to alight and anchor to. The endless searching was chasing ghosts and illusions of things that never existed to begin with.

Yet despite all the psychological damage that Svetlana suffered, she was generally sane, very cogent, extremely intelligent and insightful, and, most amazingly, enduringly resilient. Although she had trouble forming and maintaining stable and healthy relationships (she suffered from anxious-preoccupied attachment and made terrible decisions and choices because of it), she took whatever came her way – and it was a rollercoaster from the beginning to the end of her life – and, for the most part, dealt with it with a stoicism that is quite remarkable.

The leadership – or lack of it – lessons abound in this book. And Svetlana’s life – as well as the detailed descriptions of Russian life in general and Russian lives specifically in Stalin’s family and associates – puts the results (which lasts beyond the grave) of unquintessential leadership under the microscope.

It’s an education we can’t afford to miss.

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