my challenges

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, by Mark Seal.

I originally purchased this book for my San Marino selection for the European reading challenge, after it came up on Amazon under a search of "books about San Marino."  I had no idea until I was halfway through this book that it was about San Marino, California, rather than about the country of San Marino.  Oops!  Nonetheless, this was a really interesting book.  It followed the life of probably the greatest serial imposter in recent history, and the man about whom a movie was made (I believe Leo di Caprio played him in the move).

What was amazing to me was how he could con anybody into believing anything about him.  Are people truly that gullible?  And would I fall for his con game as quickly as any of his other victims?  I sat there in repeated amazement at the fact that he could say anything and people would just assume he was who and what he said he was, no matter how improbable.  How on earth did he keep his stories straight as to who he told what?  If he is that charismatic, just think what he could have accomplished at the head of a truly good cause, with the proper intentions.  An amazing story, told in a manner that keeps your interest throughout.  I highly recommend this book.  4 out of 5.

Watching the Door

Watching the Door:  Drinking Up, Getting Down, and Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast, by Kevin Myers.

This book chronicles the life of Kevin Myers, a young, naive journalist, raised in England, who foolishly or bravely accepts a post to Northern Ireland just as the Troubles are starting up their most recent chapter of violence.
This was an absolutely fascinating look inside life in Northern Ireland in that chaotic, frightening period, made all the more fascinating by the fact that Myers was largely seen as an outsider by all concerned, and therefore was able to interact with the highest levels of every political and paramilitary group during his time in Belfast.  What I found most interesting was the sheer randomness of the violence during that period.  Long a student of the most recent Troubles, I had no idea just how random the violence truly was.  I believed that if you stayed out of certain places and keep your nose clean, for the most part you could avoid the dangers, with the exception of just plain bad luck.  This book showed me that things were much more random than I had realized, and that just existing at times was enough to warrant your death.
One minor criticism.  This book will not have nearly the same impact on those who are unfamiliar with the history of Northern Ireland and the major players in the Troubles.  Myers assumes a basic level of familiarity with things, and does not stop to explain what the politics or stance of the groups he mentions are, for the most part, and he doesn't really place the events he describes within the bigger picture of the history of the Troubles.  As a result, anyone not already familiar with Northern Ireland in the 1970s will be a bit lost in places.  Otherwise, this was a fantastic, fascinating book, one I truly enjoyed reading, despite the depressing subject matter.  Definitely a 4.5 out of 5. 

Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned

Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned, by Richard S. Jaffe.

Richard Jaffee has spent his entire adult life defending those charged with capital crimes, that is to say those who if found guilty may face the death penalty.  Others he has defended are already on death row, but have been granted the right to a new trial.
  Yes, I am an attorney, and therefore this sort of thing should appeal to me, right?  Actually, quite the opposite.  Although Michigan does not have the death penalty (thank God!), I hear and read more than enough details about terrible crimes and trial strategies in my daily work to want to read more on that topic in my free time.  This, however, was a fascinating exception.  Jaffe is one of the absolute best defense attorneys out there, and it was a pleasure to read his incredible stories.  This book made me remember why I went into law in the first place -- to stand between the might of the government and those who are defenseless.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who has any interest in the death penalty, social justice, human rights, or true crime.

 I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher.  This did not affect this review.