BOOK REVIEW:Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

29496076Title: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Author: David Grann

Book Length (Audiobook): 9 hours 11 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Crime, True Crime, Mystery

Read Start Date: July 8, 2019

Read Finish Date: July 13, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

My Review: I had never heard of this story before, but I guess at some point I must have put it on hold at the library. I was really shocked to read what happened to the Native Americans at the early part of the 1900’s. The Osage Indians were put onto a reservation by the US government in Oklahoma. Luckily, or maybe unluckily, for the Osage people, their reservation was rich with oil deposits. The Osage themselves became rich, and of course, non-Native Americans became jealous.

Thus began another exploitation of the Native American.

This book was really good, but also really sad — another shameful event in a list of shameful events. I watch a lot of true crime shows, and read a lot of true crime novels, but it never ceases to amaze me how greedy people can be — how people would be willing to kill someone, or multiple people, over money. Don’t  get me wrong, I would prefer to have money than not have money, but I’m not about to take someone’s life to get it.

The writing (narrated by the author) was good, and although the subject matter was not dry, the author really brought the reader into the story, and made the story engaging.

If you are into history, this is definitely worth the time to read.

 

TV SHOW REVIEW: Delhi Crime, Season 1

MV5BODg1MTYyZjYtMzJhZi00ZjI3LWI3MTItZTFhZDNhZmYwMjYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODE5NzE3OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Title: Delhi Crime

Year: 2019

Genre: Crime, Drama, History

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Platform: Netflix

Date Watched: May 17, 2019 to May 18, 2019

Brief Summary of Plot from IMDbBased on the Nirbhaya case, Delhi Crime follows the Delhi Police investigation into the finding of the men who perpetrated this crime.

Episode Name Episode # Date Watched
Episode 1 1 17-May-19
Episode 2 2 17-May-19
Episode 3 3 17-May-19
Episode 4 4 17-May-19
Episode 5 5 18-May-19
Episode 6 6 18-May-19
Episode 7 7 18-May-19

My Review: In the first few minutes of the episode, we are introduced to a very vicious and heinous crime: two people are found on the side of the road in a ditch in Delhi, naked and sexually abused. The man has been beaten with an iron rod, and the woman has been gang raped, beaten, and penetrated with the same iron road. What’s worse, and far more gruesome, is the fact that her intestines have been ripped out through her vagina, and parts of it are missing. Worse still — this show is based upon a real story. The series follows the investigation and the tireless efforts of the police to find the perpetrators.

I have been to India 4 times for work, and was watching this show on the plane back from Kolkata. I have to say that this show was really well done, especially because of the gruesome and stomach twisting subject matter. The acting was superb. For example, the actor who plays the ring leader did a very good job at displaying the apathy, callousness, and evilness of the man who did this to the young girl. It was chilling, because it seemed like he just did not care — or that the woman deserved it. He showed no remorse at all. Additionally, the actress playing the lead detective also did a fantastic job.

In the background of the investigation to find the suspects, the political scene in Delhi is exploding. People are sick and tired of the crime in Delhi and take to the streets to protest the understaffed, underpaid, and overworked police — as if crime were the fault of the police. It paints a picture of a city, a country, in turmoil, where the rich keep getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and tensions rising.

Although this show was disturbing, I found it to be really well done, and interesting, because you get to see how policing is done in India. For an American like me, several things / differences caught my attention, i.e., the prisoners were not handcuffed. Rather the policeman would hold the criminals hand; and hitting prisoners to get confessions seemed to be normal and accepted. This made the show fascinating to watch. I am usually a big fan of crime dramas, and this had all the elements: terrible crime, suspects in the wind, pressure from the boss, dedicated officers willing to do anything it takes, and political tension.

A brilliant binge worthy show that is definitely worth the watch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

8664353.jpgTitle: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand

Book Length (Audiobook): 13 hours 57 mins

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography, War, World War II

Read Start Date: May 2, 2019

Read Finish Date: May 10, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

My Review: The book starts out pretty slow, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to like it. The story quickly picks up the pace when the airmen’s plane crashes, leaving them adrift in the ocean on an inflatable raft for more than one month. Facing starvation on a daily basis, the men are momentarily glad when they finally find land; however, to their dismay, they have drifted more than 2,000 miles into enemy territory. They are quickly captured and interned at a POW camp.

During World War II, the Japanese had several labor camps, as well as “punishment camps”. The men were starved, beaten, and often worked to death in forced labor.

This story is not for the faint of heart. Several times I felt physically nauseous while listening to the scenes of torture and degradation. The things that the Japanese did to the POWs was cruel and, I would even go so far to say, evil. When I visited Hiroshima at the end of February, 2019, I remember feeling so ashamed that the US had dropped the atomic bomb and obliterated the city and the lives of the people there in a matter of seconds. In reading this book, I thought, Japan has something to feel ashamed about also.

This book will make you laugh at time, cry at times, and cringe at times. It is well written and engaging, if you can get past the first dry part of the book which describes the characters lives before they ended up stranded.

If you enjoy learning about history, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

35901186Title: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson

Book Length (Audiobook): 8 hours 9 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime, History, Science, Mystery

Read Start Date: April 10, 2019

Read Finish Date: April 11, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness.

Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.

My Review: When I first starting reading this book, I had no idea that it was actually nonfiction, and based upon real events. I had never heard of using bird feathers for fishing lures, nor had I ever heard of a “fly tier” enthusiast stealing exotic bird feathers from a museum — in some cases, the very same birds collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, and other naturalists of the same era (around the time of Darwin’s expeditions).

The writing of Kirk Wallace Johnson was so good, that I was convinced for the first portion of the book that it was a fiction story. After I got into it a bit further, and looked the book up online, I realized that this story is actually true! It seems to be a little known fact, which makes for an awesome and refreshing novel. The story is very engaging, and even though it is nonfiction, there is the distinct smell of a fiction thriller — a daring heist of rare, expensive bird skins leads an amateur detective into the bowels of the fly tier underground, where the secretive fly tier community not only trades in black market and sometimes illegal feathers, but closes ranks when threatened.

Did Edwin Rist work alone, or was there perhaps more at play?

I love that this book unwittingly educated me, not only in the not so known world of fly tying, but also the feather trade in general.

The book alternates between telling the story of the feather heist, and telling the story of the author trying to track down the thief. The author also explains about the history of feathers and fashion, and how during the Victorian age several species were almost hunted into extinction all in the name of women’s vanity and social stature.

This book gets a rare 5 out of 5 stars from me. Everyone should read about this strange little piece of history. Even if you don’t generally like nonfiction books, this book will not disappoint.

Business Trip to Stockton-On-Tees, England

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Last week I went on a business trip to Stockton-on-Tees in England, UK. The great thing about living in Europe, is that you can pretty much get anywhere else in Europe in only a few hours.

One of the things that I found particularly interesting, was the fact that there were two faucets in the sink, one for cold and one for hot. This meant of course that the cold gets really cold, and the hot gets really hot. Since the faucets are so far apart, the water basically never mixes unless you first hold your hands under the cold water and then move your hands under the hot water. Washing your hand and face in this manner becomes rather inefficient, if not down right annoying.

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Another interesting fact is that Guinness is served “extra cold”. I was always told that Guinness was served “warm” in the UK, but nope this is not the case. I am not complaining, however, because the extra cold Guiness was really good. From my understanding, there is very little gluten in Guiness, although there is some. Since I am gluten intolerant (but this mostly seems only to matter with solid foods rather than liquids) I waited until the last night of my trip (when all I had to do the next day was travel) just in case there was an issue. I am happy to report that all was well.

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I drank the Guinness in this pub call the George and Dragon. You may not be able to read it from the picture, but apparently the George and Dragon was the meeting place of the Promoters’ of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in February, 1820.

According to Wikipedia, the Stockton & Darlington Railway “was a railway company that operated in north-east England from 1825 to 1863.” According to my English colleague (and the sign outside of the George and Dragon), this railway was the first public railway in the entire world. Additionally, the building where the pub was located used to be a market inn and coach house, with stables for horses. Lastly, this pub won the “Cask Marque”, which pretty much means they pour a freaking great pint of beer. I can attest to this because the Guinness, as mentioned above, was really good.

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My colleagues and I stayed in the Best Western Parkmore in Stockton-on-Tees. The hotel was sufficient for our purposes, but wasn’t anything fancy. About a fifteen minute walk from the hotel was this cute little town called Yarm. According to Wikipedia, “Yarm is a small town in the ceremonial county of North Yorkshire, England. The town is on the south bank of the River Tees and is historically part of the North Riding of Yorkshire.” I found it really cool that they still had the old style red telephone booths (on the right of the above picture) and the red post boxes (on the left).  The red post boxes had the initials “ER” on then, which means “Elizabeth Regina”, for the Queen of England. Yarm was a gluten-free paradise. We ate at restaurants called Muse and Cena. Since I was in England, I had to get the rice pudding at both places — the one at Muse was much better. At Cena the gluten-free pizza is simply amazing — you would never know it was gluten free.

resize.20190119_0925371194758444When we got back to the airport, we were rather surprised that we had to pay 6 pounds as an “airport fee”. Durham Tees Valley Airport is a very small airport with only 3 gates or so. I am not sure why they require this additional fee from people who are flying out of the airport. Maybe it is seldom used or doesn’t get proper federal funding? Whatever the reason it was annoying because the fee machines only accepted EXACT change. I only had a 20 pound note and a 5 pound note, so I had to get change from a change machine — which only dispensed 1 pound coins. Sigh. As an interesting aside, the 5 and 10 pound notes are made out of plastic rather than paper, just like in Canada.

All in all, I would say the business trip was a success. The training I gave to my colleagues went well, and I was even able to get in a little bit of site seeing. Stay tuned for the next business trip installment: Japan and China.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

36595101Title: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Author: Michael Wolff

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 55 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, Politics, History

Read Start Date: September 16, 2018

Read Finish Date: September 29, 2018

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the country―and the world―has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.

This riveting and explosive account of Trump’s administration provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office, including:
— What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
— What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama
— Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
— Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room
— Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
— What the secret to communicating with Trump is
— What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers

Never before in history has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.

My Review: On the night of the election in 2016, I was at the local watering hole in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I was currently living for a work assignment. The Executive Surf Club is a great bar in Corpus Christi, and the guys and I would go every Tuesday for “Pint Night” (a night where a pint of beer was only $2 or $3). On this night, we had particularly gone to watch the election results.  At the beginning of the night, a victory for Hillary seemed assured.

As the night wore on, however, it became more and more obvious (and depressing), that Trump was going to win.  When I woke the next morning to discover that Trump had in fact won,  I was not at all unhappy that my contract had already been signed to move to Austria.  It seemed that I was getting out just in time.

Fire and Fury tells the story of the Trump campaign, painting a picture of a man who was only running for President to lose the race–the ultimate goal of course to become internationally famous and to improve his “brand”–only to find out that “oops” he had in fact won.

The author undoubtedly did not see Donald Trump as an “evil” person, but rather as a ignorant dup who basically had no political agenda (and in fact knew little to nothing about politics, law, or history), and just went with whatever Steve Bannon told him to do.  Basically, the author painted a picture of good (Ivanka and Jared) against evil (Bannon) and Trump, the impatient, childish puppet, caught in the middle.

If you haven’t already read the book, and even if you are a news hound, I would still suggest to read this book.  It was written very well and even surprised me in some places (e.g., how Bannon released the immigration Executive Order on a Friday to purposely cause chaos at airports).