City On Fire ~ by Don Winslow

This is a very fast-moving novel with lots of suspense and moderately graphic violence. It is super-good.  I’d say it’s somewhere between Mario Puzo and James Lee Burke.  The epigraphs of from Homer’s Iliad could have warned me but I didn’t catch on to those ideas until Part 2.     

City On Fire 
By Don Winslow

2022 
Read by Ari Fliakos 8h 54m
Rating: A++ / crime thriller 

From the Washington Post: 
“Don Winslow’s terrific new novel “City on Fire” does for Rhode Island what David Chase’s “The Sopranos” did for New Jersey. The Ocean State Chamber of Commerce won’t necessarily see it as a favor.” –

But old as I am I compared it more to Mario Puzo (The Godfather). 

Instead of chasing the big drug lords of Mexican cartels Winslow’s main character (Danny Ryan) is involved with there long time Irish gang as well as the Italians and Blacks and the Mafia is always in the background.Times are tough in the 1980s and the fishermen and truckers need to supplement their income some way and there’s a gang which sticks to the usual rackets.  But the sales of drugs has got in and the old ways are going out, as in the old “bosses” are dying and retiring and with them the old ways go – including the truce they devised many years ago. These old “bosses” include Danny’s father, Martin Ryan, and his rival Pasco Ferris. And it’s lucrative. 

The action moves from romantic rivalries at a party to murder and mayhem and sinister retaliation with fathers raising sons having babies and unto the next generation.  And it all curls around to the FBI not being any more upstanding than your run-of-the-street gangster.  

There is a huge homage to Homer and other classics here.  I’m now waiting on the second book in this trilogy.  

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The Black-Eyed Blonde ~ by Benjamin Black

It’s been a long time since I read a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlow novel – probably 15 years.  And it’s been a long time since I read a John Banville aka anything – I’ve read books by him and I loved the Banville books, but I wasn’t too keen on Black’s crime novels. Still,  he’s been around a long time now so they’re apparently selling and getting good reviews etc.  So I had The Black-Eyed Blonde on my Wish List for some times but took it off.  Then  I found it available at the library.  When this turned up as being available at the library I figured it was time to try him again.  

The Black-Eyed Blonde
by Benjamin Black 

2020 / 
Read by Dennis Boutsikaris 7h 53m
Rating:  B+ / crime – PI

I dearly love Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Banville/Black does a very credible re-creation –  but it’s always a re-creation, it never really belongs to him. These detective novels are ever so much different from his very literary Booker Prize-winning works as Banville. I’ve read one other of the Black books and it was okay but the literary aspect seemed to slow down both the tension and the action. That wasn’t so much a problem this time.  

Here the plot and characters follow Chandler’s lead with Marlowe.  A rich and beautiful, black-eyed blonde walks into Marlowe’s office. Her boyfriend is missing and she needs the private investigator to find him.  Marlowe is always the chivalrous “lady’s man” and obliges although she gives him almost nothing to go on.  She pays pretty well, though. 

The down side of this job is that her friend was accidentally killed two months prior and was cremated.  Now he rests at the bottom of the lake.  Or does he?  Someone saw him in town, just walking along down the street. There seem to be two problems now; where’s Nico and who’s dead? There are other threads too, of course, like why does the blonde want to find Nico when she’s married to someone else? And what’s her brother got to do with it?  

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All That She Carried ~ by Tiya Miles

This book definitely belongs in the genre of American history, but it’s written in a somewhat different way because sometimes the specific subject determines the method to be used.

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
By Tiya Miles 

2021 / 387 pages
Rating:  10 / Black biography 
(both read and listened)

All That She Carried is the story of three Black women who were mainly illiterate and mostly slaves. For the most part they lived in Charleston, South Carolina until they moved (or were moved) away. The eldest was Rose who gave her 9-year old daughter, Ashley, a plain sack when she was moved to another plantation. In the sack were a tattered dress, some pecans, a braid of hair and love. Ashley was Ruth’s grandmother and Ruth embroidered that history on the bag. This is women’s history, documented, and from the heart.

Writing the biographies or histories of people who were not famous (so other people would write them) or even literate (to write their own letters and diaries and memoirs) has always been very, very problematical. Tiya Miles shows it can not only be done, but done to the highest standards.

All That She Carried is about a lot of things, but it focuses on a cloth sack given, in the mid-19th century, to a young slave girl by her mother as a going-away present. The child had been sold to a plantation far away.

 A generation later the slave girl’s granddaughter embroidered the names of the prior owners on the sack. Then the sack was lost for awhile but a white woman spotted and bought it at a swap meet. She then did a bit of research and got it to where it could be researched and kept properly (not via eBay). The sack turned out to be a valuable artifact with documentation embroidered right on it.  From where else do we get our history? 

Tiya Miles, the author of All That She Carried, has a PhD in history and she now teaches at Harvard. She’s written and published five other books. I’ll take that to mean she’s a qualified historian. She knows how to do the research and how to present it – how to document it.  It shows all over the place in this book, from the Introduction and the Notes to the Essay on Process and a Note on Terms.  It’s all here.  

Yes, Miles does wax poetic and metaphorical, but when she stretches to capture the feelings she makes sure she’s not neglecting the verifiable details. She sometimes goes a bit over my own line of objective reporting and analysis, as is sometimes necessary. But sometimes there’s a limit in that direction, too.

Although I had my qualms at first and sometimes throughout the book, I ended up I enthralled and I might have to read it again.

From page 17 (Introduction): 
“Because archives do not faithfully reveal or honor the enslaved, tending this intimacy with the dead necessitates new methods, including a trans-temporal consciousness and use of restrained imagination.” 
And from page 20 (Introduction): 
“You can sense by now that this is not a traditional history. It leans toward evocation rather than argumentation and is rather more meditation than monograph.”

The history is amplified by a closer look at some of the details like the reasons the pecans might have been in that sack and we even get recipes for South Carolina pecan pie. And there’s the background on quilts, slave economics, rice growing, sack making and so on.

But it’s a woman’s history – how else to do it with women who are not the wives of presidents and/or very literate? (I am not faulting anyone – history of the common people, social history, wasn’t even thought about until the 20th century with the Annales and Melbourne schools.

Some of my annoyance may have come from the narrator’s voice which is too soft and whispery. It makes the whole book seem to be an argument appealing to the emotions alone.  Miles says it herself  “read in a certain mood, Ruth’s verse on the bag can feel more like poetry than reportage.”  –  

She argues that this kind of writing off-sets the virulent hatred and anonymity of the Deep South.  Ya think?  I don’t know.  She’s trying really hard to make a motif of “love” fit in. But that’s a detail and the whole is way outshines that detail. Bottom line is that I loved it- lol.

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The 8th Confession ~ by James Patterson/Maxine Paetro

It took me a few minutes but I actually did feel like I was ready for another Paetro book.  First I tried 21st Birthday but I’d read it already. So I got The 8th Confession .   

The 8th Confession 
By James Patterson/Maxine Paetro

2009 / (369 pp) 
Read by January LeVoy 8h 50m
Rating: B+  / crime – procedural (#8 in the Women’s Murder Club Series)

A bus explodes and about the same time a pedestrian nick-named Bag-man Jesus is found dead. An apparently very upscale couple is bludgeoned in their bed – the woman lives and we read about the end of a trial. Then the body of a rich single woman is found.  There are five victims following the pattern and there’s an almost matching historical event, too.   The plot here is good but …  

First, I actively dislike this much sex and romance in books. 
Second, the music playing in the background is annoying. 

BUT!  There is a good plot in there which is standard Patterson – a serial killer, some drugs, a few bodies, chase scenes, etc.  A couple of the characters are weird but well done – they fit right into the San Francisco I knew years ago. Other characters are nondescript and almost interchangeable.  The four women of the Mystery Club are still developing their individuality.  The tension is masterfully built, but … well,  this is James Patterson.  I wasn’t all that impressed with the reader. 

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The Triumph of Christianity ~ by Bart Ehrman

Oh it’s good to be back into nonfiction again.  Usually I read about 1/3 nonfiction, and 2/3 crime and other fiction.  But sometimes I slip into more crime books while other times there are more nonfiction.  Genre fiction often gets short-changed but I like to think the quality is quite high – lol. 

The Triumph of Christianity:How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World 
by Bart Ehrman – 2018 

Read by author  11h 20m
Rating: 9.5 / history of Christianity 
*Great Courses audio: pdf 2021 

And I’ve read a number of Ehrman’s books but never one from Great Courses although I’ve read other books from Great Courses –  (I mean listened to – sometimes read and listened, both.) Mostly these books have been about Jesus and the Gospels and how they differ from what fundamentalist Christianity seems to teach but it’s hard to make generalizations about what Christians believe.  They’re history books, not religious books.

The 169-page pdf file which accompanies this Audible book is amazing and it includes fairly complete course notes. The audio is not a verbatim run-through of the notes, Ehrman sometimes inserts some comments.  The pdf also has discussion questions and graphics, beautiful pictures, extra reading suggestions, and a good bibliography with recent entries – probably more, 

 Ehrman grew up in a nominally Christian home but moved toward fundamentalism in high school and then went to Christian colleges after which he dropped the fundamentalism and proceeded with a career in teaching and writing about Christianity as history as an atheist/agnostic.

Ehrman has been writing for a long time and his most recent book

The Triumph of Christianity starts out with Jesus, but gets right on with Paul and his contributions to Christianity as we know it today. The narrative addresses Jesus’ followers who were around after the resurrection and then to Paul, who had a vision rather than meeting Jesus, and the rest of the New Testament which is about 50% Paulism, either written by or about Paul.  

The book includes quite a lot about the Romans of the times from Augustus to the death of Constantine and much of this was new to me. It deals with Christianity from the time of Nero to the Roman Empire’s taking up Christianity seriously, with the Council of Nicaea although only 5% of the population was Jewish and the majority pagan.  

The book is mostly chronological but covering some aspects as topics, “The Christian Mission to the Jews,” “Early Opposition to the Christian Message,” “Reasons for Christianity’s Success.”  And on to the end,  “The Triumph of Christianity: Gains and Losses.”  

I’m not sure I enjoy listening to Ehrman yelling and lecturing as much as I enjoy the more laid back but straightforward readings of his books.  Let’s say it took some time to get used to.  The pdf (included with the Audio/Great Courses version) makes it quite appealing though.

Because this book gets away from Jesus and the Gospels it has some different information from Ehrman’s priors, although that might be in books I haven’t read . Christianity was different from other religions of that era in that it set about evangelizing but they thought “the end” was imminent so spreading the word was paramount.  This was a central teaching and it worked.  

The love commandment was from the Hebrew bible – Leviticus – BUT there it meant to love your fellow Jewish person.  That was reinterpreted by Jesus to loving even your enemy.  That was different and it worked to enhance evangelizing.  `

Ehrman has high regard for the book of Acts which is about Paul but probably written by someone else.  Ehrman states that it was easier to convert Pagans than Jews and explains why.

Because evangelism was so important to Christians and because Paul preached to the pagans they grew by leaps and bounds. And there’s more to it than that, much of which was totally new to me.

I should like to read this again but maybe skipping the first half.

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9th Judgement ~ by James Patterson with Maxine: Paetro,

I’m just barely getting started with this older series.  I read one Patterson years ago and decided it was too gory for me. When he started his Women’s Murder Club mysteries I kind of looked sideways at them, but it was too late, I was allergic to Patterson at that point. 

9th Judgement 
by James Patterson/Maxine Paetro 

2010 / 
Read by Carolyn McCormick 6h 44m
Rating/ A- : thriller – procedural 
(#9 in Women’s Mystery Club series)

I’m just barely getting started with this older series.  I read one Patterson years ago and decided it was too gory for me. When he started his “Women’s Murder Club” mysteries I kind of looked sideways at them, but it was too late, I was allergic to Patterson at that point.  Except for The President Is Missing which he did with Bill Clinton – I enjoyed that okay – (not great but okay) (Links to my reviews on this site.)

Years went by during which I developed a habit of reading Christmas mysteries in December.  This started with 1 or 2 per season but this past year it was 6 Christmas stories. (I save them up during the year.)

So one of them turned out to be the Patterson/Paetro novel The 19th Christmas (“Women’s Murder Club” #19 – 2021! ).  I liked that one so much I went back and tried the first one in the series, 1st to Die. Oops! That was too graphic again and without Paetro something it seemed something was missing.  

Then the other day, finding myself between books and unable to pick one, I noticed this series at the library which doesn’t usually have what I want but occasionally surprises me.  I’ll gladly get a lot of these crime books from the library.  So I got #9 where I thought maybe we had this series as I knew it from book #s 19, 20 and 21.  (The library seems to have the whole series!)

I think this is standard-issue Patterson in that the violence is over-the-top. But I like the characters and the interaction between them.  Yes, there’s still too much sex for my tastes and it’s used as a tension reliever from the fem-jeop (females in jeopardy) action of the main story which I find rather perverse.  But the plots are also good, complicated and nicely twisted.  In 9th Judgement there were 3 tenuously related plot threads going. 

I’ll likely plod along with Paetro at my own pace – when I’m between books and nothing looks particularly enticing and I know I can get it at the library – and when it’s been a few months since my last Patterson book.

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The Match – by Harlan Coben

Having read six (6!) nonfiction books already this month, I really wanted to kick back and read some entertainment and I did that. I usually enjoy Harlan Coben’s books (not always) and this was not one of his best but it was good.

The Match
by Harlan Coben

2022 / (363 pages)
Read by Steven Weber 10h 4m
Rating: C- / mystery thriller – P.I.
(#2 in Wilde series)

Wilde is a 40-something private investigator who was abandoned as a child and lived for years in the forests before being collected and adopted.  This idea starts in book 1 of the series and is more fully explored in this second book. After that part the story is very confusing for awhile and then things clear up.  

There is a private and secret group of various people connected to law enforcement who know each other only as animal names and communicate via computer. They work together to eliminate certain criminals.

 A Reality TV show is upended when a scandal breaks and a star disappears under suspicious circumstances. 

A trial is going on in which Hester is waiting for the verdict regarding a possible but maybe not likely case of self-defense. 

Someone is following Wild and two law enforcement officers are killed.  And a 1st person becomes the primary killer but the reader doesn’t know who that might be.

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/theater-and-arts/books/fl-et-harlan-coben-the-match-review-20220309-nz2fahamfffofnrwdhffmrpmxi-story.html

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The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

I was wanting some to read something which was lighter, but not a mystery. A friend had said that The Lemon Tree was very good so I went to buy it and found I would get the Audible version discounted because I already “own the Kindle.” Ya?  Hmmmm…. I wonder when that happened? lol!  (But I think it’s been on and off my Wish List at Audible several times – heh.)  

The Lemon Tree:
An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East 
by Sandy Tolan 

2006 / 542 pages
Read by author 11h 19m
Rating: 9.5 / Israeli-Palestinian conflict 
(Both read and listened)

The Audible site categorizes this book as “memoir/religious” – I don’t quite agree.  Memoir is not even okay because it’s more of a biography of two people linked by a house, a tree and a long, ugly war. Sandy Tolan, the author, is a highly regarded investigative reporter and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. Paging through the Kindle version I see the book is very well documented but it’s certainly not a memoir.

BUT!!!  This book is not what I expected or thought I was looking for!  There’s a lot of military history and I didn’t realize that until I got into the book. At this point in my reading career I don’t have a problem with military history. Just because it takes place in Israel doesn’t make it a religious book! 

I’ve read a couple books about the Israeli-Palestinian problems before, but that was probably a decade ago. I don’t remember the names of the others but they were nonfiction and included the Lydde and Ramia horror/tragedy in 1948.    

 I started out pretty well but before long I was a bit confused. And by the time I got to Chapter 3 I realized that the book is more challenging than I’d expected due to the military and political detail.  So I went back and started in again at Chapter 2, “House,” where I felt like I was on more solid ground.  Now comes several years of very complex political, military, and personal histories. And then (!) in Chapter 9 we get to the two people who became which was introduced in the first chapter.    

This time the tale made much more sense and although yes, Chapter 4 (“Expulsion”) is pretty gritty as well as confusing, I was hooked. (And I didn’t used to like war stories at all, there are places scattered throughout the book which are definitely war stories. 

It takes awhile to get back to the stories of the Bulgarian-Jewish family, Moshe and Solia Eshkenazi with their their baby daughter Dalia, on their way, fortunately, to Israel.  World War II was over and the Jews were free, more or less. With Theodore Hertzl and  David Ben-Gurion leading them on, thousands and thousands of Jews immigrated to Israel while others stayed in the homeland to see if they couldn’t remake it. The trip was arduous, the arrival in Zion horrendous.  

Meanwhile the large family of Ahmad and Zakia was getting used to life in a single room in a new city where they were despised for having given up their homes. They were forced to live by their wits.  And so the babies, Dalia and Bashir, were driven out of their homelands to new homes in strange lands, where others had just been removed.  Dalia’s family got Bashir’s old house with its lemon tree.  One day Bashir goes to visit his old house and that’s how he and Dalia meet. They connect on a personal level and they meet again and write letters. 

The narrative is chronological, but goes back and forth between Israeli and Arab operations. Family information is inserted as applicable at first but more and more as the story goes on. Dalia gets into peace-promoting activities while Bashir becomes a terrorist and the leaders can’t stop the war. 

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The Writing of the Gods ~ by Edward Dolnick

Another All-Nonfiction Reading Group selection and I think I nominated this one simply because I was attracted to the subject matter, the sample audio was good and the reviews from good places were great.  I got the Kindle version, too,  and I’m glad I did.  There’s a pdf file which goes with the Audible version, but I also want footnotes and other extra-textual material.  The footnotes would have made the Kindle version worth it, but there is also a photo section which is a very nice addition.  

The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone  
by Edward Dolnick

2021 /  314 pages
Read by Fajer Al-Kaisi  8h 32m
Rating: 8.75 / History-Middle East
(Both read and listened)

My background with the Rosetta Stone is probably the same as that of most people.  is.  I’ve heard bits and pieces about it and I’ve been intrigued but haven’t pursued the subject.  I knew that it was very difficult to decode – it took two decades from 1799, when it was discovered, until 1822, when a brilliant young Frenchman named Jean-François Champollion along with a a British doctor and scientist named Thomas Young worked it out.

The cartouche is within the oval - this is typical of what the men were trying to decode.
The cartouche is within the oval – this is typical of what the men were trying to decode.

Up to about page 81 the book is mostly background about what precipitated finding The Rosetta Stone, Napoleon’s raid on Egypt and so on. After that the pace picks up as it follows these two very different major players as they keep working, competing for breakthroughs, at translating the Rosetta Stone.  

But there are many other individuals involved. And the pace does keep picking up. There is quite a lot of less directly related material, too.  The actual dawn of writing, for example, from tax records to scrolls is an example. Dolnick’s ideas seem to go against what David Graeber and David Wengrow say in their book The Dawn of Everything which I read just last month. That was cool to read that – to see what they are/were up against. (But was Egypt ever a nomadic culture?)

I really appreciated the way Dolnick used quotes from a wide variety of sources, Plato to D’Arcy Thompson,  to emphasize various points. This happens on virtually every page where the author is not in the middle of his storytelling.

And the Notes are a wonder of information. A general source is usually found within the narrative, but footnotes are used for all manner of somewhat peripheral material. Fascinating.  (And I love it when footnotes are sourced, too, although …) 

 I’m going to have to keep an eye out for Dolnick’s books. 

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The Family Chao ~ by Lan Samantha Chang

Oh what a good thing to read a good book –  good in many senses of the term. But first, although the is a mystery of sorts, it’s not a “thriller” in any sense of the term. 

But yes, it’s “good” in that it’s compelling and enjoyable to read.  It’s also “good” in that it’s heart-warming without being at all mushy.  And it’s well enough written to easily use various structural and narrative elements, literary devices and interesting metaphors. In its own way it’s also a celebration of food.  

The Family Chao
by Lan Samantha Chang 

2022 / 346 pages
Read by Brian Nishi 10h 57m
Rating 9 – A / literary mystery 

All that said, there’s a rather difficult underside to it. It’s about 1st generation immigrants – the first children born here to immigrant parents.  And there’s more than an echo of The Brothers Karamazov with the three brothers, a rich and worldly father, a death, and the clash of ideas and morality, values. 

The brothers in The Family Chao are Dagou who has been the brilliant chef at the family restaurant since his return from an attempt at college.  The second son is Ming who finished college and determinedly stayed away making his fortune in New York.  And there’s John who has just finished his 1st semester in pre-med and has the reputation for being the “good son.”  Father is a brute and mother has given in for years but has recently broken relations and moved in with a Buddhist community. 

The boys come home for Christmas and Dagou prepares his annual Christmas feast.  The next day Father is found dead in the walk-in basement freezer – he was locked in. Murdered. And that’s where Part 2 starts – a who-done-it and a trial.   

Chang explores a whole number of things in this book, immigrants, family, identity, belonging, loyalty, love of all kinds, some mysticism, forgiveness and so on.  Mostly though it’s a character-driven novel with wonderful insight into the nature and foibles of humans. I really didn’t want it to end.

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Wilmington’s Lie ~ by David Zucchino

This book was on sale and I thought I recognized the title as having won the Pulitzer last year (2021 prize for a 2020 book).  For a minute, I thought I was wrong, but yes, it did get the prize, but it was for General Nonfiction,  not History as I’d thought.  (Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain won in the History category. It’s on my Wish List.) 

Wilmington’s Lie:The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy
by David Zucchino

2020 / 562 pages
Read by Victor Bevine 11h 26m
Rating – 9 / US Civil War History

Probably like most readers, I’d never heard of this riot/insurrection by White Supremacists which occurred in 1898 in Wilmington North Carolina.  At first it was reported as a race riot started by Blacks and that’s the lie which was perpetuated. But after a couple decades of digging that idea was changed. The “Fusion” political party which consisted of both Blacks and Whites had won the election and the White Supremacists didn’t like that and deliberately stole the election because they wanted all power back.

But Zucchino starts in the Prologue with the actual riot but in Chapter 1 he goes back to 1865 for the background and how it lead up to the violence.  After the Civil War Wilmington, like many other Southern cities, was in chaos and ruins.  There was filth everywhere and within weeks Blacks were again being hunted as well as for sale.  The Union armies came in and maintained order until the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and even then it didn’t all fall apart for another 20 years of brewing resentments on the part of the Whites.

Bitterness and even hatred was never far beneath the surface in Wilmington and although the Black population was doing relatively well economically, that’s what was resented by the powerful Whites as well as those who competed with Blacks for jobs..

So the ideas behind White Supremacy were only a speech or a newspaper editorial away.  Lo and behold a Black newspaper was purchased by Alex Manley and he figured prominently in the White rage writing editorials and news of interest to the Black community. There were many Black professionals and a growing middle class – no Black owned banks though.  

And still the insurrection/coup went on.  It was a murderous night and the next day it continued.  Thousands of Blacks simply left town – and many didn’t move back. Many Blacks who still had jobs were fired – unless they were necessary for domestic services.

Most people just hushed it all up. Whites took over all power and Blacks either didn’t go back or didn’t talk/write about it. White Supremacists were actually proud of what they’d “accomplished.” And Jim Crow commenced across the South with all their new laws.

More information has become available as Black Studies programs and there have been protests about various statues. The memorial marker in honor of Alex Manley, the editor of the Black newspaper in Wilmington has been necessarily updated with appropriate information.

https://www.npr.org/2020/01/13/795892582/wilmington-s-lie-author-traces-the-rise-of-white-supremacy-in-a-southern-city

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Empire of Pain ~ by Patrick Radden Keefe

One of the reasons I got this book though was that Patrick Radden Keefe wrote the fabulous book,  Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (2018). 

Empire of Pain:The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
by Patrick Radden Keefe

2021 (560 pps hardcover)
Read by author 18h 6m
Rating:  9 / current events 

It would be hard not to have heard about the Sackler family and their “miracle drug,” Oxycontin, which partly drove the opioid epidemic in the US.  Opioids have been around for centuries, but to develop “timed release capsules” and then to hire a huge well-trained and incentivized sales force to market them was rather new.  No,  it wasn’t against the law and the company went through the motions of developing and distributing a remedy for acute pain,  but they did a few extra-legal things, too.  And what was sold as a non-addictive pain remedy pushed a lot of people into active addiction to morphine while enriching the family which was behind it.  

And the Sackler family got very, very rich. They got so rich they got their name put on many colleges and art museums and actually opened wings at others. Did they know what was going on?  How could they help but know?  But denial is a tricky thing and just like an addict will deny he’s addicted, the Sacklers denied any wrong doing and any harmful qualities in their product.  Kathe couldn’t think of anything she would do differently knowing what she did at the time while Richard denied everything all the way to the bank.  (“People are responsible for their own behaviors and there are consequences.”) 

Empire of Pain is about the Sackler family and the involvement of their company, Purdue Pharma, in the  epidemic of opiod abuse which has run rampant through the US starting in 1999.  

The book outlines the family history from its beginnings as immigrant Polish and Ukrainian Jewish children to New York in the early 20th century. Three boys were sent to good colleges to become doctors and the boys worked their way up, too.  And these boys got as addicted to the money and what it would buy as the addicts got to their drugs.

It’s a good book. Not as good as Say Nothing but almost to that level. Keefe is an has done some excellent research and he’s given us the sources. Then in the Acknowledgments section he expands on his source work. This was also true of Say Nothing.   

Still, I have issues.  To my thinking, Keefe is a bit loose with blame.  Their father, Isaac Sackler, told them the only real thing of value they have is their name. They apparently didn’t heed his advice. Of the original Sackler brothers none is innocent if you consider Arthur’s involvement with advertising.  Arthur died prior to Oxycontin even being thought of and Mortimer and Raymond seemed to have some scruples once in awhile, at least at first.  But Richard, Raymond’s son, just pushed ahead with his job of, as he said, “making the family richer.”  And he defended their right to the money by any means necessary.   So instead of being what I think could have been an even-handed investigation of the Oxycontin scandals which drove the morphine-based pain killer epidemic, it fell into sensationalism and knee-jerk finger-pointing.  But if that’s what you’re interested in reading it’s great for that (And I did give it a 9.)

Second issue is that I don’ think it’s a good idea for an author to read his own books.  Although I’ve read some good author-as-reader books,  this isn’t one of them.  

Empire of Pain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_Pain

  

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