March 9, 2017

Book review: Poverty books — 1936 — “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee with photos by Walker Evans

There are many ways to approach Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the majestic, mystical and often maddening book that James Agee and Walker Evans published in 1941. I’m going to look at it here through the lens of journalism — how it subverts and critiques journalism as practiced in the United States. It is a book that subverts journalism, even as it reaches — strains achingly — to create a new journalism. It’s journalism as art. But not the sort of art that Agee is at pains to criticize through his book. The art that he is striving to create. But here, I’m afraid, I’m starting to sound like Agee. Let me try to be as clear as I can. I will write here mainly about Agee. The Evans photos are, like his text, majestic, mystical and at times maddening, but that’s another discussion. So too is the interplay between Agee’s words and the images by Evans. Neither exists without the other. Yet, here, I will write mainly about Agee. In the summer of 1936, Agee and Evans spent eight weeks traveling around the South, working on an assignment from Fortune magazine for a story about sharecroppers and tenant […]
March 8, 2017

Book review: Poverty books — 1929-1930 — “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell

Midway through Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell is making a point: The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Everyone who has mixed on equal terms with the poor knows this quite well. Orwell is reacting to the general feeling among the non-poor of England of his time — and it’s true today in the United States — that people who live in poverty are somehow less than full people. That they’re of a different breed, a lesser breed. Yet, in this book about his own experience living in extreme poverty over the course of more than three months in late 1929 and early 1930, Orwell makes again and again the strikingly obvious point: that the poor are human beings, just like the rest of us.   “Ordinary human beings” For instance, writing about his time among tramps and beggars in London and its environs, Orwell notes: It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one […]
March 7, 2017

Book Review: Poverty books — 1890 — “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis

…. There is much to say about Jacob Riis’s 1890 masterpiece How the Other Half Lives, but, first, let’s look at the faces in his book. In our selfie-social media age, a collection like this — a collection of the faces of individuals — is nothing unusual. Yet, 125 years ago, these images were revolutionary. If you were rich, you could have your portrait painted. If you were middle-class, you could pay for a photographic likeness. You might even buy your own Kodak box camera, introduced in 1888, and take up the expensive hobby of photography, making photos of family members and friends. The poor couldn’t avail themselves of these options. But Jacob Riis, newspaper reporter and reformer in New York, could and did. And, in lectures, articles and a series of books, starting with How the Other Half Lives, he bridged the economic, cultural and class gap to link those with solid, comfortable lives to their brothers and sisters trying to eke out a living in poverty.   Common humanity How the Other Half Lives was a major milestone in journalism, in photojournalism and in social reform. Riis’s text, often overlooked, is hard-edged and filled with a barely restrained […]
March 2, 2017

Book review: Poverty Books –– 1936 — “The Road to Wigan Pier” by George Orwell

There are two halves to George Orwell’s investigative report on the working class of the industrial centers of Yorkshire and Lancashire in England, published in 1937, The Road to Wigan Pier. The second is a pointed, opinionated, witty and, at times, technical discussion of the failures of the British social-political system to provide decent opportunities for the working class and others at the bottom of the economic heap, and of what was needed to eliminate these failings. His answer was socialism, but not as British socialists were practicing the political creed. A more humane, less class-conscious socialism is what Orwell had in mind. This 100-page section is filled with telling observations about the class system in Britain, with many slaps at the middle class, particularly socialists of that class unable and unwilling to see working class people as equals. With many writers, this would be heavy going, but Orwell is never boring, even when he’s being pedantic and biased and more than a bit of a know-it-all. In much of what he writes, though, he makes eminent sense.   “Black thumb-print” But I don’t want to deal here with this second half of the book. Instead, I want to look closely […]
February 27, 2017

Book review: Poverty Books — 1902 — “The People of the Abyss” by Jack London

Turn to page 24 of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, and you’ll find many of the book’s themes on display. The American spent seven weeks in the summer of 1902 investigating — and often living — the life of the poor of the East End of London, the grandest, most powerful and most populous city in the world. Some 450,000 of the city’s 6.2 million people lived in poverty, most of them segregated in the East End. Or, as the writer put it on page 24: At this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called “London.” Jack London, still trying to make his mark as a writer, had not yet produced the novel that made his reputation, The Call of the Wild. Indeed, he would start that book a few months later, in December, and both the novel and the 128-page non-fiction investigative work would be published in 1903.   “Old woman’s fault” As an example of those “dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit,” London lays out on page 24 of The People of the Abyss the details of the sad life and death of […]
February 16, 2017

Book review: “The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner,” edited by Ron Rapoport

Near the end of The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner, in a section called “Buried Treasure,” editor Ron Rapaport includes this tidbit from a Lardner column about diet and exercise: Like for inst. you wouldn’t go to Babe Ruth for beauty hints no more than you would ask Lillian Gish which cheek to park your tobacco in vs. a left-hander. Rapaport’s newly published book might just as well have been titled Buried Treasure because little of Lardner’s work as a journalist has previously been available despite the high praise he garnered during and after his short life from such literary luminaries as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson. He’s remembered today for his short stories, but, throughout his writing career from 1907 until shortly before his death in 1933 at the age of 48, Lardner was a practicing journalist whose work, often syndicated throughout the nation, attracted a huge audience. His output, too, was huge. For instance, during his career with the Chicago Tribune, he wrote more than 1,600 columns and other stories, most often about sports but also such other topics as politics, Prohibition and World War I.   “Bowed his knees” Although he left Chicago in […]
February 8, 2017

Book review: “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore

Early on, in Secondhand Souls, the report comes from one character to another that the hellhounds are gone. This is important to the plot of Christopher Moore’s 2015 comic novel because the hellhounds — often referred to as the “Irish hellhounds” since that seems to sound better — are the protectors of seven-year-old Sophie who is Death with a Capital D, or, as she shouts in a bit of a tantrum, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita: I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. Except, maybe, she isn’t Big-D Death any more. Which is particularly problematic because, again, as when Sophie was a toddler (and had to save the world), the forces of darkness are gathering and appear on the edge of bringing a thundering end to life as we know it. At least, in San Francisco. So, it’s bad that the Irish hellhounds — Alvin and Mohammed — have disappeared from the scene. Beyond all that, though, there was at least one reader who spent much of Secondhand Souls mourning the absence of the two 400-pound mastiffs who first made their appearance in Moore’s 2006 book A Dirty Job. Let me explain.   Wacky In A Dirty Job, Moore, a […]
January 30, 2017

Book review: “Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective” by Jaroslav Pelikan, David Flusser and Justin Lang, OFM

Many modern Catholics aren’t sure what to make of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some of us remember when, prior to the Second Vatican Council, she was very much near the center of our faith. Indeed, Protestants, in general, thought the Catholic church gave way too much attention to Mary, even, some said, to the point of idolatry. Then, in the 1960s, among Catholics, there was a swing of the pendulum that moved Mary more to the margins of belief. There were still a lot of believers who kept up their prayers and devotions to Mary, but, for the most part, Catholic writers and preachers didn’t have a lot to say about her, arguing, directly or implicitly, that they needed to turn their focus much more narrowly on Jesus.   Mary, in other words, was seen as something of a distraction.   “Joyfulness of narration” That’s the context in which my own faith was formed, and it’s only been recently that I’ve felt myself looking at Mary and trying to understand her better and to figure out her place in my own brand of Catholicism. Mary: Images of the Mother of Jesus in Jewish and Christian Perspective is a delightful jewel […]
January 25, 2017

Book review: “Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured” by Kathryn Harrison

It was early March of 1429 when Joan, a 17-year-old girl from rural Domremy, arrived in the city of Chinon to tell the Dauphin — Charles VII, the uncrowned king of France — that she had been sent from God to lead his soldiers. If Joan was daunted by her arrival in a world so unlike her own, where wealth had the power to banish the squalor of peasant life [writes Kathryn Harrison], she betrayed no discomfort. If she felt any awe in entering the castle of a king, she showed none to her companions… Joan’s attention was elsewhere, already beyond the chateau, galloping ahead of her. Long before she arrived at court, Joan had embarked on a prolonged visionary experience that would end only at her death…. The story of Joan has been told many times over the past six centuries, and it will continue to be told for many centuries more. It’s a story of fierce faith, dirty politics, venal churchmen, trust betrayed, patriotism abused and, most especially, a girl who called herself Joan the Virgin and was called by her enemies Joan the Whore and Joan the Witch and who, for the past hundred years, has been […]
January 23, 2017

Book review: “So Long, See You Tomorrow” by William Maxwell

William Maxwell’s 1980 semi-autobiographical novel So Long, See You Tomorrow, originally published in The New Yorker in two installments, was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Award. In 2016, it was included in a list the 75 best books of the previous 75 years. Maxwell was The New Yorker’s fiction editor for forty years, working with and gaining the respect of such writers as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, John O’Hara, Eudora Welty, Shirley Hazzard, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. So, the high praise for his novel, published when Maxwell was in his early 70s, is not surprising. The novel is an exquisitely rendered, jewel-like story that’s told in just 135 pages in its original hardcover edition. It is notable for its extreme emotional reserve and ever-so-delicate craftsmanship. For me, it was bloodless.   A decidedly bleak view I’m sure there are many of Maxwell’s fans who will tell me I’m deaf to Maxwell’s artistry. And, truth be told, So Long, See You Tomorrow does have the feel of an intense and elegant poem. It is made up of two stories. One is about a murder in 1920s Lincoln, Illinois, that results from […]
January 16, 2017

Book review: “Cities in Flight” by James Blish

Cities in Flight is an omnibus, first published in 1970, that collects together four novels by James Blish. Those novels themselves were collections of stories that Blish had published between 1950 and 1962. I initially read Cities in Flight in paperback sometime during the 1970s when I was in my 20s. Now, some four decades later, I’ve re-read a hardcover version of the book, published in 2000. Of the two books as objects, I much prefer the cover art of the paperback in which each letter of the two main words of the title is a kind of city in flight. The dustjacket of the hardcover suggests an eerie strangeness. That’s mainly because what intrigued me then about the novel and still intrigues me is the idea of whole cities lifting off from Earth and wandering space like migrant workers or, as they call themselves, Okies. As a newspaper reporter in the 1970s, I was covering a bunch of Chicago suburbs, each of which had a mayor and some sort of city manager, and, in the final three of the novel’s four sections, the central characters are the mayor and the city manager of the space-travelling New York City. I’m […]
January 11, 2017

Book review: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

At the end of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 novel The Sympathizer, the unnamed narrator and central character asks a series of questions: What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power? What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others? And is it sane or insane to believe, as so many around up apparently do, in nothing? These are the metaphysical issues at the heart of The Sympathizer, the winner of the 2106 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but that’s not clear until the very end of the novel. Instead, the novel seems to about living in two worlds as the narrator suggests with these words that open the book: I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds…I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.   “The dust of life” Born in the northern […]
January 10, 2017

Book review: “The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc” by Charles Peguy, adapted by Jean-Paul Lucet, translated by Jeffrey Wainwright

In Charles Peguy’s play The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, there are three characters: Joan, her friend Hauviette and a nun called Madam Gervaise. The year is 1425, and Joan is a seemingly simple teenaged peasant girl, trying to figure out what faith means and what faith requires. She is on stage the entire time. She is joined for the first part by Hauviette and for the second by Madam Gervaise. Their conversations are theological investigations. Hauviette seems to represent a sort of common sense approach to questions about God and belief. Madam Gervaise appears to represent official Catholic teaching. The key line in the play, to my mind, is uttered when the nun asks Joan: Why do you want, sister, to save the dead who are damned to eternal Hell? Why do you want to be a better savior than the Savior?   Three questions Peguy (1873-1914), born of French peasant stock, was a poet, editor and political activist who espoused an idiosyncratic version of Catholicism. In 1897, he wrote a very long drama Joan of Arc. Thirteen years later, he returned to the subject of the soldier-saint Maid of Orleans when he composed The Mystery […]
January 5, 2017

Book review: “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather

It’s been 90 years since Willa Cather published Death Comes for the Archbishop, and what’s particularly striking about the novel is how it seems to exist outside the fashions and prejudices of a particular era and, yet, tells a universal story about human beings and the earth on which they live. At the center of the novel are two French Jesuits — Bishop Jean Marie Latour and his friend Father Joseph Vaillant — two celibate men who, in the mid-19th century, devote their lives to bring religious faith and comfort to Mexican-Americans in the newly acquired U.S. territory of New Mexico. Missionaries are generally depicted in books and movies today as aggressive, vindictive, dictatorial and stone-hearted. I’m sure there have been such priests in the history of the mission fields, but I’m also certain that a lot more of those who went out to share their faith with people who knew little or nothing of Jesus were like Latour and Vaillant. Cather presents them as strong, committed men, willing to put up with great hardships in doing what they saw as God’s work. Flawed, like all of us are, but good at heart. We can still believe today in the […]
January 3, 2017

My Top Fourteen Books of 2016

Last year, it was my top eleven. This year, it’s the top fourteen. Why? I could tell you that I’d already left a lot of good books off this list. And I could tell you that I would cheerfully, joyfully, delightedly recommend any of these books to any reader. Really, though, it’s because these fourteen. among all those I read in 2016, touched deepest me in some way. Some, such as The House on Mango Street and The Long Season, are books that I’ve read before. A good number are ostensibly books on religious topics, but I’d argue that their subject matter was the human condition. They’re ranked first to fourteenth, but, really, on another day, the list would probably be shuffled a bit, or a lot. So, here they are along with a portion of my review and a link to that review: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr. In his novel, Miller has created a captivating story in which the future world echoes what happened in the past. Just as Western civilization took hundreds of years to rebuild itself after the fall of Rome, Miller’s post-apocalyptic Earth goes through a Dark Ages (the first section), […]
December 21, 2016

Book review: “Walks with Men” by Ann Beattie

Walks with Men is Ann Beattie’s very short 2010 novel about two vacuous but affluent New Yorkers who have an affair, break up, marry and then really break up. This reads like a longish short story in the New Yorker, a publication for which Beattie often writes. And that magazine’s readers seem to be its target audience. I was left feeling out of it.   Rarified stratum What I mean is that, despite the skill with which Beattie tells this story, I could find no purchase. The two central characters — 44-year-old Neil and 22-year-old Jane — are like no one I know, except maybe people in a movie about the rarified stratum of cultural winners who comport themselves like masters and mistresses of their universe. In 1980, when the couple meet, Neil is an academic who dabbles in commentary in high-tone periodicals while Jane has made a sudden (and fleeting) name for herself as the poster girl for a disillusioned generation after giving a graduation speech at Harvard that disparaged an Ivy League education. Headline! Headline!   Great praise from the French As the novel progresses through their courtship and living together and the ultimate disappearance of one of the […]
December 14, 2016

Book review: “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit” by Barry Estabrook

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook is really two books that co-exist uneasily in the same binding.   Book one: For foodies One is a book for foodies and deals with the question of why so many store-bought tomatoes are so relatively tasteless. This book covers the first 35 pages and the last 73. Its focus is on the methods used by growers in sunny Florida to produce tons of tomatoes each winter to ship north to frigid and often snow-bound markets. These tomatoes have been created to be attractive, large and able to handle a lot of handling before ending up on a diner’s plate — all so that those diners don’t have to go an entire season or more without the foodstuff. The Florida growers work on a business model that is only marginally profitable. That’s why the tomatoes are fashioned to be hardy and, in terms of shipping, to be able to go the extra mile. In the latter part of this book, Estabrook examines some new strains of tomato that, although a bit uglier, may be able to lead to better-tasting versions reaching the northern markets. The bottom-line problem, […]
December 12, 2016

Book review: “Out of Sight” by Elmore Leonard

Jack Foley and Karen Sisco meet cute. In Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel Out of Sight, Karen is a U.S. Marshall who arrives one late winter afternoon in the parking lot of the Glades state prison in Florida to serve a summons on a prisoner. But, as she’s getting out of her car in a parking lot beyond the fence, she spots, one after the other, a handful of muddy inmates climbing out of a hole and running off to freedom. Jack Foley, wearing a guard’s uniform, emerges right after them, and he and his buddy, named Buddy, get the drop on Karen, take away the Remington pump-action shotgun she’s grabbed to chase the inmates and order her to get into the trunk of her car. Not by herself, though. Joining Karen in the trunk is Foley who’s covered in muck after crawling through the tunnel that those other inmates dug. Buddy gets in the driver’s seat, and the getaway is on.   “Under different circumstances” In the tight space of the truck, Jack and Karen are pressed together, his front to her back, and curled as if spooning, except, of course, Jack is a record-setting bank robber and an escaped […]
December 7, 2016

Book review: “The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium” by Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal’s book-long meditation on how poets around the world and over the centuries have encountered Jesus — The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium — was published in 2000. Yet, it shouldn’t be thought of as a retrospective. The attitudes toward Jesus, by believing and unbelieving poets, that Rosenthal carefully, lovingly set before the reader can be found today among humans, no matter their faith or lack of faith. They don’t just exist in time. They exist, all of them, in the here and now. As Rosenthal recounts, there have been waves of theological and poetic fashion that have heightened various images of Jesus down all the many years. Still, I come away from this deeply spiritual work with the sense that, in some transcendent way, each Jesus identified by these poets does live, even those who contradict each other. When it comes to understanding God, there is no recourse but to acknowledge our blindness. We make stabs in the dark at trying to put into words our ideas, feelings and experiences of God and know how feeble those words are. And know, on top of that, how feeble, weak and bumbling are those ideas, feelings […]
December 6, 2016

Book review: “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel and winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a wildly free-wheeling satire of race relations in the United States that seems designed to offend just about everyone, several times over. At its witty, angry, bitter heart, though, it has a message. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, the central character — whose last name is Me and whose first name is never given — ruminates on the surprising byproducts of his seemingly nihilistic campaign to resegregate his small city of Dickens and its black population. It’s causing good things to happen, and he starts to get an idea of why: Charisma had intuitively grasped the psychological subtleties of my plan even as it was just starting to make sense to me. She understood the colored person’s desire for the domineering white presence, which the Wheaton Academy represented. Because she knew that even in these times of racial equality, when someone whiter than us, richer than us, blacker than us, Chineser than us, better than us, whatever than us, comes around throwing their equality in our faces, it brings out our need to impress, to behave, to tuck in our shirts, do our […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by George M. Marsden

Three years ago, during the annual NCAA basketball March Madness, there was a parallel online tournament in which participants voted for the best Christian book of all time. The brackets, overseen by the Emerging Scholars Network of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational evangelical campus ministry, featured 68 works by such spiritual heavyweights as Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Aquinas, Rick Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor and Dante. The winner in the final showdown was Confessions by Augustine, not a great surprise since it has been one of the foundational texts of Christianity for more than 1,700 years. In second place, though, was a book that had been written just 61 years earlier by a self-described amateur theologian named Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis with the unprepossessing title Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis, a British university don and an expert in medieval and renaissance literature, is best known today as the writer of such novels as The Screwtape Letters and the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, three of which have been made into movies in the last decade. Mere Christianity is framed as an explanation of Christianity for those who aren’t believers or are nominal Christians. As […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America” by Althea McDowell Altemus, edited and annotated by Robin F. Bachin

In 1922, after working more than four years in Florida as an executive secretary, Althea McDowell Altemus took her eight-year-old son Robert and headed for home territory: Chicago. For a carefree two months, the 35-year-old widow and Tidbits, as she called her son, made Chicago their playground, as she explains in the newly published Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America (University of Chicago Press): We had given the once over to every toy in Field’s playroom – we could tell you about every animal in the Lincoln Park Zoo – we knew every kid at Clarendon Beach – we had sported joy rides on the top of every bus line approaching the Loop – we had even been out in the country and helped milk the cows and bring in the eggs… It was nearly a century ago, but the Chicago playground that Altemus describes in Big Bosses won’t be unfamiliar to many present-day residents of the city and suburbs. True, Marshall Field’s is now Macy’s, but the department store retains more than a bit of its aura as a fixture on the city’s business and cultural landscape. The Lincoln Park Zoo and the lake beaches […]
November 17, 2016

Book review: “Pagan Babies” by Elmore Leonard

When is a priest a priest? And when is he not? Five years ago, Terry Dunn came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out and became the village priest when his uncle died. In Elmore Leonard’s 2000 novel Pagan Babies, Terry Dunn is a Detroit boy who, five years earlier, came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out. When the uncle died, Terry became the village priest. He is a Catholic boy whose mother had always wanted him to get ordained. He’d been an altar boy, and, like generations of Catholic school kids, he’d kicked in small change to the jar labeled “For Pagan Babies,” the collection for mission work in foreign lands. Terry had served his parishioners, living their life as one of them. As he explained to his well-to-do lawyer brother Fran in a letter home: “Listen to this, [Fran says to his wife Mary Pat]. He lists the different smells you become aware of in the village, like the essence of the place. Listen. He says, ‘The smell of mildew, the smell of raw meat, cooking oil, charcoal-burning fires, the smell of pit latrines, the […]
November 14, 2016

Book review: “Rodin: The Gates of Hell” by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain

I’m fascinated by the Falling Man near the top of Auguste Rodin’s masterwork The Gates of Hell, just to the left of The Thinker. It’s featured in a full-page photograph in Antoinette Le Normand-Romain’s 1999 book Rodin: The Gates of Hell. Holding on with his left arm, the nude figure is contorted, his muscles taut, straining, as he is just moments away from losing his grip and tumbling off into the abyss.   Never finished Rodin’s Gates of Hell is a monumental work — roughly 20 feet tall, 13 feet wide and three feet deep — that was never finished. He tinkered with it for decades. Actually, “tinkered” is the wrong word. Rodin interacted with this huge work of his imagination, adding and subtracting, and borrowing from its forms to create separate works, such as The Thinker. What is viewed as the definitive version of the work was completed in 1889 or 1890, but wasn’t cast in bronze until after the sculptor’s death in 1917. It is made up of 227 figures that stretch, strain, touch, bend, twist, writhe and reach out in the chaos of movement up and down the two (never-to-be-opened) doors, from top to bottom and from […]
November 3, 2016

Book review: “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas

The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther is much more readable than I would have expected it to be. This 2010 book by Jeffrey Haas tells the story of a 1969 Chicago police raid on the home of local Black Panther leader Jeff Fort in which Fort and another Panther, Mark Clark, were fatally shot, and it asserts that Fort’s death was murder — an assassination which was planned by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and arranged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The raid was part of a national FBI campaign to ensure that a black “messiah” did not arise and threaten the status quo. Haas, one of a tiny group of idealistic white attorneys who worked on behalf of the Panthers (and other Anti-Establishment African-Americans), was deeply involved in legal effort to bring this story to light. It was an effort that, after a 13-year battle, was so successful that the city of Chicago, Cook County and the federal government ponied up $1.85 million for the survivors of the raid and the families of Fort and Clark rather than face a trial on civil rights violations.   True-believer […]