Friday, April 29, 2011

"Proof of Yankey bravery"

We Americans like our myths as well as anybody - especially as they relate to the American Revolution. We like to think of the resourceful colonists as simple but determined farmers triumphing in the face of a highly trained professional foe who misunderstood the "American" way of fighting. We imagine the evil British soldiers attempting a foolish "European" style of warfare while arrogantly underestimating the scrappy and plucky rebels. While there's an element of truth to that view, there's also an element of myth as well.

The Whites of Their Eyes: Bunker Hill, the First American Army, and the Emergence of George WashingtonThe Battle of Bunker Hill was the first pitched battle between the rebellious colonists and the British Redcoats (and happened on Breed's Hill, not Bunker Hill). It was actually a victory for the British - a very costly victory, but a victory nonetheless - and interestingly, spectators far outnumbered participants. In The Whites of Their Eyes: Bunker Hill, the First American Army, and the Emergence of George Washington by Paul Lockhart, the conflict is put into context by explaining that the British generals weren't so ignorant of frontier fighting as we think, since most of them had participated in earlier frontier wars. They also weren't so condescending towards Americans either; most were very comfortable with American ways and had great admiration for the colonists and their leaders (some of them had even been born in America or were married to Americans). Those who so fatally underestimated the Americans were the King and his Lords back in England, ignoring the information General Thomas Gage had been sending from Boston.

General Gage knew his troops were seriously undermanned to put down the growing rebellion - it was obvious in confrontations with the "minutemen" at Lexington and Concord. And during the battle it quickly became frighteningly apparent how green and inexperienced the Redcoat soldiers were, having never fought in battle before and reacting with fear instead of following their training. But the Americans were just as undisciplined and clumsy and made many mistakes - the greatest of which was setting up their fortification on the wrong hill, Breed's instead of Bunker Hill as had been ordered. But because of the bravery and wisdom of some of their leaders, like Artemius Ward, Joseph Warren, William Prescott, and many others who've since been forgotten to history and overshadowed by events that followed, the colonists made the British pay dearly for a lump of land they soon abandoned.

This is a good narrative that explains the real story of how the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought - the mistakes and the triumphs, the bravery and the cowardice - and it makes the accomplishments of the rebels all the more amazing. Lockhart also describes the arrival of George Washington, who was appointed commander of the Colonial Army after the battle, and the difficulties he faced in turning a mob of soldiers into a (somewhat) more disciplined fighting unit. But the greatest value here, other than telling a really good story, is in the clarification and analysis of the situation, giving a realistic perspective on the events and repercussions of that day. It sometimes sounds a little academic and textbookish, but still dishes out plenty of excitement and action without diminishing the bravery of the "Yankey" Patriots. (I received this book from Amazon Vine.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New York City - Day 4 (and 5)

Internet connection troubles prevented me from finishing this up while we were still in NYC, but this is what we did on Sunday - which didn't feel much like Easter with the family on different sides of the country. 

This is the LDS Temple in New York City, which normally doesn't have Sunday meetings, but this one is a little unique.  The 2nd and 3rd floors are used for the local ward or branch (which we attended), while the rest of it is a normal temple.  I didn't think it was quite as beautiful as most others, like Los Angeles or Salt Lake, but it was nice to find just a block from Central Park.

The Easter Bunny found us at the hotel after all.  Braiden and Shannon M. hung out with us for a while on Sunday.  (I was most surprised to look at this picture afterward and see Taylor actually gave the Bunny a hug!)

Taylor, Shannon, and Braiden and I rented bikes and road around Central Park - along with thousands of others!  But it was a nice way to cover a lot more ground.

On top of a bridge in Central Park.

Another cool statue in Central Park - I like monuments like this.

The magnolia trees were blooming quite spectacularly (Braiden didn't realize it was similar to the one we have in our yard).

After hanging out with Braiden in Central Park, Taylor and I had lunch at an unusual place called the Jekyll & Hyde Club.  It's full of animatronics and very dark and even musty smelling inside, and basically you're paying for the show they put on.  The food wasn't anything special but I guess it was at least interesting.

But we went from some of the lowest low-brow entertainment to some of the highest high-brow stuff.  That night was the main reason we were all there - where Braiden's choir (El Camino Real Camerata) got to perform with some other choirs at Carnegie Hall.  The place was pretty amazing and the acoustics were fantastic from our nose-bleed seats.  We had front-row seats in the highest balcony in the place and I actually got rather dizzy twice.  The first was when Taylor asked how I thought they changed the lights in the ceiling, and I became positively light-headed as I considered the question.  The second was during the first two parts (before the choir) when a violinist played and incredible Paganini concerto with the orchestra - he was so good I wanted to stand but was afraid I'd fall over.  It was really a great night (and the choir sounded amazing) and I wish they'd have allowed us to take photos.

As for Monday, we were so tired from all the running around all weekend that we spent the morning doing a little shopping prior to having to catch our return flight home.  It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed spending the time with Taylor, but I think we're both glad to be home now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New York City - Day 3

Have I mentioned that it's a good idea to plan your NYC trip in advance?  We got up early hoping to hurry down to the ferry for stand-by tickets for a Statue of Liberty trip.  We got there about an hour later than we planned but because the weather was so rainy and lousy we didn't have much competition - bought tickets and practically walked onto the ferry.  Of course, it was wet and cold the whole trip, but we got to see it.  (Tickets to the crown are sold out 5 months in advance, so we were only able to go up in the pedestal, but that was cool enough - you can look right up into the inside of the statue.)

The second stop is Ellis Island.  I think my grandmother might have come through there when she was about 3 or 4 years old, but I'll have to check another time.  Pretty cool, though.

Afterward we went to the financial district and found Federal Hall where George Washington took the oath of office when he was sworn in as our first president.  We also found the Wall Street Bull, which has been moved down to Bowling Green and is surprisingly popular among tourists - even in the rain.

We also found the site (which was right across the street from George and the NY Stock Exchange) where a huge explosion killed 33 people and injured over 400 in 1920.  You can still see all the pockmarks from the blast - kind of an unusual landmark (although there's no plaque or anything, and only a few people stopped to see it - see The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terror if you're interested, but I thought the book was pretty boring).

Afterward we went back uptown and visited the American Museum of Natural History.  We only had about an hour before it closed so we had to hurry through as many rooms as we could.  Afterward, we had dinner at the Shake Shack and ate it on a bench by the museum.

Have I mentioned how convenient the NY Subway system is?  Sure, it's sometimes filthy and smells like a poorly-maintained public restroom, but it's huge and a pretty cheap way to get practically anywhere.  Sometimes it's confusing and it's disorienting when you come out, but I usually figure out we're going in the wrong direction after a block or two.

Since we weren't able to get canoli's at Carlo's Bakery on Day 2 (well, we didn't want to wait 3 hours) we went down to Little Italy and found a street vendor.  (They're not too bad.)  We also walked through Chinatown and Nolita, but that's a pretty sketchy place late at night.

Not sure who or what this fountain was, but it was very pretty as we walked back to the hotel.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New York City - Day 2

When I asked Taylor what he'd like to see in New York he said Carlo's Bakery, which is on the television show "Cake Boss."  Except it's not in New York, it's in New Jersey.  But today we figured out how to take both the NY subway and the PATH trains and managed to get within a short walk.  Unfortunately, there were about a thousand people in line ahead of us, and even Taylor thought a wait of about three hours for a canoli wasn't going to be worth it.  Oh well.

We next visited Ground Zero, where the WTC Twin Towers were destroyed on Sept. 11th, 2001.  Honestly, in spite of all the construction and activity, the place was kind of spooky (and the gloomy overcast day didn't help).

St. Paul's Chapel, which is across the street from where the towers were.  It sits in an ancient little cemetary and some of the gravestones were damaged when the towers fell.

We also found Trinity Church just down the street a little way, and finally managed to find the grave of Alexander Hamilton (he's the guy on the $10 bill, among other somewhat more important things).

A short subway ride later and we found ourselves in Times Square.  We spent a couple hours trying to get Broadway tickets, but alas... nothing.  But we've learned that if we ever come back to NYC it's a very good idea to plan your whole trip far in advance.

The New York Library wasn't too far away and since I had read about it in so many books I'd read as a child we figured we might as well go see it.  It looked more like a museum on the inside, though, and I never did see any books.  But at least we found the famous lions outside.

Our final stop for the day was the Empire State Building (the taller one kind of behind the black and gold building).  I had sent the camera with Braiden, though, so any pictures we took are all on our phones.  But it was nice to see the nightime city from 86 floors up and try to identify different landmarks... even if we did have to wait in line almost 2 hours.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New York City - Day 1

Braiden and some choir friends in the Flyaway to LAX around 4:45 am - way too early!

Taylor and I flew separate from the choir and took a shuttle from JFK to our hotel.  On the way I took a bunch of pictures, although the driver later told me I could get a ticket for doing so (not sure why, but I saw the signs after he pointed them out).  This was coming out of Queens.

The Empire State Building from the front seat of the shuttle - we'll go back another day.  Oh yeah, our driver was CRAZY!  He was a funny guy who sounded like he was from Jamaica, but I think he was cursing in French, so maybe another Caribbean island?  At any rate, he used the horn a lot, nearly ran into every other car on the road and most of the pedestrians, and pretty much seems to be an expert at driving in New York City.  He even got in an argument with another car.

The view from our hotel room.  Do you know what the sound of New York is?  It's car horns.

Taylor hates posing for pictures.  This was a statue of someone on the south end of Central Park.

The statue of General Sherman on the southeast corner of Central Park.

We strolled down 5th Avenue for a while, stopping to see St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Radio City Music Hall on the way back to the hotel from eating Chinese and Thai food.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It was only supposed to be "a three hour tour"

One of the cool things about being in Amazon Vine is seeing all the new books beforehand and getting to read advance copies of some of them. It's kind of fun to look at bookstore shelves full of new releases that I've already heard about, and sometimes already read. Occasionally one will be a real hit and end up on best-seller lists for months. A book I read last November, Unbroken, is at the top of those lists now, and not only have friends recommended it to me (not knowing) but I've overheard others recommending it as well.

But not all good WWII stories involve soldiers facing danger in combat situations. As the war in the Pacific was winding down many found themselves far from the action in support roles, and sometimes they even took time to do sightseeing. For those stationed in Hollandia on the island of New Guinea the sight to see was an isolated valley high in the mountains that they dubbed Shangri-La after the fictional paradise in the novel Lost Horizon. Instead of peaceful monks the valley was populated with what was thought to be six foot tall headhunters and cannibals. And for those lucky enough to get a coveted seat on a flight over the valley, it was a look back into a lush and verdant stone age. But on May 13, 1945 a plane named the Gremlin Special loaded with 24 officers, enlisted men, and women (WACs) crashed into the dense jungle on a mist-shrouded hillside. Only three survived and their only option was to climb down into the valley facing an unknown reception by the warrior tribes.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War IIAlthough descriptions for Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff overstate the drama somewhat, there was still plenty of danger. The survivors - a pretty WAC named Margaret Hastings suffered painful burns; Sergeant Ken Decker was burned but also had a gaping head wound; and Lieutenant John McCollom, the least outwardly wounded, had lost his twin brother in the crash - now faced starvation, disease, gangrene, and an uncertain rescue. Thrown into the story are a brave group of Filipino-American paratroopers led by a handsome American captain aching for a chance to prove himself, a former Hollywood actor better known for stealing jewelry and prodigious drinking, and the seemingly-primitive natives who wear long gourds to cover their... (ahem) manhood. Top it off with the most unconventional rescue plan imaginable and you have one of the stranger stories of the war.

While it's not the harrowing and wrenching drama found in Unbroken, Lost in Shangri-La is still a very compelling read. And Zuckoff has done a wonderful job of pulling together a wealth of information that is quickly becoming lost to the creeping jungle of time, from interviews, personal journals, and photos taken by those who were there. And he insightfully highlights the effects we sometimes unintentionally have on primitive but not necessarily savage peoples, leaving the reader to question if we've improved upon their warlike ways or not. A great book to add to your summer reading.  (I received this book from Amazon Vine.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Books I had to read in high school

One of my high school teachers has been on my mind lately. It's probably because Braiden has been telling me about a book he had to read - which he loved, of course. Even though I always loved to read, I was never so thrilled with the books that were assigned. But Miss Haltiner assigned stuff like Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights, and boring authors like James Joyce. I'd usually read the Cliff's Notes instead, but Miss Haltiner could never be fooled. I'd often get my book reports back with comments like "Next time please read the book." Needless to say, I didn't do so well in her classes but I liked them just the same. I liked them because we spent a lot of time discussing the books and talking about what the authors were trying to say, and the clever ways they said it. I still remember listening to a song in her class that was popular at the time, "King of Pain" by The Police, and how she pointed out that part of that song was talking about Oedipus, another book we had to read.

I still love to read, and although I mostly read histories now, I find that I need a good novel every once in a while. The problem is that years ago I read all the Tom Clancy and Stephen King and John Grisham I could stand! Sure they're exciting and kind of fun, but they're not very... satisfying. So, I find myself reconsidering some of those books from high school. I still haven't touched Madame Bovary or Wuthering Heights, but I have read Animal Farm and quite a number of others which are often considered "classics." Although not books from high school, I've read two by Sinclair Lewis, who was known for his satirical views of American society and values. While I enjoyed Main Street (1920), I found Babbitt (1922) intolerably dry. It's the story of a successful but mundane businessman, George F. Babbitt, who finds no joy or satisfaction in his civic and business accomplishments. It's probably meant to be a satirical poke at the "American Dream," but there was just no cleverness to the story. His comparisons are blunt and obvious and lack any creativity, and try as I might, I just couldn't enjoy it.

Lewis: Main Street and Babbitt (Library of America)Main Street, on the other hand, is the story of Carol Milford, a free-spirited young woman from St. Paul, Minnesota. She marries Will Kennicott, a country doctor from the town of Gopher Prairie, who is several years older than she is. After she moves to Gopher Prairie she is shocked by how backward the town is and tries to make some changes: she holds creative parties for their circle of friends, tries to renovate the city hall, and starts a drama club. In all her efforts she is derided and criticized by the townsfolk. She only finds the kind of companionship she seeks in some of the town's misfits and lower-classes, but even that is unfulfilling.

While it deals with social issues significant at the time (there are frequent mentions of socialism and worker uprisings coupled with criticisms of capitalism) it's mainly a portrayal of small-town life, which even then was idealized as simpler and slower-paced. However, Lewis renders the townsfolk as provincial and petty in their gossip and back-stabbing. He isn't always kind to the city-dwellers either, but his societal critique makes the book an interesting read. He also makes frequent contrasts between how people view things differently. Carol revels in the spring wildflowers, but a passing farmer sees only the new wheat crop that is almost 5 inches tall. After Carol and Will return from an extended trip away he notices several improvements that neighbors have made, while Carol sees only the shabbiness of late winter. And Carol reflects on how proper and prim the Main Street storefronts are, while their backs are weedy and full of rotting wood and vegetables, an allusion to the hypocritical townsfolk. But one of the enduring messages by book's end seems to be that change takes time.

I was initially put off by this biting portrayal, and didn't want to like the book. The plot seems thin and lacking in direction, and subtlety wasn’t one of Lewis’ strengths. But I was surprised to identify with some of the characters: sometimes Carol, sometimes Kennicott, sometimes others. There seem to be many layers to the story, as well: social and political criticisms, differences between men and women, and observations about marriage and family. Many of the aspects of the story are still very pertinent to our lives today, and I ended up enjoying it more than I had anticipated.

So Miss Haltiner, who knows? Maybe I'll yet get around to reading Madame Bovary or Wuthering Heights, but I can't ever imagine wanting to read James Joyce.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fighting over sugar

The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and MarsEaster is almost here and looking at the grocery store shelves you wouldn't know there was a higher meaning to the holiday than candy.  So, in that sugar-coated spirit I'm writing about one of my favorite books, The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars by Joël Glenn Brenner.  It's one of the first histories that got me interested in reading more non-fiction and I read it almost ten years ago, back when I was still working on my MBA. It was assigned reading for one of the classes and it's probably the only required school book I ever deliberately chose to keep instead of trying to sell it back to the university bookstore.

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes ItBut first, another good book about sugar: If you're my age or older you'll remember the "Cola Wars" between Coke and Pepsi back in the 70s and 80s. Pepsi challenged cola drinkers to "Take the Pepsi Challenge" where you could try both Coke and Pepsi without knowing which was which and see which one you preferred - the idea being that more people would realize they actually liked Pepsi better. (I did it at the Utah State Fair and picked Coke.) Then sometime in the early 80s Coke responded by changing their formula (to something sweeter like Pepsi, I think) and came out with "New Coke." It was a hugely embarrassing flop and they brought back "Coca-Cola Classic" and "New Coke" soon disappeared altogether. If you want to read more I recommend For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It by Mark Pendergrast. It's very good (and pretty long, too) and discusses all kinds of other controversies. You've probably heard that Coke originally contained cocaine? But did you know that the caffeine content was an even bigger scandal back then? (And yes, the "secret formula" is there in the book.)

But all this was nothing in comparison to the 'wars' between American chocolatiers Hershey and Mars. Hershey, of course, makes Hershey bars and Kisses and Reese's; Mars makes pretty much everything else: Snickers, Three Musketeers, M&M's, etc. And while there are other companies such as Nestle, this book focuses more on the two major American companies (although there's plenty of history on the whole industry), their triumphs and mistakes, and the fierce competition between them. Corporate espionage? These guys wrote the book! But it's not all business, there are lots of mouth-watering stories here, like how the problem of combining milk and chocolate was resolved (milk is water-based and chocolate is an oil, and everyone knows water and oil don't mix). You also find out how Reese's Peanut-Butter Cups are made and the secrets of getting the M's just right on the M&M's.

Milton Hershey and the Mars family are fascinating as well.  Hershey was a generous philanthropist who established his own city around an orphanage and amusement park, while the Mars family was secretive and suspicious - possibly to the point of mental illness - but they had the better heads for business. In fact, Hershey failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity following WWII - they had guaranteed servicemen would be able to get a nickel Hershey bar anywhere in the world, and a lot of those bars went into the mouths of local children which created a market they ignored, and Mars filled the international market when Hershey declined to do so. Mars was also smarter when cocoa prices skyrocketed, creating candy bars that contained far less chocolate (like Three Musketeers and Snickers) than a solid Hershey bar. But Mars was so suspicious and paranoid that they refused a young filmmaker’s request to use M&M's in a strange movie about a boy who befriends an alien and Hershey stepped in with Reese's Pieces, scoring a huge marketing coup.

I enjoyed this book so much that I finished it while on vacation at the beach even though it was a homework assignment! One caution, however: be certain to have a good supply of sweets on hand. Just reading about all that candy is enough to make your mouth water!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Things I miss about SLC

It's been over 8 years since we moved from Salt Lake City to the Los Angeles area, and after having spent most of my life to that point in Salt Lake I definitely needed a change. Still, it's not like I dislike it there. I'm bothered when people here make jokes about Salt Lake or Utah and generally act like it's an intolerable backwater. But after living away for these 8 years I've realized there are several things that I miss:
  • I miss the slower pace of life we enjoyed. It seemed like there was plenty of down time in the evenings after work, whereas here there just doesn't seem to be as many hours in the day. Of course, it might just have been the circumstances of having smaller children who weren't as involved and busy as they are now.
  • I miss springtime. I miss the daffodils and tulips and lilacs blooming after a long cold winter. I miss how everything seems to come alive after having been brown and gray for so long. I don't miss the long brown and gray period - just the contrast that seems to sneak up on you. Suddenly everything is green. I miss May and early June, when the days are so pleasant before the heat of summer arrives.
  • I miss the grass. It's the kind of grass that just invites you to walk barefoot on it, or even lie down in a shady spot and have a nap on a warm day. Unfortunately, we can't grow the same kind of bluegrass here. Instead we have a type of Bermuda grass that's coarse and nowhere near as beautiful to look at.
  • I miss how long the days are at the height of summer. It seems that even after 10pm at night there was still an inky blue glow in the west after the sun set. It makes the days feel so much longer when the daylight lasts so long.
  • I miss the summer thunderstorms that would pop up on hot summer afternoons. They seemed to bloom out of nowhere and sweep in with beautiful lightning and thunder - we very rarely have lightning down here. The downside was that it would get everything wet just in time to clear up again and get all hot and muggy.
  • While I DO NOT miss being cold, I DO miss seeing the snow fall in winter. Sitting inside where it's warm and watching the birds around a bird feeder is a great way to spend time on a Sunday afternoon. I miss celebrating a white Christmas with family.
  • I miss the restaurants. For a relatively small city, SLC has LOTS of great places to eat, and usually more affordable than here. I miss the Iceberg, and Crown Burger, and Rodizio Grill, and the Red Iguana, and...
  • I miss the mountains. Yeah we've got mountains here, but they're not the same. I miss how near the ones in the north end of the valley felt, and how majestic the ones in the south end were. I miss family picnics in City Creek Canyon.
  • Saying I miss family and friends should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway.
  • I miss how people smile and say hi when you walk past them.
This is not to say I don't like LA. The weather is hard to beat (even when it's 100 degrees) and we LOVE going to the beach. There's a TON of things to do (even if they're frequently expensive or a considerable drive) and it's a fun place to be. But there are things I miss.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Who needs an Indian fighter?

We didn't take many big vacations when I was a kid. Instead, we usually spent long weekends visiting my grandparents in the dusty little towns of Duchesne (pronounced doo-SHANE) and Roosevelt in eastern Utah. There wasn't much to do out there unless you liked trout fishing, and luckily Grandpa Jay was always happy to go fishing. We'd show up with our poles and state fishing licenses but he'd insist we get permits for the Indian reservations because - I assume - the fishing was better there. Sometimes we'd meet some Indians from the Ute tribes, and they'd always stop and talk to Grandpa - he seemed to know everyone.

So when I was growing up, "Indians" weren't really the bad guys I saw in the old western movies. In fact, when you're a kid playing "cowboys & Indians" with your friends, it was usually more fun to be an Indian. And while I'd heard stories of "Indian fighters" like General Custer and Kit Carson, I never really understood why there was a need for "Indian fighters," or - more importantly - why they were treated like heroes in popular culture. Couldn't everyone just get along?

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little BighornApparently not.  The Battle of the Little Bighorn occupies an interesting and somewhat awkward place in American history. It was a resounding defeat for the US troops, but it only delayed the inevitable suppression of the victorious Native American tribes. It's often referred to as "Custer's Last Stand," where General George Armstrong Custer, a flamboyant and iconic "Indian fighter" and soldier, met his death when his severely outnumbered troops attacked an immense gathering of Lakota (Sioux) and Cheyenne led by the warrior-chief Sitting Bull.

Nathaniel Philbrick has written an excellent history in The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn that brings to life the people on both sides of Little Bighorn, starting with Custer and Sitting Bull. For most of the book I thought he seemed overly partial to the Indians by his tone and language, but by the end it mellowed and seemed almost impartial and this is when the book became most interesting and human. Since the precise details of Custer's demise are unknown, Philbrick offers his own speculation based upon the various accounts and evidence available. He presents the different eyewitness stories and how they measure up against what he believes was the most important factor in the battle: the physical terrain. Numerous maps and photos (b&w and color) help put faces to the names and places.

I received the book from Amazon Vine and after I posted my review I soon learned that when you wade into the tall grass of the Little Bighorn opinions run pretty strong. Apparently this is a part of history that is still avidly studied and hotly debated. Nonetheless, this is a good introduction to the subject - and a really good read, too!

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Discrimination is a hellhound" - MLK 1967

Even though I grew up in a predominantly white city, I was always taught that people were people regardless of their color. Of course not everyone felt that way, but most people did. There was the occasional name-calling and ethnic jokes, but it seemed more immature than serious.  I grew up on the poorer side of town and had a few friends who were black or Mexican or Japanese, and even though there were sometimes small differences between us, none of it really mattered. We were all just kids. So I'm always a little uncomfortable reading about violent discrimination. I know it exists, but it seemed like something from history - not something that happened in my lifetime. At least not in it's uglier manifestations.

In the late afternoon hours of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a single gunshot fired from a distance. The manhunt for his assassin would be the largest in American history and cover two continents and five countries. King had been drawn to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers after two men were crushed to death in a garbage truck accident. His assassin was drawn to Memphis by racism and a desire to kill King. In the end the manhunt led to a drifter who had escaped from prison in a breadbox nearly a year before, and would culminate sixty-five days later when he was apprehended by Scotland Yard detectives in London.

Hellhond on His Trail(Hellhound on His Trail:Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. International Hunt for His Assassin [Hardcover](2010)by Hampton SidesI've been sitting on Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin for nearly a year, not especially interested in the history of the civil rights movement. But I’d enjoyed other books by Hampton Sides, and appreciated his ability to tell a good story in Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder, and having recently finished another excellent book on the near assassination of Ronald Reagan, I thought it might be a good time to read this one - and it doesn't disappoint! Sides brings the story alive with thousands of small details, reconstructing the trail of Prisoner #416J as he morphs through a list of aliases - Eric Starvo Galt, Harvey Lowmeyer, John Willard, Paul Bridgman, Ramon George Sneyd - but in the end he was just a middle-aged racist named James Earl Ray who'd been discharged from the Army for "ineptness" and carried a rap sheet as long as his arm.

But Sides weaves the story of Galt/Ray into the mission of Martin Luther King and his fading civil rights campaign. The non-violence movement was splintering under the frustration of others such as Jesse Jackson, and the initial march in Memphis had gone terribly awry further undermining his Poor People's Campaign. J. Edgar Hoover hovers on the sidelines as well, as the adversary who had relentlessly spied on King to being responsible to hunt down his killer. Sides is careful to stick to the facts - mentioning but not veering off into conspiracy theories - which results in a story that's incredibly believable and impossible to put down. The account of King's shooting is extremely sad, and I was embarrassed by the discrimination of the time (I would have been crawling around in diapers when the assassination happened). But it was a fascinating part of history which I had largely ignored and a book which I strongly recommend.