Keeping It Straight: Some Suggested July Readings - A Little Heavy for Summer


Smithsonian replica from the original

"No man can conform his faith to the dictates of another. The life and essence of religion consists in the internal persuasion or belief of the mind." Thomas Jefferson 1819

Gifts, particularly books, are always welcome and to be gifted with this amazing facsimile, faithful in virtually ever detail to the original, was met with a great deal of thanks.

Jefferson created the volume by hand in order to present his interpretation of the true philosophy of Jesus. The original resides in the Smithsonian, however this exact replica is a full-color edition that includes Jefferson's handwritten notes and fold-out maps. Jefferson kept the book private during his lifetime, knowing if published it would stir considerable controversy. The volume was given to the Smithsonian in 1885, and with high resolution cameras and printing it is now available to everyone interested in Jefferson's take on scripture.

How did Jefferson produce his Bible? Equipped with a razor and glue, at 77 years of age, Jefferson constructed his book by cutting excerpts from six printed volumes published in English, French, Latin, and Greek of the Gospels of the New Testament. He arranged them to tell a chronological and edited story of Jesus's life, parables, and moral teachings. Left behind were those elements he could not support through reason or that he believed were later embellishments, such as miracles and the Resurrection. Through this refinement Jefferson sought to clarify the teachings of Jesus, which he believed provided, "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man."

This exact reproduction puts to rest the trash produced by charlatans such as David Barton and the ramblings of those who have never seen the exact volume as produced by Jefferson. Overall an interesting and fascinating book that provides insight into one of the most intelligent of the Founding Fathers.

"I am a sect by myself, as far as I know." Thomas Jefferson, 1819

* * * * *


by Nicholas Wade

Wade has the ability to examine the cutting edge of science, examine data from multiple sources and boil it all down to a readable composite for the average person. This book is already being panned, incorrectly, as a political screed by the intellectually bereft, but overall Wade can be looked upon as a modern day Galileo, challenging the powerful interests who deny any and all precepts that run counter to their interests.

The topic, as the title would suggest, is human evolution with an emphasis on the recent (roughly 20/25 year) research into genetics. Some points are non-disputable, such as the genetic soundness of the classification of man into five races determined by continent. To wit - Africans, New Guinea/Australian, Europeans, East Asians and Amerindians as supported by the work done by Cavalli-Sforza and Spencer Wells.

As humans we evolved beyond our visual characteristics through temperament, aggressiveness/passivity and work ethic. The genome develops, as well, through culture, an example being the Chinese. Following the exodus of humans from Africa, evolution followed the Darwinian postulation that environment - such as cold climates, shared hunting and weapon based warfare - resulted in selection pressure of homo-sapiens.

Following the innovations of agriculture, communities developed into cities with trade, craftsman and governments, calling for a dramatic increase in both cognitive and social skills along with the ever-present selective pressures.

A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE leads to identification of genes that remain under selective pressure today that indicate little overlap exists, with evolution following a separate path within each race positing adjacent genes are generally passed along as a group. Wade presents a theory that two breakthroughs in civilized evolution have occurred - 1) Habitat settlement and 2) the industrial revolution.

Wade's conclusions that "Knowledge is usually considered a better basis for policy than ignorance" makes this an intriguing read for those whose minds are not closed by religion.

* * * * *


by Serhii Plokhy

A long needed book that takes the reader into secret meetings during a six-month period in 1991 where Gorbachev and Yeltsin met with the leaders of the Soviet states to determine their positions within the new world. Reading in some ways like a spy novel, THE LAST EMPIRE reveals the collapse of the Soviet Union had very little to do with Reagan's nonsensical, but well timed (thanks to our intelligence community), "Tear down this wall," than with a country that had virtually destroyed itself from within through never-ending military expenditures on failed wars and disputes.

With the current state of affairs in Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the end of the Cold War and today's actions. As the director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, author Plohky is an expert on Ukrainian affairs and throughout the book discusses the impact of Ukraine's role in the breakup of the Soviet Union. No matter your interest in the Soviet Union of yesterday or the Russia of today, this book is a relevant read and highly recommended.

* * * * *


by Douglas Brinkley

This is a book that covers both world and national events during the long career of Walter Cronkite, long recognized as one of the finest journalists of the twentieth century. He was an old school type journalist in the grandest tradition of the profession and could be counted on to provide news coverage without spin or self aggrandizement.

In my youth there were only two true journalists who stood out in our home - one was Walter Cronkite, the other was Edward R. Murrow. Murrow was a master at making us understand the complexities of events - an excellent example is his utter and complete destruction of the despicable Joseph McCarthy with nothing more than a few pointed words and comments.

Cronkite, on the other hand, was more hands on and less cerebral with his war reports from the front lines of our nation's wars and his taking on in later years the sheer wrongness of Vietnam, his support for civil rights in our nation and his handling when Nixon, one of the worst presidents in our history, walked away from the White House.

He was respected throughout his career and was well known as a Type A person, one who could work a 14-hour day and then be seen, with a drink in hand, as being the Uncle Walter to a plethora of world leaders, presidents and celebrities. He moved from being a UPI reporter to becoming one of the most influential people in the world, and he had a love of information and a strong need to share his discoveries, be it NASA, history or any of the myriad subjects that caught his eye.

"Uncle Walter" as he came to be known, was old school in many ways. He is shown as hard-working, type A, hyper competitive, loyal and fun. In his days, "work hard, play hard" were the motto, so yes, he could be expected to have a drink in his hand after a 12-14 hour day. Measure the man in his times, not to today's standards. Brinkley shows how Cronkite evolved from a UPI news gathering worker bee to one of the most influential people in the world. Whatever subject captured his eye he studied and became an expert. NASA became one of his favorite topics. World leaders, presidents, celebrities all answered his calls. That Cronkite had so many friends from so many backgrounds over the span of his life answers the question why he was considered the most trusted man in America.

Cronkite's opinion of what passes for modern journalism was right on the money, and I feel he would be appalled at the great number of "presenters" who never actually experience anything but bloviate at great length as if they are experts - when in truth they know nothing. The nonsense shown on FOX News would send Cronkite to the bar for a refill and then another while making him wonder who in the world can put any veracity to what they broadcast. However, reading this book was a reminder that when I think times are bad, policies are internationally bad, and we are faced with many mad men and idiots in the world, there have been horrible times and happenings in the past, and we survived.

If you are not of Cronkite's era you should still read this book, which I feel needs to be required reading in all classrooms. Cronkite was a great journalist, a person you feel you would like to have known, but he was not perfect, he was human. Often referred to as "the most trusted man in America" a biography should be rich in both detail and narrative. David Brinkley has done both.

Brinkley takes us behind the TV icon to his early beginnings as a newspaper reporter, what made him an excellent war correspondent and his efforts to find a life beyond being an anchorman. What stands the most is his integrity where, like the other big newsmen of his day, he made a clear distinction between "news" and "opinion." Reading CRONKITE, I couldn't help feeling a bit of nostalgia for the actual and factual reporting of the news. Too much of what passes for news today is simply opinion, hyperbolic posturing, or just factually wrong. An example would be Fox News' reporting the Supreme Court had reversed "Obamacare". Cronkite would never have made such a stupid mistake.

And of course I remember sitting in an apartment in Berlin late on a November night in 1963 when Walter Cronkite told us our young president had been assassinated. Even the great Cronkite could not hold it together at that moment, but he did it masterfully, because he was, "The most trusted man in America."

* * * * *




by William McKeen

The first time I saw a copy of Rolling Stone, I was in a makeshift day room at Nha Trang, Vietnam. That would have been in late 1967 - and I knew I was reading something very different that in its own way was quite exciting. Soon Rolling Stone was treading in the political waters and bringing forward stories that rang true and accurate, far beyond the banal offerings of Time and Newsweek. Some of those offerings were the works of Hunter S. Thompson who in 1970 led off with the tale of "The Battle of Aspen: Freak Power in the Rockies" and I knew then a writer with amazing talent was about to break on the scene.

In FEAR AND LOATHING AT ROLLING STONE, the reader is treated to a collection of Thompson's work as he moved on to become the master of Gonzo Journalism. He broke on the literary scene in 1966 with HELLS ANGELS, an in-depth look at the motorcycle gang with a book that scared the hell out of many straight-laced Americans. Thompson became more than just a reporter; he became part of the story enmeshed in what was happening and setting a new journalistic standard in the process.

Hunter S. Thompson was long considered to be an "out there" journalist and his classic FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS brought that Gonzo style to the forefront with an assignment to visit Sin City and to "check it out."

In William McKeen's OUTLAW JOURNALIST, the reader meets Thompson and disturbingly reveals the real Hunter S. Thompson, warts and all, making one realize there was an intensely dark side to Thompson that came through in his writing and eventually led to his suicide.

Although a long time fan of Thompson, I have to admit I seriously doubt that we could have been friends on an interpersonal basis. I do feel bad that I never had the opportunity to actually meet the man.

Both of these books are excellent reads, both as a biography and a cross-section of the writings of one of the most influential writers of the late twentieth century.

* * * * *


by Pete Earley


Author Earley has produced a book that is both an amazing story of survival and more than a little creepy. Tony Ciaglia was a typical teenager until, at age 15, he suffered a major head trauma when struck by personal watercraft at summer camp and lapsed into a coma. When he came out of the coma he was a different person, having to struggle to learn to walk, talk and eat along with taking dozens of pills a day to keep him in control of his emotions.

Shunned by his friends, Tony began writing to imprisoned serial killers and discovered the brain injury that caused him so many problems allowed him to emotionally connect with some of the most despicable people on earth. Reading the true horror stories about the inhuman treatment these monsters visited upon their victims is difficult to comprehend, but provides amazing insights into the very disturbed psyches of these people.

After reading the letters over and over and actually meeting a couple of these monsters in person, Tony found that his injury had not turned him into a monster. He had empathy, compassion and a love of life for family, somehing they all lacked. That led him to a new path and purpose in his life. He would help the families of the victims and assist with the closing of many cold cases revealed to him through the letters from the monsters.

This book is not for the those easily upset by brutal letters from serial killers describing their crimes in graphic detail. Some will wonder what purpose it serves. Are these letters included to be gratuitous and voyeuristic, or do they serve a higher purpose? The letters allow the reader into the mind of serial killers in a way we have never previously been exposed to. When serial killers agree to interviews or meet with psychologists they are performing for an audience and behave in a certain manner. Tony was able to get to the real person inside these monsters by treating them non-judgmentally, and the monsters responded in kind, treating him as a "best friend".

Tony believed that God had sent him back for a purpose, and that purpose was to help find information on cold cases and bring closure for families by using his gift with the serial killers. At the conclusion of the book, Tony pens a personal message where he speaks of his calling.

This is a fascinating book for two reasons:

1) the insight into the psychological makeup of the mind of a serial killer, and;

2) the psychological insight into the mind of a traumatic brain injury victim and survivor. Recommended for those interested in psychology and those with the stomach to read the graphic details.

* * * * *

Next month, plastic oceans; one of the biggest manhunts in southwest history; the rainmaker who flooded San Diego and much more.