Keeping It Straight: READING SELECTIONS FOR EARLY FALL

BLOOD ACES - THE WILD RIDE OF BENNY BINION, THE TEXAS GANGSTER WHO CREATED VEGAS POKER

By Doug J. Swanson

Being a virtual life-long "Vegasphile" and having based my third novel in Las Vegas, I am always fascinated by any history of the colorful characters that made Sin City the place it is today. And Binion is one of those guys whose story reads like a crime novel.

Benny Binion was born in a small backwater town in Texas and began his career as a crooked horse trader, graduated to bootlegging, ran the numbers racket in Dallas, and then opened the famed Golden Horseshoe Casino in Glitter Gulch before bringing the once shunned Texas Hold'em into the wide world of professional gamblers.

As Benny moved through life he corrupted cops and politicians and ordered the murders of an untold number of people who "crossed" him. Dallas rival Herbert Noble managed to survive eleven attempts on his life, but not the twelfth. And through it all Binion avoided the law except for a five year term for tax evasion. On his 83rd birthday, Benny was celebrated by 18,000 people, including Willie Nelson and Gene Autry, at an event in a Nevada sports arena.

Author Swanson has gone beyond just the life of Benny Binion, bringing the likes of Howard Hughes and Amarillo Slim to the pages of the book, along with a plethora of gangsters including Tony Accardo, Clyde Barrow, Mickey Cohen and Meyer Lansky. Bit players include J. Edger Hoover, Robert Kennedy and Harry Reid.

If you love Las Vegas and poker this is a must read because it is as much a hstory of Vegas as it is a biography of Benny Binion. The book reads like a crime novel and Swanson has done thorough research to tell Binion's story in a fast-paced, exciting fashion.

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RIVAL RAILS - THE RACE TO BUILD AMERICA'S GREATEST TRANSCONTNENTAL RAILROD

By Walter R. Borneman

One thing made clear by the author at the outset is that this is not another history of the Central Pacific-Union Pacific joining up at Promontory, Utah. This is the story of the building of the shorter and faster southern route around the Rockies to reach the Pacific Coast.

With the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad the West was wide open for entrepreneurs to "lay rail" and westbound with the effort finally coming down to two competitors - the Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The two companies met in Deming, N.M., with the Southern Pacific deciding to continue on to the Gulf Coast, leaving the Santa Fe to find its own way to California.

Borneman goes into amazing detail about the many other rail companies, some with names so convoluted the reader must carefully break them down to makes sense of them, and their failures to survive. He describes the political, corporate, financial, legal, and engineering obstacles that had to be overcome and includes portraits of the men who overcame the obstacles as they struggled against each other to build "America's greatest transcontinental railroad."

This is almost a must have for anyone who loves railroads and their history. Borneman has written history that flows and reads like a novel. Everything you might want to know about the building of the railroads in the West during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries is here. This is a great, readable history.

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AXIS SALLY - THE AMERICAN VOICE OF NAZI GERMANY

By Richard Lucas

Throughout U.S. history there have always been traitors - Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, Iva Toguri D'Aquino (aka Tokyo Rose), Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, John Walker Jr., Aldrich Ames and Edward Snowden. In AXIS SALLY, author Lucas provides the first full biography of Mildred Gillars, reviled by American GI's during World War II for pro-Nazi broadcasts. She was noted for interviewing POWs, revealing American troop locations and movements, and taunting our soldiers with false stories about their families hating them for killing Germans.

Lucas, without any hyperbole, discusses Gillars' life prior to her moving to Germany and taking a job with Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft, German State Radio in Berlin in 1940, where her voice, described as "honey out of a big wooden spoon" would make her the highest paid radio personality in Germany. The woman had failed at virtually every attempt to "become somebody" in her life, living in a world where she thought she was beautiful and talented and belonged on the stage or before the camera.

The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in World War II history and covers someone often mentioned (not as much as Tokyo Rose, however) but rarely discussed in any depth, until now. Following the war, Gillars' was located in German, returned to the U.S. and indicted as a traitor. On 10 March 1949 she was convicted and sentenced to a term of 10 to 30 years in prison. She was paroled in 1961 and died in 1968. Her gravesite is not marked - not even with a number.

AXIS SALLY is truly a fascinating read and contains a few transcripts of broadcasts in an Appendix.

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AFTERMATH - FOLLOWING THE BLOODSHED OF AMERICA'S WARS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

by Nir Rosen

Author Rosen "went where no man has gone before" in his interviews with hundreds of people for this rather large (560 pages) and at times, unfortunately, poorly edited book. That notwithstanding, Rosen interviewed Sunnis, Shiites, clerics, militiamen, militia leaders, government officials, American soldiers and officers, humanitarian workers, and ordinary Iraqis along with Syrians and Lebanese. Rosen was never afraid to take risks and presents us with a perspective heretofore unseen had we been forced to rely solely on embedded reporters and more lies from the Bush administration.

What the book comes down to is the Iraqi view of the war, based on a lie, that tore their nation apart. But in the analysis of the book we find that, despite consistent denial, sectarianism was a problem in Iraq long before the first American set foot on Iraqi soil. With each interview, Rosen quietly allows the interviewee to ultimately espouse anger, hatred and a desire for "revenge" against members of other sects, ethnicities, religions, etc. It is almost frightening to find this hatred mirroring what we see spewed daily on the internet in the United States as people vent their hatred toward anyone who is not exactly like themselves.

Rosen is quite accurate in his exposition of American ignorance regarding Iraq and how we time and again ignited sectarian firestorms by favoring one group over another or pitting groups against each other. What was truly sad was the length of time it took American forces to wake to the fact we had become, through lies, embroiled in a Civil War of our making by toppling Saddam Hussein and disbanding the Iraqi army.

One point made by Rosen, repeatedly, is that America cannot wash its hands of Iraq and pretend it has nothing to do with us. We are now seeing the results of the actions of George W. Bush, who set the parameters for our leaving Iraq, and President Obama having to deal with that timetable, along with the demand of the Iraqi government to get out of their country.

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TARGET LONDON - UNDER ATACK FROM THE V-WEAPONS

By Christy Campbell

The code-breakers at the super-secret Bletchley Park location, outside of London, had been studying messages from the Germans for quite some time when the news of an underground factory called "Mittelwerk" in the Harz Mountains revealed the existence of the Germans "ultimate" revenge weapon - the V-Rocket.

This highly researched and detailed book recounts the story of the threat to London from the V-rockets, and follows the invention of the aerial weapons to their effect on the people in the streets of London. Author Campbell covers virtually the entire history of the V-weapons beginning with an obscure message decoded about the suicide of a German soldier at a remote island in the Baltic Sea. Without going into the long known background of various programs, this book deals exclusively with V-1 and V-2 development, detection, deployment, defense and results.

Of course, the German intent was to demoralize the British by attacking London, but their plans backfired as the people fought back with determination to never allow any kind of actual "win" for the Nazis. This one is highly recommended for the reader interested in World War II and the V-weapon program.

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AREA 51

By Peter W. Merlin

It is almost difficult to believe that it was 25 years ago that I wrote a series of articles about "the base that did not exist" and now everyone has access to information and photos of what the government had denied for many, many years.

This entry is one of the Images of Aviation series from Arcadia Publishing and is not intended to be a definitive history of Area 51 (in my opinion that would be Anne Jacobson's AREA 51 - AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF AMERICA'S TOP SECRET MILITARY BASE). This book is an excellent collection of pictures taken at the facility with an amazing collection of photographs of the U2, YF-12 and other "black" programs. Not surprisingly, there is no discussion or photographs of "space aliens" or their spacecraft (most likely because that is all bogus nonsense).

This book is a must-have for anyone who has followed the history of Area 51 and wants to see photographs of secret base operations during the 1950s through the 1990s.

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THE SAINT IN MIAMI

By Leslie Charteris

Summer brings on the desire for leisurely reading and this year saw me delving into my bowed bookshelves that hold the Perry Masons, the Miss Marples, the Nero Wolfs, the Charlie Chans, the Hercule Poirots and other detectives from before my time (and that's saying a lot considering my age). A classic mystery that caught my eye was THE SAINT IN MIAMI published in 1940.

Although not as much of a rip-roaring read as THE SAINT IN NEW YORK, this one is filled with Nazis, a secret U-boat pen, and a trek through the Everglades.

The story begins when Simon Templar (the Saint) and Patricia Holmes arrive at the Miami beach house of a friend, only to find their host and his daughter have vanished, leading to a foreboding that something nefarious has occurred. Within short order an oil tanker in the bay explodes and The Saint is convinced he has seen a submarine nearby. Soon Simon and his cohorts are up against a Nazi fifth column intent upon sabotaging as many American ships as possible. The attempt to stop them leads the intrepid group deep into the Everglades to rescue their friends and destroy the submarine.

A good read that takes the reader back in time to a period when we were indeed a united nation intent upon defeating a common enemy.