Nonfiction

In-Depth Investigation of an Up and Down Organization

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Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner

5 star

5 Stars

“Enemies” is a colorful tale of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from its humble beginnings in 1908 fighting organized crime to its recent involvement in the War on Terror. Based on a wealth of research, declassified documents and interviews, the book devotes many of its pages to the larger-than-life character of its first director, J. Edgar Hoover, who for half a century personified the FBI and left an indelible stamp on the agency housed in the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.

I was compelled to read this book after watching a biopic on Hoover in order to get a fuller picture of the legendary man. The book offers an in-depth, no-holds-barred look at the Bureau and its leadership from Hoover to its most recent director, James B. Comey. Effusive in his praise and sharp in his criticism, the author paints a picture of a government agency torn between balancing its mission to provide security and fight criminal and terrorist activity and the need to protect civil liberties so that “Americans could be both safe and free.” Its first century has been one of successes, failures, and a constant struggle to find or upset this balance. The author draws from a wealth of documentary evidence to portray a Bureau that in many ways operates like a tragicomedy as it tries to make sense of and respond to ever-changing threats, often in heavy-handed and arguably unconstitutional ways. Weiner does an apt job of bringing the FBI to life.

Although the author makes no attempt to tell an impartial story, his interpretation of history makes it all the more interesting. Putting the FBI through the lens of constitutionality and civil rights, he chides the Bureau for its many deficiencies but commends it where it has taken strides to improve, such as discontinuing (at least publicly) warrantless searches and seizures and improving its information systems. He leaves the reader with the impression that the organization has moved away from many mistakes of the past and has a promising future as the U.S. Government’s primary law enforcement agency.

The book’s Achilles heel is its over-reliance on archival information. Much of it is devoted to the Hoover years, while events after his death seem glossed over. Depictions of evolution of the FBI during the War on Terror seem rushed. The author felt it necessary to tell the Bureau’s full history, but his lack of source material and apparent lack of access in the post-Hoover period is evident. It might have been better to focus on the agency’s first 50 years and save the last half century for another book.

I give this book five (5) stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the FBI, federal law enforcement, and civil liberties.

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Interesting Twist on the Traditional Photo Travelogue

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Rajasthan – India’s ‘Land of Kings’ A Photographic Journey by Mike and Jo Coad

4 star

4 Stars

This short but fascinating photo travelogue by the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Jo Coad is one of many they’ve produced. The book is an entertaining, visual look at Rajasthan (literally “Land of Kings”), India’s largest state not far from New Delhi. It offers commentary and stunning photos of Rajasthan’s best tourist destinations, including Jaipur.

I’ve visited many places around the world but have yet to visit Rajasthan. This photographic journey gave me ample taste of what to expect. I suspect that the authors’ other travelogues offer similar adventures off the beaten path. Though short, their travel journal features beautiful color photos and enlightening personal commentary to help would-be visitors prepare for their own trips.

Publishing a short book with material often featured on blogs offers an interesting take on travel writing. While a novel concept, it faces the same challenges that all travelogues do; that is, a lot of travel information and photos are available online for free. It’s a crowded market. The Coad’s book offers some great information for the would-be traveler or armchair tourist, but it does not cover enough new ground to merit a substantial investment. Virtually everything in this travelogue can be found elsewhere for a pittance. Their travelogue may be worth a pretty penny for those planning a trip to one of their featured destinations, want to know what to visit, see, and do there, and/or want to live vicariously through the Coads. Their photography is also worth a look.

This photographic journal – and perhaps all of the Coad’s travelogues – merit four (4) stars for excellent photos and content. This rating is tempered by the reality that free information about places like Rajasthan is readily available online. Their travelogues may be ideal for those planning trips who want to read more personal accounts of their destinations.

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Lessons for Life in Small, Tasty Bites

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Small Bites 4.0 by Jim Yarbrough

5 star

5 Stars

Small Bites 19058879Many of life’s lessons are packed into this powerful book. Filled with stories, anecdotes and quotes, Small Bites invites the reader to enjoy – no, savor – the author’s wisdom in “small bites.” Broken into discreet chapters and themes, it offers a series of short stories with lessons learned, acronyms, and structured outlines to help the reader remember salient points, and page breaks to give them time to jot down their own thoughts.

At its heart, this is a management book for life. But it’s more than that. It’s a guide intended to help the discerning reader find an easier path on the road of life. Light on spirituality but heavy on profundity, the book weaves the strands of wisdom from many ancient and modern philosophies into a beautiful tapestry of poetry and prose. Few books quote Gandhi, Michael Josephson, Mark Twain, John Wooden, and others with such eloquence.

I enjoyed the personal stories that the author shared showing his humanity and his quest to rise above the challenges that made him a better person. Not many writers are so willing to share some of the most difficult – and compromising – moments of their lives with an unknown audience, but Yarbrough did. And he did it with class, using his own lessons learned to demonstrate a better way the reader can follow.

The author wrote this book for his three children. It’s a labor of love they can cherish forever. He could have kept this treasure to himself or in the family, but he chose instead to share it with all of us. I appreciate his sincerity and learned at least one take-away in each chapter applicable to my own life. This is the kind of book you don’t read once; you read it over and over again to glean new insights. If I have any quibble about this wonderful book, it is this – I hope that the author’s next book will expound more on his own great quotes.

I give Small Bites five (5) stars and highly recommend it to anyone with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and who enjoys wisdom in small, succinct bites.

Small Bites 4.0 is now available at:

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