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1421: The Year China Discovered America – Book Review

TheYearChinaDiscoveredAmericAuthor: Gavin Menzies
Publisher: William Morrow HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 10 East 53rd Street, NY, NY 10022
Copyright: 2002
Cover: Richard L. Aquan, Burstein Collection/CORBIS
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, January 7, 2016

Summary: An information filled, fun journey through fifteenth century maybe world history focusing on a two year period in China. An extraordinarily good book that balances facts with speculation.

In reading the title of this book you might well ask who didn’t discover America. After reading Gavin Menzies’ 553 page, 1421, you realize that discovery is not the issue. After all, there were countless native Indian tribes who discovered America every day for thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot on the place. If nothing else, Menzies’ book conclusively demonstrates that much of what passes as common-knowledge history is so full of gapping holes that you can drive an alien spacecraft through it with very little fear of hitting a fact. Eric Von Daniken and like minded “history researchers” have been doing just that.

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Being Nixon: A Man Divided – Book Review

BeingNixonAManDivideSAuthor: Evan Thomas
Publisher: Random House,
Copyright: 2015 ISBN: 0812995367
Cover: Victoria Wong
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, December 31, 2015

Summary: A portrait history of Richard Milhous Nixon expertly done. It focuses on the man and not the issues of his time which leads to a feeling of not getting the entire story. But the Nixon story itself is so intricate and involved that this book is well worth the journey. It is laser focused on its subject.

Before there was Barrack Hussein Obama and pick-your-pseudo-scandal; before there was George W. Bush and weapons of mass destruction; before there was William Jefferson Clinton and the dress; before there was George H. Bush and read-my-lips; before there was Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra; before there was Jimmy Carter and a certain “crisis of confidence” taken as a malaise in the body politic; before there was Gerald R. Ford and the pardon, there was Richard Milhous Nixon. The country has never been the same since. Maybe never will.

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Without A Trace – Inside the Robert Durst Case – Book Review

WithoutATraceInsidetheRobertDurstCasAuthor: Marion Collins
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Copyright: 2002, ISBN: 0312985029
Cover: Rex USA/New York Post
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, November 1, 2015

Summary: Reads like gossip but is fact-filled and fascinating in what it reveals about the breath of human delusion–self and otherwise. Multimillionaire Robert Durst oozes through suspicion of mischief and murder to eventually be arrested on suspicion of malfeasance in the execution style murder of a close friend.

After jumping bail in Galveston, Texas, in flight from a September 2001 charge of murder with discovery of the dismembered body of Morris Black, Robert Durst was arrested in Bath, Pennsylvania for shoplifting. The arrest occured in November of that year. Reporting information gleamed from Detective Gary Hammer of the Colonial Regional Police, author Marion Collins quotes him as saying, “‘Less than an hour after he’d [Durst] been taken into custody, we [the police department] got calls from three lawyers.’” This was before the arrest of Durst burst into the public domain and before the obligatory one phone call of the accused.

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She Wanted It All – Book Review

SheWantedItAlAuthor: Kathryn Casey
Publisher: Avon Books, HarperCollins Publishers,
Copyright: 2005, ISBN: 0060567643
Cover: Greg Hursley, Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, July 20, 2015

Summary: Narcissistic personalities are in the news lately. Generally they are fodder for humor and satire. Celeste Beard is a classic narcissist and she would be Momma Dearest funny were it not for the insanity of her crimes. Her life and deeds tacks on another layer of questions about insanity, responsibility and the death penalty.

The story of Celeste Beard Johnson has been told several times. Katheryn Casey’s version remains the best.

Celeste Beard was convicted in March 2003 of killing Steve Beard, her husband. She orchestrated her the murder by convincing her lesbian lover to shoot him in the gut with a shotgun. Wife kills husband. Abuse, jealousy, insurance money, pure evil; the usual excuses for one spouse killing another. Underlying any murder is a profound ignorance; an inability to see vistas beyond the immediate now, beyond the current roiling emotions. Any human who kills another is mentally unbalanced to some degree. There is some deficit in the character makeup or brain chemistry or acquired life-coping skills of murders. Usually of course both ignorance and skewed mental outlook are the mosaic of a killer s life.

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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – Book Review Author: Erik Larson

DeadWakeTheLastCrossingoftheLusitaniAuthor: Erik Larson

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group, Division of Random House LLC

Copyright: 2015, ISBN: 0307408860


Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, May 28, 2015

Summary: The unusual circumstances surrounding the sinking of the British passenger liner, Lusitania in 1915, or everything you thought you did not know about the sinking of the Lusitania and the entrance of America into World War I.

Read enough history and history really does seem cyclical. A sobering and somewhat discouraging thought. Even more discouraging and disheartening is the realization that the mistakes, missed opportunities, and sheer ignorance are as repetitive as the deaths and births giving rise to the perception of change.

Fifty or sixty years from the deed, will some historian look at September 11, 2001 and say, “Yes, it could have been prevented”. More than three thousand people lost their lives on American soil because the country was attacked by a known enemy. Such an assault was unthinkable on September 10th. Not that the event was a complete surprise. There were portents. Terror was in the atmosphere. Was there a government official or some government group like the NSA, CIA or FBI who could have prevented or mitigated the devastation? Fifty or so years after Pearl Harbor similar questions were raised about that event. It is too “early” for clear answers for both events—too many possible embarrassments.

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The Martian – Book Comment

TheMartianAuthor: Andy Weir

Publisher: Broadway Book, Random House, LLC

Copyright: 2011, 2014, ISBN: [0804139038]

Cover: Erick White, Elizabeth Rendfleisch, NASA

Summary: Fiction, science, mystery. Delightful surprise.


If you are the type reader who starts reading a book from the copyright or title page to the end, THE MARTIAN offers everything a reader could possibly want, including a few Old English basic words the Normans thought they had expunged from the language. When we meet Astronaut Mark Watney on page one of the book we are pretty sure he is doomed—he employs some of that Old English to describe the situation. More than just take his word for it, we have the fact that he is keeping a log or diary. We subconsciously equate logs and diaries with doomed, as in death.

Inadvertently abandoned and left alone by fellow crew members, stranded with no way to get home and initially no way to call home, we read with the expectation of a noble death, a miracle, or—please, no hoots—alien contact. By the time we figure out where this novel is going—part of the reason for reading good fiction—we are amazed and enthralled by where Watney has been and where he is most likely going. We realize that not only have we sold the stranded astronaut short, we have sold ourselves short with our and limited circumspect expectations.

THE MARTIAN is one of those books that will survive a couple of generations with obscure references popping up in unexpected times and unexpected contexts.


Bestial – Book Review

BestialTheSavageTrailofaTrueAmericanAuthor: Harold Schechter

Publisher: Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster Inc.

Copyright: 1998, ISBN: 067132196

Cover: AP/Wide World Photos

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, April 10, 2015

Summary: This could have been a run-of-the-mill book on a serial killer. What makes it exceptional is the writer, Harold Schechter. If Erik Larson is the master of exposing crime immersed within a back drop of great events, Schechter is the master at revealing the commonplace among which extraordinary crime occurs. This book chronicles the twenty-plus murders of Earle Leonard Nelson, the “Gorilla Man”.


BESTIAL was published almost twenty years ago. Why review a book that has been in the googlesphere for almost twenty years?

I recently read a Dean Koontz novel, ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN. Originally published in 2001, ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN and other early Koontz novels are being re-published to get a new audience. Prior to reading Koontz’s ODD THOMAS adventures, I was a Stephen King reader. However, after savoring the oddities of Odd Thomas, I took another read of Koontz. His early work is comprised mostly of adjectives and botanical descriptions of scenery—all the stuff I hate in reading fiction. Seeded throughout all the high fluting and un-necessary verbiage about atmosphere and plants are some entertaining, unusual, and perceptive ideas. Koontz seems to churn out more originality the longer he writes. He has also significantly reduced his use of adjectives–a good thing. Koontz is an originator, King is a synthesizer. But I digress.

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Longitude – Book Review

LongitudeAuthor: Dava Sobel

Publish: Bloomsbury USA, New York (Walker & Company in 1995)

Copyright: 1995, ISBN 080271529X

Cover: Claire Naylon Vaccaro

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, March 22, 2015

Summary: The connection between global longitudes, clocks and the scientific method as politics.


By 1737, John Harrison of Yorkshire County, England had perfected what we today call the clock.

If you woke up this morning and looked at your clock, you most likely did not realize that if you had awaken any time before the year 1737 you would not have had a clock to look at.  This is not to say there was no way to “tell the time”. As Lee Child’s fictional skilled drifter Jack Reacher, can attest, human senses are inundated with time cues from the environment twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Who needs a clock?  Two hundred and eighty years ago there was no fretting over a lack of eight hours of sleep, no imperative to be at the office before nine. Amazingly, there was also no way to conveniently plot a sailing course from a sea port in North Carolina to a port in England.

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Rebel Yell – Book Review

RebelYel.img0Rebel Yell – Book Review

Author: S. C. Gwynne

Publisher: Scribner, Simon & Schuster Inc.

Copyright: 2014, ISBN: 1451673289

Cover: Marlyn Dantes, Encyclopedia Britannica

Reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, 1/31/2015


Summary: Excellent biography of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson with snippets of period history that is often overlooked in our predilection to look at “the big picture.”

If people engaged in discussions about Great Men of History, the name of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson would come up somewhere between Napoleon Bonaparte and Dwight W. Eisenhower. Of course, no one engages in such discussions today. We like the big picture–bristle makers, ore miners, color-mixers, canvas makers—the little people in other words. However, when examining the life of those engaged in the art of war, looking at the big picture is likely to obscure more than illuminate. This is certainly the case for the life of Jackson. The “little” people were there, but it was Jackson who orchestrated and executed his rather extraordinary life.

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Midnight in Mexico – Book Review

Midnight in MexicoAuthor: Alfredo Corchado

Publisher: The Penguin Press, Penguin Group, 375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014

Copyright: 2013, ISBN: 1594204395

Cover: Keith Hayes

Summary: Reporter Alfredo Corchado, born in Mexico, returns to Mexico as a U. S. newspaper foreign correspondent covering the drug war.  An extraordinarily thought-provoking look at Mexico’s past and present with implications for its future neatly concealed between the lines.  The book also goes a long way in explaining why “illegal” immigration may be more a clash of cultures than a clash over territorial boundaries.


It is impossible to read MIDNIGHT IN MEXICO without thinking of Andrew Pham’s 1999 CATFISH AND MANDALA. Both, in their own way, are travelogues through cultures juxtaposed against American beliefs and values. The difference between the two exploring perspectives is glaring and you cannot help but be conscious of those differences as you read. For me as a reviewer, I was very much aware of my 1969-1970 experiences in Vietnam as I read CATFISH AND MANDALA. I was also aware of the Vietnamese refugees and immigrants I have met since. Nothing I read in the book altered my attitude toward the Vietnamese people. They are, as a people, closer to the land than someone living in cosmopolitan New York or Chicago. They were and are closer to the land than someone removed some ten years from the red-dirt of Georgia where I spent my early years. Regardless of one’s locale in America, identification and empathy are easily extended to peoples of agrarian cultures because American beliefs and values are agrarian at to their roots.

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