Friday, September 28, 2018

Booknote: The Merciless Book of Heavy Metal Lists

Howie Abrams and Sacha Jenkins, The Merciless Book of Heavy Metal Lists. New York: Abrams Image, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4197-0738-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: music, heavy metal, trivia
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library


If you are a heavy metal enthusiast, you will likely enjoy this opinionated, informative, and entertaining book. Fans of trivia overall will likely enjoy it too. It is a good book to read through, but you can just browse and read the lists or topics that interest you.

The book has a foreword, an introduction, 21 chapters of lists, and an afterword. Some chapter topics are:

  • Albums: The  Good, The Bad, and the Really Ugly. 
  • Axes Bold as Fuck (about guitar and bass players). 
  • Random Information. Thoughts and Speculation. 
  • And Your Mother Dresses You Funny. 
  • Reading is Fun-Da-Metal (includes a list of best metal blogs and a heavy metal reading list). 
 Overall, it was a light and amusing book. I learned some new things and enjoyed the humor. Metal fans will probably want it on their shelves. For others, it is mainly a book to borrow rather than buy. In the end, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Additional reading notes:

From the book's reading list, some books for my TBR pile. Links to WorldCat record where available:


Friday, September 21, 2018

GoodReads Book Tag Thing

I found this book tag at Cornerfolds a while back, and I decided to give it a try. I make very minimal use of GoodReads, mainly as a way to track books, but I still do enough I can complete this exercise. Prompts are as provided.

WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU MARKED AS READ? 


As of the moment I typed up this post, it was Christoph Ribbat's In the Restaurant: Society in Four Courses.


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

In this blog, you can always see what I am currently reading on the right side column under the heading of "What I Am Reading." As of this writing, I was reading the following: 
  • Rose Caraway, ed. For the Men and the Women Who Love Them.
  • Rachel Pollack, The New Tarot Handbook.
  • James Swallow, Sisters of Battle: the Omnibus. (Warhammer 40,000)
  • Stephan Talty, The Black Hand.


WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU MARKED AS TBR?



As of this writing, it was Elizabeth Becker's Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism.  I will note I keep other TBR lists besides GoodReads.


WHAT BOOK DO YOU PLAN TO READ NEXT?

I am never sure what book I plan to read next. I tend to pick out my next book either by looking at one of my TBR lists, or by serendipity. I often find my next book by browsing the recent returns shelf, the popular books shelf, and/or the new books shelf at my local public library.


DO YOU USE THE STAR RATING SYSTEM?

I do. I also use a star rating for my reviews here on the blog as I outline in my "book review (booknotes) statement and policy."

ARE YOU DOING A 2018 READING CHALLENGE?

I am not doing any reading challenges in 2018.


DO YOU HAVE A WISHLIST?

I do. However, these days the one wish list that is more active is the one for Tarot and oracle decks.

WHAT BOOK DO YOU PLAN TO BUY NEXT?

I do not know at this point.


DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE QUOTES? 

There are a few favorites. One is "Knowledge is Power. Guard it well." It is the motto of the Blood Ravens' Librarians. 


WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS?

There are a few. Gabriel García Márquez is one of them. I also like Mario Puzo, some Mickey Spillane, Brad Warner (author of Zen Buddhism books), Alberto Manguel, and Natalie Goldberg among others.


HAVE YOU JOINED ANY GROUPS?

I have, but I rarely if ever participate in GoodReads groups. 


Signs the economy is bad: September 21, 2018 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.




A bit quiet this week, but we still have some fuckery and signs that the economy is bad. Let's take a look:

In commercial airlines fuckery. Stories via Inc.:

In higher education news:

  •  Boing Boing highlights a new documentary explaining the racket business of paywalls for academic publishing and why "you don't want to have scholars negotiating business contracts for you."
  • Being a college professor can be hard, especially if  you are expected to do research. Universities often being stingy, broke, or both usually force a lot of researchers to get grants to pay for research. This is  not an easy thing to do, and sometimes professors have to get "creative" in begging for me, like this professor who gets grants from a "race betterment" foundation (i.e. race supremacists, i.e. white racists) that funds eugenics research. "So far, [University of] Arizona is supporting Figueredo’s right as an academic to seek funding where he sees fit." So it seems the university is cool with  this too as long as the  money flows in. Story via Inside Higher Ed
  • A new study asks the question: "Is having a chief diversity officer linked to significant gains in faculty diversity?" Well, the basic is answer is no. Read the story via Inside Higher Ed for details. I'd say more, but I do work in a college that has a CDO, and the walls do have ears.  
  • And from the student side, another study reveals that students around the world are happy and willing to pay to cheat in classes. Story via Inside Higher Ed. Link to the actual study here.
In assorted signs the economy is bad:




Friday, September 14, 2018

Reading about the reading life: September 14, 2018 edition.

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary. As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason).  




Let's have a look what's been going on in books and reading.

  • The New Republic takes a look at Amazon and the growing business of audiobooks. While other areas of book publishing seem to be stagnant or even shrinking, audiobooks is one area seeing some small growth. Personally, I do read in audio when I can, mainly through my public library's Overdrive system. It's limited but I manage to find something interesting now and then. 
  • One place that still does OK is indie bookstores, and Publisher's Weekly has a look at some of them. 
  • However, big chain bookstores are not giving up yet. Story via The Millions.
  • The Observer Dispatch (Utica, NY) advocates for preserving real bookstores (as in the physical locations).  They write, "Whatever it takes for bookstores to survive, it’s worth the effort. That means those who appreciate what real bookstores have to offer need to support them."
  • Willamette Week offers a profile of Title Wave, the bookstore set up by Multnomah County Library to sell off books they retire from the library collection. People often ask libraries to add this or that book to the collections, but they rarely if ever wonders what happens when space runs out. Well, libraries do weed collections and remove books that are old, no longer in use, bad condition, or for a few other reasons. One way libraries dispose of books no longer needed is by selling them. Multnomah does it with their own store. In your local community, you may find your local public library has a "Friends of the Library" group, and they often have used book sales that include books the library is letting go. "Friends" groups are local library supporters, and their sales are often a way to raise funds for the library so the library can keep getting new and better things. In addition, when a big bestseller or overly hyped book comes out, say the latest Harry Potter back in its prime, you'd see the library had anywhere from 10 to 20 extra copies to accommodate demand. Once demand died out, the library kept one or two copies and would sell off the rest. (Although for certain really high demand items, libraries often lease those books, but that is a topic for another time.)
  • This is more of a general culture piece. Places Journal offers a piece on hardware stores as community places
  • Another general culture piece. Via Aeon magazine, a look at Tarot not so  much as divination tool but as a tool for self development and even therapy.  Given my growing interest and study of Tarot, this caught my eye.
  • The Atlantic takes a look at microfilm, which can last a very long time and has been used to preserve many things. It may seem outdated, and even many libraries are rushing to get rid of it (often without backing it up or other alternatives). Still, microfilm (and microfiche) remains an essential form of information preservation. 
  • Via Boing Boing, a small look at the ancient art of fore-edge paintings in books
  • Via The Outline, I had no idea but I learn that there are secret Marxist alien hunters. Hat tip to Boing Boing. From the article: "The Marxist Ufologists viewed UFO investigation as part of the scientific and intellectual tradition of humans attempting to overcome their alienation so that they might understand themselves and their place within in nature, with the aim of creating a truly free and equal society. In searching for aliens, they believed, we are forced to confront the alien logic of capital that controls the world. In this struggle, the Marxist Ufologists saw a potential ally in our interstellar neighbors. The prospect of such an encounter might be terrifying, but it’s hard to imagine our new alien overlords could be any more inhumane than the humans who currently dominate the planet."
  • Via The New Yorker, an article on the curious collection of authors' artifacts held by New York Public Library. Items include a lock of Walt Whitman's hair and Virginia Woolf's cane. 
  • Have a kid reluctant to read? The Los Angeles Times offers some tips to inspire your kid to read
  • And while we are handing out advice about how to read, Inc magazine offers what they call an unconventional way to read. I would not go as far as call it unconventional. Some of the advice here has been around for a long time. For example, you do not have to finish a book if you do not like it or are not connecting to it. And yes, unlike the author of the article, that does include tossing aside The Da Vinci Code halfway through when you realize it's a piece of tripe. (Yea, I said it.) Now, the message of reading actively and keeping track of what you read is good. That is part of why I keep notes in my journal of things I read; it is also a reason I do book reviews.  
  • Over at The Guardian, there is concern over the proliferation of skim reading. From the article: "Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential 'deep reading' processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading."
Some items on celebrity books. This week we are looking at books from politics and politicians:

  •  Sean Spicer, the disgraced former liar for the Pendejo In Chief press secretary, has a book out. Apparently it is consistent with what he used to do, namely lie for the president. A review from Salon notes it is full of inaccuracies and, because that is not bad enough, it is also dull. 
  • Former The Apprentice reality show "star" Omarosa, who worked in the White House in who knows what capacity, has her own tell all book as well. That book is not much better, and Salon points out in their review the book was losing sales bigly in its second week out. As I predicted, it's headed for the remainders bin.
  • Finally this week, for your amusement. I will warn you this can be NSFW. Someone has gone and created a Tijuana Bible comic about The Pendejo In Chief. Details, including link if you wish to purchase a copy, via Boing Boing.

Media Notes: Roundup for August 2018


These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during August 2018.


Movies and films (links to IMDB.com for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via TubiTv.com or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise):

  • Panzer Chocolate (2013. Horror, Mystery). Interesting detail is that the movie has an app element. At the beginning of the film, they encourage you to download an app to go along as you watch the movie, making for an interactive element. They do note you do not have to download the app to follow the movie. I chose not to attempt to find the app. Anyhow, couple of archeology students are attempting to find art stolen by the Nazis stashed somewhere in the Pyrenees. Their evidence is thin, and terms like hermetic cartography get tossed in (apparently the Nazis were big on that). One of the students goes to a library (one with not very good service) to find some rare book, where they send her to the basement to "see Joe" who apparently keeps the old books no one wants to deal with it. She finds it, but has pages missing, and things start getting silly from there as the student gets various signs to warn her off, but she perseveres (of course). Since they are in Barcelona, getting to the site is just a convenient drive up to the mountains on the Spanish side. Then nothing pretty much happens. They do find an old Nazi bunker in the woods. About only thing they find are cases of Nazi chocolate (the titular candy), which of course, some of the group proceed to eat because, you know, why the hell not? Otherwise, seriously, nothing much happens until barely the last 20 minutes when the evil in the bunker awakes, and by that point you are saying "about fucking time." The mystery unravels in the last fifteen minutes or so. The ending was not that great neither. Overall, the movie was as kids would say "meh." The idea had potential, but it is mostly wasted. You can probably skip this one. Via TubiTv. 
  • Harlock: Space Pirate (2013. Animation, Adventure, Science fiction). Movie description: "Mankind is dying. Only one man can do anything about it, Space Captain Harlock, but the Gaia Coalition will stop at nothing to end him." This is the latest take on the Captain Harlock legend. Basically, mankind heads to the stars, and as mankind tends to do, fucks it all up out in the colonies due to pollution, overexploitation of resources, so on. Suddenly, Earth is the last resource. The Gaia Coalition, the ruling body of Earth, emerged after a war where they managed to keep those wanting to return out. It manages to plant a mole in Harlock's ship hoping to stop him. However, as Earth and mankind are dying, turns out Harlock may be the hero they need. The movie does have quite a convoluted plot that at times is not easy to follow, and it does have some slow moments. But it does have a pretty good ending. 
  • Curse of the Puppet Master (1998. Horror. Fantasy). One of the many Puppet Master sequels. I have not seen these movies for a while, so when I saw this one on TubiTv decided to take a chance. Dr Magrew now has Toulon's puppets and runs a show with them. He hires Robert "Tank", who may be a bit "slow" but has great carving talent, to carve a new puppet. Magrew hopes to replicate Toulon's work. However, there is the mystery of what happened to his first assistant. Keeping his experiments a secret gets complicated for Magrew with his daughter back from college, and the local corrupt sheriff nosing around looking for that missing assistant. Meanwhile, the hot to trot daughter takes a liking to Tank; this whole part of the plot is just mostly filler. And that is a problem since most of this movie seems to be more about Tank than about the puppets. To make it worse, nothing pretty much happens until the last part. Overall, the human characters are fairly forgettable, and other than Tank, not terribly sympathetic. The movie stands on its own from the series it seems; it leaves questions unanswered for those following the series, and in the end, pretty forgettable. One thing this movie kept was the haunting puppet music. 
  • My Bloody Valentine (1981. Horror. Thriller). 20 years ago in Valentines Bluff, a mining accident took the lives of five miners. It is 20 years later, the town is having their first Valentines Day dance in that time. 20 years ago, the survivor killed two supervisors responsible for the accident and forbid the town to never have another Valentines Day dance again. However, now, a new dance is about to take place, and the miner returns to kill those who did not heed his warning. This was one of the many slasher films that came out of the 70s and 80s. For what it is, it is fairly decent, and it does have a twist at the end. Via TubiTv. On a side note, the movie was remade/rebooted in 2009.


Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes.

  • Inspector Lewis, Series 7 (2014. Link to Amazon record). I picked up the next installment of this spinoff of Inspector Morse, which I am enjoying very much. By now, Lewis is retired, but the police can't quite let him go yet. Short on manpower, Chief Innocent brings him back on a flexible contract to work once more. Meanwhile, Hathaway is now an Inspector, and he has his own new sergeant, DS Maddox. Borrowed DVD from Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library. This DVD contains three episodes.
    • "Entry Wounds." Hathaway gets to work his first case as an inspector. A neurosurgeon is murdered, and there are also animal rights activists and a hunting estate to complicate things.
    • "The Lions of Nemea." A classics scholar is killed, and she may be the connection to another murder as well as a con man.
    • "Beyond Good And Evil." 13 years ago, Lewis caught Graham Lawrie, the "hammer killer" convicted of killing three police officers. However, the convict wins an appeal, and meanwhile murders resembling those of Lawrie start happening again. 
  • Supermarket Sweep (Game show. 1965-2003). I continue watching the 1990s run hosted by David Ruprecht, which ran on Lifetime Channel and later on Pax TV, on YouTube this month. See the June roundup post for more comment on this show. Watched 4 episodes.
  • Iron Chef (Japan). (1993-2001). I keep watching these via YouTube. 
    • "Strawberry Dessert Battle." This is one of the Christmas specials. Challenger, Ms. Masayo Waki, is the director of the international department at the Hattori Nutrition College.She also happens to have been trained in France at the famous Cordon Bleu, and worked in various three star restaurants in France before returning to Japan. She challenges Iron Chef French Sakai.
    • "Stingray Battle." Noburu Inoue, a pioneer of French cuisine in Japan says taste is more important than any performance, and that he's more important than the Iron Chefs. Them's fighting words (which he denied saying when he got to the show). The man counts Iron Chef French (honorary) Ishinabe as one of his disciples. However, Inoue instead of going himself is sending one of his top apprentices (that is a common theme in these grudge matches, some old "Mustache Pete" talks big, but usually sends his peon to do the work) to challenge (and more often than not, the Iron Chef proceeds to hand said apprentice and master their asses on a plate). So Yoshihide Koga gets to challenge Iron Chef French Sakai. This was a bit of an awkward episode as Inoue gets a glass of wine too many, and even punches one of the cooking assistants. So, I usually do not "spoil" in commenting, but here I will say I was glad Sakai did hand them their asses.\
    • "Squid Battle 2." Tetsutoshi Shimazu, a Japanese chef specializing in Italian cuisine, especially pizza, challenges Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi.  
    • "Squid Battle." Kyonori Miura, the "Conjurer of Garlic," a Japanese chef specializing in Italian cuisine, challenges Iron Chef French Sakai. 
    • "Spinach Battle." Katsuaki Mori, a Japanese chef specializing in Italian food and known for his use of cheeses and salads, challenges. He has earned a Cavalier medal from the French government for his expertise in cheese. He challenged Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi.
    • "Soy Bean Battle." Toshiro Kandagawa, often nemesis of the Iron Chefs and don of the chefs in Western Japan, wants to send a female chef who is his protege. Chairman Kaga accepts the challenge, and so chef Yoshie Urabe, head chef of her own top restaurant in Osaka challenges Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi.
    • "Shiitake Mushroom Battle." Takaya Nakazawa, a Japanese chef master of Chinese sauces, challenges Chen Kenichi. Nakazawa was mentored by Kenichi's father. On an interesting note, this battle was the one right before the one where Iron Chef Nakamura, who replaced Michiba, would be announced. 
    • "Scampi Battle." Masahiko Sagiwara, a top Italian pasta chef in Japan, challenges. He takes on Chen Kenichi, the Chinese Iron Chef.
    • "Scallop Battle." This was the time when vacuum cooking, a technique invented by the French, was emerging as a trend, and Chairman Kaga even installs the equipment to use it so they can try it out in this battle. Japanese chef Senji Osada, an expert in vacuum cooking, challenges Iron Chef French Sakai.
    • "Saury Battle." Kazumi Nagayama, head chef of a university restaurant, Shochiku, a very nice one with a lot of history part of Tokyo University in Hongo, Tokyo challenges. Iron Chef French Sakai accepts the challenge. 
    • "Sardine Rematch." The return of the Italian Sabatini restaurant clan. They previously fought a sardine battle against Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi and lost. That was three years previous to this episode. This time they send another master chef of theirs in Japan, Hideki Maruyama. Maruyama challenges Chen, making it a full rematch, even using the same theme ingredient. 
    • "Salmon Battle." Joel Bruant, a French chef disciple of Paul Bocuse and now working in Japan, challenges hoping to topple Iron Chef French Sakai and replace Sakai. 
  • Mobsters (Documentary. True crime. Biography. 2007-2012). I continue watching episodes of this series via YouTube here and there. See the June roundup for previous commentary on the series overall.  
    • "Tony 'Joe Batters' Accardo" (2009. Season 2, Episode 6). Accardo worked his way up to being Al Capone's bodyguard to eventually running the Chicago Outfit during prime years of the 1930s and 1940s, transitioning the mob out of Prohibition and bootlegging. He managed at one point to control territories outside of Chicago including Indiana and Wisconsin, and eventually parts of Las Vegas, including the Stardust (later fictionalized in the movie Casino as the Tangiers). He managed to be successful in large part because unlike so many mobsters he was business smart, savvy, and knew to keep a low profile, still running the family, albeit not so directly, into the 1980s. He died of heart failure in 1992, and he never served time in prison, a feat for a mob boss. He was the last of the Al Capone era mobsters. 
    •  "Frank 'The Enforcer' Nitti" (2009. Season 2, Episode 2). Nitti was Al Capone's successor after Capone got put in jail for tax evasion.Nitti in real life was not like he is portrayed in the movies. Sure, he was ruthless, but he was also much more businesslike.


Booknote: The New Tarot Handbook

Rachel Pollack, The New Tarot Handbook: Master the Meaning of the Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2012  ISBN: 978-0-7387-3190-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination
Format: paperback
Source: I own this one (found it at Half Price Books)

This book is an adequate guide for learning Tarot. If you are using a Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, this will be a helpful book as it is keyed to RWS decks. It uses RWS images as reference points, and Pollack often cites Arthur Waite's work in this book. Still, the information in the book is applicable if you use a "clone" deck or any other deck that draws on the RWS system.

The book is arranged as follows:
  • Short introduction. This is where Pollack tells a bit of her story about Tarot, gives a bit of general Tarot history, and discusses the RWS system. 
  • The Major Arcana. This goes over every card for the Major Arcana. Before the card entries, Pollack provides some discussion on what are the Major Arcana cards. She also provides some ways to line up these cards for comparison and study. Then you get the card entries. For each  card, you get a black and white image, some keywords, a text description and discussion, a short list of divinatory meanings, a short list of reversed meanings, and a spread you can try for reading based on the card. I see the spreads as good tools for self reflection, and you could still use them to read for others. 
  • The Minor Arcana. This section includes the Minor Arcana numbered cards (1-10). This section starts with a description of what are the Minor Arcana, a look at the four suits (wands, cups, swords, and pentacles), and the themes for each number. Card entries are then organize by suit one (ace) through ten. Each card entry has a picture of the card, identifies its element, some theme keywords, text description, a short list of divinatory meanings, and a short list of reversed meanings. At the end of each suit, there is a spread for a suit reading. 
  • The Court Cards get their own chapter. Personally, I tend to prefer putting court cards with their suits, but that's how Pollack did it for this book. This section includes a general discussion of the court cards, a bit on their elemental correspondences, and ways to read them. Pollack also notes theme words and divinatory meanings for the court cards "are similar in places to those in my book Tarot Wisdom. They come from many years of both reading and studying the cards" (210). In other words, some content is recycled from other works. This is  not surprising; prolific authors and teachers who teach over and over recycle content and lesson plans. I have not read Tarot Wisdom, so I can't comment on how much or not is recycled from that book here. Moving along, in this section, each court card set is grouped by suit. Each court card entry includes a picture of the card, element, elemental combination, physical quality, theme, a description passage, divinatory meanings, and reversed meanings. At the end of the court cards section, you get a spread for a reading inspired by the court cards. 
  • Readings. You find here some advice on how to read the cards. She also discusses some Tarot "rules" and myths, and explains why she includes reversed meanings (one reason is Waite did it, but there are other reasons). In this section, she also discusses spreads and provides a few examples you can try out. 
  • Further study. Some small suggestions on what to read to keep learning. 
This is a basic and solid Tarot reference book. Pollack has over 40 years of Tarot reading, study, and teaching experience, and she does  her best to distill that in this book for beginners. It succeeds as the book is very accessible, and it gives you the basics to study and read the cards. While it is keyed to RWS decks, it can work for almost any RWS clone deck or deck that draws on RWS. However, those 40 years of experience also show in the sense that this just feels like another Tarot book. Many Tarotistas claim Pollack's Seventy Eight Degrees to be a Tarot bible, revolutionary, essential. I have that one on my TBR list. The New Tarot Handbook feels more like one Pollack could have written in her sleep, so to speak. In other words, the book is nice, but you likely could have picked up either of the other two books mentioned and done well, or if you already have Seventy Eight Degrees or Tarot Wisdom, then you can likely skip this one.

In the end, if you need a basic Tarot reference book, this book does the job. The card inspired spreads are very good for self reflection as well as reading for others. If you need a book to keep handy as you study and learn Tarot, this is an OK book. If you want some depth, there may be better books out there, including books by this author. Overall, it works for beginners. For more advanced readers, there are other options.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Some additional reading notes:

Tarot grows and changes:

"The Tarot grows and changes as we grow and change. Let the Tarot discover you so that you may discover yourself in the cards" (7).

Tarot reading more as an art:

"Tarot card reading always remains an art more than a science, with any system a spur to meaning rather than a fixed rule of what something has to mean" (207). 

Tarot as gateway:

"Think of the Tarot as an endless series of doorways--seventy-eight cards with infinite combinations. Let them become the gates to your wisdom" (280). 








Friday, September 07, 2018

Booknote: The Black Hand

Stephan Talty, The Black Hand: the Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American history. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2017.  ISBN: 978-0-544-63338-4.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: history, biography, true crime
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library


This book is a biography and history of Joseph Petrosino, the first Italian to ever join the NYPD. It  is also a look at the Black Hand, a criminal organization precursor to the Mafia that had clout and presence nationwide in the United States and back in Italy. Petrosino made it  his life mission to fight the Black Hand at a time in the U.S. when racism against Italians was high.

Petrosino was brilliant and talented. He also had a great memory and was a master of disguise. Yet he had to fight not only the Black Hand but also his own police department. His story illustrates the common thread of American racism where an immigrant group suffers racism and prejudice, eventually settle in, and then proceed to be racist assholes to the next immigrant group. This is the deal with the Irish and Italians. By this point in time, the Irish are settled in. They pretty much run New York City thanks to Tammany Hall and the fact they dominated the NYPD. The Irish now are being racist towards the Italians. Petrosino got into the NYPD because he had friends who helped, but otherwise he had to fight for every resource to fight the Black Hand. Often his only ally was the sensationalist press of his time willing to listen and publish his exploits and challenges. Add to this that, unlike the Irish who took pride in their own becoming cops, Italians viewed any cop, including Petrosino, with suspicion.

The book is an interesting story that traces Petrosino's rise and then his work leading the Italian Squad then his dedication going all the way back to Italy to fight the Black Hand. As I mentioned, the book is interesting, but the racism and frustrations Petrosino faced are hard to read at times.

A strength of the book is that it captures the history of New York City and the NYPD at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century well. The author is skilled at bringing this time period to life. This is a real story, but  it often reads as a thriller. In the end, heavy as it was to read at times, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

Additional reading notes:

How bad was the Black Hand?

"Only the Ku Klux Klan would surpass the Black Hand for the production of mass terror in the early part of the century" (xiii). 

On Petrosino's fame:

"It's telling that the most famous Italian American in the country in the late 1800s was the one deputized by the powerful to track down and imprison his fellow countrymen. There were artists and intellectuals among the migrants from the Old World-- classics professors, opera singers, stonemasons, who created great civic works-- but the country largely ignored them. It was Petrosino, the 'hunter of men' who fascinated the old American stock of Knickerbockers and WASPs, and they embraced him like no other Italian American of his time. It was as if the nation's idea of the Italian was so narrow and constricted that it could take in only two figures among the thousands entering through the gates of Ellis Island: the killer, who terrified Americans, and his opposite. The lawman. The savior" (19).

When you think about it, much of that  narrow and  constricted kind of thinking still thrives in the United States.