Posts tagged 'Justin Picks'

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Operation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth

Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

        In the summer of 1978, Ron Stallworth was an undercover detective working with the narcotics division of the Colorado Springs police department when he came across a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad in a local newspaper. Part of his job was to collect intelligence concerning possible criminal activity, and the Klan were known to terrorize communities and incite violence, so he responded to the ad with a letter, posing as a fellow racist. A few days later, he received a call from a local Klan organizer eager to recruit him. Stallworth immediately recognized that this was a unique opportunity to collect intelligence on the Klan from the inside and agreed to an in-person meeting. There was just one problem – Stallworth is African-American, and in his haste to seize the moment, he had used his real name instead of an alias.

        What followed was an unorthodox investigation into the heart of one of America’s most notorious hate groups. Stallworth describes the careful process by which he managed to gain access to the Klan’s inner circle through phone conversations and in-person meetings (at which a white colleague wearing a wire posed as “Ron Stallworth”). His actions, decisions, and even missteps and close calls during the case are all discussed with the gravitas and candor of a seasoned police officer.

        This is not to say that Stallworth’s account is dry or impersonal – in fact, quite the opposite. Integral to the story is not just what Stallworth did, but who he was. He takes special care to discuss his background growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Despite never coming across as boastful or vindictive, he deftly expresses the schadenfreude of peeking under the hood of terrorism and finding that the person under it is demonstratively ignorant and clueless – “…as if Dennis the Menace were running a hate group.”      

true crime  race relations  nonfiction  Justin Picks


The Most Dangerous Man in America, by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

The Most Dangerous Man in America by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

Based on official documents, journal entries, interviews, recordings, and news coverage, Minutaglio and Davis present a rollicking, outrageous caper that reads like a gonzo version of Candide. Narrated in a fast-paced present tense, Most Dangerous Man takes place in the tumultuous early 1970s. Widespread outcry against the Vietnam War and the political status quo has erupted into violence. Once-peaceful protests are now being met with brutal crackdowns, and parts of the counterculture movement have traded in “flower power” for dynamite.

Amid dismal approval ratings, first-term president Richard Nixon is growing increasingly desperate to prove that he is the strong leader America needs. He needs a symbol of crime and moral decay he can triumph over, and he chooses a man – Timothy Leary, former Harvard psychologist, LSD evangelist and countercultural guru. Imprisoned in California on trumped-up drug charges and facing additional ones that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life, Leary decides to escape from prison and live his life as a fugitive. Aided by radical leftists, Leary embarks on a globe-trotting, substance-fueled odyssey as he tries to survive beyond Nixon’s grasp.

The Most Dangerous Man paints Leary as a complex and unlikely (but not unlikeable) protagonist, and the authors do an outstanding job of contrasting his intellect and charisma with his flaws and poor decisions. What keeps the perpetually stoned Leary relatable, however, is his frequent haplessness and his juxtaposition with less sympathetic figures. Nixon, the main antagonist, is portrayed as mentally unstable, vindictive, and surrounded by cronies who frequently indulge his most sinister tendencies. Meanwhile, Leary's supposed allies prove just as problematic for him, as he time and time again gets shaken down by (literally) bomb-throwing Weathermen and Black Panthers, a loose network of drug trafficking hippies, shady lawyers, and a real-life Bond villain. What emerges is a portrait of a man who thought he had only his chains to lose, but learns quickly how wrong he was, and whose initial fecklessness ends up costing him dearly.

Justin Picks  History


The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein


The Punch Escrow by Tal M. KleinScience fiction is often hailed (and sometimes derided) for the miraculous-seeming technologies that drive stories. Characters can communicate at the speed of thought and traverse great distances with minimal inconvenience, and readers for the most part accept this as a narrative device. The Punch Escrow, Klein’s debut novel, is a thriller that challenges this trope by telling a gripping story about the pitfalls of taking such technologies for granted.

It is 2147, and 50 years after the end of “The Last War,” humanity finds itself in a relatively good state thanks to technological advances. Necessary items can be assembled from stray matter. Mosquitos have been genetically modified to drink pollution instead of blood. And teleportation (think Star Trek’s transporters) has become a reality. Overseen by the monolithic International Transport (IT) Corporation and utilizing their patented “Punch Escrow” technology, getting from one part of the world to another is as easy as riding the subway.

Joel Byram, a freelance computer programmer and a bit of a smart aleck, lives with his physicist wife Sylvia in New York. In an attempt to rekindle romance in their strained marriage, they plan a tenth anniversary vacation in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, just as Joel is about to teleport from the Greenwich station to meet Sylvia, a bomb is detonated, damaging the facility. Joel leaves the station seemingly unharmed, but learns that technical meddling has resulted in a perfect duplicate of him arriving to meet his wife. Furthermore, Joel’s full legal rights have been given to the duplicate, whom Joel designates as “Joel2.” The result is that the original Joel (Joel1 ) now is considered old data that needs to be “cleared.” But Joel1 isn’t ready to be cleared. He wants to live, and he wants to see his wife again.

Thriller  Science Fiction  Justin Picks  Fiction