Kam Williams — Book Reviews

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Voted Best Male Entertainment Journalist of the Decade by the Disilgold
Soul Literary Review in 2006,
Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book
critic who writes for 100+ publications around the U.S. and Canada. He is a
member of the New York Film Critics Online, the African-American Film
Critics Association, the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committee,
and Rotten Tomatoes.

In addition to a BA in Black Studies from Cornell, he has an MA in English
from Brown, an MBA from The Wharton School, and a JD from Boston
University. Kam lives in Princeton, NJ with his wife and son.

 

Book Reviews | Film Reviews | DVD Reviews | Celebrity Interviews | Commentaries


BOOK REVIEWS

 

Below are the titles reviewed on this page. Click the title to read the review.

The most recent listings are on the higher numbered pages.
 
25 Things That Really Matter in Life
Standing Tall | Ghetto Nation | Don't Blame It on Rio | The Real McCain
Black Pain | Wrong On Race | A Bound Man | Free Lunch | Life as a Single Mom

 

25 Things That Really Matter in Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Making Your Life Better

by Gary A. Johnson 

Courtland Press

Paperback, $9.95

76 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9791113-0-3

Book Review by Kam Williams

“25 Things That Really Matter in Life is designed to get you started living a better life within the next fifteen minutes… If you want a book to help you begin to change your life right now, then keep reading, because this is the book for you… The techniques and steps that I describe in the following pages are ones I’ve been using for over thirty years. If you commit to them, I guarantee you will live a more meaningful and healthier life… Let’s get started!             -- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 12-16)

Are you stuck in the doldrums? Could you use some help to kickstart your life? Then you might want to consider reading this handy little how-to guide by Gary Johnson, publisher of BlackMeninAmerica.com and founder of the consulting firm which bears his name.

Mr. Johnson is also an inspirational speaker whose services are always in demand. And now, with the publication of 25 Things That Really Matter in Life, you can be motivated by the man without having to attend one of his lectures or workshops. 

The book is designed to take less than an hour to read, while promising the potential to transform you instantly. The words contained on the pages are mostly meaningful meditations on what the author has found to be most important to him, as opposed to advice dictating specific behavior to improve your plight.

Still, Gary makes a convincing case that his 3-step path probably works, for he acknowledges having himself gone through tough times marked by debt, depression and withdrawal. When he was bottoming out, he made a list of the things that mattered most to him, a therapeutic process which helped him get his priorities in order while simultaneously freeing him to feel good again.

He realized that foremost among what he values are Faith, Family, Love, Children and Health, and he explains succinctly why each entry deserves to be a priority. After he expounds on all 25 of his personal areas of concern, the focus shifts to Step 2. Here, the text changes into a workbook, allotting space for you the reader to delineate 25 things you most want to achieve in life.

This, in turn, enables you to embark ultimately on Step 3, namely, mastery of your own life. A timely tome for anyone seriously seeking to take the steps to shed self-destructive habits and dysfunctional influences in order to become “the best possible you.”

To purchase a copy of the book, call: (888) 852-5813

Or visit: http://courtlandpress.com/Buy_The_Book.html

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Things-That-Really-Matter-Life/dp/0979111307/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210076366&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://courtlandpress.com/About_The_Author.html

posted May 11, 2008

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Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder

by Herschel Walker
with Gary Brozek and Charlene Maxfield

Foreword by Dr. Jerry Mungadze

Touchstone Books

Hardcover, $24.95

256 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4165-3748-9

Book Review by Kam Williams 

“For most of my life, from childhood onward, I had a form of mental illness that enabled me to be simultaneously a fierce competitor…and a quiet unassuming man who let his actions do the talking. When I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) shortly after I ended my playing career, I wasn’t certain if what I was being told about myself was true…

When my doctors explained to me that I had developed other personalities (aka “alters”) to help me cope with and survive the pain, alienation, and abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, I was skeptical.

This book… is a part of my coming to terms with this diagnosis... I want to be sure that readers understand how difficult this is for me [because] I wasn’t aware of the multiple personalities who existed in my mind… I now understand that there may have been as many as twelve distinct alters enabling me to cope with my reality.”

Excerpted from the Author’s note (pages xiv-xv)

In 1982, Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy for being the best college football player in the country while only a junior at the University of Georgia. The gifted running back then left school early to turn pro, going on to enjoy gridiron greatness during a 15-year career, first in the fledgling USFL, and then in the NFL.

What neither Herschel or anyone else around him knew, however, was that he’d been suffering since childhood from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), what is commonly referred to in layman’s terms as multiple personalities. With 20-20 hindsight, this helps explains how he could be so brutally violent on the football field, yet behave like a pussycat away from the game.

But after he retired from the sport, he found it harder and harder to integrate his assorted personas, presumably because he no longer had an outlet for his more aggressive and anti-social alter-egos. As a result, he bottomed-out by not only cheating on but putting a loaded gun to the temple of Cindy, his college sweetheart and wife of 16 years. That ruined the marriage, and the couple divorced, agreeing to share custody of their son, Christian.

Fortunately, Herschel sought out therapy for his inexplicable mood swings, and was eventually diagnosed as having DID by Dr. Jerry Mungadze. Apparently, experts disagree about whether the disease really exists, especially since it seems to affect only people in North America.

Nonetheless, in Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Walker claims his affliction was triggered by the stress from being teased as a child for stuttering and being fat. But I would hazard a guess that even a casual reader of this revealing autobiography would wonder why he doesn’t pin the blame on an incident he witnessed at the age of six when one of his friends was carted off by noose-wielding Ku Klux Klansmen in sheets.

I suspect that perhaps it was either the influence of his shrink or his two collaborators on the book which led Herschel to play down the near lynching. Regardless, the memoir is worthwhile for the shockingly-honest look it offers inside the troubled mind of a revered sports icon.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Free-Dissociative-Identity-Disorder/dp/1416537481/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1209495935&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.simonsays.com/content/destination.cfm?tab=1&pid=523122

posted May 11, 2008

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The Real McCain:

Why Conservatives Don’t Trust Him  And Why independents Shouldn’t

by Cliff Schechter 

PoliPoint Press

Paperback, $14.95

200 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9794822-9-8

                         

Book Review by Kam Williams 

“Race is one of the hot-button social issues of our time. As someone whose ancestors owned slaves and fought on the side of the Confederacy, McCain might have gone out of his way to stake out a clear and progressive position. Instead… he voted against making Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday…

As recently as September 1999, McCain said that choosing whether to fly the Confederate flag ‘should be left to the states,’ and that ‘personally, I see the flag as a symbol of heritage.”

-- Excerpted from Chapter Eight (pages 118-119)

Ever since the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination turned ugly, all the attention has focused on the nasty, protracted battle between Obama and Clinton, with the candidates’ every misstatement, association and peccadillo being dissected and examined under the media microscope. Meanwhile, the presumptive Republican nominee has been enjoying a free pass.

However, people shouldn’t assume that, just because no one’s critically assessing John McCain’s resume’, his voting record and checkered past don’t deserve every bit as much scrutiny. Fortunately, political commentator Cliff Schecter agrees, and he’s written a revealing expose’ about the hot-headed senior senator from Arizona.

In the interest of equal time, his book, The Real McCain, deserves serious consideration by any citizen who believes in the Fairness Doctrine, because it reveals numerous rather disconcerting factoids about the war hero with designs on the White House. For instance, speaking of his stint in the Hanoi Hilton, are you aware that he cooperated with the enemy while being held in a POW camp? George Bush let that cat out of the bag when running against him back in 2000.

We learn that during that same campaign the Bush camp claimed that McCain had a black love child with a mistress. If true, the infidelity wasn’t the big news, since he’d already taken full responsibility for the failure of his first marriage, admitting to cheating on his wife after she was seriously injured in an auto accident. 

But he didn’t say with whom. McCain having Jungle Fever would be noteworthy primarily because “his great-grandfather was a slaveholder who fought and died for the Confederacy,” and he had followed in his forefather’s steps by faithfully voting against African-American interests. So, just like segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, a mulatto skeleton in the closet would mean McCain was another racist hypocrite masking his having the hots for black women.

Chock full of shocking indiscretions ranging from all of the above to allegations of bribe-taking, war profiteering, backstabbing, flip-flopping and even angry calling his wife a [C-word] in front of the press, The Real McCain is a book likely to take the bloom off the rose of a man whose past might otherwise remain unchallenged between the present and the general election.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Real-McCain-Conservatives-Independents-Shouldnt/dp/0979482291/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208267499&sr=8-1

posted May 11, 2008

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Don't Blame It on Rio: The Real Deal Behind Why Men Go to Brazil for Sex

by Jewel Woods and Karen Hunter 

Grand Central Publishing

Hardcover, $23.99

304 pages

ISBN: 978-0-446-17806-3

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Book Review by Kam Williams

“Black women were once at the center of black men’s lives, as wives, mothers, lovers and partners… However, in this generation, black women have become somewhat of a nuisance, a burden, and perhaps even a pariah in black men’s lives…

For the first time ever, large and growing numbers of black men have the option to ask what they perceive to be a legitimate question: Are black women necessary?

This book is not only going to deal with the question ‘Are black women necessary?’ It will also take a look at the broader question of why black men are looking for something they think is outside black women.”

Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 2-8)

Did you know that Brazil, the country with the largest concentration of people of African descent in the Western hemisphere, has become the favorite vacation destination of a rapidly-increasing number of professional black men? Apparently, they’re flocking to Rio de Janeiro for more than a little rest and relaxation on a sun-drenched beach.

The country is now also a popular port of call with bourgie brothers due to the easy availability of beautiful Brazilian women (“Halle Berry on steroids”) who don’t have the attitude or emotional baggage they generally find attached to sisters back at home. Some of them describe attaining “a level of physical and sexual intimacy, a sort of sexual healing, that they see as lacking in many of their current relationships with black women.” Consequently, they don’t mind having to venture to Rio de Janeiro repeatedly for “an experience that they think are denied them by black women in America.”

We have Jewel Woods and Pulitzer Prize-winner Karen Hunter to thank for blowing the covers off this clandestine sex trade currently flourishing in Brazil. For these two investigative journalists interviewed dozens of the peripatetic African-American men, many leading double lives, in preparation for co-writing Blame It on Rio, a rather revealing look at an emerging cultural phenomenon,.

And exactly why is this generation of black men with money so fond of Brazilian women? The authors blame a variety of contributing factors. First, the fact that they grew up watching hip-hop music on BET which groomed them to expect a rainbow coalition of gorgeous models eager to satisfy. And that utopian fantasy is just a plane ride away, since “Going to Rio is like walking into a rap video: scantily clad women, gyrating and fawning over every man in sight.”

Another factor is addressed by an African-American physician who found salvation in Rio from sisters’ bad attitudes in the States. He asks point blank, “Where else in the world is a black woman’s attitude accepted as the social norm, except in America?”

Next, the issue of anger is raised, with the observation that, “In complete contrast to the warm and affectionate demeanor of Latin American women, the most prominent characteristic of black women is anger.” Here, Woods and Hunter again blame the entertainment industry for causing black men to view their women with contempt by perpetuating the mammy stereotype by having “Tyler Perry, Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy “ put on a fatsuit and a dress to solidify “the image of the fat, loud, rude black woman.”

Other chapters explore widespread rejection of black women over their frigidity, obesity and Christianity. The participants in the project are so relentless and rabid on their indictment of the African-American female, I couldn’t help but pause periodically to wonder whether this was all a joke, since I’ve never previously heard anyone mention Rio as a sexual retreat.

Despite all of the dissing, the authors are ultimately optimistic about black male-female relationships, though they suggest that professional brothers are in dire need of an extreme makeover. They close with a list of “Ten Things Black Women Need and Want,” including understanding and truth.

A controversial expose’ about a shocking trend likely to divide and devastate the Hip Hop Generation along gender lines in the absence of constructive conversation capable of paving the path to honesty and reconciliation.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Blame-Rio-Behind-Brazil/dp/0446178063/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207058419&sr=8-1 

For a photo of the authors, visit: http://www.jewelwoods.com/

And: http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/news/facultynews/karenhunter.jpg

posted May 11, 2008

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Ghetto Nation: A Journey into the Land of the Bling and the Home of the Shameless

by Cora Daniels
 

Doubleday

Hardcover, $23.95

222 pages

ISBN: 978-0-385-51643-3

Book Review by Kam Williams 

“Ghetto no longer refers to where you live, it is how you live. It is a mind-set… a mind-set that thinks the M words -- monogamy and marriage – are bad language… a mind-set that thinks it is fine to bounce, baby, bounce in some video, as if that makes it different from performing such a display on a table, on a pole, on some john’s lap, or on the corner.

Most of all, ghetto is a mind-set that embraces the worst. It is the embodiment of expectations that have gotten dangerously too low.”

Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 5-6) 

Have you ever visited the website Hot Ghetto Mess? (http://www.hotghettomess.com/hgm/index.asp) It’s a site dedicated to black bad taste which posts hilarious photos and videos of girls and guys gone ghetto. Now Cora Daniels has written a book about the troubling phenomenon in which she bemoans the fact that ghetto style is no longer limited to folks living in the slums.

Ms. Daniels, who herself lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, argues that ghetto is now a state of mind which has been exported to the mainstream with the help of gangsta rap videos. This entertaining tome is as funny as it is cautionary, points out plenty of indications that you know you’ve gone ghetto.

Some samples include wearing a do-rag to school or court, speaking grammatically incorrect English, sporting gold caps on your teeth, driving a pimped-out automobile, and using the N-word or ho. The author argues that the adherents of this lifestyle are selling themselves short, since one’s academic and employment prospects aren’t very good when you don’t aspire to be the best you can be.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear Daniels side with Bill Cosby against the Hip-Hop Generation in the African-American culture wars, although she makes a point of never blaming the poor for their plight. Thus, she studiously avoids the trap which snares so many conservative pawns seen as stigmatizing those unfortunates trapped in the never ending cycle of poverty.

Rather, Ghetto Nation’s primary thesis, convincingly articulated, equates ghetto with self hate because it typically inspires those degenerates stuck under its spell to embrace the lowest common denominator and to exhibit the worst of traits found in humanity.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Ghettonation-Journey-Into-Bling-Shameless/dp/0385516436/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1206479299&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.aolcdn.com/ch_bv/cora-daniels-335a041707.jpg

Or: http://www.coradaniels.com/images/photo-cora-daniels.jpg

posted May 11, 2008

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Standing Tall:  A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph

by C. Vivian Stringer
 

Crown Publishers

Hardcover, $24.95

304 pages

ISBN: 978-0-307-40609-5


Book Review by Kam Williams

“As much as I love basketball… it has always been a vehicle for me to instill values and self-respect in the girls I coach… I am the last stop before the young women I coach take their place in society, and it is a responsibility I take seriously. My goal is to give them the confidence to dream big and the skills to overcome any challenges they face, whether it’s under the basket or in the boardroom.

For thirty years, my mission has been to create the next generation of leaders… My hope is that they will come to share my fundamental and unshakable faith: that each and every one of us has the ability to triumph in the face of adversity, to lift ourselves up and succeed, no matter what trials we encounter. It is a faith that has been tested many times in my own life.           

            -- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 2)

When Don Imus referred to the young women on the Rutgers University Basketball Team as “nappy headed-hos” a year ago, it deeply affected their coach, Vivian Stringer. As she relates in her heartbreaking autobiography, she “couldn’t shake the feeling that I had fallen down in my responsibility to protect these girls.”

So, a couple of weeks later, with the media fallout still building in intensity, she called a press conference in defense of her student athletes who should’ve been celebrated instead of humiliated after their surprising run to the NCAA Championship game. What almost nobody knew is that while Stringer was in the limelight last April, she was also privately battling breast cancer at the time. On to top of that, her mother suffered a stroke in the midst of the controversy.

Sadly, this was not the first time that the Coach Stringer had been tested in this fashion. In 1981, her daughter, Nina’s spinal meningitis had been misdiagnosed by a pediatrician as a common cold. Consequently, her daughter would never be able to walk or talk. Then, in her early forties, Stringer was widowed when her husband died unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their three kids alone.

These are just a few of the host of woes visited upon Vivian Stringer over the course of a terribly tragic life which reads a lot like the Biblical tale of Job. Poignantly written without a whit of bitterness, Standing Tall is as moving a memoir as I ever remember reading. The tears started flowing from the first page and didn’t stop till I finished the book.

Priceless pearls of wisdom from a true role model eminently worth emulating.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Standing-Tall-Memoir-Tragedy-Triumph/dp/0307406091/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205847625&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.scarletknights.com/basketball-women/coaches/stringer.html

posted May 11, 2008

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Life as a Single Mom: It Isn’t Easy, or Is It?
10 Steps to Achieving Success as a Single Mom

by Stephanie M. Clark
  

MDK Media, Inc.

Paperback, $15.00

180 pages, illustrated

ISBN: 978-1-60402-447-0


Book Review by Kam Williams

“’Being a single mom isn’t easy,’ is something I hear constantly over and over throughout my travels, and I mostly hear it from people who are not single moms. It sometimes feels like they pity me and other single moms.

It is not that I haven’t gone through trials and tribulations. But… my struggles have never really been the result of being a single mom, but rather, choices I have made as a woman. This is why I have written this book. I want to empower single moms by giving them the tools to become fulfilled single women. And I want to enlighten people who tend to pity single moms.”span> -- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 2-3)

According to the latest statistics, over 70% of all black children are born out of wedlock and about 80% will spend most of their childhood without a father figure in the house. This means that most of the child-raising in the African-American community will continue for the foreseeable future to fall on the shoulders of the black woman.

For this reason, a book like Life as a Single Mom is arriving at an optimal moment in history, given that it was written by a seasoned single mom of 15 years. Stephanie Clark is also the founder of My Daughter’s Keeper, a non-profit organization created “to provide support and resources to mothers/caregivers and daughters (ages 8-19).”

Not only is Ms. Clark a single mom herself, but she was the youngest of 13 kids raised by a single mother. Part of the author’s purpose in writing this valuable how-to handbook is to help the next generation end the self-destructive cycle of babies making babies which has ensnared many a family for as long as any of its members can remember.

Besides sharing her own and her mom’s personal tales of survival, Clark calls upon dozen of friends, colleagues and acquaintances to relate their case histories in a free flowing anecdotal fashion. What the women appear to have in common is that rather than seeking sympathy for the hard road they’ve had to walk without a partner, they simply seem to want to announce triumphantly how they have sacrificed, persevered and flourished in spite of the often daunting odds.

Still, some of the stories will tug at your heartstrings, such as the sister whose much older boyfriend, now incarcerated, “impregnated me on purpose,” even though “he already had two children.” Just as unfortunate is the plight of the pregnant teenager whose baby-daddy reacted to the news that he was going to be a father by saying, “he felt sorry for me because I hadn’t lived and I was going to miss out on life.” 

Yet, these same strong females don’t seem at all bitter about having been abandoned, most without any help in the way of child support or shared custody. And they have sound advice about how to avoid landing in their predicament.

Basically, it amounts to the age-old maxim “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

However, accidents will continue to happen because girls will be girls, if you can believe a quote cited in the book claiming that a woman’s sexual appetite is four times that of a man’s. That’s where Ms. Clark’s “10 Steps to Achieving Success as a Single Mom” come into play.

In the end, most of the tome’s contributors credit God for filling the void left by their absentee sperm donors. Typical spiritual comments read like this entry by the author’s mom, Elsie Robertson: “You may think you are alone to raise your children, but you are not alone. Just remember that God is always with you and He will help you raise your children.”

Amen.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Life-As-Single-Mom-Isnt/dp/160402447X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205240064&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.projectsinglemoms.com/images/STEPHANIE_M._CLARK_MEDIA_KIT.pdf (page 8)

Or: http://www.mdkmediainc.com/images/138_StephanieBackPhoto_1_2_.jpg

posted May 11, 2008

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Get Real, Get Rich: Conquer the 7 Lies Blocking You from Success

by Dr. Farrah Gray

Dutton

Hardcover, $24.95

270 pages

ISBN: 978-0-525-95044-8


Book Review by Kam Williams
 

“News flash: There’s no such thing as automatic wealth -- at least not in the real world. Of course some people will have you believe that wealth starts with a way of thinking and then moves effortlessly toward real wealth.

In this book I challenge you to move beyond the conversation and really grab at your accomplishments. I’m not only going to share the mindset you need to achieve all that you dream of, but also the specific strategies that accompany that state of mind...

What’s holding you back? The answer to that question is what this book is about… You might be oblivious to the fears and fallacies that are thwarting you financially, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically… I want to help you marshal out your own wealth potential, which relates to everything about you – not just your bank account.”

n  Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xxii-xxiii) 

Thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey’s stamp of approval, The Secret has been enjoying a phenomenally run and is still sitting high on most best seller lists a couple of years after its 2006 release. That popular self-help book’s basic thesis is that positive thinking alone is enough to attract all the wealth, health and happiness you want. If only it were just that simple.

As a skeptic who questions the wisdom of relying on that philosophy, I’d guess that a lot more is probably involved in achieving one’s dreams than a mere attitude readjustment. So, I suspect that there are many devotees with buyer’s remorse who find themselves frustrated that the money hasn’t simply come pouring in after they adopted the mindset dictated by The Secret.

I digress at the outset only to contrast the approach of The Secret with that of Get Real, Get Rich. I call this refreshing alternative The Un-Secret, since its strategies are grounded in a reality-based recipe for success which is a combination of not only attitude but also skills and commitment.

Written by “Reallionaire” Dr. Farrah Gray, this relatively-feasible how-to guide is designed to empower individuals to maximize their potential, whatever that may be. However, in Dr. Gray’s opinion, this involves much more than chanting positive affirmations. So expect to do some serious work along the path to fulfilling your goals.

You might be wondering, Why should I listen to this author as opposed to the countless others offering advice about how to get rich? Perhaps because he speaks from experience. After all, he was raised in the ghetto on the South Side of Chicago by a single-mom, yet he still overcame the odds and made his first million dollars by the age of 14.

And as fascinating as this admirable wunderkind’s personal story is, it’s the practical ideas shared in Get Real, Get Rich which make the book worthwhile. For Farrah, now 23, exhibits a wisdom beyond his years, and an infectious eagerness to inspire others to outdo him in terms of achievement.

For example, in a chapter entitled, The Money Lie, he emphasizes the importance of living below your means, in order to avoid going broke. While that sage insight might seem to some like common sense, taking the notion to heart is likely to make all the difference in your life.

What can I say about this exceptional role model except “I’m a believer!”

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Get-Real-Rich-Conquer-Blocking/dp/0525950443/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203425940&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.drfarrahgray.com/pictures.html

posted May 10, 2008

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Free Lunch:

How the Wealthiest Americans enrich Themselves  at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)

by David Cay Johnston 

Portfolio

Hardcover, $24.95

334 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59184-191-3


Book Review by Kam Williams

“The evidence of a growing divide between the superrich and everyone else in America is so overwhelming that all but the few lightweight ideologues among economists acknowledge this harsh truth... A national debate has arisen over just what is going on

Why are the rich getting so much richer, while the middle class struggles and the poor fall behind? Why are the richest of the rich – billionaires – pulling away even from those whose net worth is in the many millions? Is education behind increasing inequality, as the White House says?

In the pages ahead we will examine just how thoroughly government has become the servant of the rich… who owe their fortunes less to their enterprise than to the generosity of our Uncle Sam.”

-- Excerpted from Chapter Two (pages 22-24 

Those who don’t have their heads buried in the proverbial sand are well aware of the split state of the American economy. Increasingly, the nation has been divided into a land of “haves” and “have nots” where the middle class is rapidly eroding. Proof of this phenomenon is in evidence at every turn, from the profusion of real estate foreclosures, to the record number of folks filing for bankruptcy, to the skyrocketing salaries of corporate executives coming at the expense of employee benefits, to the tumbling value of the dollar, to the outsourcing of manufacturing and jobs overseas.

This disturbing trend is not the natural consequence of an honestly-operating free market, but rather the result of a rigged form of capitalism in which the government is employed to ensure that the rich get richer, and the poor poorer. David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, delineates many ways in which the game has been fixed since the rise of Reagan Era in Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill).

According to the author, “The rich and their lobbyists have taken firm control of the levers of power in Washington and the state capitals while remaking the rules in their own interests.” That development explains why we have politicians willing to spend millions while running for offices which, theoretically, will only pay them a relatively-modest six-figure salary.

The book covers an impressive range of topics in the course of painting an overall picture of runaway greed gone hopelessly out of control, all with no restraints anywhere on the horizon. Johnston points out that the escalating situation is eerily similar to that which prevailed during the Roaring Twenties, just prior to the onset of Great Depression.

Labeling the country’s current predicament as a state of tyranny, given the flagrant abuses of authority, he concludes by calling for the masses to assert their sovereignty via a mandate to reinstate legitimate checks and balances. An excellent expose’ which deserves to be read by any concerned patriot hoping to help America avoid the impending financial collapse.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Free-Lunch-Wealthiest-Themselves-Government/dp/1591841917/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207671133&sr=8-1

posted April 8, 2009

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A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama And Why He Can’t Win

by Shelby Steele 

Free Press

Hardcover, $22.00
158 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4165-5917-7 


Book Review by Kam Williams

“Louis Armstrong adapted a mask that came out of the black minstrel tradition… It communicated to white audiences that Louis Armstrong would entertain them but not presume to be their equal. The relentlessly beaming smile, the handkerchief dabbing away the sweat, the reflexive bowing, the exaggerated humility and graciousness- all this signaled that he would not breach the manners of segregation, the propriety that required him to be both cheerful and less than fully human…

What is exceptional about Barack Obama is the same thing that was exceptional about Louis Armstrong. Neither man discovered a new way for society to racially arrange itself. But both men found a way to capture the goodwill of whites in a way that facilitated their lives and careers.”
-- Excerpted from pages 61 and 127.

Only last year, I saw a movie in which characters seriously speculated about whether the United States would elect a robot or a black President first. Regardless of the answer, the intended
message was that the country was nowhere near ready to vote for an African-American. 

Nevertheless, Barack Obama has managed to mount a competitive campaign for the Democratic nomination. And, should he succeed in defeating Hillary Clinton in that endeavor, the only question left will be whether he can win in November.

Already weighing-in with an answer is Professor Shelby Steele, public intellectual, black conservative and author of such books as The Content of Our Character and White Guilt. Steele, like Obama, has a black father and a white mother, so he presumes to understand Barack’s mindset better than most of us.

It is his contention that the Junior Senator cannot ascend to the presidency because he is a two-faced phony, since “he cannot be himself without hurting himself politically.” According to Steele, “With blacks he is a protester carrying forward the care’s cause; with whites he is the ‘one people’ unifier, minimizing the importance of racial difference.”

Consequently, he’s a “bound man,” a hypocritical opportunist more interested in exploiting the status quo “to move himself ahead, not to advance a new configuration of race relations.” Certainly, such incendiary allegations would be easier to stomach if it weren’t coming from an African-American
who’s also a darling of the right-wing Republican Establishment.

That being said, the book does offer an intriguing theory about a dilemma faced by blacks trying to assimilate into the mainstream. It claims that African-Americans seeking such success must adopt one of two masks: either that of “The Bargainer” or that of “The Challenger.”

Bargainers strike this deal with white society: “I will not use America’s horrible history of white racism against you, if you will promise not to use my race against me.” Examples Steele gives of Bargainers are Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey.

Challengers, by contrast, leverage guilt to get power, indicting whites as inherently racist “until they do something to prove otherwise." The author says Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are your average Challengers.

The problem for Obama, and why he can never become President, supposedly, is that he behaves a Bargainer, a latter-day Satchmo, in front of whites, but more like a challenger when trying to appease blacks. In sum, Shelby Steele makes a persuasive case in "A Bound Man", yet in my mind
there remains the distinct possibility that there might be a third type of black person, and maybe that’s precisely why so many folks of every hue find something about Barack so appealing.

For cover photo, visit:
http://www.amazon.com/Bound-Man-Excited-About-Obama/dp/1416559175/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1
?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202144219&sr=8-1

For a photo of the author, visit: http://www.hoover.org/bios/steele.html

posted February 28, 2008

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Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past

by Bruce Bartlett 

Palgrave Macmillan

Hardcover, $26.95
284 pages

ISBN: 978-0-230-60062-1 


Book Review by Kam Williams
 

“It must be acknowledged that in the progress of the nations Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, whenever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism…

Of all the dangers which our nation has yet encountered, none are equal to those which must result from the success of the effort now making to Africanize the half of our country.”

President Andrew Johnson, State of the Union Address (1867)

Although the Democratic Party has come to be associated with liberal politics and thus embraced by African-Americans over the past 40 years or so, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for most of its history, the party created by Thomas Jefferson has been uniformly racist and right-wing.

Despite being famous for coining the phrase, “All men are created equal,” Jefferson also asserted that blacks “are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” The hypocritical third President of the United States went on to allege that “They secrete less by the kidneys, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odor... They require less sleep… They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation… In general… they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

This bigoted Founding Father is credited with formulating “the most intense, extensive and extreme” anti-black thought of the post-Revolutionary Era.” So, it should come as no surprise that in his will he chose to free only 5 of his 200+ slaves after his death. Subsequent Democratic presidents were just as intolerant. For instance, plantation owner Andrew Jackson saw slavery as “the necessary foundation” of American civilization, if whites were to maintain their quality of life economically.

When James K. Polk took over the White House in 1845, he fired the existing domestic and kitchen staff and replaced them with slaves. Politically, Polk declared in his 1848 Statue of the Union Address that Congress had no power to end slavery. This attitude was later only rubber-stamped by
fellow Democrat James Buchanan who, in 1857, hailed the Dred Scott Decision with, “Had it been decided that either Congress or the territorial legislature possess the power to annul or impair the right to property in slaves, the evil would be intolerable.”

 The very next year, during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas argued,  

“I hold that a Negro is not and never ought to be a citizen of the United States. I hold that this government was made… by the white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men and none others. I do not believe that the Almighty made the Negro capable of self-government… In my opinion, the signers of the Declaration of Independence had no reference to whatever to the Negro when they declared all men to have been created equal… thus, my friends, I am in favor of preserving the government on the white basis as our fathers made it.” 

Many forget how Republican Abraham Lincoln’s ill-advised choice of a Democrat as a running mate in 1864 gave John Wilkes Booth a good excuse to assassinate him For upon assuming the presidency, Andrew Johnson immediately began doing his best to ruin the Reconstruction effort by vetoing the Civil Rights Act and by repealing the Freedmen’s Bureau legislation guaranteeing each ex-slave 40 acres and a mule.

Worse, he allowed the Southern states to pass the repressive Jim Crow laws prohibiting blacks from voting, holding office, marrying whites, and so forth. With African-Americans denied the vote, this
signaled the demise of the Republican Party in the region, leading to the notion of the Solid South,meaning solidly Democratic. With no checks or balances, the next 100 years would be marked by widespread lynching, vigilantism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

Speaking of the Klan, did you know that Harry Truman joined it in 1924? Wrong on Race: The
Democratic Party’s Buried Past by Bruce Bartlett is stocked with tons of such shocking tidbits. And
while this illuminating tome might not make you shift your allegiance to the Republicans this election season, at the very least it ought to make you question the wisdom of remaining reflexively loyal to a party which has never officially apologized for its checkered past.

For cover photo, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Wrong-Race-Democratic-Partys-Buried/dp/
023060062X/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204037740&sr=8-1

posted February 26, 2008

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Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting

by Terrie M. Williams

Simon & Schuster

"How much does suffering from and living with addiction, incarceration, dirty neighborhoods, HIV,hypertension, violence, racism, and class discrimination make us vulnerable to depression in the Black community? How many of us are suffering from it and not able or willing to acknowledge it? Who is talking about it? What is our response? The silence is deafening…

Depression is a fact of Black life, but it doesn’t have to be a curse. And we don’t have to be ashamed to admit it. This book will speak openly about my own depression and share the experiences of other people, from celebrities to regular working folk, so that we can think in different ways about this condition – and about our options as Black people for dealing with it. More than anything, I want to open a dialogue. I want to give a voice to our pain and name it so we can make a space for our healing.                                                                                                                        

-- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages xxvi-xxvii)

African-American females are generally undervalued by this society, despite all the selfless sacrifices they routinely make at home, at work and in the community. Besides being overworked, they’re expected to behave like ever-available, accommodating sex machines or else risk being dismissed as undesirable and unfeminine.

Black men, meanwhile, have a host of their own pressures. Pigeonholed as dangerous, aggressive and angry, they have come to compensate for this stereotype by carefully cultivating a disarmingly cool, above-it-all demeanor. And, instead of developing a “language to talk about painful emotions,” most adopt a super-macho mask to survive.

Apparently, neither brothers nor sisters think of themselves as entitled even to feel their emotional pain, much less address it. This is the thesis postulated by Terrie M. Williams in Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting. Ms. Williams, a licensed clinical social worker, opens her groundbreaking text with a revealing discussion of her own bottoming-out following years as a highly-functioning workaholic plunged deeply in denial about her depression. The author subsequently supplements that very personal story with empathetic illustrations of additional case histories of what she argues amounts to an unspoken epidemic currently raging in black America.

By book’s end, Ms. Williams is most persuasive, and achieves her basic aim, namely, to acknowledge that life is hard in the ‘hood, that people are suffering from depression as a consequence, and that the time has arrived to remove the stigma in the community still attached to seeking out psychological help. A convincing call for African-Americana to trade in a harmful cultural stoicism for some overdue mental health treatment.

posted February 20, 2008

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