Book Reviews

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Bad Mags 2: The Strangest, Sleaziest, and Most Unusual Periodicals Ever Published by Tom Brinkmann

 

Are you a person who is interested in the sleazier side of things? If so, then this is the book for you. Bad Mags Vol. 2: The Strangest, Sleaziest, and Most Unusual Periodicals Ever Published is a masterpiece by one Tom Brinkmann who has been interested in magazines and tabloids of this sort of stuff. Miraculously, he has been able to keep his collection intact over the years so he could share pictures of these periodicals with his readers. The publications in this particular volume mainly concerned the murder of Sharon Tate by the so-called "Manson Family," Punk Rock zines as well as True Crime magazines and zines covering the Occult.  Of special interest in thee latter category were magazines covering devil worship and the so-called Wicca religion such as the Satana magazine.



 

Of special interest is the chapter about Myron Fass who Brinkmann calls
the "Demon God of Pulp," even though Fass never ever published any actual pulp magazines.  To a great extent, Fass specialized in one-shot magazines as well as lurid headlines such as "Bullets and Bagels Don't Mix."  Fass was also a liberal who was a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association who was a stalwart opponent of gun control.  The chapter about Fass is a lot of fun and is worth the costs of getting the book all by itself.  Truly, Myron Fass was an outlaw of the publishing world. 



 The final chapter is devoted to the punk rock magazines of the mid-1970's 
through the early 1980's. It was these magazines that established punk
rock as being something distinctly different from mainstream rock and roll
music.   It was here that Myron Fass and his crew really distinguished themselves, offering up what were the best magazines that covered punk rock.  



 

This is a great work of the history of popular culture in the United States concerning the time from the early 1960's through the early 1980's and as such is well recommended.  

It's A Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps Edited by Adam Parfrey

 

Originally, It's a Man's World was published in 2003 to critical acclaim.  It also has some essays about those same magazines.  What this book did was bring to attention a forgotten genre of popular magazine publishing that had pretty much gone extinct nearly three decades earlier.  


From the early 1950's through the mid-1970's, there was an allegedly
nonfictional genre of magazine publishing that catered to men. These were the men's adventure magazines that offered their readers the wildest stuff that was available on the newsstands. These magazines claimed that all of their articles were
real life experiences of actual soldiers, but in reality almost all of it was made up by hack writers.


Although these magazines have been largely forgotten, they did play a
central role in our culture. For instance, one of Frank Zappa's most famous albums was entitled "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!"  What most people don't know is that that headline came from the cover of the September 1956 issue of Man's Life over a painting of a man being attacked by vicious weasels.  


Generally, these magazines were called "adventure magazines," these publications with names such as  American ManhoodChallenge for Men and True West enjoyed their heyday from the early 1950's through the early 1970's.  The titles of these magazines constantly used words such as Real and True as if that made their all too often fictional contents appear to be true. The customer base for these magazines were World War II veterans, many of whom had served in the rear areas, who enjoyed boasting and bragging about their alleged exploits during the Great War.  For the book's editor and publisher Adam Parfrey, they're worth looking at today because "they tell us so much about American working-class fears, desires and wet dreams."  This book includes a number of essays by the artists, editors and writers, who created the magazines. 


 The bulk of the contents of this book are the reproduced covers of these magazines.  Quite often these covers will make your jaw drop at the sheer brazen  political incorrectness of it all.  Many of these covers are also unintentionally humorous.


There are, however, some drawbacks to this book.  For instance, this book failed to cover any of the interior art that appeared in these magazines.  This art was often better than the cover art since they did not use garish colors. Additionally, there hardly any of the articles from these magazines.  Another problem is that in his introductions to the sections in this book, editor Adam Parfrey seems to imply that the art in these magazines should only be considered from a Politically Correct point of view and condemned for not going by contemporary notions of Political Corrrectness (PC).

This is most disappointing since Parfrey has been a stalwart opponent of PC on other subjects.  He failed to make his case for pushing the PC viewpoint

concerning these classic works of artistic America.  



Another drawback is that the book's texts continually refer to the magazines in question as being "pulp magazines."  In reality most of these magazines were 

published on slick paper with a conventional magazine format.



There are other problems with this book including the lack of an index at the back of the book.  If you want to look up covers done by a particular artist, it is impossible.  The same goes for subjects mentioned in the text of the book.  The book also failed to bring up the two main reasons for why these magazines went out of business.  The first

was that in the early 1970's, the editors and publishers misjudged their readers and switched their magazines over to pornography, alienating much of their audience.  Also, the 

largest publisher of these magazines, Magazine Management (MM), went out of business in 1975.  There were two reasons for this event that the book fails to mention.  The first 

was an ill-fated expansion into comic books under the Atlas-Seaboard banner.  The second was the fact that in that same year, there was a massive, long running Canadian paper workers

strike that severely constricted paper supplies and lead to large numbers of magazines dying off.  


 Basically, the value of It's A Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines, The Postwar Pulps is that it serves as an introduction to the subject of men's adventure magazines as well as a fascinating look at the popular culture of the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. Unfortunately, there has been but little follow up on the subject despite the sales success of this book. What this means is that if you are drawn to this kind of material, and have an interest in researching and writing it, you should have a decent shot at putting together your own book about his subject. That being the case, this book is warmly recommended.  

The Sparrow and the Hall by Donald Mace Williams

 

The purpose of historical fiction is to educate the reader in historical fact.  There are dangers that authors need to be mindful such as the work being dull or flashy/trashy or being flat-out inaccurate.  One recent historical novel that succeeds in teaching history in an interesting way is “The Sparrow and the Hall” by Donald Mace Williams.  This novel is set in 7th Century Northumbria in what is today Southern Scotland and Northern England.  This novel shows how willing the peasantry was in changing their religion according to the dictates of whoever happened to be the king.  Even when Christianity was the official religion, there were great controversies such as the dating of Easter that divided the populace.  This is an aspect of Dark Ages life that is convincingly integrated in the story.  The novel is unusual in that it is about a churl (peasant), named Edgar and his family, instead of a thane (non-heriditary noble lord) or a member of the clergy.


After reading “The Sparrow and the Hall”, you have a real feel for what the life of a peasant was like during Dark Ages in  Britain.  This is important as most historical novels ignore the vast majority of the population who were not well off or occupy positions of power and prestige.  The author includes not only the Anglo-Saxons, but also the Jutes, and the native Celtic population.   This book was especially convincing in the way it treated the way people changed their religion according to the dictates of whoever happened to be the king.  It also showed the kind of preparations that had to be made for launching military operations.  This is in contrast to all too many historical movies and novels that make it sound as if all the ruler has to do is decide to launch an attack, and just like that, the attack is made without any real preparations.


From the beginning, Edgar is both an interesting and engaging character.  His relationships with his wife, his children, and his thanes, most notably Keelwolf, are what drives the story.   You come to care very much about these characters.  Unlike all too many historical movies or even historical novels, these are not modern people wearing historical clothing.  You come to have an understanding of what 7th Century people were really like in their historical setting.  The title of the book is derived from a passage by the Dark Ages historian of England, the Venerable Bede.


If you're a fan of historical novels, then you should be willing to read a novel about a period and place that has rarely, if ever, been written about before in novel form.  At 188 pages, The Sparrow and the Hall is not one of those absurdly long works that all too many historical novels written these days are.  The time that you spend reading this book should give you some insights into daily life during the Dark Ages of ordinary people.  


 The Sparrow and the Hall comes well recommended

The Battle for Pusan: A Korean War Memoir By Addison Terry Novato, CA: Presidio Press 2000 233 pp.

 The Korean War appears to be America’s forgotten conflict. About the only time it is ever mentioned in the nation’s press is whenever North Korea acts up. Mention Pusan or for that matter the Pusan Perimeter, to Americans and hardly any of them will have any idea as to what you are talking about.  


This lack of interest has been manifested in many ways. There have been few movies ever made about the Korean War. Not too many books have been published about it either. The typical average public library has but few books about that particular conflict. Unlike the Civil War, the Vietnam War and World War II, there has never been a magazine published specializing in covering the Korean War. The only aspect of American popular culture that concerns the Korean War that is of any importance is the TV show M*A*S*H* that was about Rear Echelon Military Forces (REMF’s) who were generally considered as slackers by the troops on the front lines. M*A*S*H* was a show that, at best, gave viewers a really distorted picture about what the Korean War was like or what it was all about.  


One aspect of the Korean War that been particularly forgotten is the opening stages of the conflict during the run up to the decisive Inchon Operation that resulted in the disintegration of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA). In early 1950, the U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson made a speech in which he specifically excluded South Korea from the United States’ zone of defense against potential Communist aggression in Asia. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson presided over what amounted to unilateral disarmament. The end result of these actions by the chief underlings of President Harry S. Truman was the emboldening of Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin to have the North Koreans invade South Korea.  


When North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th 1950, the United States was totally unprepared for war. Secretary Johnson’s policies had resulted in the U.S. Army being no stronger in 1950 than it was just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. troops that were nearest South Korea were occupation troops of the U.S. Eighth Army.  


All of the units in the Eighth Army were seriously under full strength with the units lacking heavy equipment and weaponry. More ominously, most of the troops were not World War II veterans, but green kids who had never seen combat. Truly this was the optimal situation for Communist aggression.   


However, the NKPA messed things up. Instead of launching a concentrated coordinated attack aimed at the port city of Pusan, the Communists instead committed their forces piecemeal. On the Korean east coast the NKPA only made a modest effort. What this did was to enable the South Korean troops a chance to rally and organize stronger resistance. It also gave the U.S. forces that were sent to South Korea an opportunity to build up strength. On top of that, the NKPA failed to understand that the Eighth Army troops were underequipped and undermanned and that the troops were mostly green kids who had never seen any combat. The NKPA leadership believed that they were facing strong, well equipped veteran troops and this helped make the Communists even more cautious.


  One of the nonveteran soldiers who were sent to South Korea was young Addison Terry who was originally assigned to the 8th Field Artillery Regiment. As part of his duties, Terry was posted to the 27th Regimental Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division. Most of Terry’s service in Korea was spent as a forward observer for the field artillery. Time and time again, Terry and other observers were able to direct artillery fire at NKPA concentrations that disrupted the Communist’s offensive operations. It was during what turned out to be the final NKPA major offensive that Terry was shot in the hand and would up being taken out of the Korean War altogether.  


The Battle for Pusan is an excellent account of the desperate first few months of the Korean War that were spent on the Pusan Perimeter holding the line until the Eighth Army was able to mount the Inchon Operation that resulted in the destruction of the NKPA. Although the United States ultimately proved incapable of liberating all of Korea due to Chinese intervention, it was able to restore South Korea to more or less its original boundaries. The only drawback to this book is the lack of an index at the back of the volume. 

Colder than HELL: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir By Joseph R. Owen

 Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press 1996 237 pp. 



 Had the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir occurred in any other American war other than the Korean War, it would have been immortalized in the movies. The massive sacrifice and heroism shown by the 1st Marine Division despite overwhelming odds would have been an example for the youth of America to follow. Instead, it has been almost completely forgotten. 


 Joseph R. Owen was a platoon leader in that battle. When the invasion of North Korea by the United States Eighth Army began following the finish of the Inchon Campaign in which the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) was almost completely destroyed, his platoon had 42 men. By the time the campaign was over and the Eighth Army was in retreat from the Red Chinese hordes, there were only two of the original 42 men who had been neither killed nor wounded. That is a casualty rate of 95%.


  The Marines were heavily outnumbered by the Chinese right from the time that the Chinese leadership decided to enter the Korean War on the behalf of its luckless North Korean allies to prevent that country from being totally overrun by the Americans and their Republic of Korea (ROK) allies. The last thing that the likes of Chairman Mao wanted to see was a unified Korea on the banks of the Yalu River that was allied with the United States.  


Despite the massive numbers of the soldiers that the Chinese were able to bring to bear on the Eighth Army, the American side had some advantages that partly offset the imbalance and allowed the Marines to break out of the Chosin Reservoir encirclement by attacking in a different direction. The Marine Corps had superior training and equipment and were mostly World War II veterans. The Chinese troops were poorly equipped with shoes and clothing that was poorly suited for winter combat. All too many Chinese troops suffered unnecessarily from frostbite and perished from the harsh winter conditions. Another drawback for the Chinese was the fact that their commanders insisted on communicating with their troops by using bugles to signal whenever they were going to attack the Americans. Our troops were able to pick up the sounds of the bugles and, forewarned, were able to make the Chinese pay dearly whenever they made an attack. In every engagement fought between the Marines and the Chinese, Chinese casualties were far greater than the Marines. There were cases where the ground was literally covered by hundreds of dead Chinese soldiers.


  Colder than HELL: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir is a great book about an undeservedly little known battle in American history. The only drawback to it is the lack of an index at the end of the book.