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. 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

 Wonder Woman is the single most popular super heroine of all time. She is one of only three super heroic figures, along with Superman and Batman, to stay continuously in print from the Golden Age to now. However, the inside story of her creator, her creation and her first several years as a super heroine have never been told up until now.

Although readers were told that Wonder Woman was created by a man named "Charles Moulton," the real creator was a shrink named William Moulton Marston. Despite having been born into a socially prominent family and gaining a Harvard education, Marston's life prior to the creation of Wonder Woman was basically a series of ups and downs. A saga of opportunities lost due to his poorly thought out actions.

Marston was born to an opulent, socially prominent family. Like so many others in his family, he went to Harvard. There he took up psychology as his course of study.

Psychology was an interesting choice given how the stereotype is that Psych majors choose that subject because they want to find out just why they are so screwed up. Certainly Marston himself was a worthy subject for psychological study.

Marston was also a pervert. As a college professor he traded high grades for sex. One of his female students, Olive Byrne, became his live-in mistress. Marston fathered children with two different women simultaneously. He also threw all sorts of sex parties. Marston especially delighted in bondage and prided himself on his knowledge of how to to tie women up and how to put them in chains, among other things. Marston used this knowledge in creating Wonder Woman and in the scripts for the comic book stories about this super-heroine. It is really striking in just how many of Marston's scripts that Wonder Woman falls into bondage at the hands of the bad guys. You would think that someone with such super powers would not have this happen to them on a regular basis. Lepore claims that Wonder Woman was a"Progressive Era feminist." If that's really true, then the feminists back then must have been a bunch of perverts who were really into bondage. IN fact, one of the more interesting revelations in this book is the extent to which Marston fought the management at DC Comics to be able to subject Wonder Woman to as many bondage scenes as that evil little black thing in his chest that he called a "heart" desired.

What we have here is a poorly organized book and one that contains a great deal of material that is completely irrelevant to Wonder Woman. There is almost nothing about the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show. This book is a disappointment given Lepore's reputation, but even the best among us mess up from time to time. 

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More Book Reviews

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The Lost Tomb of King Arthur by Graham Phillips

 Normally, the writers of popular history books just simply rely on the scholarship of academic historians while writing their popularizations of historical subjects. However, the British author Graham Phillips actually does his own scholarly research and shares his methods, evidence, and conclusions with his readers. In the hands of most historians, the investigation into whether or not there really was a King Arthur would be deadly dull. However, Phillips's recent book, The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, is both an enjoyable and fascinating read. Phillips is able to take the subject of what happened in Britain after the Roman legions withdrew and how the Angles, Jutes and the Saxons came to Britain. Phillips makes full use of the scanty source materials including linguistic analysis of ancient languages. By the time this book ends, all but the most skeptical readers will be satisfied that not only has Phillips just which historical personage was the individual who became remembered as King Arthur but that we also know where his tomb is located.

The key to Phillips's success in unraveling this historical mystery is that he approached the King Arthur stories and legends with an open mind and discovered that a fair amount of the legends are reasonably accurate. He presented his evidence in a way that most readers will be able to comprehend. The end result is an easily understandable scholarly mystery history story. Even if you do not accept his conclusions, the simple fact is that Phillips presented a great deal of material relating to Dark Ages British and Welsh history and his book is well worth reading for that information alone. For instance, one of the sources that Phillips used was the 9th Century monk and historian Nennius.

This book gave a realistic explanation to who King Arthur may have been. This book was very historical and as such, it was difficult to put it down. Readers will find it easy to become engrossed in the author's quest to discover who King Arthur really was and where he may be buried. This book is well recommended to anyone who is interested in Arthurian legend. This book is most useful as a handbook that compares different early historians and Arthurian romance authors.

Phillips points out that Dark Ages chroniclers often preserved reliable information concerning the late Western Roman Empire and the early days of the invitations of the barbarians known as the Angles, Jutes, and the Saxons. Phillips shows how the later Medieval writer Geoffrey of Monmouth took stories about the Welsh bard Myrddin Wyllt and turned him into Merlin. Phillips also shows how Geoffrey of Monmouth took earlier legends and turned them into the idea that there was an island called Avalon. Phillips also shows how the alleged Voyage of St. Brendan across the Atlantic was based on the legendary voyage of a man named Bran.

The interesting thing about Graham Phillips is that there are a great many people who consider him to be a real-life Indiana Jones on account of his travels and researches. Phillips does not call himself that, preferring to call himself a historical researcher and author. Phillips has written a number of very good books on subjects including the Ark of the Covenant, the Knights Templars and the 16th Century BC eruption of the volcano Thera. He has also written a well-regarded book on the subject of whether or not Alexander the Great was murdered.

The Lost Tomb of King Arthur is an excellent work of historical detection by Graham Phillips and as such, it is heartily recommended. 

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

 

Whether it be as a journalist or novelist, Douglas Preston has been one of the leading writers of archaeology out there. Over the years, Preston has written a great many articles for many of the leading magazines published in America. He has also written a sizable number of well-regarded nonfiction books and novels. In his new book The Lost City of the Monkey God (Grand Central Publishing 2017), recounts the expedition that he helped put together and lead into Honduras to find the legendary city that is generally known as either the White City or as the City of the Monkey God.


The reviews of Lost City of the Monkey God were uniformly positive. Booklist called it “captivating” and Kirkus declared it “another winner.”


There was ample reason for all this praise. This was a book that was about the Lost City of the Monkey God. It was also a book that was about the White City. Actually, both of these cities are one and the same although, at the start of Preston's research, there appeared to be two different lost cities. This is a solid book about archaeology that is backed up by solid sourcing. It is also a solid description of what actually goes on during an archaeological expedition into the dark, dense jungle of Honduras.


Preston preceded the writing of this book with the publication if a widely acclaimed article on the same subject in National Geographic in 2015.  Preston's book was about the search for a lost civilization in Central America. The city in question had been buried for over 500 years. Preston makes a convincing case that the city was decimated by the spread of disease following contact with the Europeans leading to the civilization's collapse.

Preston has been involved in the search for the White City ever since he first wrote about it for The New Yorker. Subsequent to that, Preston met Steve Elkins, a latter-day adventurer, who has been obsessed with finding the city and its lost civilization. Afterward, Preston spent a lot of time with Elkins and wrote about his experiences for both the National Geographic and The New Yorker. Preston accompanied Elkins and his stalwart crew on the final expedition to find the mystery city. On this quest, Preston came down with a deadly disease that is likely to shorten his lifespan.


That Preston came down with such a disease is ironic in view of the number of pages that Preston spent on the topic of the epidemics and pandemics that the European invaders brought with them to the New World.  It is estimated that smallpox and other dreaded diseases killed off as many as 90% of the native Indian population during the 16th Century.  It was disease, not superior weaponry, that enabled the Spanish conquests in the New World.


One problem that Preston noted was the lack of information concerning the White City that existed outside Honduras.  Also, the fact that most of what was actually published about it, on such places as Wikipedia, was pretty erroneous.  There has been quite a bit of misinformation written about the White City and the problem only gets worse, which is one big reason why Preston wrote his book.


Another problem that Preston noted was the sheer jealousy of Steve Elkins and his ability to find both the resources and get the official permits from the Honduran government needed to undertake the expedition on the part of many academics.  These academics gave the impression that they believed that the only people qualified to undertake such an archaeological quest were academics such as themselves.  These were pretty strange criticisms given the fact that these same academics pretty much stayed in their air-conditioned offices and failed to mount any archaeological digs themselves.  If anything, all they ever did was just cast aspersions on anyone who was interested in actively finding the truth behind the legend of the White City.  Preston rightfully took issue with this criticism, pointing out the erroneous assumptions behind many of them such as the factually challenged Facebook postings by the otherwise obscure University of Kansas academic John Hoopes.


Since the publication of this interesting book, the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, has embraced the newly discovered White City as the key to creating a vibrant tourism industry in that county. Hernández has also made the uncovering of the last civilization of pre-Columbus Honduras a top priority.  Several archaeological expeditions have been sent out in just the past few years and even more exciting discoveries have been made.  There have been several documentaries made about the discoveries and one of these, on the National Geographic Channel, had a reported 60 million viewers in 15 countries.


Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston is an exceptional book about both the history and archaeology of the Eastern Honduras region known as Mosquitia.  It is a book that students of the increasingly explored lost civilization that predated the coming of Christopher Columbus will be consulting for years to come.

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