Thursday, 30 July 2015

That, I Cannot Guarantee

Besides Homework

Definition: Monachopsis

Penguin Books

On this day in 1935, the very first Penguin paperbacks went on sale, the brainchild of publishing legend Allen Lane. Priced at sixpence, they made literature affordable for millions more.

Beyond Belief: The Catholic Church and the Child Abuse Scandal by David Yallop

Paperback:  Any adult male - be he a bishop or a man in any other walk of life - who did not know long before this scandal became public knowledge that grown men having sex with children is wrong and insidiously harmful to children is either an idiot or a liar or both.

Beyond Belief (2010) is an in-depth exposé of the child abuse scandal and why the Vatican tried to cover it up.  Part I is a verbatim reproduction of The Power and the Glory (2007).  Part 2 continues the story up to the late summer of 2010.

The child abuse scandal revealed the dark heart at the centre of the Catholic Church, and yet it is only recently that Pope Benedict XVI has begun to acknowledge any blame.  Since the papacy of John Paul II, there has been a continuous stream of revelations concerning the clerical abuse of children, and the initial denials from the Vatican have come to haunt them as the full extent of the abuse has come to light.

As of now, many people across the world would not allow an unaccompanied child to enter a Roman Catholic Church.

In two countries at least - there may be more - the unaccompanied child is safer than he or she has been for many decades.  Those countries are England and Wales.  The Nolan Report on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales was a major breakthrough, published in April 2001 with more than fifty recommendations to protect the potential victims.  The most important proposal of the report, one that was rapidly introduced, called for 'the creation of a national child protection unit within the Church to root out child abusers by vetting clergy, its lay staff and volunteers before they take up new posts'.

Another recommendation also swiftly implemented was the need for a annual public report.  The historical cover-up and suppression of the truth of clerical abuse is a thing of the past in England and Wales.  The figures for 2007, 2008 and 2009, however, confirm that we are far from an abuse-free society.

For 2007, a total of forty-six allegations were received that related to forty-four alleged abusers.  These cases involved fifty-three alleged victims.  Twenty-eight of these allegations related to clergy, a further four related to religious, with a further fourteen spread over a variety of categories:  female religious, volunteers, employees and parishioners.

For 2008, there were a total of fifty allegations that related to fifty-one alleged abusers, thirty of these were priests, with unspecified numbers of religious, volunteers, employees and parishioners making up the remainder.  Unlike in the vast majority of countries, the Catholic organisations in England and Wales quite rightly included alleged abuse cases allegedly perpetrated by people other than priests and members of the religious orders, thereby underlining the fact that sexual abusers are not drawn from just one section of society.

In 2009, there were forty-one allegations of abuse relating to forty-three alleged abusers and fifty-two victims.  The various safeguards now in place in England and Wales have significantly reduced the risk of clerical sexual abuse of children but, as the figures above demonstrate, there is still a significant distance to go before the ultimate goal is reached.  In a great many other countries, the situation is grim.

Beyond Belief covers many aspects of the issue:  the history, the lies and the secret system of cover-up that reached the highest levels and implicated, among others, the late Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI.  The financial cost to the United States Church alone since the conspiracy began to unravel in 1983 is $6 billion, and rising.  Over 10 000 accusations of abuse were documented in an official report and the Church has been forced to make compensation payments of over $3 billion.

The cost in Ireland is in excess of $2 billion.  It will cost the rest of the world at least another $2 billion.  The magnitude of the systematic abuse over seventy years has shown how even the head of the Church was involved in the protection of paedophiles.

The spiritual cost, however, is far greater.  Sexual abuse of any kind by a priest is an act that, not just physically, but spiritually is nothing less than the rape of a victim.  What follows will in parts not make for easy reading.  Neither did it make for easy research and writing.

David Yallop, leading investigator writer and best-selling author, reveals the appalling level of abuse within the Catholic Church, giving a voice to the victims - past, present and future - and calling for the truth to finally be told.

About the author:  David Yallop is one of the world's finest investigative writers.  In the course of his career, he has investigated some of the world's most powerful and dangerous men, including Saddam Hussein;  the Flight 103 bombers;  the Colombian drug cartels;  the Sicilian Mafia and the notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal, often uncovering truths that they had wanted to keep buried.  Every one of his books has exploded myths with electrifying precision.  In 1984, the international bestseller, In God's Name, revealed the real story behind the death John Paul I and the extent of financial corruption within the Vatican.  The Power and the Glory (2007) was the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of the reign of John Paul II.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Before He Wakes (True Crime) by Jerry Bledsoe

Paperback:  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  Who can know it? - Jeremiah 17:9

In 1988, high school coach Russ Stager of Durham, N.C., was "accidentally" killed by his wife, Barbara, shot with a loaded gun he allegedly kept under his pillow.  A seemingly happy and popular couple, both active in their church, the two were compulsive overspenders and she was a sexual overachiever with a string of extramarital affairs.  As the case developed, it became clear she was a liar and a thief as well.  Then detectives discovered that exactly ten years earlier, in 1978, Barbara's first husband, Larry Ford, had died in an identical fashion but police had done nothing about their reservations concerning that "accident."  Detective Rick Buchanan's relentless investigations into Barbara Stager's life revealed a stunning vortex of compulsive lying, obsessive spending and sexual promiscuity.  With every shocking new discovery, more of Barbara’s impeccable image unraveled but the greatest shock - a damning piece of evidence Russ Stager left behind - revealed the nightmare truth about Barbara.

New York Times bestselling author Jerry Bledsoe takes us deep into one of the most spellbinding cases of double life, lethal lust, and almost perfect murder.  However, the greatest strength of Bledsoe's fine study is less his account of the murder case than his picture of the Baptist culture of the Bible Belt, where the baptized Barbara Stager was assumed to be a "good Christian woman" because her church work meant she could do no evil.

About the author:  Jerry Bledsoe is the author of the New York Times Number One bestseller Bitter Blood (1988), as well as two other national bestsellers, Blood Games (1991) and Before He Wakes (1994), and many other books.  He has been contributing editor for Esquire, a reporter and columnist for the Greensboro, North Carolina, News & Record, The Charlotte Observer, and the Louisville Times.  Three of his books were made into movies and mini-series for CBS, and a feature film of The Angel Doll was released for Christmas 2000.  His work also has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other publications.  Bledsoe also contributes investigative reports to the Rhinoceros Times, including a multi-part series detailing the controversies surrounding the Greensboro Police Department.  He lives in Randolph County, North Carolina, with his wife, Linda.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker

Paperback:  Secrets, it's been said, are like plants.  They can stay buried deep in the earth for a long time but eventually, they'll send up shoots, pop up everywhere and give themselves away.  Once one big secret is exposed to the light, others, it seems, will inexorably follow.

No politician pandered to the media's appetite for personality more than Liberal MP Cyril Smith.  Instantly recognisable for his colossal build, Smith was a larger-than-life character in a world of dull grey men.  Yet 'Big Cyril' was anything but the roly-poly gentle giant of popular imagination.

In November 2012, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk outed Smith in Parliament as a serial child abuser.  Now, in this devastating exposé, he describes how Smith used his profile to groom and sexually abuse young boys, frequently in institutions he had helped to establish.

His victims, often troubled boys from broken homes, had no voice against their attacker and, though rumours abounded, Smith's appalling crimes went unnoticed by the public and unpunished by the authorities.

When we started writing this book back in 2012, we could not have foreseen the consequences of its publication.  This was, we believed, a parochial tale - an unflinching portrait of a charismatic, innovative, albeit minor politician of the twentieth century, a cautionary tale for our times, as we edge towards a new era of personality politics.  But since Smile for the Camera was published in April 2014, this story has taken on a life of its own and has become something else - a vital part of the unfolding investigation into the abuse of power by our politicians.  Parliament has always had its fair share of corrupt Members, but child abusers?  Paedophiles?  Was there a network of powerful paedophiles in and around Westminster?  Were MPs guilty of collusion and cover-up to protect child abusers in Parliament?...Piece by piece, the continuing revelations around child abuse committed by senior political figures is starting to show a much bigger picture.

If there's one lesson from child abuse that we all should remember, it's this:  that for every child abuser, there are usually many more accomplices covering up their crimes...This was certainly a difficult story to tell but there are some books that simply have to be written.  Once we began to listen to the voices of those trampled underfoot by Cyril, we realised their story had to be told.  Little did we know that these voices were signposts to a much bigger secret.

Police officers have visited us to talk about other high-profile investigations of politicians who were serial child abusers.  Select Committee hearings have taken place, criminal investigations are now underway and the Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced it is investigating claims that Scotland Yard covered up child sex offences because of the alleged involvement of MPs.  The Prime Minister has indicated that it may be time to make not reporting child abuse a crime.  The Home Secretary has launched a major child sex abuse inquiry into establishment cover-ups.

That such momentum has been helped by the publication of this book is a timely reminder that stories can still give voice to an unspeakable truth.  Stories have the power to unsettle and force action... This was the moment we realised that change was happening.  As a country, we've reached tipping point and the public will no longer tolerate such abuses of power, nor the old ways of covering them up.  The faintest whiff of cover-up nowadays creates an almighty stink...Of course vulnerable people will always be silenced and powerful people will continue to abuse their position but there's less certainty now that they'll always get away with it and that can only be a good thing.

Smile for the Camera (2014) is not just about a terrible abuse of power.  It's about those who knew that abuse was taking place but looked the other way, making the corridors of Westminster a safe haven for paedophiles like Cyril Smith.  This updated edition of the book that sparked a criminal investigation brings shocking new material to light, asking urgent questions of those who allowed Smith to prey on young children for decades without question.

"This important book should be read by all those charged with delivering criminal justice, by all those interested in politics, but most importantly, by those in every community motivated by a healthy and unstinting scepticism of authority." - Sir Keir Starmer, KCB, QC, British politician and barrister

About the authors:  Simon Danczuk is the Labour MP for Rochdale.  Beginning his working life in a factory, aged sixteen, he later studied at night school before going to Lancaster University as a mature student to study sociology and politics.  He went on to co-found a social research company based in Manchester, before entering Parliament in 2010.

Matt Baker has worked in journalism, academia and politics.  He has written and campaigned extensively on children's rights and, along with Simon, helped investigate Cyril Smith's past and record the victims accounts of abuse.  This is his first book.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Trial of Anwar Ibrahim: Sodomy II by Mark Trowell QC

Paperback:  On 9 January 2012, Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted of charges of sodomy against his then 23-year-old aide, Mohd Saiful.  Anwar's trial lasted almost two years with many delays and appeals to the superior courts.  The weeks before High Court Judge Mohd Diah Zabidin delivered his verdict were full of expectation and speculation.  Most observers and lawyers even Anwar himself were convinced that he would be found guilty of sodomy.  The acquittal was a shock not only to Anwar who expected to go to jail but to most international observers who were convinced he would be found guilty.

This book recounts the events of the trial as reported by eminent QC Mark Trowell who observed the trial on behalf of LAWASIA, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the International Commission of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and Union Internationale des Advocats from January 2010 until its conclusion two years later.

Sodomy II (2012) is "contemporaneous and incisive account of a political trial disguised as a criminal case" and "a well written and readable account of extraordinary events that are of significance to Malaysia, its laws and politics."

About the author:  Mark Trowell QC is a leading criminal lawyer based in Western Australia.  He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 2000.  Despite some time in commercial and common law, he was ultimately attracted to the challenge of the criminal law.  He has been retained to act for many of the big names in Australia (including international art critic Robert Hughes, legendary Sydney nightclub identity Abe Saffron and iron-ore magnate Gina Rinehart), but has also been ever ready to take on the case of the man in the street.

He has prosecuted criminal cases for the Director of Public Prosecution and has also appeared as counsel at two Royal Commissions.  He was involved in negotiations at the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg on behalf of the owners of a foreign fishing vessel seized by authorities for poaching patagonian toothfish in Australian waters.  In December 2006, he was appointed by the Australian Government to undertake a review of the legislation governing the Australian Crime Commission.

He is co-chair of the criminal law standing committee LAWASIA.  In recent years, he has been an international observer reporting on behalf of LAWASIA, the Australian Bar Association, the International Commission of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Union Internationale des Advocats.  He also represented the interests of the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union at the criminal trials of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia and General Sarath Fonseka in Sri Lanka.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Blood Brothers: The Inside Story of the Menendez Murders by Ron Soble and John Johnson

Paperback:  Perfection is a dangerous thing to strive for.  If you demand it in others, fate has a tendency to be merciless with you as well.

When fabulously successful movie mogul Jose Menendez and his beautiful wife Kitty were murdered in their million-dollar Beverly Hills mansion on 20 August 1989, their sons Lyle, 21, and Erik, 18, were distraught and whispers of a Mafia hit rang through Hollywood.  Then, two suspects were arrested - Lyle and Erik Menendez.  Bright, handsome tennis stars, they were all that any parent could ever want.  Yet there were secrets...deadly secrets.

Blood Brothers (1994) is a relentlessly riveting read about an extraordinary murder and trial that have splattered front pages all over the world.  It reveals the private hell of 'the perfect family' and the terrible truth about the charges and counter-charges that rocked the court room.

About the authors:  Ron Soble and John Johnson were staff writers and reporters at the Los Angeles Times.  Ron Soble had covered the federal courts for many years and had developed good sources in hard-to-penetrate federal law enforcement agencies.  John Johnson had done a number of stories looking into Los Los Angeles' billion-dollar porn industry.  He was the founder, Chairman, Publisher, and Chief Executive Officer of Johnson Publishing Company.  Each had more than fifteen years' experience in journalism and had worked almost every beat there was on a newspaper, from education to covering the White House.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton

Paperback:  There is an art to living.  Find your own particular talent.  Be big.  Be honest.  Live with enthusiasm.  Don't let your possessions possess you.  Don't worry about your problems.  Look up to people when you can and down to no one.  Assume your full share of responsibility for the world in which you live.  Pray consistently and confidently.  

Here, in Conrad Hilton's own words, is the story of his spectacular rise to the top of the business world and of the hunches, hard work and deep rooted faith that made it possible.

Ranging from the days when he literally couldn't spare a dime, to his building of a round-the-world hotel enterprise, Conrad Hilton's story becomes a saga of American big business through depression, war and prosperity.

Most of all, though, it is the story of a great personal adventure by a man who believed in himself, in his dreams, and in America as an unending frontier of opportunity.

It has been a remarkable experience for me to sort out my past, to relive the high points, the valleys, the laughs, the sorrows that have woven themselves into many years of eventful living.  It has been worthwhile for me personally to evaluate where I stand now, how I got there, how many loyalties and graces have been granted me, and where I hope to go from here.

Be My Guest (1957) is the inspiring saga of the man behind one of America's great success stories.  This book is placed in the rooms of Hilton Hotels to provide entertaining reading for their guests.  It is not for resale.  Please feel free to take a copy.

About the author:  Conrad Hilton (1887-1979) founded the Hilton Hotel empire and grew it into one of the largest private companies in the United States, consisting of over 3 600 hotels worldwide.  Besides his business accomplishments, Hilton created the Conrad N Hilton Foundation in 1944, which awards an annual prize to exemplary organizations that work to end suffering in the world.  It also supports programs for the blind and the homeless as well as education initiatives.  He has been remembered as a giant in the hotel business and for his lasting impact on the hospitality industry.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Violated by Sarah Wilson with Geraldine McKelvie

Paperback:  "Girls like me - and our families - were crying out for help, but no one listened.  Politicians were worried that addressing the issue of grooming by British Pakistani men would "give oxygen" to racism," wrote Sarah Wilson in her book, Violated.

Sarah was eleven years old when she was befriended outside her primary school by a group of older Asian men.  Bullied at school, unhappy at home, naïve and vulnerable, she just wanted to belong, and the gifts and attention they lavished on her were what she craved.  Soon, she was hooked on alcohol and drugs and then they owned her.

Before long, the gang were driving her to places where she was raped by scores of men.  Falling through the system, from social services to school, no one was able to help her.  She 'escaped' when, at nearly seventeen, she became too old for the men, but the worst was yet to come.

Her story is not unique.  Sarah is one of at least 1,400 children who were sexually exploited by gangs of predominantly Pakistani-origin men in Rotherham from 1997 to 2013.  When a report last summer finally revealed the scale of abuse in Rotherham, Sarah’s only surprise was that someone finally cared.  A National Crime Agency investigation announced that around 300 suspects had been identified, including two serving or former Rotherham councillors.  Taxi drivers, who were involved in trafficking victims, have also come under scrutiny.  Around 25 taxi drivers no longer have licenses due to child abuse concerns.  Local authorities were not blind to the town’s paedophile rings.  When Professor Alexis Jay published her investigation into Rotherham abuse last summer, she criticised the police and council for their failure to take victims seriously.  “South Yorkshire Police regarded many child victims with contempt,” she wrote.  “Nobody could say 'We didn’t know’.”  (Olivia Goldhill, Telegraph, 7 June 2015)

Finally, a victim of the Rotherham scandal tells her story in the hope that other young girls will not fall prey to the same evil that she endured.  Violated (2015) is a shocking and harrowing survival story from the notorious Rotherham abuse scandal.  At the time of publication, this book is supported by a PR campaign.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Rotherham sex abuse scandal continues.  Last week, it emerged that the massive inquiry into the Rotherham sex abuse scandal could run until at least 2018.  Investigators say the number of possible offenders is changing on a ‘daily basis’ and they suspect ‘thousands of offences’ have been committed.  The team has seized ninety-two boxes containing several thousand files and identified more than 3 300 lines of inquiry.  The suspects are ‘predominantly’ Asian men from the South Yorkshire town and include two who have worked for the council.  Their victims are mainly white, British, underage and ‘vulnerable’ girls.  Operation Stovewood is currently costing up to £5 million every year, and is still likely to be ongoing in three years’ time putting the total bill for the inquiry at around £15 million.

About Sarah Wilson:  Sarah Wilson is twenty-three years old and lives in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, where she is helping to bring up her niece, Alesha, following her sister’s death.  She has just given birth to her first child.  Sarah Wilson's sister Laura, from Rotherham, was seventeen when she was stabbed and dumped in a canal by her Asian boyfriend in the UK's first white honour killing in 2010.

Power Always Reveals

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Girl For Sale by Lara McDonnell

Paperback:  In 2013, the world knew me only as Girl 3 - the third teenage witness in the Old Bailey trial of an Oxford-based paedophile sex and trafficking gang.  As the sordid case unfolded, many must have wondered how any girl could allow herself to be so grotesquely exploited, let alone a child from a loving middle-class home.  Sometimes I ask myself that too but in my heart I know the answers.

At the vulnerable age of 12, Lara McDonnell was picked out by a gang of men who befriended her, showered her with attention and gained her trust.

I thought it was nice that he wanted to know all about my mum.  In fact, he was just making sure there were no male figures in my life.  If I’d said my dad was a policeman, things might have turned out differently.  I told myself that Mohammed was my friend.  He even trusted me enough to admit he was a drug dealer, and told me all about crack, heroin and cocaine, making them sound harmless and exciting.

Impressionable, she was easily manipulated and groomed by the gang, who deliberately kept her compliant with drink and drugs.

The next day, Mohammed’s whole demeanour had changed:  he was talking down to me and ordering me around.  I didn’t like it.  When he passed the crack pipe, he reminded me I owed him around £100 for drugs.  To repay him, he said, I’d have to have sex with some men.  Ever since, I’ve struggled to understand why I didn’t just walk away.  Why didn’t I call the police or tell my mum?  For years, I thought it was all my fault.  I was too young to understand it had taken months of careful grooming to get me to the point where I was unable to make rational decisions.  I’d been targeted and manipulated.

It wasn't long before she was being trafficked around the country and her life spiralled out of control.  Deeply disturbed and terrified of what the gang would do to her if she tried to escape their evil clutches, it would take over five years for Lara to find the strength to fight back.

Statistically, there are more white paedophiles but the structured gang set-up seems to be associated with a certain section of Muslim men. I think that stems from a lack of respect for women.  After the trial, a two-year study into sexual exploitation carried out by the Children’s Commissioner reported that several thousand more children were still at risk from paedophile rings.

Girl For Sale (2015) tells the truth from the girl trafficked and abused by the Oxford sex ring.

This is her heartbreaking true story.

About the author:  Following Lara McDonnell's horrifying ordeal, she found the strength to become a key witness in the trial of Britain's most evil sex ring and has since rebuilt her life with her two children and a job at a local care home.  She is now twenty-two years old and lives near the sea in a quiet town in the southwest of England.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Johnson v Johnson by Barbara Goldsmith

Paperback:  When J. Seward Johnson, the pharmaceutical heir, died in 1983 at the age of eighty-seven, his six children (each of whom was already in possession of an immense fortune) were outraged to learn that he had willed his entire $500 million estate to their stepmother Basia, a woman forty-two years Seward’s junior, a Polish refugee who had once worked as a chambermaid in his household.

They came to believe that Basia had used undue influence to "enchant" their father, prying his fortune away from him and turning him against his own children.  They wanted "justice".  The legal battle that followed spawned a seventeen-week-long trial, the involvement of 210 lawyers (some of whose behavior was legally and ethically questionable), $24 million in legal fees, and public disclosures of the often scandalous details of the lives of many of the parties involved, including attempted suicide, drug addition, and accusations of a murder plot.

Going beyond the courtroom itself, Goldsmith delves into the family’s past and present, demonstrating that, from the start, the poisonous effects of overwhelming wealth were a tacit but powerfully felt subtext to the proceedings.

From her insider’s position, she reveals the true Johnson legacy - one of profound emotional damage.

In their own voices Seward’s children, his first wife, relatives, friends, employees, and Basia herself express their thoughts and feelings with a startling degree of frankness, revealing a past of incest, malignant neglect, and betrayal.  Through this deepening of the story, Goldsmith had been able to elucidate the profoundly complex reasons why each of the Johnsons believed that what was most emphatically at stake was not financial remuneration but emotional reparation.

Throughout the four-month trial, Goldsmith (who researched the case for over a year and examined thousands of pages of documentation) was in constant attendance, and she tells the dramatic story of what occurred in spellbinding detail.  We see the contesting parties, their innumerable lawyers, and the trial’s remarkable judge, Marie Lambert playing out their roles in a courtroom packed with press and spectators, and rife with animosity, mistrust, and uncontrolled emotions (which erupted into a near-riot and death threats against the judge).

Goldsmith illuminates how and why, as the trial progressed, it was transmuted almost entirely into a battle among lawyers, about lawyers, and for lawyers.  She provides a masterful and devastating indictment of American law and lawyers, seen here as an out-of-control juggernaut fuelled by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money.

"The case has left a wake of divergent opinions based on personal emotions about fathers, children and stepmothers.  People ask me, "What did you think?  Who was right?"  I can't give an easy answer.  I'm not sure I can give an answer at all.  While most of the press perceived this case as an exercise in greed by individuals who already had millions and millions and millions, to me it was a pathetic affair, sad for everyone concerned.  I've come to view it as a contest rooted in emotional issues:  feelings of unrequited love, unfinished business, denial and loss of honour," wrote Barbara Goldsmith.

"J Seward Johnson's behaviour toward his children - his patterns of rejection and divisiveness - ultimately led them into a courtroom seeking to find what they have never had from him:  recognition, a sense of worthiness and a measure of a father's love.  Perhaps restitution for this loss came to be equated with money.  But money was all that was left."

Family drama, courtroom drama, explosive psychological drama, a trenchant and sometimes shocking portrayal of lawyers at work today, Johnson v. Johnson (1987) is a brilliant synthesis of the legal, the social, and the human aspects of a society in disarray.

About the author:  Barbara Goldsmith is an American author, journalist, and philanthropist.  Elected a "Living Landmark" (by the New York Landmark Conservancy and its affiliates), awarded the Order of Merit by the Republic of Poland, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, writer Barbara Goldsmith enjoys a notable career as a master of a subtle yet stunning combination of history and biography.  Through exhaustive research, Goldsmith’s much imitated innovative approach is enlightening.  In her books, her main characters serve as a locomotive that pulls the train of history to form a gripping narrative.

Goldsmith has consistently examined the vast disparity between image and reality.  Her clear vision illuminates both the valuable and the meretricious aspects of our society.  With a fresh view, she reminds us of the delights in life, but also she has become one of our foremost commentators on the idols and subcultures - the political, financial, legal, celebrity and artistic establishments - through whom she explores our self-created illusions, our decaying values, our lost idealism.

Goldsmith's books are now translated into twenty-one languages.  Her latest book Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie is based on the workbooks, letters, and diaries of Marie Curie recently released after being sealed for sixty years.  Among other awards, this book won the prestigious prize from the American Institute of Physics and its thirteen affiliates as the best book on Physics written by a non-physicist.  Goldsmith’s previous award-winning, best-selling books include The Straw Man (1975), Little Gloria...Happy At Last (1980) and Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull (1998).  For several years, she was the Senior Editor of Harper’s Bazaar.  She has written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair.  More information can be found at

The Fatigue of Judging

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty by Jerry Oppenheimer

Paperback:  Heirs to a Band-Aid and baby-powder fortune, the Johnsons have enjoyed unimaginable wealth since Johnson and Johnson was founded in 1886 but their personal lives have been marred by bitter feuds, violent and costly divorces, sexual aberrations and myriad tragedies.

One of the most iconic American dynasties, the Johnsons have often mirrored the Kennedy clan's dark side.  Their entrepreneurial prowess has brought them enormous power and success in business, but in private, their lives have been haunted by misfortune.

Now, in this scrupulously researched biography, New York Times bestselling author Jerry Oppenheimer places the Johnson and Johnson dynasty under a journalistic microscope, as he reveals the secrets behind their immense power, extraordinary wealth and provocative dramas in Crazy Rich (2013).

"They have been called perhaps the most dysfunctional family in the Fortune500.  To be clear, these were not wicked people.  Most, if not all, of the horrors they faced were attributable to the vast fortunes they had inherited and the psychological impact on them of all that unearned wealth," wrote the author in the Prologue.

There was "The General", the contemporary patriarch who humiliatingly fired his son as president of the family business, both dying of cancer soon after.  Dynasty legal wars were rampant over wills, inheritances, paternity and even the word "spouse".  One Johnson scion went through a $100 million divorce before his second marriage gave him the namesake he so desperately wanted.  Another mindboggling case was ignited by the adult progeny of a Johnson senior over the $400 million he left his much younger wife, the family's former chambermaid, after divorcing his second wife, a suspected lesbian.  New Jersey's highest court once took a subtle shot at the very litigious Johnson family, nothing that a case it was hearing "is one of the many such disputes involving trusts or trust property that have arisen within the Johnson family over the past three decades."

Johnson inherited wealth was immense.  When Robert Wood Johnson Jr known as the General - Woody Johnson's grandfather - took the family owned, privately held Johnson and Johnson company public on the New York Stock Exchange on 24 September 1944, a block of one hundred shares sold for $3750.  By the end of the twentieth century, those same shares reportedly were worth a whopping $12 million (not including dividends), and with splits had ballooned to 125 000 shares.  Every Johnson dynasty member - past, present and future - became wealthy beyond anyone's imagination as the value soared in the open market.  Many Johnsons never had to do much except live large.

From the founders - three relatively uneducated but ambitious brothers, Robert, James and Edward - in the late nineteenth century who brought the world scores of healthcare and first-aid products with the Red Cross as their logo, to the contemporary Johnsons, including the billionaire owner of the New York Jets, Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson IV, Oppenheimer explores how the family's riches have had a corrupting and toxic impact.

About the author:  Jerry Oppenheimer is the New York Times bestselling author of unauthorized biographies of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, Rock Hudson, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Hilton family.  He has also worked in several different capacities as a journalist, including as an investigative reporter and a producer of television news programs and documentaries.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Paperback:  Kevin Kwan, author of the widely celebrated, critically acclaimed breakout bestseller Crazy Rich Asians (2013), is back with with a wickedly funny new novel of social climbing, secret e-mails, fashion-world scandal and the outrageous story of what happens when Rachel Chu, engaged to to marry Asia's most eligible bachelor, discovers her birth father.

On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, Rachel should be over the moon.  Her fiancé is willing to defy his mother and sacrifice his entire inheritance - one of the greatest fortunes in Asia - in order to marry her.

However, Rachel still regrets the fact that her father, a man she never knew, won't be able to walk her down the aisle until a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendour beyond anything she has ever imagined.

Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics;  Colette, his celebrity girlfriend who is chased by fevered paparazzi;  and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet.  Meanwhile, Singapore's It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband and "Mrs Katherine Tai" (previously known as the soap opera Kitty Pong) realizes that it will take more than a new name for her to claim her rightful place in society.

An uproarious comedy of manners that takes readers through Asia's most exclusive clubs, auction houses and estates, China Rich Girlfriend (2015) is filled with the opulence of mainland China - a place where people attend church in a penthouse above the clouds, where private jets are decorated to look like Balinese resorts, where exotic sports cars race along boulevards, and where people aren't just crazy rich, they're China rich - (these people aren't just everyday rich with a few hundred million, we're talking billions and billions)!

About the author:  Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore, where he attended Anglo-Chinese School in the mornings and spent his afternoons either hiding from his Chinese tutor or chasing after neighbourhood dogs on his bike.  When he was eleven, he moved to the United States, where the next few years were a blur of trying to survive high school, reading too much F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joan Didion, and dreaming of living in New York.

After obtaining his first degree in creative writing from the University of Houston, Kevin moved to Manhattan to pursue a BFA at Parsons School of Design.  Kevin's early years in the city were spent working for Martha Stewart Living, Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, and M&Co, the legendary design firm founded by Tibor Kalman.

In 2000, Kevin established his own creative studio, where he specialized in producing high profile visual projects for clients such as the New York Times, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockwell Group, and  Many unforgettable experiences followed, like creating the ultimate publishing tribute to Oprah Winfrey's groundbreaking television show, handling Elizabeth Taylor's fabled jewel collection while producing Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, and serving as the visual consultant for the re-launch of the TED website, which exceeded a billion views in November 2012.

Throughout all this, Kevin always remained passionate about books.  As he became sought after as a visual consultant by acclaimed authors like Michael Korda, Gore Vidal, and Larry McMurtry, Kevin was inspired to return to his first love - writing.  His critically-acclaimed debut novel Crazy Rich Asians became an international bestseller in 2013 and is currently being adapted into a feature film by Ivanhoe Pictures and Color Force, the producers of The Hunger Games movies.  The sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, hits bookstores around the world in June 2015.

Kevin still resides in Manhattan, eats too much pasta, still craves pineapple tarts, a decent place of Hokkien mee (a dish of egg noodles and rice noodles in a fragrant stock, which is made from both fresh shrimp and dried prawns, as well as pork or chicken) and these days, dreams of living in Italy.

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Karpal Singh: The Tiger of Jelutong by Tim Donoghue

Paperback:  Karpal Singh:  The Tiger of Jelutong (2013) is the first ever biography of Malaysia's fearless criminal and constitutional lawyer and human rights advocate by veteran journalist Tim Donoghue.  The book is a remarkable story of a tenacious and principled lawyer and politician who emerged as the kingmaker among the various Malaysian opposition political parties.

Since graduating from the University of Singapore in 1969, Karpal Singh had been a fearless advocate for justice and a defender of human rights in Southeast Asia and had appeared in the Privy Council in London on a number of occasions before such appeals were abandoned by Malaysia in 1985.  He gained an international reputation for his defence of hundreds of people who faced the death penalty under Malaysia's Dangerous Drugs Act, among them Australian Kevin Barlow.

One of Karpal Singh's biggest achievements in recent years had been his successful defence of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on two charges of sodomy.  Indeed, without his steely involvement at the head of Anwar's defence, it is difficult to imagine the opposition coalition being in the position it is today of realistically challenging the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) for power in the forthcoming 2018 election.

Karpal Singh had been involved in state and federal politics in Malaysia since 1974.  He was chairman of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) and retained his Bukit Gelugor, Penang electorate seat in the 5 May 2013 national elections with a staggering 41 778 majority vote.

Karpal was a controversial figure, and was labelled along with fellow DAP politician Lim Kit Siang as a racial provocateur.  He was dubbed the "Tiger of Jelutong" by admirers having served as Jelutong MP for five terms.  Karpal attributed the nickname to a confrontation with former Malaysian Indian Congress President Samy Vellu, when he told Samy, "He could be the lion, and I could be the tiger, because there are no lions in Malaysia!"

During his lifetime, he remained a perennial thorn in the side of the political establishment and as this book went to press, he was facing a second round of sedition charges.  Sadly, Karpal Singh died on 17 April 2014 after being involved in a motor vehicle accident.  It was believed that the 73-year-old Bukit Gelugor MP was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Penang to attend a court hearing when the accident occurred.

The term "karpalism" is coined to honour the late Karpal Singh who fought fearlessly to uphold justice in both his legal and political careers.  Karpalism is the spirit of courage to speak and fight for the underdogs and "victims".

About the author:  Tim Donoghue is a general newspaper reporter employed by the Dominion Post in Wellington, New Zealand.  He first met Karpal Singh in Penang in early 1987, soon after the execution of Australians Kevin Barlow (Karpal's client) and Geoffrey Chambers on the gallows of Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur.  At the time, Donoghue was working as the Hong Kong-based New Zealand Press Association's Asia Correspondent.

From 1986 to 1990, he was a frequent visitor to Malaysia while covering the drug trafficking trial of New Zealand mother and son Lorraine and Aaron Cohen in Penang.  Lorraine Cohen was sentenced to death but, with Karpal defending her, escaped the gallows, as did her son Aaron.

Donoghue first discussed the possibility of writing this book with Karpal during a number of visits when the latter was imprisoned - twice - at Kamunting in 1988 under the draconian Internal Security Act.  As a frequent visitor to Malaysia since 1986, he has quietly worked away behind the scenes on this book project.  As a journalist, his many international assignments have seen him make more than twenty trips to China.  He also covered the first Gulf War from Saudi Arabia and travelled throughout the middle-eastern countries affected by the war zone.