Monday, July 06, 2015

Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%

How did a city long dominated by a notorious Democratic Machine become a national battleground in the right-wing war against the public sector? In Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99%, veteran journalist Kari Lydersen takes a close look at Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and his true agenda.

With deep Wall Street ties from his investment banking years and a combative political style honed in Congress and the Clinton and Obama administrations, Emanuel is among a rising class of rock-star mayors promising to remake American cities. But his private-sector approach has sidelined and alienated many who feel they are not part of Emanuel’s vision for a new Chicago—and it has inspired a powerful group of activists and community members to unite in defense of their beloved city.

KARI LYDERSEN is a Chicago-based journalist who has worked in the Midwest bureau of the Washington Post and is the author of four books. She has been a journalism instructor at several Chicago colleges and currently serves as community fellowship director of the Social Justice News Nexus at Northwestern University.

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal

From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy comes the riveting story of a spy who cracked open the Soviet military research establishment and a penetrating portrait of the CIA’s Moscow station, an outpost of daring espionage in the last years of the Cold War

While driving out of the American embassy in Moscow on the evening of February 16, 1978, the chief of the CIA’s Moscow station heard a knock on his car window. A man on the curb handed him an envelope whose contents stunned U.S. intelligence: details of top-secret Soviet research and developments in military technology that were totally unknown to the United States. In the years that followed, the man, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer in a Soviet military design bureau, used his high-level access to hand over tens of thousands of pages of technical secrets. His revelations allowed America to reshape its weapons systems to defeat Soviet radar on the ground and in the air, giving the United States near total superiority in the skies over Europe.

One of the most valuable spies to work for the United States in the four decades of global confrontation with the Soviet Union, Tolkachev took enormous personal risks—but so did the Americans. The CIA had long struggled to recruit and run agents in Moscow, and Tolkachev was a singular breakthrough. Using spy cameras and secret codes as well as face-to-face meetings in parks and on street corners, Tolkachev and his handlers succeeded for years in eluding the feared KGB in its own backyard, until the day came when a shocking betrayal put them all at risk.

Drawing on previously secret documents obtained from the CIA and on interviews with participants, David Hoffman has created an unprecedented and poignant portrait of Tolkachev, a man motivated by the depredations of the Soviet state to master the craft of spying against his own country. Stirring, unpredictable, and at times unbearably tense, The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal is a brilliant feat of reporting that unfolds like an espionage thriller.

At least 62 shot, 9 fatally, during Bloody, Deadly, Gang Violence Filled, 4th of July Weekend in Chicago #Chiraq

Fourth of July weekend shootings have left nine people dead — including a 7-year-old boy — and at least 53 others injured since Thursday evening.

Seven-year-old Amari Brown was killed in a shooting that also left a 26-year-old woman wounded late Saturday in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Amari, who lived in the 500 block of North Drake, was taken to Stroger Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:56 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Police said Sunday the bullet that fatally wounded 7-year-old Amari Brown on the Fourth of July was meant for his father. Both Amari and the 26-year-old woman were shot in the chest at 11:55 p.m. in the 1100 block of North Harding, police said.

The boy’s father, Antonio Brown, is a ranking gang member with 45 previous arrests and was not cooperating with police as of Sunday afternoon as they tried to find his son’s killer, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“It’s crazy. Like who would shoot a 7-year-old? He got shot in the chest. Who would do that? To a baby?” Amari’s grandmother, 52-year-old Vida Hailey asked as she waited for news outside Stroger. “All the kids that are getting killed out here – it’s crazy. When is it going to stop?”

The woman who was shot was also taken to Stroger, where her condition stabilized.

In the most recent fatal shooting, a 48-year-old man was killed in a Sunday afternoon shooting in the Calumet Heights neighborhood.

Anthony Strong was shot in the right side of his chest about 4:55 p.m. in the 9200 block of South Harper, police said.

Strong, who lived in the same block he was shot, was taken to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he was pronounced dead at 6:06 p.m., the medical examiner’s office said. Police said they were questioning a person of interest.

Earlier, two brothers from Missouri died Sunday morning after shots were fired at an SUV in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side.

John Hunter, 25, and his 31-year-old brother Willie Hunter were sitting inside a Chevrolet SUV about 6:10 a.m. in the 8800 block of South Bishop, when another male walked up and opened fire, according to police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The SUV — driven by the younger brother — sped away, but then crashed into a building in the 1600 block of West 89th, authorities said.

John Hunter, of the 300 block of East Ashley Street in Jefferson City, Missouri, was shot multiple times. He was taken to Christ Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7 a.m., authorities said.

Willie Hunter, of the 1200 block of East High Street in Jefferson City, was discovered unresponsive in the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

It was not immediately known whether the older brother died from gunshot wounds or injuries suffered in the crash. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday.

Earlier Sunday, a man was killed in a shooting that left two others wounded in the Northwest Side Albany Park neighborhood.

Jeremy Spivey, 23, and the two others were sitting inside a van in an alley near Sunnyside and Kimball about 2:30 a.m. when a male walked up and fired shots, authorities said. Spivey, of the 4700 block of West Belmont, was shot multiple times and taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 4:03 a.m., authorities said.

A 17-year-old boy was shot in the right leg and taken to Masonic, where his condition was stabilized. A 26-year-old woman was shot in the right finger and was being treated at Swedish Covenant Hospital, police said. Relatives of the 17-year-old, who live near the shooting, said they spent the day barbecuing and watching fireworks for the Fourth of July. A female relative said she had heard gunshots around their home between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., then again at 10 p.m.

She took her family inside just five minutes before the shooting. She and her children said they heard about seven gunshots but didn’t think anything of it until they heard ambulances pull up. A police source said all the victims are documented gang members.

About an hour and a half earlier, a man was shot to death in the South Shore neighborhood.

The 26-year-old man was sitting in his car in the 7700 block of South South Shore Drive about 1 a.m. when someone walked up and fired shots into the car, police said. He was taken to South Shore Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. Police said the shooting is possibly gang-related.

A 17-year-old boy was shot to death Friday afternoon in a Bronzeville neighborhood park named after slain King College Prep student Hadiya Pendleton. The teen — identified by authorities as Vonzell Banks of the 4500 block of South Prairie — and a 19-year-old man were standing outside Hadiya Pendleton Park in the 4300 block of South King about 4:45 p.m., when a vehicle approached and someone inside opened fire, police said.

Banks, a Dunbar Vocational High School junior, was playing basketball with his older brother, Vinny, and some friends when he was shot, his aunt, LaShanda Childs, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He was a loving child, getting ready to be a senior at high school,” Childs said. “He was going to start a summer job on Monday. He was very excited about it.”

Like Pendleton — in whose honor the park was renamed just two months ago — Banks was shot in the back. He was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:31 p.m., according to police and the medical examiner’s office. The man was shot in the right foot and was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where his condition was stabilized. Police said Banks and the 19-year-old were likely not the intended targets of the shooting.

Earlier Friday, a man was killed and a woman was wounded in a South Side Washington Heights neighborhood drive-by shooting on the South Side. The two were walking in the alley in the 9100 block of South Ashland about 1:20 a.m. when someone in a passing white van opened fire, police said.

Grover Tate, 47, of the 1500 block of West 95th Street, was shot in the head and was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. The woman, 43, was shot in the abdomen and buttocks and was taken to Christ Medical Center, where her condition had stabilized, police said.

A 26-year-old man was killed in the same block he lived in just after midnight Friday in the South Side Back of the Yards neighborhood. The man, identified as Jose Hernandez, was sitting on a porch at 12:05 a.m. in the 4800 block of South Justine when another male walked up and shot him in the back, authorities said. He was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later, the medical examiner’s office said.

An officer at the scene said the shooting — the second on that block in about nine hours — may have stemmed from a conflict involving the La Raza street gang. Neighbors said they heard about four to six gunshots.

“We were all in the kitchen you know, having bonding, family time, and this happens,” said 15-year-old Jocelyn Avila, who lives on the block and also heard gunshots from the other shooting at 3 p.m. Thursday.

The weekend’s first homicide happened Thursday evening in the Little Village neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

About 6:25 p.m., Joseph Gutierrez was riding a bicycle in the 2700 block of South Karlov when a gunman ran up and shot him repeatedly in the upper body, authorities said.

Gutierrez, of the 6200 block of South Kenneth, was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:06 p.m., the medical examiner’s office said. Police said the shooting may have been gang-related.

On Saturday night, a man was shot in Streeterville shortly after the Navy Pier fireworks show. The 19-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen at 10:06 p.m. in the 200 block of East Ohio, according to police and fire officials. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in serious-to-critical condition, fire officials said.

A possible shooter was taken into custody and a weapon was recovered at the scene.

At least 47 others have been injured in shootings since 4:45 p.m. Thursday.

Per SunTimes Wire Reports.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

US Attorney General and the Director of the FBI Battle over the Mob

In Washington, turf warfare can be blood sport. Colin Powell versus Dick Cheney in the W years. Nancy Reagan versus Don Regan in the 1980s. Henry Kissinger versus everyone in the Nixon and Ford days. But eclipsing these power feuds is the titanic clash between Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. This grudge match entailed much more than personality or policy. It was, in a way, a fight over the meaning of justice in America.

In “Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America,” Burton Hersh, a journalist and historian, chronicles a struggle that began years before Bobby Kennedy became attorney general in his brother’s administration and — in nominal terms — Hoover’s superior. The story is familiar. While Jack Kennedy thrived in the 1950s as a sex-crazed, drug-dependent, ailment-ridden party-boy politician, Bobby, the family’s complicated sourpuss, hooked up with the redbaiting Joe McCarthy, then spun off as a crusading and corners-cutting scourge of labor corruption. He pursued mobsters and was obsessed with Jimmy Hoffa. But there was a problem. Bobby’s father had built a fortune the old-fashioned way — by hook and by crook. As a banker and bootlegger, Joseph Kennedy had nuzzled with the not-so-good fellas Bobby wanted to hammer.

There was another problem as well. Hoover, the entrenched F.B.I. chieftain and pal of McCarthy, was not so keen on catching mobsters. He even denied the existence of organized crime and kept his agents far from its tracks, partly because, Hersh contends, Hoover knew too well that the mob had infiltrated the worlds of politics and business. Hunting the thugs could have placed Hoover and the F.B.I. on a collision course with the powerful. Communists were easier prey. So when Jack became president and appointed his ferocious brother attorney general, combat was unavoidable.

As Hersh describes it, this duel of leaks, blackmail and power plays occurred against the backdrop of Kennedy excess and pathos. The stakes were higher than the individual fortunes of Hoover and Bobby Kennedy. America was racked with crisis: the civil rights movement was challenging the nation’s conscience, a war was growing in Vietnam and an arms race was threatening nuclear war. Bobby may have had presidential prerogative on his side, but Hoover could wield files full of allegations about Jack and others. How this pas de deux played out helped define the nation at this transformational moment.

It was quite a story, with a supporting cast that was A-list — Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Giancana, Gloria Swanson, Lyndon Johnson, Roy Cohn — history as a Don DeLillo novel. But sad to say, Hersh, who years ago wrote a much-regarded book on the origins of the C.I.A., fails his material.

Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America” is little more than a recycling of previously published books. Hersh lists 54 people he interviewed, but about a quarter of them are authors and journalists who have tilled the overworked Kennedy field. The rest offer little that is new. Worse, Hersh appears to regard all sources as equal. If an assertion, particularly a sleazy one, has ever appeared in a book, that’s apparently good enough for him. Some eye-popping tales of Kennedy sex and corruption have indeed been confirmed by reputable authors. (Yes, Jack shared a mistress with Sinatra and the mob man Giancana. Yes, Bobby bent to Hoover’s request to wiretap King.) But mounds of Kennedy garbage have also been peddled over the years, and Hersh does not distinguish between the proven and the alleged (or the discredited). Did Bobby really tag along on drug busts in the 1950s and engage in sex with apprehended hookers? Well, one book said he did. Covering the death of Marilyn Monroe, Hersh maintains that she and Bobby were lovers and that the Mafia had Monroe killed hours after Bobby was in her company in order to frame him. For this, Hersh relies on two unreliable books, one written by Giancana’s brother and nephew, the other by a deceased Los Angeles private investigator. Monroe’s death remains an official suicide, and as Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Bobby, “all that is certain” regarding his interactions with Monroe is that he “saw her on four occasions, probably never alone.” But it’s when the book reaches Nov. 22, 1963, that it truly jumps the rails. The assassination of John Kennedy is the black hole of contemporary American history, and Hersh doesn’t escape its pull. He repeats the well-worn claims of the it-wasn’t-just-Oswald partisans and brings nothing fresh to the autopsy table. Citing one book of uncertain credibility, he claims former President Gerald Ford publicly confessed he had covered up F.B.I. and C.I.A. evidence indicating that Kennedy “had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas” and that two Mafia notables “had orchestrated the assassination plot.” An Internet search I conducted turned up no confirmation of such a momentous confession.

Hersh fares better when it comes to the bigger picture. Hoover and Kennedy, he notes, possessed profoundly contrasting views of midcentury America. For Hoover, Hersh writes, “America amounted to a kind of Christian-pageant fantasy of the System” that was threatened by “Commies and beatniks and race-mixers ... hell-bent to eradicate this utopia.” Kennedy saw “gangsters” undermining unions, corporate America and, yes, even politics. Here was the nub of their quarrel: subversion versus corruption. Though Hersh goes soft on Hoover toward the end, his book renders a clear judgment: Bobby Kennedy was closer to the mark than his rival. That he did not live long enough to better Hoover and, more important, prove the point compounds the tragedy of his sad death.

Thanks to David Corn

Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend

Frank Sinatra, the greatest vocalist in the history of American music, elevated popular song to an art. He was a dominant power in the entertainment industries -- radio, records, movies, gambling -- and a symbol of the Mafia's reach into American public life. More profoundly than any figure excepting perhaps Elvis Presley, Sinatra changed the style and popular culture of the American Century.

Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend, a long-awaited collection of essays gathered from a famed 1998 conference at Hofstra University and edited by Jeanne Fuchs and Ruth Prigozy, probes various aspects of Sinatra's influence in his long career (he was a national figure from 1939 until his death, in 1998). But it insists, both explicitly and in its editors' selection of subjects and themes, that the "proper historical setting" for its subject "is the fifties."

Although that point can be debated, the 1950s -- more precisely, the period from 1953 to the mid-1960s -- was clearly the era of Sinatra's supreme artistic achievement and deepest cultural sway. It amounted to the most spectacular second act in American cultural history. In the early 1940s, following his break with the Tommy Dorsey band, Sinatra had emerged, thanks largely to swooning bobby-soxers, as pop music's biggest star and a hugely popular Hollywood actor. By the end of the decade, he was all but washed up, having lost his audience owing to shifting musical tastes and to disenchantment over his reported ties to the Mob, and over his divorce, which followed a widely publicized affair with Ava Gardner, whom he married in 1951. He soon lost his voice (he would never fully recover his consistently accurate intonation and precise pitch), his movie contract with MGM, his record contract with Columbia, and Gardner -- their passionate, mutually corrosive entanglement plainly and permanently warped him. But in 1953, his harrowing, Oscar-winning performance as the feisty, doomed Maggio in From Here to Eternity made him a star again.

More important, in that year he also signed with the trendsetting, L.A.-based Capitol Records, a move that afforded him his greatest role: his own musical and stylistic reinvention. The 16 concept albums that followed, his most remarkable achievement and among America's enduring cultural treasures, defied public taste and redirected it toward what would be known as the Great American Songbook. With his key collaborator, the arranger Nelson Riddle, Sinatra jettisoned the yearning, sweet-voiced crooning of his Columbia years in favor of a richer voice, greater rhythmic invention, and more knowing and conversational phrasing. He had always said that Billie Holiday was his most profound musical influence, and at Capitol, accompanied by Harry Edison, the former trumpeter for Count Basie, he was even more deeply open to jazz influence, as he invested up-tempo songs (which he had rarely performed at Columbia) with a tough, assured swing. For their part, jazz musicians overwhelmingly selected him "the greatest-ever male vocalist" in a 1956 poll, and Lester Young and Miles Davis -- never partial to white musicians -- ardently praised him.

And now, apparently because of his tortured relationship with Gardner, Sinatra burned off all remaining affectations and sentimentality and sang his ballads with bitterness, directness, and masculine vulnerability ("Ava taught him how to sing a torch song," Riddle said). A midcentury artist with an admitted "overacute capacity for sadness as well as elation," Sinatra invested those largely decades-old ballads with a modern anxiety and ambivalence. In his album sequences and in such swinging songs as "Night and Day," "Day In, Day Out," "Old Devil Moon," and especially his greatest recording, the 1956 "I've Got You Under My Skin," he juxtaposed bravado and panic, ecstasy and uncertainty.

With this new sensibility, which Pete Hamill has aptly termed the "Tender Tough Guy," Sinatra created -- as several of the pieces in this collection illuminate -- the most important model of masculinity for a generation of Americans. He had transformed his persona from that of a skinny, boyish, even androgynous heartthrob with Brylcreemed curls, too-big jackets, sailor suits (!), and floppy bow ties into that of a suave man of authority and sensitivity in crisp, slim-line suits. He appealed not to teenage girls but to their mothers and fathers. The jazz critic Gary Giddins, one of the most astute writers on the singer, summed up the transformed Sinatra: "Above all, he was adult. He sang to adults."

In so doing, Sinatra held at bay the cultural changes that had helped bring about his earlier downfall. He came of age musically in a peculiar period: the only era in which jazz, as played by the big bands, was the most popular musical form. Since the 1940s, he had been recognized as the leader of a movement to establish the music of such composers as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Jerome Kern as an art form, but postwar audiences turned away from Sinatra primarily because they no longer wanted to hear the music he wanted to sing. Ironically, his decision to embark on a solo musical career hastened the demise of the big bands and unmoored a mass audience from sophisticated popular music. While urbane songs would have appealed to audiences who danced to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, until Sinatra altered popular taste, the postwar soloists -- even such savvy chanteuses as Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney -- made their fortunes and kept their contracts by recording novelty songs. Sinatra saw this firsthand, when Columbia enjoined him to record the godawful "Mama Will Bark," with the busty comedienne Dagmar (it's as bad as you imagine -- complete with simulated barking).

On his hugely popular and artistically glorious Capitol albums, Sinatra expanded and enlivened the repertory of standard American songs (astonishingly, before his recording of it, "I've Got You Under My Skin" hadn't been a significant entry in the Porter catalog) and became its most commanding interpreter. With his clear, relaxed enunciation and sublime phrasing, he also codified the sound and rhythm of casually elegant spoken American English. The seamlessness, ingenuity, and rightness of that phrasing is readily apparent when you try to sing along with him and still can't foretell his stresses and caesuras in a recording you may have heard a hundred times. (David Finck and Samuel L. Chell dissect Sinatra's vocal artistry in two succinct and exceptionally precise pieces in this collection.)

Nonetheless, Sinatra's musical achievement -- which constituted perhaps the last sustained occasion when elite and mass musical taste would coalesce -- was really only a prolonged holding action made possible by his preternatural talent and charisma. As Will Friedwald, the most thorough analyst of Sinatra's musicianship, wrote, Sinatra was, for all his popular appeal, "completely out of touch with American culture as it evolved from [the late 1940s] onwards." Friedwald -- no surprise -- excoriates popular culture, not Sinatra, for this. But whether or not you agree, the fact that, as Giddins points out, Sinatra's artistic maturity coincided with the peak of Elvis's appeal shows the extent to which Sinatra's imperishable accomplishment was a cultural outlier. And though Sinatra's second act clearly represented the justifiably bemoaned final triumph of grown-up pop-cultural taste, Sinatra himself helped hasten the inevitable triumph of youth culture. His musical persona may have been "adult," but he insisted on merging that with his public face, which was too often anything but. You could hardly blame the kids for rejecting him.

To be sure, Sinatra, an exquisitely complicated man, was doggedly committed to racial equality long before it was a fashionable cause. He was also a consistently generous artist and capable of astonishing grace and thoughtfulness. But -- aside from consorting with killers; procuring for the doped-up, mobbed-up, and coarsely exploitative JFK (if anything, Camelot sullied Sinatra, not the other way around); and regularly displaying a potentially murderous temper -- he perversely made sure that his ardent listeners grasped that his juvenile, vulgar, and increasingly pathetic Rat Pack antics couldn't be reconciled with his carefully wrought musical reinvention. This was made clear on his 1966 album Sinatra at the Sands, which contains both his lovely and swinging renditions of "Angel Eyes" and "Luck Be a Lady," accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra, and his notoriously cringe-inducing monologue that combined yucky corniness and mean-spiritedness. If this was mature urbanity, who needed it?

Sinatra gave Sammy Davis Jr. his career, and his fiercely loyal, public embrace of Davis, often in the teeth of bigotry, was principled and heroic. But in their Rat Pack shows, he made Davis the butt of race-oriented jokes, and Davis knew a Sinatra both vindictive and considerate, both scummy and courtly. Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. assembles beautiful and revealing snaps that this gifted amateur took in the 1950s and '60s of the Hollywood elite at play (including a sad and sweet image of a little-black-dressed Marilyn tucking a small boy into bed as a late-night party hums in the other room), of Vegas showgirls, of politicians and mobsters, of Martin Luther King Jr. And of course there is Sinatra, in all his dangerous glamour -- joshing with Shirley MacLaine and the rest of his band of nocturnal carousers, brooding, on the phone in sharply tailored pajamas (no doubt after sleeping through a good chunk of the day). Speaking of that glamour, Davis said, "Only two guys are left who are not the boy next door: Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra."

Thanks to Benjamin Schwarz

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba ... And Then Lost It to the Revolution

Cuban writer Jose Lezama Lima's description of Havana - "an unnameable feast" - fits the city's last great era like the flawless suits from Pepe Sastre fit the best-dressed mobsters of the glittering casino years.

Here was a posh gambling scene not glimpsed outside James Bond flicks, with hot dance music, seductive showgirls, fast cars, naughty pleasures and, if you cared to look, serious culture, all set in a beautiful city some called "the Paris of the Caribbean." But, as we know, all was not well. Even as revelers rumbaed in the nightclubs an escalating syndrome of rebellion and repression bloodied the streets, triggered by an illegitimate government's corrupt relationship with ruthless gangsters from "el norte." A firebrand politico put on fatigues, set himself and his guerrilla fighters in the mountains at the opposite end of Havana, and that unnameable feast headed for a hangover that would last at least half a century.

T. J. English's engaging book "Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" about the era covers the same ground as such novels as Mayra Montero's masterful "Dancing to Almendra" and Ace Atkins' intriguing "White Shadow," as well as films by Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Pollack and Andy Garcia. A scene that bad was just too good to pass up. But English's brand of narrative is history, and he aims to set the record straight, even pointing out artistic liberties taken in "Godfather II."

Meyer Lansky, for example, was not the venerable old man of the underworld portrayed in the movie but frisky enough to carry a serious and atypical romance with a Cuban woman (an important aspect of Montero's novel). Still, Coppola was on point: gangsters from the United States set up business in Havana in cahoots with Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.

These mobsters were protected from U.S. law enforcement in Havana, but, even so, a cautious Lansky never appeared on the casinos' books as anything other than a minor administrator. And it was in Havana that U.S. organized crime got organized, English explains, becoming a de facto government in what was meant to be the first stage of a serious international empire. But in its nationalistic zeal, the Cuban revolution wrecked the mob's plans, as casinos, associated with government corruption, were first ransacked and finally closed down. The gangsters never recovered.

What English calls "the Havana mob" was composed, at different stages, of such gangsters as Santo Trafficante, the dapper Tampa kingpin whose experience with Spanish and Cuban culture in his native city gave him an insight his colleagues lacked. The mob also involved key figures in Batista's government, including the putative president himself.

A parade of characters moves through "Havana Nocturne": George Raft, who came down as a casino "greeter," acting out in real life the mobster roles he made famous on film; Frank Sinatra, already a mob favorite; Marlon Brando, a party animal loose in the greatest party city; John F. Kennedy, indulging his taste for orgiastic sex courtesy of his unsavory friends; Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and other top black entertainers. Also striking is the story of the lesser-known but fondly remembered showgirl who, in a strike of promotional genius, publicized her upcoming performance by parading through Havana in a transparent raincoat and little else.

English makes clever use of period pop-culture highlights, such as "La Enganadora" (The Deceiver), a hit song about a curvaceous woman who drove the street guys wild until people learned her form was nothing but cleverly placed padding. "I am not La Enganadora," the raincoat beauty told the authorities when they stopped her, claiming truth in advertising trumped indecent exposure.

"Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" is thoroughly researched. English's list of sources is impressive, and each chapter is as heavily footnoted as a doctoral thesis. Fortunately, the book doesn't read like one. English, the author of "Paddy Whacked" and "The Westies" and a college professor of organized crime (!), keeps the motor running on his narrative, in one case acknowledging an early nickname for the mixed-blood Batista, "el mulato lindo" (the pretty mulatto), and then using it instead of his name at different points to flavor the story.

Describing Raft's role in the Havana mob, English uses the phrase "gangster chic." Although there is plenty of ugly violence in the book, those words characterize the era's continuing appeal. Bad things ended with the downfall of the mob. But tropical architecture, the glamour of the Caribbean's most sophisticated city and bespoke tailoring would never be the same.

Thanks to Enrique Fernandez

"The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years" by Frederick Turner

It is important that the reader recognize this is presented as a work of fiction, although there will always be a tremendous and probably natural temptation to treat all the details it presents as historical fact, for they certainly ring true.

The author's method is an exceedingly verbose and sometimes even tedious monolog. In sympathetic fashion he tells the story of the young woman who became notorious as the mistress of not only handsome young President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra but also, significantly, of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancanna. Sinatra and other entertainers owed considerable loyalty to Giancanna, who was also was carrying on an affair with popular singer Phyllis McGuire.

Judith Campbell Exner also is remembered as the woman who, innocently or otherwise, served as the courier between the newly elected Kennedy in Washington and the mobster in Chicago. JFK and his brother, Robert - his attorney general - thought Giancanna could help dispose of the threat to national security posed by the revolutionary Fidel Castro in Cuba.

By the time Exner - who was a household name in the early '60s - died of breast cancer in 1999, she had long vanished from the nation's headlines. She's remembered as a woman who knowingly and willingly had a sexual relationship with a married president - a glamorous president at that. Hers was a shadowy presence at Camelot, although when that era is remembered the dominant female figure is always Jackie Kennedy, barely present in this novel.

If this fictional account is to be believed, Exner's liaison with JFK and her courier role preceded and contributed to his election. There has long been speculation that the vote results in Illinois and West Virginia, results that helped Kennedy win the Democratic primaries in those states and ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1960, may have been "arranged" by the Chicago mob.

Giancanna and his goons were enlisted (if this novel is to be believed, the transaction was carried out in a Chicago courtroom) on the candidate's behalf by his father, former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, a notorious wheeler-dealer with heavy political ambitions for Jack. His first hope had been that an older son, Joseph, would become president; Joe, however, died in a World War II airplane crash in England.

The author's approach is deceptively simple and effective (despite his verbosity and his excessive use of the first person singular): He imagines he is a down-on-his luck newspaper hack who accidentally gains access to Exner's diaries. As he pores over them, he tells his readers, as if he's talking across a dinner table, what he thinks her sometimes cryptic entries in those diaries must have meant. The result is a narrative that will appeal to readers who have an interest in national politics and in particular the Kennedy administration.

Thanks to Al Hutchison

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