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NORCO '80

THE TRUE STORY OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR BANK ROBBERY IN AMERICAN HISTORY

An impressively well-rendered true-crime saga.

Thrilling account of a violent California bank robbery whose damage “keeps rippling out through the generations.”

Houlahan’s debut is remarkable for the exhaustive, sometimes exhausting level of detail he brings to every stage of the story, transforming a pulpy true-crime narrative into a reflection of social transformations and class conflict as the countercultural 1970s faded into the Reagan era. The author argues that the robbers, aimless blue-collar friends who’d dabbled in evangelicalism and doomsday scenarios, “were looking at American society and seeing a house of cards teetering on collapse.” The crime was meant to bankroll plans for a survivalist compound; yet their sense of rage was indicated by the arsenal of assault rifles and improvised explosives. The amateurish robbery devolved into a running firefight with outgunned law enforcement officers which Houlahan documents as an exacting, extended set piece. Following a massive, improvised police response, the criminals fled into nearby wilderness after killing one officer, wounding many others, and being wounded themselves, only to be captured the next day. As one stunned cop observed in the aftermath, “we just got our asses kicked, didn’t we?” The author then goes into the long, chaotic trial. With the three surviving suspects universally loathed and the death penalty in the balance, it became an early media circus marked by “insolence, impertinence, and contemptuous and childish behavior.” Houlahan follows up on the robbery’s long shadow over many officers and civilians who were caught in the melee, delving into subtopics including the evolution of tactics in response to such crimes and departments’ reluctance to offer counseling for PTSD, which compelled some embittered survivors to leave policing. Houlahan’s writing is dense, sometimes colloquial, well-researched, and mostly clear. While his enthusiastic focus on details of the hardscrabble region’s history, characters’ social backgrounds, the botched robbery and its bloody aftermath, the weapons and tactics used by both sides, and finally the long-term changes in policing can occasionally overwhelm, most readers will stay engrossed.

An impressively well-rendered true-crime saga.

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-212-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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