Fans of conspiracy theories will find this a source of endless fascination.

CHAOS

CHARLES MANSON, THE CIA, AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SIXTIES

Who put Charlie and the Family up to their murderous mischief? This long excursus on the killings that terrified Los Angeles 50 years ago suggests some unlikely answers.

How did it happen that a bunch of peace freaks turned into a band of homicidal maniacs? In this overlong but provocative barrage, freelance journalist O’Neill charts a series of conjectures that begins with famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and ends in the dark chambers of the intelligence community. The logic goes something like this: It’s useful to control people’s minds, but it’s difficult to accomplish if they’re sane. If they’re a little off balance, needy, and disaffected, though, then give them a charismatic leader and some chores, and voilà—and along the way, if LSD is involved, then you can serve up an object lesson about the dangers of drugs. O’Neill’s thesis has its possibilities, but, like Oliver Stone’s JFK—and the Kennedy assassination figures here—it’s not so much that he ventures a theory as that he ventures all of them: The FBI wanted to whip up racial division to divide the New Left from the Black Panthers, Manson was an agent provocateur, record producer and Hollywood insider Terry Melcher had a hand in the whole thing, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson was a silent partner. And then there was Roman Polanski and his weird proclivities—as O’Neill writes, “remember how Susan Atkins wrote the word ‘Pig’ on the front door of Cielo Drive, in Sharon Tate’s blood?” But what if she really wrote something else? It’s all too much. Among the best aspects of the book are the author’s confessions of the many dead ends and blank spots he encountered, as when he confronted Bugliosi with the suggestion that he knew more than he was letting on and in fact covered up some of the evidence. “It was the wrong move,” he writes. “I’d intended to build to this moment, and now I was leading with it, giving him every reason to take a contentious tone.”

Fans of conspiracy theories will find this a source of endless fascination.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-47755-0

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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