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Review of David McCullough’s 1776 by Rick Fisk

The Imperfect Hero: 1776 – A Review

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 All men are flawed and make mistakes. Character is that quality in a man that transcends his flaws and propels him to success. In reading David McCullough’s 1776, one will become intimate with George Washington’s flaws and mistakes, flaws which might have been glossed over by historians more inclined to fuel legend than deeper understanding. Yet, because McCullough reveals so much of Washington’s error, the accomplishments and character of America’s first Commander in Chief are all the more astonishing than any legend.

Through priceless, archived correspondence of English and American soldiers, historians, reporters, and civilians (Washington, John Hancock, Abigail Adams and others too numerous to list here), McCullough weaves a complex tale, rich in detail, reading like a novel too good to lay aside.

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Review of Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings by Inmate Rick Fisk

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Empires leave indelible marks on their conquests. Decades after they leave, voluntarily or not, their influence is still felt. Take Jamaica, for instance.Its natural resources and people had been plundered by the British for centuries. Even after slavery was finally abolished throughout the U.K., Jamaica and other British colonies remained in states of apartheid. While much of the world was pre-occupied with news of the Vietnam war, the streets of Kingston’s ghettos ran with raw sewage and blood. in any unstable location the same players seem to show up in order to gain influence: England, the U.S., Russia. The only beneficiaries are the international corporations supplying the arms or stealing the resources. The people being ‘governed’ rarely see their conditions improve.

In A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James describes the chaos of Jamaica as it struggled to govern itself in a post-colonial world. Revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, their arms supplied through D.C. and Havana (presumably via Moscow) warred with each other from the late sixties to the nineties. One man, reggae legend Bob Marley, had a vision to bring the warring factions together for peace. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a commando-style assassination attempt in 1976. The book focuses on events leading to that attempt and its aftermath.

Marlon’s narrative, told through the eyes of ghosts, political refugees, intelligence personnel, and various posse members is as authentic and real as could be wanted. Born in Kingston himself, James gives us the unfiltered patois of the Jamaican characters, those who ‘chat bad’ and otherwise, without creating caricatures, something I can’t imagine a non-Jamaican author accomplishing.

This is a gritty story that never holds back yet never once preaches or lays down heavy judgements. The reader is left to ponder political questions on his own. James doesn’t give any hints as to which side is to blame, other than to point out that the conflicts themselves are how those in important positions can offer so little in the way of solutions and still retain power.

The concept of divide-and-conquer is illustrated with sublime skill by James’s eclectic cast of characters, highlighting all the more Bob Marley’s importance as a political figure in Jamaica’s history, even though he never held any political office.

The book is superbly crafted. Read it. Wind down and pick up James’s other masterpiece: The Book of Night Women. Five stars.

Rick Fisk, TDCJ

Review of Martin Lockett’s Palpable Irony by Inmate Rick Fisk

palpable irony

We introduced you to our friend Martin Lockett in a previous blog post. We are thrilled to say that Martin will be a regular contributor both here and in our quarterly newsletter. Do yourself a favor and get this book!

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Good people make mistakes. Martin Lockett is a good person who made an error in judgement which resulted in the deaths of two people. But for one red light, Martin might have escaped fate. After reading his memoir it is apparent that Lockett truly regrets the loss of life he caused but embraces his fate and his punishment without regret.

In Palpable Irony: Losing My Freedom to Find my Purpose, Lockett describes his journey from a shy, awkward young boy to a young man who falls in with some pretty rough characters just at that pivotal time when he’s coming into his own as an individual. The narrative – not only is it brutally honest, but also very well-written – makes one realize just how thin is that line between social failure and success.

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Review of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, by Inmate Rick Fisk

Just Mercy - Stevenson

What’s Mercy, Anyway?

Reading a book about the work of someone who has dedicated his life to freeing the innocent is inspiring. When you’re reading that book behind bars, it also evokes melancholy and wishful thinking. No matter where you are when you crack the cover on Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, be prepared to stay put until you’re finished reading it. Be prepared also to have your eyes opened – maybe even welling with tears.

Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, takes readers inside prison walls and courtrooms, introducing us to the human beings sentenced to die by the hands of justice system officials and a public who’ve forgotten to, or refuse to, view them as humans.

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When The State Kills – by Rick Fisk

Why the Death Penalty is Already Illegal

Due to recent scrutiny of American jurisprudence, specifically, an astonishing number of death row exonerations, there has been renewed debate regarding use of the death penalty. Some argue that the death penalty should be abolished because too many innocent people have been convicted, some seek to end its practice because it is biased against the poor and people of color, some are against it because it is “cruel and unusual,” and some adamantly argue that it should be continued even if the state must illegally obtain the drugs which make executions “legal” under the eighth amendment. None on either side of the debate satisfactorily explains where governments obtain the authority to administer death.

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