Fall Book Review: Precolonial Black Africa

I finished a book called Precolonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop over the weekend. I was grateful to find this book from an online bookseller after not finding information at libraries and mainstream bookstores on the subject of precolonial Africa for years. I would recommend this book if you are interested in African history before European colonization.

Precolonial Black Africa gives readers a good over view on the topic. It covers different cultures in Black Africa and different facets of society. The book discusses religion, education, government, family structure, art, the economy, etc. The author did a good job of sharing information of a vast subject to readers that may not know much about African history.

The book is a little dry and I will attribute it to being translated into English. I didn’t have much background in precolonial African history so I dove into unfamiliar territory which is also a factor. There were parts of the book that I needed to push myself through despite the book only being two hundred and forty pages.

Nonetheless, I would recommend the book if you want to learn about African culture before European colonization. It gives you a good overview and jumping off point for further study. Precolonial Africa is a book that I will save for my personal library for reference.

Here are the few things that stood out for me:

Islam changed African culture before Europe did. Precolonial African leaders were political and religious leaders. Once Africans converted to Islam their traditional leaders lost influence and culture was lost.

Pre colonial African culture had a different relationship to land ownership than Western society has. They didn’t believe anyone could own land or hold a deed for it.

There were more checks and balances in African societies. There was a caste system but lower castes were empowered by social mores.

There was slavery in Africa but many slaves had agency and could move about society. American slaves were treated in similar fashion to the way European peasants and serfs were treated.

Family lineage was traced through mothers.

If you’re interested in learning about Africa before European influence Precolonial Black Africa is worth your time even though the language is a bit dry.

Pandemic Summer Review: Malice at the Palace on Netflix

The Malice at the Palace is the infamous brawl that took place at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 between players from the Indiana Pacers, players from the Detroit Pistons and Pistons fans. Netflix made a documentary about the melee by the same name. I enjoyed the film. I think NBA fans and students of human psychology will like it. Malice at the Palace is fairly short. It gets to the point and doesn’t waste time so it’s not a big investment if you don’t care for it.

I remember the night of the Malice at the Palace otherwise known as the Basketbrawl but I still learned some new things. The film about the history making fight has interviews from the players, fans and police involved in the incident. It was pretty interesting hearing the perspective of fans, some of whom were arrested and one left the Palace on a stretcher and law enforcement.

My impression of the Basketbrawl is that everyone over thought it and got too emotional about the incident. The only difference between the Malice at the Palace and other sports fights is the fan involvement. It’s not rare for baseball to have a bench clearing brawl after a pitcher intentionally hits a batter with a ball. Hockey is notorious for fights. I think we’ve all heard the joke that they watched a fight on TV and a hockey game broke out. Pro sports is pretty much a celebration of toxic masculinity anyway and I thought that’s why we all watched.

There was a lot of media focus surrounding The Malice at the Palace. The media talked about if for weeks and the players were vilified and labeled as thugs. The NBA is made up of mostly Black players. In the early 2000s many of them were tattooed with braided hair. The public thought of them as thugs anyway so the Basketbrawl fit the narrative that already existed in the minds of many.

The fight happened at the beginning of the season. Key players were suspended for nearly half the season. The Pacers players that were interviewed thought the punishment was too harsh. I agree. The movie pointed out that the Pacers had a great team that year and had a great chance to go to the NBA Finals and winning.

The Pacers players lament a missed once in a lifetime opportunity. We’ll never know if the Pacers would have made it to the ’05 Finals and become NBA Champions. At the end of the season the championship hopeful Pacers team was disbanded. Ron Artest went to the Lakers and Reggie Miller retired.

It has long been my observation that the NBA favors large market teams and cheats smaller market ones. I’ve noticed bad officiating in The Playoffs over the years in favor of teams with larger markets and bankable stars. The 2004 NBA Finals Champions were the Detroit Pistons who essentially were a bunch of midwestern unknowns that beat the LA Lakers during Lakers era. I suspect that the commissioner at the time, David Stern didn’t want a different group of midwestern, small market players having a Cinderella season. That is my theory for the harsh punishments for the fight aside from publicly flogging Black men for American audiences.

Check out The Malice at the Palace if you’re an NBA fan, someone who enjoys drama or if you’re nostalgic about the early 2000s. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you don’t at least it’s short and fast paced.

Pandemic Summer: “The Heights”

I saw the musical The Heights last week. I enjoyed it. I think people that enjoy musicals will enjoy it but it’s not the greatest musical ever. Hamilton was better and I can name five musicals off the top of my head that are better than The Heights. It’s not great. It’s OK yet entertaining.

The Heights takes place in a working class, Latin, immigrant community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. The film focuses the hopes for the future and struggles of the characters. The actors are nice looking, there are movie romances that follow the arc many movie romances do, there are a few laughs and dancing in the streets. The film also addresses modern concerns such as gentrification and The Dreamers.

There was some controversy about the film. Many thought the cast was whitewashed and did not accurately reflect Washington Heights New York. When I saw the commercial for The Heights I questioned the casting too. I’ve never been to Washington Heights but I would guess there are a lot more visibly Black people in that community than what is portrayed in this film based on what I’ve seen of NYC. The film itself is more diverse than the commercials promoting it.

Here is a clip from my favorite part of the movie. The woman that describes herself as Chile Dominican Rican performs my favorite minute of the movie. She’s a hoot.

The movie has a Hollywood happy ending and is very pro American and patriotic from an immigrant’s perspective. It’s lighthearted if you approach it with a light heart. If you enjoy musicals I suggest you give it a try. It not in my top five musicals but The Heights was very popular on Broadway and it made Lin Manuel Miranda famous so it may become one of your favorites.

Summer 2021 Book Review: Outwitting the Devil

I finished reading Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill this week. It’s not something I typically read but it was recommended to me so I gave it a chance. Outwitting the Devil kind of falls under the umbrella of self help which I don’t care for but the fictional narrative made the story enjoyable. It’s interesting and it offers a compelling perspective. The book is written from the perspective of Satan.

The book is about an interview with the devil himself. A man who goes by Mr. Earthbound, asks the devil about his tactics and strategies for deceiving mankind. To make a long story short, the Devil seeks to distract humanity by any means available. He uses our universal human weaknesses and learns our personal vulnerabilities.

Primarily he seeks to control the minds of human beings. He says that’s what we have complete control over and that’s what he wants to control. Everything else in the universe follows natural order. Human minds are the only things that can be manipulated.

Once a person’s mind is controlled by Satan it is called being in drift which is being distracted and filled with fear. He achieves further submission through hypnotic rhythm which means you an individual is stuck in a rut and has accepted their circumstances. The devil says there are only two kinds of people in the world, drifters and non drifters. The vast majority are drifters. That’s it in a nutshell.

Outwitting the Devil was written in 1938. It reminds me of the popular book and documentary The Secret from the early 2000s. I’m glad this book was recommended to me even though it borders on self help. The narrative was creative and made the book entertaining. I would recommend it.

Spring Book Review: Let Love Rule – Lenny Kravitz

I recently finished reading the autobiography of rock start Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule. I enjoyed reading the book and I would recommend the book but there are conditions. I’m biased because I’ve been a Lenny Kravitz fan since the 90s. People that aren’t fans of Lenny Kravitz may find the book to be a bit dull.

Lenny Kravitz has a charmed life. He spent his early childhood in New York City in the 70s and early 80s. I’m grateful to have grown up in the 80s because children had more independence and a sense of safety. At the same time there were not as many children only spaces so children had the opportunity to observe adults more. They just had to stay out of adult business.

Lenny grew up playing on NYC streets with friends and when he was a bit older riding the subway himself to museums like The Met and exploring art. Lenny’s parents were a sophisticated couple and exposed Lenny to fine restaurants and theater as a child. Lenny crossed paths and even had close relationships with entertainment legends. One night while out with his dad Lenny met Frank Sinatra. His godmother was Cicely Tyson and her husband was Miles Davis. Lenny’s stylish parents enjoyed entertaining and he described himself as having numerous glamorous aunts. That is great for character building.

When Lenny was in middle school his mother was cast as Mrs. Willis on The Jeffersons. He was disappointed in having to leave New York but he resettled in sunny southern California and his parents bought a home in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. LA is where Lenny discovered his love of music and developed his talent.

Lenny had a contentious relationship with his father. Their personalities clashed. Lenny’s father spent time in the military and he didn’t mesh well with his free spirited son. Lenny and his dad fell out so badly during his teen years that Lenny got kicked out of the family home and was homeless for a while. But Lenny’s father was key to his success and prosperity in many ways.

Lenny Kravitz married Lisa Bonet in Las Vegas in his early twenties and had a baby shortly after. Lisa and being a young dad were also key to his success. Lisa helped him become more comfortable with who he was as a young man and being a father grounded him. The book ends after the release of his album Let Love Rule. I hope Lenny writes another autobiography because I want to know more about his career, his marriage, his divorce, fatherhood and acting career.

Lenny’s life is pretty wholesome so his story is not one with a lot of action, trauma or tragedy which is what propels most stories these days. Some people may find it a bit dull. But I’m a Lenny fan so I enjoyed the book. Lenny has a very blessed and glamorous life even with the pit falls and false starts. I would recommend this book.

Pandemic Winter Review: Vikings

Over the winter I started watching the TV show Vikings. Vikings ran on the History Channel from 2013 to 2020 for six seasons. The show is loosely based on the history of the Vikings of northern Europe. I would recommend the show if you like historical dramas. However the show is super violent. The Vikings didn’t really do anything other than invade foreign lands, initiate hand to hand combat and have sex.

The principle character of the show is an ambitious farmer turned Viking king Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The show spans generations and the show does a good job of developing the characters and their storylines. The make up artists did a great job of maturing and aging the actors.

Michael Hirst is the writer of the show and he said that Vikings is loosely based on history. So I’ve learned some new things but they are general ideas and not necessarily historic facts. Vikings is purely a drama and not educational material. But if you don’t know much about the Vikings this show may inspire you to learn more about them and their influence.

If you don’t mind violent battle scenes and torture you may enjoy Vikings. Some of the seasons are long so the series is kind of a big commitment but it’s a great story with a lot of intricate details and great actors.

Pandemic Winter Book Review: The Cobbler

I recently finished The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell From Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever by Steve Madden. I ran across this book on a library shelf. I was familiar with the brand and owned some of the product but I had never thought of Steve Madden as a person. This book is Steve Madden’s life story. For the most part it is an interesting read and I would recommend it.

First off, I enjoyed the conversational tone of the book. The language was very direct and blunt. Madden is from New York and this book was written the way New Yorkers tend to talk. The author did not try to be deep, woke or intellectual. Reading this story was like talking to a person in a bar.

The Cobbler is fairly short but it touches on a few different subjects. I’ll start with what the book is not. The book is not primarily about fashion, design and trends. Those things are discussed but it’s not the focus of the book so if that’s what you’re looking for this book isn’t for you.

This book touches on family ties, addiction, business, a possible personality disorder the stock market, marriage, divorce, parenthood, incarceration and social injustices. There is a lot going on which can probably be said for all of our lives.

Steve Madden’s story starts in Long Island, NY with his mother, father and two brothers. He talks a bit about his family dynamic and childhood. In his teen years he begins his career as a retail sales person in, you guessed it. A shoe store. He expanded his career in the shoe business as a young adult as a designer, manufacturer and sales representative in New York City.

Steve started his shoe company with $1,100 in 1990. The company did relatively well but he knew the company couldn’t grow without additional cash flow. Steve had a childhood friend named Danny that lent him money to to take his company private. It was a part of a scheme to flip stocks.

Danny worked with a man named Jordan who inflated and sold stocks. The deal was that Steve had to sell his stocks after they were inflated. This deal was depicted in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Wolves of Wall Street. Steve served about two and a half years for stock manipulation, money laundering and securities fraud.

Steve Madden’s incarceration is the most interesting part of the book. If you enjoy programs like Lockup or Locked Up Abroad you may enjoy The Cobbler. Steve describes prison life and some of the characters he might while locked up. Incarceration gave Steve an understanding of inequities in society and how racist and inhumane the American prison system is.

Steve employed several people that he met while he was incarcerated. He knew that he was fortunate to have a business to return to while other inmates had no opportunities. I really appreciate the author did not get sappy and all kumbaya (which is getting on my nerves) while discussing these matters. He was very matter of fact. Steve Madden supports a non profit organization that helps ex prisoners and homeless people.

Steve got engaged in prison which was cute. He married one of his employees that was with him since the early days of his company once he was released. After his incarceration Steve Madden returned to work and his company grew and became a global juggernaut.

This is an interesting book and inspiration can be gained from it in many different ways. It’s a short read and a little slow in parts but it picks up in the middle. There are heartwarming parts of the book as well as some laugh out loud moments. Overall, would recommend it if you have the time.

Pandemic Book Review: Parable of the Sower

SPOILERS AHEAD!

It’s 2021 and COVID cases are increasing which makes pre COVID life impossible. Social activities are very limited so there is more time for past times like reading. My first book review of 2021 is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I would recommend this book.

Octavia Butler is an African American author. I appreciate Parable of the Sower because if features a Black, female protagonist and most of the characters are Black but race is not the vehicle that moves the story along. Parable of the Sower is not a typical Black story that involves Civil Rights, inner city life, music, slavery or sports. I don’t have anything against that subject matter but I love it when writers give Black characters range beyond those roles.

Octavia Butler

The story takes place in California from around 2024 to 2036. American society has spiraled downward. The economy is in shambles and Americans are living in poverty. Crime is out of control. Homelessness is commonplace. The government is rife with corruption. The nation’s infrastructure has crumbled.

The United States regressed one hundred and fifty years. Every shameful part of our past was a part of the books present. People were enslaved. Workers were routinely hurt in factories. Child labor was commonly used. A large part of the population was illiterate. Drugs and addictions were ubiquitous. A plague was spreading and making people ill.

Racial tensions were high. Nationalism and hate crimes had been on the rise for decades. A presidential candidate from Texas used this vulnerability to gain support. His campaign promise was to make America great again. Octavia Butler wrote Parable of the Sower in 1993.

The book moves a little slow in parts but I would encourage readers to stick with it. The story is a part of a series and there isn’t a very exciting payoff but I was floored by the author’s insight. If Donald Trump read I would have sworn that he based his campaign on Parable of the Sower. We all know he doesn’t read so I will assume that Butler was clairvoyant. She died in 2006.

If you enjoy dystopian novels add this to your reading list. I think you will enjoy it.

Lockdown Reviews: A Father First, How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball

During the COVID 19 Lockdown I read the biography A Father First, How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball by retired NBA star Dwyane Wade.  The book was published in 2012.  It tells the story of Dwyane’s life while focussing on his relationship with his boys.  He is the father of two sons and he also raised his nephew who needed a home.

For the most part I enjoyed A Father First.  The book is a bit slow moving in parts but it was interesting and touching at other times.  I am an NBA fan and I followed Dwyane’s career for year but I didn’t know much about him personally.  Dwyane lived with his three sisters, two of which were from his mother’s previous relationships, his mom and his dad.  He was the baby of the family.

Wade stated that his family was far from wealthy but when his parents were together his life had stability and the family had what they needed even thought their lives were modest.  His parents, Dwyane and Jolinda, divorced when Wade was a young boy.  His mother admitted that the split was due to her controlling ways.  Everything changed for Dwyane and his sisters after the break up.

Dwyane didn’t see his father often.  His two older sister went to live with friends or other relatives.  Dwyane and his younger sister remained with his mother who developed a serious drug habit.  She had abusive relationships with men after her divorce.  His mother’s boyfriends were involved with drug trafficking and Chicago PD raided his home.  Young Dwyane Wade often went hungry.  His childhood trials made him decide as a young boy that if he became a father that he would be devoted, responsible and loyal.

Dwyane’s grandmother was the matriarch of his large extended family.  Dwyane had a lot of respect for his grandmother and she was always available to offer help.  He and his sister didn’t always seek her help because they didn’t want anyone to know about their mother’s struggle.

Wade went to live with his father, stepmother and brothers when he was in upper elementary school and his life improved.  His sister who he was closest with was not taken in by the dad.  His father and stepmother had another baby, a girl.  While living with his dad sports became a big part of Dwyane’s life.  His dad was his first coach and his brothers were his competitors.

He had a growth spurt in high school and it got the attention of coaches and recruiters.  Dwyane later went to Marquette University.  While he was a student he married his high school sweetheart and became a first time father.  He and his wife had a rocky marriage and later a terribly dramatic divorce after being drafted into the NBA by the Miami Heat and having another baby.

Jolinda had a religious epiphany while she was a fugitive of the law.  She turned herself in to serve her time.  While she was in prison she became free of her drug habit and studied her Bible.  She started a storefront church once she was a free woman and her son later bought her a church with his NBA fortune.  The other details of the book were about his college and NBA career.  I skimmed through those pages because neither were very interesting to me.

I would recommend the book if you’re an NBA fan.  The book can be a bit dry but it kind of mirrors Dwyane’s personality.  He’s never come across as very dramatic or talkative.  Jolinda’s story is inspiring even though I resented her for the way her children suffered due to her shortcoming.  Dwyane’s decision to be a committed family man at a young age is also inspirational.  It’s a good read if you have the time.

Lockdown Reviews: Showboat The Life of Kobe Bryant

Like much of the United States and possibly the world I am on lockdown because of COVID – 19.  I have two jobs and both have shut down for the last five weeks due to government orders to prevent the spread of the plague.  This has given me a lot of time to catch up on reading.  I checked out the biography Showboat:  The Life of Kobe Bryant shortly after the NBA star died and I didn’t get around to beginning the book until the quarantine in March.

I am an NBA fan but Kobe was never my guy.  He didn’t play for my team which is the Detroit Pistons.  I have chanted BEAT LA in my living room many, many times.  Most of that energy was directed towards Kobe.  When Kobe died on January 26 I was shocked and saddened.  Even though I’ve never been a Kobe fan I respect his success and I appreciate what he did for the game for twenty years.

This biography is very well written, well researched and detail oriented.  This book is essentially an NBA history that focused on the late 90s to the mid 2010s.  There are accounts of injuries, trades, games and series.  The book is a little less than six hundred pages so it is a long and at times dry read.

I enjoy NBA but the minutiae of this book was a bit much for me.  I was disappointed that the author only devoted a paragraph or two to the 2004 Laker loss to the Detroit Pistons.  I was looking forward to reliving that in print but the author glossed over that glorious event.  But overall I enjoyed the book because it cleared up some of the folklore surrounding Kobe’s relationship with Vanessa, his mother and father and Shaquille O’Neal.  And yes, the rape trial was discussed.

This book reinforced all of my previous notions about Kobe Bryant.  He was an aloof man and fierce competitor.  Kobe Bryant was not a nice guy.  He didn’t really get along with anyone once he became a star.  But that wasn’t important to him.  Winning was.  He was meticulous in everything he did and was a diligent worker.  Kobe had no patience for people around him that didn’t live up to his standards and people were easily discarded.

Kobe also didn’t like to share the spotlight with others.  He didn’t want to share the spotlight with Shaquille O’Neal or Phil Jackson.  LA wasn’t big enough for all of them.  He never wanted it to be said that he needed them in order to be successful.  Kobe was a lot like a 1980s night time soap opera villain that was motivated by a single goal and he didn’t let anything get in his way.  Even though Kobe wasn’t warm and fuzzy I did like him more after reading this book.  I respect the man’s drive and passion.

I also disliked him more after reading this book.  By all accounts Kobe was a prick and so is his wife.  He stabbed Shaquille O’Neal in the back more than once.  He threw his coach Phil Jackson under the bus.  He turned his back on his parents and siblings and cut them off financially before marrying his wife Vanessa and buying a beautiful new home for her mother who was in financial straits before her daughter married the NBA star.  No one really seemed to get along with Kobe.  As an NBA fan I kind of already knew that.

I did learn some new details about Kobe’s life but there wasn’t a lot of new information for me in this book.  It’s fun to relive some of the NBA history that was written about in this book.  I enjoyed the dirt that the book shared on Kobe’s personal entanglements.  The author did a good job of giving us a backstage look at NBA life.  I would recommend the book if you’re an NBA fan.  You will enjoy it and it might make up for the NBA Playoffs being postponed.