Monthly Archives: January 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Queen of the Air’: Biography of Two of the Most Famous Aerialists in Circus History Proves Once Again That Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

Dean Jensen’s “Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus” (Crown Publishing, 336 pages, illustrations, notes, index, $26.00) was published last summer, so I’m late with this review, but I have an excuse: I didn’t learn about the book until I Googled myself!

Try it sometime: You may be surprised at what turns up.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Queen of The Air': Biography of Two of the Most Famous Aerialists in Circus History Proves Once Again That Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

I was checking for a story I wrote during my tenure at the Los Angeles Times and I came across my name in the acknowledgements section of Jensen’s wonderfully readable account  of the strange beyond belief tale of Lillian Leitzel — the “Queen of the Air” —  and her husband Alfredo Codona, of the famous Flying Codonas aerialist troupe.

Dean Jensen acknowledged my help in securing newspaper accounts of Codona’s last tragic years in Southern California, after his wife, Lillian Leitzel,  died in a performance accident in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1931.

Dean was a colleague of mine at The Milwaukee Sentinel — now the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and a good friend. He stayed with us in the 1980s, gathering information on Codona, who lived in Long Beach, CA.

I won’t reveal the fate of Codona, retired after suffering a series of crippling accidents, and his then wife, Australian-born aerialist Vera Bruce, but it was a tragic end to both their careers.

Lillian was born out of wedlock  in 1891 in Breslau, Germany, now Wroclaw, Poland, to a circus performer mother, Nellie Pelikan. Nellie was only 12 when she gave birth to Lillian, under circumstances that also constitute a spoiler.

Lillian’s fame as an aerialist with the Leamy Ladies and later with the “Greatest Show on Earth” — the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — led to her becoming the greatest aerialist in history, known throughout the world simply as “Leitzel.”

There was nothing simple about Leitzel, the most famous woman in the world, any more than there is about today’s today’s single-named celebrities Beyonce, Madonna, and Cher.  Separated from her mother most of her life, she quickly became more famous, which, as Jensen recounts, resulted in an estrangement that ended only a few weeks before Leitzel’s death at age 40.

Tiny, beautiful Leitzel — she was only 4-foot-ten-inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds — was the highest paid circus performer in the world, drawing a salary of  $1,200 a week — when the annual income for working class families was $750 — a year!

Like other prima donnas down to the present day, Leitzel was a difficult, complicated person, subject to mood swings as grandiose as her aerial performances. There’s a lot of “A Star Is Born” vibe  about the always stormy relationship between Leitzel and Codona in Jensen’s book. For one thing, Codona was extremely well paid, but never as highly paid as his wife.  “Queen of the Air” is also an excellent account of the world of circuses, including their traveling arrangements and how they criss-crossed the nation in trains with 100 or more cars.

In her life, Leitzel had many suitors — and three husbands — but the movie-star handsome Codona came closest to capturing her heart.  Not surprisingly, movies were part of his life, too: After Leitzel’s death, Alfredo and Vera Bruce performed the stunts for Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan in the 1932 movie “Tarzan the Ape Man” filmed in Lake Sherwood, Ventura County, CA, which was one of the filming sites of the 1938 movie “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Before the Tarzan movie, Alfredo appeared in F. W. Murnau’s circus film ‘4 Devils.”

Codona was the perfect choice for these stunts because he and his brother Lalo night after night performed death-defying stunts. Alfredo was the greatest trapeze flyer that had ever lived, the only one in his time who, on a regular basis, executed the deadliest of all big-top feats, The Triple: three somersaults in midair while traveling at 60 m.p.h. The Triple — the salto mortale, as the Italians called it —  took the lives of more aerialists than any other circus stunt.

The story of Leitzel and Alfredo and their families in “Queen of the Air” reads like a novel from a master, but it’s a true story written by an author who understands circus people and what attracts them to spend their working lives in  a closed entertainment community that moves from city to city.

Dean Jensen

Dean Jensen
Photo by Tom Bamberger

About the Author

Dean Jensen is the author of three earlier books focusing on subjects from the worlds of the circus, carnivals, and the vaudeville stage. Jensen was an art critic and arts writer for The Milwaukee Sentinel (now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and has received numerous awards for his writing. He now operates an eponymously named contemporary art gallery in Milwaukee.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Loudest Voice in the Room’: Detailed Account of Roger Ailes — the Man Behind Fox News Channel

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

“I used to say, you pull a .45 on Roger, he’ll have a bazooka trained between your eyes”— Catherine Crier, former Fox News Channel on-air personality, quoted on Page 218 of “The Loudest Voice in the Room”

                                                           * * *

I was puzzled about all the controversy surrounding Gabriel Sherman’s exhaustive (and often exhausting) dissection of Roger Ailes: “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country” (Random House, 560 pages, notes, index, no photographs,  $28.00).

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Loudest Voice in the Room': Detailed Account of Roger Ailes -- the Man Behind Fox News Channel

 After all, no matter what you say about Roger Ailes, even his enemies have to admit he’s a programming genius. Otherwise, the canny Australian media supermogul Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t have chosen him in 1996 to start a cable news channel to compete with — and ultimately defeat — CNN and MSNBC.

To put Sherman’s book in context, readers should get their hands on a book I reviewed on this site last Oct. 20, “Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires” by David Folkenflik. Link to my review:

Ailes’ skills and knowledge of middle America derive from his being a product of same.  He was born in 1940 in the once thriving, now rust-belt city of Warren Ohio to a real working class family — not an ersatz one like Bill O’Reilly’s, whose father worked as an accountant in Manhattan. Roger Ailes’  knowledge of what  “flyover country” folks want was bred in the bone. I would dispute the part in the book’s subtitle that Ailes “divided a country”: it’s more of a case of Ailes’s instinctively recognizing the divisions that existed in the country, exploiting them to the fullest in his grand design for Fox News.

Regardless of what people think of TV news, my guess is that most viewers want entertainment. If it comes with good-looking women — like Crier, Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros to name just a few — so much the better. If it comes with a bombastic loudmouth from Long Island named Bill O’Reilly, so be it. I regularly look at all three of the cable news channels and it seems that they all have good-looking female and male personalities — and bombastic types, too, like the Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC.

This comprehensive look at Ailes and FNC covers events from the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to the Bush-Gore recount, from the war in Iraq to the Tea Party attack on the Obama presidency. It also covers the allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O’Reilly from producer Andrea Mackris, which don’t seem to me to have any relevance with the arc of the career of Roger Ailes, but which cost O’Reilly a lot of money in a settlement. 

Nor does his campaign waged in his home in Garrison, NY, across the Hudson River from West Point, a subject to which I think Sherman devotes an inordinate amount of space to show something we already have learned: That Roger Ailes is a guy who just won’t quit. 

Sherman tried and failed to get a sit-down interview with Ailes himself, but his book is based on three years of research, including hundreds of interviews with Fox News insiders past and present. He interviewed disgruntled employees of FNC, but also gruntled ones, to coin a word. 

 Sherman documents Ailes’s tactical acuity as he battles the press, business rivals, and countless real and perceived enemies inside and outside Fox. Sherman takes us inside the morning meetings in which Ailes and other high-level executives strategize Fox’s presentation of the news to advance Ailes’s political agenda; provides behind-the-scenes details of Ailes’s crucial role as finder and shaper of talent, including his sometimes rocky relationships with Fox News stars such as O’Reilly and Sean Hannity; and probes Ailes’s fraught partnership with his equally brash and mercurial boss, Rupert Murdoch.

OK, did I like the book? I did. As I said, it’s an ideal companion to Folkenflick’s tome. I wish the publishers had included a selection of photographs. “The Loudest Voice in the Room” will appeal largely to devotees of inside-baseball information, but general readers should gain an understanding of Fox News Channel from reading it.


Gabriel Sherman

Gabriel Sherman


About the author

Gabriel Sherman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine. Currently, Sherman is also a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation. In January 2014, Random House will publish his first book about Roger Ailes and the rise of the Fox News Channel. 

At New York, Sherman has reported cover stories on media, politics and business. His 2011 cover story “The Elephant in the Green Room,” about Roger Ailes’s role in shaping the 2012 Republican presidential primary, was a finalist for the Mirror Award for “Best Single Article”. His 2010 cover story “Chasing Fox,” about the travails at CNN and MSNBC, won the Mirror Award in that category. In 2008, his cover story “Testing Horace Mann,” chronicled a Facebook scandal at the prestigious New York City prep school, and was a finalist for the Livingston Award. 

At the New Republic, Sherman’s 2010 cover story, “Post Apocalypse,” chronicled the rise and fall of the Washington Post as the legendary paper struggled to adapt to a new media landscape. In December 2008, he wrote a series of investigative articles that uncovered that Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat’s Oprah-hyped memoir was a hoax. His February 2008 article revealed the internal newsroom debate at the New York Times over the paper’s decision to publish a controversial article that alleged that the 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain had had an affair with the telecommunications lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. 

Previously, Sherman was the media reporter at the New York Observer, where he reported extensively on the New York Times, including the paper’s flawed coverage of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and the decision to delay publishing its NSA wiretapping exclusive for more than a year. He reported on Judith Miller’s standoff with Times editors and reporters, and ultimately sat down for Miller’s first interview on the eve of her resignation from the paper. From 2006-2007, Sherman was a staff writer at Conde Nast Portfolio. Website: www.thehoudestvoiceintheroom,com


PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Hemmings Motor News, ‘Bible’ of Car Collectors, Marks 60th Anniversary

  • By David M. Kinchen 

For dyed-in-the wool car collectors — and even for people who don’t have the cash to indulge in their dreams — there’s nothing like a big fat Hemmings Motor News arriving in the mail or at the local newsstand. The February 2014 issue is the 60th anniversary edition of a publication that began at the beginning of 1954 with a 4-page mimeographed bulletin by founder Ernest R. Hemmings in Quincy, IL.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Hemmings Motor News, 'Bible' of Car Collectors,  Marks 60th Anniversary

In the 544-page  anniversary issue,  Hemmings writer Mike McNessor writes that in addition to the usual content, the anniversary issue on newsstands since January 14 contains “some great Hemmings-related recollections from readers (including the story about the De Lorean in the bedroom previously featured here);  biographies of the men who built and kept Hemmings Motor News alive -– Ernest R. Hemmings, Terry Ehrich and Ray Shaw -– stories about working at HMN from some of our longest-serving and most valued employees, as well as a two-page tour of our facility in Bennington.”

That’s Bennington, VT, in the Green Mountain State, and the cover features the magazine’s three iconic 1936 delivery trucks representing the Big 3 automakers: A Ford, a Dodge and a Chevrolet.

McNessor writes: “There’s also a smattering of the usual stuff: coverage from the Bonhams Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel; a sports car profile about a 351 Cleveland-powered Iso Grifo Series 2; and a cool Tools and Supplies page showcasing old automotive diagnostic tools found in our own museum. If nothing in Hemmings‘s 112-page magazine section excites you, you can always find something that does in its 400-plus pages of classified ads!”

1937 Buick Century

1937 Buick Century

At $5.99 a copy, the issue is sure to become a collector’s item, but I’ll read it with thoughts about the cars rescued from junkyards by my late and much missed brother, Jerry Emke, restored by Jerry, the mechanical genius and master car painter and sold to me in the 1950s when I was in high school at bargain prices, like the 1937 Buick Century opera coupe pictured here — or the 1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe with the original V-12 engine. I don’t have a photo of the Continental, but it was painted black. Jerry believed in only two colors for vehicles, black and white. He did make an exception for my second car, a beautiful 1941 Buick Special four-door fastback sedan. Its burgundy paint was still good, so he cleaned it up and sold it to me for $75.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Under the Wide and Starry Sky’: Intriguing Novel/Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 


Stevenson had always wanted his ‘Requiem’ inscribed on his tomb:

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be;

Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.


–“Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson

* * *

BOOK REVIEW: 'Under the Wide and Starry Sky': Intriguing Novel/Biography of Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne Stevenson

First off, I have to ask the question: Can you accept the premise of a novelized biography, a literary genre popularized by Irving Stone (1903-1989) with his novel/biographies of Vincent van Gogh — “Lust for Life” — and Michelangelo –“The Agony and the Ecstasy” — among others?

If you accept this premise, Nancy Horan’s “Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel” (Ballantine Books, 496 pages, $26.00) is a magnificent tour de force, following the literary path carved out in her 2007 bestselling novel “Loving Frank”, the story of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his illicit affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of his client Edward Cheney.

“Under the Wide and Starry Sky” deals with many of the same issues as the previous novel, including the role of women in the arts and the role of a wife as an influence on her husband, as Horan tells the story of the unlikely affair and later marriage of Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne and the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Horan’s novel may or may not  change  our view of the author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped,  and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. To a large extent it depends on many things. I think from the evidence that Horan presents that Fanny’s mood swings contributed to  his creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in what I believe is his masterpiece.

An aside from an English major — the reviewer — who attended college in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Stevenson was pretty much off our radar. I don’t recall any mention of him in our classes. He was considered a popular writer — but so was Dickens — unworthy of study because of his subject matter. He was considered a horror writer and a children’s writer, too.

Stevenson was born in 1850, the son of a wealthy builder of lighthouses. He was sickly from an early age, with lung problems that led him to seek treatment in many places, including Davos, Switzerland, today more famous as the site of economic summits.

Stevenson meets and falls in love with Fanny when she’s in Paris studying art. She has left her unfaithful husband Sam Osbourne in San Francisco and has traveled with her three young children to study art. She’s still married to Sam at the time of their meeting. She was considered an exotic woman, with a dark complexion that contributed to her aura. She was born in 1840 in Indianapolis and lived until 1914, two decades after Stevenson’s death on Samoa in 1894. After Stevenson’s death and burial on a Samoan mountaintop, Fanny was the keeper of the author’s flame.

“Under the Wide and Starry Sky” addresses:

> Why this unlikely pair were drawn to each other

> How Louis and Fanny shaped each others’ artistic lives and accomplishments

> The Stevensons’ literary and artistic circle, which included such luminaries as John Singer Sargent and Henry James

> The obstacles Fanny and Louis faced, and how they helped each other navigate them

>  Their adventures as world travelers

>  Gender expectations, and their impact on both Fanny and Louis’s lives and work

> Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary legacy and how it has changed over time

Horan is an outstanding writer and I didn’t find the book to have any boring sections. It’s worth reading, along with biographies of Stevenson that Horan recommends at the end of the book.


Nancy Horan

Nancy Horan


About the author

Nancy Horan is best known for her 2007 novel Loving Frank, which chronicles a little-known chapter in the life of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and his client, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Loving Frank remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for over a year. It has been translated into sixteen languages, and won the 2009 James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction, awarded by the Society of American Historians.

A native Midwesterner, Nancy Horan was a teacher and journalist before turning to fiction writing. She lived for 25 years in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where she raised her two sons. Oak Park is famous as the site of Wright’s studio and many of his most famous houses and other buildings. She now lives with her husband on an island in Washington state’s Puget Sound. Her

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hidden Girl’: Gripping Memoir of Egyptian Girl Sold Into Slavery

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Hidden Girl': Gripping Memoir of Egyptian Girl Sold Into Slavery

 Don’t let the BFYR (Books for Young Readers) label on “Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave (Simon & Schuster BFYR,  240 pages,  $17.99, also available in an eBook) deter you from reading this memoir by Shyima Hall, with Lisa Wysocky: It’s suitable for people of all ages and will enlighten every reader about a problem that flies under the radar in the mainstream media.

Shyima Hall was born in Egypt in 1989, the seventh child of desperately poor parents in Alexandria, Egypt. When she was eight, her parents sold her into slavery, even though slavery is technically illegal in Egypt. Shyima then moved two hours away to Egypt’s capital city of Cairo to live with a wealthy family and serve them eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.  Shyima writes that she was sold because her older sister Zahra had apparently stolen from the family and the “honor” code of Islam required that another child be substituted for the alleged thief.

When Shyima was ten, her captors moved to Orange County, California, and smuggled Shyima with them. Two years later, an anonymous call from a neighbor brought about the end of Shyima’s servitude—but her journey to true freedom was far from over.

The neighbor who thought something was suspicious in the gated community noticed a young girl hanging up clothing to dry on a makeshift clothes line — something people in upscale Irvine don’t do, especially at night. Shiyima was not allowed to use the washing machine of the couple she refers to as “The Mom” and “The Dad”. She was confined to a space in the garage and washed her clothing in a bucket of water.

“Hidden Girl” goes into considerable detail about Shyima’s stay in a group home and later in foster homes, more than a few of them not much better than her captives. She’s finally adopted by a couple and it turns out that this couple is as dysfunctional as some of the foster parents, with the wife being the major source of grievances. The authors are frank in their writing of all this dysfunction, something that should attract the 12-years-old and up target audience. Adults often misjudge the wisdom of teens and even pre-teens.

Shyima was so impressed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official named Mark Abend who was involved in her rescue that she decided that she wanted to become an ICE agent herself and rescue the thousands of child slaves believed to be in the U.S. Abend, Shyima writes, was always there for her. He set such a good example that Shyima became a volunteer at the local police department — and became a U.S. citizen. She also became a mother, after learning the day before her citizenship test that she was pregnant Shyima and her boyfriend Daniel are raising their daughter Athena — and Shyima still wants to become a police officer or ICE agent.

She writes that “More than seventeen thousand new slaves are brought into the United States every year. And more are being rescued than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to know that a rescued slave could show up in your school, workplace or neighborhood. That person is going to need a lot of love, care, and patience.”

“Hidden Girl” is a much needed book about an insidious custom being imported into this country by heartless immigrants. Americans are admonished to respect the customs of people in countries we visit. We should have no respect for barbarous customs like child slavery and should prosecute the perpetrators  to the fullest extent of the law — as “The Mom” and “The Dad” in Shyima’s case were.

About the Authors

Shyima Hall

Shyima Hall was born in Egypt and sold into slavery at the age of eight. When she was ten, her captors brought her to the United States on an illegally obtained temporary visa, and two years later she was rescued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and moved to a group home. Shyima became an American citizen at age twenty-one and hopes to become an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. When Shyima is not working or volunteering at the police station, she enjoys listening to music, watching movies, and spending time with her friends. Shyima lives in Riverside County, California.

Lisa Wysocky

Lisa Wysocky is a bestselling fiction and nonfiction author who splits her time between Minnesota and Tennessee. From the mystery “The Opium Equation”, which garnered four awards, to the award-winning “Front of the Class”, coauthored with Brad Cohen and aired as a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie, Lisa’s many books empower readers.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Ascendant’: Debut Cyber Thriller Posits ‘War by Other Means’ Between U.S., China

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Ascendant': Debut Cyber Thriller Posits 'War by Other Means' Between U.S., China

We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means. — From the 1976 Princeton University Press translation of “Vom Kriege” (“On War”) by Carl von Clausewitz, 1780-1831

* * *

Clausewitz would have understood the thinking of 26-year-old Garrett Reilly, the protagonist of Drew Chapman’s debut cyber thriller “The Ascendant” (Simon & Schuster, 400 pages, $25.00, also available in a Kindle eBook edition).

The Prussian soldier and military theorist was one of the first military men to think outside the box. According to his Wikipedia entry:

 “He stressed the dialectical interaction of diverse factors, noting how unexpected developments unfolding under the “fog of war” (i.e., in the face of incomplete, dubious, and often completely erroneous information and high levels of fear, doubt, and excitement) call for rapid decisions by alert commanders.”

Clausewitz is just the kind of guy Garrett Reilly would like to have on his team, a person who could spot seemingly unrelated information and piece together a scenario.

“The Ascendant” is the first book in a projected series featuring  Reilly, a self-described “half Mexican, half Irish surfer” from Long Beach, CA. now employed as a Wall Street bond analyst. Not one for false modesty, Reilly thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, an assessment that his mentor at Jenkins & Altshuler, Avery Bernstein,  agrees with.

When Reilly notices a pattern that escapes everybody else at the firm — that U.S. Treasury bonds are being sold off at a frantic pace and in huge amounts — Bernstein calls his contacts in Washington, DC and a very reluctant Garrett Reilly finds himself working for a government agency, alongside people he hates fiercely:  soldiers and marines.

Reilly has convinced Bernstein that the bond sell-off is part of a cyber attack by China that includes massive real estate purchases to drive down housing prices, just as they are about to recover from the Great Recession of 2008.

One reason Garrett Reilly hates the military is that his brother Brandon, who joined the Marine Corps, was killed in Afghanistan, needlessly, Garrett believes, in a senseless war that we cannot win.

Since this is a thriller, there has to be a beautiful woman in it and there is — with U.S. Army Captain Alexis Truffant striving mightily to convince Garrett to use his talents to head up a secret group called The Ascendant save the nation from the cyber attack by the Red Chinese. She succeeds and Garrett assembles a crew of misfit geniuses who turn their space in the Pentagon into a junk-food littered gaming space, with real money being used to attack the Chinese.

There’s a parallel story line involving a young Chinese woman named Hu Mei, who’s the secretive leader of a group of people fighting the corruption of the Chinese government, including their acts of stealing land to build factories that make the products that fill the big box stores of the world.

While Alexis Truffant and her boss, General Hadley Kline,  believe in the Ascendant team, not everyone in the administration does, especially Secretary of Defense Duke Frye. He’s got the ear of the the President, so Alexis and Kline have strong opposition.

There’s more than enough action in “The Ascendant” to satisfy the most rabid fans of the late Tom Clancy, whose Jack Ryan series is being rebooted in a new movie, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine as Jack Ryan. If it survives “development hell,” Chapman’s novel will be on the nation’s TV screens in the not too distant future: rights to the book were sold to 20th Century Fox TV, the people behind the hit series “24” and more recently, “Homeland.”

Chapman writes this about his conflicted protagonist Garrett Reilly: “I really wanted Garrett to be representative of a new generation of Americans and a new generation of American heroes.  He is grappling with the questions of loyalty and patriotism, and I think those are questions that a lot of Americans now are grappling with, especially from that generation. Garrett Reilly is 26 years old. Eric Snowden is 26 years old. Those guys, are they heroes or are they traitors?”

About the author

Drew Chapman has worked on screenplays for many movies. Using his full name, Andrew Chapman, he wrote and directed the 1998 indie film “Standoff.” Currently, he creates and writes shows for network television. Most recently he was the writer and executive producer of an ABC mini-series about the hunt for CIA mole Aldrich Ames.  Married, with two children, Chapman divides his time between Los Angeles and Seattle.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Managing Corporate Communications in the Age of Restructuring, Crisis, and Litigation’: David Silver Offers Detailed Instructions to Eliminate ‘Groupthink’

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Managing Corporate Communications in the Age of Restructuring, Crisis, and Litigation': David Silver Offers Detailed Instructions to Eliminate 'Groupthink'

Not a day goes by without a corporate or political crisis that cries out for professionals to handle — a crisis that usually ends up in a terminal FUBAR state. In just the past few days we’ve had a Southwest Airlines plane from Chicago land at the wrong airport near Branson, Mo.; a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia that resulted in the virtual shutdown of the most populated part of the state — and of course, the sordid spectacle of “Bridgegate” in Chris Christie’s New Jersey.

David Silver, a Los Angeles-based public relations and crisis management expert, offers his solutions to the problem of “groupthink” that impedes the crisis management process in “Managing Corporate Communications in the Age of Restructuring, Crisis, and Litigation: Rethinking  Groupthink in the Boardroom” (J. Ross Publishing, Plantation, FL, 232 pages, appendices, bibliography, index, $34.95, $29.95 direct price).

Silver posits that corporate executives, lawyers, and boards of directors suffer from groupthink when confronted with a crisis, restructuring or litigation, which results in a communications meltdown that hurts a company’s number one asset— its reputation.

Silver traces the history of the word “groupthink” to American sociologist William H. Whyte, who coined the term in a Fortune magazine article in 1953. Whyte (1917-1999, wikipedia entry: — whom I’ve always thought of as primarily a journalist — defines the term as follows:

“Groupthink being coinage and admittedly, a loaded one, a working definition is in order. We are not talking about the mere instinctive conformity — it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity, an open articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not expedient, but right and good as well.”

Whyte’s most famous book is “The Organization Man” (published in 1956, which sold more than two million copies, making it one of the all-time bestselling business books).

Silver says the failure to understand how to communicate in distressed situations results in lost credibility and trust on a global basis in front of many target audiences: customers, employees, vendors, business partners, the media, analysts covering the company, lenders, bankers, regulatory agencies, and elected officials.

Silver provides examples of corporations who failed to communicate in a crisis, litigation, or restructuring in this era of financial meltdowns. By analyzing real-life examples (Lehman Brothers, BP, Toyota, MGA/Mattel, etc.), it offers innovative solutions and communications strategies for decision makers to help avoid groupthink and keep good reputations intact.

If you are a CEO, CFO, general counsel, a member of the board of directors — or anyone in a position of authority — understanding how to communicate in a distressed situation is crucial.  A public relations nightmare might be just around the corner, so it’s best to follow the slogan of the Boy Scouts:  Be prepared!

As is the case in all the other crisis management books I’ve read and/or reviewed, Silver says perhaps the worst spokesperson in a corporate crisis situation is a lawyer. Let’s face it: Everybody hates lawyers, especially other lawyers! Lawyers are trained to say as little as possible, to clam up, to say “no comment” — perhaps the two most provocative words to a  journalist’s eager ears. We journalists don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty: We believe a company like Toyota or BP has to prove it’s not guilty.

In his relatively slim book  — frankly,  I would have liked it to be more comprehensive, but there are books about the Toyota sudden acceleration crisis, with “Toyota Under Fire” (McGraw-Hill, 2011) by Jeffrey K. Liker and Timothy Ogden, being the best; and tomes about the BP crisis — Silver:

> Outlines failures in corporate communications that have brought down successful executives, ruined their reputations, exiled them from the boardroom and ultimately destroyed their companies

> Shows how to re-educate boardroom executives to avoid groupthink and embrace critical reasoning to create innovative solutions when planning your communications strategies amid a crisis, restructuring or litigation

> Explains how independent intelligence gathering is crucial for executives during a distressed situation when formulating successful communications tactics

> Details how to change educational curriculum in business and law schools so that communications becomes a critical important subject and not just a throwaway elective

> Illustrates how determining strategies in distressed situations helps prepare decision makers to communicate key messages to target audiences at all other times

> Teaches how to use the media when communicating during a crisis, why employees are your most important audience, and how to proactively train senior executives and board members to understand how the communications process works when confronting distressed situations

I was surprised and delighted to see Silver put in a plug for liberal arts majors — I’m an English major — as people who can be ideal crisis management personnel. He cites articles from employers on why they hire English majors and mentions Verlyn Klinkenborg’s wonderful NY Times piece from last summer on the decline and fall of the English major:

The book includes the publisher’s Web Added Value (WAV) GAP VII: The Seventh Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices Study from the USC Annenberg School, a checklist for performing an internal communications audit, and a presentation on effectively communicating during a litigation — available from the Web Added Value™ Download Resource Center at


Table of Contents

Introduction: Groupthink Revisited

Part I: Case Studies 
Chapter 1: Managing Reputation in Distressed Markets
Chapter 2: Litigation and the Court of Public Opinion
Chapter 3: The BP Disaster in the Gulf & Rampant Groupthink in the C-Suite
Chapter 4: Leading by Example: Steve Jobs and Effective Corporate Communication at Work

Part II: Theories & Paradigms 
Chapter 5: The Role of Communication Theories
Chapter 6: The Evolution of Public Relations into the PR-IR Nexus
Part III: Remaking Corporate America
Chapter 7: Anatomy of a Crisis
Chapter 8: The Communications Audit
Chapter 9: Reeducating Corporate America
Chapter 10: Effective Communication for Litigation, Mergers, and Acquisitions


* * *

About the Author 

David Silver, born 1954,  is the Chief Executive Officer of Silver Public Relations, a public relations and investor relations firm in Los Angeles focusing on crisis, litigation, and restructuring financial public relations for publicly traded companies and private corporations. He has counseled more than 1,000 national and global corporations and its boardroom executives in his 25 years as a financial public relations executive.

His proprietary crisis and litigation communications audits are sought out by corporations as he focuses on the cause-and-effect of corporate crises. He has written for a number of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and the Daily Journal, has been profiled in the Leaders and Success page of Investor’s Business Daily, and has been interviewed by CBS national news and other network news media as a crisis and litigation public relations expert.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Taking Down the Lion’: The Dennis Kozlowski You Think You Know (Shower Curtain, Anyone?) Is Not the Real Dennis Kozlowski


  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
  • News Item: Leonard Dennis Kozlowski, 67, will be released on parole Jan. 17, 2014 after more than eight years in prisons in New York state. 



BOOK REVIEW: 'Taking Down the Lion': The Dennis Kozlowski You Think You Know (Shower Curtain, Anyone?) Is Not the Real Dennis Kozlowski

You know, the guy with the $6,000 shower curtain in his multimillion dollar Fifth Avenue co-op. The guy who celebrated his wife’s 40th birthday with a multimillion dollar party on the Italian island of Sardinia  that included a statue of David peeing vodka.

In 2002, L. Dennis Kozlowski, who had just been fired as Chairman and CEO of the Bermuda-based conglomerate Tyco International,  was unfortunate to be the target of legendary New York County District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau — the inspiration for the Adam Schiff character played by Steven Hill on NBC’s hit series “Law & Order” — for allegedly stealing $100 million from Tyco International. (Not the Tyco toy company now owned by Mattel, as the trial judge pointed out to the juries).

Morgenthau particularly favored going after alleged white collar criminals, probably — I’m guessing — because his office overwhelming indicted people of color for non-white-collar crimes. Every big city D.A. wants to prosecute “the great white defendant” and 6-2, 235 pound Kozlowski fit the description in every way.

The real story of Kozlowski and his co-defendant Mark Swartz, chief financial officer of Tyco,  is told in a compelling, heavily documented book by Catherine S. Neal: “Taking Down the Lion: The Triumphant Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski” (Palgrave MacMillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages, in text b&w illustrations, notes, index, $28.00).

I thought I knew a lot about the notorious Mr. Kozlowski, but after reading Neal’s book I discovered that I didn’t know the whole story. Far from it!

Neal is sympathetic toward Kozlowski — who became known affectionately as “Koz” to inmates of NY state prisons whom he encouraged to further their education — but she doesn’t whitewash his flaws, which include one that I found strange in a man who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting (Seton Hall University, class of 1968): He was not a detail person, delegating important decisions to others. I’ve known some accountants in my time — I even worked for one briefly as his public relations man — and they are notorious for being detail people.

Kozlowski and Swartz — who declined to be interviewed by Neal and is slated for parole release at the same time — were more or less scapegoats hung out to dry for poor business decisions by a hostile board of directors, Neal posits in a book that should be read by journalists and lawyers and anyone in a position of authority in business.

Journalists should read this book to see how their profession can cause unnecesary harm to a person who hasn’t committed a crime and is essentially being tried in the court of public opinion. More about journalists later in this review.

In an article in Business Insider Neal writes:

“As Kozlowski re-enters society, here’s what everyone should know.

“The Dennis Kozlowski character created by the media is not the real Dennis Kozlowski. So much that has been written and said about him, while interesting because of its sensational outrageousness, is factually inaccurate.

“Kozlowski is a better person than the guy portrayed in the media for the past eleven years. We must remember that not everything we read is accurate. Sometimes, things are written simply to sell more newspapers or to get more online hits. Perhaps it’s time to give Dennis Kozlowski a break — allow him to rebuild his life without any further public castigation, name-calling, and mischaracterizations.

“While it will undoubtedly be better than the past eleven years, life after prison won’t be easy for Dennis Kozlowski. It will be interesting to see if the media and public opinion will allow Kozlowski to shed the caricature of the greedy CEO and move forward. Will he be able to put the conviction behind him? Kozlowski served a long sentence — much longer than those served by most violent criminals. Hopefully, his punishment will end and Kozlowski will be allowed a productive, uneventful third act.”

* * *

At the time of his arrest almost a dozen years ago, I thought of Kozlowski as the walking, talking symbol of the greed that I believed exemplified the Baby Boomer (those born from 1946-1964) generation. I’m judgmental as hell, people tell me, saying you can’t label — or libel — an entire generation — but behind this judgment is a kernel of truth.

As the widely-admired CEO of Tyco International, a post he assumed in 1992,  Dennis Kozlowski grew a little-known New Hampshire conglomerate into a global giant. (You might not know Tyco, but you’ll recognize two companies owned by the conglomerate, which was reorganized in 2007: Brink’s and ADT; I just saw a Brink’s armored truck in front of my local H.E.B. supermarket). Tyco International

In a stunning series of events — including the acquisition of finance company CIT and the payment of a $20 million fee to a Tyco director who engineered the acquisition — Kozlowski lost his job along with his favored public status when he was indicted by  Morgenthau—it was an inglorious end to an otherwise brilliant career.

Morgenthau, now 94, retired as D.A. and an interview subject of Neal for the book, is notorious for charging defendants in cases that would normally be federal ones, Neal points out. There were no federal indictments of anyone connected with Tyco International, including Kozlowski and Swartz — because no federal crime was committed.

In the era of Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom, Global Crossing and other companies that went bankrupt,  Kozlowski was the face of corporate excess in the turbulent post-Enron environment; he was pictured under headlines that read “Oink Oink,” and publicly castigated for his extravagant lifestyle. “Deal-a-Day Dennis” was transformed into the “poster child for corporate greed.” Kozlowski was ultimately convicted of grand larceny and other crimes that, in sum, found the former CEO guilty of wrongfully taking $100 million from Tyco.

There was one big difference between Tyco International and the companies cited above, Neal points out: Tyco didn’t go bankrupt. The CIT deal and the recession drove down the share price of Tyco stock from the high $80.00 per share price to about $11.00, but eventually it rose — although not to the peak reached under Kozlowski’s stewardship. (I just checked the share price of Tyco: about $41.00).

Neal is particularly harsh on the media coverage of Kozlowski, especially in the tabloids, but including one reporter for The Wall Street Journal. She accuses print and broadcast journalists of trying and finding Kozlowski guilty in their version of the court of public opinion. There are two exceptions to Neal’s castigation of the news media: Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times and Dan Ackman of Forbes. She praises the two for their accurate news reporting.

A personal note: This month marks my 48th anniversary as a journalist, as a reporter and an editor on five daily newspapers, including almost 10 years at The Milwaukee Sentinel and more than 14 years at the Los Angeles Times. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of journalism and I think — for the past two decades at least — we’ve witnessed the nadir of the profession, with major scandals at papers like the New York Times  (Jayson Blair and Judith Miller) and TV programs like 60 Minutes (Lara Logan).

So –as an antidote to the miserable reporting I’ve observed over the years — I recommend “Taking Down the Lion” to my fellow ink-stained (and  byte-stained) wretches in the news media.


Catherine S. Neal

Catherine S. Neal


About the author

Catherine S. Neal  is an Associate Professor of Business Ethics and Business Law in the Haile/US Bank College of Business at Northern Kentucky University. She is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Law where she was a Corporate Law Fellow.

Neal was granted unprecedented access to Dennis Kozlowski, his papers, attorneys, family, friends, and former Tyco colleagues, as well as transcripts and evidence from two criminal trials. Neal’s research included interviews with former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, the foreman of the jury that convicted Kozlowski, and key Tyco insiders.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘From the Dead’: D.I. Tom Thorne Works With Private Investigator Anna Carpenter in the Case of a Dead Man Who May Not Be Dead

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

When you hire a man to kill your husband, Donna Langford reasons, you expect him to stay dead, especially after you’ve spent ten years in prison for the nasty deed.

That’s the weird beyond belief situation that drives the ninth D.I. Tom Thorne novel by Mark Billingham, “From the Dead” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 416 pages, $26.00).

BOOK REVIEW: 'From the Dead': D.I. Tom Thorne Works With Private Investigator Anna Carpenter in the Case of a Dead Man Who  May Not Be Dead

Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is frustrated when a man, Adam Chambers, that  he has arrested and testified against in the disappearance and presumed murder of Andrea Keane not only is acquitted but decides to attack the police in a media campaign in England, a country that is driven by perhaps the most sensational newspapers in the world.

On top of that, he learns that another case of his — the brutal murder of Alan Langford — appears to come back from the dead as he learns from young private investigator Anna Carpenter that the woman who hired a hitman to kill her husband is getting photographs of a very much alive man who appears to be her husband.

A decade ago, Alan Langford’s charred remains were discovered in his burnt-out car. His wife, Donna, was found guilty of conspiracy to murder her husband and sentenced to ten years in prison. But before she is released, Donna receives a nasty shock: an anonymous letter containing a photo of her husband. The man she hates with every fiber of her being—the man she paid to have murdered—seems very much alive and well. But how is it possible that her husband is still alive? Where is he? Who sent the photo, and why?

“From the Dead” is not for the faint of heart: The opening describes in gruesome detail how two men handcuff a third man to the steering wheel of Jaguar and set the vehicle on fire.

Donna Langford hires Anna to find out who is sending her the photos of a tanned man who appears to be her husband. He appears to be living on the Costa del Sol of Spain, a popular place for Brits who want to live in a sunny climate.

Anna gets in touch with D.I. Thorne and they work together to discover if Langford is still alive, and if not, who became a crispy critter in the Jag. The bodies start piling up, including the still imprisoned hitman,  in a novel that reveals the dark side of human nature. I’m not going to say more, since much of the book constitutes a big spoiler. OK, I’ll say one thing. The frustrating case of Adam Chambers is resolved at the end.


Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham


About the Author

Mark Billingham is one of England’s best known and top-selling crime writers. He has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and has also won a Sherlock Award  for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Billingham lives in North London with his wife and two children. His website:

Publisher’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘When the Devil Drives’: Second Entry in Jasmine Sharp/Catherine McLeod Series Is an Outstanding Literary Thriller

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'When the Devil Drives': Second Entry in Jasmine Sharp/Catherine McLeod Series Is an Outstanding Literary Thriller

Christopher Brookmyre follows up his 2012 thriller “Where the Bodies Are Buried” — which introduced readers to young actress turned private investigator Jasmine Sharp and experienced mother-of-two Glasgow Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod with “When the Devil Drives” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 361 pages, $24.00). The novel came out in May 2013 — I apologize for the late review, but 2013 was a hectic year for this reviewer — and will be issued in a trade paperback edition on May 13, 2014. I’ve found that plenty of copies of the hardback edition are available at the usual online sites,, Abebooks, etc. and that eBook editions are also available.

Jasmine Sharp, a twenty-something aspiring actress in Glasgow, Scotland, becomes a private investigator when she inherits her uncle’s detective agency, Sharp Investigations. She does contract work for a larger agency, Galt Linklater,  but her primary activity involves missing persons.

So she wasn’t surprised when a woman named Alice Petrie arrives at her office wanting her to find her younger sister, actress Tessa Garrion, whom she last saw at their mother’s funeral in February 1981.

What starts out as a routine search soon becomes far more complicated — and dangerous — when her search for Tessa converges on a murder investigation led by Catherine McLeod.

DS McLeod is called to the scene of what appears to be the murder of Hamish Queen in the Highlands. Queen, a prominent figure in the Scottish arts community, is shot in the head during a post-performance photo call after an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Craguthes Castle.

Despite having an experienced team and plenty of cops, the case quickly hits a wall: Nobody can determine a motive for killing Queen. Was it a murder or an accidental high-powered shot in the dark from a poacher in the estate’s deer park?

Meanwhile, Jasmine Sharp’s search for Tessa Garrion becomes complicated when she learns that Tessa was involved with Hamish and others in a theatrical endeavor that included drugs and occult rituals in a Highlands estate. As if this isn’t enough, a mysterious man named Fallon turns up, causing initial discomfort to Jasmine. Is he her long-lost father — or the man who killed her father? In any event, he proves to be a welcome addition to her ad hoc team, which also includes ex-cops protective of the young investigator.

As Jasmine’s and McLeod’s investigations converge and intertwine, it becomes clear that both cases are far more convoluted and dangerous than anyone anticipated.

If you’re suffering from Stieg Larsson (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) withdrawal, you’ll find that Brookmyre delivers in Scotland at least as well as Larsson did in Sweden.


About the Author

Christopher Brookmyre has established himself as one of Britain’s leading crime novelists since his award-winning debut novel Quite Ugly One Morning. He has worked as a journalist for several British newspapers and is the author of twelve novels, including Where the Bodies Are BuriedOne Fine Day in The Middle of the Night, and Not The End of The World. His website: