These are the most recent book reviews. Get to know the authors and their work!
You will find archived full reviews and author interviews on Steve's Book Reviews
Buck Wyndham’s Hogs in the Sand is a unique memoir of his experiences as a combat pilot of a Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, or “Warthog” in the First Gulf War. Taken from his combat journal, the work traces his relationship with the Warthog from the time he was eleven years old when he observed them flying off the coast of North Carolina.
His focus on becoming a Warthog pilot led him to the U.S. Air Force where he trained in England and in other European countries preparing for a possible war with the Soviet Union. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the picture changed, and he was sent to a clandestine base in Saudi Arabia. As Saddam refused to leave Kuwait, the air war began, and Wyndham became the combat pilot he had trained to be.
Training, operations, technical features of the A-10, relationships with other personnel, and combat events form the matrix of the work. There are also some exclamatory vignettes of his time there, such as the Saudi pilots dropping their bombs in open desert rather than facing combat or the Iraqi APC painted to look like a non-combatant vehicle. And there is the gruesome tale of the “Highway to Hell,” a two-mile long stretch of cars, trucks, and military vehicles that had been laden with plunder by Iraqis fleeing Kuwait, and destroyed by coalition forces during their escape.
With great attention, he records the effects and meaning his combat experience had. As he progresses on his assignment, his reflections reveal powerful thrills, feelings of unanticipated satisfaction. He finds elation and bliss in the adrenaline rush of war. He takes pride in his service, and in the magnificent focus it requires. For him, war is an art form. He also finds a deep satisfaction in the reverie of combat, even having anger and sadness in its absence.
But he also has great fears, and a sense of wonderment that he would even be in such a dangerous situation. As he functions dutifully as a pilot in operations, he has frequent stress-related nightmares, and finds dread upon wakening. He develops a nervous tic in his eyelid. Although he is quite aware of the risks he is taking, he continues and eventually becomes torn between pride and shame, between the desire to continue fighting and to stop, to heed both the devil and the angel who sit on his shoulders.
Ultimately, through the sensible rejection (or perhaps embrace) of cognitive dissonance he prevails as he realizes that he is happy with the man he has become, and continues his life as a skilled and formidable pilot.
This unique book is likely to be regarded as a classic work of the military memoir genre. Buck Wyndham’s relationship with the A-10 is a tale of incredible weaponry and resolute valor, presented in his heartfelt, original, and revelatory voice. We are very happy to have his views on the stress of war, as well as the cause of the war he was a part of.
32nd Avenue Books: What causes the most stress in combat?
Buck Wyndham: For me, the stress of flying combat missions was twofold. First was the obvious fear that this might be the day I didn’t come home. This might be the day that I got unlucky, or it might be a lucky day for Saddam Hussein’s antiaircraft missile crews. Every Gulf War A-10 pilot felt this way, and it affected everyone in different ways. I was lucky that my stress merely manifested itself in nightmares and a twitching eyelid. Other pilots had various physical and emotional responses, and one or two actually had to take a break from it on occasion.
The second thing that caused stress was the fear of screwing up. An A-10 pilot has an enormous responsibility to positively identify targets and coordinate attacks in a way that does not endanger friendly forces, and sometimes there is uncertainty and “fog of war” that can result in confusion. You never want to be “that guy” who launches an errant missile or strafes the good guys.
32nd Avenue Books: You wrote: “What a strange, contradictory experience is combat.” What can you say about reconciling that contradiction?
Buck Wyndham: Combat is exhilarating and deeply scary at the same time. It’s something no pilot wants to have to do, yet every pilot is proud to do. It’s a horrible human endeavor, yet an honorable one at the same time. Thinking about these contradictions at the time was overwhelming, and we weren’t really able to resolve any of it. But with the passage of time, we all began to accept it as just that – a deeply contradictory experience that humans must undertake from time to time. These days, I just try to focus on the good things we did for our country, and the truly awesome people I got to work and fly with. Sometimes I have a brief twinge of sadness for the unfortunate young Iraqi conscripts who were put up against our unstoppable forces by their foolish leaders. But in general, the passage of time has made me think about the Gulf War as a nearly “perfect war,” if there is such a thing. It was fought for moral purposes, it was quick and decisive, and it had a clearly-defined ending objective. When that objective was met, it ended -- just like that. I wish they could all be like that.
32nd Avenue Books: Why do you think Saddam refused to leave Kuwait?
Buck Wyndham: Saddam was a blowhard and had a massive ego, as many despots and dictators do. He made delusional demands and gave little indication that he understood what a massive military force he was up against. He probably thought that once we suffered some early losses, US public opinion would turn against our own military, and we would pull out in defeat. He had no idea of our resolve. Now he’s a short paragraph in the history books, and he’s gone. And good riddance.
32nd Avenue Books, Gifts & Toys
September 12, 2021
Carmelo Anthony begins his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets in 2003, and is a ten-time NBA All Star and a four-time Olympian. His memoir, Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised, traces his history from a childhood in Red Hook, Brooklyn to the beginnings of his NBA career. With considerable use of basketball jargon and casual street language, the work examines the dynamics of his success vis à vis the racism, poverty and crime in his experience. How is his success even possible?
The story begins with Carmelo as a five-year-old kid joyously running around the courts to the annoyance of older kids playing the game. His mom practices an open-door policy for anyone who needs a place to stay or something to eat, and this makes their apartment a special place for Carmelo, who spends hours learning about life by observing it through the apartment windows.
His brother, Wolf, and his cousin Luck are excellent basketballers, and Carmelo idolizes them. His sister, Michelle, watches out for him, and his mother is a generous and considerate community pillar. But another brother, Justice, winds up in prison because of gunplay, and his cousin, Luck is killed in a fight.
There are more deaths and frequent instances where Carmelo sees violence, drug-dealing, and other crimes. While his family and friends often advise him to avoid similar behavior, he is nevertheless close to situations which could easily subsume him. Happily, Carmelo is able to see and admire the beauty and resilience, the compassion and perseverance that is no less a part of his community.
There is significant attention to the details of the games, teams, tournaments, coaches, schools and teachers of the story, from grade school to the university. Although he places real value on education, he grows to recognize that it is an extension of his athletic path.
Throughout his life, Carmelo Anthony relies on basketball as a means of gaining direction, and as he does, he gets better and better at the sport. As he becomes regarded as one of the most valued players in the country, bypassing the formidable competition generated by the vast numbers of others seeking the same path, he rejects the conceit that could easily attach to such a position, preferring to keep his innate humility.
Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised is a story that shows how, even when great handicaps exist, when risks and obstacles are overwhelming, when difficulties are huge and sadness is pervasive, when tomorrows are threatened rather than promised, an individual can prevail and succeed with tenacity and hope. Ultimately, it is a work of profound encouragement.
32nd Avenue Books, Toys & Gifts
September 12, 2021
The Tyranny of Big Tech by Josh Hawley is an exposé of the immense control over the economic, political, and social conditions in the U.S. enjoyed by the digital technology industry. The rise of the Information Age has coincided with the growth of an industry that, in many ways, resembles the monopolies of the Gilded Age robber barons. In the U.S., Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter are the main corporations of Big Tech.
President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to thwart the influence of the powerful monopolists in order to protect the liberty of the common man and woman for self government and public life. But the corporate liberalism brought about by Woodrow Wilson began to change the meaning of liberty to an individualistic, private form no longer common or publicly influential. This helped set the stage for acceptance of corporate merger and control, and presaged the rise of Big Tech.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was originally written to make sure that the internet did not become a provider of child pornography. But the tech giants argued that they were not publishers of third party content, and the Act was rewritten (more than once). The Act contains a Section 230, essentially allowing them to promote or censor whatever they wish. Utilizing Section 230 in conjunction with ever-strengthening algorithms has led to unbridled behavioral analysis and manipulation.
Before the 2020 election, a report by the New York Post concerning Hunter Biden’s, and possibly Joe Biden’s, misdeeds in Ukraine led to Facebook and Twitter suppressing the story. A whistleblower from Facebook provided Senator Hawley with information about Facebook’s user monitoring and tracking tools, Tasks and Centra, which are part of Big Tech’s coordinated “content moderation.” This led to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appearing before a Senate Judiciary Committee.
According to Senator Hawley, Big Tech invades our privacy, follows us as much as it can, uses its powerful algorithms to manipulate us to addiction and outrage, censors the people at will, and selectively releases news items, all to further its power and control. And it requires no permission to do so, nor can it be held to account.
A reconstructed Section 230 could provide “decentralized, open-source, pro-privacy communications protocols for peer-to-peer messaging and user-curated content feeds…online tools for video hosting, blogging and shopping…available to users without thrusting it on them by means of a corporate recommendation engine.” And without inescapable surveillance, manipulation, and censorship.
To break the hold of big tech it is necessary, inter alia, to seek political changes, to support new anti-trust legislation, to end the current Section 230, to adopt legislation making the tech companies’ terms of service binding and enforceable, to revitalize genuine social relationships between real people, especially family, and to demand that our right to free speech is unhindered for all citizens.
32nd Avenue Books, Toys & Gifts
September 12, 2021