'Everywhere you turn in the world, there's Hollywood _ and there's the mafia." Crime writer Douglas Thompson doesn't mince his word in confirming his conviction about the messy entanglement, voluntarily and inevitably, between Hollywood and the Mob, from
The Dark Heart Of Hollywood: Glamour, Guns And Gambling—Inside The Mafia’s Global Empire by Douglas Thompson 352pp, 2013 Mainstream Publishing Available at Asia Books and other leading bookshops 425 baht
The Dark Heart Of Hollywood follows a loose chronological timeline: Douglas walks us through the decades from the years before Prohibition when movie studios began to spring up as the Sicilian mafia arrived in Los Angeles, down to the Kennedy era and how the West Coast mob might have had a hand in his assassination, right up to the current situation of worldwide film piracy and how one in every three films you see today "has been created by Mob money".
Some of these purported webs of connection and theories sound speculative and melodramatic. But Thompson, a veteran who's been around for decades, is strongest when he parades for us a cast of colourful characters and sketches their manipulation of (or contribution to) the shape of Hollywood, past and present. There's Sinatra, of course, but also several others: Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe, plus a number of malicious studio chiefs and the who's who in LA's mafia directory. The Dark Heart Of Hollywood is hardly a revelation, and yet its grubby appeal and rank stench is that of a B-movie guilty pleasure.
_ Kong Rithdee
’Til The River Runs Dry by John Freivalds 369pp, 2013 JFA Press Available at www.amazon.com US$7.99 for hardcover and e-book versions
It was after his wife Margo Mogush lost her battle against cancer that John Freivalds discovered a steamer trunk containing 27 diaries. What he found in those diaries was a heart-warming book and he began a new relationship with his wife of 20 years.
"When I started going through the contents of Margo's trunk, a whole new relationship with her began _ a relationship with her spirit, or what some might call her essence and others might call her soul," writes Freivalds in the first chapter of 'Til The River Runs Dry: The Life Of Margo Mogush Freivalds.
It was three years ago, when his beloved wife died at the age of 65, that Freivalds learned about the adventurous life she led before they met. The diaries and postcards he discovered were written before they married in 1988. The journey of a young, six-foot tall blonde woman from America's Midwest who left the corporate world behind her to backpack around the world solo left him intrigued and in awe. It may sound like nothing nowadays for a woman to travel alone, but back in the early '80s it was a challenge.
But don't assume this is a sad memoir of a husband mourning his wife; the life of Margo Mogush reads like an exciting travelogue. Freivalds almost speaks to readers in this book, as he details Margo's journey from Puerto Rico to Nepal. Margo's journals detailed every penny she spent and every story she encountered.
Margo visited Thailand in 1986, going from Koh Samui to Chiang Mai. Freivalds gives us a flashback of a time Thailand was not yet full of tourists. And Thailand is one of the most exciting places Margo had ever been. Freivalds writes: "If ever there was a time where Margo walked on the wild side and experienced life to the fullest, it was in Thailand."
_ Yanapon Musiket
Lunch With The FT: 52 Classic Interviews edited by Lionel Barber 352 pp, 2013 Portfolio Penguin Available at Kinokuniya 948 baht
Newspapers are known as a sunset industry, yet the pricey British business newspaper the Financial Times seems to be an exception.
Printed on distinctive salmon-coloured paper, each copy is sold at 125 baht. Its mainstays are typically the serious investment analyses and policy updates, and an unlikely interview column in the weekend Life & Arts section, amiably called "Lunch with the FT".
The column features interviews with celebrities and movers and shakers whom FT reporters and writers invite for a meal, with the stringent condition that the journalist _ the newspaper, anyway _ will pick up the tab. (A box is even published detailing the restaurants visited and the food and wine ordered.)
To celebrate its 125th anniversary, early this year the Financial Times issued an anthology featuring 52 interviews with luminaries from the worlds of business, arts, fashion, lifestyle and food, plus some oddballs.
Among them are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, actress Angelina Jolie, computer whiz and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, writer Martin Amis, artist David Hockney, fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana and economist and thinker Paul Krugman.
For this reviewer, reading these interviews is charming, like overhearing a delightful conversation over a casual but delicious meal. The book is available in digital format, but the print version does better justice to the amazing illustrations of James Ferguson.
_ Anchalee Kongrut
Naked Statistics: Stripping The Dread From The Data by Charles Wheelan 282 pp, 2013 Norton Available at Asia Books 895 baht
We live in a society that is drowning in pools, if not oceans, of information. One of these giant puddles is statistical data, which is disseminated in the forms of polling, economic indices and medical research, to give but a few examples. Given the data appear respectable when displayed, either in percentages or raw numbers, people are likely to be convinced that it represents the truth simply because it is statistical, despite knowing little or nothing about it.
A lack of knowledge about statistics can lead to negative effects, according to Naked Statistics: Stripping The Dread From The Data written by Charles Wheelan, a professor on public policy and economics at Darthmouth College in the US.
Wheelan wrote the book to help people make sense of and make use of statistics, and most importantly so they will not be misled or lured by misleading or inexact numbers in complex issues.
Readers will be informed with technical details to understand how samples and results are formed and presented, and how they can use the knowledge to make informed decisions in daily life, whether buying insurance, understanding public policy or reading health reports.
What makes this book worth reading is Wheelan's expertise in the subject and his healthy scepticism _ "Mathematics is exact, the use of statistics to describe complex phenomena is not" or "Statistics can be like online dating profiles as it is technically accurate and yet pretty darn misleading".
_ Anchalee Kongrut