GOD OF THE RODEO

THE SEARCH FOR HOPE, FAITH, AND A SIX-SECOND RIDE IN LOUISIANA'S ANGOLA PRISON

A solid work of reportage on life inside one of America’s toughest prisons. Angola, La., is this nation’s version of Devil’s Island, a swamp-bound expanse of territory larger than Manhattan. The place, writes novelist Bergner (Moments of Favor, 1991), is also strangely beautiful, a tropical wonderland of magnolia, oak, cypress, and crab apple—hardly the common version of hell. Yet hell it is. Bergner writes of men who, for entertainment and revenge, fling feces at one another, cut each other with homemade knives, kill, and maim. Considered the toughest prison in a state with —a good claim to the toughest sentencing laws in the nation,— Angola was a place where many entered and few left, where guards behaved with studied brutality. The Supreme Court, Bergner writes, found that Angola’s wardens so regularly violated the constitutional rights of the inmates that it ordered federal oversight of the prison, including the replacement of the old wardens with a new breed more attuned to modern theories of penology. One of those newcomers, Burl Cain, especially fascinates Bergner. A no-nonsense lawgiver, Cain believes in redemption and rehabilitation, and one of his innovations was the creation of a prison rodeo that draws onlookers from miles around to see the residents of Angola compete against sharp-horned bulls for a small cash purse. This rodeo provides Bergner with a useful framing device for his narrative, but it is also an object lesson in empty symbolism—for the dangerous rodeo offers small rewards and costs its participants dearly. We owe the prisoners little, Bergner writes, for in the main they have brought their fates on themselves. Yet even he argues that we owe them more than —a perverse rodeo as a vehicle for self-improvement and a way to make themselves known.— Although no classic of criminology or of muckraking journalism, Bergner’s book is, all the same, an interesting glimpse at the underside of American life.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-609-60105-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

more