by Sukey HowardFebruary, 2008
Inside the Italian underworld
There's a seamy underside to sunny Italy and it's laid wide open in Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano's brilliantly written, disturbing "personal journey into the violent international empire of Naples' organized crime system," read here by Michael Kramer. The book was a huge bestseller when it came out in Italy last year, but the author, showered with death threats, is in hiding with police protection and not likely to surface anytime soon. Saviano wanted to shake the cloak of complicity, collusion and corruption that shrouds the Camorra (yes, the title is a play on words), the Neapolitan crime network whose tentacles snake around Naples and Campania. As he boldly reveals the Camorristi's licit and illicit operations—control over the port of Naples where over 1.5 million tons of Chinese goods come in legally and more than a million illegally; their involvement in couture, construction, drugs, illegal arms and in dumping toxic waste (more than 3 million tons) in their own backyard—you begin to comprehend the enormity of the problem and the enormity of what this brave writer has done. Riveting and impassioned.
A WILD AND CRAZY GUY
Is it nature or nurture, or neither, that makes a comedian a comedian? Master comedian Steve Martin calls his memoir Born Standing Up, but even after listening, I'm still not sure. I am sure that Martin is a serious guy, a serious writer and, here, a serious reader, who waited a long time before looking back (he quit stand-up in 1981) at the incremental steps a little boy with a bleak home life and a fascination for magic tricks had to take to become "a wild and crazy guy" and an even wilder success. He says his 18 years as a stand-up comic were a "course more plodding than heroic," 10 years spent learning, four spent refining and four as the biggest draw in the business. And his audience learns, too, about Martin's struggle, focus, endurance and constant fight for originality, about his loneliness, his elation and his misery. This is far from a let-it-all-hang-out confessional, yet Martin's honesty lets us into his head and his heart and into what he calls the "war years," years he now views with a curious affection and warmth.
If you're a David Baldacci fan and a Camel Club follower, don't miss Stone Cold, a doozy of derring-do on two fronts, that leaves you wondering if Stone will ride again. Flawlessly performed by Ron McLarty.
I was lured in by the title, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar . . ., then totally delighted with what I heard. Authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein have done the undoable and amazing: They've explicated the major concepts, schools and questions of Western philosophy with wit and charm—not words usually associated with philosophy. And, they've made this esoteric discipline fun. The fun part comes from their unique pairing of the serious and the silly, wisdom and whimsy. Somehow, these two close friends, who were undergraduate philosophy majors at Harvard, discovered that jokes make philosophical ideas comprehensible, that "what a philosopher calls insight, the gagster calls a zinger." Try this take on existentialism: Restaurant customer, "How do you prepare your chickens?" Waiter, "Oh, nothing special, we just tell them they're gonna die." "Philogags," a Cathcart/Klein coinage, illuminate the principles of metaphysics, logic, epistemology, religious, social and political philosophy—even metaphilosophy—because both philosophers and jokesters are trying to fathom the human condition and the meaning of it all. Listen, laugh, learn: This comedic crash course beats any textbook I've ever seen, and it's perfectly performed by Johnny Heller.