Thursday Reviews: Wild Bill by Dana King, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Wild Bill

Dana King

Will Hickox is an FBI agent. He’s good. When he’s Wild Bill, he’s lucky. The FBI doesn’t like lucky. It makes them look bad. For years, he has worked Operation Fallout, the latest attempt to bring down Chicago’s infamous Outfit. Things are coming to a head when boss Giani Bevilacqua drops dead (in the book’s opening scene, no less). Suddenly, there’s a war on for leadership. Junior Bevilacqua believes he’s inherited The Outfit. Frank Ferrarro thinks he’s earned it. Junior is a Scarface wannabe more interested in lording his position over everyone than making money. Ferrarro is a business man, and even though it’s illegal, The Outfit is a business.

Hickox thinks he can get the long sought-after indictment before a prissy assistant US Attorney shuts the operation down. He starts stringing Ferrarro along. However, complicating things are Mitch Klimak, a Chicago cop with a chip on his shoulder, and Hickox’ feeling that maybe things would be better if Junior went down before anyone sees a grand jury. It doesn’t help that Klimak is the husband of Hickox’ lover Mad.

King paints a picture of the war on organized crime for what it is. It’s a game with give and take between both sides. Like The Wire, not all the criminals are bad guys. Not all the cops are good guys.

Alexander Hamilton

Ron Chernow

Of all the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton is an enigma. The bastard son of a disgraced Scottish nobleman, Hamilton grew up in The Bahamas learning the value of a pound. Never having any money, he learned its value very quickly. A job with a shipping firm earned him a slot at New York’s Kings College (now Columbia University). There, Hamilton fell in with the burgeoning patriot movement. It soon became his mission to liberate his adopted country from British rule.

As the Revolution erupted, Hamilton came to the attention of George Washington. Soon, he became indispensable to Washington, often writing his orders and drafting his letters. Many of Washington’s writings are actually Hamilton’s work. Hamilton’s position as Washington’s chief aide led to his appointment to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and as Washington’s Treasury Secretary during his first term as president.

Hamilton was hard-working, loyal to Washington without being blindly so, and not shy about taking charge if he thought something needed done. He was a dutiful husband who nonetheless found himself involved in America’s first high-profile sex scandal. His policies toward the nation’s banking system catapulted him to the head of the early Federalist Party and put him at war with Thomas Jefferson and former ally James Madison. Unfortunately for the Federalists, Hamilton also waged a personal war against Washington’s successor, John Adams. When Hamilton’s machinations cost Adams the presidency, it also wrecked Hamilton’s influence.

In his final days, however, the tables were turned. Hamilton, now a New York lawyer, had become something of an elder statesman. When he called out Aaron Burr for his role in a failed development project in New Jersey, Burr, ever the hot head, challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton detested dueling and planned to waste his shot. Burr didn’t pick up on this and shot Hamilton dead, somehow dodging two murder indictments.

Hamilton was a contradiction. A man of poor origins entrusted with the nation’s treasury. A faithful husband whose one dalliance became the first political sex scandal in America. A leader of the Federalist Party who became the agent of its ultimate destruction.

Thursday Book Reviews – Adams Vs. Jefferson,

Adams Vs. Jefferson

John E. Ferling

Think the 2012 election is contentious? Try 1800. Much of what we take for granted about our republic today had not even been thought of at the start of John Adams’ term as president. In the early days of the Constitution, America had moved from throwing off the yoke of a foreign king to a new battle: Whether America would be run by an elite few consisting of New England merchants and southern planters or would it truly be a government for, of, and by the people.

If I had to title this book, however, I would not have called it Adams Vs. Jefferson. The battle between the first two political parties, the original Republican (or Democratic-Republican) Party and the Federalists, was really a battle between Jefferson, the idealist, and Alexander Hamilton, the scheming pragmatist. Both men’s flaws were on display in the lead-up to the election of 1800, and Adams seems more caught in the cross-fire. So while you’re tea partying your way to the polls or occupying whatever capitalist temple annoys you, keep in mind that pretty much everything you assume about the Founders, the republic, and democracy itself is most likely wrong.

Suicide Squeeze

Victor Gischler

The master of smart-ass noir returns in this tale of one of his early characters, Conner Samson. Samson began life having everything handed to him. He was a star athlete who was assumed to be destined for a career in the major leagues. That’s the back story. The present is Conner trying to pay off his bookie and wondering if it’s time to look for work again. He finds a job repossessing a boat called the Electric Jenny. When Conner goes after the boat, he finds himself entangled with a Japanese billionaire obsessed with getting his hands on a rare Joe DiMaggio baseball card signed by DiMaggio, Marylin Monroe, and Billy Wilder. It’s a classic collision of the evil and the stupid, and all of them trip over themselves in yet another Gischler comedy of errors.