Tag Archives: mary pinchot meyer

My top 20 nonfiction picks

For nearly three-and-a-half years now, I’ve been posting book reviews in this blog, typically twice a week. For my own benefit as well as yours, I like to look back every so often at the books I’ve read and think about what I’ve learned from them. What follows below is a list of the 20 nonfiction books (out of more than 100 I read) that have added the most to my understanding of the world. They’re arranged in no particular order: I can’t imagine trying to pick the best of this lot!

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

The definitive study of the belief system known as Scientology, with an emphasis on its human rights violations and the Hollywood celebrities it has gathered into its “prison of belief.”

Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

Revelations galore from newly unearthed evidence about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his last years in the White House.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt

The seminal role of a long-forgotten  ancient Greek poet and philosopher on the thinking of the geniuses who shaped the Renaissance and on the course of history that followed.

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, by Robert D. Kaplan

Recent history and current events through the distorting lens of geopolitics, which views Planet Earth, and the machinations and foibles of earthly leaders, from a very different perspective than is found in most history books.

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman

The astonishing story of America’s rearmament in World War II, with a focus on the two larger-than-life personalities who made it happen through sheer force of will: William Knudsen and Henry J. Kaiser.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben McIntyre

The stranger-than-fiction story of the British double agents whose brilliant work in Europe played a pivotal role in the success of the Normandy Invasion.

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

A comprehensive and well-informed view of the world of social enterprise and the extraordinary individuals who stand out in a field that attracts brilliant and inspired people by the carload.

The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham

An in-depth refutation of the myth of rugged individualism, lionized by Ayn Rand’s novels and enshrined in conservative and libertarian ideology for four decades.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

How the War on Drugs, and the institutionalized racism that undergirds it, has weakened American society and fostered a new underclass dominated by young men of color.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

A first-hand account of three years in a slum neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world, focusing on the hopes and challenges of two local families.

Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion, by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy

A beautifully-written account of the history of a nonprofit South Indian eye hospital that has pioneered a revolutionary approach to eye-care which has brought relief to millions of poor people worldwide.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

An unvarnished biography of the design and marketing genius who built  Apple and gained a place in business history alongside Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton.

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin

The troubling story of the institutionalization of a new military-intelligence complex triggered by 9/11 and accelerated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson

The long-overlooked story of FDR’s ambassador to Nazi Germany and his frustrated efforts to turn U.S. policy against Hitler in the face of horrific violence against Jews in Germany and anti-Semitism in the State Department.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A History of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

An oncologist’s critical study of the diseases lumped together under the label of cancer and of humanity’s halting efforts to arrest and cure them.

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff

A fresh new take on one of history’s most powerful and fascinating women, long caricatured in popular fiction and history books alike.

The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers, by Vicky Ward

An illuminating tale of the people who set off the Great Recession, bringing to light the greed, self-delusion, and miscalculation that came so close to collapsing the world economy in 2008.

Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, by Richard. A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake

A profoundly troubling look at the rapid rise of cyber warfare and the existential threat it poses to American civilization, written by the top counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Based on ten years of dogged research, a science journalist’s deeply moving account of the African-American woman whose cancerous cells seeded six decades of medical discoveries.

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 2)

Part 2 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on Mary’s Mosaic. Click here for Part 1. 

The central subject of this extraordinary book is the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer in October 1964. Mary was the niece of Gifford Pinchot, a Teddy Roosevelt confidante, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, and a former two-term Governor of Pennsylvania. Previously a journalist, she was a practicing artist in middle age in the early 1960s and prominent in Washington social circles. She was also so striking that practically everyone who spoke about her commented on her beauty.

What the public knew at the time was merely that Washington D.C. police had arrested a terrified young African-American man whom two witnesses identified as standing over her body as it lay on the tow-path by the Potomac Canal in Georgetown. When the alleged killer finally went to trial in 1965, he was acquitted as the result of unusually skillful courtroom work by his pro bono attorney.

Later — in many cases, decades later — it became clear that the man arrested for the killing had been elaborately framed. Here are just some of the salient facts that prove Mary Pinchot Meyer was murdered by the CIA:

  • The first witness testified at the trial that the man standing over Mary’s body was stocky, between 5’8″ and 5’10” in height, and weighing approximately 185 pounds. The accused stood barely 5’3-1/2″ and weighed 130. In other words, he was a scrawny little guy. There were many other holes in the police’s case against the man, but it was this discrepancy that seemed to have won the day with the jury.
  • Mary was murdered around 12:30, her body discovered soon afterward, and declared dead at 2:05. However, her identity wasn’t known until after 6:00 pm, when her brother-in-law, Ben Bradlee (yes, the managing editor of the Washington Post), went to the morgue to confirm it was she. Meanwhile, Mary’s ex-husband, Cord Meyer, a senior officer at the CIA, received a call in New York at around 2:30 that Mary had been killed. The caller was a fellow senior CIA official who also phoned the news around the same time to James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s head of counterintelligence. In other words, top officials at the CIA learned that Mary was dead hours before anyone else, even the police, knew who she was.
  • The night of Mary’s murder, Bradlee and Angleton entered Mary’s art studio and carried away her diary and a number of other personal papers, which Angleton kept.

Tomorrow: Part 3

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The CIA, the mistress, and JFK’s assassination: An astonishing but true story (Part 1)

Part 1 of a review of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Part 1 of 4.

If, like me, you were alive and aware on November 22, 1963, you’ve never forgotten the day. It was mid-afternoon in New York, and I had just arrived for a graduate course in international relations at Columbia University, only to discover a small number of my classmates aimlessly milling around, most of them in tears, some hugging one another, as one informed me that President Kennedy had been shot. The class had been canceled, and I wandered away with a classmate to learn more from TV news at his nearby apartment. He and I remained glued to that small, black-and-white screen the rest of the day and the following. The unthinkable had happened, and it seemed that nothing would ever be the same.

In the months that followed, as Lyndon Johnson claimed the Presidency for his own, the war in Vietnam quickly heated up, and the Warren Commission hastily assembled, eventually reporting that Lee Harvey Oswald had single-handedly assassinated the President, as all the news reports had suggested. However, almost since the day of Kennedy’s murder, conspiracy theories began to swirl about, those from the Right finding connections with Fidel Castro and the KGB, those from the Left claiming the participation of the CIA, the Mafia, the Pentagon, Big Business, and sometimes Lyndon Johnson. However, like many Americans, I paid little attention to all the speculation. Leave it to the Commission, I thought. They’ll find out the truth. For years afterward the books came out, spinning elaborate tales of skullduggery in high places. I ignored them all.

Now I know better. The Warren Commission was a sham. The CIA did it. Probably not alone, but the CIA was at the center of the plot. And if you doubt those statements, I suggest you read Mary’s Mosaic, by Peter Janney. It’s not only a treasure-house of shocking revelations about recent U.S. history — many of which have come to light only in recent years — but a story far too strange for fiction.

Tomorrow: Part 2

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Filed under History, Nonfiction