Review: Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott by Michael Bar-Zohar, PhD.

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Michael Bar-Zohar’s “Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” garnered an easy five-star rating from me. This book had it all: history, smut, politics, international intrigue, foreign policy, terrorism, psychological warfare, a touch of romance and so much more–all interwoven expertly–something difficult to accomplish given the amount and range of content covered by the author. The story began as a biography of Jean Frydman, a French immigrant from Poland who became a leader of the Nazi Resistance in WWII’s, Holocaust-driven Vichy France. He eventually worked his way up into the position of a vested partner for L’Oreal…only to be covertly fired by historical Nazis with the goal of illegally complying with the Arab boycott.

Dr. Bar-Zohar explained that the Arab boycott was designed to destroy Israel via the prevention of commerce with any organization(s) that had ties to it. This effected L’Oreal when it purchased another company that had previously built one factory in Israel as well as another entity that had a subsidiary or secondary brand’s facility there, too; and, L’Oreal partner Jean Frydman maintained a dual citizenship status in France and Israel.

When the Arab League “demanded a list of all affiliates” (pg. 8), the reader began to learn about how the League’s political system interfaced with L’Oreal. This boycott had the potential to financially damage additional corporations outside of the beauty industry and those which a person would not have typically associated with L’Oreal at the time: Nestle, Baxter International, Panavision and others. A progressive reveal of the vastness and unexpected international business holdings of L’Oreal took place while the author provided a simultaneous education pertaining to L’Oreal’s Nazi era history of three politically and financially powerful people, how they worked to hide anti-Semitic and collaborationist activities and pasts while they gained power, and (ultimately) how they were linked to Jean Frydman’s removal and attempted divestiture.

Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott” impressed me with how well Michael Bar-Zohar conducted his investigative research and taught the reader about a set of parallel histories and how they intersected. It taught the reader that anti-Semitism never ended and that, surprisingly, it existed even within the Jewish community. This story made me want to read books about Vichy France as well as more texts about the Helena Rubinstein empire. The author’s writing style made me wish I could read the book at a much faster pace. It was so well written! My desire to read more pieces by this author led me to add a few more of his books to my reading list; in doing so, I learned that Michael Bar-Zohar also authored books under the pseudonym “Michael Barak.” I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers consider his other investigative pieces.

Review: Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West

Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West by Laurent Murawiec

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

MOVIE TRAILER: Bhutto

REVIEW: “Let us admit…that the title “prince” is purely formal. Even if one were to respect the right of illiterate and course nomads to call their chiefs princes–we have no reason to be gratuitously discourteous–the demographic explosion of the Al-Saud family has created an endless supply of pseudo-princes. It even seems impossible to count this sub-species, which multiplies uncontrollably. Are there three or eight thousand Saudi “princes”? No one knows. If necessary, it was agreed–politeness to foreigners–to call the dozen bearded men in jellabas “princes.” But five or eight thousand? Inflation, as it is well known, devalues currency. The inflation of princes has devalued the title. Each prince thus bears the title of only one five-thousandth of a prince, so that at diplomatic receptions, the introduction might go: “Royal Highness the five-thousandth of a Prince Bandar,” which would be closer to reality” (229).

Yet, Laurent Murawiec, author of “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” wrote a book’s worth of “reasons to be gratuitously discourteous” (229), in his efforts to expose the everything he wanted readers to know about the Saudi Royal Family, he also freely injected caustic language. The author contended that Saudi oil came to life as a result of simply happening to inhabit the land under which the petrol sources rested. He wanted to establish that this royal family was nothing more than a self-propagating orgy of princes and their several wives to create future generations in order to maintain their power. “Saudi Arabia, for its part, modernized nothing. It was in 1957 – – and not in the seventh century – – that King Saud [SIC] issued and edict forbidding women to drive. In the name of Islam, the Saudi-Wahhabi regime has worsened the position of women. Sequestration inside the walls of home, the requirement to wear and an abaya showing only the eyes, and illiteracy and the virtual impossibility of exercising a profession, the prohibition of pursuing education abroad” (14-15), etc. Additional information included the author’s suggestion that the US invasion of Iraq existed as favor to Saudis…under threat of (Iran’s) Shia being able to obtain Iraqi oil reserves and out-power “The Kingdom.” He also delved into the formation of OPEC and OAPEC, asserting themselves as nothing more than political oil cartels, regardless of the fact that that the producing countries simply wanted control over what came from their territories. “Oil, everything comes down to oil” (179). Murawiec clearly had a problem with everybody and everything pertaining to the Saudi Royal Family, defining them as nothing more than Bedouin tribal thieves utilizing their religion as a weapon.

Despite the author’s frequently injected opinions that tended to distract from important historical facts, I enjoyed learning more about the Saudis and their relationship with Pakistan. This alliance may also have been the reason why Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prohibited from obtaining “The Bomb.” I found this to be particularly interesting because, after seeing the film “Bhutto,” I wondered why Dr. Henry Kissinger adamantly emphasized to Bhutto that he would regret developing nuclear weaponry. After all, the USA developed “The Bomb,” then the USSR did the same thing. China then sensed it needed nuclear weapons to protect itself from the Russians. India felt threatened and started testing its “Bomb;” therefore, it appeared only rational that Pakistan would develop equal-caliber capabilities to protect itself from India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was denied this power. General Zia-ul-Haq became Bhutto’s Chief of Staff (most likely at the request of the USA or Saudi Arabia), and then this man seized power via military coup…and got “The Bomb” anyway.

Mr. Murawiec did not go into all of that detail with Pakistan, because his book was about exposing the Saudi Royal Family’s power matrix. Pakistan played a somewhat minute role (in the context of their total power-base). The author explained how Pakistan’s intelligence arm, the ISI, “pulled the wool over the CIA’s eyes, manipulated American policy for its benefit, and came out on top” (77), thereby orchestrating the election(s) of Benazir Bhutto as part of a façade to appease the Western world.

While this review did not share nearly as much as what one can read and learn about in “Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West,” my goal was to communicate that the author demonstrated compelling writing skills and strong subject matter knowledge, yet he faltered in maintaining a modicum of professionalism that one would expect from a person with his impressive credentials. I failed to appreciate when he repeatedly injected vitriolic statements such as the following: “We have seen the way in which Saudi Arabia asserted control over Pakistan, or, if you like, the Wahhabi acid bath into which Saudi influence plunged Pakistan” (107). Comments such as this one devalued the crucial information that he wanted exposed; as such, the book’s star rating was reduced.

Review: Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History

cvr_lenin-on-the-train-the-journey-that-changed-the-course-of-history-by-catherine-merridaleLenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History by Catherine Merridale

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Author Catherine Merridale became known for authoring several works involving Russian history. “Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History” became her newest book. Its basis relied upon the premise that the author travelled the same train tour as V.I. Lenin did to give his speeches and rally followers for revolution. “In April 1917, at the height of the First World War, the exiled leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, travelled back to Russia by train” (5); he had developed himself into a revolutionary with the intension of transforming the government via appealing to class struggle.

Merridale wasted no time getting to the rail station in order to begin Lenin’ s tour. But the pre-history would have better developed the story, properly setting the stage for what happened next. She rushed past the 1905 “Bloody Sunday” event, thereby downplaying its significance in the lead-up to the 1917 Revolution. I wished that she had delved into Rasputin’s power over the royal family, coupled with their excesses and assassination(s).  The author adeptly covered the effect of WWI on the country, and this was undoubtedly an incredibly important factor in understanding the mindset of many Russians.  From the impoverished to the bourgeoisie, and up through to royalty, Lenin also achieved a comprehensive understanding of the Russian mindset, which proved valuable in allowing him to develop highly-targeted speeches as his trip progressed.

Lenin on the Train” provided an in-depth approach, or micro-historical account, of a vital facet to the 1917 Russian Revolution. “For almost every socialist who witnessed it, what was happening in February 1917 was a march towards democracy and liberal reform” (225). “Socialism, which required the people take control of everything from economic life to war and peace, was not thought to be possible in a land of boorish peasants. In private, moreover, a good many socialists in Petrograd had been more than a little terrified of responsibility in any form” (225). Merridale’s work delved into these challenged and many others in a manner that reflected her thorough understanding of that historical era. My favorite components of her book that reflected her in-depth knowledge existed as follows:

1. The V.I. Lenin quotes set the tone for each chapter.
2. Notes regarding Russia’s calendar compared to that of Europe enabled the reader to understand travel time and date complexities.
3. A detailed map tracing Lenin’s train route created an additional way to engage the reader.
4. Details pertaining to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, coupled with threats to the revolution, increased the story’s depth.
5. Stories of Germany’s and Britain’s influence increased the sense of international intrigue.
6. Feuds between Lenin and others demonstrated that his mission did not become easily achieved.

While the aforementioned numbered points served as my favorite aspects of the book, overall I experienced struggles in reading the compendium. There was a lot of back-and-forth in time, that I did not find to be respective to the calendar issue cited in the author’s “Notes on Text.” The dates seemed like they were thrown around without respect to a clearly delineated timeline. Dialectology challenges caused the writer’s style to come across as clunky, stuffy, and dry. Expression not typically encountered in the United States compounded these issues, for example:
1. The happy fortune of that lot must have made Switzerland seem more than ever like the white wolf’s wretched cage” (134). 
2. “Lenin had worked up an appetite, and back in the Regina’s dining room he tucked into a steak…” (197)

Additionally, I found that transitions between paragraphs seemed rough, while sentences within them did not always belong together. Unfortunately, despite the author’s delivery on her promises and demonstrated subject matter knowledge, I ultimately found this book to be difficult to enjoy and finish.

Review: Infidel

“There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.”― Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel

cvr_infidel-by-ayaan-hirsi-aliInfidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW: Ayaan Hirsi Ali did it again–she easily pulled a five-star rating out of me for a second time. I had inadvertently read “Nomad” before “Infidel” because I did not have knowledge of this book as being her first one.

Once I started reading, “Infidel,” I was hoping that she would not simply re-state everything I had already read in the other text. She did not. In fact, while the author’s voice was consistent in both pieces of literature, the reader was educated with a series of micro-histories that could not be disregarded, neither in the character development of this fine woman nor in the culmination of Muslim Fundamentalist religious ferver on a worldwide scale.

Ayaan wanted to “…be judged on the validity of (her) arguments, not as a victim.” This stance seemed to exist as a delicately crafted undercurrent of her stories while she continued to educate the reader about her life and that of so many innocent people around the world. When she asserted that “My combat was legitimate,” it was Hirsi Ali’s way of wrapping up all of the facts into a neat package and making it clear to the reader that he/she was in survival mode with the author as well.

The only difficulty I face in writing this review is that anything submitted cannot do this author’s fine work the justice that it deserves. I find myself in awe of her life experience and how she has chosen to manifest them into an incredibly educated, passionate and compassionate existence.

In closing, I cannot wait to get my hands on her next book, “The Caged Virgin,” and continue along the path of this educational journey and heightened sense of awareness that she has created.

Review: Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West

cvr_reconciliation-islam-democracy-and-the-west-by-benazir-bhuttoReconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, by Benazir Bhutto

MY RATING: 3/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Purchased Book, 2016 Library Thing Santa Thing

RELATED MOVIE(S): Bhutto (2008) Trailer (IMDB)

REVIEW: “I return to Pakistan after eight years abroad on October 18, 2007, and was greeted in Karachi by crowds estimated by Sindhi press and party officials to be up to three million people. It was a moment I have dreamt of for so many years. I was overwhelmed by emotion as I touched the land of my birth and saw the love of the people. It was a love I returned with all my heart and soul.  Politics started out as a duty for me. Over the years of pain, suffering, sacrifice, and separation, of young men and women tortured and killed, it had become an all-consuming passion” (218). An equal level of commitment resulted in “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West,” becoming the last book written by the first-ever, female prime minister of a Muslim country; her name was Benazir Bhutto.

Reconciliation” was divided into six chapters with clearly defined elements: Islam’s saga, democratic ideals, Pakistan’s internal strife and dichotomous relations with the United States (who she repeatedly asserted as a nation pursuing arbitrary democracy), “clash of civilizations”, the need for a changed vocabulary, and fear of her nation being disintegrated from within. She successfully argued that “to understand Pakistani politics, an understanding of Pakistan’s provinces and their characteristics is necessary” (158). Over time, the reader could recognize that the author became stuck in a political quagmire; and, despite the fact that Bhutto needed the USA, she seemed to dedicate a good portion of her book to rant against her greatest ally.

Overall, I recognized that “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West,” served as a plea for dialogue, understanding, change, help and recognition. Unfortunately, this book’s preachy and academic approach caused me to skim some of the material. Sometimes I felt like the author was speaking down to the reader; yet, fragments reflected how she wrote so beautifully, so passionately, that you could visualize where she was and feel what Bhutto felt in that moment. It set my expectations for the rest of the piece. Ultimately, the writings could not maintain a significant quantity of that communication style to reflect a higher star rating.

Review: Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations

cvr_nomad-from-islam-to-america-a-personal-journey-through-the-clash-of-civilizations Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Library Book

REVIEW:Nomad” exists as one of the best books I have ever read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali presented herself as an incredible, multi-faceted, dynamic human being, and her book did not waste a single word in its effort to directly and thoughtfully convey her Somali clan culture, Muslim history, and personal growth that paved the way to an atheistic position.

She clearly defined how the Muslim religion manifested itself in numerous familial generations and those around her. This belief system was stagnant, fanatical, illogical, sexist, and radical; this perspective did not change in the hearts and minds of her loved ones as they moved to different countries and modernity infringed upon the clan. Hirsi Ali did a phenomenal job of demarcating when the Muslim “Call to Prayer” migrated from a poetic one to a song that sounded like a call to arms.

This woman had every right to be angry and bitter; yet, if anything, she demonstrated an endless capacity for compassion toward just about everyone. She clearly understood the clash of cultures dynamic and thoroughly explained why it was important to motivate people to enjoy their heritage but thoroughly integrate into their new country(ies).

Ayaan Hirsi (Magan) Ali seemed to want her book to serve as a wake-up call to the reader(s). It could not, nor should not, be ignored. “Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations” proved to be an excellent, educational read!