Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides was a great book about the manhunt for James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King Jr. The book starts with the escape of a prisoner in April, 1967, one year before the assassination of King, and there's fascinating detail in it about Ray, his actions and the times.

Sides covers well King and his Poor People's Campaign to occur Washington D.C., the enmity towards King by J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the FBI, and former Alabama governor George Wallace running for President on an isolationist and segregationist platform. Much of the book is a coming together of people and events and King was shot maybe 40% of the way through it. After this, Sides covers Ray fleeing Memphis, and the incredibly thorough and old fashioned pounding the pavement detective work that went into identifying and searching King's killer.

Details about the 65 day manhunt included Ray going to Atlanta, his car being discovered there, then clothes of his being traced to a Los Angeles area dry cleaner, which led to the FBI discovering a fingerprint match that established his identity. After this, police found that he had spent time in Canada under an assumed name. Then Canadian authorities poured over passport applications, found that Ray went Europe and alerted authorities there. Even with that alert going out, Ray was only apprehended trying to leave London as the result of authorities noticing he had a second passport, cancelled due to misspelling in the name, and someone then connecting that he was a fugitive. Incredibly, after Ray was returned to America and sent to state prison for the murder of King, he escaped and was caught in the mountains after 54 hours on the run.

It's a remarkable story told with great detail by Sides and I enjoyed it at least as much as I did two other excellent reads from Sides, Ghost Soldiers, and In the Kingdom of Ice.

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant was an interesting book from 2005 about the illegal felling of a giant tree off the Northwest coast of Canada.

I previously enjoyed quite a bit Vaillant's later book, The Tiger, and in The Golden Spruce, he does the same excellent job of blending together stories about a fascinating region and things that occurred within it.

It was a fast read and a much longer than this one review of the book was done for the Seattle PI by John Marshall.

The Lost Carving by David Esterly

The Lost Carving by David Esterly was a solid book about a year Esterly spent restoring wood carvings damaged in a 1986 fire at Hampton Court Palace in England. The limewood carvings were done in the late 1600s by Grinling Gibbons and depicted Gibbons' primary subject area of flowers, fruits and foliage.

Esterly at the time of the fire was one of the few professional carvers working in limewood and as a young man was an academic at Cambridge, then left for America and took various teamsters jobs. He became interested in carving after seeing a Gibbons exhibition and the book describes the craft as a sort of duality between mind and body. I found interesting the description from Esterly of carving involving the two hands working against each other to accomplish a goal and in many ways, The Lost Carving is a meditative book about creation and creativity that comes through the form on working with your hands.

Two things I loved at the end of the book were a quote from Benjamin Franklin that "well done is better than well said" and Esterly writing that it's better at bedtime to be physically tired than mentally exhausted. Also about the craft of carving, Esterly wrote on spending time carving areas in the back of a piece of work, places that people won't see. The term Esterly uses for this type of endeavor is conscientiousness and there's quite a bit in the book about his quest to do right by the work. Along with the effort put into the carvings, Esterly covered the political decisions he had to navigate through, with an example being whether to have the carvings remain light as Gibbons did them or have a varnish to make the carvings look more like they did at the time of the fire.

It's really a cool book for anyone interested in creativity and making things.