James Brown Comes to the Screen

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This Friday, August 1, the new movie about James Brown will be released. Titled Get On Up, the film stars Chadwick Boseman as Brown. The film also features Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, and Dan Aykroyd, Brown’s co-star from Doctor Detroit (and The Blues Brothers). As of this writing, no reviews have been published, so its unclear if Get On Up will be good. It’s easy to be dubious though. The trailer makes Get On Up look like a pretty standard biopic.  And Boseman doesn’t really look like Brown. Of course, nobody really looks like James Brown, so that can’t be held against the movie.

Regardless of the movie’s eventual quality, James Brown is a compelling character: he was an essential figure in 20th century American history and culture, and his music’s influence can still be heard today. His story is a great one: as for a telling of it, I suppose I’ll not so humbly recommend Proud: The Story of James Brown by Ronald D. Lankford, our (Morgan Reynolds) biography of the singer. It’s a good one.

Born into poverty in the 1930s, Brown revolutionized R&B music into something vital and earth-shaking, and the live shows he put on were intense and dynamic. He influenced generations of musicians that followed him, and helped shaped the sound of modern pop and rap.

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Brown was also a radical and influential advocate for civil rights, and inspired many with his song “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” He also toured in Vietnam, performing for American troops.

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Brown also struggled with drugs and the law, and strove, not always successfully, to be a family man and a good man. In short, his life was a full one.

To read about James Brown, check out Proud: The Story of James Brown by Ronald D. Lankford (ISBN# 978-1-59935-374-6) from your local library or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

– Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

(All pics appear in Proud: The Story of James Brown)

(And while we are on the topic of movies about the subjects of Morgan Reynolds biographies, don’t forget The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, due out this November.)

 

 

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Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pardoning the Past, Looking Towards the Future

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

Charles Weems and Clarence Norris, two of the Scottsboro Boys, read a newspaper in their Alabama jail cell.

At the start of this year, I wrote about Alan Turing, and the effort to get the renowned scientist and mathematician an official pardon from the the British government. Now, as the year is coming to an end, that pardon has been given: on December 23, 2013, the Queen of England officially absolved Turing of his crimes, just under sixty years after his death.

Similarly, back in November, the last three of the Scottsboro Boys who had yet to be exonerated were granted a posthumous pardon. (The Scottsboro Boys were a group of black teenagers who were falsely accused and convicted of rape in 1931. The unfairness of their case and the trials that convicted them helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement.)

Though the stories obviously have many differences, they both show modern authorities attempting to rectify the injustices of the past with symbolic gestures. As well intentioned as they are though, this hardly seems like enough. Though there is some satisfaction to the fact that official records will no longer indicate these people as guilty of crimes they didn’t commit, their lives were still ruined by the charges unfairly brought against them.

So what value then is there in trying to correct the mistakes of the past? The past is past, and nothing can change it. But in granting these pardons, in admitting that mistakes were made, and offering some justice–if only symbolically–after the fact, we can hope that we are making a promise to the future. A promise that such injustices will not occur again, a promise that we can and will do better, or at least try.

At Morgan Reynolds Publishing, we spend a lot time thinking about history, about the past, about the thousands of events that have occurred throughout time that have led us to where we are today. Whether it’s the story of young men unfairly accused of a crime because of the color of their skin, or of a genius mathematician who pioneered computer science, or the way the spread of a disease affected civilization, or even the way a fashion designer overcame poverty to clothe a president, everything that has happened has the led the world to where it is today, for good and ill. By studying it, by trying to understand, we aim to understand the world around us, and hopefully–hopefully–have a greater grasp on where we are going and who we are. So that we can do better. Or at least try.

We don’t grant official pardons, but we do try to always present the truth, or as much of the truth as can be known. We believe that the facts should speak for themselves, that the truth offers its own condemnations, and its own pardons.

Thanks for reading along with us. We are looking forward to the new year, and hope you’ll keep reading.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Updates on Past Topics

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Time passes, and things happen. Here’s some updates on past blog and book topics that continue to make news around the world:

-A recent report in the New York Times depicts Nelson Mandela, the  former leader of South Africa and anti-apartheid figurehead struggling with his health, surrounded by family and friends who wish the aging activist would be granted some peace and quiet in what may well be his final days. As a symbol of the fight against oppression in South Africa, Mandela remains significant though he’s retired. Now, as he potentially nears the end of his life, it seems as though a new struggle will be fought over his legacy.

-On this day (May 28)  in 1936, Alan Turing invented his famous Turing Machine, a device that helps in understanding and explaining computer functions. This invention was vital in the development of the computer and computer science, and to honor Turing’s accomplishment, every year the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) gives out the A.M. Turing Award to scientists who make major advances in the world of computing. This year, the award was given to MIT professors Shafi Goldwasser and Silvio Micali, who did work in the fields of cryptography and complexity theory. Some of their work focuses on increasing security in various online interactions, such as internet purchases and cloud computing. These issues are far beyond anything Turing could have imagined for computers when he invented his machine, but the bestowal of the award with his name on it affirms his vital role in the advancement of this technology that has come to define the century.

Harper Lee has returned to the headlines: the author of To Kill a Mockingbird has sued the son-in-law of her former literary agent, alleging that he took advantage of her age and failing health to convince her to sign over rights to the book, and that he has cheated her out of proceeds for many years. The case has not yet been decided; hopefully it will not be a sad final chapter for the author of one of America’s most beloved novels.

-More news from North Korea. Kim Jong-un has apparently not taken to heart the request of his friend Dennis Rodman, and will not be releasing American citizen Kenneth Bae, sentenced to 15 years in prison for vaguely defined crimes against the North Korean state. Bae just began serving his sentence, in a “special prison” that is largely a mystery to outsiders. North Korea also reignited tensions and fears about nuclear threats when the country fired four short range missiles into Sea of Japan. Though the launches were only tests, and no one was hurt, the missiles refocused attention on the small country, and its repeated promises to build nuclear weapons. Or perhaps the launch was just some stealth advertising for the country’s new ski resort

Reportedly, director Steven Spielberg’s next project will be a film adaptation of American Sniper, the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle was killed in February, while trying to help another soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder at a gun range. Kyle is one of the many soldiers documented in The Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

These are just a few of things happening in the world. They remind us that just because the book is over, the story is not at an end, and that to fully understand what is happening in the world right now, we must have an understanding of the past.

To learn more about Champion of Freedom: Nelson Mandela, Profiles in Mathematics: Alan TuringReal Courage: The Story of Harper LeeThe Military Experience. Special Operations: Snipers, or our Ebook exclusive, Modern American Conflicts: The Korean War, please visit morganreynolds.com.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

 

 

 

 

Justice For Alan Turing, 60 Years After His Death?

ImageAlan Turing was a brilliant scientist and mathematician; as a codebreaker, he was vital to England’s efforts against the Nazis during World War II, and as a research scientist, his work helped pave the way for computerized artificial intelligence that we take for granted today. But his great legacy is marred by a criminal conviction: in 1952, Turing was tried, and convicted, of indecency for engaging in homosexual acts.

Even though homosexuality remains a heated topic of debate today, it’s easy to forget that homosexuality and homosexual acts were punishable crimes very recently. (Indeed, in many countries, it remains illegal.) In England, homosexuality between men was essentially made illegal in 1885, when statutes against homosexual acts were included in a new set of laws passed under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. These laws remained in effect until 1967. It was during this time that Alan Turing lived.

Now, a group of prominent scientists are calling for British Prime Minister David Cameron to officially pardon Turing, some 58 years after his death. The scientists, who include Professor Stephen Hawking and Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse, argue that is time Turing’s “reputation be unblemished.”

This is not the first time that efforts have been made to get an official pardon issued for Alan Turing. In February 2012, over 23,000 signatures were collected for an online petition calling for him to be pardoned, but the motion was rejected by the British government. Before that, though, in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology to Turing, calling his arrest and punishment (which included forced injection of estrogen and revocation of his government security clearance) “appalling.”

The British government has also issued numerous honors and reminders of Turing’s legacy, including a street named after him in the city of Manchester, and a commemorative stamp issued by the Royal Mail in 2012, the centenary of Turing’s birth. Turing has also been recognized and praised for his work by UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for contributions to the fields of code breaking and computer science.

Still, these honors aren’t enough for the scientists demanding Turing’s pardon; they find it unacceptable that the legacy of such an important scientist and national hero is tarnished by a criminal conviction, especially since the crime he was convicted of is no longer illegal.

So far the government has not responded to this new request from the scientists. The previous call for a pardon was rejected on the basis that Turing’s conviction was legitimate and in keeping with the laws of the time, which Turing knowingly violated. As that response was just made in February 2012, it seems unlikely that the government will respond differently less than a year later.

Others questions the value of pardoning Turing. In an editorial in UK newspaper The Telegraph, writer Tom Chivers argues that a pardon of Turing would serve little purpose. Chivers agrees that Turing’s conviction and punishment were appalling and wrong, but feels that a pardon issued now will be of no use to the long dead Turing, and will only serve to be a positive publicity stunt for David Cameron and the British government. Chivers argues that it would be much more meaningful for the government to issue a pardon to all people unfairly charged with the crime of indecency. “Don’t pardon Turing because he was a hero and a genius,” Chivers writes. “Pardon him, and everyone else, because there should never have been a crime in the first place.”

Regardless of whether or not Turing is issued a pardon, the controversy does have the positive effect of bringing publicity and attention to Turing, one of the 20th century’s most important scientific thinkers, who was integral in shaping the world as it is today. Indeed, this debate shows just how relevant Turing continues to be, and how his influence continues to be shape the future.

UPDATE (July 22, 2013)- Turing will be pardoned by the British government.

 

– Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

To learn more about Alan Turing, his interesting life, and his contributions to science and mathematics, check out Profiles in Mathematics: Alan Turing by Jim Corrigan (ISBN 978-1-59935-064-6) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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