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John Walker Ross

John Walker Ross John Walker Ross is a graduate of Florida State and lives somewhere in the Florida Panhandle where he has variously toiled in advertising and legal publishing for the last three decades. He is interested in everything but his only known addictions are vintage rock and roll and women’s tennis. His favorite writers are Tolstoy, Henry James, Phillip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and Anita Loos, but he no longer tries to write like all of them at once.

John blogs about Pop Culture, his shady past and other life-affirming things at theroundplaceinthemiddle.com.



MOST POPULAR ARTICLES

LAST 365 DAYS

BWW Review: IT'S ALL ONE CASE Makes the Case for a Great Novelist
December 12, 2016

It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives is the latest effort in the recent renaissance of the reputation of the mid-century detective writer who was born Kenneth Millar.

BWW Review: REAL LIFE ROCK is Critic's Magnum Opus
May 3, 2016

When a culture critic is as prolific and well known as Greil Marcus, and has written books as revered as Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces, it's a mouthful to say any one book defines him

BWW Review: WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: FOUR SUSPENSE NOVELS OF THE 1940s Fills a Void
December 4, 2015

The latest benefit to readers in the stage of enlightenment exemplified by the Library of America's expanding coverage of post-war pulp is the new two-volume collection devoted to Women Crime Writers, the first of which covers the 1940s

BWW Review: MANSON Fills in the Missing Pieces
October 19, 2015

In fiction or life, I generally turn a cold shoulder to studies in psychopathy. I make a sort of exception for the subject of Charles Manson. Apparently I'm not alone.

BWW Review: ROSS MACDONALD: FOUR NOVELS OF THE 1950s Is a Great Introduction
August 18, 2015

Remarking on the distinction between English drawing room mysteries and America's hard-boiled crime dramas, Raymond Chandler famously wrote that his role model, Dashiell Hammett, “gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.”

BWW Reviews: COUNTRY SOUL is a Valuable Contribution to Its Subject
May 13, 2015

Charles Hughes' Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South, starts with some serious limitations.

BWW Reviews: MARY'S MOSAIC Offers an Eye-Opening Angle on JFK's Assassination
April 13, 2015

Mary's Mosaic. It's an odd name for a Kennedy assassination tome so it bears explanation.

BWW Reviews: ME, THE MOB AND THE MUSIC Is Mostly 'Mob'
February 6, 2015

Me, the Mob and the Music is the autobiography of sixties' hit-maker Tommy James (as told to Martin Fitzpatrick).

BWW Review: ELMORE LEONARD: FOUR NOVELS OF THE 1970s is a Decidedly Mixed Bag
December 31, 2014

Among the heavy hitters in the history of American crime fiction, the late Elmore Leonard was something of a 'tweener': not quite as purely entertaining as Donald Westlake, not as morally serious as Patricia Highsmith or Ross MacDonald, not as stylistically interesting as Raymond Chandler or as close to the no-nonsense bone as James M. Cain (who probably makes for the best comparison).

BWW Reviews: THE HISTORY OF ROCK 'N' ROLL IN TEN SONGS Shows Greil Marcus at His Best...Most of the Time
November 20, 2014

Greil Marcus has been a big-time rock critic for over forty years. I've been reading him for the last thirty-five....I've learned to take the good with the bad.

BWW Reviews: THE DEAD CIRCUS Brings L.A., the Sixties, to Life
October 17, 2014

More than any other American city–even New York–Los Angeles occupies a psychic space as well as a geographic one. More than any other decade “the sixties” represents a state of mind as much as a series of dates in history.

BWW Reviews: FRAGMENTS Tantalizes
September 12, 2014

The basic premise of Fragments–a collection of Marilyn Monroe's writings that ranges from bits of poetry and thoughts on psychoanalysis to rehearsed answers for upcoming interviews and favorite recipes (all complete with cross outs and noodlings)–is that the “mind of Marilyn” was, by definition, an interesting place to be.

BWW Reviews: BLACKBIRD Doesn't Quite Soar
July 25, 2014

The best thing about Blackbird, Tom Wright's second novel featuring a character named Jim Bonham (who almost nobody calls Jim), is the cover design, which is spare, evocative, compelling. Nothing's wasted there.

BWW Reviews: A MAN CALLED DESTRUCTION Covers the Bases
June 18, 2014

Holly George-Warren's A Man Called Destruction is the first full-length biography of Alex Chilton...

BWW Reviews: JACK OF SPIES Gets New Series Off To a Solid Start
May 15, 2014

Despite its title and its almost documentary feel for period spy-craft, David Downing's Jack of Spies isn't necessarily bound by genre.

BWW Reviews: RING LARDNER - STORIES AND OTHER WRITINGS Is Priceless
April 30, 2014

Some writers are valued for the window they provide into their own time, others for their prescience.

BWW Reviews: FIVE CAME BACK Tells a Remarkable Tale
March 14, 2014

“But few of them would enter the war as these directors did, with the sense that, in impending middle age, they had found themselves with a new world to conquer, a task that would test their abilities to help win the hearts and minds of the American people under the hardest imaginable circumstances, with the greatest possible stakes.” Mark Harris.

BWW Reviews: THE KENNEDY HALF-CENTURY Sums Things Up Nicely
February 20, 2014

The fiftieth anniversary of John Kennedy's assassination last November turned up an avalanche of books seeking to present new angles or re-hash old ones. Larry Sabato's The Kennedy Half-Century does a bit of both. Those who read Kennedy literature basically break down in three camps: obsessives (about the presidency, the assassination or both), neophytes (looking to get a handle on the basics) and tweeners (interested and reasonably astute about those basics but not on the verge of giving up their day jobs to learn more). I count myself a member of the third category. While I can't speak for how it would strike those who are a great deal more knowledgeable about the subject, for me, this was an easy and reasonably rewarding read. The book is broken down into three parts: Kennedy's life and presidency; his assassination; and his legacy. I'm not sure much new could be said on the first two matters and, for the most part–excepting a few tidbits on the assassination that amount to debunking-of-previous-debunkings-of-previous-debunkings and so on–Sabato makes no real attempt to give any substantially new perspectives or draw any rare conclusions. However, within the bounds of what he clearly did set out to do–i.e., give a summation of those aspects of Kennedy's life and death that would hold the attention of the general interest reader and provide an easy-access overview for at least some newcomers–he delivers very nicely. The really interesting and, I think, valuable part of the book is the last: a long and fairly detailed look at the effect Kennedy's legacy has had on his nine successors. This is still relatively fertile ground and, here, Sabato does come to some surprising conclusions and offers solid evidence to back his thesis. If you want to know why and how a conservative Republican like Ronald Reagan was able to channel Kennedy's aura and style more effectively than Lyndon Johnson (who was Kennedy's own vice-president), then this is a good primer on the subject. Same if you want to know how a good-old-boy policy wonk like Bill Clinton could effectively utilize the Kennedy brand–both as campaign style and governing substance–without having much of JFK's rhetorical wit (Kennedy was not exactly long-winded) or having overly warm relations with Senator Ted Kennedy, who was long-established as the family patriarch by the time Clinton reached the presidency. In addition, Sabato does a fine job of treading on some tricky ground regarding the “real” JFK who actually governed the country for two and half years, and the mythical JFK, whose shadow hung over subsequent issues from Viet Nam to Civil Rights to the Space Program to the basic arguments over the tax code. Turns out, virtually every president since 1963 has tried in some form or fashion to use the aura of the Kennedy mythology–and, in some cases, the assassination mythology as well–to advance his agenda. While some have been far better at it than others, Sabato makes it clear that none have turned down the opportunity to exploit the legacy when the opportunity arose. The books final third really turns on personalities then, but it avoids most of the common traps. I don't think there is anything here that strains credibility and that's a relief. The tendency to over-reach is all but endemic in the approach Sabato chooses, but–based on interviews I've seen with him and on the even more compelling evidence of the book itself–he seems to be inclined to stick to the facts. For instance, although Sabato seems to side with elite political and historical opinion which consistently tells us that the Bay of Pigs invasion was an unmitigated disaster, he also reminds us that the poll taken immediately after the event gave Kennedy's performance an eighty percent approval rating. It might seem a small thing, but plenty of historians would choose to leave out a little remembered fact that raises questions about their own conclusions. It's to the author's credit that he provides this kind of exemplary even-handedness throughout. The happy result is a book where Kennedy's real accomplishments are acknowledged, as are the (mostly successful and highly self-conscious) efforts at hagiography carried on by his surviving family (especially his widow) and many of the political allies who served under him. By the same token, Kennedy's almost incredibly reckless personal behavior is explained without being either rationalized away or reduced to the usual morality lessons. Sabato eschews peep-show licentiousness as deftly as he avoids preaching. I didn't come away thinking either Kennedy's sexual peccadilloes or his often seedy political tactics (this book does not shy away from reminding us that the main difference between Nixon's operatives and Kennedy's where dirty tricks were concerned in the 1960 campaign was that the Kennedy ops were better at it) were less than unsavory–frankly, the man was no saint. But I didn't feel like taking a bath either. Frankly, the man was a pretty effective president for all his faults and–even more frankly–we're all sinners. It's a rare Kennedy book that doesn't make me feel like I'm being snowed just a little so I especially appreciated this book's lack of agendas. In Sabato's hands a simple recitation of the facts makes for a good read. I think it's safe to say that most people will find it satisfying–just so long as they aren't after feeding an obsession!

BWW Reviews: Reissue of JOHN KNOX Holds Up History's Mirror and Allows Us to Gaze Upon Ourselves
January 16, 2014

John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, emerged from a densely tangled thicket of sixteenth century history, politics and theology. Making sense of his life and legacy is no easy task.

BWW Reviews: THE GODS OF GUILT Keeps the Lincoln Lawyer Series Humming Along
December 20, 2013

The Gods of Guilt is actually my introduction to Michael Connelly's tremendously popular Lincoln Lawyer series (though, like a lot of characters in this volume, I have seen the movie).



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