The Lady and the Dale (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: A three-wheeled car looks no less ridiculous than those three-wheel motorcycles.

Quick synopsis: The story of Elizabeth Carmichael and her three-wheeled car, the Dale.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Liz Carmichael was born Jerry Dean Michael in 1927 in Indiana. Well, allegedly as she had no birth certificate.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The Dale was on the Price is Right!

My Take: Say what you will, Elizabeth Carmichael was a very good saleswoman.

The problem with the rest of the show is that is tries to paint Carmichael as good at a lot of other things which do not hold up.

While her children talk about her being an amazing mom, they also talk about having to move in the middle of the night when people caught up to Elizabeth. It seems most of them have had very unhappy lives. Yes, Elizabeth fed them, loved them, but she also seemed to horribly scar them at the same time.

As per the intro, Elizabeth was also a trans woman. The show tries to intersperse her struggles with most trans people but only ever gives minor lip service to the fact she was a criminal in multiple ways and treated many people terribly.

The actual portion which focuses on the Dale and the events around Elizabeth’s rise are interesting, but all of the other plot-lines take it completely off track (pun intended!).

Verdict: This one is good but gets ruined by some misplaced hero worship.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Icebound by Andrea Pitzer

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: You should probably take warm clothes with you to the Arctic.

Quick synopsis: The voyages of Dutch Explorer William Barents in attempts to find the Northeast Passage. No, not the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: People used to believe geese were magical creatures because they never found where geese laid their eggs. Barents and his fellow crewmen solved this puzzle by mistake. They found geese nests in the high Arctic where humans had not been before.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I never thought about this before, but why do humans get scurvy and a bunch of animals without access to vitamin C don’t? Turns out, some animals can synthesize vitamin C. Guess who can’t? Humans. 

My Take: You would think if you were headed somewhere with icebergs, you might pack for the occasion. Not William Barents and his crew!

Barents is a name well known to anyone interested in the Arctic like me. However, I really had no idea what he did. His name is plastered on water in the area of Russia, but I didn’t know why (and you didn’t either so don’t get smug).

Barents and his ship were looking for the Northeast Passage. Yes, we all know about the quest for the Northwest Passage, but it stands to reason explorers tried just as hard to go the other way! They did! And it usually turned out quite badly!

This book chronicles Barents’ three attempts to find it. Well, one time was just to check on some land you never heard of to see if it was an Arctic continent. Details, details. These attempts were undertaken in the late 1500s which means there is not a tremendous amount of firsthand information to pull from like later attempts at the poles, but Pitzer does a good job with what she has.

Verdict: A good book about someone whose name you would have heard if you love Arctic exploration, but probably never knew the full story.

If You Liked This Try:

  • David Welky, A Wretched and Precarious Situation
  • Bruce Henderson, Fatal North
  • Jennifer Niven, The Ice Master
  • Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice
  • Stephen Brown, Island of Blue Foxes
  • Leonard Guttridge, Ghosts of Cape Sabine
  • Buddy Levy, Labyrinth of Ice
  • Alfred Lansing, Endurance

Sasquatch (Hulu)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It’s hard to remember what happened when you are super high.

Quick synopsis: A guy remembers hearing about a story of three men being murdered by a Sasquatch on a pot farm.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Northern California has a lot of crazy people. I mean crazy in multiple ways.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: It’s still more profitable to sell weed on the black market instead of legally. No, I am not advocating it. I am just letting you know.

My Take: This documentary really had me going.

Long story short, investigative reporter David Holthouse is on a pot farm back in the 90s. While there, some guards come in talking about three men being torn to shreds by a Sasquatch. Yes, Bigfoot. Holthouse moves on with his life because he didn’t feel like being murdered that night and now he is trying to figure out what happened.

The first episode examines Bigfoot and Sasquatch with a seriousness that almost made me stop watching. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, or the Abominable Snowman, or the Loch Ness Monster (just kidding, Nessie is totally real). I thought this show was going to try and make me a believer.

I am happy I kept going. Holthouse does his investigation and it leads to where you would expect when you are talking about drugs and scary people. I also found it to be very fair to all sides of the argument. I found myself being annoyed that these pot farmers (who clearly point out they are committing crimes) are annoyed at law enforcement for doing their jobs. They start to spout off how they were harmless but then we get a look at all the weapons and booby traps they also had on their farms. It was hilarious.

What happens as the story unfolds? Well, most true crime docs hold very little suspense for me. This one did.

This is one of the best true crime docs I have watched. Take a look and don’t stop at episode one. Trust me.

Verdict: Very good documentary. Don’t only watch the first episode. Keep going.

If You Liked This Try:

  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)

The Unknowns by Patrick K. O’Donnell

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: You have to give it to Americans. We may not do it better, but we always do it bigger.

Quick synopsis: An overview of American involvement in World War I through the lens of the body bearers of the Unknown Soldier.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Germans were scared of American Indians. They believed they had mystical powers and targeted them whenever they could. Germans being racist. Unheard of.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The first few waves of American soldiers in World War I used Civil War tactics. In other words, they ran at machine gun in waves. If you are not a military person, I can assure you that is the worst way to do it.

My Take: This book isn’t only about the Unknown Soldier. If you are looking for a book with a laser focus on the Unknown Soldier entombed in Arlington National Cemetery (on Robert E. Lee’s land because screw him) then you are going to get a lot more. And that’s a very good thing.

O’Donnell writes about the American involvement in World War I from right before it through the end and the efforts to establish the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He focuses on the body bearers, or the men who would bring the Unknown Soldier to his final resting place. They were all highly decorated war veterans and O’Donnell traces all their exploits.

You will learn how the U.S. was not exactly ready to fight from a tactics perspective. You will also learn just how murderous half-baked battle plans could be for the people on the ground. This is one of those war books which make you feel just how utterly helpless a soldier may feel charging a machine gun nest. But they do it anyway.

Verdict: A great book which has a lot of stories you won’t find somewhere else.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Neal Bascomb, The Escape Artists
  • Laura MacDonald, Curse of the Narrows
  • Edward Lengel, Never in Finer Company

My Personal History: Empire of Pain – My Coda

I recently finished Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe. (Spoiler: I loved it.) It touches on the reasons for the opioid epidemic in the United States and how it came to be. The book is extremely powerful, enraging, and for me deeply personal. You see, from about 2005 to 2007, I was taking Percocet, a powerful opioid, on a daily basis.

Now before you call the cops, I was taking these legally. I never bought drugs off the street and my pills came from legal prescriptions. I had 4 surgeries on my lower back and was in a pretty good amount of pain in between surgeries. However, looking back, I had to wonder.

Why the hell did doctors keep giving me Percocet for that long?

Empire of Pain finally answered the question for me. Pharmaceutical companies performed a magic trick where they made doctors believe opioids were not the dangerous pills they thought they were. Once doctors fell for it, they started writing prescriptions. By the time people started asking questions, it was too late. People were dead, or hooked, or already ruined.

Luckily, I was not one of them. I could have been, though. I always prided myself on being drug free. I never did drugs in high school and I certainly never did in the military. Plus, if a doctor gave it to me, then it must be okay.

It can be very easy to blame someone with a drug addiction, especially when you are clean. Why can’t they just stop? Don’t they see what they are doing to themselves and their loved ones?

My experience with Percocet divulged a dirty little secret. The opioids are more than strong little pain pills. They also have the powers of mind control.

See, I never took any of my pills for fun. I took them for the pain. Now, when you take them long enough, you invariably need more. No big deal. Then one day I noticed I was always tired. I had put on a lot of weight. I was moody. I really hated what I saw in the mirror. I decided it was time to stop. It helped that I only had 30 pills left and the doctor was unsure about refilling my prescription. Ultimately, I would leave that bottle with 15 pills left and never touch them.

Weaning yourself off an opioid is not easy. The withdrawal is a test of endurance for both your body and mind. I remember my brain telling me I was in pain and I needed another pill. As I got the drugs out of my system, I began to realize I was not actually hurting. My brain wanted the pills so bad that it made me think I was in tremendous pain.

Later in life, I had other procedures where the doctor prescribed me opioids. After kicking them once, I wasn’t afraid, but I was wary. I would set a deadline for myself to stop taking them and then not go back, pain be damned. I never had another issue again.

I was never addicted to opioids. I do see how you could be, though. I am a lot less judgmental now.

For more:

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: The Sacklers suck.

Quick synopsis: The history of the Sackler family, who projected themselves as philanthropists to the world while their painkillers were sending thousands on the road to death.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Medical schools (even the fancy ones) used to have a limit on the number of Jewish students who were allowed in at any given time.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: An Indiana County had 116 opioid prescriptions per 100 people at one point in the early 2000s.

My Take: Good public relations can cover up a lot of evil.

This book chronicles the history of the Sackler family when they arrived in the U.S. before World War II and then follows along as they build a pharmaceutical empire. Along the way, they are masters of doing seedy things without every putting their fingerprints on them. They love having their names put on arts donations and the like but avoid owning up to the things history will hopefully remember them for.

How effective were they? Well, do you even remember the major settlement for the opioid crisis? Did you know there was one? Did you ever hear the name Purdue Pharma? Did you know the Sacklers ran it and pushed oxycodone to such extremes that they are considered the main driver behind the entire epidemic?

If you can’t answer yes to all these questions, then you need to read this book. Prepare to be enraged.

Verdict: It is an amazing book. Read this and Say Nothing as soon as possible.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing
  • John Carreyrou, Bad Blood
  • Harry Markopolos, No One Would Listen
  • David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon

The Last Blockbuster (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Netflix does a documentary about something it murdered.

Quick synopsis: The story of Blockbuster videos rise and fall.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: There actually is one left! In Bend, Oregon! (The twitter account is fake but so damn funny.)

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I never knew home videos were so expensive before Blockbuster came along. The documentary breaks down how Blockbuster changed the game by changing the finances of buying videos for rental.

My Take: Kids today will never understand it.

I remember begging my mother or brothers to take me to Blockbuster on a Friday night. I remember hoping what I actually wanted to rent was there. I also remember the anger when all those boxes on the shelf had nothing behind it. Anyone under the age of 30 probably had no idea what I am talking about and your life is worse for it, my friends.

The documentary covers the life and (almost complete) death of Blockbuster. Along the way, you find out how it got so big and then how some thing named Netflix took it down. Or did it? As usual, the truth usually has something to do with weird financial arrangements in the background.

We also get to spend some time in the actual last Blockbuster on earth. Oh, Oregon, never change.

Verdict: Perfect to watch on a Friday night while wearing a swatch and eating popcorn. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • (Un)well
  • High Score
  • The Tiger King
  • Home Game

The Greatest Beer Run Ever by Chick Donohue and J.T. Molloy

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I can’t improve on the title, so I won’t even try.

Quick synopsis: Chick Donohue went to bring his friends beer….in Vietnam…during the Vietnam War.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Yes, the synopsis is true.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: If you weren’t in the military, the ease and indifference which Chick gets around will seem outlandish. As someone who was in the military, I can assure you, it is not.

My Take: Many terrible and epic ideas are birthed in New York City bars. This is one of them.

Chick Donohue was a kid from the block. He was in a bar full of patriotic patrons who were sick of the media and protesters ragging on the soldiers fighting the Vietnam War. The bartender thought someone should go over there and let the guys know they are appreciated. Also, someone should bring them beer.

Chick Donohue stepped up to the plate. And before you think, “well I am sure he stuck to the coast and didn’t get into anything too dangerous,” allow me to be clear. He did not cut any corners.

It is part comedy and part tragedy. And it is all true. I am pretty sure anyway. Chick doesn’t make himself to be a hero and that’s usually a good sign.

Verdict: This is a quick read which is both fun and informative. Go read it.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Neal Bascomb, The Escape Artists
  • Julian Rubinstein, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber