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Courier Article by Sean Davis
Sunday, June 8, 2008

From Rap to Sneakers, Books Explore New Aspects of History

One of mankind's greatest gifts is its ability to remember the past - not just one's personal past, but also the history we share as a people. With reflection upon these triumphs and failures, we can better gauge our own direction in the world and avoid the pitfalls of our collective past.

Such insights are present in the anthology "Brooklyn Was Mine," edited by Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker. Essays written by Brooklyn residents old and new paint a picture of a city of changing faces.

The differing voices and styles lend themselves well to describing a place that is itself so very diverse. The stories are at times gentle and at others harsh in their depictions, but all share the common bond of home. Through different routes the stories tell of Brooklyn's past, present and future.

In "Students for a Democratic Society: a Graphic History," by Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm, both sides of the coin are given. A straight-forward graphical account of the history of the SDS, this book deals equally with all parts of the former student organization.

The tumultuous civil rights movement is brought to life through illustrations depicting some of the most volatile moments during a very important period of our country's growth.

From the labor unions to the Black Panthers, the SDS was affiliated with many of the groups actively protesting the inequality so rampant at the time.

On the flip side, the book also shows the struggles these organizations had within their own groups and how this ultimately lead to the demise of the SDS and other groups like it. However, where one story ends another is sure to begin.

From the movements in the inner cities arose the phoenix of new trends. In "Somebody Scream!: Rap Music's Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power," by Marcus Reeves, the author presents the story of hip-hop music with the eye of a professional who also grew up close to the source.

"Somebody Scream" weaves a picture of the rap industry and the social pressures that made it what it has become. From the early days of Afrika Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation to Russell Simmons and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the book gives the history of an ever-evolving industry. One of the examples in the book, Run DMC, also had a hand in the revolution of another industry, however inadvertently.

When people think of Run DMC they generally think of Adidas shoes. As told in "Sneaker Wars: the Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Business That Forever Changed the Business of Sports," by Barbara Smit, this was no accident.

A surprisingly quick read, "Sneaker Wars" unearths the secret world of the Dassler family and the way they reshaped the world of professional sports. This book gives a detailed view of international sports after World War II and the creation of sports marketing.

It is a tale of a master craftsman, Adolf Dassler, his son Horst, a master manipulator, and the company they left behind. However, it is also the story of a German family, put at odds by the Great War, whose fortunes when separated took drastically different courses, but ended with both sides of the family without possession of what their patriarchs had built.

History is built upon the strength of great leaders and the thrill of tumultuous times. It is these moments that shape who we become and how we view our world. One can only hope we learn from our mistakes.

Sean Davis is a readers' advisor in the Reference Services Department at Central Library.