5 books I’m reading Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, September 15, 2007
Yeah, I'm one of those. I have a tendency to get bored with a subject if I try to commit myself to a long reading, and then lose focus. Not good with books in which every sentence is one to think about and ponder. So I tend to read a chapter or two at a time in a number of books to keep that from happening. Consequently I have a number of books going at the same time.
I've read a ton of books on WWII, but this is one of the more entertaining I've read in a while. Hastings does what I'd characterize as "anecdotal" or "first person" history. He sets up the meta-framework of an event or battle and then provides first person descriptions, from extensive interviews with participants on all sides, of what they saw and experienced in the battle or event. Some exceedingly good insights to occurrences that I hadn't really heard or considered before. Well worth the read.
Very interesting book which tells a believable story. The question it asks is "Has the CIA become a rogue agency". Scarborough relates some seemingly well researched information that many of the inconvenient and many times incorrect leaks of information about various secret programs and issues originated within the CIA. Most interesting is his description of how some in the CIA use Congressional staffs as their means of getting information they want out there into the media, etc.
He also tells the story of the FISA (FISC) leak which doesn't at all make the New York Times look good. Obviously it is one side of the story, but it is a very compelling version.
Oh, and no, this far into the book he hasn't convinced me the CIA as an institution is a rogue agency. I do believe, however, like any bureaucracy, it will fight any transient power (i.e. any administration) that threatens or is perceived to threaten its well-being or existence. 9/11 and the failure of the CIA to "connect the dots" set that mind-set up, and some have acted on various perceptions since. Then there's the blatant political side as well, as the Plame affair demonstrated.
I'll let you know a bit more about them as I get into them. But a paragraph in the last book, by Lee Harris, talking about tribalism and rational actors caught my eye and after you read it you'll understand why:
"The first law of the jungle, however, states that in the struggle for survival and supremacy, there are no rules. Anything that achieves victory is automatically self-justifying. Methods that are looked upon by rational actors as barbarous, savage, or bestial are all deemed acceptable if they obtain their objective. This objective, moreover, will not be the good of the individual but the advancement and dominance of one's own tribe. For the second law of the jungle says that loners are losers. If you lack a tribe to back and support you, you will perish. to survive in a dog-eat-dog world you must run in packs - and the tribe is a pack. Taken together, the first two laws of the jungle yield the third law: You must unconditionally support your own tribe or pack, and you must be prepared to act with utter ruthlessness toward those who belong to other tribes or packs. you must see members of the enemy tribe not as individuals or as fellow humans; you mist see them as your existential enemy. That is all you need to know about them in order to be willing to kill them, torture them, or mutilate their corpses. Where the laws of the jungle rule, the very idea of humanity is forgotten."
I found that to be a very apt description of our existential enemies among the Muslim fanatics who've been attacking us.
But interestingly, I also found it a fairly apt description (if you make all of the "be willing to kill them, torture them, or mutilate their corpses" metaphorical) of some of the actors presently engaged in our political system as well.
One book I strongly recommend adding to that list, if you haven’t read it already, is Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism by Timothy Naftali. It’s an inside look at counter-terrorism since the end of WWII, with a lot of information about our dealings with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and some surprising accounts of cooperation and deep divisions between Hezbollah and their allies in Tehran and Damascus. A fascinating book, and one that doesn’t have a political axe to grind.
That Fried one looks good. Every time I’ve heard him speak live, he is hilarious and says awesome things. One of the funniest moments was, in response to a comment about the legal system, this law student (who was prone to asking long, rambling, semi-speech-type questions) asks "Oh, I guess you’d like to get rid of the civil jury system too, wouldn’t you?" Fried leans into the mic and says "Yes." The place busted up.
Ok, that wasn’t very funny in print. Trust me, in person, hilarious.
That’s an odd contextual use of the word "rational". The appropriate word would be "pragmatic".
It looks odd because it doesn’t have any context to it, but "rational actor" is a term he uses and defines throughout the book as a description of the culture of the West as opposed to the culture of Muslim fanatics (tribal).
Two lengthy but worthwhile reads which are focused on economic history—The War of the World, by Niall Ferguson (the 20th century as one long conflict, of which WWI and WWII were only the most obvious phases) (his history of the Rotschilds is also good, and extremely meaty with financial data; I haven’t read his other books); and The Wages of Destruction, by Adam Tooze (the economic history of Weimar and Nazi Germany)
And, at completely opposite end of the spectrum, No Vulgar Hotel by Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) which is written by a Venetophile for about Venetophilia for other Venetophiles, so be warned if you are a Tuscanophile.
The Tooze book sounds fascinating. I’ll have to read that.
As for Venice...every other year I join a music professor, an Art History professor, and a literature professor to lead usually about 40 students on a tour of Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome. We have real debates about Venice. On the one hand, it’s a rich city in history and culture...but it’s become so focused on tourism that most of its population has left and in summer it becomes what one guide book calls "a thinking man’s Disneyworld." Venice vs. Tuscany... I’ll go instead with Bologna.