Small Wars Council

Small Wars Council (
-   Futurists & Theorists (
-   -   What are you currently reading in 2017? (

davidbfpo 01-02-2017 06:18 PM

What are you currently reading in 2017?
A new thread for 2017.

The 2016 thread has a very low number of posts, 38 but had 48k views. See:

Backwards Observer 01-02-2017 11:52 PM

hammer of witches
Black Sun by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke

Chinese Negotiating Behaviour by Richard H. Solomon

omarali50 01-03-2017 05:05 PM

A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (New Cold War History)
by Vladislav M. Zubok

I am more than halfway through this book, and it is interesting, informative and frequently enlightening (as in shedding new light on old topics).
Well worth a read (but then again, I am just an amateur reader, what do the experts say?)

Bill Moore 01-09-2017 03:47 AM

America's Other Army
America's Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy, by Nicholas Kralev

I have been to Foggy Bottom (Dept of State Headquarters in Wash D.C.) several times, and worked with numerous U.S. Embassies in different parts of the world, but I still gained valuable insights from this book that I haven't picked up elsewhere.

While the Department of State (DOS) as an organization is more dysfunctional than the Department of Defense, the people who serve in the Foreign Service for the most part are true patriots and exceptionally talented.

The author's intent beyond explaining the role of diplomacy was to put a human face on it, by interviewing numerous foreign service officers and Secretaries of State. I had the good fortune of listening to the author speak once, and he provided additional insights that unfortunately were not in the book, but the bottom line is he is was well qualified to write this book.

Since the book was written in 2012 there is a lot of attention given to shock that our operations and Iraq and Afghanistan generated in the DOS, and how they adapted.

Throughout the book there were insightful views from these officers you don't hear during the spin sessions when the public affairs representative presents the DOS's official position. Such as our strategic communications is overly focused on manipulating and spinning, which makes us look like hypocrites. What people around the world really want is for us to trust them enough to be honest with them. They don't have to like our policies, but we should honestly explain them.

The unpopular war in Iraq was an immense challenge for the DOS, even if the individual officers didn't agree with it, they still had to defend the policy. The impact on the Counselor Service was significant, since their mission was to increase to U.S. visitors and student visas, but at the same time now had to go through a very thorough and deliberate process to approve visas, which resulted in a significant reduction of visitors and students. The reason for doing so was understood, but the goal of increasing visitors while increasing security checks was extremely challenging.

One of the more interesting aspects for me was the lack of guidance these officers get when they get an assignment. Iraq was a perfect example, where officers were sent out to the various parts of Iraq with the goal of stabilizing the country. It was beneficial in some regards, because it gave the diplomats with the wherewithal to do so great latitude to figure out the problems and come up with creative solutions. For others, they struggled. This issue is bigger than Iraq though, the author points out that very foreign service officers in 2003 could explain how their activities tied into national interests and supported the goals in the National Security Strategy, but that number has reduced significantly. Largely due to efforts by Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton to produce Diplomatic and Development Strategies that nested with the NSS.

When Powell assume the SecState position, he was shocked to discover how unprepared the FS was to do their job. Understaffed, outdated technology, and no real training/education to prepare them for their positions.

The draw back to this modernization and growth is that the DOS is becoming a large bureaucracy, and as a result the diplomats who should be learning the local culture and gaining a deep understanding of the host nation's issues to inform U.S. policies are now increasingly becoming bureaucrats that have little time to engage with the locals. Instant communication is impacting the DOS as much as DoD. The ability to communicate instantly is resulting in more and more power consolidating higher up, striping Ambassadors and others of authorities they used to have. They call it e-hell (we're brothers in arms after all). Not in the book, but I remember Susan Rice stating she does strategy, not the Ambassadors, they just implement it what she tells them. A very dangerous place to be when we have the blind leading the country, and those informed of the situation marginalized. The author states there is a long term cost to pay when FS officers are neither expected nor challenged to become top foreign policy strategists and thinkers, figuring we can just bring in political appointees for that.

Backwards Observer 01-11-2017 12:05 AM

i plot your rubric scarab
Cold War Anthropology by David H. Price

Perilous Interventions by Hardeep Singh Puri

omarali50 01-11-2017 04:57 AM

My review of "Failed Empire" (which I think is a must-read book)

A must read for anyone interested in the history of the Soviet empire and its eventual (almost bloodless) fall under Gorbachev. The author presents an inside look at the Soviet side of events and some very interesting re-evaluations of the various leaders (from a Russian perspective). For example, the fact that Brezhnev was a much more grounded and sensible operator than his late drug-addled senile years would imply; that Gorbachev was a wooly idealist who was unfortunately or fortunately almost hopelessly inept at actually running things; that Bush senior was a competent executor of American interests; that Reagan's inner peacemaker/decent human being were far more important in bringing down the Soviet Union than his SDI or military buildup (which the author regards as almost incidental and of little significance in events); that money simply running out had a lot to do with the fall of the Soviet empire in East Europe; that failed ideology led to cynicism and a simultaneous nave optimism about social democracy in the 1960s generation, and so on.
The author has a Russo-centric view and for most Russians the fact that the Soviet experiment failed is not enough reason to accept that the Russian empire (which predated and undergirded the Soviet experiment) and the vast, ambitious and (sometimes at great cost and with great cruelty) expansion of the Russian peoples across Eurasia should also be setback THIS far as a result of that failure. Outsiders may wish to take a more forgiving view of Gorbachev, who managed to let all this happen without bloodshed.
Anyway, well worth reading. IN fact, a must read if you are interested in those times and those events.

Bill Moore 01-17-2017 02:11 AM

Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies, and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War
by James Kitfield

Throughout this book, the author focuses on how the military, law enforcement, and intelligence adapted to a new way of war despite the challenges posed by the failed policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations. It is a very human versus an analytical story, with numerous personal insights provided by some of the senior leaders involved. Some minor errors (related to what unit did what) in the book didn’t distract from an overall balanced account of our nation’s war on violent extremist organizations.

I admire the likes of GENs Petraeus, McCrystal, Dempsey, and Special Agent McCauley among others for their ability to build teams and solve difficult problems. Those who repeatedly claim the military is not innovative are either blind, or unfortunately served in bad organization that clung to rigid doctrines. Intelligence, law enforcement, and the military innovated significantly since 9/11. Much of it centered on networking, both technical and human.

The chapter on enhanced interrogation in the early part of the book effectively exposed Panetta for spinning the narrative on the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation program, by deliberately trying to take credit for the FBI’s successful interrogation of a key AQ member, when in fact the CIA’s method resulted in shutting him down. When you read how the CIA conducted the interrogation, you would think it was conducted by a couple of sadistic high school kids. The only reasoning behind it was to break down the subject. Nonetheless, it resulted in a multimillion dollar contract for these clowns to continue, which left a stain on America and the values it represents. However, that shouldn’t reflect on the heroic work the CIA officers are doing downrange and the competence of their analysts, which the author emphasizes.

However, the real story in this book is about the men and women who transformed our security services and soldiered on despite incompetent politicians and failed policies. The author also demonstrates you can tell a good story without exposing classified information. Overall a decent and quick read.

flagg 01-17-2017 04:25 AM

I am patiently awaiting the release of the first book about DET-A Berlin:

I'm hoping it will provide some insight into how the Cold War was fought in Eastern Europe and how the Baltic States could be defended moving forward.

Until then, and while I'm focused on the Hacking 4 Defense Educator's Course starting here in Washington DC:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

....highly recommended and only $1.99 right now on Kindle. Awesome value.

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just 5 Days:

The Lean StartUp:

Thinking Fast And Slow:

Steal Like an Artist:

Everything by Dr Tina Seelig(creativity & innovation):

Innovation Engine (Enhanced Edition with video & audio): A Crash Course on Creativity is only $6.99

I buy tons of books. These are some of the very best I've found in recent years on creativity, innovation, and problem solving.

Backwards Observer 01-19-2017 10:09 PM

ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch
The Perfect War by James William Gibson

Gunboat on the Yangtze by Glenn F. Howell

omarali50 01-30-2017 06:16 PM

To Rule the Waves
To Rule The Waves. How the Royal Navy Shaped the Modern World, by Arthur Herman.

My review:

The title overstates what the book is about, but if you are a bit of a British or naval history fan, this is a wonderful book to read. The "over-statement" part comes from the fact that the book does not in fact go into great detail about how the Royal Navy shaped the modern world. It makes that claim and offers good arguments for it, but they are not detailed arguments and they are not the meat of the book. The meat of the book is a history of the Royal Navy, from its beginnings in piracy, slave-trading, massacre and general high seas criminality (at least by later standards; standards enforced by the Royal Navy itself) to its final decline and fall in the postwar era (presided over, for a crucial period of time, by First Sea Lord, Lord Mountbatten, who performed the same service for another pillar of the British empire! though Herman does not bring up this interesting co-incidence).
The author (an American, who also wrote the very interesting "Gandhi and Churchill", as well other books I have not read) is not politically correct and goes out of his way to show this in his unabashed hero-worship and his straightforward admiration (as long as they were successful) of daring or resourceful ventures, no matter whether they were piratical or imperialist; but he also goes out of his way to describe them (and their consequences) warts and all, without any attempt to hide or underplay the horrors. This may not be enough to satisfy many postmodern readers, but I was happy that as long as you read on, you almost always get all sides of every story.
And this is a surprisingly comprehensive effort. Not just the adventurers and commanders and admirals, but also the intellectuals (including John Dee, Astronomer, mathematician and very prescient naval and imperial strategist!), the bureaucrats (Samuel Pepys is honored in great detail) and the ordinary seamen, get their due. The famous pre-20th century battles are all covered in detail, with the most hagiographic treatment (factually balanced, tonally hagiographic) being reserved of course for Nelson, climaxing with a detailed description of Trafalgar. While most of his hero-worship is factually accurate and the hyperbole is kept within bounds, he does go overboard with his comparison of Nelson with Napoleon, not just as wartime commanders but as a world historical figures, which is a bit too much.
The wars of the 20th century are described relatively broadly, though Jutland is covered in detail; as is "operation Catapult" and the sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales in WW2. Otherwise, famous actions are generally covered in a few lines and sometimes not even mentioned (as with the battle of the River Plate, skipped completely).
The book ends with the Falklands war, told entirely from an elegiac British point of view, but given all that came before, perhaps this too should be excused.
Definitely worth reading if you are interested in the topic or in British history and recent world history in general (concurrent world events and politics is covered fairly well along with the naval story).

Backwards Observer 01-31-2017 12:13 AM

here we are the princes of the universe
Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Make Love!* *the Bruce Campbell Way by Bruce Campbell

Backwards Observer 02-07-2017 01:28 AM

remains of the d'oh
Age Of Anger by Pankaj Mishra

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Backwards Observer 02-12-2017 03:53 PM

dear mr fantasy
The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud

The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess

Backwards Observer 02-23-2017 09:32 AM

get thee behind me
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul by C.G. Jung

SS-GB by Len Deighton

Backwards Observer 02-28-2017 01:18 AM

can there any good thing come out of azathoth
Ghost Riders of Baghdad by Daniel A Sjursen

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

RTK 03-06-2017 09:37 AM

Just picked up Nadia Shadlow's War and the Art of Governance

First couple chapters in and it is a quick read. Great synopsis of how Army forces have, out of necessity, performed tasks to consolidate military action into sustainable political gains while not optimized to do so.

Highly recommend.

AmericanPride 03-19-2017 08:23 PM

The Romanovs by Montefiore

The Ghost Warriors by Katz

Bill Moore 03-31-2017 08:26 AM


Indestructible: One Man's Rescue Mission That Changed the Course of WWII October 11, 2016

by John R Bruning

I had no idea what to expect when I bought this book, but once I started reading it I had a hard time putting it down. I guess we'll always be cursed by not knowing and honoring all the real heroes who made a difference in the world. Hero is term we throw around too loosely in today's politically correct world, but it is no exaggeration to call Pappy a hero, and we have the opportunity to learn about Pappy thanks to Bruning's book.

It is a love story, a story of deep courage and commitment to winning the war, a story of how man overcomes a bureaucracy, a story of innovation, and a story of how a Mother and her three children survive in a Japanese Detention Camp in Manila. It contains almost unbelievable episodes of daring in combat and in garrison, such as Pappy stealing American made aircraft given to the Dutch in the Indonesia. These aircraft were more modern than the ones the Army Air Force had, so he and his band of merry men stole some to fight the Japanese. The story of how Pappy progressed from a member of the flying Chiefs in the Navy, one of the best Naval Air Squadrons at the time and most of the pilots were enlisted, to establishing a Philippine Airlines Company in the Philippines (prior to WWII and again afterwards), to getting recalled to serve in the Army Air Force. Even the short epilogue is fascinating.

Bill Moore 03-31-2017 08:48 AM


Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
April 19, 2016
by Parag Khanna

This is the most insightful book I read this year, and it certainly adds to the stories told in previous books I posted about here such as "The Rebalance" and "The Seventh Sense." I will address the arguments made by the author in strategy for a 21st Century in the forum. To save time, I'll refer you to one my favorite book reviewers review of the book on Amazon. I certainly couldn't say it any better.

6-Star Utterly Brilliant Survey and Strategy



The author of this book has done something no one else has done – I say this as the reviewer of over 2,000 non-fiction books at Amazon across 98 categories. For the first time, in one book, we have a very clear map of what is happening where in the way of economic and social development; a startlingly diplomatic but no less crushing indictment of nation-state and militaries; and a truly inspiring game plan for what we should all be demanding from countries, cities, commonwealths, communities, and companies, in the way of future investments guided by a strategy for creating a prosperous world at peace.

This is a nuanced deeply stimulating book that makes it clear that China’s grand strategy of building infrastructure has beaten the US strategy of threatening everyone with a dysfunctional military that crushes hope and destroys wealth everywhere it goes; that connectivity (cell phones, the Internet, roads, high-speed rail, tunnels, bridges, and ferries) is the accelerator for wealth creation by the five billion poor that most Western states and corporations ignore; and it provides to me more surprises, more factoids I did not know, more insights – than any five to ten other books I have read over time.

At one point it occurred to me that in some ways the author is our generation’s successor to Alvin Toffler, Peter Drucker, and Robert Kaplan, combined. I really am deeply impressed, in part because the author’s insights come from years of crisscrossing the world and touch reality in a hands-on manner not achieved by any diplomatic, intelligence, commercial, media, or academic network in existence today; and in part because the book comes with 38 glorious color maps that are each alone worth the price of the book [an appendix points to 38 web sites that supplement the book and are a discovery journey of their own].

This is the best book – the deepest and the most useful – the author has produced to date. This is a book that should be read by every prime minister, president, senator, organizational chief – and by those who aspire to such positions. Many people publish content – few publish context – this book has both.

omarali50 03-31-2017 04:27 PM

The Pursuit of Power by Richard Evans.

I am approaching the end of the book and it is great. A very thorough review of European history from 1815 to 1914 (or so). Not just the kings and revolutionaries, but also (and in great and insightful detail) the technological, social and cultural changes that created the modern world. A great reference book, but also easy to read and always interesting.

By the way, someone here was reading "Age of anger" (which I just got from the library last week and which looks awful, as expected; tendentious and cherry-picked from the git-go, with unfounded assumptions and opinions slyly and casually passed off with an "as everyone knows" air in practically every paragraph), and I wonder what you made of it?
I will have more on it later, but Pankaj is something of an obsession with me because he so completely personifies all that is wrong with postmarxist leftist "scholarship" (you can see my rant about of a previous book here , I hope to edit and fix it someday, but you will get the point)

All times are GMT. The time now is 04:39 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9. ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Registered Users are solely responsible for their messages.
Operated by, and site design © 2005-2009, Small Wars Foundation