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Old 02-16-2010   #1
davidbfpo
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Default A Counter Terrorism reading list

We have debated the COIN -v- CT issue, assembled a reading list on COIN and in various threads counter terrorism appears - including in 'What are you reading'.

Abu M is currently canvassing views on a CT reading list, if you have some please add them there:http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawam...en-thread.html

One day I shall try to assemble a reading list here, although I suspect many university courses have ample lists, but we are a different community with some "boots on the ground".
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Old 02-17-2010   #2
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One day I shall try to assemble a reading list here, although I suspect many university courses have ample lists, but we are a different community with some "boots on the ground".
I would beg you not to! Based on having been asked my opinion of two British Army reading lists, I think they are actually not helpful. Now before we all get too excited, "Follow me through,"

a.) Reading a book can be immensely helpful. It can actually be life changing. - that is you found a book, read it, and you learnt something useful.

b.) That is completely different from being given a list of books to read, that are usually symptomatic of an agenda. For example, "Abu Ms" reading list, is just that. I would never tell anyone not to read a book, but I will explain why some books are rubbish, and should be disregarded having been read. Without that level of guidance a reading list is useless.

c.) The idea that you should let folks read the books and make up their own minds does not stand as a defence, since it assumes everyone gets the same thing from reading the same book. A book has exactly the same potential to mislead as it does to inform. -

d.) Reading books is required. Reading lists are not, especially in an area like "COIN" that is riddled with pet-rock theories and pseudo-intellectual arguments. Reading lists are no substitute for education.

Again, for the record. I passionately believe in good military education, based on rigour and deep understanding, for a practical purpose. Reading list do not serve that purpose!

What we need is more rigourous and analytical reviews of the popular titles. Not mere recommendations as to what to read.
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Old 02-17-2010   #3
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Default Why so vehement, Wilf?

As far as I can tell, a book list really does no harm. It is only the compiler's view of what is good in the field. Other than, of course, when it leaves my incredibly brilliant, superbly written, and unquestionably correct analytical books off the list!

Cheers

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Old 02-17-2010   #4
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One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.

Being able to read a book or article really says nothing about whether or not you are capable of understanding it (i.e. decoding the message the author intended). This puts us in the odd position of socially rewarding surface knowledge rather than thought (how very Quant of us !).

That being said, I like the idea of reading lists, at least as long as they are put together with a specific end in mind and some suggestions on how to tie them together (not necessary in the case of John's work !).
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Old 02-17-2010   #5
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As far as I can tell, a book list really does no harm. It is only the compiler's view of what is good in the field.
A book list is, by it's nature, a recommendation, but why these books get recommended never seems to be made explicit. How would anyone feel about a list of books "not to read?" - so why feel comfortable with lists "you should read."
These days I limit my recommendations to books because they inform and explain on very specific subjects. EG: I recommend 2-3 books which explain CvC well. Reading them will not ensure you really understand CvC though.
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One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.
Concur, or merely harvest them for convenient perspectives taken out of context.
Quote:
That being said, I like the idea of reading lists, at least as long as they are put together with a specific end in mind and some suggestions on how to tie them together (not necessary in the case of John's work !).
I have no issue with recommending specific books for specific subjects. Indeed I see it as an essential tool in education. I strongly oppose the "read this lot and you'll know about COIN" approach, as exemplified by the CNAS type reading list
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Old 02-17-2010   #6
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Hi Wilf,

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I have no issue with recommending specific books for specific subjects. Indeed I see it as an essential tool in education. I strongly oppose the "read this lot and you'll know about COIN" approach, as exemplified by the CNAS type reading list
I've been thinking about reading lists, more off than on, ever since I had to write my first comprehensive exam. In many ways, I was lucky because of who was on my committee; we actually talked for about 5-6 hours over lunch, coffee, beer, etc. on where the idea of a reading list came from and where it was now (now being the mid-90's).

One of the key observations coming out of that discussion was that reading lists were originally used to define the "core" of a discipline; the "must reads" as it were to understand past and current debates. One analogy that was used referred back to the Bible and noted that you really can't talk in any meaningful way about Christianity until you had read it. And, since we're talking PhD level discussions now, you couldn't have a "meaningful" discussion about the New testament unless you could read it in the Greek; you just wouldn't understand the debates.

But there is an assumption lurking behind all of this which is that you actually have the time to read and re-read a work and then think about it, and follow up on your thoughts. That takes a lot of time, and it takes even more time to put those thoughts down on paper and start engaging in the actual debate and, quite frankly, most people just don't have the time to do this, hence Cole's Notes and other synopses, and reading lists getting turned into glorified picture display volumes on someone's bookshelf or coffee table.

This time conundrum lies at the heart of many different facets of our society, and most cultures have handled it in a similar manner; the creation of some designation of "expert" or "specialist", someone whose social function is to take the time to do the thinking and then translate that thinking back for the rest of us.

Where it starts to get really interesting is when you look at how much specialist "translation" is necessary, and this brings us back to general reading lists. Will they be bowdlerized and used as a mine for pithy quotes for PowerPoint presentations? Yup. At the same time, if an audience can be expected to know at least a little about a subject area, including some of its central terms, then you don't have to translate as "far", so it is actually quite useful to have audiences that know something about a topic.
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Old 02-17-2010   #7
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Hi Marct

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Originally Posted by marct View Post
One of the key observations coming out of that discussion was that reading lists were originally used to define the "core" of a discipline; the "must reads" as it were to understand past and current debates. One analogy that was used referred back to the Bible and noted that you really can't talk in any meaningful way about Christianity until you had read it. And, since we're talking PhD level discussions now, you couldn't have a "meaningful" discussion about the New testament unless you could read it in the Greek; you just wouldn't understand the debates.
Concur. I have no issue with a recommendation as to 3-4 books that should be read to gain a common understanding of a specific subject. That being said, the vast majority/all of reading lists I have ever seen fail this test.

I also believe that such recommendations should contain explicit guidance as to books not to read - eg:
If you want to study CvC do no read the Rapoport Penguin Edition.
If you want to study Strategy do not read Liddell-Hart's "Strategy"

....the point being, as you said, time is short and the aim is to teach, not entertain or provide amusing academic debate!

Strangely enough, the possibly soon to cease "British Army Review" served the purpose of recommending what books Officers should read and what they should not!
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- The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
- If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition
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Old 02-17-2010   #8
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Hi Wilf,

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....the point being, as you said, time is short and the aim is to teach, not entertain or provide amusing academic debate!
Unless you are an amusing academic !

On a more serious note, I think it's critical to distinguish between at least three purposes:
  1. teaching for practitioners in a well established and highly predictable area of knowledge where the vast majority of applications are well understood and highly predictable; civil engieering comes to mind.
  2. teaching for practitioners in poorly predictive areas of knowledge, such as the social sciences, COIN, etc.
  3. teaching to inform in either of these types of areas
The teaching styles and outcomes are, or rather should, be different. For example, in a well understood knowledge area with high predictability, you can readily establish a cannon of core knowledge and do a lot of your testing by rote (i.e. there actual are "correct" answers). In an area of knowledge with low predictive results, you often don't have "correct" answers, although you frequently have incorrect ones. In this case, you want to teach people how to ask the right questions. That might sound odd, but it's how it operates .

If your aim is to "inform", however, then that is a totally different matter, and what you are really doing is trying to teach them the language of the area of knowledge, along with a rough map of how it is constructed. In both cases, there are "correct" answers, not so much because the area of knowledge may be well understood, it may not be, but because the questions are about how it is constructed rather than its actual validity.

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Strangely enough, the possibly soon to cease "British Army Review" served the purpose of recommending what books Officers should read and what they should not!
Not a bad idea, and it should have led to some interesting debates. On a side note, I've heard rumours that one of the reasons why it may cease is because it isn't available online. Maybe we (the SWJ Empire) can buy it cheap !
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Old 02-17-2010   #9
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Another serious question to consider is "when in my career do I read certain books?"

This is a phenomena that is coming to fruition in the business world now- most undergrad students are highly recommended to go work for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA. The payoff of the advanced learning is much greater once someone has some experience under their belts. I think the same holds true for the military. To whit, as a cadet, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu were gibberish to me. As far as CT goes, to the experienced practisioner, academic, or the interested layman, I'd recommend anything by McCormick or Arquilla.

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One of the dangers I have seen with reading lists is the "Cole's Notes" effect where people go off and get synopses rather than actual read them. Toss in a few quotes, vaguely refer to them and, presto-chango, you are now an "expert" in the area.
Marc, I imagine having you as a senior advisor is gruelling. Thanks. I'm sunk in deep depression over anything that I've ever written. Now, I know why your students drink so much . Damn anthropologists and their ubiquitous observations.

v/r

Mike
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Old 02-17-2010   #10
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Hi Mike,

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Another serious question to consider is "when in my career do I read certain books?"

This is a phenomena that is coming to fruition in the business world now- most undergrad students are highly recommended to go work for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA. The payoff of the advanced learning is much greater once someone has some experience under their belts. I think the same holds true for the military. To whit, as a cadet, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu were gibberish to me. As far as CT goes, to the experienced practisioner, academic, or the interested layman, I'd recommend anything by McCormick or Arquilla.
This is a really good point. One of my "complaints" with some of my colleagues is that they take an exclusionary version of this; the "Oh that's too hard for you to understand dear... Just read my book about it...". Mike, I'll make you a bet that even if Sun Tsu and Clausewitz were "gibberish" to you as a cadet, somewhere along the line you got hit with an "A ha!" experience and went "Damn! So THAT'S what he was talking about!!!". It may not make sense when you are reading it, but your brain stores it and, when a pattern gets matched, you already have an interpretive framework sitting in the back of your mind. "Evil", yeah, but useful, too .

I agree, the payoff in terms of time vs. actual "learning" is much greater after you have experience under your belt. Sometimes, however, that can backfire on you as well. For example, I've had some students who were in their 30's who got totally indignant over a reading not because they disagreed with it, but because they were truly mad that they had never seen it before! The "Why didn't anyone TELL me this?!?!" reaction.

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Marc, I imagine having you as a senior advisor is gruelling. Thanks. I'm sunk in deep depression over anything that I've ever written. Now, I know why your students drink so much . Damn anthropologists and their ubiquitous observations.
LOL - you wouldn't believe how much tea I drink with my students, either . Yeah, I can be gruelling as a senior advisor, mainly because I don't let my students get away with handing in Cole's Notes versions. The "drinking", and it's much more of a set up a safe space type thing which for many Canadians means a pub (drinking age in Ontario, BTW, is 19), is really all about encouraging people to play with ideas and not be afraid of doing that.
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Old 02-17-2010   #11
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...is really all about encouraging people to play with ideas and not be afraid of doing that.
that, to me, totally unreasonable fear. I do understand how and why 'human systems / bureaucracies' foster and encourage that fear but not why anyone would succumb to that really rather shortsighted, self protective prompting...

Excellent and perceptive post, Marc.
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Old 02-17-2010   #12
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This is a really good point. One of my "complaints" with some of my colleagues is that they take an exclusionary version of this; the "Oh that's too hard for you to understand dear... Just read my book about it...". Mike, I'll make you a bet that even if Sun Tsu and Clausewitz were "gibberish" to you as a cadet, somewhere along the line you got hit with an "A ha!" experience and went "Damn! So THAT'S what he was talking about!!!". It may not make sense when you are reading it, but your brain stores it and, when a pattern gets matched, you already have an interpretive framework sitting in the back of your mind. "Evil", yeah, but useful, too .

I agree, the payoff in terms of time vs. actual "learning" is much greater after you have experience under your belt. Sometimes, however, that can backfire on you as well. For example, I've had some students who were in their 30's who got totally indignant over a reading not because they disagreed with it, but because they were truly mad that they had never seen it before! The "Why didn't anyone TELL me this?!?!" reaction.
Excellent counter-point which drives to the broader question of "how do we learn?" There's some intruiging studies being done at Stanford and Berkley in conjuction with the California Public School systems examing this question. In some cases, teaching through alternative instruction and getting away from the industrial age construct of our current system, they've had success in pushing algebra and geometry down to the fourth and fifth grade level. To date, I've only heard about them through converstations. If and when they publish, I'll pass it on.

Quote:
LOL - you wouldn't believe how much tea I drink with my students, either . Yeah, I can be gruelling as a senior advisor, mainly because I don't let my students get away with handing in Cole's Notes versions. The "drinking", and it's much more of a set up a safe space type thing which for many Canadians means a pub (drinking age in Ontario, BTW, is 19), is really all about encouraging people to play with ideas and not be afraid of doing that.
I was just teasing. On a serious note, I've got some stuff coming your way for review in a couple of weeks (to keep me away from Cole's notes). Dr. Fishel is my primary editor. When he gives me the thumbs up, I'll send it to you. Specifically, I'm trying to explain the differences and distinctions between anthropologists and the counter-insurgent. In the most simplest form, y'all are attempting to observe, define, and describe a culture while we're(on the company level) trying to do enough of that to gain a rudementary understanding and then influence the system to accomplish our mission. MTF...

v/r

Mike

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Old 02-17-2010   #13
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that, to me, totally unreasonable fear. I do understand how and why 'human systems / bureaucracies' foster and encourage that fear but not why anyone would succumb to that really rather shortsighted, self protective prompting...
Especially when so much of it is an Emperor's New Clothes syndrome ! What really bugs me is that this is happening in universities which are supposed to be about playing with ideas; well, at least in the areas I teach in. Sometimes I think I should use this as an Introduction to life at university...

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Excellent and perceptive post, Marc.
Thanks, Ken
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Old 02-17-2010   #14
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Especially when so much of it is an Emperor's New Clothes syndrome ! What really bugs me is that this is happening in universities which are supposed to be about playing with ideas; well, at least in the areas I teach in. Sometimes I think I should use this as an Introduction to life at university...
I tend to think that some of the lockstep "intellectual Fascism" crept in during the 1960s and simply gained momentum as the products of those first years entered academia themselves and couldn't deal with anyone who disagreed with either their ideas or the golden nuggets of wisdom that they'd been handed by their professors. One would expect a certain amount of "playing with ideas" in history as well, but in my (admittedly limited to 4 universities) experience I've only found that in a handful (as in two) professors. Most weren't interested in teaching even the basics of historical theory and technique until people were juniors or seniors, and by that point it was fairly useless as the students had already learned that the way to an A was to faithfully parrot anything the professor said...method or actual thinking be damned.

I was always a believer in giving people at least a grounding in the basics of method and theory, so that they had the tools for those "a-ha" moments when something came together for THEM and wasn't just handed to them as done by a professor.
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Old 02-17-2010   #15
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Hi Mike,

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Excellent counter-point which drives to the broader question of "how do we learn?"
Yup, and that's something that I have been looking at for a fair bit of time, now. There is some good stuff on alternate learning styles that I have used based on neuro-linguistic programming. Pretty simple stuff really; all about changing the sensory language you use when you talk based on audience feedback.

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There's some intruiging studies being done at Stanford and Berkley in conjuction with the California Public School systems examing this question. In some cases, teaching through alternative instruction and getting away from the industrial age construct of our current system, they've had success in pushing algebra and geometry down to the fourth and fifth grade level. To date, I've only heard about them through converstations. If and when they publish, I'll pass it on.
I've come across some of it including this neat initiative - http://grou.ps/oercenter

Well worth looking at.

On a related note, one of my students last term was looking at the effects of introducing yoga into k-8 school systems. She had some really interesting evidence that it worked surprisingly well.

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I was just teasing. On a serious note, I've got some stuff coming your way for review in a couple of weeks (to keep me away from Cole's notes). Dr. Fishel is my primary editor. When he gives me the thumbs up, I'll send it to you.
Sounds good, I'll look forward to it, Mike.

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Specifically, I'm trying to explain the differences and distinctions between anthropologists and the counter-insurgent. In the most simplest form, y'all are attempting to observe, define, and describe a culture while we're(on the company level) trying to do enough of that to gain a rudementary understanding and then influence the system to accomplish our mission. MTF...
Sounds about right to me, although increasingly, say since the 1960's, Anthropologists have been involved in manipulating the systems they observe; in the name of "advocacy". Nothing odd about that, we've pretty much always manipulated the systems we observe . I suspect that the difference is more at the "formal culture" level than the operational level.
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Old 02-17-2010   #16
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Hi Steve,

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I tend to think that some of the lockstep "intellectual Fascism" crept in during the 1960s and simply gained momentum as the products of those first years entered academia themselves and couldn't deal with anyone who disagreed with either their ideas or the golden nuggets of wisdom that they'd been handed by their professors.
The timeline up here is about the same both for that reason and, in addition, because we (Canada) got so many American academics up here. Some were/are excellent, but they established a cultural vector here that I really dislike since it got tied in with Canadian identity politics (Damn American Cultural Imperialism! ).

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One would expect a certain amount of "playing with ideas" in history as well, but in my (admittedly limited to 4 universities) experience I've only found that in a handful (as in two) professors. Most weren't interested in teaching even the basics of historical theory and technique until people were juniors or seniors, and by that point it was fairly useless as the students had already learned that the way to an A was to faithfully parrot anything the professor said...method or actual thinking be damned.
Yeah. My own experience with History as a discipline matches that; mostly taught to "inform" rather than for practitioners as it were. I remember getting into a discussion with a couple of history grad students who weren't even aware of the micro-historical school (Ginsberg et al.) and had been, well, the only way to say it, is epistemologically brain-washed. Scary stuff.

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I was always a believer in giving people at least a grounding in the basics of method and theory, so that they had the tools for those "a-ha" moments when something came together for THEM and wasn't just handed to them as done by a professor.
Agreed, although I have noticed that a number of my colleagues, get really infuriated when I do that. Not that I care, particularly, but having one prof throw me up against a wall and berate me for teaching students to think was a very "illuminating" experience .
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Old 02-17-2010   #17
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Default Back to reading lists.....

Back on topic, again. I'd be interested to see what people think should be included with readings lists as a set of instructions and/or caveats.
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Old 02-17-2010   #18
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Back on topic, again. I'd be interested to see what people think should be included with readings lists as a set of instructions and/or caveats.
As a method to impart practical/useful knowledge, I submit a a reading list should:

a.) Refer to a discreet specific and definable subject. - "Falklands War. Land Operations," - with a defined purpose. "Conduct of Land Warfare."
b.) No more than 3-5 books.
c.) Detail what each book imparts as useful - thus "Describes the Battle of Goose Green in detail."
d.) Point out any serious flaws or omissions in each work.
e.) A list of 8-10 exam questions to be answered - "What was wrong with plan to land at Fitzroy?"
f.) Be part of wider course of study and discussion and not a stand alone task.
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Old 02-17-2010   #19
MikeF
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Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
As a method to impart practical/useful knowledge, I submit a a reading list should:

a.) Refer to a discreet specific and definable subject. - "Falklands War. Land Operations," - with a defined purpose. "Conduct of Land Warfare."
c.) Detail what each book imparts as useful - thus "Describes the Battle of Goose Green in detail."
d.) Point out any serious flaws or omissions in each work.
e.) A list of 8-10 exam questions to be answered - "What was wrong with plan to land at Fitzroy?"
f.) Be part of wider course of study and discussion and not a stand alone task.
Good points Wilf. I'd also add that some of the strongest and best works that I've read confront the counter-argument. Basically, the author says, "here's how others may disagree with me." He/She then defines the potential argument and does a point to counter-point using existing works to attempt refute it or he narrows the scope of the project to address specific circumstances. Kinda like playing chess against yourself. In some cases, this could be called a thorough literature review, but I think it's a bit more. It shows a wide range of thinking and reasoning that led the author to his particular beliefs.

v/r

Mike
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Old 02-17-2010   #20
Steve Blair
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In terms of reading lists, I like starting with a couple of basic books about the discipline itself, and those from authors with possibly deviating opinions (and even from different 'eras'). Start 'em off early with the basic theory so that they can at least understand where some of the other readings may be coming from.
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