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Old 04-03-2017   #21
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Originally Posted by omarali50 View Post
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 dunno, it was like "angry" maybe

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Old 04-04-2017   #22
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My review/rant about "age of anger" is now done. The whole thing is here at Brownpundits com

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Pankaj Mishra is a British-Indian writer and public intellectual who currently lives between London and Mashobra and writes regularly for publications like the NY Times and the NYRB. He started his career as a promising literary critic (Naipaul was initially impressed) but soon switched to "native informant" mode, presenting and interpreting what he described as the angst, atomization, envy and ressentiment of newly emerging and fitfully modernizing India; a phenomenon that other elite commentators and foreign visitors were presumably failing to notice. He then expanded this theme to all of Asia and has finally graduated to interpreting the Metropole to the metropolitans themselves. This could have been a somewhat risky move, since Western reviewers who received his reports about the darker nations relatively uncritically, might well know enough about their home turf to become critical. But by and large, that has not happened; reviews have generally been favorable.

This is not one of those favorable reviews.

I found the book tendentious, shallow and repetitive, with quotes and facts cherry-picked from across his vast (but chronologically limited and highly Eurocentric) reading list, full of unfounded assumptions and opinions that are casually passed off with an "as everyone knows" air in practically every paragraph.

The book begins with a brief account of D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume in 1919. This relatively obscure episode is sprinkled with cherry-picked quotes and while the facts are mostly true, their significance is asserted rather than proven. This pattern is followed throughout the book; vast historical claims (e.g. that modernity led ultimately, not just transiently, to more immiseration in Europe; "First manifested in 19th century Europe - Bursts of technological innovation and growth offset by systemic exploitation and widespread immiseration") are casually asserted as if they are already known and accepted by all sane-thinking people. There is no systematic description of what happened economically, socially or culturally in Europe (or elsewhere) in the last 200 years, and no data is ever offered to support any claims, but since these claims (sometimes stated, frequently just hinted at) are almost all prevalent (if only vaguely and without systematic evidence) in postmodern liberal European (and Westernized Desi) circles, so the book gets a pass in those circles; but the fact is that if you stop and dig into any random claim, the tone and the details will not pass muster.

It could be objected that this is not the point of the book. As Pankaj himself puts it:

"This books is not offered as an intellectual history; and it cannot even pose, given its brevity, as a single narrative of the orign and diffusion of ideas and ideologies that assimilates teh many cultural and political developments of the previous two centuries. Rather, it explores a particular climate of ideas, a structure of feeling, and cognitive disposition, from teh age of Rousseau to our own age of anger"

He goes on to say "It tries to show how an ethic of individual and collective empowerment spread itself over the world, as much through resentful imitation as coercion, causing severe dislocations, social maladjustment and political upheaval. "

Marx said it better but this is not bad either. But unlike Marx, who offered a diagnosis and then a prescription (right or wrong), Pankaj goes on to dig through 200 years of (mostly European) intellectual history to find quotes and episodes that bewail this process of destruction of the old in action; but he never offers a diagnosis of why human beings and human societies created modernity in the first place (after all, even Europeans, or rather Anglo-Americans, who appear in this book as the only people who actually do things instead of just reacting to things being done to them, are also humans); nor does he offer any ideas about what an alternative may look like. What he does add to the diagnosis of some of the authors he quotes is a relentless focus on ressentiment as the quintessential human emotion; the secret sauce that explains everything that Pankaj does not like about the world today, from Trump and Modi to Erdogan and, somewhat surprisingly, the New York Review of Books ("a major intellectual periodical of Anglo-America").

Resentment and envy drive everything in Pankaj-world. Herder and Fichte, for example, are "young provincials in Germany.. who simmered with resentment against a metropolitan civilization of slick movers and shakers that seemed to deny them a rooted and authentic existence". This motif is repeated with variations throughout the book. Everyone (except the Anglo-Americans of course) is endlessly burning with resentment and hates who they are. It almost makes one wonder if the book is really about Pankaj digging through 200 years of intellectual history to find his own mirror image everywhere? But this would be to psychologize, and one should try to avoid that, even if Pankaj never does.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-04-2017 at 11:49 AM. Reason: fix quote
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Old 04-05-2017   #23
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I just finished "The Pursuit of Power".

My review follows:

An outstanding, thorough and magisterial review of European history, from 1815 to 1914. This is not just the story of all the kings, ministers, revolutionaries and assorted adventurers who ran (or created) the nations of Europe (though that story is covered in detail too); there are chapters on everything from agriculture and science to tourism and travel. And of course, writers and musicians get their due, and not just those already well known in the anglophone world.
I found it generally fair and balanced, with every group's achievements as well as massacres and genocides getting their due. There is a very mild pro-British tilt in the description of European imperial expansion, mostly in the form of a mild but persistent tendency to drop in a sentence or two about why such and such British commander went too far on a given occasion, but the French, Germans and Belgians tend to get less exculpation (to fair, the latter two rarely deserve any exculpation, being distinctly more vicious as colonists, so there is always that). But there is no attempt to hide any crimes or to explain them away completely.
What did l learn that was new? Lots of details, but not a lot of big picture stuff. Partly because I have been on a history binge recently, so the big picture was already known to me, but mostly because there is very little attempt to draw grand "lessons" or to ram meta-stories down your throat. They are sometimes there, but they are kept very low-key. Still, if you happen to be unfamiliar with the history of the period (or get most of your history third hand from woke-stylists and suchlike) then this book should convince you that Europe was not always the Europe that exists in recent imagination. The Europe that exists today is a relatively recent creation and much that is solid melts into thin air if you go back a 150 years or so. And the same goes in spades for imperialism and the famous culture of empire, which really did not flower in Britain until the latter part ot the 19th century; meaning there were people who were born before the first empire day was celebrated, who were still alive when the empire died.
Overall, a great read, loaded with information, and well worth owning and reading at leisure.
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Old 04-05-2017   #24
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Connectography by Parag Khanna


The Pursuit of Power by Richard Evans


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Old 04-16-2017   #25
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Default Special Forces Berlin

https://www.amazon.com/Special-Force.../dp/161200444X

Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 19561990

The author, James Stejskal, was the right man to author this book. He writes in an honest, straight speaking style that effectively captures his reflections on a unit he was very proud of. In the book he demonstrates the potential value of UW, while avoiding the recent hype associated with UW as the answer to all our national security woes. He explains what talents his peers had, the UW mission they were originally focused on, and why his unit was pulled in many directions that frequently distracted them from their UW skills, but nonetheless were appropriate missions based on the threat and they way the U.S. planned to fight the war in Europe after the 2d Off-Set Strategy, where Strategic (now Special) Recon became a more valuable role for SF based on the conventional thinking that dominated the Army.

For those in SF, at least during the 70s and 80s, they'll be familiar with parts of this story, yet they'll learn from and appreciate the personal insights of the SF soldiers as their mission evolved over time, but until the Wall fell, they always retained to varying degrees their skills and readiness to execute their UW missions. SF readers will also appreciate the various missions SF was pulled into based on changes in the operational environment. The book reinforced my view, that the bedrock mindset that makes SF unique is UW, and that mindset and the wide range of skills that go with it that make SF one of the more adaptable and effective forces in the military.

Instead of the current army UW doctrinal nonsense that is all the rage in some circles, where doctrine writers try to overly define (versus describe) UW, and then seek to apply a doctrinal template to today's challenges. SF soldiers in Berlin, nor SF soldiers in the field today, pretty much ignored these empty academic debates and adapted their skills to the problem at hand.

Furthermore, UW during this time frame included unilateral Special Forces activities focused on sabotage and psychological warfare activities. Not everything SF does needs to be with or through partners as this book clearly illustrates. It is probably fair to day there is an ideal form of UW where SF operates through indigenous personnel organized into an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force(s). That has happened in the past, and will likely happen again in the future, but it won't be the norm. SF brings a wide range of UW options to support the norm.

While it may seem bizarre to readers today that the Special Forces Berlin Unit was planning to hit strategic targets that the Air Force was also planning to hit, and neither unit was aware of the conflict. However, this was before we had the joint doctrine we enjoy today. Furthermore, UW was highly compartmented for good reason, but there significant risks if it is overly compartmented. A lot of these problems have been fixed since the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

From a Department of Defense perspective, we still have major gaps in our education of the entire force. At best, most conventional force officers may get exposed to the definition of UW, and that USSOCOM is the lead for this in the military (further pushed down to USASOC). That doesn't help them at the higher command level identify opportunities for UW, or integrate UW into their plans. It still largely a matter of SOF planners suggesting add ons to existing plans after the base plan has been approved. Again, new doctrine, additional education, will help alleviate this short fall, but it will take a generation to make incorporating UW and even the large umbrella IW a norm within DoD planning.

Another wart exposed was the lack of a dedicated OPSEC plan and the ability of military to support it, but that was also fixed later in the organization's existence.

I was surprised and pleased to see that the Det's mission in Iran to support the hostage rescue was declassified, and the additional details of that mission in the book were helpful for me to piece together the rest of the story. It demonstrated how these members combined UW and CT skills.

Perhaps the most valuable part of the book, especially for young soldiers today, was the numerous examples of creative (or unconventional) approaches for accomplishing their missions, whether it was emplacing a cache, or penetrating a target.

Overall a fun and productive read.
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Old 04-18-2017   #26
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Up next:

The Pentagon's Brain: an Uncensored History of Darpa by Jacobsen

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by Toland

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Coll

Washington's Immortals: the Untold Story of an Elite Regiment who Changed the Course of the Revolution by O'Donnell

The Third Reich in Power by Evans

Russia's War: a History of the Soviet Effort 1941 - 1945 by Overy
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Old 04-18-2017   #27
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The Occult Underground by James Webb


The Occult Establishment by James Webb


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Old 04-21-2017   #28
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I am reviewing "The Fleet at Flood Tide" by James Hornfischer.

This is a book that does some things really well, but omits others for no rhyme or reason and is also taken down a notch by the author's tendency towards grandiloquence and flowery worldplay (an urge to try and describe what he considers heroic and awe-inspiring events, in language that is equally heroic and awe-inspiring).
First, the things he does well. This is a really comprehensive account of the Marianas campaign, including the preparation that went into making such a campaign possible. The creation of the greatest battle fleet the world has ever seen is relatively well known, but many books ignore the truly massive (and entirely new) infrastructure that made these amphibious operations, conducted thousands of miles from home, look so easy. The transports, supply ships, landing craft, amtracs, floating artillery (old battleships pressed into service in this role, as well as many other innovations), fire control teams, construction battalions and underwater demolition teams (the first SEALS), all these are covered in great detail. Innovators and leaders who made this gigantic (and completely unprecedented) effort possible are brought to life.
There is also an effort to describe how things looked and felt from the Japanese side. Their leaders as well as ordinary soldiers and civilians (who were soon to become trapped in the midst of this meat-grinder) are quoted at some length and their world is also brought to life.
He then jumps almost directly to the strategic bombing offensive, describing in some detail the life and work of everyone from Curtis Lemay to Paul Tibbet (who dropped the A-bomb, from a plane named after his mom). Some things were completely new to me, for example, the fact that while there are hundreds of islands in the Pacific, the ones with airfields that have runways facing the wind the right way are not that common, and this prosaic fact had a lot to do with what islands got chosen for conquest. Again, the experience is also described from the (frequently horrifying) Japanese end, using Japanese sources.
He argues that the experience of these operations (especially the extraordinary Japanese willingness to fight to the last man, with even the women and children jumping off cliffs in Saipan, rather than surrender) was a major (or THE major) cause of the gradual slide towards total war; with its expectation that America may have to kill every Japanese solider and most Japanese civilians before they accept defeat (if at all). He thinks this experience led directly to the complete indifference (and later, even active desire) towards high civilian casualties that reached its climax in the firebombings of Tokyo and the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This argument is not going to convince everyone and is likely overdone (pre-existing racism, technology, human nature; all played a role), though it is hard to deny that it must have played SOME role in the way the conduct of the war proceeded.
There is a persistent effort to justify every American action and to proudly and aggressively use rather "old fashioned" memes of American exceptionalism and greatness. This may turn some readers off (it will no doubt turn others on as well).
The book does not end with the Japanese surrender, like most such books do. It describes the mechanics of the surrender and its aftermath in a good deal of detail, which really adds to the value of the book. This section includes such interesting nuggets as the fact that the Japanese authorities themselves set up (or helped to set up) whorehouses to service the occupation troops, in the (correct) belief that this would reduce the chances of general rape and molestation of Japanese women. As you may expect by now, Hornfischer wants to present this whole exercise as yet another example of American greatness, but as you may also expect, not everyone will agree with the spin he puts on the story. Anyway, this is a section of the book that I found really useful, since most war histories tend to end with the emperor emerging from his divine status to inform his people that the war is over, with very little said about the aftermath.
Biggest omission: the battle of Leyte Gulf, passed over in 2 pages, literally. (though the same author has written a famous account of the heroics of the destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3, so I guess he wants you to buy that other book). MacArthur's entire effort takes place off stage and is rarely mentioned. The Chinese war is not mentioned (except in relation to strategic bombing). The allies play no role at all in events. Okinawa and Iwo Jima are passed over perfunctorily. And last but not the least, the attention to detail and depth of analysis is limited to just two (admittedly big) topics: the Marianas and the strategic bombing campaign. This is NOT a book that gives you the overall picture, with everything assessed as a whole, with facts and figures about the money spent, the numbers of everything used and wasted, the trade-offs involved and so on. The author has some organizing principle in his head, but it is not clear that this is the best way to do it.
He highlights many personalities (this is a big book), but the man who gets more credit and praise than anyone else in this book is Admiral Spruance. He is the biggest and brightest hero in this book. He surely deserves a lot of credit, but the praise can get a bit too fulsome (in a book which is also not shy about declaring every other American a great hero of some sort).
In short, worth reading, but there are gaps, and there are arguments you may want to have with the author. And yes, if you are "woke" beyond a certain point then you will not be able to stand the "America, of thee I sing" tone.

Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-22-2017 at 11:32 AM. Reason: Remove deletion request as done and 1st line added.
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Old 04-24-2017   #29
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Default Visual Intelligence

https://www.amazon.com/Visual-Intell...ct_top?ie=UTF8

Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life
by Amy E. Herman


I have to assume the great reviews this book received on Amazon were by people who no previous exposure to art classes or training on how to observe (a basic skill for Infantry Scouts, Snipers, trackers, etc.). I was tempted to give the book a 2 stars (out of five), but toward the end of the book her chapter on how view things objectively, and a trick for dealing with our subjective perceptions (just the facts sir) I found useful. So now 2.5 stars. I think everyone will find something useful in this book. One of the biggest negatives for me was that many of her examples were weak, and a couple that I was aware of (such as a fratricide in Afghanistan) were incorrectly described.

Despite that, it is a good review of the different types of blindness such as: in unintentional, intentional, familiarity, change blindness, etc. Some of the exercises were a good reminder of why human based sources should always be regarded with some degree of suspicion.
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Old 04-26-2017   #30
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Default Death's End

Cixin Liu's trilogy is making news in the science fiction world. My reviews

The Three Body Problem

The Dark Forest

Death's End
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Old 05-01-2017   #31
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The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer


Freak Show by Robert Bogdan


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Old 05-14-2017   #32
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Default Narconomics

Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel
by Tom Wainwright

https://www.amazon.com/Narconomics-H...0&sr=1-1-spell

After reading this book, I feel fully qualified to run a drug cartel now. O.K., maybe not, but a fascinating read nonetheless that provides great insights not only into the cartel business from production to distribution, but provides great analysis based on economics on why are expensive drug war (globally, not limited to the U.S.) is failing miserably.

I would love to see this type of analysis conducted for COIN, and instead of listening to the same old tired theories being repeated, actually pull the data and analyze it objectively. It provides a very different, as it did for this study of cartels.

Not surprising, he explains how the DEA's focus for marijuana and cocaine coming from Mexico missed the shift to Meth and now Heroin. His point was the drug market changes frequently based on fads, yet law enforcement has been slow to adapt. He also points out that the crackdown on illegal immigration under Obama (yes its true) on the U.S. southern border, resulted in the Cartels moving into the human trafficking business and professionalizing it. It is a major paradigm shift from the coyotes leading people across the Arizona desert on a high risk crossing. Instead, the cartels move them to holding areas where they get three meals a day, medical care, and access to an internet caf so they can stay in contact with their families. The agreed upon prize to move them into the U.S. (roughly $1,500.00) comes with a guarantee. The traffickers will conduct as many attempts as required to get them into the U.S.

His analysis on the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado was interesting. As one law enforcement explained, there is nothing stopping people from buying it legally, and then driving across the border and selling it illegally. You're average Joe Blow is creating a new gray market. They did a cost analysis on how this will impact the cartels who still move marijuana and the cartels will be less competitive in most places outside of Texas (even more so that more states have legalized it). However, if the legalization trend continues, there is no reason Mexico won't grow it legally at a cheaper price and put the U.S. growers out of business eventually. Darn NAFTA.

He covered the drug trade in New Zealand, somewhat surprising to me, but a local music star Matt Bowden in NZ established a multimillion dollar business producing synthetic drugs for legal highs, always changing the formula to stay one step ahead of the law (until he couldn't). The author points out that relative safe drugs became more dangerous over time because they safer ones were outlawed. Interesting point, considering in other countries, certain drugs like ecstasy that were relatively safe, but the crack down on it, pushed the crowd into more dangerous drugs (supply and demand).

He didn't take easy on the cartels, he provided good coverage on the violence and what drives it and what tends to bring it down. At the end of the book he cited four mistakes we are making in the war on drugs:

1. The obsession with supply: He points out that the demand for drugs is inelastic, so even if we force the price of drugs up that will simply result in more money for the cartels. The producers get paid pennies anyway and that won't change. Obviously his point is to focus on demand, but we all know that is easier said than done.

2. Saving money early on and paying for it later: Back to point one, we are cutting costs by reducing funding for prevention programs, but increasing funds for law enforcement. Our bloated prison system is very expensive (even more so that we privatized much of it). He claims we're spending enough on fighting drugs, but we're spending it on the wrong things.

3. Acting nationally against a global business: I found his comments on target in this area. The richest countries are funding the UN's efforts to eradicate the crops in poor countries, so the rich countries are happy with the way the war is being fought even though it isn't making a difference. The drugs are not valuable at the production end, they're not valuable until they're a finished product ready for distribution, but we don't focus on that. Instead we're burning bridges with countries and their citizens in multiple developing nations to protect our citizens from their own bad habits?

He does point out this is changing, because the lines between producer and consumer are blurring, as developing countries with larger middle classes are now consuming drugs at an increasing pace.

4. Confusing prohibition with control: He uses the term balloon squeezing and herding cockroaches to capture the futility of trying enforce prohibition. He suggests that the legalization of marijuana so far appears to be mostly positive compared to trying to enforce prohibition, which is a very expensive and ineffective effort. What about harder drugs, he doesn't claim to have an answer, but points out that England, Switzerland and other European countries have already legalized heroin in a very limited way. Some doctors have permission to prescribe heroin free of charge to addicts. The idea is addicts are gradually able to wean themselves off, and since it is free the government has reduced the number of robberies they committed by 90%.

I think you'll enjoy the book.
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Old 05-14-2017   #33
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Default the internet of the things

Bear by Robert Greenfield


The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things by Bruce Sterling


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Old 05-22-2017   #34
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Default schrodinger's constant

The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber


The Lunatics of Terra by John Sladek


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Old 06-15-2017   #35
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Default colony collapse

Endless Enemies by Jonathan Kwitny


Bad Moon Rising by Thomas M. Disch (editor)


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Old 06-16-2017   #36
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I just finished "The Silk Roads; a new history of the world" by Peter Frankopan.

My review is at Brownpundits.com


This is a frustrating, though still useful, book. Historian Peter Frankopan's title claims this is "a new history of the world". He then proposes that what the world needs is to reorient its focus from Europe to "the silk roads", vaguely defined by him as "the region between East and West.. from the Eastern shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean to the Himalayas". This almost certainly reflects the fact that the core of this region happens to his particular area of interest (Turkey, Persia, Central Asia and Russia) as a historian. Having made this decision, he has to force the rest of the story to keep coming back to this region, to somehow keep his argument afloat. My recurring thought on reading this book was that all this is unnecessary. He could have written a history of the region without pretending that this was the REAL history of the world, and it would have worked fine. Or he could have attempted a history of the world and not bothered with this tendentious framing. But he insists on doing both, and it causes endless (and needless) irritation.
...
In general, the account of recent events (the book ends with the recent American disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan) is too superficial to satisfy anyone who is genuinely interested in any particular theater of conflict, and too trite and formulaic to be categorized as a groundbreaking universal history. The last chapter is a good example of the irritating way he mixes occasional good insights with his need to fit everything into his original "silk roads as center of the world" thesis. He also has a tendency to rather pompously assert "the West needs to give up its current disastrous focus on X and step back and adopt the correct way of looking at things"; which is irritating because X is usually a straw man and the "correct way" is mostly a rewording of his unproven "center of the world" thesis.

My last point is bit hard to convey, but I will try: Frankopan displays absolutely no awareness of the fact that he himself is part and parcel of the institutions and society which he repeatedly dismisses as painfully naive and incompetent. #One gets the feeling that the author really believes that he and Oxford will be just fine, since they are somehow above the fray. As an (artificial) vantage point from which to write the book, this is not a bad idea, but when reading the book one gets the distinct impression that this is not just a strategic (and justifiable) vantage point, it is a thought that has really never crossed his mind. My point is this: a universal history is ultimately a reflection of the wisdom, insight, discernment and, yes, character, of the author. He is picking and choosing what few things to present out of a gigantic mass of materials, and#he decides how to frame it; and Peter Frankopan does not impress me in this regard. And being impressive in this regard does not always mean one has to agree with the author's conclusions. Christopher Beckwith (author of "Empire of the Silk Roads") may have many opinions I do not share, but he commands respect by his impressive and careful scholarship and his deeply thought out positions. In short, what he says has weight, even if I do not agree with his conclusion. Peter Frankopan does not match that standard. He may have access to more facts, but he is no Gibbon, and that knocks this book down a peg.

Still, the book is not without its redeeming features. He has read widely and there are genuine insights and nuggets of interesting information scattered throughout the book, making it worth your while. You would be well advised to suspend judgement about the frame in which he has chosen to frame them, and you should keep in the back of your mind the fact that all his minor facts are not necessarily correct.
Still, worth a read.

PS: for a really good book about the Silk Roads, one that will teach you new things and genuinely make you think new thoughts, check out Christopher Beckwith's "Empires of the Silk Road". Razib Khan has an excellent review.#
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Old 06-18-2017   #37
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One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Team, by Chris Fussell

https://www.amazon.com/One-Mission-L...dp/B01MTXIBL8/

Very good book.

Practical, applicable followup to the McChrystal "Team of Teams" book.

In a nutshell, it promotes a hybrid org that mixes solid line bureaucratic pyramids with the dotted lines of network clouds.
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Old 06-22-2017   #38
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Default Can't believe I am just reading this

Confession, I've found it increasingly difficult to make it through books seeking to explain extremism to me. But I picked up "The Ugly American" on a whim during my last trip to the library, and tore through it with great speed and enjoyment!

Two main thoughts:

1. The damning assessment of US approach to foreign service is as true today as it was in the 1950s setting of this tale of Southeast Asia.

2. We are as wrongheadedly fixated on Islamist ideology today as we were on Communist ideology then.

A good read and an important message.
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Old 06-28-2017   #39
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Default wasted

Flower of the Dragon by Richard Boyle


Army In Anguish by Haynes Johnson and George C. Wilson


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Old 06-30-2017   #40
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Infantry In Vietnam by LTC Albert N Garland USA ret (editor)


A Distant Challenge by LTC Albert N Garland USA ret (editor)


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