Like so many of the narrative histories of the Civil War I've read (Part 1 of Shelby Foote's trilogy, Gods and Generals), this was a quick and very en...moreLike so many of the narrative histories of the Civil War I've read (Part 1 of Shelby Foote's trilogy, Gods and Generals), this was a quick and very engaging read. Unlike those, however, this is one I would recommend to anyone who wants to do a bit of deep thinking on the nature of war and strategic warfare. The account attempts to be even-handed, showing Sherman's strengths and failures. It also paints the picture of a man who may have been a better strategist than tactician. The Army of the West only had one full-on engagement over the course of the march from Atlanta to Raleigh, and that one was saved by the grim determination of Sherman's soldiers, without whom the general's reticence might have cost him dearly. But his mastery of maneuver baffled the fleeing rebels at every turn and his adoption of "Total War" inflicted a harm on the enemy that, in my opinion, absolutely hastened the end of the war. The transition at the end from the free hand Sherman had to conduct the war to the political quagmire that arose from trying to end it is a lesson in itself about the problems of getting military and political leaders on the same page. A great and thought-provoking book.(less)
Mr. Singh's book on cryptography and cryptology is a fascinating read, if you're already interested in that sort of thing. It's a little breezy in par...moreMr. Singh's book on cryptography and cryptology is a fascinating read, if you're already interested in that sort of thing. It's a little breezy in parts, and the chapter on quantum computing and cryptography gets a little dense (unless you've already got a good grounding in quantum physics, I suspect). Even so, it's a great book for stimulating thought about concepts like privacy and what we consider to be privileged communication, or how we would protect it.(less)
As far as I know, this is Hunter Thompson's first major book and I can now completely understand how it made him such a sought-after writer. You enter...moreAs far as I know, this is Hunter Thompson's first major book and I can now completely understand how it made him such a sought-after writer. You enter the book thinking it's about motorcycle outlaws and that is true to a point. That is hardly, however, the sole subject. Hell's Angels is really about us: about Western Civilization and how it makes arbitrary rules and what happens to people who decided they will not follow those rules anymore, be it because they have found them to be a sham or because they have failed to shape themselves into something useful to that society. Two distinct classes of people found themselves in the Hell's Angels: disaffected ex-military who returned from Korea unable to become civilized again and with no support structure to help them get there, and young losers who discovered that a tribe will support them, right or wrong. That support is more powerful than anyone realizes, especially to people who will be wrong a lot.
Thompson's honesty about his own involvement in the drug culture and the criminal behavior exhibited by the Angels is used by Thompson's historians as an example of "gonzo" journalism; however, it's safe to say that, at the time, it would have been nigh impossible to get the story he got without that sort of involvement. It was less a stylistic choice and more a necessity of getting the story. But it became part of the legend and, over time, defined Thompson more than Thompson defined it.
Some of the best writing is not about the Hell's Angels, though -it's about the people who have to deal with the Angels. From Sheriff Baxter, who manages the Angels like a military diplomat, to the various politicians and media-types who show off the early formation of the modern Fear Machine, Thompson looks unflinchingly at the hypocrisy of them all. The number of out-and-out lies he calls various newspapers on reminds us to be mistrustful of unsubstantiated reports. The "special report" from the CA legislature on the Angels reminds us that too many "crises" are manufactured for the benefit of a few. And the Angels themselves reminds us that there are huge swaths of our population, both then and now, who not only don't believe in your American Dream, but actively oppose it. They think they'll never get a square deal and they might as well rape, murder, and pillage like the Vikings of old. Refusal to consider it leads us to stigmatize the disaffected and grant more and more power to the State to simply make them go away. Hollywood might give us horrid films like "Hog Wild" to imply that the biker phenomenon is now the province of the near-retirement former hippies who just want to be young again. Surely no one can be disaffected in the interconnected and lovely age of caring. Hunter Thompson reminds us to look again.(less)
Niall Ferguson gets five stars from me for a book that ought to be the starting point for a lot of our discussions about finance in America and around...moreNiall Ferguson gets five stars from me for a book that ought to be the starting point for a lot of our discussions about finance in America and around the world. I don't necessarily agree with many of his conclusions, but his well-researched and considered analysis challenges the skeptic or doubter to bring their a-game to the discussion.
I think he tries a little too hard to declare economics an evolutionary science. At its base, any system that involves a pattern of trial-and-error will show signs of evolution, that being the nature of the beast (no pun intended). I think we need to be careful in lauding this system; rather, we should take it for he warning sign it is - quantitative analysts playing god with the system of money that the modern word relies on. Their imperfect analysis out to increase our demand for security rather than encourage further experimentation.(less)
A fascinating and horrifying look at what happens when economic illiteracy collides with geopolitics. Adam Ferguson lays out the story of the Weimar R...moreA fascinating and horrifying look at what happens when economic illiteracy collides with geopolitics. Adam Ferguson lays out the story of the Weimar Republic in the early 20's and it's like watching a train wreck: only the train has everyone in Germany on it.
I read this as part of a research paper on the economic roots of World War II and it makes a clear case as to why Germany ended up the way it did and why they'd follow someone, really anyone, who told them that things would get better.(less)
The Austrian School of Economics is a strange sort of fundamentalist sect of the free-market religion. Thomas Woods (who is listed as a "fellow" of th...moreThe Austrian School of Economics is a strange sort of fundamentalist sect of the free-market religion. Thomas Woods (who is listed as a "fellow" of the Mises Institute and wrote the Politically Incorrect Guide to History) does a nice job excoriating bad public policy for many of our recent economic ills and even makes a somewhat compelling case for the idea that government economic management contributes to the boom/bust cycle.
The problem is that Woods does not argue that governments contribute to the cycle; he maintains that they are the sole cause of it. Austrians are as close as one gets to Anarcho-Capitalists while still being able to wear jacket and tie. The problem that Woods and the bulk of Mises' disciples face is the useful things government does: compensating for externalities, subsidizing public goods, protecting the utility of our medium of exchange (i.e. money). Saying that the government's meddling in the economy means we ought to privatize money is the sort of baby-with-the-bathwater argument that permeates the book.
Despite the above rant, Woods (with Mises' and his students' help) makes many very salient points that perhaps the government does too much in our economy. A well-reasoned and intelligent book, if flawed in its broad generalizations.(less)