This thing is huge. Seriously. I feel like I really accomplished something finishing it. That said, I enjoyed it and found it a fascinating and extens...moreThis thing is huge. Seriously. I feel like I really accomplished something finishing it. That said, I enjoyed it and found it a fascinating and extensive history of the events preceding the six-day war. It is notably pro-Israel but does not seem jingoistically or blatantly so. But the story is clearly told almost exclusively from Israeli sources, which unquestionably gives it a certain bias. Many of the sources are letters home (to the U.S. or to Israel) from Israelis, either civilians in Israel or soldiers in the field. As a result, there is a significantly sentimental feel to the text, which is good or bad depending on what you're looking for. This book can get emotionally overwrought at times when it's discussing the experience of individual Israelis. But its other strength is a pretty comprehensive coverage of the Israeli and Israeli-US political scene. If you read the political sequences with an ear for humor (intentional or unintentional) then you'll get more out of it. For non-Israelis, this book would benefit hugely from already knowing a fair amount about Israeli politics, since the names and personalities involved can get pretty thick in the lead-up to war.
Overall, I found it hugely enjoyable as well as, given the current situation in Israel/Palestine, deeply heartbreaking.(less)
This book is a reasonable read for those very interested in considering some of the issues covered in great detail, but it's curiously short on detail...moreThis book is a reasonable read for those very interested in considering some of the issues covered in great detail, but it's curiously short on detail itself. Worse, it's dry as hell. I didn't think it was all that insightful, or contained all that much detail of interdiction efforts from a professional perspective. Though there is some worthwhile material in here, it is a book that felt very much to me like it was putting on airs. Levi seems to think he's writing the Gospels, and it shows. His recommendations are abstract, undetailed, and pretentiously simplistic. This problem could have been solved, and the book rendered readable, with a lot more case studies. As it is, I would not recommend this to anyone except those very interested in nuclear materials interdiction policy, and I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top of the list for them.(less)
I really enjoyed this book on the "Russian oil wars" between Putin, the Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and Western energy companies. The situation is terrifyi...moreI really enjoyed this book on the "Russian oil wars" between Putin, the Yeltsin-era oligarchs, and Western energy companies. The situation is terrifying not because Putin is some sort of Darth Vader, but because it becomes agonizingly clear how little international resource development generates any real benefit for the average person; it's all a battle among the super-rich, be it in Russia, the U.S., the C.I.S., China, India, Africa or elsewhere.
I suspect Petrostate would be a bit dry for the average reader, but I found it fascinating. I've read elsewhere that the author may have misunderstood or misconstrued some of the technical details of petroleum and natural gas extraction and production. However, on the political stuff his details and references seem spot-on. I disagree with other reviewers who accuse Goldman of Russophobia; I think he praises Putin repeatedly for many of the things that Putin is good at. And given the nation that Putin inherited (following the incredibly corrupt Yeltsin years), I think there is much to admire about the man. But that doesn't change the fact that in international business terms Russia is now a de facto gangster state, or that Putin has essentially created a corrupt nationalized industry for the benefit of the few. There are huge ramifications for the balance of power not just in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, but across the globe. To be frank, this is some scary shit, even if you loooooooooooove Russia. I wouldn't be thrilled if U.S. business was exhibiting this kind of unchecked power...except, oh wait, it has tried, hasn't it? Mind-bogglingly scary stuff in this book. Looking ahead 20 years, I am not thrilled about the world that the next few generations of Americans *or* Russians is likely to inherit.(less)
I was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this...moreI was prepared to dislike this somewhat enormous 2004 book on the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan, mostly because many other writers of books in this general topic area CAN'T SHUT UP ABOUT HOW FRIGGIN' GREAT IT IS. It is so often referenced in other books about the developments related to 9/11, Al Qaeda and military involvment in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's practically ubiquitous, and every time someone mentions it they have to mention it's oh-so-great. I was prepared to despise it, because I'm that way. Oh well. I was hugely disappointed by the fact that I have to stand somewhat in awe of it; it really is an impressive document. It's not one of those "compulsively readable" histories like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men, Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, or Matthew Brzezinski's Red Moon Rising -- or even the same author's The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century, but it's completely packed with lots of information about obscure Afghan and American turns of fate that must have been kind of a bitch to get. It's meticulously referenced, and the afterword details all the ways the author feels he screwed up -- categorizing the corrections to the second edition, basically. Those are fascinating because they illuminate the way in which motivation in political history is difficult to gauge and may change from generation to generation or even year to year -- in particular, in this case, with the release of the 9/11 Commission's final report. In at least one case, for instance, discussion of using drone strikes was misplaced in the original text by a YEAR, because of a misrepresentation or mis-remembrance on Clinton's part, which was later corrected by the Commission. To his credit, Coll corrected it and called it out in the afterword. The overall events are (in broad strokes) nothing I didn't already know, but the specific machinations were fascinating and in far greater detail than I have seen represented elsewhere.
This is a great book, by a liberal from a military family. Throughout, Maddow treats the military with the respect it is due, but calls out numerous p...moreThis is a great book, by a liberal from a military family. Throughout, Maddow treats the military with the respect it is due, but calls out numerous politicians and power-players at the top (including many military commanders) who have misused military power and managed it badly -- with the result that American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines get the short end of the stick, and no appreciable societal benefit of the post-WWII style is provided. A book about a sad and infuriating phenomenon engendered by a bureaucracy of cynical political opportunists who don't give a damn about fighting men and women.
I gave it four stars instead of five because I feel she glossed over the GWB years slightly....probably wanting to avoid opening up that can of worms, since she's pretty much known for being their arch enemy.
My guess is that she felt her point had been made about those years and their misuse of military power. But it troubled me to not hit hard on these years, given the grotesque misappropriation of military resources, with great cost in American lives -- and the fact that, as far as I can tell, the underlying motive that caused all the privatization that so doomed the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have been a hatred of the American system on the part of Cheney and Rumsfeld -- that is to say, a Friedman-influenced desire to "drown government in a bathtub." As in, the FEDERAL government. As in, THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. In any other country, that sentiment would be regarded as treason -- what other definition for "treason" does one need than the actual destruction of the American system? -- but in this country, its true believers were given free reign to form a government that got to send a bunch of Americans off to die for no earthly reason than to further their profit motives, and with no ultimate long-term geopolitical effect, I suspect, other than to essentially hand over influence in the Levant, Iraq, North Africa and possibly the Gulf to such far-more-enlightened motherfuckers as Shiite Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, radical Sunni fundamentalists, and (in business terms) China. "What's a Sunni? What's a Shiite?" Cheney has been said to have asked, probably sarcastically. Whether that's true or not, I think Maddow missed low-hanging fruit by not pointing out how fantastically ineffective the geopolitics of the GWB administration has been in furthering American dominance.
Whether or not Maddow or I are in favor of American dominance, the Bush administration bungled that move so badly that it achieved just the opposite. I believe that makes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the most disastrous American military operations of all time, by a huge margin.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm an internationalist (though not a globalist) and a Democrat, albeit a far more liberal one than most other Democrats. I'm not a huge fan of unbridled American hegemony. I'm also a policy hawk -- I think an extremely strong American military, used properly, is the best bet the world has to see the influence of democracy, small d, increase over the next 100 years.
Unfortunately, under (to some extent) Clinton and (far more obviously) under Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, American hegemony was not furthered, but fumbled -- in a way that will result in far more destructive forces taking far more power. This isn't the wretched of the earth taking their rightful power. These are corrupt and dangerous fascists getting free reign to fuck up the developing world far more than the Western powers have managed to fuck it up already -- which is saying something.
By squandering American prestige, influence, and money, by managing the wars so badly that they were inevitably lost in the long run, by telling the rest of the world to go to hell, and showing widespread incompetence, the Bush administration managed to divvy that growing hegemony up between to Russia, China, India, to some extent Europe, and far less stable countries like Pakistan and Iran.
"Unmooring" indeed. Maddow should have addressed those events in this book more than she did.
For what it's worth, however, even if they're not extensive enough for my taste, her arguments that the Bush-era military privatization has been a complete disaster are spot-on. The long-term geopolitical strategic situation in the Gulf and Central and Southern Asia is not really what Maddow was addressing, so, hey, it's cool.
On every other level, I found this a great book. Maddow has a particular political bent; I'm not about to pretend she doesn't. It tends to be pretty close to my own political bent, as well. However, the difference between Maddow and conservative writers is that she backs her claims up with specific facts. I feel that she's done that here, quite effectively. And any objective reading of this book should leave anyone who loves America (or people in general) horrified at just how royally the U.S. military has been left at the mercy of business interest and of politicians who are ill-equipped to dictate political or military affairs.(less)
The premise of After the Arab Spring is that the West has, overall, grieviously misunderstood the meaning of the movement. Because of language barrier...moreThe premise of After the Arab Spring is that the West has, overall, grieviously misunderstood the meaning of the movement. Because of language barriers, it has focused on an English-speaking elite that does not represent the vox populi in the region. Bradley's claim is that the Arab Spring is not primarily a pro-Democracy movement, though it's been portrayed that way in the West. He claims it was primarily economic factors that started the "revolution" (namely graft, corruption, nepotism and class-and-ethnicity-polarized economic opportunity). However, according to Bradley the ultra-conservative, Islamist element was far more active than has been seen by the West, largely because those conservative groups know it's far better to keep a low profile and consolidate power behind the scenes. "Behind the scenes," however, is a somewhat ludicrous concept, because the Islamic rhetoric is not behind the scenes at all. It just happens not to be in English.
Bradley's most troubling argument, and the one in which I think he's spot-on, is that ultraconservative religious forces don't need to have their own revolution. Islamic radicals can sit back and wait, and then obtain power through the ballot box. They can do this without having anything close to a majority of the votes; in places like Tunisia and Egypt, the number of citizens registered to vote is shockingly small, when viewed through Western pro-Democracy sentiment. All radicals need to do is get a plurality of a minority.
It should; that's exactly what happened in Iran, 1979. Khomeni was not expected to end up on top. He was just smarter than the others. He played the other groups -- moderate Islamic groups, secular pro-Demogratic groups, communists, socialists, and the military all off against each other. In the end, he seized control of Iran without ever having the support of anything close to a majority of the population.
Oh, were you thinking of the U.S.? Yeah, sometimes it seems like if radical right-wing Christians would stop howling for a minute and take the time to study their brothers in the Islamic world, we pro-Democracy types would be even more screwed than we are. Anyway...
I really, really enjoyed Bradley's Inside Egypt and Saudi Arabia Exposed. After the Arab Spring is a little less tight; there's more argumentation and less straightforward information, and I think at times it gets a bit dense. It's an important and illuminating book, but it's not the enjoyable, unendingly-fascinating read that Bradley's books on Egypt and Saudi Arabia were.(less)
It pains me slightly to give this book four stars, because while parts of it are amazing, and all of it tells an amazing story, too much of it tells a...moreIt pains me slightly to give this book four stars, because while parts of it are amazing, and all of it tells an amazing story, too much of it tells an amazing story in overwrought, hand-wringing fashion.
The main problem with it is that it begins as a fairly objective, fairly reasonable and very well-told history of South African history pre-World War II (which is when the racism that would become Apartheid was not formalized). It then turns about halfway through into a hagiography of the poor. It's also a hagiography of Mandela, which I feel like I've heard a thousand times. The real messy story feels like it's avoided in favor of pouring out overwrought prose about how hard it was to be black during the Apartheid era. I'm already fairly clear that it blew pretty seriously. That's why I'm reading a book on South Africa in the first place. Lapierre hits too hard on the same old messages of martyrdom, which makes this book not an effective history.
Don't get me wrong...I don't think "objective" makes a lot of sense when it comes to Apartheid, racism or Afrikaans-dominated South Africa. But I also don't need to be beaten to death with overheated, overwrought, hand-wringing prose about the troubles of the poor. I read a LOT of books on Africa, and I see the kind of heartfelt, weepy prose engaged in here to be borderline condescending. It's not intended that way, sure. But certainly many African writers express a deep-distaste for the handwringing of the West vis-a-vis Africa, and
I understand that Lapierre (and presumably his translator...not sure if this was written in English or French) are trying to communicate the agonies of being poor and black in South Africa -- which are EXTREME today and were vastly moreso during the Apartheid era. But I found the overdone prose in certain sections to be somewhat insulting.
That said, however, Lapierre's heart is in the right place, and it's the most accessible (and actually LEAST overwrought) thing I've read to-date on South Africa. The struggle the black South Africans, Mandela included, went through is amazing. I do wish there had been less hagiography and more, for instance, about the Zulu nationalist movement to the North, which opposed the African National Congress, and the criminal elements that flourished in the slums in the context of rampant soul-crushing poverty; it is in THOSE elements, it seems to me, that South Africa's contemporary troubles have their origin.
We can attack the white Afrikaaner fascist racist murderers all we want. But as Michael Moorcock said, "All tyrants are pretty much the same, but there are many kinds of victims." By spending the second half of this book making the racist demons as demonic as possible and the black South Africans saintly, I feel Lapierre has missed the real story in the ongoing triumph and tragedy of the struggle in post-colonial Africa overall, not just in South Africa. The result is an immensely readable book but one that's a bit hard to take seriously as history, insofar as it concerns the Apartheid period itself (after World War II).
Speaking of which, why is this subtitled "The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa?" The author's intention is to establish that the period from the landing of the first Dutch settlers on the Cape to the establishment of pluralist democracy is *ALL* the birth of South Africa...but out of context, it's a little bewildering of a subtitle. It seems like it misleads the potential reader a bit.
The book still gets four stars, principally because I think it's SO accessible that I hope it'll be read by people who wouldn't tackle a denser book or a more nuanced history about South Africa. The struggles the black South Africans and the Apartheid-opposing whites, Indians, those of mixed race etc. went through should be known to every person of conscience everywhere in the world. Therefore, my nitpicks aside, if a zillion people read this book the world will be a much better place, and for that alone it gets some extra credit.(less)
This book suffers hugely from the author's desire to portray Pablo as an innocent victim and a noble outlaw. I also agree with other peoples' comments...moreThis book suffers hugely from the author's desire to portray Pablo as an innocent victim and a noble outlaw. I also agree with other peoples' comments about the wandering narrative -- it's all over the place. But I still really enjoyed it, largely because I find the political situation in Colombia so fascinating. I would almost always rather read a whitewashed book written by a criminal than a journalistic account of a crime syndicate. Both are usually wrong on many counts, and clearly biased, but the first-person experience of being a bad guy is what I really love about reading true crime. Here, that is provided in full -- up to and including the rationalizations Roberto uses to live with himself. I won't say it's "honest," exactly, but then, I'm not actually looking for honesty in first-person criminal accounts. It feels fairly "real," and I enjoyed it.(less)