Adelstein's memoir, like many memoirs, is written very simply and is very easy-to-read, making it pretty breezy to get through. It rather effectively...more Adelstein's memoir, like many memoirs, is written very simply and is very easy-to-read, making it pretty breezy to get through. It rather effectively takes the steps from a young American reporter in Japan going the steps up the newspaper, first doing cub reporting, then reporting on organized crime, then covering vice in Tokyo's red light district, and finally what he got up to after that part of his life was over.
The stuff about the yakuza and organized crime in Japan is utterly fascinating, as is the cultural notes, the hard work and dedication of reporters and the absolutely crazy things he gets up to. But be warned - the memoir takes a fairly dark turn towards the last third of the book when it gets into Adelstein's reporting of human trafficking and women being caught up in the sex trade. When I finally put the book down, I felt grim and hopeless and quite angry.
Arresting book, quick read, but not something that'll make you at all think well upon humanity.(less)
I can't, in good conscience, recommend this book as a cultural history of terrorism because, uh, it's not.
It is kind of a history of terrorism, not a...moreI can't, in good conscience, recommend this book as a cultural history of terrorism because, uh, it's not.
It is kind of a history of terrorism, not a really complete one, and isn't by any means comprehensive. It can be a good start, and what Burleigh focuses on, he goes into great detail. I haven't read anything else by this guy, but I found him to be a pretty frustrating read, largely because I like to think historians try to be unbiased, or at least want to pretend to be. I wasn't sure reading this if Burleigh thinks he is, or if he just wallows his his issues like a pig in gooey, warm mud.
It starts off with a preface/introduction in which Burleigh spells out some of his personal problems with terrorism (spoiler alert: It turns out it's evil) in which he seems to stack on top of one another logical fallacies to defend this simple argument against...well, I'm not sure. He also tellingly talks about the toll the book took on him, and I cannot blame him for that, for many of the incidents in the book are truly dark and despicable. But it's almost comical how he describes his sputtering rage; one can almost imagine him stopping a good typing binge to slowly clench and unclench his fists and grind his molars to powder as if he was the World's Angriest Historian.
So, he's biased. A lot of popular histories are biased in one way or another, you can't really escape it. At least with Burleigh his biases become pretty clear. You can tell because of the colorful language he will start to use - the adverbs and adjectives come out in force when he really hates something, as if he had a well-used thesaurus open next to his computer just to capture the different ways to say 'disgusting', and you can immediately catch on what he has smug contempt for by looking for him to describe stuff as various forms of 'silly'. This gets weird halfway through the book when he describes horrible things done by people he doesn't really care for either way in a dispassionate, clinical style, when earlier he had talked about bombings which had less casualties by informing the reader how bad it was, going into great detail about the horrible act, and then afterwards lecturing the reader on its hellish awfulness.
And as it turns out what he hates is communists. This makes the chapter on the anarchist movement in Czarist Russia almost comical: you won't find a better portrayal of the Czar's secret police anywhere, and it's with great pain that he has to mention there were some bad seeds in there. Much later, when describing the Basque problem and ETA, he suddenly, and uncharacteristically lectures on repressive government crackdowns and how it just inflamed tensions -- a page later he admits the new Spanish government post-Franco was a socialist one. Hrmph.
So part of my bitchy rage in this review is when Burleigh isn't consumed by spiteful fury, he's got a good eye for describing major problems. His chapters on the Jewish revolt and the creation of the state of Israel, the chapter on the PLO and the rise of global terrorism, and a few other chapters really excel and are quite informative. And he describes the issues in a neutral fashion, allowing the readers to draw their own conclusions, and brings a wealth of information to the table. It was worth me slogging through the rest just to read the good stuff -- I just wish Burleigh could have found some remote bit of distance for the rest of the book.
He closes with the rise of Islamist global terrorism, and the chapters are deeply flawed with some really good bits. He has a big long speech about how some people call it Islamo-fascism but really, as far as he's concerned, it's more like Islamo-bolshevism, which should give you an idea of what he thinks of these guys. And from there he lays it on pretty thick. Even so, there's some great bits about Bosnia and Chechnya and other hotspots.
The bits where this guy reigns in his rage are good, informative reads, but I don't know if it's worth it to slog through the rest. For me, yeah. Mostly.(less)
The CIA is more than a job - it's a lifestyle choice, but one mired in secrecy and misunderstanding for decades. This book provides a window, intentio...moreThe CIA is more than a job - it's a lifestyle choice, but one mired in secrecy and misunderstanding for decades. This book provides a window, intentionally or unintentionally, into the agency to show you how they operate, why the people that work there can get so passionate, and what failings can arise from such passion.
John Kiriakou, who practically stumbled into the spy game (as the title suggests), shows, intentionally and occasionally unintentionally, the strains and stresses the job provides on people who work in that field, and an overview of the things about the agency he cares deeply about. He spends a little time talking in careful, delicate terms about the collapse of his own marriage, spends some time talking about the training agents go through, and talks through life in foreign lands and some of the details about human intelligence and tradecraft.
Roughly the middle third then goes into the details of the CIA after 9/11 which I found fascinating, as well as some specific examples of missions he ran in Pakistan. The latter part of the book goes into his feelings about some of the controversies surrounding espionage, especially torture. Kiriakou cogently tears down some of the strongest arguments against torture and then turns around and builds more solid ones. The result is a more nuanced understanding - at least for me - about a particularly dark part of current US espionage, and finally ending on the rather inelegant and bureaucratic way he left the agency.
My problems - this was too simple a read and too fast a read for a hardcover book. I might be more inclined to recommend it once it gets to a cheaper medium. Many of the issues Kiriakou brings up he does go into or devote his considerable analysis to - for example, he lingers a few times on the divorce rate of intelligence officers, but only to acknowledge it and move on.
Lastly, Kiriakou is a victim of being successful in a clandestine organization, and that may be a problem with memoirs like these: Since there is a lot he can't talk about, the situations he describes are often vague and filled with details he can bring up but not talk about. This made it hard for me to get into those parts of the book. Real situations seemed abstract. And since it is a memoir, some of his events seem really one-sided...though that's probably more of an issue with memoirs than this one.
I'd recommend this book for people who are really interested in current events and modern espionage and wants to get a fuller understanding of the challenges modern spies face today. (less)
A fascinating, if somewhat terrifying look at the NSA and all it entails - going in at first to the problems leading up to 9/11 (including the names,...moreA fascinating, if somewhat terrifying look at the NSA and all it entails - going in at first to the problems leading up to 9/11 (including the names, places, dates, and phone numbers some of the hijackers used and other specific information) and from there goes into the massive expansion the agency went through in the last ten years - both legal and extralegal.
Bamford goes into specific methods used (often with telecom and internet company help) to examine and sort through practically every packet going across fiber and wire in this country and beyond. If you are conspiracy-minded and with a heart condition you shouldn't read this. But if you have a passing interest in counterterrorism, current events, modern espionage, computer security, or have ever had a passing thought about donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this book is recommended. (less)