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 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....more
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 aI 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....more