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)
I'm interested enough to read more. The fight scenes are great, descriptions where there are descriptions are taut and lean. The main characters are v...moreI'm interested enough to read more. The fight scenes are great, descriptions where there are descriptions are taut and lean. The main characters are very well-developed. My only issue is - everyone, and I mean every character is contemptuous of everyone else in the world. It just seems a bit...one note. It's an entire book of violence and smug, superior grins.(less)
A great little book about World War I U-boats science-fiction spaceship combat, that was more a mournful and thoughtful 'day-in-the-life' than a grand...moreA great little book about World War I U-boats science-fiction spaceship combat, that was more a mournful and thoughtful 'day-in-the-life' than a grand and epic book of spaceship combat. I liked it a lot, and it was a very quick read.(less)
Brutal, complicated look at the wars in Afghanistan leading up to the 9/11 attacks (the book's timeline ends on 9/10.) The process, stemming from the...moreBrutal, complicated look at the wars in Afghanistan leading up to the 9/11 attacks (the book's timeline ends on 9/10.) The process, stemming from the Russia invasion to present day, takes a look at the figures, policies, and events of this period.
Lacking the ire and rage of Ahmed Rashid's COLLAPSE, it still resonates with me like that book. After reading both of them, I flinch at soundbites and anything that tries to narrow down the US and Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan into narrow platitudes. Great work about something that deeply affects foreign policy today, and a must-read for anyone that wants a deeper understanding of the roots of the current wars, and all the current terrorist nightmares.(less)
James Palmer's a good historian with an intuitive grasp of what makes a popular history book fascinating and interesting, and he ups that by intersper...more James Palmer's a good historian with an intuitive grasp of what makes a popular history book fascinating and interesting, and he ups that by interspersing history with reports of his modern travels to the places mentioned in his story.
This is the story of Baron Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg - a German nobleman living in Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire, whose travels to the edges of the Russian Empire made him familiar first with the Cossacks and then the Mongols. He fights in the Russian Civil War against the Communists, escapes into Mongolia and then 'liberates' the country from the Chinese, attempting to create a Buddhist crusade against Communism and restore the Mongolian empire created by Ghengis Khan.
Unfortunately for him, the Reds had planes and machine guns, and he was an excellent cavalry officer. The balance was not in his favor.
Reading about this doomed and insane monarchist out on the very edges of an empire reinforces that old adage about truth being stranger than fiction. Palmer is excellent at letting what we know about the Baron speak for itself and letting the reader draw conclusions. As the Baron dives further into madness, including violent antisemitism was a sobering read, and after a while it's a bit harrowing to be in this guy's head, or even just hear about some of the things happening around him.
The book is also a worthy read just for the descriptions of the pitched battles in the Russian civil war -- armored trains with artillery bombing out villages along the Siberian Rail Line and Cossacks raiding enemy encampments and then fading back into the tundra.
I loved the book, but I can't give it four stars -- I just felt it a bit too spare in parts. While the stuff about the central figure is riveting and detailed, the events around him are sketched out at best. The First World War, the Russian Civil War, the fall of the Chinese Empire and the rise of the Japanese Empire happens around him, but such important events are barely sketched out. A tiny bit more would have anchored what was going on to history around him.
I also would have been fascinated by a comparison between T.E. Laurence ("Laurence of Arabia") and Ungern-Sternberg, considering what similar figures they were in a lot of ways. Palmer fascinatingly examines the concept and myth of the white empire man 'going native' - tearing apart some of the assumptions and doing a lot to explain both the desire and the inconsistencies of the time.
Like I said, I just wanted a bit more. Maybe this book will incite me to pick up Hopkirk's SETTING THE EAST ABLAZE, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for years after my cousin recommended it so highly.(less)
Tremblay's short stories are either filled with a cold sense of purpose, with short, tight sentences or are warm and emotional. His novel combines bot...moreTremblay's short stories are either filled with a cold sense of purpose, with short, tight sentences or are warm and emotional. His novel combines both, quite a feat.
The Little Sleep is a novel about Mark Genevich, a narcoleptic detective down on his luck with a new case... but one where he only dreamily remembers the details. It starts strong and stays that way. In another author's hands the narcolepsy of the main character might be a gimmick of some kind, but Tremblay's not afraid to explore the consequences of everything and anything, even of living in the South Side of Boston. The parts about narcolepsy are so vivid, it'll remind you of it every time you feel yourself falling asleep or wake up bleary and confused.
While this book has a few minor flaws (two thugs that get in way of Genevich as the novel progresses never come off as more than targets of Genevich's bracing wit - it is telling that Genevich attempting simple acts of getting around while dealing with narcolepsy are fraught with so much more tension than him encountering the typical noir gun-wielding thugs... but those normal scenes are just written so well.) Keep in mind that Chandler's masterpiece, The Big Sleep, famously has its own plot holes.
Once I finished this book, I immediately wanted another Genevich novel to read. Hopefully enough people read this book so I can get another. So if you're reading this review and feeling indecisive, take a risk and pick the book up. You won't be sorry, and you'll help some schmoe in internetland get more of his noir fix...eventually. (less)
Admittedly, I'm a Walter Jon Williams fan. To me, this was a romp of a story and it didn't let me down in that respect. It's a fast, light story that...moreAdmittedly, I'm a Walter Jon Williams fan. To me, this was a romp of a story and it didn't let me down in that respect. It's a fast, light story that I found easy to read about a man with a sword with a wormhole in it, who composes poetry while having adventures with his talking cat, Bitsy. It reminded me a lot of what I liked about previous novels - Aristoi and Rock of Ages, with enough science and wonder to remind a reader why he reads science fiction.
It stumbles a little - it feels Williams wanted to write a novel that was economical and fast in style, and sometimes it feels like ideas were examined and then quickly discarded for the next idea. And like a previous reviewer mentioned, Williams plays around with implying things rather than describing them right out, this can end up with a rather dispassionate writing style.
But in the end, I'm a bitter, grumpy reader who finds himself easily distracted by videogames. When a book keeps me up late at night because I absolutely have to know how it ends, it rates pretty highly to me.(less)
(Note, read the authors comments in the comments section, he points out a few factual errors in this review that I think are worth noting before takin...more(Note, read the authors comments in the comments section, he points out a few factual errors in this review that I think are worth noting before taking my review seriously.)
I picked this book up because I was a huge dork in high school and middle school - the dorkiest, and hung out with some fairly damaged individuals. I was looking at a book to wince at my own memories as I share someone elses, and also in a way celebrate that time.
Barrowcliffe has...issues, though. He has a tendency to write sweeping generalizations he shouldn't ("Women don't play Dungeons and Dragons") or talk about his high school being worse than Abu Ghraib (really? You fucking went there, pal?). It's filled with tons of amusing stories, and really gets alive when he talks about gaming - you can tell that, despite all of it, he really loved playing - but in the end, this is the story about a writer with a fantastic ego twisting in his own insecurities.
There's a post-script at the end about how he went to a modern game with strangers, that feels tacked on because it probably was. I can just imagine an editor forcing him to try things out to give readers an idea what things are like today, and him resisting all the while. As it is read, Barrowcliffe starts off having to remind the reader yet again he is successful and has a wife and a kid. He goes into the game with every intent to dislike it, and does, and lets the players know he has a wife and a kid, and more importantly, he's a writer! He writes things. The players are not impressed or try to impress him back, and he is horrified they don't give him proper respect. He ends the book with a pity condemenation of these poor, poor souls, and retreats to the safety of...you guessed it...his wife and his kid.