This book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I oncThis book is WAY TOO LONG. I picked it up from the library today and it's really freaking me out. I might have to put it in the closet, like how I once made my parents do with the Snow White book that had the really scary witch picture in it.
Philip Short must have some weird complex about his name that he should be working on in therapy. Instead, he's completely freaking me out....more
I feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. OrI feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. Or maybe it is known but there's still just not that much to say: Short does dutifully record biographical details, but they never seem to add up to any fleshed-out understanding of a human being... And maybe that's the point. Maybe the dark emptiness at the root of the Khmer Rouge's ideology and actions is exactly that: a lack not just of humanity, but of any comprehensible substance at all.
Anyway, while this book kind of sucks as biography, it's good as a highly thorough political history of Cambodia in the second half of the twentieth century. I thought Short had a "just the facts ma'am" approach that worked well for this material. He assumes that his readers have some familiarity with accounts of Cambodians' suffering under the Khmer Rouge so doesn't dwell too much on cataloging these and highlighting the horrors, instead reporting them within the context of everything else. I felt he did a good job throughout of contrasting the excesses of the Khmer Rouge to those of other regimes and noting in which ways they did or did not surpass what has occurred elsewhere. He also seemed to be fairly even-handed in his evaluation of all involved parties, including the United States, leaving the reader feeling justifiably bleak and shitty about basically everyone in the world.
The most depressing -- though, I suppose, unsurprising -- thing about this book was learning about how while the Khmer Rouge's reign in the late seventies was particularly horrific in scope and degree, life and politics in Cambodia weren't that great either before, or since.
To be honest, this was not the breeziest or most fun summer read. Just between the two of us, this book was kind of a downer....more
I FOUND THIS TODAY AT THE ALBANY, CA LIBRARY BOOK SALE! Amazing! They didn't have the first, or the second, but THIS ONE, the third, a gorgeous hardcoI FOUND THIS TODAY AT THE ALBANY, CA LIBRARY BOOK SALE! Amazing! They didn't have the first, or the second, but THIS ONE, the third, a gorgeous hardcover in perfect condition and only $1!
THIS IS THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME SINCE I FOUND THE THIRD VOLUME OF PROUST RIGHT AFTER FINISHING THE SECOND AT THE LIBRARY BOOK SALE IN WOODSTOCK, NY IN 2009. This is so miraculous and wonderful that I actually feel dizzy! It's enough to make a girl get religion....more
I really wish the cover to this book were up here; I can't find it anywhere online. It's black with yellow writing, and shows three women standing inI really wish the cover to this book were up here; I can't find it anywhere online. It's black with yellow writing, and shows three women standing in the darkness, two in chador and one unveiled, all three in gigantic 1982-style sunglasses.
So far a really fascinating and helpful book that conveys a sense of what was happening to women's status in revolutionary Iran. It includes articles by leftist, feminist Iranian women (who are understandably freaking out), excerpts from primary documents (such as the new constitution, and comments from Khomeini, Bani Sadr, and Taleghani on the question of the veil and women's rights), and a list of women's organizations in Iran....more
Turns out being kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists can make you get Jesus... Who knew?
If you're not SUPER Christian, you can probably live without atTurns out being kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists can make you get Jesus... Who knew?
If you're not SUPER Christian, you can probably live without at least 70% of this book. There are some great descriptions of being held hostage, especially earlier on, but the Jesus and home ec details get a little intense. I really liked hearing her take on the young female guards, sort of wish there'd been more of that and fewer hymns, but what can ya do... Koob does seem like a nice, sweet lady, and she does convey a sense of the hostage experience.
To me this book is an interesting illustration of what is good and what's bad about religion. On the one hand, her faith clearly helped Koob immeasurably in getting through her ordeal, and preserving a seemingly upbeat and admirable attitude throughout. On the other hand, religious faith is also much of what created that mess in the first place, and it's also what makes this book something of a slog for the heathens among us. Most of the good parts are repeated elsewhere in more secular accounts, so unless you're specifically after an inspirational religious captivity narrative you might as well just stick with those....more
Liked the parts I read, hope to come back later and read more of it. Published in 2001 and so I imagine a lot of the western ad stuff has changed a biLiked the parts I read, hope to come back later and read more of it. Published in 2001 and so I imagine a lot of the western ad stuff has changed a bit since then....more
I skimmed around and only read parts of it. Seems pretty solid, if overflowing with Shakespearean analogy and allusions. I picture Dr. Milani smokingI skimmed around and only read parts of it. Seems pretty solid, if overflowing with Shakespearean analogy and allusions. I picture Dr. Milani smoking a pipe, dressed in tweed and arm patches, reclining in a vast study decorated with beautiful Persian rugs and a handcarved bust of the Bard. However, Wikipedia tells me he graduated from Oakland Tech, which does give him some street cred... as does, I suppose, having been jailed under the Shah for teaching Marxism, then barred from publishing or teaching after the Revolution. Okay, the guy's a badass, and if I had time I'd actually sit down and read his book. It's got a good narrative flow, moving along at a decent clip, and despite some amusing professorial lines in places doesn't appear to get dull. Milani is more down on Mossadeq than most other guys that I've read, and has a more complex and ambiguous take on the CIA-driven coup. I couldn't find anything specifically about the stewardesses, but there's enough salacious gossip to balance out all the political stuff.
I certainly have no grasp on Iranian history or politics, but one thing this book drove home is that being the Shah seriously sounds like it sucked. I don't just mean later, but from very early on: man, what a miserable life. I am definitely not raising my kid as a monarch, there is just no way that lifestyle will not screw you up....more
This is not a good book. Ebtekar comes off pretty much as described in other sources -- a humorless true believer, tiresome and gratingly one-note asThis is not a good book. Ebtekar comes off pretty much as described in other sources -- a humorless true believer, tiresome and gratingly one-note as most extremely political and religious people are. This is more political tract than a participant's account of the Embassy takeover, and moreover it is a badly written one. I'm not sure why that should be, as Ebtekar didn't write the book herself: it's an "as told to" by a journalist named Fred Reed, and so I can't figure out how stuff like this ended up in here: "[In his memoirs hostage Rocky Sickman] comments on the friendly relations that developed between many of the hostages and the students, which gave the lie to the propaganda then circling the globe. Of that label used to malign Swedish humanitarianism, the 'Stockholm Syndrome,' not a trace was to be found" (p. 144). Uh... what? What does that even mean??? There is quite a bit of weird stuff like that in this book, bizarre comments and odd diction that can't be explained away as language barrier issues, as Ebtekar speaks fluent English and presumably Fred Reed does too.
Okay, but that being said, despite its not being good, I still found this book useful. Ebtekar does seem like an unlikeable ideologue, but she is no dummy, and there are admirable things about her: she is certainly intelligent and courageous. One thing that was interesting to me in reading other hostage crisis accounts was how Ebtekar is inevitably portrayed in them as a chubby, ugly, and unpleasant woman -- in other words, she's insulted not just for her role as a fundamentalist spokesperson for the hostage takers, but for not being sexually attractive. (One source cited by David Harris memorably describes her as "a dour young woman with a horsey face that looked out from under a homely scarf [with a] miserable rabbit-like demeanor" -- mixed animal metaphors I can't recall being applied to male hostage takers.) Although Ebtekar doesn't address this in her book, I think it supports her criticism of women's position in the secular west. To her credit, she doesn't try to pretend that her own culture isn't also demeaning to women, but she feels that Islam itself is not, and argues that it is vastly preferable to western-style feminism.
One thing this book really emphasized is how the students were kids. Unlike American sources who highlight their ignorance and perceived ineptitude, what Ebketar got across most was their somewhat naive idealism. While acknowledging that they were in many ways in over their heads, she has done the math, decades later, on what the students did, and concludes that it was a good thing. Without agreeing with her, I will admit that I can see her point of view, and what was good about this book was that it showed me the students' perspective in a way that I haven't seen in the American-penned accounts I've been reading. I can't really recommend this book, but I guess I'm glad that I read it....more
So I started this ages ago, but I must not have been that into it at the time because I put it down in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and didnSo I started this ages ago, but I must not have been that into it at the time because I put it down in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't pick it up again for an entire year. The problem I'd been having was the one I'd had with other books in the series, which is that while I adore Robert Caro's work and am enthralled by all his descriptions of the intricate and shocking machinations of government, I find Lyndon Baines Johnson, as a person, extraordinarily dull. So for the first big chunk of this book I'd often wake with a start to find I'd dozed off with drool all over my sweater and had only been roused again to consciousness by the appearance of one or another glamorous Kennedy.
This was pretty much the same problem LBJ had throughout his agonizingly demeaning vice presidency, so it makes sense that it'd be replicated here. Fortunately -- well, fortunate for the bored reader, anyway -- the narrative picks up a bit on November 22, 1963 when (spoiler alert!) Johnson's boss makes a dramatic exit and our plucky understudy is thrust onto stage in the starring role for which he's been yearning all his days.
This part of the story is just like that magic makeover moment in all those eighties movies we loved as girls, where the weird nerdy wallflower takes off her glasses and straightens her hair and is outfitted by some fairy-godmother-like figure in a jaunty montage set to the decade's most fabulously craptastic catchy pop song. Johnson's ascension to the presidency is his time to shine, and shine shine shine shine he certainly does!
Caro claims he found no evidence that Johnson was behind JFK's assassination, but if LBJ didn't directly cause JFK's death it's certainly not from lack of hoping (I noticed Caro did not say he'd ruled out a role in RFK's death; guess I'll have to wait for the next one to hear more about that). The pre-assassination dynamics between the Kennedys and Johnson might seem Shakespearian to a well-read and educated person, but my reference point for them really was movies about cruel teenage girls. Basically the Kennedys are the Heathers or are straight out of Mean Girls, and poor LBJ's the awkward dork they tease mercilessly up until the day that the tables turn and he gets to steal their boyfriend/humiliate them in the cafeteria/watch them choke to death on a glass of Drano. I am too young and too stupid to know anything about Bobby Kennedy beyond how terrific my mother thought he was, and the descriptions of his vicious feud with LBJ trumps any gossip magazine or soap opera catfight by a million. Boy, those guys did NOT like each other! Also, I never had any idea before I read this how much being the vice president sucks. I mean, I think I myself might actually enjoy it, since I am very lazy and fear responsibility, unless something terrible happened to the president and then I and everyone else would truly be screwed.
As usual, I digress. Also as usual, Caro is at his best in describing what should be skull-numbingly boring political processes. I, like many other Americans, have a pathetically limited understanding of how politics and the government work, and Caro not only helps make up for all the civics classes I somehow never took but also does a fantastic job of narrating it like it's gripping bloodsport. This stuff is just so great! As I said before, I find LBJ very dull as a person, but when he's doing what he's great at -- brilliant and ruthless political maneuvering -- I just can't get enough. Caro's detailed explanations of how LBJ rammed his budget and civil rights legislation through by masterfully making Congress his bitch is so thrilling that I could read about it for hundreds and hundreds of pages... and oh hey, whadaya know, I just did!
If you haven't read all the hundreds of pages worth of LBJ books that Caro wrote before this one, don't worry; he will recap everything important that you missed, often multiple times and usually while quoting himself, which is certainly his prerogative because he's ROBERT FUCKING CARO. Man I love how GOOD these books are in exactly the same way that I love reading about how good LBJ was at getting bills through Congress. It makes me feel so much better about human beings, that everything and everyone is not just completely mediocre. Give me profoundly, horribly, chillingly flawed any day over just sorta okay, at least when it comes to books... maybe not presidents, but definitely biographies' subjects and authors. Not that Caro is flawed. He is perfect, if you like this kind of thing, as I do. For I value few things as much as a writer whose qualities include the rare ability to pierce through the dark clouds of my ignorance and regale me with the history about which I have understood so little, beginning all those many years ago in that liberal California university town where I grew up, a fierce desire for knowledge burning in my young breast as I determined to learn all the facts of history my absent father neglected to provide.
I'm very excited for the next volume so that I can find out what happens next to our hero. So far it seems like despite his demonstrated capacity for terrible mistakes, unbelievable hubris, appalling immorality and deceit and perhaps even evil, LBJ might make a pretty decent president! I have high hopes based on his determination to develop social programs and advance civil rights, though I am a bit worried about his capacity for making important foreign policy decisions. Nothing major yet, just stuff like political instability in some southeast Asian country that doesn't sound like such a big deal but I'm not sure how he'll handle that sort of thing. I'm sure it'll be fine. But until the next volume comes out, I will live in suspense!...more