The defining work on the El Mozote massacre, Danner's work is carefully and precisely argued and presented. It's hard to defend the actions of the SalThe defining work on the El Mozote massacre, Danner's work is carefully and precisely argued and presented. It's hard to defend the actions of the Salvadoran military at El Mozote, but Danner maintains his credibility by at least acknowledging that the reason behind the massacre -- scaring the campesions countrywide into staying away from the guerillas -- is rational, though barbaric and inhuman. In contrast, the Reagan administration's seemingly willful ignorance of the facts of the massacre is harder to defend, but Danner's tone nevertheless remains fact- and evidence-based as he examines the US government's version of the event. In sum, this one of those difficult-to-read must-reads, deeply unpleasant in its careful presentation of an awful chapter in the annals of humanity....more
I needed to bone up on modern Central American history, so someone recommended this book. It's actually not that great for boning up on Central AmericI needed to bone up on modern Central American history, so someone recommended this book. It's actually not that great for boning up on Central America as a whole, but pretty good for the Nicaragua and El Salvador of the 1980s, and also for learning all the failings of the Reagan administration. And that's probably the main reason this book is only three stars: it's just too one-sided and biased. It would be interesting to follow this book with a view of the same time period written by an ideological Reganite.
That said, Leogrande makes his case well. Reagan's dogged insistence of getting his way led him and his cronies to run roughshod over the Constitution, and it's ironic but not surprising to hear today's Republicans self-righteously level the same criticism at their liberal opponents. For, at the root of Leogrande's work is the unspoken reality that Reagan's willful circumnavigation of the law is par for the course for the American executive branch. Reagan was not the first, nor will Obama be the last. That's the chilling takeaway from this book....more
Owen's perspective as an international relations scholar is refreshing as he weighs in on political Islam, a topic analyzed ad nauseum by Arabists andOwen's perspective as an international relations scholar is refreshing as he weighs in on political Islam, a topic analyzed ad nauseum by Arabists and Middle East hands. His insights are prescient, timely, and well-argued. But best of all, as a reader I came away with a deepened understanding of critical periods of unrest in the Western world -- to include the Catholic-Protestant wars and monarchy versus constitutionalism of the 19th century -- that, as a Middle Eastern issues aficionado, I'd not learned about before. In sum, Owen avoids the weeds of the political Islam debate while contributing a fresh, high-level perspective and reasonable recommendations for policymakers. Five stars....more
In brief, The Sabbath World is a beautiful, even inspiring book that wanders a bit too much for the intent reader to latch on to very many meaningfulIn brief, The Sabbath World is a beautiful, even inspiring book that wanders a bit too much for the intent reader to latch on to very many meaningful takeaways. That said, the book is what Shulevitz promises in her introduction -- a personal examination of the meaning and relevance of the Sabbath to the contemporary, largely secular Western world -- so it's hard to dock her too much for ably and enchantingly delivering what she says she'll deliver.
All of this is not to say that Shulevitz produced a tangle of only marginally related material; on the contrary, The Sabbath World has a certain flow, with Shulevitz's personal experiences sprinkled among brief historical narratives and quoted musings of philosophers and theologians. But I suppose I prefer a bit more of a chronological or thematic rhythm, and The Sabbath World lacks that.
Nevertheless, I'd recommend The Sabbath World to virtually anyone, from thoughtful atheists to Jews rediscovering their traditions to fervant Christians to philosophy lovers. It's a good read....more
In a clear, flowing, and persuasive manner, Glennon compellingly transposes Walter Bagehot's 19th century theory of a second UK government, "hidden" bIn a clear, flowing, and persuasive manner, Glennon compellingly transposes Walter Bagehot's 19th century theory of a second UK government, "hidden" behind the monarchy and House of Lord's, that actually ran the empire to the contemporary American context. On the level of mechanics, "National Security and Double Government" is a joy to read. Glennon's arguments are concise, logically formulated, and convincingly stated.
On a substantive level, it's hard to argue with Glennon's hypothesis, though the reader would do well to remember that Glennon limits his thesis to the US national security apparatus -- it is tempting to unwittingly extend his ideas to the US government as a whole, but Glennon limits his scope to national security matters. The ills that "Double Government" identifies should be familiar and manifest to even the casual observer of US foreign policy. Glennon's arguments have a suprisingly non-partisan ring to them -- he roots his positions and prescriptions primarily in classical republicanism, or the concept of government controlled by a populace exercising civic virtue.
Consequently, his prognosis for the country's foreign policy-making is bleak, as should be expected, seeing as how his careful deconstruction of its problems leaves little room for optimism. Essentially, he argues, the cure for malfunctioning Madisonian institutions is a reinvigoration of civic virtue, which was John Madison's prerequisite for a proper balance of powers (in Glennon's view, this balance has been upset by the rise of an unelected and unaccountable cadre of high-level technocrats that actually conducts foreign policy). However, Glennon finishes, an overly-intrusive government that tries to instill civic virtue must insist that worsening the problem (becoming more intrusive) will ultimately solve the problem (by instilling more civic virtue).
In short, "Double Government" is a critical -- and enjoyable -- read for any student of foreign policy formation....more
This book is the key to understanding contemporary Saudi Arabia. Academic treatises or journalistic pieces on Saudi's history or politics, the economiThis book is the key to understanding contemporary Saudi Arabia. Academic treatises or journalistic pieces on Saudi's history or politics, the economics of oil or royal family dynamics are all empty without the fundamentals of the country's religious dynamic. And the religious landscape of Saudi Arabia cannot be understood without a solid account of foreign elements, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, that Lacroix presents here.
Exhaustively researched, solidly written, and convincingly argued, Awakening Islam shows us how the 1979 Grand Mosque siege came about, where the Saudi jihadists in Afghanistan and, later, in the Kingdom itself, came from, and why the brief Sahwa Awakening of the early- to mid-1990s ultimately failed. Having spent a couple years living in the Kingdom, as well as several additional years covering Saudi issues, I only wish I had this information and analysis at my disposal years ago. After reading Awakening Islam, the Kingdom makes immensely more sense than it did before. That's the sign of a great book....more
Pierret does a really good job of not trying to do too much with this work. The reader gets what the title offers: a survey of the Syrian ulama, primaPierret does a really good job of not trying to do too much with this work. The reader gets what the title offers: a survey of the Syrian ulama, primarily in the post-colonial era. Reading this book on the heels of "Ashes of Hama," by Raphael Lefevre, throws into relief the divide between politically-minded Salafis (notably the Muslim Brotherhood) and religiously-oriented scholars in Syria. Pierret deftly avoids oversimplifying the two trends by demonstrating where their interests -- and membership -- overlap, but also outlining their starkly different interests and tactics in dealing with the Syrian state apparatus.
Events have moved too quickly on the ground for this book to treat the current jihadist movements infecting Syria, but Pierret's analysis up to about early- to mid-2012 is very good. My only gripe is that readers are left drowning in the names of dozens upon dozens of Syrian ulama from the late-1800s up through the early 21st century. Obviously, a book about ulama is going to have to include names -- I just felt like there were pages here and there devoted almost entirely to laundry lists of scholars. It got a little tedious. But this is a small complaint in what is overall an extremely rich, nuanced, balanced, unique, and well-articulated treatise on the conservative religious scholars of Syria....more
The Unwinding is a real breath of fresh air in the "what's wrong with America" genre. I've heard complaints that Packer fails to provide any analysis,The Unwinding is a real breath of fresh air in the "what's wrong with America" genre. I've heard complaints that Packer fails to provide any analysis, declines to spell things out for his readers. But that's the point of The Unwinding -- we've read the whiners and the blowhards and we've drunk from their firehouses of hypotheses about how it's all this party's or that party's fault. Packer's work is amazing largely because he doesn't tell us what to think. He employs a device of fiction writers in this work of non-fiction: making points without explicitly making points. And it works really well here. Upon finishing we're left with a bizarre mixture of depression and possibility, and the amount of each sensation depends on the reader. The Unwinding is going to say something a little different to each reader, and I think that's the mark of a beautiful book....more
I thought Dunn presented excellent character sketches of these two queens -- Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots. She persuasively and verI thought Dunn presented excellent character sketches of these two queens -- Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots. She persuasively and very effectively showed the virtues and vices of each woman, Elizabeth's imperious indecisiveness along with her incredible ability to connect emotionally and intimately with her people, Mary's legendary charm, courage, and physical capacities along with her impulsive passion and manic moodswings that led to disasterous decision-making. Dunn casts Elizabeth as a proto feminist, which I think reflects more on Dunn's persuasions than the reality of Elizabeth's sixteenth centry thinking, and I found that feminist thread to be a little forced.
But what really brought this book down from great to merely good was the messy narrative flow. Dunn warns us early on that she does not intend to follow a strictly chronological order of presentation, and while I appreciated the heads-up, the storytelling element that could have really threaded this work together was weakened. Readers lacking prior knowledge of the main events of the era (such as me) are left scratching their heads as Dunn glosses over seemingly critical events (the Babington rebellion is one that Dunn gave short shrift). Moreover, the jumping about into the future then into the past and back again made it difficult to piece the story together. And finally, Dunn blazed through the years of Mary's imprisonment in England, after having lingered so long on each of the preceeding 15 years, and I found this sudden jump to warp speed to be discombobulating. And then, the book just ended abruptly, having set up the scene of the Spanish Armada's defeat in 1589 and then dealt with the event in two or three confusing paragraphs. It all kind of left me with a poor taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate because I think this is probably a better book than I think it is. It just left me confused....more
Nyeh. This book is part of a series intended to introduce readers/listeners to certain areas of the world. Knowing little to nothing about Central AmeNyeh. This book is part of a series intended to introduce readers/listeners to certain areas of the world. Knowing little to nothing about Central America, I found that I learned the general arc of Central American history. That's about it. I listened to this on my iPod -- the people they brought in to voice quoted individuals were pretty awkward. I also found this book to be pretty blatantly anti-American. I mean, the United States didn't do much to avoid being the villain in Central America, but still a little more balance would've been welcome. ...more
Few author's are quite as good as saying so much with so little as Robinson.Lila gets at the core of existence and beauty and happiness by employing tFew author's are quite as good as saying so much with so little as Robinson.Lila gets at the core of existence and beauty and happiness by employing the simple wisdom and common sense of a simple woman. Anyone seeking to make some sense of the world or life might enjoy Robinson's chronicle of the life of a drifter-turned-preacher's-wife. ...more
Republic of Pirates doesn't pull out a lot of surprises. It's a book about pirates. They rob, plunder, and steal. They maroon the captains and crews oRepublic of Pirates doesn't pull out a lot of surprises. It's a book about pirates. They rob, plunder, and steal. They maroon the captains and crews of ships they take. They doublecross one another. They terrorize law-abiding merchants. They fight over booty. It's all pretty awesome.
What Woodard does particularly well in this volume is place the golden age of piracy in historical context. We gain an appreciation for some of the motives that turned seaman to piracy -- truly ghastly treatment by captains of English navy and merchant vessels, Jacobite sympathies, a hunger for adventure, a hunger for money. But all in all I came away with at least the broad understanding that pirates of the late-seventeeth and early-eighteenth centuries weren't all just toothless guys out to shiver their timbers. Some left relatively elite social positions to join the pirates for ideological reasons. In sum, the golden age of pirates has been commoditized and dumbed down throughout the decades and centuries, and Woodard's stab at providing a little bit of historical accuracy is both welcome and quite effective....more
Turner pulls off a tough task with Pioneer Prophet: producing a fair portrayal of Brigham Young. Young is polarizing, both outside and inside the MormTurner pulls off a tough task with Pioneer Prophet: producing a fair portrayal of Brigham Young. Young is polarizing, both outside and inside the Mormon community, and it can be hard to beat aside all of the polemics to get to the heart of the story. Turner succeeds at that. He regularly steps back to place Young in the context of the 19th century American frontier, pointing out that, sure, Brigham Young had such-and-such an attitude or did such and such a thing that is completely unacceptable to 21st century sensibilities, but what he said or did wasn't all that uncommon among white religious guys in the 1840s or 1850s on the edge of American civilization. Conversely, Turner also socks it to Young when Young has it coming, pointing out that, yes, although white religious guys in the mid-19th century typically behaved in such-and-such way, Brigham Young took it beyond what was normal at the time.
Turner doesn't editorialize, and although that is the book's virtue, it's also it's only small shortcoming. Pioneer Prophet is interesting and fair, but just a tad lifeless. I think I prefer the fair, balanced, and probably pretty accurate portrayal of Young to an intimate portrait, which would undoubtedly have to skew one way or the other in order to add life to the prose, but I still missed the color that Turner's work failed to provide....more
This is a better-than-average three stars. My biggest beef is that Frank doesn't really give us any solutions -- he kind of just spends the whole bookThis is a better-than-average three stars. My biggest beef is that Frank doesn't really give us any solutions -- he kind of just spends the whole book ranting about conservatives the way that he complains that they rant about liberals. I tend to agree with most of what he thinks, but I think Frank undersells his intelligence and insight by wasting his prose on sneering at the right instead of being thoughtful, which, judging by the few sunbreaks of political prescience he provides, he is quite capable of being. It's telling that the continued rise of the angry right, culminating in the Tea Party movement, is just about what Franks predicted a decade ago. He knows what he's talking about; I just think he has a lot more ideas about what the left needs to do to get back to its progressive roots than he lets on here....more