Kudos to Ricks for once again writing a masterful account of the now latter half of the American War in Iraq. This book, in sharp contrast to Fiasco,...moreKudos to Ricks for once again writing a masterful account of the now latter half of the American War in Iraq. This book, in sharp contrast to Fiasco, is a portrait of hypercompetence and thoughtful decision-making, whereas Ricks portrayed the first half of the war as a disaster of incompetence and intellectual arrogance.
Interestingly, one of the examples of arrogance and stubbornness in Fiasco, General Ray Odierno of the Fourth Infantry Division who implemented heavy-handed policies against insurgencies as well as the local populace, is no presented as a convert to the counter-insurgency school within the US army alongside David Patraeus. Perhaps the best part of this book is the portrayal of the colorful military personalities who make up the major cast of the turnaround that is the surge. The triumvirate who drove forward the surge was Patraeus, perhaps the most directly responsible for the initiative and definitely the most responsible for its execution, Odierno, who was critical to the new doctrine's uniform acceptance within the army and also its execution, and retired General Jack Keane, who as the former mentor of both Odierno and Patraeus, helped to maneuver the two into positions of command, and pulls much of the strings behind the scene to turn around US strategy in Iraq.
Keane, the devoted soldier who broke precedence by actively influencing military strategy and policy by giving the White House advice bypassing the Joint Chiefs, fits the mold as the insightful, self-starting, devoted public servant. Odierno also provides a riveting portrait of a soldier going down the wrong strategic path, but was humble and wise enough to turn 180 degrees towards the right direction. Lastly, Patraeus is the centerpiece of the book. He is the consummate soldier but also the consummate intellectual. With just the right about of arrogance/confidence, he was the perfect man to implement a good plan in a difficult climate both politically (in the US and Iraq) and militarily with extreme levels of insurgent violence.
Ricks weaves a masterful narrative about how these three men along with others in the military and political spaces, managed to regain the strategic initiative in what looked to be America's second Vietnam, and it proved to be a very compelling story.(less)
Diamond's thesis is that the recent geopolitical dominance of Europe, especially over Africa and the Ame...moreGreat book for anthropology and history buffs.
Diamond's thesis is that the recent geopolitical dominance of Europe, especially over Africa and the Americas, is not due to any genetic predisposition or superiority of European population but rather due to environmental factors which contributed to different developments of civilizations in each places.
Diamond presents fairly compelling evidence that points to differences in food production leading to the major differences in the development of advanced political organization, languages, and technology in each society. He argues that the avaiability of domesticatable animals and plants were the biggest factors. Eurasia had them in abundance whereas other continents did not (for the Americas and other continents where humans arrived later, often the newcomer kill off all the megafauna who have not had time to coevolve with humans to develop a flee-humans instinct). Also other factors like the long east-west axis of Eurasia contributed to quicker spread of domesticated crops, animals, and technology (whereas in contrast in the Americas for example, changing climates in the major north-south axis as well as geographical barriers slowed down this spread significantly). Finally, earlier and greater domestication of animals in Eurasia led to greater coevolution with animal-origin diseases in Eurasian populations.
Diamond argues finally that these ultimate factors let to the proximate factors of guns, germs, and steel that led to the lopsided conquest of the Americas.
Diamond's prose is very accessible. He is great at reiterating and making good examples for his major points. However as he himself acknowledges he tackles a topic that is much too big for one book, and his thesis is still closer to an educated guess than an informed theory in spite of the compelling logic and evidence. Definitely recommended!(less)