Really enjoyed it. Very moving, very human, very sad. Lacking in pretense and presumption (a good thing), with some of the most authentic characters IReally enjoyed it. Very moving, very human, very sad. Lacking in pretense and presumption (a good thing), with some of the most authentic characters I've had the pleasure of knowing.
Upon finishing it, the book left me dejected. Then, reflecting, I came to feel that the work was, in fact, cautiously optimistic. Not a few hours later, I was again feeling pretty glum. I suspect this cycle will repeat itself for the better part of a month, until I read something else. ...more
The book's willing embrace of contradiction - faint hope despite complete bleakness; the necessary evils of survival challenging the characters' coreThe book's willing embrace of contradiction - faint hope despite complete bleakness; the necessary evils of survival challenging the characters' core goodness - makes it one of my favorite novels. McCarthy's characters tread on the detritus of humanity. Its relationships, its religion, its 'quaint concerns.' But the man persists. Society, propriety, decency is gone. But he desperately attempts to instill that same decency in the boy, despite committing indecent acts himself.
Such themes may seem like the heavily guarded territory of more pretentious authors. And they are. But that makes McCarthy's direct, simple and occasionally obvious approach to the subject matter all the more evocative. A Shakespeare play or two and a gloss-over of the Old Testament gives you enough literary background to appreciate his metaphors and images.
Contradiction, confusion. Such things are at the center of everyone's experience. Wrapped up in a dead world, all of humanity distilled to its basic essences. ...more
A more academic breed of pop psychology, the book kept my interest as I slogged through his arguments reminding me that cars turn people into caged baA more academic breed of pop psychology, the book kept my interest as I slogged through his arguments reminding me that cars turn people into caged baboons. ...more
3rd rate treatment of international trafficking. Stories pulled from the AP and major newspapers combined with undergraduate-level research on the Sta3rd rate treatment of international trafficking. Stories pulled from the AP and major newspapers combined with undergraduate-level research on the State Department's website. Also, the typeface is really annoying. ...more
A sprawling, fierce work of history, scholarship, and journalism. Markedly pessimistic in tone, Tim Weiner chronicles the often tragic history of AmerA sprawling, fierce work of history, scholarship, and journalism. Markedly pessimistic in tone, Tim Weiner chronicles the often tragic history of America's once revered intelligence service. What he finds is that the the CIA has failed in its fundamental mission – to gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence – for the better part of a century.
Weiner argues that the agency has suffered from and still suffers from several cancers. First is the propensity of its directors to bend to the political will of presidents and their underlings, an unfortunate tendency that culminated in the elimination of the position of Director of Central Intelligence under George W. Bush. Scant intelligence from the field was often parlayed into invincible evidence in intelligence reports for decision-makers, since that is often the only type of intelligence they would pay attention to. Reports that did not conform to a president's predetermined mindset, interests, or worldview were routinely discarded. The 'intelligence' was adjusted just to get the big boss' attention. There were precious few moments in the agency's history during which it reliably informed the president as to the goings-on in a particular part of the world.
Second is the CIA's demonstrated inability to collect good intelligence on America's friends and enemies, which are now and always have been numerous and ruthless. The agency totally fudged the call on several important events: the first Gulf War. India's nuke. The Bay of Pigs, part of a more elaborate attempt to dethrone Castro (JFK's mess, but an inherited one). It had close to no idea that Gorbachev was tearing the Soviet Union apart. The 1979 coup in Iran that deposed the CIA-installed and supported shah. Most recently, Sadaam's weapons and the ongoing insurgency. The CIA has had remarkable trouble recruiting reliable Arabic-speaking (and looking) sources to spy on the foreign governments that would most like us to sink into the ocean in much the same way that it found reliable Soviet sources difficult to come by. Weiner offers no prognostication to suggest that we are any safer now than we were under the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. If anything, the current time bodes for the worse: We cannot promise to destroy a terrorist cell in response to an attack. Our credibility in this regard has been savaged by the misguided and mishandled Iraq war.
Third is the string of poor leaders that have infected the CIA like viral bacterial over the years. First was Allen Dulles, an idiot that ruled over the CIA as it were is own personal fiefdom. A lover of covert action, he ceaselessly tried to overthrow governments using the money of the American people and the lives of others. He failed miserably every time. Eisenhower rightfully found him untrustworthy. From that point onward, the relationship between the CIA and and the White House was never fully repaired. There were others, some well-meaning idiots and some just plain idiots with a few bright ones here and there. Dave McCone, Richard Helms and George Tenet were all made some bad decisions but all wanted the best for the agency and for the United States. That none of them could really make the CIA all it could be is perhaps a testament to how broken its relationship with the executive branch was since its inception. The world's most effective intelligence services have their ruler's ear and trust. The CIA did not and does not. The end result of the efforts of its many leaders is a paralyzed relationship between the agency and the military – which, Weiner argues, would like nothing more than the agency's elimination – and civilian leadership in government.
My personal interpretation of the work is necessarily an analysis of the CIA's performance. Throughout its history, as Weiner shows, the agency devoted significant time, talent, and resources to the overthrow of leftist governments. These attempts resulted in either unmitigated failure (Cuba) or bloody success (Guatemaula). But the CIA failed to understand the unintended consequences these actions provoked. At the time they were seen as victories in the Cold War. But as Afghanistan now clearly demonstrates, many of them were pyrrhic victories. It's necessary to note that most covert actions the CIA undertakes are authorized by the president. JFK and his brother were particularly fond of using the CIA as a private paramilitary force, as were Nixon and Kissinger and LBJ. The Iran/contra scandal and hostage crisis says enough about how Reagan used and abused the agency.
I can't help but feel as though that the allure of covert action distracted the CIA and the presidents that used it from what should have been its fundamental mission: to steal secrets. The CIA's heavy hand, clearly visible is so many countries' internal affairs, clearly damaged the agency's espionage efforts. Spies need the to trust the people they're spying for. But who trusted the CIA? After all, they're just going to overthrow your government tomorrow. The CIA always walked thunderously and carried a big stick. That is not the role of an intelligence agency. Besides, the net effort of its covert efforts was rarely worth the price paid in dollars and in blood, as so many agency sources say in Weiner's brilliant book.
I do not believe the CIA is beyond repair, and indeed, I believe America needs a civilian intelligence service. Military intelligence services are useful for battle intelligence, but an independent, plainclothes intelligence service is best able to run foreign agents deliver unbiased intelligence information and analysis to the nation's decision-makers. It needs crafty spies and skeptical analysts. It still has the money and manpower to do its job: What it needs most is the trust of a president who understands that good intelligence is vital to good diplomacy.
Straighforward survey of Habsburg foreign policy in the 19th and early 20th century. Good portrait of Metternich and Francis Joseph. The author explaiStraighforward survey of Habsburg foreign policy in the 19th and early 20th century. Good portrait of Metternich and Francis Joseph. The author explains the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in terms relevant to modern day Europe. ...more
Sickening accounts of the expulsions of Germans from their ancestral lands in Eastern Europe during and following World War II.
Several dozen firsthanSickening accounts of the expulsions of Germans from their ancestral lands in Eastern Europe during and following World War II.
Several dozen firsthand accounts paint a picture of another holocaust: that of ethnic Germans who were deported, enslaved, raped and murdered by Russians, Czechs, Yugoslavs and Poles during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.
The first person account of Frau Neumann, who lived in a Prussian town in modern-day Kalingrad, is one of the most disturbing, hellish, and bestial things I've ever read, and one of the most profound.
The book also details Allied complicity in the expulsion of ethnic Germans from their homes and businesses. Millions of German people endured their own trail of tears - upon which several hundred thousand died - as they were deported to Germany from their ancient lands in Eastern Europe.
It's an unforgiving experience, reading account after account after account of such horrors. Disgusting....more
Interesting selection of medical anecdotes with some wonky commentary. Gawande waxes philosophic on the technological, scientific, and human elementsInteresting selection of medical anecdotes with some wonky commentary. Gawande waxes philosophic on the technological, scientific, and human elements of the health care industry. All well and good, but he totally neglects to address how politics and economics influence health care, and his commentary is as a whole pretty limited. A little more perspective would've done wonders, although what's there is pretty good. ...more
Great history of Ngo Dinh Diem and both Vietnam wars with a strong attention to detail and willingness to explore Vietnamese sources. Paints a portraiGreat history of Ngo Dinh Diem and both Vietnam wars with a strong attention to detail and willingness to explore Vietnamese sources. Paints a portrait of Diem was a tragic figure, doomed to fail because of his own shortcomings (and strengths) as a leader, the position in which the American posture in Vietnam placed him, and ultimately, history itself. I doubt there exists a better book on Diem, or even the origins of the Vietnam War. ...more
Really enjoyed it. McCandless had in him an exceptionally large dose of the passions that at one point or another consume most young men, if only forReally enjoyed it. McCandless had in him an exceptionally large dose of the passions that at one point or another consume most young men, if only for a brief period. His strong distaste, bordering on hatred, of modern American life, with all its easy pleasures is idealistic rebellion at its purest.
While he chose nature has his release from the artificial trappings that he rejected, I think many men, myself included, share or at least empathize with his idealism. In my frequent solitude, I've often considered the arbitrary, temporary comforts that material things bring and the silly, meaningless routines that working adults follow until dying in a much less poetic manner than McCandless (or any other adventurer).
Most men - most people - don't try to understand or transcend the more humdrum aspects of daily life and live out a philosophy or ideal like McCandless. His case is exceptionally rare, especially in a time where the course of one's life - especially a youth's life - is supposed to be predictable. Birth. High school (preferably a private one). College (preferably a 'nice' one). Job for 35 years. Retire. Take a cruise. Die. But McCandless' journey was extreme by any measure.
I think people can find some kind of basic, almost primal pleasure in whatever they choose to do. For Buddhist monks, this could be as simple as sweeping the monastery floor. For disaffected college-aged adults, this could be as (comparatively) complex as an hour in the batting cages or even a game of catch. And here, I am speaking specifically of the satisfying the yearning that McCandless felt so strongly - the complete detachment from the forms that govern life that results not from the dissection of the routine and quotidian, but from a more simple, subtle satisfaction that continually eluded him. He felt his yearning was satisfied in the Alaskan wilderness. And there is certainly something special about the Alaskan wilderness, but the feeling he was after is universal, I am sure of it. A euphoric escape from the banalities of existence and the inevitable frustrations those banalities bring - bills, the mortgage, and so forth. Something altogether rapturous. McCandless wanted the rapture to last forever, but by the end of his story (and the end of his life) I think he had recognized that moment could never be realized forever. Perhaps he had stumbled onto the sublime: that feeling is temporary, not permanent, and cannot be realized emotionally or existentially, but must be incorporated into one's very being, into one's intellect. I think that's why he left the bus.
Intelligent people (like McCandless and Krakauer) eventually make peace - or at least a ceasefire - with society, with the system. Some embrace it, chasing ideals or material pleasure or self-satisfaction or to kill off their personal demons. McCandless' rebellion was a fierce one, but ultimately, he made his peace. What he would've done to sustain that peace is anybody's guess. But his peace, and the peace of many others like him, is an uneasy one. Predictably, I'm predisposed to play the role of the armchair historian. And so I can't help but ask myself if the methods by which we organize the society we live in are not at the root of the matter, and more importantly, how many more McCandlesses are there? How many more souls will the system alienate and eventually destroy? Could a pragmatist, a realist working within the system and relishing every minute of it convince me his beliefs were honest? I don't know anymore. I'm really not questioning whether or not our society can sustain itself. To me, it's obvious that the system works. But assuming that McCandless' frustrations are either irrelevant or obscure is to misunderstand what it's like to be an American, and even a human. ...more
An enjoyable read. McEwan is very, very good at describing the feelings and attitudes of Perowne, and by extension, a lot of people. At times - specifAn enjoyable read. McEwan is very, very good at describing the feelings and attitudes of Perowne, and by extension, a lot of people. At times - specifically, the squash game and the first encounter with Baxter - you feel totally immersed.
At some point, though, I started to feel detached, and more cognizant of the fact that I was reading the book. In particular, I felt as though Daisy's character was a bit forced, as if she existed solely for McEwan to comment on literature and serve as the surgeon's intellectual foil. Yet, McEwan's ability to create emotionally and factually convincing emotions, personalities and situations is impressive. I liked it. ...more
Revealing look at the decline of the CIA in the 80s and 90s through the eyes of an old-school operations officer, Bob Baer.
Baer argues - largely throRevealing look at the decline of the CIA in the 80s and 90s through the eyes of an old-school operations officer, Bob Baer.
Baer argues - largely through firsthand experience - that the CIA, in the simplest terms possible, bowed to political pressure of all sorts, sent idiots overseas to collect intelligence, and basically forgot what its job was and how to do it. After the Cold War, the CIA - and thus, the US - has virtually no idea what was going on in the world. This almost complete lack of any data as to what kind of organizations were shaping themselves in the mid 90s allowed the anti-US terrorist movement(s) to put themselves together virtually unhindered.
Baer goes on to talk about 9/11, including his theory behind it (Iran and perhaps Palestine may share some responsibility), and George Tenet's efforts to rebuild the shattered institution to its former capabilities. He also talks about Iraq, and shares the opinion of just about every ex-government official who has commented on it to some extent: "That was stupid." From the point of view of an intelligence officer, his criticisms are damning.
A weird book. I wasn't sure if he was making up half of the stuff he did, but his moral outrage sure seems manufactured, given how he spent 20 years aA weird book. I wasn't sure if he was making up half of the stuff he did, but his moral outrage sure seems manufactured, given how he spent 20 years at a consulting firm making millions. ...more