Saturday, February 12. 2011
Second batch following the one I posted on Thursday -- thought I'd get this out Friday but events intervened, and even now I'm running late and will cut this short. Don't have enough right now for a third installment, but it shouldn't be long coming.
Peter L Bergen: The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011, Free Press): Bergen's big claim to fame was personally interviewing Osama Bin Laden, which is probably why he keeps his focus on the prime suspect, even though the US military often gets sidetracked wiping out wedding parties. Also refusing to let dead dogs lie is Michael Scheuer, the former analyst of the CIA's Al-Qaeda unit, who must feel as intimately connected to Bin Laden as Bergen does, because he's written yet another book on the subject, this one titled Osama Bin Laden (2011, Oxford University Press).
Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, not a big fan of the neoliberal Washington Consensus prescription, which he's described as Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism -- I've read the latter and think it's a pretty fair summary.
Avner Cohen: The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb (2010, Columbia University Press): Previously wrote Israel and the Bomb in 1998, one of a number of books on Israel's nuclear program, evidently one of the more authoritative ones. I would expect this one to focus more on politics of deniability or ambiguity, whatever they call it, which mostly seems to be a concession to the US desire to insist on non-proliferation everywhere except Israel.
Robert Dallek: The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953 (2010, Harper): A revised look at history from Roosevelt's death to Stalin's death, a period that in the first four years moved from the grand alliance that utterly defeated fascism to a class war that split the world, polarized further in the second four years. You can slice this up various ways, but Truman -- savvy about domestic politics; naive, unimaginative, and reactive in foreign affairs -- had a great deal to do with the polarization that has ever since pushed us into war, inequality, and injustice.
Rochelle Davis: Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (paperback, 2010, Stanford University Press): Some 400 of those villages were snatched by Israel in the 1948 war, their occupants driven into exile, in most cases the vacant villages erased, so this book at least starts to return them to history.
Philip Dray: There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America (2010, Doubleday): Goes back to the early 19th century textile mills, plenty to write about, hefty at 784 pp but still necessarily brief -- e.g., shorter than EP Thompson's landmark The Making of the English Working Class. Probably useful, both to help labor find its bearings and to recognize where and when the wheels fell off.
Susan Dunn: Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2010, Harvard University Press): Roosevelt had huge Democratic majorities in Congress, but many of those Democrats were old-fashioned conservatives -- some old-fashioned in the sense of pining for the days of slavery. This digs up the story of how FDR backed some liberal Democrats in primaries against his conservative Democratic opponents in 1938 -- "the purge" was how the opponents successfully presented the events.
Barry Eichengreen: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System (2011, Oxford University Press): Probably an important book. Eichengreen has staked out the international monetary system as his specialty, and the dollar is still the big kahuna there, just not one whose virtues are especially appreciated these days. Flaunting its status as the world's reserve currency, the US has been able to run trade deficits and float debt to an extraordinary degree. That's certainly been an exorbitant privilege for someone, and I'd like to know who.
Laila El-Haddad: Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between (paperback, 2010, Just World Books): The first release on blogger Helena Cobban's book imprint picks up the story of a blogger in Gaza, covering everyday life under unusual duress, including the occasional Israeli terror bombing. Also on the same imprint: Chas Freeman: America's Misadventures in the Middle East, Joshua Foust: Afghanistan Journal: Selections From Registan.net, Reidar Visser: A Responsible End? The United States and the Iraqi Transition, 2005-2010
Evan DG Fraser/Andrew Rimas: Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (2010, Free Press): The old adage is that an army travels on its stomach, so an analogy might be that empires rise and fall on their ability to feed themselves. Touches on Mesopotamia, China, medieval Europe, Malthus and all that. The authors previously wrote Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World (2008, William Morrow), the credits listing Rimas first there.
Martin Gilbert: In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (2010, Yale University Press): Churchill biographer, Israel-friendly, combined those biases to write Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, which wasn't exactly true even if you think Churchill's Zionism was good for the Jews. There are numerous Israeli books that seek to hype up Islamic discrimination against Jews, both to give Mizrahi Jews a sense of historical oppression comparable to that of European Jews and to read the Israeli-Arab conflict back into the past. On the other hand, I don't get the sense that a contrary views, like Zachary Karabell's Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East (2007, Knopf), while more correct overall, glosses over a lot of dirt. Gilbert's book may be a useful historical corrective to both ends, although I suspect he has his own political ends.
Edward S Greenberg/Leon Grunberg/Sarah Moore/Patricia B Sikora: Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers (2010, Yale University Press): A subject long deserving attention: over the last decade, in particular, Boeing has been much more effective at wringing concessions from labor than in competing with Airbus, let alone in building planes. (Anyone seen a 787 Dreamliner lately?) The biggest symbol of this was when they moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so that managers would be further removed from workers, but there are plenty more examples. Although Boeing is nominally America's biggest exporting company, much of what they've exported recently has been jobs. No lobbyists worked harder than Boeings to grant China most favored nation trade favors, and Boeing is only nominally an aircraft company: their real "core competency" is pulling strings in Washington, even if sometimes they're inept enough to land their officials in jail.
SC Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quannah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History (2010, Scribners): Not sure if "powerful" is the right word, but the Comanches were relatively effective at putting up a guerrilla struggle against encroaching US settlers, and their story has been rehashed far less than the Custer debacle (Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn is the latest). Steven Walt recommended this book while thinking about the Taliban.
Bernard E Harcourt: The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (2011, Harvard University Press): If laissez-faire economics produces so much freedom, why do we have so many prisons? That's probably not the only question here. One of the preconcepts of laissez-faire is the idea that there is natural order that functions even in the absence of government regulation. Harcourt previously wrote Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in the Actuarial Age, and Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy.
Ruth Harris: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century (2010, Metropolitan Books): That would be the 19th century, although the 1895 L'affaire Dreyfus had profound implications for the 20th, including inspiring Theodor Herzl to come up with his program of colonialist Zionism, although France's ultimate rejection of the antisemitic attack on Alfred Dreyfus could have been developed in a wholly different direction. This looks to be the big (560 pp) book on a subject that has also been recently reviewed in Louis Begley: Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2009; paperback, 2010, Yale University Press), and Frederick Brown: For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus (2010, Knopf).
William Hartung: Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (2011, Nation Books): I'm more familiar with Boeing because Boeing is closer to home, but Lockheed Martin is an even bigger cog in the military-industrial complex, mostly because it's more purely military. First thing I did when I saw this was to look up my cousin (a former Lockheed VP) in the index, but he slipped by. Probably too much real dirt to report on. Hartung previously wrote How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy?: A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration.
Steve Hendricks: A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial (2010, WW Norton): The CIA kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan, in Italy, in 2003, and flew him to Egypt to be tortured. This was illegal, and Italian prosecutors investigated the case, eventually indicting a number of CIA operatives, and thereby exposing the entire covert operation. Some of this was previously covered in Stephen Grey's more general book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (2006).
Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Inovation (2010, Riverhead): Pop science/history writer, gets to dabble in a bit of everything here on the theory that there is something to "innovation" more general than the specific innovations. Has dabbled in neuroscience before -- first two books were Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2001) and Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (2004), and he's tried to argue that Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005).
John Keay: China: A History (2009, Basic Books): Big, broad history; big subject (642 pp). Keay previously wrote the similar India: A History (2000), which I had initially been interested in but mixed reviews dissuaded me. Both subcontinents are vast and important and, certainly for me and most likely for you, barely understood, so such books should be welcome, at least if they are well done.
James Ledbetter: Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D Eisenhower and the Military Industrial Complex (2011, Yale University Press): Fairly detailed account of Eisenhower's famous (and ultimately ineffective) farewell speech.
Derek Leebaert: Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy, From Korea to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Why do smart people wind up acting so stupidly when they enter America's foreign policy establishment? They believe in magic? "When we think magically, we conjure up beliefs that everyone wants to be like us, that America can accomplish anything out of sheer righteousness, and that our own wizardly policymakers will enable gigantic desires like "transforming the Middle East" to happen fast. Mantras of 'stability' or 'democracy' get substituted for reasoned reflection. Faith is placed in high-tech silver bullets, whether drones over Pakistan or helicopters in Vietnam." Leebaert previously wrote The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World, one of the few books that considers what the Cold War cost us.
Bethany McLean/Joe Nocera: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis (2010, Portfolio): Business writers finally weigh in. McLean wrote The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron. Hard to imagine how much of this was still hidden by the time this book came out.
Barbara Moran: The Day We Lost the H-Bomb: Cold War, Hot Nukes, and the Worst Nuclear Weapons Disaster in History (2010, Presidio Press): That would be 1966, when a USAF B-2 bomber crashed off the coast of Spain, losing four H-bombs.
Ian Morris: Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big (768 pp) book, claims to cover 50,000 years of history plus at least some slice of the future, puzzling out mankind's pecking order as if that's what the great game is all about.
Ilan Pappé: The Rise & Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis 1700-1948 (2010, University of California Press): The best known was Hajj Amin al-Husayni, appointed Mufti of Jerusalem by the British when they set up the future Jewish National Homeland. The Mufti later split from his British minders, led the 1937-39 revolt that resulted in Palestinian power being crushed, and fled to his notorious haven in Nazi Germany. The British, meanwhile, leaned toward the rival Nashbashibi family.
Ilan Pappé: Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): One of Israel's few historians specializing in the Palestinian side of the deal -- A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples is a book everyone cites, and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the best short book on the expulsions -- so he has a stake in academic freedom and no doubt too much experience with those who attack academics who question Israeli orthodoxy.
Christopher A Preble: The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (2009, Cornell University Press). Strikes me as completely right, although many will find the idea of dominance making our lives more risky to be counterintuitive. Author is a Cato Institute fellow, so he must really go to town on the latter two points.
Robert D Putnam/David E Campbell: American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010, Simon & Schuster): Putnam wrote one of the most famous sociological studies in recent times: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). Campbell has written Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life (2006) and A Matter of Faith: Religion and the 2004 Presidential Election (2007). Large (686 pp) survey of religion and politics in America, how they interact.
Gary Rivlin: Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business (2010, Harper Business): One of those subjects that makes you realize how contrary to common sense so-called free markets can be: those least able to afford things often have to pay more for less, while those dealing with them exact premium profits.
Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of Globalization (2011, WW Norton): Development economics, tends toward unorthodox views. Andrew Leonard is a fan; has already flagged several interesting findings, including that most countries that have opened their markets up to globalization have built up large governments for effective regulation and safety nets -- something the US has failed to do, which is largely my our experience with globalization has been so unfortunate.
Gideon Rose: How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle: A History of American Intervention From World War I to Afghanistan (2010, Simon & Schuster): Editor of Foreign Affairs, hopes to be helpful to future interventionists by pointing out the follies and foibles of past efforts to clean up past interventions (not that Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter Korea, are really in the past). Max Boot, who has argued that we don't need to plan how small wars should work out because we're generally pretty lucky with them anyway, likes this book.
Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Arabic-speaking American journalist, has spent time embedded with US military forces but has also worked far off the beaten path -- his 2006 book, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq was the first book to get a real sense of the anti-American revolt in Iraq. This picks up the story from then, covering the "surge" and the "awakening" movements in Iraq, and adding a lot more on Afghanistan. Big (608 pp), important book.
Mary Elise Sarotte: 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe (2009, Princeton University Press): Focuses less on what led to the fall of the Berlin Wall than on what came after, especially in Germany, where unification was just one of several possible paths.
Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010, Basic Books): A broad history of the struggle for eastern Europe between Germany and Russia, fought with unfathomable viciousness and brutality from 1939 to 1945, with significant preludes and legacies -- the book covers from 1933, when Hitler came to power, to 1953, when Stalin died.
Rebecca Solnit: Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A history of San Francisco, built around 22 color maps. Not sure how it all works, or if it's too specific to a city I've developed no special fondness for. Haven't really gotten into Solnit either, although she's politically sharp and has written about many topics of seeming interest.
Seth Stern/Stephen Werniel: Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Based on a lot of long-awaited private papers. Brennan was on the Supreme Court 34 years, "arguably the most influential liberal justice in history." He's a big part of the reason liberals still look to the courts for protection of constitutional rights against conservative assaults -- something that hardly anyone familiar with the history of the Court would have expected before FDR packed the court with Brennan, Black, and Douglas.
Martin Van Creveld: The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (2010, Thomas Dunne): Preeminent Israeli military historian and theoretician. Previously wrote the more prescriptive Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (paperback, 2005, St Martin's Griffin). This looks to be a general history, but Israel is so mired in militarism that he should be at home. I make him out to be what we'd call a realist here, so I expect he has something of interest to say -- just not enough to keep Ehud Olmert from contributing a blurb.
Michael Wolraich: Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010, Da Capo Press): Another catalog of right-wing lunatic propaganda.
Steven E Woodworth: Manifest Destinies: America's Westward Expansion and the Road to the Civil War (2010, Knopf): I wouldn't say that the westward expansion of the United States was a cause of the Civil War but it certainly was something to fight over until the big fight came along -- not least because it was the one thing all sides could agree on. [Nov. 2]
James Zogby: Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why It Matters (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Pollster, one of the few (Americans, at least) actively engaged in Arab countries to try to figure out what the "Arab street" is thinking and wants. It might be interesting to see how well this polling holds up in light of the popular revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, etc.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
John Cassidy: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2010, Picador): Responding to the financial collapse, looks more at the shortcomings of the dominant economic theories, what he calls "utopian economics"; excellent book on the subject. [link]
Josh Kosman: The Buyout of America: How Private Equity Is Destroying Jobs and Killing the American Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Portfolio): Original subtitle: How Private Equity Will Cause the Next Great Credit Crisis. Private equity firms are largely fueled by America's trade deficit -- the money is soaked up by foreign oligarchs and repatriated to buy up and devour US companies, sucking value out and saddling them with debt. The new subtitle is more to the point, although the old one is right too.
Nomi Prins: It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley): Former Goldman Sachs director turned muckraking journalist, gives a shocking account of how the big banks helped themselves to trillions of government dollars to weather their financial crisis. [link]
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