Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Roundup

Seems like these book blurb columns involve a lot of "hurry up and wait," or vice versa. Last one was August 9, and before that August 4, August 1, and July 31, 2015. At that point I was so backlogged I was able to pump out four 40-book posts in a little more than a week. I don't have nearly that much backlog now -- certainly enough for one more post, but at the moment a bit shy of two (current backlog count is 61, including a couple books that won't be out until April). Still, if I keep researching, I may get that third post.

I'm so far behind that I've managed to read several of these books: Padraig O'Malley: The Two-State Delusion, Roberto Vivo: War: A Crime Against Humanity, and Sarah Vowell: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. I've also started Jane Mayer: Dark Money, and have Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth and Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy waiting on the shelf.

Diane Ackerman: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us (2014; paperback, 2015, WW Norton): She has written poetry, children's books, and some fifteen non-fiction books, some quite personal but a couple taking on very broad topics -- like A Natural History of the Senses (1990) and A Natural History of Love (1994). This one explores the many ways humans have reshaped the world to their own tastes and interests, an extraordinarily profound story, one that's hard to wrap one's mind around if only because the change has been so pervasive.

Mary Beard: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015, Liveright): A history described both as sweeping and concise (608 pp) of Rome and its Empire from foundation up to 212 CE when Caracalla extended Roman citizenship to all non-slaves throughout the empire -- as good a date as any to avoid having to deal with the Empire's decline and fall.

Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (2016, Doubleday): An American who writes humorous books about the English language and travels (thus far to English-speaking countries) and occasionally stretches for something like A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003). Born in Iowa, he's spent most of his adult life in Great Britain, writing Notes From a Small Island (1996) before moving back to the US, and now this second travelogue to Britain after returning. Probably charming and amusing, smart too.

Hillel Cohen: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 1929 (paperback, 2015, Brandeis): Israeli author, has written two important books on Arab collaborators before and after Israel's founding -- Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration and Zionism, 1917-1948 (2008), and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967 (2010, both University of California Press) -- reviews the pivotal 1929 Arab riots, which led to expansion of the Haganah forces, and in 1936-39 the much larger and deadlier Arab revolt. As for "year zero," historians can pick and choose; e.g., Amy Dockser Marcus opted for 1913 in Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2007, Penguin).

Michael Day: Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall From Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga (2015, St Martin's Press): Biography of the Italian media mogul who parlayed wealth and power into three terms as prime minister of Italy, which helped him gain even more wealth and power, give or take occasionally getting "bogged down by his hubris, egotism, sexual obsessions, as well as his flagrant disregard for the law." All the timelier given how Donald Trump threatens to repeat the feat. By the way, Berlusconi is currently estimated to be worth about three times what Trump is ($12-to-$4 billion), but that's after Berlusconi has been prime minister, and before Trump becomes president.

EJ Dionne Jr: Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond (2016, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, leans liberal, has covered politics for a long time and written books like Why Americans Hate Politics (1991), They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives will Dominate the Next Political Era (1996), Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge (2004), Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right (2008), and Our Divided Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012). Much wishful thinking there, oft frustrated by the increasingly fervent (do I mean desperate?) right-wing, which he finally tries to face up to here.

Reese Ehrlich: Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect (2014, Pegasus): It may be decades before anyone writes a definitive history of the many facets of Syria's civil war, if indeed it is over then. Meanwhile, we get small facets of the story from many scattered observers, and I doubt this one is any different (despite the forward by Noam Chomsky, who is nearly always right, unpleasant as that may be). Other recent books on Syria (aside from ISIS, which are probably more numerous): Leon Goldsmith: Cycle of Fear: Syria's Alawites in War and Peace (2015, Hurst); Nader Hashemi/Danny Postel, eds: The Syria Dilemma (2013, The MIT Press); Emile Hokayem: Syria's Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant (paperback, 2013, Routledge); David W Lesch: Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad (rev ed, paperback, 2013, Yale University Press); Jonathan Littell: Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising (2015, Verso); John McHugo: Syria: A Recent History (paperback, 2015, Saqi); Christian Sahner: Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (2014, Oxford University Press); Bente Scheller: The Wisdom of Syria's Waiting Game: Foreign Policy Under the Assads (2014, Hurst); Stephen Starr: Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising (rev ed, paperback, 2015, Hurst); Samar Yazbek: The Crossing: My Journey to the Shattered Heart of Syria (paperback, 2015, Rider); Diana Darke: My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution (paperback, 2015, Haus); Robert Fisk et al: Syria: Descent Into the Abyss (paperback, 2015, Independent Print); Robin Yassin-Kassab/Leila Ali-Shami: Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (paperback, 2016, Pluto Press).

Jack Fairweather: The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan (2014, Basic Books): I remain stumped about what was so good about the war. The fact that American public opinion was more unified in favor of attacking Afghanistan than Iraq didn't make a bit of difference. The war may have polled as high as the war against Nazi Germany, but there was no depth, no commitment, beyond the polling, and even less understanding. The book is probably stronger on why it all went so wrong.

Richard Falk: Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (paperback, 2014, Just World Books): A collection of essays since 2008 when Falk was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights issues in Occupied Palestine (his tenure there ended in 2014). Falk was a law professor who took an early interest in war crimes, especially regarding the Vietnam War -- cf. Crimes of War (1971, Random House), written and edited with Gabriel Kolko and Robert Lifton. He also has a newer essay collection out, Chaos and Counterrevolution: After the Arab Spring (paperback, 2015, Just World Books).

Henry A Giroux: The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine (paperback, 2014, City Lights): Canadian educator and culture critic, has written books like Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (2011, Peter Lang). Essays include "America's Descent Into Madness" -- "The stories it now tells are filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, and legitimate all manner of corruption and mayhem. The mainstream media spin stories that are largely racist, violent, and irresponsible -- stories that celebrate power and demonize victims, all the while camouflaging their pedagogical influence under the glossy veneer of entertainment" -- and "The Vanishing Point of US Democracy."

Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US Standard of Living Since the Civil War (2016, Princeton University Press): For 100 years after the Civil War, technological advances dramatically stimulated growth and raised living standards. However, from about 1970 on, growth rates have slowed markedly, and we seem to have entered a period of long-term stagnation. James K Galbraith, in The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, made a similar argument, but this goes much deeper into the changes wrought by the century of high growth. As for the future, we've already seen one consequence of slack growth: to keep profit levels up to expectations, investors have sought political favors and increasingly engaged in predatory behaviors (something often called financialization). Sooner or later the other shoe is bound to drop, as workers (and non-workers) who had been promised growth and wound up suffering from stagnation inevitably seek to regroup. Meanwhile, as Gordon points out, things like increasing inequality further dampen growth, further fueling the need for change.

Greg Grandin: Kissinger's Shadow: The Long Reach of America's Most Controversial Statesman (2015, Metropolitan Books): More like America's premier war criminal, a point we need to keep stressing as he continues to woo war-friendly politicians of both major parties. Grandin, whose books include Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006), wants to delve deeper, going beyond Kissinger's own acts to explore his influence on America's peculiar self-conception as an empire. I'm not sure how much neocon nonsense can really be pinned on Kissinger, but if I did wonder this would be the place to start. Amazon thinks if you're curious about this you'll also be interested in Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press). You won't be.

Ran Greenstein: Zionism and Its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2014, Pluto Press): Surveys various political movements and thinkers based in Israel/Palestine who rejected the politics of Zionist dominance, starting with Ahad Ha'am in the 19th century, continuing through the Communist Party, the various Palestinian movements, and the Matzpen movement up to the 1980s.

Ann Hagedorn: The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security (2014; paperback, 2015, Simon & Schuster): As I recall, when Bush I set out to attack Iraq in 1990, the US moved over 600,000 troops into position. When Bush II decided to invade Iraq, the US went with a little over 100,000 troops. The main difference was that in the intervening years the Military had contracted out vast numbers of support jobs -- logistics, food, that sort of thing. Over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the outsourcing expanded to security, and the mercenaries they hired became increasingly common and unaccountable for their actions. (You may recall, for instance, that when Fallujah first revolted, the Americans they hung from that bridge were contractors.) That's what this book is about. I'm a little surprised Hagedorn wrote this book, since the main thing I had read by her was a magnificent slice of history, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 (2007; paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster).

Jeff Halper: War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and author of one of the most trenchant short analyses of Israel's "matrix of control" over the Palestinians, takes a deeper look at Israel's technologies of control, including how they are exported elsewhere in the world.

Doug Henwood: My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (paperback, 2015, OR Books): All the dirt on Clinton, at least as viewed from the left, a perspective which reveals her as a corporate shill and inveterate warmonger. Henwood mostly writes about economic issues, in Left Business Observer. Other books tackling Clinton from the left include: Diana Johnstone: Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton (paperback, 2015, CounterPunch), and Liza Featherstone, ed: False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton (paperback, 2016, Verso [June 16]).

Alistair Horne: Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century (2015, Harper): Argues that the many major wars of what the late Gabriel Kolko summed um as Century of War (1994) turned on excessive hubris of one side or the other ("In Greek tragedy, hubris is excessive human pride that challenges the gods and ultimately leads to total destruction of the offender" -- in reality the US has been a repeat offender without paying the ultimate price). Huge topic, but to provide depth of battle detail Horne limits his study to six cases: Tsushima (1905), Mononhan (1939), Moscow (1941), Midway (1942), Korea (1950), and Dien Bien Phu (1954).

Michael Hudson: Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy (paperback, 2015, Islet): Unorthodox economist, has seen this coming for a long time and written many books about it -- most recently The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (2012), and more presciently an essay on "the coming real estate collapse" in 2006. As I've tried to point out, the function of debt today has little to do with putting savings to productive work, and much to do with allowing people who can't afford it to keep up appearances until they crash. Needless to say, this is unsustainable -- not that governments haven't struggled heroically to keep the bankers solvent.

Rafael Lefevre: Ashes of Hama: The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria (2013, Oxford University Press): I pulled this out of the long list of Syria books (see Reese Ehrlich) because it stands out: the focus is on the 1982 Hama uprising and Hafez Assad's brutal suppression (over 20,000 killed, mostly in an artillery barrage of the liberated city). The Muslim Brotherhood led the uprising, and returned two decades later as an activist faction in Syria's "Arab Spring" demonstrations -- also met brutally, resulting in the civil war that has killed another 200,000 (not that any of these estimates are proven).

Les Leopold: Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice (paperback, 2015, The Labor Institute Press): Labor economist, previously wrote a couple of primers on how Wall Street has ripped off America -- The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity (2009), and How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away With Siphoning Off America's Wealth (2013). Has lots of "easy-to-understand charts and graphs," goes beyond explaining predatory finance to note how other key issues ("from climate change to the exploding prison population") are connected to economic inequality, and offers activists a guide for doing something about this central problem.

Mike Martin: An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012 (2014, Oxford University Press): Author was attached to British forces occupying Helmand in 2006 -- a Pashtun province on the southern border of Afghanistan, also the locale for Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf) -- but speaks Pashto and was able to record the bewildered thoughts of the locals, as well as the equally confused thinking of the occupiers. The levels of misunderstanding here should give anyone pause. Noteworthy here that he extends his coverage of the conflict to include both Soviet and US/UK forces, occupations with more than a little in common.

Paul Mason: Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Argues that capitalism will change in the near future, mutating into something new, shifting the economy away from its basis on "markets, wages, and private ownership." He adds, "This is the first time in human history in which, equipped with an understanding of what is happening around us, we can predict and shape the future." I have no idea how he works this out, but I started thinking about "post-capitalism" back in the 1990s. In my case the initial insight was the realization that it is possible to engineer economic systems and thereby consciously direct development instead of waiting for the invisible hand to lead us around. I also realized that the infinite growth required by capitalism must sooner or later give way to ecological limits. These appear to be common themes, but of course the devil's in the details. I would reject, for instance, Hayek's rule that all planning leads to tyranny, but I don't think you can just hand-wave that; there's too much history to the contrary.

Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016, Doubleday): Give a guy a billion dollars and all of a sudden he thinks he can recruit some politicians and hoodwink the public into voting fot them. It's really just a case of extraordinary hubris, a sense of self-appointed privilege combined with utter disdain for democracy. Take the Kochs, for instance -- Mayer has already reported on them in The New Yorker, and they seem to account for a big chunk of this book, but they are hardly alone. As I recall, Newt Gingrich blamed his loss to Mitt Romney in 2012 to only having one billionaire backer vs. five for Romney. In this state of corruption, sometimes a handful of voters can shape history, maybe even prevent democracy from working to the benefit of the majority.

Sean McMeekin: The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (2015, Penguin): The old adage is "history is written by the victors" -- a rule which has served to distort and largely bury one of the major stories of the early 20th century: the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. Even David Fromkin's brilliant A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 skips over the revolt of the Young Turks and the two Balkan Wars that set the stage for the Ottoman entry into the Great War, which has the effect of making much of what the Ottoman triumvirate did during the war seem nonsensical (and possibly insane). McMeekin attempts to correct this partly by starting earlier, but also by researching deeper into newly opened Ottoman and Russian archives. But also, I suspect, because history has finally shown the Anglo-French "victory" to be hollow and bitter indeed.

Aaron David Miller: The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President (2014, St Martin's Press): Washington on the cover. His most striking trait was a desire to be seen as disinterested, a leader who only sees to the public interest, never to his personal one. Needless to say, such people are scarce today, not so much because they don't exist as because they don't promote themselves in the manner of would-be presidents. On the other hand, there are great egos who would dispute this thesis, notably Donald Trump, who hope to lead a nation to its greatness, doing all manner of great things. For such cases, I can imagine two books: one explaining why they will fail, the other why what they sought was never desirable in the first place. I doubt that Miller has written either.

Ian Millhiser: Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted (2015, Nation Books): Reminds us that throughout history the Supreme Court has more often than not been an entrenched conservative activist -- it is only thanks to Franklin Roosevelt (and a few successors, with Nixon starting the revanchist return) that we have been fortunate enough to have grown up with a Court that actually expanded human rights. Of course, the recent growth of the conservative cabal has given the author more to complain about. Indeed, the subtitle could well be the Roberts' Court's motto.

David Niose: Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America From the Attack on Reason (2014, St Martin's Griffin): Legal director of the American Humanist Association, has focused defending the secular nature of American democracy -- his previous book was Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (2012; paperback, 2013, St Martin's Griffin) -- but is worried not just by the right's religiosity but by its increasingly dogmatic attacks on reason.

Padraig O'Malley: The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine -- A Tale of Two Narratives (2015, Viking): Author has extensive experience in the reconciliation of conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa, giving him some perspective here. Hard to tell whether the focus on competing narratives is just a license to spin bullshit, but he's right that the power imbalance is what precludes every effort at reconciliation. Actually, I'm curious how he works this out -- as someone who occasionally thinks of writing a book along these lines: why is something so seemingly easy to reason out so impossible for the people who need to do it? The answer, of course, has to do with relative power: in particular, the one side who feel they don't have to do anything.

Dirk Philipsen: The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What do Do About It (2015, Princeton University Press): Gross Domestic Product is a measurement of the overall size of an economy (usually expressed per capita), but it is at best a very coarse number, tied to growth in marketable goods and services, but not so much to a better, let alone a sustainable, standard of living. Many other writers have questioned the value of GDP as a measurement; e.g., Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Add Up (2010).

Ted Rall: After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan (2014, Hill & Wang): A "graphic journalist," Rall made two extended trips to Afghanistan, one shortly after 9/11, the other ten years later, recording his observations here, as well as some history -- if you don't know it, at least it goes down fast and easy. Recent Rall books include The Book of Obama: From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press), and Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia Is the Next Middle East (2nd ed, paperback, 2014, NBM Publishing). Before that, The Anti-American Manifesto (paperback, 2010, Seven Stories Press), which I found excessive, shrill, unfunny. More recently, Rall wrote and illustrated Snowden (paperback, 2015, Seven Stories Press) and Bernie (paperback, 2016, Seven Stories Press).

Pierre Razoux: The Iran-Iraq War (2015, Belknap Press): Big (688 pp) book on one of the largest and longest wars of the last fifty years, lasting from 1980-88, costing close to a million lives -- little understood in the West, the US in particular taking an attitude that both sides should kill off the other. This book evidently goes beyond the immediate conflict to look at how other nations related to, and encouraged, the war. Also available: Williamson Murray/Kevin M Woods: The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History (paperback, 2014, Cambridge University Press). Before these books, the standard was probably Dilip Hiro: The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (paperback, 1990, Routledge).

Robert B Reich: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015, Alfred A Knopf): Supposedly one of Bill Clinton's longtime buds, taught government, staked out his politics in 1989 with The Resurgent Liberal, then in 1991 wrote The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which contain two major concepts, one spectacularly wrong (his idea that as trade policies liberalize the US will more than make up losses in manufacturing jobs with new "symbolic manipulator" jobs), the other alarmingly right (that the rich were withdrawing from community life to their gated communities and retreats, from which they will cease to care about the fate of the lower classes). Clinton liked this thinking so much he made Reich Secretary of Labor, a job Reich filled capably if not exactly happily (cf. his memoir, Locked in the Cabinet). Since leaving Clinton, he has continued to wobble leftward, writing optimistic books about politics (Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America in 2004) and business (Supercapitalism in 2007), on the other hand reacting when it all goes wrong (Aftershock in 2010 and Beyond Outrage in 2012, the subtitle still ending with How to Fix It. So figure this as more of everything: after all, the only thing wrong with capitalism is the capitalists, who somehow in their personal greed forgot that the magic system is supposed to make life better for everyone.

Dennis Ross: Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship From Truman to Obama (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Author has been an advisor to three US presidents helping them to screw up numerous efforts to bridge the Israel-Palestine conflict, and in the meantime has worked for Israeli think tanks, his most consistent allegiance. In other words, he is an American who can always be counted on to take the position that "Israel knows best" -- his maxim for reconstructing a longer stretch of history. ("Ross points out how rarely lessons were learned and how distancing the United States from Israel in the Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush, and Obama administrations never yielded any benefits and why that lesson has never been learned.") If the title seems oblique, read it this way: the surest way to doom any chance for peace for Israel and Palestine is to involve Dennis Ross.

Andrew Sayer: Why We Can't Afford the Rich (2015, Policy Press): Shows how the rich ("the top 1%") have used their political clout "to siphon off wealth produced by others," and goes further to argue that their predation is something the rest of us can no longer afford -- a far cry from the common notion that we are so obligated to the "job creator" class that we need to sacrifice our own well being to stroke their egos. Author has previously written books like: Radical Political Economy: Critique and Reformulation (1995), The Moral Significance of Class (2005), and Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life (2011).

Kevin Sites: Swimming With Warlords: A Dozen-Year Journey Across the Afghan War (paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial): War reporter, previously wrote In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars (paperback, 2007, Harper Perennial), and The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won't Tell You About What They've Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War (paperback, 2013, Harper Perennial). Sites first entered Afghanistan to join the Northern Alliance in 2001, and on his sixth tour retraced his footsteps in 2013 to ask what has changed. Some stuff, but it's not clear for the better.

Timothy Snyder: Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (2015, Tim Duggan): The recent author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010) narrows his focus on the Nazi Judeocide, not just what happened but on why. He comes up with a rather original theory of Hitler's mind, something about resources and ecology, and adds that "our world is closer to Hitler's than we like to admit, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was" -- hence the "warning." I wonder whether obsessing on the need to "save the world" isn't itself an invitation to overreach (not to mention overkill). But then I tend to think of the Holocaust as a contingent quirk of history, not some cosmological constant.

Joseph E Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (paperback, 2015, WW Norton): Practical proposals for reducing inequality, restoring the sense that the United States is "the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can achieve success and a better life through hard work and determination." That reputation has been blighted by stagnation as the rich have managed to use their political and economic clout to capture an ever-increasing share of the nation's wealth. Stiglitz, one of our finest economists (Krugman's preferred term is "insanely great"), has been working on this problem for a while now, including his books The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012), and The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them (2015).

Roberto Vivo: War: A Crime Against Humanity (paperback, 2015, Hojas del Sur): Born in Uruguay, CEO of "a global social communications media firm" in Buenos Aires, has put together a global history and virtual legal brief to outlaw war. The impulse is sensible -- common recognition of the law, whether from respect or fear, is the main reason we haven't sunk into a Hobbesian "war of all against all" mire -- and indeed at some points enjoyed broad international support. That's probably true today, too, but it only takes one country that insists on flexing its muscles and putting its self-interest above peaceful coexistence to spoil the understanding. In the 1930s, for instance, Germany and Japan were such outlaw countries. Today it's mostly the United States and Israel (and one could argue Saudi Arabia, Russia, and/or Turkey). Vivo makes his case logically and succinctly, but he doesn't really face up to the infantile nations that put so much stock in their warmaking skills and so little in international law.

Sarah Vowell: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015, Riverhead): Starting with an MA in Art History, she went into radio, wrote some essays, and found a niche writing popular history, starting with Assassination Vacation, her travelogue to the historical sites of murdered presidents. Since then her histories have become more conventional: The Wordy Shipmates (2005, on the Puritans), and Unfamiliar Fishes (on the takeover of Hawaii). Here she recounts the American Revolution by focusing on Washington's French sidekick, and the early nation viewed from Lafayette's 1824 return visit.

Lawrence Wright: Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David (2014, Knopf; paperback, 2015, Vintage Books): A day-by-day account of the 1979 Camp David negotiations between Egypt and Israel over return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and, as it turns out, damn little else -- still, the only significant time that Israel could be bothered to sign a peace agreement with a neighbor. (I don't much count the later treaty with Jordan.) Wright previously wrote The Leaning Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006, Knopf), a valuable book on the thinking behind the attack.

Next batch of 40 sometime next week.

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