Sunday, June 15, 2014

Recommended Books

Book Recommendations
Since I started my Old Jarhead Blog in 2008, I have used it to recommend books I have read that I thought were worth reading. I read a lot and recommend a lot. I don't recommend everything I read, but I chose carefully, and if a book isn't doing it for me, I have no trouble giving up on it--life is too short. These books range from Good to Must Read, IMHO.  some fit in both History and politics, so I made a call. ~Bob


Excellent history from this Oxford-trained historian.

A Question of Command. By Mark Moyar
A book review I wrote has been published in Leatherneck Magazine. I have been disappointed that Dr. Moyar has not rapidly followed up his excellent history of the early years of Vietnam, Triumph Forsaken, with the promised second volume. But after reading A Question of Command, all is forgiven. It is a valuable addition to military history in general, and to the history of insurgent or irregular warfare in particular. That alone would make this book a welcome addition to the library of any historian or military leader. But A Question of Command is far more than a history book. Given the wars of the foreseeable future, it’s a service to the Republic. Moyar uses meticulously researched case studies of nine insurgencies to provide a must-read guide for military leaders dealing with insurgencies on the ground, from squad leaders to theater commanders, and for politicians and bureaucrats directing the effort. I wish I could afford to buy a copy for every member of the president’s cabinet and the congress.

Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 by Michael Burleigh 
This terrific book was given to me from my best friend from high school. By a British author, it is well-written, well-researched and well-balanced. It will be especially appreciated by military history buffs and political junkies, as it deals with not only the many conflicts in this period, but the international political decisions around them, how the "cold war" developed, and exposes the seeds of our present troubles. Those who tend to view history through a strict right- or leftwing prism will find details here to confirm their beliefs and details they will need to dismiss to prevent cognitive dissonance. Burleigh is even-handed in parceling out praise or sharp criticism to the historical figures involved, and does not go easy on the British ones, including icons such as Churchill. He is unsentimental about colonialism, detailing both the savagery of the "civilized" colonial powers and the brutality of the governments and leaders the colonials displaced. I rate this a must-read. This is not to suggest I endorse every opinion he expresses. In many areas, I do not have access to the facts he draws on. In areas I have read a lot about, like Vietnam, there are other interpretations that should be considered

The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor. By Jake Tapper
I received "The Outpost" for Christmas and put it near the top of my reading pile. While it was long, it was not disappointing. Tapper gives an excellent, well-researched account of brave and good men put in a difficult, if not impossible situation by bad decisions--some going as high at theater command and the White House. Given the details and the outcomes, it is hard to disagree with his conclusions. Tapper is a journalist, with all the negative connotations of "agenda driven-propagandist" that today attach to that word, so I was pleased that he presented the story in a very straight-forward manner and had an obvious respect, perhaps affection, for the troops he was writing about. That sat well with this old Jarhead. It's been 30 years since I last wore the uniform, so I'm out of date, but as far as I could tell he got the military details and nomenclature right. (Though he reported one man promoted to "Private Second Class." I had never heard that term used for an Army E-2.) That the combat outpost that is the subject of the book was poorly sited should have been obvious to anyone, as it was to an Army E-4 involved in planning at the start of the book. The old infantry maxim is, "Take the high ground, or they will bury you in the valley." And "valley" hardly describes their situation. I spent August and a few days in September of 1967 with a Marine Combined Action Company heading a Radio Relay Team at Khe Sanh. But we were very close to and well supported by the main Khe Sanh Combat Base. It was pretty quiet, and I had the good fortune to rotate home about four months before Tet (They was scared to attack while I was there!) CAC-O got hit hard at the start of the siege, but because the location was far better, the troops first class and well-trained and the defenses good, they inflicted a lot of casualties on the NVA for almost none in return, and evacuated to the main base by foot. Even so, it was a hairy situation that I'm both sorry and glad to have missed. No Marine infantry fire team leader would have located an outpost in the situation described by Tapper. The terrain photos alone show it was a disaster scheduled to happen. When the bad guys can shoot down at you, you know you are in a bad place. That they steadily lost control of the surrounding area should have alerted someone that trouble was guaranteed. And I would trust the local Vietnam troops with us at Khe Sanh far more than the ANA described in the book. After reading it, I doubt that any hearts and minds can be won in that culture, only rented temporarily. I highly recommend this fine account of combat action.

Apache: Inside the Cockpit of the World's Most Deadly Fighting Machine. By Ed Macy
A terrific combat memoir by a Brit chopper pilot in Afghanistan. The details on the Apache and flying it are fascinating, but the combat scenes are riveting. I literally couldn't put it down for the last few chapters, read late into the night. Well written; military history buffs will love it.

Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War. By  Bob Greene
When Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene’s father was dying, he met BGen Paul Tibbets, USAF (Ret.) Tibbets, I hope you know, led the AAF group that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and flew the Enola Gay, named for his mother, to Hiroshima. This is his story of both Tibbets and his dad, a WWII Infantry officer, and their generation looking at a changed America in their twilight years. Greene does a fine job of capturing their thoughts, emotions and the world view of what has been called “The Greatest Generation,” which saved the world. (Alas, it needs saving again.) I found especially moving the many tributes to Tibbets from people thanking him for saving their lives, because they, or the fathers and grandfathers, were scheduled for the invasion of Japan, where we expected a million American casualties. With even Japanese women being trained to fight with sharpened sticks, the casualties among the Japanese would have been far higher than those caused by the bombs. When at U-Mass, I took a course in the history of Vietnam from a very sharp but far left professor of Asian history. (I was the only Vietnam vet in the course, so I had to defend myself every day.) He insisted we should not have dropped the bomb, that Japan was about to surrender. But a few years ago, classified documents were released in Japan that say that even after the first bomb, they were determined to fight to the last Japanese. I highly recommend this moving and readable book.

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
This long, but well-written book has a wealth of historical detail from the first thirty years of the last century, for the US in general and Massachusetts in particular. When I was in the Massachusetts Senate, the painting of Coolidge, a former Senate President, hung in the chamber. Until the leadership remodeled the place and, probably uncomfortable under his stern gaze, moved him to the Senate reading room. Imagine a President who cut the budget, reduced the size of the Federal Government, cut the national debt from a major war by one-third, reduced the size of the military, cleaned up scandals from his predecessor, was of unquestioned integrity, who stood on principle even when it hurt him politically, who decided not to seek reelection when he was a sure winner because he believed in limited service, who foresaw the crash of 1929 and thought that Hoover’s policies (expanded and made worse by Roosevelt) would make it far more severe and long lasting, and who met with his budget director frequently to see if they could cut a few thousand dollars more in waste. Then imagine a president now both smart enough and open minded enough to read this book and benefit from it. It will be argued those were simpler times, but the challenges were as daunting, as this book makes clear. The men and women were different, with a different view of the role of government versus individual freedom and responsibility. It can be argued that Coolidge, not Reagan, was the last conservative Republican president. (Grover Cleveland was the last conservative Democrat president.) I highly recommend this fine historical biography.

The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. By Fred Anderson
Thanks to audio books, this was another chance to expand my historical knowledge while on the road. Most Americans know little more about this war than they do about the War of the Spanish Succession. (Okay, a large number of Americans don’t know what decade the Civil War was in, or who we fought in WWII.) But understanding the French and Indian war (Or The Seven Years War as it was called in Europe) is a key to understanding the causes and outcome of the American Revolution. This book is well-written and has a lot of fine detail, especially about the education of George Washington as a military leader. Despite my familiarity with the conflict, I learned a lot.

Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America by Howard Blum 
this interesting history was a birthday gift from my brother, Tom. Except for the Zimmerman Telegram, I knew almost nothing about Germany's sabotage campaign against a "neutral" United States in WWI. It included many ship and ammo plant bombings and a couple of attempts at germ warfare--which killed some people. Well written and well researched, this one is for the history buff.

The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W. Tuchman
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by the late Barbara Tuchman, so when I saw this audio book at my library, I grabbed it, though it was written 24 years ago. Tuchman is not only a fine historian, but the kind of writer who makes history read like a political thriller. And the period before the US entry into WWI was certainly a thriller. With Europe hanging in the balance, the Germans offered Mexico an alliance. If they’d attack the US in the event of war, Germany would help her with the reconquista of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona—the dream that has never died. The Germans in their arrogance never suspected that the British had broken their codes—and amazingly didn’t suspect it in WWII either! The political, military and diplomatic maneuvering between Germany, Britain, the US, Mexico and, yes, Japan made for a fascinating.

The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000. By William H. McNeill
This book, given to me by a friend while I was recovering from my lung transplant, is an excellent, rather oblique look at how rulers and societies have organized military power, both to protect what they had and, as often to take what others had. It traces the intersection of military power with economics and resources, and how both technological development and social change have changed the projection of power, until war became completely industrialized in the 20th century. History buffs, especially military history buffs, will greatly appreciate it.

In the Company of Marines: A Surgeon Remembers Vietnam. By James M. Finnegan, MD
When I read that Dr. Finnegan had died last year, I asked my wife for his book for Christmas. I'm glad I did. My Christmas was delayed by my lung transplant, but I received it on Saturday, 1/11 and finished it Sunday evening. Jim Finnegan left in his third year of residency to volunteer for the Navy if he could serve with Marines. This took him to Vietnam to the Third Marine Division, and eventually to Khe Sanh with the 26th Marines (my outfit) to command Charlie Med through the 1968 siege, where he earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star with "V". He arrived after I was fortunate enough to rotate home in September of 1967, but I went through Charlie Med myself (for appendicitis!). His account of how he and three other doctors treated over 2,500 casualties during the siege, saving hundreds of Marine lives (probably including friends of mine), doing triage and operating under almost constant rocket, artillery and mortar fire is inspiring. The book has a few typos (the bane of writers) and could have been edited tighter, but that does not detract from the power of his story. His admiration and affection for Marines shines from every page. He says he can never be a Marine, but I would have assured him that Marines consider the Navy Doctors and Navy Corpsman (That's "Core-Man," Mr. President, not "Corpse-Man") who care for us in combat to be a part of us. Following the war, he became a noted Thoracic Surgeon, making me feel even closer to him, as one just saved my life. I'm sorry this good man is gone.

The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau by Alex Kershaw
A fine account of WWII combat and one of the Army’s best company and battalion commanders. This book will be of great interest to those interested in WWII, military history or leadership.

Generation Kill by Evan Wright
Wright is a reporter (For Rolling Stone!) who was embedded with the 1st Marine Recon Battalion on the drive from Kuwait to Baghdad. While some of his statements and views make me cringe as a Marine, his courage in going with the Marines who were, in the words of one officer, at the pointy point of the spear cannot be doubted. I think he does a fine job of capturing the dialog of Marines at war, and describing the confusion, mistakes, and small daily horrors that take place in the midst of the large horror and fog of war. He describes heroism and boredom, competent and incompetent leadership. As a Marine Vietnam vet, I’m not surprised to learn that not every Marine officer or senior NCO meets our ideal of leadership, though I am surprised to find them in an elite outfit like recon. They were usually transferred to units like support or the communications outfits I served in. As a recovering politician, I’m also well aware that reporters can color the impression they create in readers’ minds by both the incidents they chose to report and the words they select to do so, often without realizing their biases are involved. (“The Senator reported” and “The Senator claimed” mean pretty much the same thing, but the latter creates the thought that you can’t really trust him.) Therefore, I’d give more weight to the reader reviews on Amazon by Marines who served in First Recon in the war than to mine. Wright also thinks that today’s troops are entirely different from Marines of the past, but I don’t agree. There are perhaps more profane than we were in Vietnam, certainly more than the WWII Marines, and their cultural references to movies, music, TV and the Internet are different, but you could pretty much drop any of them in a Marine unit at Khe Sanh or on Okinawa, and he would function fine, fitting in except for BS sessions on the culture. Still, I enjoyed the book, and, stupid as it is, as an old Jarhead, it made me wish I’d been with them.

Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943. By David J. Ulbrich
I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Ulbrich at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation dinner in April of 2012, where he received a writing award for this fine history. I was thus looking forward to it, and it did not disappoint. While General Holcomb had a fine combat record in WWI, which gave him credibility for the great service he rendered the Republic in WWII, this is not a combat history. But it is a great story of leadership, political acumen and administrative ability, as the Commandant developed the doctrine and the structure that allowed the Corps to expand so greatly and meet the challenges of a global war. If I have one quibble, it is that Dr. Ulbrich, being I suppose an academic, feels it is necessary to frequently point out that Holcomb’s attitudes towards race were those of his time, when nearly everyone was a racist by today’s standards. Today we are shocked and appalled by racist attitudes except in left wing black leaders, where anti-white racism is considered a virtue. Nevertheless, this fine history fills an important gap in the military history of WWII, and deserves wide reading by Marines, historians and military history buffs.

A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War by Victor Davis Hanson
I’m a long time fan of Hanson’s political columns, which I often link to from my Old Jarhead blog, so I’ve naturally started reading his books. This history makes sense of this war in a way no other has to me, by organizing it not chronologically, but by topic, such as sieges and navel warfare. Given that the war raged for 27 years, was wide spread, killed a horrific proportion of the Greek population and broke all the rules—hence the title—Hanson’s excellent writing brings clarity to a murky subject. Those interested in military or ancient history will love it. But this excellent volume also has lessons for our own age about war and the hubris of leadership.

What It Is Like to Go to War. By Karl Marlantes.
Marlantes is the author of the acclaimed Vietnam War novel, Matterhorn, which I have not read, but will add to my list. He is a Marine combat infantry officer who holds the Navy Cross, among other decorations. His outfit was, if you’ll pardon language from the time, often “in the shit.” Thus he has earned the right to his opinions, regardless of how you feel about them. He draws on his extensive combat experience to develop this painfully honest—perhaps brutally honest—and insightful exploration of the morality and psychology of war, violence and killing, and the effects on the warriors and on society. Marlantes is unsparing of himself, of actions he regrets or is ashamed of. He also makes specific recommendations for dealing with these issues, with veterans and with future warriors.

Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau
A highly-recommended book for military history and Civil War buffs. This is a well-written, balanced account of this pivotal campaign, drawing on hundreds of primary sources, including numerous quotes from letters, journals and memoirs of soldiers on both sides, as well as southern civilians caught up in the whirlwind of war. With a masters in history and a long, though not exclusive interest in “the late unpleasantness,” I knew the broad outlines of Sherman’s march. But this book had extensive details I did not know, so I learned a great deal. I will look for more works by Trudeau as time permits.

Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins
A well written, fascinating and at times sickening account of the 1980s-1990s portion of the genocide in Darfur and long civil war in the Sudan, not only between the largely-Arab Muslim north and the black Christian and Animist south, but among the various factions, including a violent tribal-based struggle within the southern rebels. Though South Sudan became independent, the multi-sided fighting rages today. Americans only take note when the starvation gets bad enough to warrant TV coverage--if American Idol isn't on--but there is no reason to suspect the suffering and death has lessened. Scroggins, a journalist who reported on Africa first hand, builds her story around Emma McCune, a wild-child British aid worker who married the Sudanese warlord of one of the southern factions and became such a partisan in the internecine tribal feud that it was called "Emma's War" by the locals. Who should read this book? Anyone who thinks that slavery was an American phenomena that ended in 1965. (The Muslims contemptuously referred to all the southern blacks by the local word for "slave.") Anyone who thinks there is real hunger and poverty in America. Anyone who thinks that in the Sudan--or any conflict like this in the Third World, there are any good guys with clean hands--including the US, the UN and the NGO aid organizations. Anyone who thinks that Shari'a law is a benign cultural and religious expression. Anyone in a position to try to make policy for Africa, by the government or by a charitable organization. Anyone who wants a broader understanding of this and similar conflicts.

At All Costs: How a Crippled Ship and Two American Merchant Mariners Turned the Tide of World War II. By Sam Moses.
I enjoyed this wonderfully-told story on audio book during my commutes. It's a must for the WWII or Navel History Buff. Operation Pedestal, the convoy that saved Malta for the allies despite losing nine of 14 merchant ships, was arguably a turning point in the war. Yet it is a little known tale of great heroism. One hopes that we can find such men for the challenges of the future.

War Shots. Norm Hatch and the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Cameramen of World War II. By Charles Jones (For autographed copy)
Okay, I had a bias. I couldn’t wait to get my copy, and then to read it. I came to this book expecting to love it and I did. In April, my wife Bonnie and I were invited to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Awards Dinner, where I received an award for my book, Old Jarhead Poems. Sitting next to me was Chip Jones, the author, who also received a writing award War Shots. And sitting next to Bonnie was Norm Hatch! Maj. Hatch is in his 90s now, has some mobility challenges, but I wish my mental acuity was equal to his. Talking with him was a treat. This is a guy who rubbed shoulders with the pantheon of WWII Marine greats, and, from the stream of Generals stopping by our table to speak to him, is considered at least a minor deity himself by the leadership of today’s Corps. Hatch got an Academy Award for short documentary in 1944 for his Tarawa filming under fire. Then, two weeks later, I was watching a story about Tarawa on the Military History Channel, and there was Hatch being interviewed. I only wish I had read this book before I met him. I learned a great deal about the combat cameramen of WWI, as expected, but also new details about Tarawa and Iwo Jima, including the controversy over the flag raising photo, which Hatch helped to resolve, as one of his men shot the movie of it going up. He was also in Nagasaki right after the war, a very interesting chapter, and made a documentary that helped the effort to save the Marine Corps from extinction in that post-war political fight. Hatch was not only incredibly brave, but very resourceful and competent. This book will be appreciated by every Marine, by WWII buffs, and by those interested in military history, the movie industry or human courage. The term “Greatest Generation” has been over-used, and we have some pretty great people defending America today, but Norm Hatch is a great Marine, and this book made me very proud to have met him and worn the same uniform.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour. By James D. Hornfischer
I listened to this as an audio book in the car, and often found myself wanting to drive around to keep it going. Hornfischer has a wonderful ability to cover the big picture while having a fine eye for details and individual stories. Though far less well-known than Midway, the Battle of Samar was arguably the US Navy’s most gallant action in WWII. Perhaps it has been glossed over because that otherwise excellent leader, Bull Halsey, got sucked out of position, making the sacrifice necessary. If you are interested in that conflict, in military/navel history, or in American heroism, you won’t want to miss this well-written book. We still have such men defending the Republic out on the far flung battle lines, but it’s an open question if we have enough of them to face down a crisis of WWII magnitude. And I fear one is coming.

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson
I got hooked on Ferguson when a friend recommended Civilization: The West and the Rest. I followed that up with the equally interesting The War of the World, and I recommend both. Next up was The Ascent of Money. It’s very different from the others, but illuminating and I learned a great deal about how not only money, but stocks, bonds, credit, mortgages and other financial developments came to be—and the crucial role they play in civilization and our current standard of living. I also learned that a lot of the things that got us into trouble in 2008, credit default swaps, securitized mortgages and the like, are beyond me. And that our prosperity is not only beyond my control, but, frighteningly, apparently beyond the control of the supposed experts making the big decisions. I highly recommend this entertaining, well-written, informative and, alas, unsettling book.

The War of the World by Niall Ferguson
I discovered Ferguson, a Scots historian now at Harvard, when a friend introduced me to his last book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, which I previously recommended. That led me to search out other works by him, and I expect to read more after this one. Ferguson is a fine writer with the ability to capture the essential quote or detail to illuminate his point. He was going to write a WWII book, but decided that had been done. Instead, he looked at the violence of the 20th century, not only wars, but genocide, pogroms and man-made famines like Stalin's that killed millions to bring ethnic areas like the Ukraine to heel, viewing it as one long, world-wide war. It is hard to say I liked this book, because it is hard to like such an extensive catalog of man's inhumanity, but I appreciated the way he drew the themes together, discussing the causes of the violence in the bloodiest century in history. It remains to be seen if our current century will be better, but certainly a thorough understanding on what happened in the last one is necessary if there is to be a change. This book is a great place to start.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
This is one of those books that just gets better and better, until at the end I found myself gleaning the chapter notes for comments and anecdotes not included in the text. This is the story of William E. Dodd, a naive Chicago historian who became FDR's ambassador to Germany from 1933-1937, during Hitler's rise and consolidation of power. It's also the story of his feckless and promiscuous daughter Martha, who had lovers ranging from a Communist diplomat from the USSR to the head of the Gestapo. Dodd didn't fit the mold for diplomats of the time, preferring to live simply on his salary. He also was willing to speak out against the growing terror of the Nazi regime, rather than keep silent to observe the diplomatic niceties. This earned him the wrath of the foreign policy establishment, known as the Pretty Good Club. Dodd may have been naive, but he was able to discern that, no, indeed, we couldn't "do business" with Hitler, and spent the last years of his life speaking out to warn America of the danger of Nazi Germany, to the detriment of his health and scholarship. For those who are very familiar with WWII, but not the years that led up to it, this book will be eye opening. There are warnings here for our times, when too many people think that great evil cannot come on us, as it did in the 1930s. In 1934, New York Jews held a mock trial of Hitler, to the protests of Germany. Our government basically said, sorry, First Amendment and all that. One wonders what the government's reaction today would be to a mock trial of, say, Mohammad?

Must Read: Mohammad & Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy by Emmet Scott.
Having read and recommended Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome, I was most interested to read this book, which takes aim on Ward-Perkins. While I recommend both, this controversial update of Henri Pirenne’s theory that it was the rise of Islam that destroyed classical civilization in Europe is in my view the most important and on the mark. I confess that there were tedious bits for the non-academic at the start, but stay with them, as they are a necessary foundation to the riveting final four chapters, the conclusion and the epilogue, which are must-reads for those who want to understand today’s world and the millennium-old clash between western civilization and Islam. Basically, Scott lays out a solid case that it was the closure of Mediterranean trade route by Muslim raiders, and the destruction of the lowland, coastal agricultural system that supported advanced economies, as the peoples in the south of Europe had to retreat to defended hill top towns to escapes the attentions of Islamic slave raiders that provided the death knell for classical civilization. Some telling quotes from the book, which bring to mind our present world: “Aside from the aristocrats themselves, there were armies of bureaucrats and courtiers surrounding the (Roman) Emperor, huge numbers of soldiers, and a vast number of unemployed plebeians, who had to be supported by a social security system, which the Roman’s named the “dole.” … With the decline of the city as a political power, the great majority of this population would naturally have disappeared. (PP. 80-81). (Be carefully what you wish for, OWS!) “Under the protective shield of Rome, the farmers, artisans, and intellectuals…had grown to despise the calling of the soldier, and to see the defense of the country as someone else’s business. … The civilian populations of Anatolia, of Syria, of Egypt, and of North Africa were vast, but they were completely unused to war. After the defeats of the Imperial forces (by the Muslims), there existed no tradition of military training or activity which could have facilitated independent local action against the invaders.” (P. 172. “Islam is virtually unique among world religions in that its primary scriptures advocate the use of military force and its early expansion—indeed its expansion during the first six or seven centuries of its existence—invariably involved military conquest and the use of force.” (P.185) “…there was continual and almost uninterrupted war between Muslims and (European) Christians since the first attack on Sicily in 652 and Constantinople in 674. In the great majority of these wars, the Muslims were the aggressors. … it is estimated that between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries alone (Muslim pirates) captured and enslaved in excess of a million Europeans.” (P. 187) This book will broaden your understanding of the ancient world, the foundations of our civilization, and the on-going clash with Islam. I rate it a “must read.”

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
A wonderful book you should add to your reading pile. Ferguson is a Scots historian now at Harvard. This is a terrifically researched exploration of why a few petty squabbling states in Europe, against all odds, came to dominate the world. The author has a great ability to pull the illuminating fact or pertinent quote from the morass of history. He also explores why South America, which was by far the richer set of colonies, is now far poorer than North America. (Hint: widespread property ownership and property rights.) Fergusson says Western Civilization had six “killer apps” that led them to dominate the world: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. He makes a solid case that these six factors not only led to western dominance, but the high standard of living in western society, pursued today by the rest of the world. Some of the bits were worth the price of the book. Martin Luther’s defense of publishing the Koran in order that Christians could see “how entirely cursed, abominable and desperate a book it is.” John Locke’s attempt to ban lawyers in Carolina. The author proclaiming the US Constitution “the most impressive piece of political institution building in all of history.” His note that Tocqueville identified the essential difference between the American and French revolutions, a preference for liberty in ours and equality in theirs (a warning to us today). His insight that the threat to the west comes not from radical Islam, “but from our own lack of understanding of, and faith in, our own cultural heritage.” He points out that Asians now work far more hours than Americans, and we more than Europeans.  That the Chinese Communists party had a report “specifying three requirements for sustainable economic growth: property rights as a foundation, the law as a safeguard and morality as a support” is telling. And Ferguson’s comment that, “mass immigration is not necessarily the solvent of a civilization, if the migrants embrace, and are encouraged to embrace, the values of the civilization to which they are moving” should inform our immigration debate. And this: “”It is important to remember that most cases of civilizational collapse are associated with fiscal crisis as well as wars. All of the examples discussed above were preceded by sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, as well as by difficulties with financing public debt.” Are you listening, Washington? (No, alas.) Ferguson asks if we can maintain western civilization and western dominance. That’s an open question. I read the hard copy, but my wife listened to it on disk in the car. Ferguson reads the book himself, but adds in wonderful accents on the quotes. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Gettysburg: Day Three by Jeffery D. Wert
I read this fine account cover to cover on Christmas day, and will look for more of Wert’s histories. It’s clear, informative and well-written, using contemporary sources. Though I hold a Masters in history and have read countless Civil War books, I learned a lot. I highly recommend this to the Civil War buff.

My wife and I like to use our drive time to listen to books on tape, but finding one we both like can be a challenge. We both loved The Zookeeper’s Wife. When the German’s invaded Poland in 1939, much of the Warsaw Zoo was destroyed, the animals killed of looted. But the Zookeeper and his wife joined the Polish underground, and turned the Zoo into a refuge for people, mostly Jews, but also members of the resistance. This is an uplifting story of courage and compassion in the midst of horror and inhumanity. About 300 people passed through the Zoo during the war, and all but a few survived. There was a great quote in the book from a Polish philosopher. If you have a secret and keep it, it is your prisoner. If you let it slip from your tongue, you become its prisoner. We highly recommend the book.

Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson
Having long been a fan of Hanson’s clear, focused political columns, often linked in this blog, I was delighted to stumble across one of his history books. In Carnage and Culture, Hanson considers European and American battles against non-western forces from Salamis to Tet. He links western military success to our institutions and culture, including the rights afforded citizens no where but the west, and the ability of free markets to create, innovate and build weapon systems. Some of his quotes alone are worth the price of the book. Referring to the flyers at Midway, many of whom sacrificed their lives in that great victory, Hanson writes, “One wonders if an America of suburban, video-playing Nicoles, Ashleys, and Jasons shall ever see their like again.” He also reports that, “In the first two years after the fall of Saigon (1975-77) there were almost twice as many total civilian fatalities in Southeast Asia … as all those incurred during the ten years of American involvement.” That and his comparison of the rules of engagement in Vietnam to WWII will especially resonate with Vietnam Vets. He also writes that (Capitalism) is a peculiar Western practice that acknowledges the self-interest of man and channels that greed to the production of vast amounts of goods and services through free markets and institutionalized guarantees of personal profit, free exchange, deposited capital, and private property.” The economically-ignorant OWS crowd might well wonder what they would do without credit cards, laptops, smart phones, not to mention food and clothing, if they destroy the system that has created a surplus of goods and freedom from want. I highly recommend this book.

Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fisher
My wife and I maximize our drive time by listening to books on tape, and this was the latest. Washington's Crossing is an entertaining, informative and well-written account of the American Revolution in the pivotal years of 1776-77. Though I have an MEd in history and have been a Revolutionary War buff since my teens (which I some days think were just after the Revolution), I learned a great deal from this book, especially about the "forage war" which took place after Trenton and Princeton, and took as great a toll on the British and Hessians in a serious of small actions as a major victory over them would have done. This book will educate you about the war, stir your patriotism, and remind you what a fine thing these men passed to us through their courage, sacrifice and dedication. And it will burnish your admiration for the Father of our Country. It remains to be seen if we can pass this Republic intact to future generations. But Washington's Crossing will inspire you to keep fighting.

Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General by British Major General Mungo Melvin
General Melvin obviously set out to write the definitive biography of Manstein and in my view has succeeded. This will now be the standard work on Manstein, against which all others will be judged. At over 500 pages, it is for the serious historian or the dedicated WWII/Military History buff, not the casual reader looking to pass a few hours. Given the complexity of the Eastern Front, the inclusion of clear, easy to understand maps is a plus. Melvin has both the professional ability to understand and judge Manstein’s decisions, and a fine ability to clearly convey them to the reader, even to readers like myself who never commanded anything larger than a 3-man radio relay team. Melvin clearly admires Manstein’s operational genius, but pulls no punches on the Field Marshal’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Nazi terror to protect his own career. Like so many German officers, Manstein was not a Nazi, but made his peace with them, a peace that led to atrocities in his area, for which he was convicted of war crimes in 1948. He fought Hitler on operational decisions, but not on moral ones, and felt he could not join the attempt on Hitler’s life without betraying his troops who were fighting the Russians. It is interesting that many in Britain opposed the prosecution of Manstein, and no less a figure than Churchill made a token contribution to his defense. The reader is left to wonder if, raised in the Prussian military tradition, you would have sacrificed career and perhaps family and life to oppose Hitler’s murderous policies. Some did, Manstein did not. We can only hope we would have acted differently in the same circumstances.

The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins
The Fall of Rome was recommended to me by a friend who had read my book, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic: and what you can do to prevent it. Dr. Ward-Perkins has done truth and scholarship a service with this short book, doubtless at some discomfort in modern academia. He is scrupulous in research and in not going beyond the extant evidence, but he dispels the PC notion that Romans welcomed the barbarians and together they fairly-peacefully transformed Europe—presumably laying the foundation for today’s early-retirement, high-vacation E-utopia. I have a master’s in history, but am far more of a dilettante than a scholar in the field, so I found the fact-base focus on the distribution of high-quality Roman pot shards as opposed to infantry tactics in key battles a bit dry. But Dr. Ward-Perkins draws many compelling factors together. His description (p136) of how specialization contributed to the collapse of living standards and population when the decline and fall forced people to a localized, subsistence economy was frightening. Most Americans are ill-prepared to survive in such a world, where our highly-compensated, specialized skills will be of little use, and I fear that it may well be coming. But, as he points out in his chilling closing, people in the late Roman Republic could no more imagine that things wouldn’t go on forever as they always had, than most citizens of the West can today. Both Europe and America have been invaded, if you will, by people from—in the PC phrase—less complex cultures. While they carry no battle axes (unless sold to them by the ATF, I suppose), neither are they met by the Legion’s shield-wall, short swords and pila. I suspect that Dr. Ward-Perkins looked on the recent riots in Britain and realized that the UK, Europe and America have created homegrown Visigoths and Vandals in our cities. I fear this is not so much an interesting book about the past as a picture of our future.

Never Without Heroes by Lawrence C. Vetter
A fine history of the Marine Third Recon Battalion in Vietnam by an officer who served with recon and led patrols. This book is well-written, with a lot of attention to personal details, from the heroic to the the tragic. The men of Third Recon earned four Medals of Honor, 13 Navy Crosses, 72 Silver Stars, and numerous Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. They took many casualties and inflicted many more on a tough, professional enemy. The book had a personal note for me, an account of a rocket attack I was on the receiving end of in July of 1967, with details I didn't know. As a Radio Relay Team Chief, I was lucky enough to be in a much safer billet with Regt. HQ than these guys, but this book made me proud to have worn the same uniform. It will be appreciated by all Marines, everyone interested in military history or small unit operations, and those who appreciate human courage.

Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC
Readers of my blog will know that I read a lot of books. Because I choose carefully, I recommend about half of them to other folks. This is the best book I have read in at least a year, probably longer. It’s an autobiography, but because the General wisely selected two competent co-authors/researchers to assist, it has a much wider perspective than usual, and is free of the self-aggrandizement too common in memoirs. Marines, Vietnam vets, and military history buffs will be enthralled by the account of Captain Livingston leading his beloved Echo Company of 2/4 (the Magnificent Bastards) in a bayonet charge at the battle of Dai Do, a fight that arguably saved the Dong Ha Combat Base from being overrun, thus giving a great strategic and political victory to the Communists. His was one of two Medals of Honor earned in the battle. Anyone who thinks the fighting in Vietnam was less intense than in other wars, or the troops less courageous, should read this book and be educated out of their error. For anyone interested in the dynamics of leadership, General Livingston could bottle and sell the stuff by the case. Then-Captain Livingston was a self-admitted “hard ass,” insisting on physical training even in the field, and grooming standards and combat training when “resting” in “rear areas.” (Marines will understand why I put those things in quotes.) He is the kind of officer the troops grumble about until they have been in and survived combat. Then they respect and love him forever. The many interesting sidebars with comments from his troops, peers and commanding officers, which greatly add to the book, make it clear how respected and beloved General Livingston was and is by his brother Marines. General Livingston gives full credit to his troops and superiors, a trait of modesty that seems to come with America’s highest decoration for valor. They all say they wear it for their comrades, and the General is no different. There is strikingly little of the “I-I-I-I” in this book you hear so often in the speeches of politicians safely in Washington, sending better men and women to war, and taking credit for their victories. The book has several additional value-added bonuses. General Livingston played a major role in the final evacuation of Saigon, interesting and bitter reading for any vet. He was involved in fighting the Communist insurgency in the Philippines, and probably narrowly escaped assignation. He served as an officer and in a civilian capacity in New Orleans, and has important insights into the tragedy that befell that city during Katrina. Lastly, his comments on the current military and political situation, and concerns for the future, should be read by all serving officers, but more importantly by policy-makers in Washington. Marines like me, who were fortunate enough not to be assigned to rifle companies in Vietnam, will always wonder if we could have measured up to be one of Jim Livingston’s Marines. Perhaps, if he “kicked us in the ass” (his phrase) enough, but we will never know. The phony veterans who keep popping up, and the many who never darkened a recruiting office door to try to serve, they do know, and must, as Shakespeare said, “hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with” Livingston at Dai Do. Every Marine who reads this book will be proud to have worn the same uniform as General Livingston.

Strength & Honor by Terry L. Garlock
This excellent book was recommended to me by my friend and fellow Marine Vietnam vet "Del" Del Vecchio, whose story is first in the book. I regret it took so long to work it's way to the top of my reading pile. It's a wonderful collection of individual stories from vets, all with the clear ring of truth, that should be read by every Vietnam vet and the people who care about them, but everyone who wants to know what that war was truly like and by anyone interested in the realities of combat. Vets should be warned this book will arouse a great deal of emotion: laughter, grief, pride and, yes, anger. There is a terrific piece by a B-52 pilot. Having watched an Arc Light strike east of Khe Sanh, I appreciated learning how they were delivered. Garlock was a chopper pilot, and the book is heavy towards chopper stories, but I have no problem with that. Everyone who served in Vietnam has a special place in their hearts for the helicopter crews we depended on. WWII may have been the greatest generation, but America needs to know how great the generation they sent to Vietnam was--and those who mistreated vets on their return deserve to live in shame. There are many more stories out there that deserved to be collected and known.

A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
We listen to books on tape (or CD now) in the car, to increase our reading time. My wife and I both just finished this on a trip. It's a terrific, well-written overview of that age, with lots of detail about the intramural warfare and murders of Christian by Christian over blasphemy and apostasy and doctrine, much like some other religion we can't mention does today. Great coverage on Magellan's voyage and how it changed the world. We both recommend it. I've loved everything I've read by Manchester, including his WWII Marine memoir, Goodbye Darkness.

Shade it Black by Jess Goodell
A friend sent me an autographed copy of “Shade it Black,” which I read in a day. As a Marine Vietnam Veteran (of no particular distinction), I have to say that Jess Goodell is a better Marine than I am, because she bravely performed a duty I don’t believe I could have done, working in Mortuary Affairs and dealing every day with the horrific dead of modern combat. That duty wounded her as deeply as any veteran who lost a limb, but it was a wound unseen and largely unacknowledged. I would not recommend this book to someone of fragile sensibilities. PTSD is very real and very painful. Unfortunately, because it is not a visible wound, it is also possible to fake it, as detailed in the great book about phony Vietnam vets, “Stolen Valor,” which I highly recommend. And agencies or providers in the money flow have no incentive to expose the fakes, which means they suck up resources needed by veterans like Goodell. Cash flow is probably why the CDC and the VA have such a different estimate of real PTSD among Vietnam veterans, and why so many groups raising money put out inflated phony claims of the suicide rate among Vietnam vets. Having in the past sent several hundred dollars to a woman Marine I knew to escape from an abusive marriage (she paid back every penny), I was disappointed to read that Goodell’s comrades offered her so little support after she left the Corps. This book may also make you rethink the politically-correct idea that women can be injected into the macho male environment of combat without adverse conditions. Thank you, Jess, for your service to our Corps, to your fellow Marines and to our Republic. Semper Fidelis

Semper Cool by Barry Fixler
A friend sent me a copy of Semper Cool, and I read it in 24 hours. It made me proud to be a Marine, and to have served in the same regiment as Cpl. Fixler, the 26th Marines--though I was lucky enough to be with HQ and to rotate home from Khe Sanh in September of 67, before things got bad. All Marines will appreciate Barry Fixler's no-BS account, but so will anyone who wants to know what it was really like at the sharp end, warts and all. Too many memoirs make the writer sound like Rambo. Fixler's has the ring of truth, of a fine combat Marine doing a tough job, making mistakes, and coming through. Be warned there are gritty accounts of both the horrors of battle, and the excesses of young warriors on leave. And the language is what you would expect of men in combat, not suitable for polite company. There's a lot of humor, too, the kind of stories only a Marine could tell. You won't regret buying this book for many reasons. I was especially pleased to see he was donating his royalties to a charity to help vets as I am doing with my book, Collapse. I hope he gets the sales he deserves.

Road of 10,000 Pains: The Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U.S. Marines, 1967 by Otto J. Lehrack
If you want to know what close infantry combat was like in Vietnam, this oral history of the bloodiest campaign of the war will tell you. Because it jumps from points of view, it’s not great for reconstructing what happened when. But it’s superb for sharing in what the grunts went through. This took place when I was mostly in-country, but I was safely elsewhere, thankfully.

Brute--the Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine by Robert Coram
This is a terrific biography of the man it calls, with justification, "the most important officer in the history of the United States Marine Corps." Brute Krulak was my commanding general when I was on Okinawa and in Vietnam, though, thankfully, Cpl. Hall never did anything brave or disastrous enough to come to his attention. We all knew he was a demanding perfectionist, a brilliant thinker and very short--God help the Marine who looked down at him during an inspection. Are you interested in WWII? It was Brute who pushed development of the Higgins boat, which Ike said won the war. Brute was the driving force behind the "Chowder Society" which saved not only the Marine Corps, but prevented the imposition of a military strongman who reported only to the president, a threat to American democracy. Korea? Brute told the Army that a Marine brigade could sail in five days, when the Army was being pushed back--and delivered, saving the Pusan Perimeter. He was high in the councils planning the Inchon landing for Macarthur, and pioneered helicopters and vertical envelopment, a revolutionary tactic the Army would adopt from him for Vietnam. He developed the strategy of protecting villagers with CAP units and was the only senior general to tell Lyndon Johnson his and Westmoreland's strategy was failing--which cost him a fourth star and the position of Commandant of the Corps--which his son would later hold. Nor does the book neglect Brute's hero-size flaws. The only glaring error I noted was the author saying the Marines lost more men on Iwo Jima than the Japanese. We took more casualties--30,000 to 22,000. But most of the 22,000 were dead, while the Marines and Navy personnel had about 6,800 killed. That's still a horrible butcher's bill, but not more than the enemy paid in "lost." Still, Coram is a fine writer--I finished the book in two days. And I highly recommend it.

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
I found this book when looking for a one-volume US history to recommend as part of my “Reading List for the Educated Voter.” (Linked below) At 830 pages, this book takes a time investment, but is well worth it, if you haven’t reviewed US History since college. Or never. It’s a good book to buy for you high school and college students—if you can get them to read it! I have a Masters in History and read history for pleasure, so I picked up many small details I consider to be errors in fact, which hopefully will be corrected in future editions. But they didn’t impact the broad conclusions. The authors are academic historians, and do not gloss over the bad patches, such as slavery and the treatment of the indigenous population (what we used to call “Indians” before PC took hold.) On the other hand, the book was free of the Marxist cant and genuflections to leftist chimeras so prevalent on campus today. They do an excellent job of achieving balance, for example, criticizing FDR for depression-extending economic policies while praising his wartime leadership and diplomacy. Certainly the last chapter on the Bush presidency and the War on Terror will be disputed by the left, but it brings balance to the narrative they push in a sycophantic media. The book is well written and clear, not difficult to understand, which is a benefit. You can read the mixed reviews on Amazon for more details—you’ll be able to discern the world views of the writers!

Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East
By John Keay. I’ve recommended this before, but given what is going on there, if you and Obama and Clinton haven’t read it, now might be a good time. A broad look at an area we will be engaged with for a long time. This is an excellent one-volume history of the Middle East, from 1890 through the Suez crisis in 1956, with an epilog to bring us up to date. The catalog of crime and invasion, contention, execution and insurrection, siege and betrayal of Hashemite vs. Wahhabi, Sunni vs. Shia vs. Kurd vs. Turk, Allies vs. Ottomans, Britain vs. France, Zionists vs. Muslims, and other groups great and small would give a tourist pause, never mind a diplomat or soldier.

Leatherneck Legends: Conversations with the Marine Corps Old Breed by Col. Dick Camp USMC (Ret).
I just finished Leatherneck Legends: Conversations with the Marine Corps Old Breed by Col. Dick Camp USMC (Ret). (Col. Camp is a distinguished combat Marine himself, and a terrific writer.) Part memoir, part history, the book follows five Marine icons from WWI through Vietnam, in their own words, from interviews, histories and their writings. They are Lem Shepherd, Roy Geiger, Eddie Craig, Ray Davis and Bob Barrow. While this is well-plowed ground for those interested in Marine or military history, there were a lot of new details and stories that made it a great read.


The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life by Charles Murray
This wonderful book was given to me by my friend Chuck to read in the hospital, which I did in under two days, despite time out to be poked by various healthcare professionals. Its major drawback is that it was published in 2014, and I really needed it in 1969. This is the perfect gift for your college students or recent graduates, provided they are literate and can read and comprehend above the newspaper level, which has dropped from 8th grade reading in recent years to The Little Engine That Could level. It assumes the reader is in his/her twenties, bright and looking to get ahead. There are pretty much three sections, one on developing a successful career, one on becoming a great writer, which I wish I had read 25 years ago, and a final one on having a good life. There was little I disagree with, and I’m probably wrong where I do. I highly recommend this book.

Economics and politics

Must Read: Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell
I learned more from this book than any other book I have ever read--and I had economics in high school and it was covered in my college political science classes. Sowell is not only brilliant, but writes well for the average reader.

Must Read: Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? By Walter E. Williams
Dr. Williams, like Dr. Thomas Sowell, grew up poor and black (Williams in the Philadelphia projects) to become a nationally-known economist. They both have put a lot of focus on the intersection of economics, race and culture. This well researched and documented book contains his data-driven conclusions on the subject, and details how government interventions, sold as benign, have too often disadvantaged blacks and other minorities, while protecting white racists in unions and in the trades and professions. It also offers alternate possibilities for what is seen as racism which are thought provoking. I highly recommend it.

Up From The Projects by Walter Williams
The autobiography of economist Walter Williams, PhD. A short book that I finished in two nights, despite three business conference calls. Well worth reading. William grew up poor and black in a Philadelphia housing project, has become a leading educator, economist, columnist and opponent of racism. That would be the liberal racism that says we need lower admission standards and lower grading standards for blacks, because they are mentally challenged and can’t compete with whites. An inspiring story.

Must Read: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. By Jonathan Haidt
I suppose the best compliment is that throughout this insightful and well-written book, I kept wishing the author was present so I could discuss, and often argue points with him. (And I suppose he was glad to be far away.) To be fair, many of the points I wanted to argue he addressed and resolved further on. Haidt is a self-described left-wing academic and atheist, though of Jewish heritage. He is a Kerry and Obama supporter, a bias he is very open about and references throughout this work. But he is also an intellectually honest man and—so rare on today’s campuses—open to diversity of thought, the only kind of diversity that really matters. A “Moral Psychologist,” Haidt makes a very solid academic research effort to understand the moral foundations of both conservative and liberal political thought, as well as why religion is important in human societies. The book held my interest throughout, and will be of great value to thinkers on both the right and the left of our political divide, who will gain understanding of why they hold the views they do, and why others hold different views. Shouters and haters, not so much. Read through the reviews on Amazon. This book is well worth your time.

Ethnic America: A History. By Thomas Sowell
Dr. Sowell looks at the history and integration in to American life of several ethnic groups, such as Jews, Germans, Irish, Mexicans, blacks, etc., as well as the intersection of the cultures they brought with them and the cultures they developed in America. Published in 1981, much of the data has been outdated by demographic and immigration changes, but his insights into these issues are timeless. For example, his research indicate that the eastern European Jews were the most destitute and illiterate of the immigrant groups, and scored low on IQ tests, leading commentators to say that the idea of the Jew as intelligent was a myth. Of course, now they are among the most economically and academically successful of ethnic groups in America, with IQs, college degrees and percentage holding professional jobs far above the national average. Based on contemporary thinking of progressives, this must be because these poor, literate Jews discriminated against native white Christians to get ahead of the rest of us!

Applied Economics by Dr. Thomas Sowell
Also excellent, though not as comprehensive as Basic Economics. Sowell is an internationally-known economist, with updates from recent events in politics and the economy. It’s written for the general public, so is easy to read and understand, but is very helpful on understanding why things have happened as they have—or will happen. I think you’ll find the 50 pages on the economics of healthcare worth the price. The sections on the housing crisis, the economics of slavery and the economics of discrimination were also quite interesting. Sowell preaches “Stag Two” thinking, pushing readers to think beyond the immediate to the longer term effects of political and economic decisions.

Must Read: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 By Charles Murray
Excerpt: Despite the subtitle, this is a book about class, not race. The author is looking at a lot of data that suggested the upper class that runs the country, which he calls the Narrow Elite and the Broad Elite, is increasingly wealthy, increasingly takes in both liberals and conservatives with high IQs and is increasingly isolated from the experience of the rest of America. He focuses on whites because that Narrow Elite is overwhelmingly white. He also focuses on the white lower class, so the comparison will not be between a white upper class and a minority lower class. He looks at a lot of data suggesting the white lower class is being destroyed by several trends: decreasing industriousness and ability to hold jobs among males, decreasing participation in civic organizations or churches, decreasing marriage rates, decreasing rates of trust and neighborliness, and sharply escalating non-marital birth rates, all trends that suggest the destruction of both happiness for these folks and what he calls the "American Project." Interestingly, after detailing the rolling disaster that is over-taking the white lower class, he presents data that suggest the minority lower class is not much different, contrary to what many might expect. This reinforces my long-held belief that race doesn't matter, culture matters a great deal. I do not think this is a "liberal" or a "Conservative" book. He says he is neither, but is a libertarian, rare among social scientists. He carefully points out in what I think is a balanced way how liberals or conservatives might draw differing interpretations from the data than he does. Most frightening for me is that the short book I published a year ago, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, does not include America coming apart along class lines--his title thesis--among the top four problems facing our country. Add this log to the staggering camel's back.

The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925. By Herbert G. Gutman 
This well researched and extensively documented history, published in 1976, presents a far more positive and uplifting view of black people living under the evil of slavery than the current standard, and in my view condescending and racist view of blacks, then and now, and that today's pathologies in the black community are a result of slavery, which destroyed the black family. Unfortunately, despite extensive, data-driven research, it has failed to change the national understanding of slavery and blacks. I think this is because there is great political value to the race-baiters and big-government politicians in keeping the majority of black people convinced they are eternally the victims of the legacy of slavery, and can only depend on government programs and special preferences to get ahead or even get by, because slavery has left them unable to compete with whites. It must be said that Professor Gutman's research is often presented at tedious length, and the history buff, as opposed to the working historian, may want to skip the extensive pages of genealogies created from plantation and Freedmen's Bureau records he uses to hammer home his points. But Gutman conclusively demonstrates that, despite the evils of families being broken up by sale of a partner or child, the vast majority of slaves lived in dual headed-households, that a large majority formed long lasting marriages, that they formed kin networks across plantation lines (similar to west African kin networks), that a majority of slave children were named by their parents, often for a relative, living or dead, and that a great many adopted surnames before the end of slavery, often unknown to the slave-owner and not based on his name. He also demonstrates that slaves had their own culture, that was not imitative of planter culture as often assumed. For example, in slave culture, marrying blood cousins was taboo, while it was widely practiced among the elite white planter class. Most slaves were not promiscuous, living in the moment, unable to form personal bonds because of slavery, as too many think today. They were a resilient and adaptable people in the face of great headship and evil. Blacks, Gutman's research shows, had a stronger family structure in 1866 than Americans of any color have today. Most telling, the vast majority of slave children grew up in dual-headed households, despite the breakup of many families by sale. And when death or sale broke up a household, the children were very often taken in and raised by kin or friends, despite how little they had. Contrast that with today where 70% of black babies, about 50% of Latino babies and about 30% of white babies are now non-marital births (and growing every year--whites are catching up), which is highly correlated with poverty, poor education and behavioral problems. Despite the extensive tables, the book also contains countless personal and inspiring stories from the records and letters that would make you weep. The one that stuck in my mind was a petition of recently-freed slaves to the Freedmen's Bureau, asking for help dealing with the white landowners (who weren't inclined to be over-generous with workers they used to "own"!). These former slaves wrote that, "We are a working class of people." Would they consider contemporary Americans, black or white, a "Working class of people"? One wonders if the blacks folks in slavery or immediately after abolition would not feel contempt for our culture today for squandering what they longed and labored to hard to obtain.

America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great. By Ben Carson M.D. 
I've ordered copies of this book to give as gifts; it has over 2,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. Dr. Carson, a brilliant neurosurgeon, has long been prominent in the medical world. Recently he burst into the political world when he was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. He refused to let Obama's handlers read (and presumably censor) his speech in advance. His criticism of Obamacare made him an instant darling of conservatives, and calls for "Carson for President" began to be heard. But Carson is, or was as of the writing of this book, a long-time independent, and he condemns the behavior of both parties. He is clearly a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government and self-reliance. But his views on many social issues such as immigration, healthcare, racism and the safety net might take some of the shine off his luster for social conservatives. Never having held public office, he also has what I think is a charmingly-naive faith in the power of logic, common sense and morality to move politicians to work to solve problems for the common good. Speaking as a former five-term state senator, in politics, if it wins the next election, it's moral and common sense to do it, for both sides. An example is his statement that if more anti-Nazi Germans would have spoken out against Hitler, the holocaust could have been avoided. but those who did, like Hans and Sophia Scholl, were executed. Likewise, he says as do many that the moderate Muslims need to speak out against the jihadists. But, again, every day moderates who speak out are murdered. It's why a man with a six shot revolver can often hold off an unarmed crowd of a hundred--he can't kill them all, but no one wants to be the first to rush him. Never-the-less, I would vote for Dr. Carson for public office given the chance, even though I would disagree on some policy issues. He projects an ethical basis and a deep religious conviction, which are attested to by his works, and there is no doubt that his intellect and work ethic is in the 99th percentile. His story is moving. Like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, Carson grew up in abject poverty, in his case in the Detroit and Boston Ghettos, where his mother, who was functionally illiterate worked menial jobs to put food on the table, but insisted on a solid education for Carson and his brother. She made the boys read and write reports on two books a week, which they never realized she couldn't read. For a treat, she'd save enough money to take them to the fair--enough to get in, that is. There was no money to ride the rides or buy an ice cream cone. Carson, blessed with that intellect and work ethic, overcame poverty and racism to become very wealthy from his surgery, books, and public speaking. He and his wife Candy have funded the Carson Scholars Program, which offers an opportunity to get better educations to kids with the intellectual potential but not the funds. He has a new book out, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future, which I look forward to reading. Carson on Wikipedia:

Michael Ledeen is a terrific commentator and policy analyst whose work I link to in my Old Jarhead blog from time to time. Thus when I recently stumbled across this book, I grabbed it. It was written at the end of the Clinton era, so the “current examples” are a few years old, but cover lots of depredations worth remembering. If you haven’t read Machiavelli’s The Prince, you should do so for its own sake, as well as to better understand this fine book on leadership in the real world. I first read The Prince in 1970 or 71 when it was assigned in a government class on Modern Political Thought at U-Mass by a brilliant political science professor from Pakistan. He asked, “What qualities does Machiavelli recommend a prince have, that you wouldn’t want in a US President?” Then as each of the starry-eyed U-Mass students put forth objections, he eviscerated them. Lovely stuff. This would have been of great value for leaders to read in the run-up to the 2008 fiscal crisis. Ledeen quotes Allan H. Meltzer’s “Moral Hazard Goes Global”: “Where [there are] guarantees that some or all of an institution’s losses will be shifted to taxpayers…while gains will be kept by the institution’s owners, the institution will be led to take excessive risks.” Boy, did we pay for not understanding that, from Fannie Mae where Jim Johnson and Frank Raines got rich off our wallets to the too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks that we bailed out. This is well worth reading.

Ever Wonder Why? And Other Controversial Essays. By Thomas Sowell
I was picking up a copy of Walter William's excellent Race and Economics in Half Price Books, and stumbled over this Sowell book, a twofer! This is a collection of Sowell's pre-2006 columns, which he felt had enduring relevance. they are organized by topic: cultural issues, political issues, economic issues, racial issues, etc. Everyone is worth reading for his insight and ability to communicate clearly. But, like Georg4 Orwell's barnyard communists, "some animals are more equal than others." You won't regret the time spent reading these gems.

Lords of the Levee: The Story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink. By Llyod Wendt, Herman Kogan and Bette Jore.
This book published in 1943 was reissued a few years ago. It's a fascinating political history of two early Chicago "Community Organizers," Democrat First Ward Aldermen John Coughlin and Mike Kenna, in the late 19th and early 20th century. If you want to understand how Chicago Way politics became as they are today, this is a great place to start--and excellent entertainment as well. Vote fraud (50 cents per vote was the going price to pay "floaters" to come into the ward and vote multiple times), corruption and legislative vote selling (called "boodling" by the press), protection payoffs from gambling and bawdy houses to fund the Democrat machine--it's all here. In those days, it was out in the open. Now they try to keep it hidden from feds and the press, which still does weekly stories that would turn our stomachs, except those of us who live in Cook County have become inured to corruption stories. We read them, complain, and forget. And one-party rule goes on. This was the age of "reform" Governor John Peter Altgelt (the "Eagle that is Forgotten" of Vachel Lindsay's poem), William Jennings Bryan (Coughlin and Kenna were "free silver" men), Big Bill Thompson, TR and at end of the story, Al Capone. If you have an interest in politics, history and/or Chicago, you'll want to read this book.

White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Race Riots to America By Colin Flaherty
Kindle Edition:
Eric Holder, America’s first black attorney general, famously said the United States was “a nation of cowards” on matters of race, because most people won’t talk openly about racial matters. (Perhaps “Eric Withholder” would be a better name, as he continues to stonewall Congress over releasing documents about his department’s “Fast and Furious” program which killed hundreds of Mexicans and two US Agents.) To refute Holder, comes now the brave Colin Flaherty, with this book about black on white violence in America. Do not expect his reward to be a medal for bravery from the DOJ for discussing these matters. So far, his reward has been to be vilified as a racist, the usual fate of anyone who candidly discusses race without agreeing 100% with the progressive meme on race. I fear he is likely to suffer worse, from IRS audits to violence.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali 
Ali suffered genital mutilation as a child, was sent to an arranged marriage, escaped to Holland, became a citizen and a member of parliament. She risked her life to make a movie exposing Muslim mistreatment of women; the producer, Theo van Gogh was murdered on the street by a Muslim for the movie. Of course, this made her anathema to the left, who think that not paying for birth control for yuppie college students is a "War on Women," but excuse murder, oppression, stoning and other barbarous treatment of women by Muslims because "all cultures are equally valid." Ali is a real feminist. This is inspiring.

Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones. By Greg Campbell
I have never bought a diamond. When I married late in life, at age 46, I explained to my bride that the Scottish tradition was for a silver antique Luchenbooth Brooch. This saved our now-joint finances many thousands of dollars, and, since she had a nice diamond ring from her mother (for which people doubtless give me credit), she was fine with that. Having read this book, I’m very glad. It details the Diamond War in Sierra Leone. Frankly, there wasn’t much to choose between the horrors of the rebels, the horrors of the government troops, and the horrors of the UN “peacekeepers.” Would you buy that pretty stone if you knew that people were murdered, people had their hands cut off in the terror campaign, children were forced to become child soldiers or prostitutes, and the country was destroyed, all to control the diamond mines, and the criminal smuggling—many thousands of them? Diamonds not only funded arms for these groups, they funded al Qaeda, providing them a ready source of laundered, easily moved and converted wealth to carry out attacks on us. In addition to helping fund terror, you probably paid too much if you bought a diamond. The book goes into the history of the diamond industry, and how De Beers controls the market, manipulates prices and created the myth that a man should expect to pay two month’s salary for an engagement ring. (So propose only when you are out of work.) De Beers also is famous for “A Diamond is Forever.” So, alas, is amputation, as thousands of beggars in Freeport can attest. A political-thriller movie of the same title was apparently based on the book—I have not seen it. The author, a journalist, takes George Bush to task for intervening in Iraq, but not Sierra Leona. It is difficult for me to see what national interests we had there, and the world would have accused us of wanting to trade Blood for Diamonds instead of Blood for Oil, regardless of our motives. (We won in Iraq—at least temporarily—but that oil thing hasn’t worked out so well.) Still, I highly recommend this book.

Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America by Mark Levin
With Liberty and Tyranny, Mark Levin established himself as a major current political thinker, able to convey complicated concepts in clear, concise language. Therefore, I was looking forward to finding the time to read Ameritopia. It did not disappoint, and should be required reading for anyone to serve in public office, not in place of, but in addition to Liberty and Tyranny. Levin reviews utopian political thought, from Plato to Marx, and contrasts it with the political thought of Locke, Montesquieu and de Tocqueville, which are so foundational to our limited government Republic. Levin demonstrates with frightening precision how far the Republic has strayed from the principals that guaranteed our freedom and prosperity. I wish I had this book when I was wading through these writers while majoring in political science at the University of Massachusetts, though many of my professors were ivory tower utopian statists. Some of the quotes are gems. From Montesquieu: "When legislative power is united with executive power in a single person or a simple body of magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power." One immediately thinks of Czars, Executive Orders, ignoring Congress on the War Powers Act, and the attack on the Supreme Court. Levin points out that, "America has become a society in which the people are wise enough to select their own leaders, but too incompetent to choose the right lightbulb." Indeed.

Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It. By Arthur C. Brooks
Excerpt: I heard the author speak at a conference a few years ago, was very impressed, and bought the book. But I proceeded to let it get buried in the reading pile under history, economic and political books. Thankfully, I finally read it—it’s a terrific book. Brooks is an economist and academic, and this book is data driven by population surveys, both in the US and around the world. He draws conclusions from the data, which you may not like. People wedded to a viewpoint that cannot be moved by data, left or right, are likely to hate it. There are many surprises here. Brooks looks at the data on what makes people happy or unhappy: religion, political views, marriage, jobs, incomes, charitable involvement, and so on, across demographic groups. This should be read especially by policy makers who might do well to understand what is likely to preserve and increase national happiness. My own take, which I put on my Old Jarhead Blog, has always been, “With all due respect to Tom Jefferson, ‘pursuing happiness’ doesn’t work. But if you commit yourself to things you care about more than yourself, such as family, job, non-profit cause, church or temple, community, or service to your country, happiness will find you.” Nothing here changed my mind on that point, though the data surprised me in some areas as they did Brooks. Arthur C. Brooks is Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. By Robert D. Kaplan
This is a wonderfully-written book that will make you look at a lot of issues in a new light. It is about the intersection of geography with history, geopolitics, national interests and power. Though I have a master’s degree in history and am well read in the field, I also learned a great deal about non-European history. Particularly China, India and the Middle East, though of course in one book it could only take a broad brush approach to these things. Unfortunately, Kaplan gave me several new worries about the future, and I was already pretty pessimistic. This is a high level review of geo-strategy, and should be read by policy makers at all levels. It requires some focus; certainly not light entertainment. The most interesting section was the last. Kaplan argues that Mexico, with a long border with the US, is far more important to us than Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Given that Mexico and Central America have a rapidly developing population—now at 50% of the United States—and a native US birthrate below the replacement level, he argues that we cannot afford to have Mexico become a failed narco-state on our border. Everyone involved in the current immigration debate would do well to read this and look at the big picture view he presents.

Leadership Defined by Col. Don Myers, USMC (Ret)
Some people who never served in the military will doubtless be put off by the fact that the author is a Marine. Col. Myers draws on his experience in the Corps for examples, but also on a successful career as general manager of a large company and of a school for troubled boys after he retired from the Marines. Anyone in a position of leadership--or who aspires to one--in any organization can benefit from the wisdom in this short, well-written book. It would certainly be of value to executives in my field of association management, as Myers has clearly laid out methods for getting the most out of a team. And that's the real secret of success in any field. The book made me regret that I never had the opportunity to serve under Col. Myers during my time in the Corps. And that several of my bosses in both the Marines and in the civilian world had clearly never read it.

The Terrorist Next Door by Erick Stakelbeck
A friend sent me this book on Friday. Bang, there went the weekend, I'm writing this Sunday night. Erick Stakelbeck is a courageous investigative journalist who has researched the threat of radical Jihadism both in the United States and abroad. Armed with only a notebook or a camera, he has met with some of the most dangerous terror supporters in the world. And he has extensively detailed the danger in this readable, but frightening book. In my book, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, I include a short review of the Jihadist threat as one of the four existential threats combining to destroy our country. The Terrorist Next Door is an in-depth examination of this particular danger. Stakelbeck was able to do the in-person investigations worldwide that were beyond my resources. I wish I'd had his book as a resource when writing Collapse. Radicalization and the Islamist threat are far more wide-spread in our country, and the danger from terror-supporting states more grave, than the politicians would have you believe. As I write, there is one negative review on Amazon, which, because his conclusions and facts are so well documented, has to attack Stakelbeck personally. Because of the other challenges we face, especially the looming financial collapse I detail in my short book, we will be hard pressed to find the resources to deal with the Jihadist threat, at home or abroad. Time is short, and the threat grows unchecked every day. I urge you to read this book, to recommend it to your friends, and to send a copy to your Congressman.

Children of Jihad by Jared Cohen.
Cohen was a gutsy Jewish grad student and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He traveled to Iran, Lebanon, Syria and other Muslim countries. There he befriends young Muslims. He reports on those meetings and their views. This is not a one-dimensional portrait or anti-Muslim book. The hope many of them have for a freer society and economic opportunity, and their at least passive resistance to the theocrats who rule them comes through. But so too does the fanaticism many have imbibed since children. Easy read, about $10 on Amazon, not hard to read.

Islamic Imperialism
Excerpt: I wish I could buy a copy for every member of Congress, the President and the Secretary of State--and get them to read it. Required reading for an understanding of this aspect of the challenges facing us. Islamic Imperialism is well written and well researched. It starts with the advent of Islamic conquests of other peoples and brings it forward to the struggles in our current day. It also reveals how many "Islamic" leaders used Islam as a handy rallying point and cover for their personal ambitions. We must find an answer to the Islamist threat if we are to survive. Israel and Europe may be lost, and America is in the balance.

Don’t Tell Me Words Don’t Matter by Joel Pollak
I had this book on my shelf since I supported the author, Joel Pollak, in his campaign for congress in 2010. In my professional view, Joel ran a brilliant, but underfunded campaign in a hopelessly D+25 district. He’s one of those folks you meet that you know after a few minutes are brighter than you. As a Harvard law grad, not to mention a degree in Jewish studies from South Africa, I was more worried about clarity and writing for a general public, but this book is clear, easy to read (I finished in under a day), and well written. Nor does it miss the literary touches—I especially liked “pixels sliding across a teleprompter,” and will certainly plagiarize the phrase sometime in the future. This is a conservative review of the 2008 election. Pollak is a conservative and was a McCain volunteer, so conservatives will like the book more than liberals. Pollak calls them like he sees them, and doesn’t hesitate to call out McCain’s and Bush’s strategic, tactical and policy errors as much as those of Obama and the left. I highly recommend this short but very readably history of the 2008 election, and what it means for our future.

Liberty and Civilization: The Western Heritage.
This short collection—I read it in under two days—has several excellent essays each worth the price of the book.

Shakedown by Ezra Levant
I read this 200-page book in two evenings. While it’s about the Human Rights Commissions in Canada and their assault on free speech, it’s a great warning for us, since the statists want to restrict free speech here in the name of controlling “hate speech,” as they define it, (and have done so on university campuses). I firmly believe if they get the power to do so, this will all happen here. As SCOTUS nominee Kagan said, “Free Speech has to be balanced against the societal costs.” The HRCs in Canada had never lost a hate speech case. If you were charged, you were found guilty and punished. Reading how they destroyed people and businesses, I’m surprised there was not violence. They do not have to follow any rules of evidence or due process like a real court and accept hearsay evidence. HRC employees go on Nazi/White Supremacist websites and make racist statements, then charge the responders with hate speech. For one HRC, all the hate speech complaints but two have come from one person, who is an employee, and has been awarded money for being serially offended. I knew Canada didn’t protect free speech like we try to do, though it’s in their charter of rights, but found the stories in the book unbelievable. Interestingly, while they have tried many cases of hate speech against Muslims, no case of hate speech against a Christian has ever gone to trial. Thanks to the Levant case and the Mark Steyn/McCalls case, covered in the book, they are making progress in restoring the right of free speech. Among the cases covered was the woman who couldn’t wash her hands as required by McDonalds because she had a skin disease. For firing her, McDonalds had to pay her $50,000 in addition to the severance and disability she had received. Another restaurant had to pay $5k to a woman who was fired because she had hepatitis. Never mind Arizona—boycott Canada.

Kicking the Sacred Cow by James P. Hogan
Is about controversies and suppression of evidence in science, which I have just re-read and think is a “must read.” I doubt all the heretics and suppressed claims are true, but find it very interesting that in supposedly “fact based” science, too often scientists who don’t agree with the current orthodoxy are vilified, attacked and suppressed. Climategate wasn’t the only “gate” in science.

The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Healthcare by Clayton M. Christenson.
He uses Harvard Business School models of changes in other industries that if applied to healthcare would fix a great deal of the problems we have.  You can read about it at Amazon. I wish everyone in the debate in Washington—both sides—would read it.

Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin
It’s short, clear and very readable. It has excellent, short explanations of the causes of the Great Depression, the current economic meltdown and much else, such as federalism, the Free Market, and the origins and economic challenges of the Welfare State. Put it on the top of your “must read” pile.

Political Humor
If you are a political junkie, I recommend two great collections of political humor and stories by my Senate Floor Leader, the late Sen. John Parker: The Fun and Laugher of Politics and If Elected, I Promise. Both are long out of print, but you can often find them used on for not much money, especially the first one, which was published in the 1970s. No, you cannot borrow my signed copies.

DVD Recommendation: The Third Jihad
Though this video is four years old, I watched it for the first time with friends this weekend, and highly recommend it. It is by an American Muslim, a doctor and veteran, who loves Islam. This is, as he says, not an anti-Islam film, but a video exposing the threat to the lives and freedoms of everyone--not the least the millions of Muslims who are so often the victims of the extremists-- of the radical jihads and political Islam. He is one of the few with the courage to speak out and deserves respect and a hearing.

The links below have recommended books as well, including an extensive reading list on racism at the end of my essay on the subject.

Reading list for the war on Terror

Reading List for the Educated Voter

Racism in America.


The Known World by Edward P. Jones 
This novel was recommended in The Week news magazine by a "best books" list contributor. I had not read anything else by the author, Edward Jones, a Pulitzer Prize winner. It is a story of a little-known facet of American history, Southern free black slave owners before the Civil War and emancipation. (According to "Black Slave Owners" by Joseph Holloway on, there were 3,000 free black slave owners in New Orleans in 1860 and over 400 in Charleston, SC in 1830.) Americans, thanks to our "education" system, and a media and political class vested in creating a feeling of helpless victimhood in black Americans, tend to believe that slavery was purely a phenomenon of whites owning blacks for a few hundred years in the American south. In fact, as Dr. Thomas Sowell points out in his excellent essay, "The Real History of Slavery," every people were enslaved at some point, most often by folks just like them, and every culture accepted slavery and practiced it, until our much-maligned western culture turned against it. For example, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which legally abolished slavery way back in 1981, has recently agreed with the UN to actually try to eradicate slavery. Sowell points out that during the same period when 500,000 African slaves were brought to what became the United States, a million white Europeans were kidnapped into slavery in Muslim North Africa. And there are no records of the millions of blacks taken into slavery by Muslims. I have read that white slaves were still being sold in Cairo 20 years after Lee surrendered to Grant. Getting a feel for this different perspective is one reason to read this novel. But the author's ear for dialog, eye for detail and command of the language will be the envy of other writers and a joy to readers. He creates life stories and a sense of place that make it had to accept that this is fiction. You can't help but believe that "this is the way it was." So it works on many levels. The only off-kilter note was his assertion that blacks didn't take surnames until after emancipation, a very small quibble. This is amply refuted, along with much of the demeaning but politically-valuable contemporary myth of blacks as helpless victims of slavery, in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. But, like that well-researched history, this novel presents blacks in slavery as a resilient and adaptable people coping as best they could with a great evil, and struggling to hold family together--doing a better job than a large percentage of Americans today, despite far easier conditions. I highly recommend it.

Iran Covenant by Chet Nagle
Blog readers may recognize Chet Nagle’s name, as I often link to his essays, ever since a fellow Marine linked me to him. When I discovered he had a novel out, it went on my Christmas list. I  took it on a business trip last week, a mistake as I got far less sleep than needed on a couple of nights. Nagle is a former Navel aviator and intelligence agent in the Middle East, and it shows in the details and his knowledge of the subject. Plus he can grab you with his writing. This thriller is a great, but scary read, as we will likely be facing some version of this plot in the next decade. I sent him a critique, as he requested, but, boy I had to get picky, down to four typos I noted, not to gush over the book. I recommend it. It would make a great birthday gift for your Congress Critter.

The Woolsorter’s Plague by Chet Nagle
I was hooked up with Chet Nagle by a Marine buddy, via e-mail. Though we’ve ever met in person. I’ve enjoyed our electronic friendship. Nagle is the real deal, a former Naval Aviator and intel operative for the CIA, who knows his stuff. I greatly enjoyed his first thriller, The Iran Covenant, so I was looking forward to the release of his new book about a terrorist attack on Washington, DC. It more than lived up to my expectations—The Woolsorter’s Plague is an order of magnitude better. Nagle has a fine ear for dialog, which is a key to great novels. He has the connections to get the fine details right. I couldn’t turn out the lights when I got into the last few chapters of heart-pounding action. What made it so frightening was it’s plausibility. Nagle isn’t only entertaining readers—he is warning all of us. I think you’ll be glad you read this one.

Caliphate by Tom Kratman
I took this scary little Science Fiction novel with me over a weekend, visiting relatives, and stayed up very late Sunday morning finishing it at about 4:00 am. If you like SF adventure and are worried about the future of our world, check this one out. Kratman is a fine writer, and it was more gripping as it went on. Set 100 years in the future, when America has become of necessity a military empire facing the Muslim Caliphate of Europe, it lifts from today’s headlines to create a scary buy plausible future.

A Desert Called Peace By Tom Kratman 
The first of the Carrera series (se others below). Kratman is a retired Army LtCol and a terrific author. His novels are escapism and entertainment, but with a message for our times. I highly recommend him.

Carnifex. By Tom Kratman
As readers of my Old Jarhead Blog know, my personal reading is focused on history, politics and economics, professional reading on management and healthcare. But sometimes I need a break, and nothing is better for that than one of Tom Kratman's military science fiction novels. Of course, Kratman is not entirely a "break" from reading about politics or the military, but he is enthralling. Carnifex is a sequel to A Desert Called Peace" and like all good sequels, it can stand on its own. But if you haven't read Desert, you'll be doing yourself a favor if you read it first. Kratman is a retired Army LtCol, and one would expect his mastery of the feel of close infantry combat to be good. But in this book, he shows equal understanding of war at sea and in the air. His detailed plotting and fully believable characters will hold you through this long novel, full of the twists and turns of a global conflict on several fronts. It is the Earth and all our problems, including the "War on Terror," set on a distant planet, centuries in the future. But the "War on Terror" (or perhaps better the "War against Salafist Jihadism") on Nova Terra is being fought by some men who are as ruthless as hard as the terrorists in defense of family and freedom, despite the hand-wringing of the usual collection of progressives. This is the third Kratman novel I've read. The first was Caliphate, which I also recommend, about the war here after a terror nuke strike on the US. I have others waiting for when the non-fiction pile shows a little light--or the brain needs a change of pace. One is surprised that he can turn out novels so rapidly, at such a high quality of writing. After reading his books, rich with his philosophy of leadership, this old Marine would have been proud to sever under Kratman's command. Whether I would have measured up to his standards is another question, beyond knowing at this stage of my life. Lastly, the Author's Afterword in Carnifex is a bonus, and worth alone what you will pay for the book. Send it to your Congresscritter.

The Lotus Eaters. By Tom Kratman
I think of Kratman's Military Science Fiction and near-future military adventure novels as a chance to escape from a focus on politics. I continue to be amazed at his attention to detail and knowledge of the training and logistics that go into a successful military operation. But they really aren't. Woven through the well-constructed plots and gripping details are thoughts on the philosophy of war and governance that far exceed what you can get at today's university for intellectually stimulation. But readers so inclined can ignore them and concentrate on the story. In "The Lotus Eaters," Kratman starts most chapters from a book that, alas, I don't think exists, because I want to read it. It is "Historia Filosofia Moral" published in 466 on Terra Nova, the world Kratman has created to refight Earth's battles. Chapter 22 starts with this quote from this book: "Neither reason nor emotion can be taken in excess. Reason, in itself and standing alone, is a totally inadequate basis for maintaining a society. This is, indeed, the great flaw of the intellectual--far more so than his obsession with sex, his arrogance, and his selfishness--and why he is as much a danger to society as an asset and an ornament. Reason cannot tell the typical voter why he should not grant himself X largesse from the fisc when the penalty will not be paid until generation Y, a century down the road. That necessary restraint comes from an emotional commitment to future generations, and to the culture, values and traditions of the society of which the voter is a part. Indeed, once the practice of robbing the fisc is well established, reason must lead the voter to "get mine, before it's all gone.".... These excerpts are alone worth the price of the book, but do yourself a favor and start with the first volume of this series, "A Desert Called Peace." ~Bob

The Amazon Legion by Tom Kratman
Lifted from today's headlines, Kratman brings the woman in combat debate into context. People advocating for "fairness" may not like the ugly reality, as LtCol Kratman depicts it. War is not pretty and not a game.

Come and Take Them by Tom Kratman
The hardcover version will be released November 5th, but the Kindle edition of this fifth installment in the "Desert of Peace" series is available now. Neither LtCol Kratman nor Duque Carrera will think much of my self discipline. When I get a new Kratman book, I usually save it until I need an adrenalin and mood boost from my non-fiction reading schedule, but I started this one the day I got it. I plead that I'm old and unwell and wanted to be sure I finished it--a Kratman novel is not to be missed. He started his writing career at "great," and like a fine craftsman, gets better with each new effort. Rather than a sequel, this book runs roughly parallel to "The Amazon Legion," no mean literary feat. Having tried my hand at a little fiction, and had trouble keeping my main character's name straight, I am awed by Kratman's ability to weave almost unlimited strands of the plot together. No one writes better military fiction depicting the horror of close combat. Even better, Kratman has as superb grasp of weapons development, training and logistics, and manages to make them integral to the story. For many military fiction writers, these things happen by magic, like the six-gun in the B-western that fires 50 shots without reloading. Kratman's novels work as adventure escapism, but are even better for people with the interest and G-2 to think about the philosophy and morality of war, why people fight, and the issues confronting our country today. If you have read "A Desert Called Peace" and the other entries in the series, you will get this book. If not, do yourself a favor and start with that.

Countdown: The Liberators. By Tom Kratman
Well, this is a revolting development. I haven’t finished Kratman’s excellent A Desert Called Peace series, but got turned on to his Countdown series, of which this is book one. Though I have both a very good military history and an excellent political book started, this came when I needed a little escapism. And make no mistake, this adventure fantasy is escapism. So I started it—and finished it without taking up the others. I’ll now have to order the next two. Sigh. If only books came with the extra time to enjoy them. I know, and have recommended, Kratman as a writer of wonderful military science fiction. This book is more of a thriller, set in the too-near future to really be called SF. It is a future that is easily discernable from the converging lines of our deteriorating civilization today. More and more, Kratman reminds me of my favorite escapist novel writer, W.E.B. Griffin, in his terrific characterization of people you’d like to know well, and people you’d stand in a long line in the hot sun to get a shot at. But his plotting and presentation, especially about planning and executing military operations are, if anything, more detailed and authentic than Griffin’s. If Griffin can be called a historical novelist, Kratman is a future=history novelist. He understands how warriors talk, think and act. Kratman is a retired Army LtCol, but has a terrific grasp of all aspects of war: air, land and sea. If you want to see what an unpleasant future will look like, and what men and women of courage will have to do to cope with the brave new world that’s, alas, coming, you can hardly do better than to enjoy one of Kratman’s novels.

Countdown: M Day By Tom Kratman
I know, I usually give you recommendations on great non-fiction in history, politics and economics. I’ll get back to it, have just needed a little escapism lately. I was happily about a quarter into Victor Davis Hanson’s excellent history of the Peloponnesian war, A War Like No Other, when this book, the second in the series, came in the mail, along with the third one. No problem, I thought, I’ll put them in the pile and think about what’s next after Hanson. But I was going away for the weekend, and a paperback was easier to

Countdown: H Hour By Tom Kratman

Since I usually recommend non-fiction history, political and economic books, I was going to skip reviewing this novel. First, I’m a little annoyed with Kratman, in that he doesn’t seem to be able to write these things as fast as I can read them. He was an officer, after all, and I expect a little more attention to my edification. Second, I reviewed the first two books in this series, so I’m running out of superlatives. If you read both of those, chances are you will read this one without my recommendation. And while it can stand alone, I recommend you read the series in order. But Kratman does such an entertaining job of describing realistic military violence, and has such a frightening, reality-based world view of how civilization is collapsing as we watch, that I had to put in another plug. In his “Afterword” (which covers ground he talked about in his science fiction novels, but should be read by every American) he says he is asked if he expects things will really get as bad as depicted in these action novels of the near future. His response is that he expects things to get much worse—that the books only depict the early stages of what is happening to our world. I wish I didn’t think he was right. As with his other novels, there are some running gags, one-liners and historical and literary quotes that make the book an especially great value.

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