Book Recommendations--Latest Update
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.
You are free to print or post any of these reviews, with credit to: Robert A. Hall, The Old Jarhead Blog (www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com) ~Bob
Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar. http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-Forsaken-The-Vietnam-1954-1965/dp/0521757630/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400263927&sr=8-1&keywords=Triumph+Forsaken%3A+The+Vietnam+War%2C+1954-1965+by
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.
The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won by Victor Davis Hanson
This terrific book was lent to me by a friend. I have read hundreds of books about WWII or various aspects of it. This was by far the best. There are a thousand books that will tell you what happened. “The Second World Wars” tells also tells you why things happened as they did. As he did for the Peloponnesian War in “A War Like No Other,” Hanson does not write in chronological order, but breaks the various wars (he says that many wars joined into one) down into parts like Airpower, Sea Power, Land Power, Industrial and Economic Power, Sieges, Invasions, the leaders, and at the end, who gained what. Perhaps the most powerful section is entitled “The Dead,” which gives casualty estimates by country. WWII killed over 60 million people, about as many as died during Mao’s various purges, revolutions and famines in China after he came to power. You will be both overwhelmed and surprised. He says that about 23,000 civilians died every day of World War II, about four times the dead at Gettysburg. This is a must-read for military history and WWII buffs. It should be read by every college student, but of course few could read a book of this length (over 500 pages). Get it.
Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. By Rodney Stark
An excellent account of the crusades from the European perspective.
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 First World War by John Keegan
2014 being the centennial of the start of "The Great War," I wanted a good history. Naturally, I turned to the late Sir John Keegan, perhaps, with Max Hastings, the pre-eminent modern British military historian. He writes with great sympathy and affection for the troops and common people who bore the suffering, never forgetting when he describes an attack where 10,000 were killed that these were real people. He reports, for example, that at the end of the war, there were 630,000 war widows in France, most in the prime of life, with no chance of remarrying--the men were dead. I have been into the Scottish War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle several times, and seeing the lists of thousands upon thousands of dead Jocks leaves me in tears every time. Britain lost twice as many men in WWI as in WWII. I knew a lot about the western front, some about the eastern and Italian fronts, and of course, Gallipoli, much studied by Marines. Keegan expanded my knowledge and understanding in all areas, including little known theaters of war. He is a clear and readable writer, which is important. \Of course, as a Marine, I loved this quote when he is describing the allied counter attack to the last German "war winning" offensive of 1918: "They included the 3rd and 2nd American Divisions, the latter including a brigade of the US Marine Corps, the most professional element of the doughboy army, and at Belleau Wood on June 4 and the days following, the Marines added to their reputation for tenacity by steadfastly denying the Germans access to the road towards Rheims, the capture of which would have more than doubled the railway capacity on which they depended to feed their offensive." (P407). He also quotes Capt. Lloyd Williams answer to a French officer who urged retreat, "Retreat? Hell we just got here!" A great book to educate you about this bitter conflict which led to WWII and still creates much trouble in today's world.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid
I read the first two volumes of Manchester's wonderful Churchill trilogy back when they came out. I was sadly disappointed when it was announced he was too ill to finish the third and, in my view, most interesting volume, covering WWII. When I found he had turned the project over to Paul Reid, I approached it with some trepidation, sure it would not be up to the master. I was wrong. This book, written mostly by Reid from Manchester's voluminous research, is every bit as good, perhaps better than the first two. It is both a chronicle of Churchill's life from 1940 until his death in 1965 (which I remember), but a chronicle of the leadership decisions in WWII by Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, Truman, Ike, Monty and other flag officers. History buffs will love it, but it is not a project to be undertaken lightly--it runs over 1,000 pages. Still, it is not to be missed.
Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World. By Roger Crowley
I asked LtCol Tom Kratman, USA (Ret.), the author of excellent military science fiction, for a recommendation for a high school graduation gift for a nephew of my wife who is joining the Army. (My fault, I think; the last time I saw the lad he was about 10 and I showed him the manual of arms with a training rifle.) The book looked so good, I bought a copy for myself. It is excellent history. I knew, of course, about the siege of Malta and Lepanto, but this filled in all the details. The author writes, "The idea of conquest was central to the Sultanate, intricately interwoven with it's holder's position as leader of the Muslim world. ... Only spectacular conquests could legitimize a sultan." The battle of Lepanto, the most decisive sea battle between Salamis and Trafalgar, ended the efforts of the Muslim Ottomans to conquer Europe and capture Rome, though they rebuilt their lost fleet. I was interested to learn that the commander of the Holy League, Catholic King Philip II of Spain's illegitimate half brother Don Juan, was only 22. Philip had ordered him not to fight to preserve the fleet, but he was eager for battle and glory. Some interesting notes: One of the fleet's Spanish arquebusiers was Maria la Bailadora, a flamenco dancer, disguised as a man to stay with her lover. The writer Cervantes, then 24, was there as a volunteer and was wounded in the battle. 25,000 Muslims died as did 15,000 Christians, but 12,000 Christian galley slaves were freed. (Both sides depended on slaves, often but not always of the opposite religion, to power their fleets. Raids by Muslim pirates/slave catchers were one of the causes of the conflict.) The author writes that, "Not until Loos in 1915 would this rate of slaughter be surpassed." I highly recommend this well researched and balanced history.
The Enemy at the Gate; Hapsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe by Andrew Wheatcroft
This is an excellent, well-written and balanced account of the Siege of Vienna, the last Muslim crusade (until the present day) in 1683 to bring Europe from the Dar al-Harb (House of War, countries not ruled by Islam) into the Dar al-Islam (The House of Islam) by force of arms. These efforts started in the 8th century when Muslim armies conquered southern Italy, Sicily and Spain and were only turned back by Charles Martel and his Frankish knight at the 732 Battle of Tours in France. Previous Muslim efforts at had been beaten at an earlier siege of Vienna in 1529 and at the decisive naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the Holy League, led by 22-year-old Don John of Austria destroyed the Ottoman fleet, ending the threat of Muslim control of the western Mediterranean. I knew the board outlines of the battle, but this volume contains rich details of both sides, including the Christian reconquista of Hungary, which had been previously conquered by the Muslims. Wheatcroft pictures it as a clash between empires, not between civilizations, though he reports that both sides were inspired by faith, the Austrians by a belief that they were defending Christianity, the Ottomans that they were following the Qur'anic injunction to exp[and the Dar al-Islam. It tells of the key roles played by Charles of Lorraine in the defense and King John Sobieski III of Poland, who lead the relief. Also the rise of a young Prince Eugene of Savoy, who became, in Napoleon's, one of the greatest commanders in history. Where are these men now that we need them?
Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph. By Richard Botkin
This is a terrific history of the latter part of the Vietnam War, focusing mostly on the NVA's Easter Offensive of 1972, and the actions of the elite Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps and their heroic US Marine advisors. It includes a great account of "Ripley at the Bridge," when Capt. John Ripley planted explosives on the Dong Ha bridge under fire (Navy Cross) and dropped it, preventing the NVA from getting their tanks and troops across at that point, and contributing greatly to the defeat of that invasion. The NVA were in violation of the treaty they signed in Paris, but later we violated our pledge to the Republic of Vietnam to aid them f the North violated the truce. Thanks to our reneging on our commitment, today they live in a one-party state, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech or freedom of religion. This book will be of great interest to Marines, Vietnam Vets and Military History buffs. I recommend it, and hope the movie comes to our area. http://www.ridethethundermovie.com/ If not, I'll get the DVD.
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick
As a history buff with a master's in the subject, I have read a lot about Custer and the Bighorn fight. But as a fan of Philbrick's other work, I had to pick this up. It will be the standard work on the battle for many years. It is well written, well researched and well balanced. It goes into the personalities of Custer (he sounds like a modern politician--and I don't mean that as a compliment) and of Sitting Bull, detailing a lot of their careers before and, for Sitting Bull, after the battle. It cites the positives as well as his negatives of the participants on both sides. It also examines in detail the actions of Reno, Benteen, Terry, Gibbon and others. As a vet, I would not have wanted to serve under any of them. Philbrick has reviewed a great many sources, including some unpublished, and weighs the veracity of the accounts. There are a myriad of details I didn't know, Like that Sitting Bull's great-grandson served in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star. This is a must for history buffs, especially those with an interest in military or western history.
Apprentices of War: Memoir of a Marine Grunt. By Gary L. Tornes
This is an excellent memoir of a Marine infantryman in Vietnam. It has the ring of pure truth to me. Unlike most memoirs, Tornes doesn't leave out things that don't make him look good. I'm a marine Vietnam vet, but I was more fortunate than Tornes in that I spent part of my tour on Okinawa, that I was a Radio relay Team chief, and that my time at Khe Sanh in 1967, including a month in the Ville TAD to the CAC unit, was fairly quiet. You will understand why the grunts are held in high regard by all Marines. I saw on the flyleaf that Tornes lived in Wisconsin, so I Googled him. Alas. I found his obit. He died in 2010 at 64. But he had 47 years after he cheated death in Vietnam. I'm sorry I can't get to buy him a drink. The book, published in 2004, appears to be out of print, but used/library copies are available.
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.
Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia by Robert Lacey
My wife and I read The Year 1,000 by this (British I think) author, and loved it, so we looked for more of his works. Lacey writes with a straightforward, clear and entertaining style. This is a right-down-the-middle history of Saudi Arabia, with great details about the rise of Sunni jihad terrorism, Wahhabism, Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. It explores the struggle between Islamic fundamentalists and modernists in Saudi Arabia. This is neither a conservative nor a liberal book; Lacey says both positive and negative things about George Bush when he feels it is called for. He has lived in the Kingdom for many years, and obviously has an affection for the Saudis--but not all of them, and his views are not blinded by that. This is an essential book for understanding both the Middle East and the terrorist threat we are dealing with. I highly recommend it. Inshallah you will read 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.
America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink Revised Edition
by Kenneth M. Stampp
This terrific book is well-researched, well-written and well-balanced. It will be of interest to history buffs, political buffs and anyone interested in the Civil War, for Buchanan’s efforts to appease southern Democrats and bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state, against the wishes of the vast majority of her people, assured a Republican victory in 1860. Anyone who thinks that slavery wasn’t the primary cause of the war should read this book. Democrat politicians and Democrat editors north and south almost universally referred to the opposition as the “Black Republicans,” trying to tie them to abolition and wanting equality of the races. Few did, though all Republicans thought slavery was an abomination and hoped for its eventual extinction, thus opposing the spread of slavery to Kansas and other territories. The struggle over Kansas forms a large part of the book, but the Dred Scott decision and William Walker’s filibustering efforts to take over Nicaragua, supported by southern Democrats who saw it as another slave state, as well as the financial panic that fall are all covered in detail.
The book will also give you hope for our time, as politics then as now was filled with slander, name-calling, vituperation, corruption, chicanery and vote fraud.
Some quotes from the book: “unban immigrants were the source of much of the illegal voting, for party leaders found compliant judges who would naturalize compliant followers in large numbers on the eve of an election, often in violation of naturalization laws. In Philadelphia, for example, several thousand illegal votes helped the Democrats carry Pennsylvania for Buchanan (in 1956).
“In his journal, Ralph waldo Emmerson, “…wrote indignantly about the, ‘class of privileged thieves who infest our politics…’”
The 1856 Republican platform said it was “both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism—Polygamy and Slavery.” While the Democrat platform, “exploiting northern race prejudice, attacked the ‘Black’ Republicans as ‘amalgamationists’ and reckless abolitionists whose triumph would destroy the Union.” (An amalgamationist was someone who favored mixing the races.)
“When a Wisconsin Republican moved to amend a proposed referendum on black suffrage to include suffrage for women, the Democratic minority supported him ‘to get a political advantage by making the bill odious.’”
“Racial equality was only one of heresies of which Democrats accused Republicans. According to the Washington Union (the organ of the Democrat administration, ‘The black-republican party comprises within it’s ranks all the isms of the North…Mormonism, abolitionism, free-soilism, spiritual rappings, women’s rights, socialism, free-loveism, and know-nothingism have sprung up from this corrupt state of political profligacy and religious infidelity…’”
“When the Milwaukee Sentinel…asked whether ‘some small degree of consideration’ was not due to a ‘proscribed and unjustly treated class of citizens. Democrats lost no time is seizing the issue, insisting that black suffrage was tantamount of ‘giving negro husbands and negro progeny to our fair daughters and sisters.’ Their state convention promised to resist ‘the odious doctrine of Negro equality.”
“Oxford (Kansas) a village of six houses located on the Missouri line…reported 1628 pro-slavery votes, which greatly exceeded the number of eligible voters in the whole of Johnson county. … They soon discovered that 1500 of the names had been copied from in alphabetical order out of William’s Cincinnati Director for 1855.”
So, pretty much business as usual. I highly recommend this book.
Wellington: The Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Harman Pakenham, Countess of Longford
Since this excellent book runs to almost 500 pages, it is for those with a serious interest in military history or historical biography. It is both well-written and well-researched, with great photos. (Of paintings of course.) I knew only that Wellington’s peninsular campaign was a success, but not about individual battles. This book remedied that. And thought I knew a great deal about Waterloo, I discovered many new facets. It covers not only Wellington’s character, and his battles, but the complex political situation he had to deal with, the problems created by his brothers, and the need for reforms in the British army, starting with the way officers were selected. He was the indispensable man; Neither Waterloo nor many of the battles in Spain and Portugal could have been won by anyone else. His tactical brilliance was only matched by his ability to inspire troops to exceed all expectations. My only quibble is that the Countess often uses French phrases without translation, never supposing I guess that it would be read by members of the “lower orders” like myself who were deficient in the language. But this is only a slight distraction. I highly recommend this book.
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.
The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Make no mistakes, at 657 pages, reading this excellent history is a project. It’s also a catalog of horrors and evil. If you want to know what autocracy looked like in practice, it’s here. Flashes of the admirable in the Tsars, such as Alexander I’s firm resistance to Napoleon, are completely subsumed ion their terror, antisemitism, use of torture and murder. They were usually ill-prepared for the throne, arrogant and self-centered beyond belief. For much of history, the serfs were the most numerous slaves in the world, able to be bought, sold and often given as gifts. A victorious general might be made a count and given 50,000 rubles and “400 souls.” I found especially interesting the author’s comparison of the Romanovs and the modern Tsars like Stalin and Putin. The book is well-researched and very readable. It should be of especial interest both to history buffs and those interested in non-democratic politics.
An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
This terrific book is well-researched and well-written. It starts with the change from hunter-gather’s to farmers and brings us up to date, detailing how food has been the prime mover in history, especially in wars. The author points out that everything we eat has been, at some point, “genetically-modified’ through encouraging mutants, developments of particular strains, or cross-breading, far before the current panic of GM food in labs. Nothing we eat in mass can exist in the wild, plants or animals. I found especially interesting his discussion of how food has been used as a weapon, including in man-made famines that killed far more people through starvation than the holocaust. I highly recommend it.
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
http://www.warshotsbook.com/ (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 Romans 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 or 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.
The Pity Of War by Niall Ferguson
I have loved everything I've read by Ferguson, so when I came across this older history of WWI, I grabbed it. At over 400 pages, it is not to be taken lightly, but for the history buff, it is well worth your time. Ferguson's grandfather served through the war w2ith a Highland regiment, and survived. Scotland had a higher casualty rate than every county except Serbia and Turkey. This book is not so much about the fighting as about the political, economic and morale factors that went into it. His excellent research turns most of the conventional wisdom of WWI on its head. He believes Germany went to war because they felt weak, not military strong, and thought the imbalance was growing. His review of the differing economic and financial power of the central powers versus the allies suggests the Allies should have won much sooner. But Germany made better use of it's resources, and the Germans killed the allies at a much higher rate, meaning the French and British strategy of attrition worked against them. He suggests that Germans were not starved into defeat by the blockade and that it wasn't war reparations but economic mismanagement that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic leading to the Nazis. You cannot but help learn a great deal from this well-written volume. As a bonus for me, I discovered the poems of Ewart Alan Mackintosh, an officer in a Scottish regiment who was killed in 1917. " So you were David’s father,/And he was your only son,/And the new-cut peats are rotting/And the work is left undone,/Because of an old man weeping,/Just an old man in pain,/For David, his son David,/That will not come again."
Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima by Jack Lucas and D. K. Drum
Lucas' story couldn't happen today. He was a fighter as a boy. as 14 he enlisted in the Marines. Stationed on the east Coast, he stowed away on a train to get to California and the fighting. On Hawaii it was discovered he was only 15, so they side-tracked him from the fighting. So he started his own fights, hoping that would get him sent to combat. eventually he stowed away on a ship headed to Iwo Jima, which by chance his cousin was on. When he revealed himself it was too late to send him back, and he made the landing with his unit. There he smothered two grenades with his body, pushing them into the ash, and survived, though torn up. He was thus the youngest person in the 20th century to earn a Medal of Honor. Interestingly, his captain earned one as well. After the war he led an eventful life, becoming a captain in the Army and never losing his love of fighting. This is a book that all military buffs will love, but especially Marines.
Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government by Mike Lee
This easy-to-read, well-researched book will introduce you to new founding "fathers" you haven't met, like Mum Betts, a slave who sued for freedom, and give you a different view of those you probably think you know about, like Arron Burr. It explores a lot of the controversies around the adoption of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and will give you a new appreciation for Americans who championed our freedoms, federalism and checks and balances. Not to be missed by history buffs and students of our form of government.
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 humorous...to 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.
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.
American Freedom, American Slavery: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan
Published in 1975, this well-written history of the Virginia colony from Jamestown to the
Revolution and the foundations of American slavery is straightforward and very readable. It explores the historical contradiction between slavery and the struggle for freedom. The revolution was led military and politically by Virginia slaveholders. At that time, 40% of slaves in the colonies were in Virginia. The Virginia colony was hardly the bucolic paradise some might imagine. Mortality was high, corruption rampant, life difficult and the large men oppressed the small men. Early labor was provided by indentured servants, whose lot was little better than slaves. They were beaten, sometimes fatally, though probably not as bad as slaves. Their contracts could be sold, and investing in them, as later in slave, was highly profitable. They were better off in that their contracts could expire if they lived, and they became free, but the planters sought every excuse to have the Council extend the contracts for some violation, often trivial. Morgan made me glad that my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather, John Hall, emigrated not to Virginia, but to Massachusetts in 1630, where he became one of the "First Comers" in Yarmouth on Cape Cod and lived into his 90s. Some interesting takes from the book that sound current: In the 1600s, the Virginia Assembly complained that an act of parliament affecting their trade was the result of avaricious men "whose sickle has been over long in our harvest." I laughed out loud--nothing changes. Government is still where "avaricious men" go to put their sickle in your harvest. Other good quotes: "Men with guns are not as easily exploited as men without them." p. 240. "(People) wanted an end to fruitless government expenditures. Much of their tax money, they suspected, was going to line the pockets of a pack of public officials. ... they wanted a public accounting of public funds--they wanted specifically to be told what their taxes were paying for." P.276-277. " But (John) Locke made it clear to Englishmen that the legislature must be supreme and that the executive must be limited by the laws that the legislative branch enacted." P.347. "Firearms were great levelers, and the use of them by ordinary men against established authority was in itself enough to generate leveling thoughts." This book is well worth reading.
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.
Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Thomas Keneally
This is a short (175 pages), very readable account of the life of this American Icon. As a history buff, I didn't learn a lot knew, but it was a great refresher. It will be especially valuable to the individual who doesn't know a lot about Lincoln. my only disagreement is that I thought Keneally was too harsh on Meade. Yes he was too cautious after Gettysburg, and missed a chance to destroy Lee--but his army had suffered a lot as well. And on that field, he stopped Lee, something no other general had done to that point.
The Washing Of The Spears: The Rise And Fall Of The Zulu Nation. By Donald R. Morris
This well-researched history, presented in a very readable style, will delight and military history buff. It is the story of not only the Zulus, but all of the peoples of Southern Africa, and the back ground for much of today's troubles in that area. Full of fascinating details, it is a story of towering personalities, on all sides, with all the flaws of such people. It details great bravery--and great stupidity. Containing the best accounts I have read of the British defeat as Isandlwana and the heroic defense of Rorke's Drift, it also covers other, less well known engagements. With rifles against spears the British defeats appear to be the results of poor tactical leadership and judgment on the spot. If the British were the aggressors, the Zulus had a lot of unappealing characteristics. Zulu kings would have people selected at random for trivial offenses and executed on the spot to impress visitors with their power. It's a long history, but well worth reading.
Texans Guns And History. By Col. Charles Askins
Written in a folksy, story-telling style, this is an entertaining tale of Texas Rangers, Indians, lawmen, killers, rustlers, and gunslingers that will be an enjoyable history for those who like westerns. It starts with the rangers in the 1870s and ends with Bonnie and Clyde. First published in 1970, the author lacked the benefit of political correctness and multiculturalism. For example, instead of calling the Indians "Native Americans," he calls them savages, because when they took prisoners, white, Hispanic or Indian, they amused themselves torturing the men to death over a period of days. The women were repeatedly raped. If they withstood that, and were attractive enough, they might be kept as slaves, otherwise they met the same fate. I mean who are we to judge their culture? When you don't have cable, the best entertainment around is listening to another human scream his lungs out as you slowly peel the skin from his body with a knife. The book has lots of reports of shootouts.
The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, An Englishman's World by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger
My bride and I are listening to this fascinating short history on CD in the car. Very interesting facts. Folks in 1000 were more advanced than we credit. A lot of the things developed then are still strong influences on our world. The book does dwell a bit on the disastrous reign of my ancestor, Ethelred II, the Unready. The epithet “unready” is derived from unraed, meaning “bad counsel” or “no counsel,” a puns on his name, which means “noble counsel.” Ah, well, we can't all have Robert the Bruce in the linage. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/193946/Ethelred-II
The Passing of Armies: An Account Of The Final Campaign Of The Army Of The Potomac. By Joshua Chamberlain
A book I recently read had a section on Chamberlain, reminding me of this wonderful book I read a while back. History buffs will know Chamberlain as the CO of the 20th Maine, who held Little round Top on the left of the union line the second day at Gettysburg. He finished the war as a Major General, and was selected by Grant to receive the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. His order to his troops to render a salute to the surrendering rebels is credited with starting the healing process. This book is a fine account of the end of the war. But it is worth reading to savor Chamberlain's use of the English language. reading it, I felt like an uneducated bumpkin (no comment, please, unless you can write like this). I recommend this both for the interesting history and the writing by a great American.
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
This is a terrific book. Not only will you learn things about Roosevelt, but also many interesting things about the Amazon Rain Forest (the PC term today for jungle). From reading bios of TR, I knew that he had taken an exploration trip to Brazil after he lost the 2012 presidential race as a third party candidate, but i had no idea that it was so harrowing. That he survived at all was a miracle--one more bad break, mistake or accident and his bones would be lost in the jungle. There is much to admire in his selflessness, fortitude and tenacity, but in this case his leadership was lacking. He allowed incompetents to plan the trip and changed the trip at the last minute to a much riskier area. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility. Having delegated responsibility for logistics, he should have supervised to be sure the tasks were properly carried out. Finding out when it's too late to turn back that they were missing much needed supplies resulted in a major fustercluck. The book is well written, educational and entertaining, but frustrating as much trouble could have been avoided with decent planning.
Puller Chronicles Volume 1: Secrets and Mysteries of the Greatest Marine's Heroic Ancestral Faith by Meriwether Ball
I would recommend this book to Marines of strong Christian faith. Meriwether bell has set out to document both LtGen. Puller's genealogy, but the foundations of his faith. This is not a combat story, but explores aspects of Puller not included in Jon Hoffman's definitive biography,
Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC. I didn't think I had much to learn in this area, but I was wrong. The book contains not only interesting details, but at least one major surprise. Bell's light, almost breezy style makes this a book you can comfortably read in an evening. I look forward to Book II. ~Bob
George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and, Don Yaeger
This is a short, well written and well researched history of a fascinating but little known piece of the Revolution. I have been a Revolutionary War buff since early teens and had never heard of the Culper Ring. The book is easy to read and will hold your interest. It also has details about Nathan hale and about Arnold's treachery.
Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines' Finest Hour in Vietnam by Gregg Jones
This terrific account of Khe Sanh was given to me by a Marine friend who was with Combined Action Company Oscar and went through the siege--he's mentioned in the book twice by name. (I was TAD to CAC-O with a Radio Relay Team in August and early September, 67, but rotated home, so fortunately missed the siege.) I would take exception to the title; "Last Stand" implies a Little Bighorn outcome. Perhaps, "Victorious Stand..." would have been more accurate. But I loved everything else about the book, not least because I know or know of many of the participants. It covers the big picture, but also fine accounts of combat at the individual, squad and platoon level. It will bring home the war in a personal and realistic way. It is not to be missed by military history buffs and those who want a better understanding of combat in Vietnam.
Seven Days in January: With the 6th SS-Mountain Division in Operation NORDWIND by Wolf T. Zoepf
This is an exceptionally well- balanced history by an author who was an Officer in the SS Division involved. I picked it up because, despite me extensive reading on WWII, it covered a battle I knew nothing about. It will be of most interest to military historians and military professionals, plus anyone who participated in the battle. These groups will appreciative the numerous detailed maps of the American and German positions and attacks. The lessons of the book are already well known, but it strongly reinforces them. If you have complete control of the air, and/or far better logistics and supplies and/or far batter command and control communications--as the Americans did--you win. But it also demonstrates that professionalism, fighting spirit and morale can create some parity with power.
What Now, Lieutenant?: Leadership Forged from Events in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Beyond by Richard Neal
This is a fine memoir is by an excellent Marine who rose from Lieutenant to four-star General in the Corps. "What Now, Lieutenant" refers to the leadership lessons he highlights from his career. I never had the privilege to serve under General Neal, and I regret that, as my Marine service was at the same time as part of his. This book will be of interest especially to Marines, but also by any military types interested in leadership or by history buffs, as it has some interesting inside stories of the events he participated in, at the company level in hot action in Vietnam and at the theater leadership level in Dessert Story.
The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis--and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse
This book should be read by everyone, but I think it’s a “must read” for parents, educators and policy makers. (For folks 15 to 25 too, but how to get them to read it?) Though Sasse is a Republican senator, it is not a political book. Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, said, “The book is practical, helpful and conversational. I wish it had been written 20 years ago.” We’ve all bemoaned the lack of resiliency in todays “emerging adults,” like the story of the two female college students who discovering a mouse in their apartment and called the police. And after the police trapped it, the girls went to therapy! Sasse goes through all of that snowflake mentality and puts the blame where it belongs, not on “millennial slackers,” but on the parents and educators who took the toughness out of life. Sasse offers a lot of solutions. (Though I very much fear it is too late to save the country.) It starts with hooking kids on reading, and not junk, but enough serious non-fiction to expand their horizons. I was fortunate in that I developed a love of reading very early. I still remember books I received for Christmas in junior high. How I’m almost 72 and read a book a week…and have shelves of unread books waiting, mostly history (I have a master’s in it, probably why I like Sasse so much.). If there is a weakness in Sasse’s book, it is that a lot of his solutions, like encouraging international travel while in school, work for the affluent upper middle class. The single mom who’s feeding the kids fried baloney and is two months behind on the rent isn’t thinking about how to send the kids to France. But there is a route open to them to develop into adults: military service, the tougher the better. And, yes, it doesn’t work for everyone, what does? And the services are being undermined by the PC wave, meaning the results won’t be as strong as 20 or 40 years ago. Perhaps the military didn’t occur to Sasse because he didn’t serve and can’t imagine his kids doing so. But these “emerging adults” need to develop a work ethic, resiliency, tenacity and self-discipline, to learn to take responsibility for their actions and to focus on the mission, on getting the job down. I got that at Parris Island in 1964 from my Marine Corps Drill Instructors Sgt. E. Owens, Jr, Sgt. M. P. Martin, and Sgt. W. H. Harris., and because of them, I’ve had a long, successful and happy life. They are still hiring. With that addition, I still highly recommend Sasse’s book.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This wonderful book was recommended to me by my 17-year-old granddaughter, Britnye, who read it for school. My congratulations to her for reading and recommending such a serious, important work, and to her teacher for assigning it. It was first published in 1945, the year before I was born, and 12 million copies have been printed in 24 languages. Many people I mention it to have already read it…where was I? Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist living in Vienna when he was arrested by the Nazis. He could have fled to America before that, but stayed to help his elderly parents. They died in the camps, as did his first wife. He had almost completed his book on logotherapy, but it was taken from him along with everything when he was sent to Auschwitz. He survived four different concentration camps. While Freud held that man seeks pleasure and Adler that man seeks power or control, logotherapy holds that people seek meaning in their lives. Frankl recounts his time in the horror of the camps and noticed that those who gave up, who had no goal to live for, died, while many of those who did have such a goal still found meaning in life and often survived. Of course, a twist of fate could kill you in the camps anyway. I believe what Frankl says. In my books, “Advice for my Granddaughter” and its companion, “Advice for Boys,” I write that the secret of happiness is to find something you care about more than yourself, be it your family, your church, your work, rescuing dogs or people, your country or the US Marines. I think that is another way to say you must find meaning. Frankl writes that people cannot find happiness, they mush find meaning in their lives and then happiness ensues. My favorite quote in the book is, “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Frankl believes that much drug and alcohol addiction come about because the addicts have not found meaning in their lives. I wish more people, especially teens and young adults, would read this short volume.
Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition by S.I. Hayakawa (Author), Alan R. Hayakawa (Author), Robert MacNeil (Introduction)
This excellent book was referred to me by my friend who is a retired USMC Colonel. Because Hayakawa was a conservative US Senator, I fear some will pass the book by because of the political divide. This would be a their loss. According to Wiki, Hayakawa was "a linguist, psychologist, semanticist, teacher, and writer." This book is non-political, in fact there is much that progressives would approve of. From the preface: "The original version of this book, Language in Action, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler's success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was my conviction then, as it remains now, that we need a habitually critical attitude toward language--our own as well as that of others--both to provide for our personal well-being, and to ensure that we will function adequately as citizens. Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow citizens are more susceptible to slogans of fear and race hatred than those of respect and peaceful accommodation among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue." And, "The basic ethical assumption of semantics, analogous to the assumption in medicine that health is preferable to illness, is that cooperation is preferable to conflict."
He clearly explains the difference between reports, inferences and judgments. He goes into the uses of purr-words and snarl-words, and details how what should be "reports" are often slanted into judgments. Some other quotes, "It will be the basic assumption of this book that widespread intraspecific cooperation through the use of language is the fundamental mechanism of human survival." And, "Today the full resources of advertising agencies, public-relations experts, radio, television, and slanted news stories are brought to bear in order to influence our decisions in election campaigns, especially presidential elections." (Published in 1990 before the Internet! But he didn't have much good to say about TV.) And," If we can get deeply into our consciousness the principle that no word ever has the same meaning twice, we will develop the habit of automatically examining contexts, and this enables us to understand better what others are saying."
I wish I had read this book 45 years ago. It would have made me a better senator, and better speaker and a better writer. In my view, it should be read by every reporter, every broadcaster, every politician, every writer and all who rely on clear communication in their lives.
Semantics and Communication by John C. Condon
This excellent and informative book was recommended to me by a friend, a retired Colonel of Marines. The third and, I assume the last edition was published in 1985. While a 2017 edition taking into account language changes in the last 30 years would be interesting, I would assume Mr. Condon is longer with us, as the first edition was in 1966. Nevertheless, this book is both interesting and value. It makes you think about word choice and communication styles. Two quotes from the book I thought were real keepers, "When the person, be he scholar or average person, speaks with unswerving faith in his generalization, he has abandoned the attitude of caution that characterize the scientist at work...the words "ever" and "always" do not appear in the vocabulary of the scientist." and "Adhering to official policies, fitting each unique case into a fixed set of categories, the bureaucrat is spared the necessity of coming up with fresh ideas." This book will be of special value to the writer, the professional communicator and to those in the mental health disciplines, as it deals with the intersection of words and psychology. I highly recommend it.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This excellent, well-written and researched book should be read by parents, teachers, business owners and hiring authorities. I read it for a book club I belong too. At first I thought "Oh no, another victim group. I should feel guilty for oppressing introverts with my extrovert privilege." But its not really like that, though it discusses how America in particular pays homage to the "extrovert ideal." It delves into the research on introverts and goes into what they bring to the table in any institution. As with most things, we need both types. And the lines are not strictly drawn. But we need to take advantage of introverted characteristics. Interestingly, I was considered an introvert in grade school, became a little more flamboyant, though not part of the "in group" in high school and since the Marines qualify as an extrovert. I'm an ENTJ, I had a successful ten-year career as a state senator, I enjoy public speaking and seek opportunities, and I was a successful association executive which meant constant interaction with a great many people. But I could also provide a list that would make you identify me as an introvert. I was chess champ of my community college and played first board for the chess team, I read at least a book a week, mostly non-fiction, I write, and have published 12 books including two of poetry, I spend a lot of time on the computer, and I'm very cautious about money. I like to think I'm also a thoughtful person. And I'm married to an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs. This book explores all these things and helps you understand the different aspects of your temperament. For parents or teachers of introverted children it's a must-read.
Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Grossi
This is an enjoyable, easy to read book with an important message about a positive attitude. It is the story of a Marine combat veteran of Afghanistan, a stray dog the Marines named Fred, and how Craig rescued him and had him shipped home from the war. It is also the story of their journey together after coming come, Craig’s struggle with PTSD and how they changed each other’s lives. It will be of special interest, of course, to Marines like myself, animal lovers and those interested in PSTD, but is worth reading by everyone.
Pride and Discipline: The Hallmarks of a United States Marine. By Colonel Donald J. Myers USMC (Ret)
This terrific book will be of great interest to Marines and to anyone interested in the military. But it should also be read by anyone who leads (manages) people, as the lessons are valuable in any setting. Col. Myers commanded the Recruit Training Regiment at Marine Corps Boot Camp, Parris Island, SC from 1982 to 1984. He presents the lessons learned, and details the changes in recruit training that took place on his watch. Many are common sense--which is all too uncommon in large organizations, military or civilian. Under his direction, the recruit attrition rate decreased, while DI burnout and the number of DIs relieved for abuse went down. There is no question that PI produced higher quality Marines under his tenure than when I graduated from PI on election day, November 3, 1964. (With one possible exception!) The training is certainly better, and no one could ask more of the Marines in the war on Terror. Most would say that the DIs are better too, though it's hard for me to imagine betters DIs than Sgt. Owens, Sgt. Martin and Sgt. Harris, who have shaped my life for 50 years, and who are in my thoughts daily. I hope the CMC makes this book required reading for Officers, NCO and especially DIs at both Parris Island and MCRD, San Diego.
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.
Firearm Fundamentals: How to be a safe and confident shooter. By Gary L. Behr, CPC
By a stroke of good fortune of the kind that comes to those of us who have led a blameless life, I ran into the author at a local shooting range. The talk tuned to books, and he mentioned this one, so I ordered a copy. It was a terrific find and a great buy. not only is it packed to the gunwales with information, but with links or addresses for more gun information that you could absorb in a couple of years. I picked up several pieces of new information, and refreshed on things I was taught 50 years ago at Parris Island. You can skip those areas that don't currently interest you--hunting and the shotgun section for me--and keep the whole thing as a reference. There was great information on gun myths, protecting yourself in a confrontation, legal risks, and a very solid emphasis on gun safety. I got the version with the WI gun laws in it--a handy reference. I think it will be valuable to experienced shooters, even more so to new ones--or someone thinking of buying their first gun. I highly recommend it.
The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success by Andy Andrews
This book was recommended to me by my excellent Physical Therapist, Jim Carlson, at the Madison VA. Jim is one of the key people who has kept me alive (so far) and something of a Renaissance Man--both an athlete (why he's a PT I suppose) and a well-read intellectual. So when he talks, I listen. The book would classify as self-help, I suppose, but it is written like a novel, in an easy, flowing style. The protagonist made me want to slap him by page four. But he is in a car accident and, presumably in a coma, travels back in time to meet wise historical figures, each of whom gives him a tenet toward having a successful life. I had to agree with the wisdom. I think I've done well with six of them, which may account for my career success. (I do have a problem with the one on forgiveness; as a Marine I want to destroy my enemy, raze his cities and salt the land so nothing will grow there. Then talk about forgiveness. But I don't say that's right.) I plan to give a copy of this book as a Christmas present and a teen version, The Young Traveler's Gift to my granddaughter. (She doesn't read my blog, so mum's the word. I think most readers will benefit from it. A caveat--it has a religious base, so Christians and Jews will like it more than proselytizing secular humanists.
Economics and politics
Must Read: Book Recommendation: Discrimination and Disparities by Thomas Sowell
Another must-read book from Thomas Sowell. This short (126 page) volume should be required reading to run for office, any office, and for government policy makers. Alas, those who need it most probably won’t read it. And, as Sowell points out, humans have a great ability to ignore facts to preserve their preferred visions. Sowell grew up in a poor black family in NC, was supporting himself by the age of 17, and worked his way to a PhD in economics. Thus, he is unafraid to research and write about racial issues that would get a white academics drummed off campus and is unafraid to discuss uncomfortable facts. He has dozens of books in print. His “Basic Economics” is used as a text book around the world, having been translated into several languages. In this book, he destroys both the hard left’s view that disparities in outcomes are always caused by discrimination and the alt-right’s view that they are caused by a lack of capability in minority populations. He reports, for example, that the same black students who are failing in regular public schools are excelling in many charter schools. His discussion of the “income gap” between the top 20% and the lowest 20% is particularly interesting. The media acts as if people stayed in the same quintile all their lives. He reports that 95% of the people who were at one time in the bottom group rise out of it, while a great many people are in the top 20% only a few years. I started out in the bottom, making $38 a week when I was elected to the Massachusetts Senate, and $12k there the first year. For the last ten years of my 31-year career as an association executive, I was in the top 20%. But when I retired due to pulmonary fibrosis to have a lung transplant, we fell out of it. I now make $24,000 a year working PT. If you read only one book this year, this should be it.
Must Read: The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower by Michael Pillsbury
This is a terrific but frightening book, well written and well documented. China places a very high strategic value on deception and making us believe they are weak and have no intentions of surpassing the US. He cites a Chinese proverb from the Warring States period that China's military and civilian leaders often use: Wai ru, nei fa--"On the outside, be benevolent. On the inside, be ruthless." He believes that all recent presidents--Republican as well as Democrat, have been fooled by the benevolent outside, as have most China experts, himself included until he started reading things he wasn't supposed to read. The book details how China has stolen technology and IP, built up it's cyber-attack forces, developed "Assassin's Mace" asymmetric weapons to counter our much more expensive weapons, and is working on all fronts to replace us. The military buildup, in their strategic thinking comes last, so as not to alert the "old Hegemon" to their intentions. Very scary read by one of the US government's leading China Experts for about 40 years. Pillsbury speaks and reads Mandarin, and has had access to top Chinese leaders, hawks as well as moderates, and Chinese defectors, as well as obscure books and documents that most westerners never get to see. In my 80-page 2011 book, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, I cite the rise of China as a military and industrial power as one of four trends that if not reversed, will lead to the collapse of America. Pillsbury convinces me that I didn't go far enough. You should read this book--and send a copy, or at least a recommendation, to your favorite presidential candidate.
Advice to War Presidents by Angelo Codevilla
If they would read it, I'd be delighted to buy copies of this well-researched book for President Obama, Secretary Clinton and all the GOP Contenders. It's a must read for officials and everyone interested in foreign policy. it can hardly be described as a liberal or conservative book. Dr. Codevilla eviscerates all sides for their blunders and lack of seriousness: Bush and the "Neo-cons," the CIA, Kissinger and the "Realists," and every liberal internationalist from Wilson on. After reading it you will never again put complete faith in what the CIA or FBI says it "knows." He uses historical examples from ancient Greece to the War of Terror to illustrate his points. There is something here to offend every viewpoint. Some Quotes: "For European Governments and the U.S. State Department, calling a conference is the 'school solution' to any problem." (P-86) " Today as ever, in public life as in private, leaving no favor unrewarded and no offense unpunished is the key to respect and a rule of life that you neglect at your risk." (P-159) "nor are the shopping malls and college campuses that characterize modern American 'consumer society' apt to produce the human capital of soldiers any more than of people to make and fix things. America's producers and soldiers come from the less favored parts of the economy, while the uncalloused hands and undisciplined habits at its apex are as foreign to making and fixing as fighting." There were things that made me uncomfortable and that I disagree with, but I'm willing to concede that the author has both more experience and has thought more deeply that I have about the subject. This is a book that will challenge your viewpoints and make you defend them. It may, and should, change your views of both war and statecraft. I highly recommend this book.
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.
Race and Culture: A World View. By Thomas Sowell
The challenges of race and culture that confront us are not unique to America. Again, Sowell’s excellent research and pertinent examples put these problems into perspective. You will come away with a better understanding and new view of these issues.
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.
Book Recommendation: White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele
Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History
by Lee Harris
I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's only 218 pages, but it's not light reading. It delves into the philosophy and history of how civilized values like tolerance developed. He points out that there will always be utterly ruthless groups--it's a powerful tool--seeking to impose some fantasy ideology such as Fascism, Nazism, Communism or Jihadism and thus destroy civilization. "Hagel's point is that violence is inevitable once people set out to reshape the world according to their own ideals--ideals that turn out to be nothing more than a kind on intellectual make-believe. The resultant complex is a fantasy ideology, one in which those promoting this complex will stop at nothing simply because they have convinced themselves that they--and they alone--have been chosen to advance the ideals they hold dear." P-141. Not an easy read, but an important one.
They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz is a fine writer and editor who has traveled extensively in Iraq and the Middle East, and has reported fearlessly on the persecution and genocide of Christians that has been taking place. She has the kind of courage you would hope for in front-line combat troops and a passion for the persecuted. In this book she reports events that our government and the mainstream media have ignored through their desire to placate Muslims or not appear "Islamophobic." It is a must read for anyone who cares about the challenges facing believing Christians in that area, or anyone hoping to see peace come to it.
Must Read Book: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple
I can't believe this terrific book, published in 2001, and written mostly as a series of essays between back to 1995, has just come to my attention. But everything I read suggests that not only is this still the situation throughout Britain, the US and Western Civilization, but has grown worse, not better since he wrote. It was written by Dr. Anthony Daniels under the penname Theodore Dalrymple, probably to protect his hospital, patients and career. From 1990 to 2005, he worked as a doctor and psychiatrist in a prison and a public hospital in a slum in Birmingham, England. This book is a catalog of horrors, but is very entertaining thanks to Daniels' incisive wit and penetrating insights into the causes of their wide-spread misery. I do not know how you can read this and not conclude that either Daniel's is lying about what he witnessed, or that Britain and the west is doomed to collapse, chaos and barbarism. I believe we are losing civilization. He makes the point that in the US, racists often attribute the pathologies of the black underclass--non-marital births, drugs, violence, domestic violence, serial relationships, crime and a cultural disdain for education that destroys the hopes of those who might escape from the situation through self improvement--to race. but in Britain, the underclass with the same pathologies are overwhelmingly white, native-born British people, most of whom cannot tell you when the Second World War took place, or multiply 7X8. (US racists need not be smug anyway--both the Hispanic and white underclass here are catching up, and have enough pathology to ruin the country if every black person suddenly adopted middle class values and work ethics.) In fact. immigrant kids from India in Daniel's city usually do better in school and life. But there is a growing underclass among immigrants, abetted by authorities who are afraid to intervene for fear of being charged with racism, or, if they are minorities themselves, of being Uncle Tom's aiding the white oppressor. He details the sickening story of a little girl tortured to death whose case was pushed off by social workers and doctors who viewed her situation as part of her equally-valid culture. In another case, he recommended a suicidal young immigrant be put in a psychiatric hospital. His family would have none of it, and accused Daniels of racism, threatening to hold a disruptive demonstration in his hospital. Two weeks later the boy hanged himself. This book is not to be missed.
The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism by Theodore Dalrymple
Written under the pen name Theodore Dalrymple, whose great book Life at the Bottom I consider a must-read. In The New Vichy Syndrome, British Psychiatrist Anthony Daniels turns his penetrating insights and eviscerating wit to Europe, including the Muslim problem, the European Union and the general "miserabilist" world view of modern Europeans. He draws the surprising conclusion that the growth of the Muslim population is not a threat unless Europe allows it to be, by defending the values of their societies against the minority of Islamists and not protecting the majority of Muslims who want to live peacefully in a modern society from the violent ones. Of course, he recognizes that the will to defend values--or values themselves--may not be present in most Europeans today, but he says the Muslim problem is a problem in us, due to a lack of courage. The misearbilist (his fine word) world view adopted by too many of his fellow Europeans he traces back to the devastating history of the conflicts in the 20th century and the los by Europe of world leadership--or even importance. Europeans went from being proud of their history and accomplishments to being contemptuous of it. Daniels finds both unremitting positive or negative views of the past equally in error; balance is needed. On the EU, he heaps contempt. Take this quote about EU bureaucrats: "You can spot a feeder at the European trough... a mile off: having for a long time viewed the world exclusively through the window of an official limousine, having lunched and dined heavily for many years (never at his own expense, of course), and having developed a special langue de bois in which streams of grammatically formed verbiage are carefully studded with words of positive connotation that makes it difficult to argue against him, he has developed the gray, immobile, slab-faced countenance of members of the former Soviet Politburo. Alas, it seems there are a large number of volunteers--mainly mediocrities, of course--for this kind of life. It seems to them eminently preferable to earning a living." Could we not write the same about many of the parasites living off us in Washington? He has equally harsh words for many politicians, Americans included. This book is well worth reading.
Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline. By Theodore Dalrymple
Another terrific collection of essays by Dr. Anthony Daniels, the British psychiatrist who uses the pen name Dalrymple, published in 2008. He turns his biting wit and insights to the culture in Britain, and by default, western civilization. In the first section, he reviews the impact on the culture of famous writers from Johnson to Ibsen. I'ts quite interesting, but the second section on politics and culture is not to be missed. I will link to some of the essays, like the one below, when I can find them on line. A quote from the Preface: "The United States is not immune from the collapse of confidence that underlies the deep British Malaise. It is as plentifully supplied as Britain with intellectuals who indulge in cultural self-doubt, more from a desire to present themselves to their peers as broad-minded than from any love of truth or wisdom."
Anything Goes by Theodore Dalrymple
Another incisive collection of essays on culture, politics and the passing scene by British Psychiatrist Anthony Daniels, writing as Theodore Dalrymple. Every one is worth reading, and some are "must reads." I've linked to a few on line in the blog, (see below.) Daniel's wit is endless entertaining, his use of language always sends me to the dictionary, and he never fails to make you think (if that's within your capacity, of course). Some quotes: (Political Correctness) is the attempt to reform thought by making certain things unsayable; it is also the conspicuous, not to say intimidating, display of virtue (conceived of as the public espousal of the 'correct,' which is to say 'progressive' views) by means of a purified vocabulary and abstract human sentiment. To contradict such sentiment, or not to use such vocabulary, is to put yourself outside the pale of civilized men (or should I say 'persons?'). (P47) "The first thing to remember is that freedom and democracy are not necessarily the same thing at all. A people may easily vote into power a government that wishes to massacre part of the population." (P67) "Illusion and disillusion spring eternal in the human heart." (P157). I received three Dalrymple books for Christmas, a wonderful gift. (Available in Kindle edition too.)
Wasting Police Time: The Crazy World of the War on Crime. By PC David Copperfield
This well-written, entertaining and very funny book was written by a British Bobby, PC Stuart Davidson, formerly of the Staffordshire Police, about 'Newtown' (actually Burton upon Trent). He had to do his blog, on which this book and a sequel Wasting More Police Time, are based, under a pen name to protect his job. Eventually the brass figured out who he was, but by then he had had a job line up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he is a much happier cop. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PC_David_Copperfield). It was recommended by British psychiatrist Anthony Daniels (writing as Theodore Dalrymple). Daniels was carrying a copy when he ran into two plainclothes officers. They told him it was a great book. He asked how much was true. "Every word," they replied. This is policing in progressive Britain, where the Bobbies spend 90% of their time doing paperwork to CYA senior officers, filing administrative "detections," and enforcing political correctness, diversity and multiculturalism. The rest they get to spend catching bad guy who get slapped on the wrist or ever in preventing crime. It is a cautionary tale for us. Well worth your time.
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.
Questioning Islam: Tough Questions & Honest Answers About the Muslim Religion. By Peter Townsend
Townsend does an excellent job of research using the authoritative versions of the Qur'an, the strongest of the Hadiths and the biography of Mohammad accepted as authoritative by most Muslim scholars. For those who don't know, the Hadiths are the traditions of Mohammad and his companions which Islamic scholars say are essential to understand and practice Islam. Sunnis and Shi'a accept different ones as being the strongest, but for example, the Muslim declaration of faith (There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, and the other four "Pillars of Islam" are in the Hadiths, not the Qur'an. He also uses archeological evidence and other writings from the time of Mohammad and of the Hadiths (like the Qur'an, written down decades, often centuries, after Mohammad died) to question must of Islam history and teaching. He tends to use both superlatives ("Jaw Dropping" revelation) and slightly pejorative language (Muslim apologists) which I think do not strengthen the book. Nevertheless, this is well worth reading and will give you a strong background in both Islamic history and the claims of the Muslim religion. ~Bob
Sharia Law for Non-Muslims (A Taste of Islam). By Bill Warner
This short (45 page) book is an easy read and an excellent introduction to Shari'a Law. Many people talk about Shari'a, but few have any knowledge of what it calls for, as witness the cognitively-challenged folks who say it is compatible with the US Constitution. Of course, Shari'a varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, a leading cause of early death among Muslims who can't agree. But it is drawn from the Qur'an and Hadiths. Everywhere there are groups seeking, often by violent means, to implement more strict versions. Fully implemented, it includes executing gays and Muslims who leave Islam, stoning women accused of adultery, wife beating, polygamy, child marriage and slavery following Mohammad's "perfect example," and women or infidels as second class citizens without the rights of male Muslims. his is a quick way to familiarize you with what the main schools of Islamic teaching call for in society. Shari'a is a theocratic system of government--Islam recognizes and tolerates no "separation of mosque and state." Worth reading.
On The Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World by P. J. O'Rourke
Introduced to the concepts of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations by my high school economics teacher, Ben Mark, I set out to read it. "You won't finish it," Mr. Mark predicted. As in so much else, Ben was right. I never have. So when I came across this book by the great political humorist, P.J. O'Rourke, I grabbed it. It is terrific. Not only do you get an explanation of Smith's basic concepts, but it is full of the pointed wit that O'Rourke is famous for, so you get entertained as well as educated. Smith's key concept is that the prosperity of nations depends on three things: division of labor, pursuit of self interest and free trade, both external and internal--and that government often limits prosperity by blocking these. It's as true today as it was then. Some quotes from the book: ""The desire for power pushes a man, Smith wrote, to 'the highest degree of arrogance,...to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and wrong...to fancy himself the only wise and worthy man in the commonwealth.' Smith managed to describe not only Barbara Streisand, but everyone in the world of politics." "Smith: 'The man of system...is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it...he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the pieces on a chessboard.' PJ: Barbed wire always seems to be needed to keep the chessmen on their squares." Smith called universities, "the sanctuaries in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices found shelter and protection, after they had been hunted out of every other corner of the earth." Smith on debt: "When national debts have once been accumulated to a certain degree, there is scare, I believe, a single instance of them having been fairly and completely paid." This is just a sample. I highly recommend this book.
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.
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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Carson
Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are As Timely And Important Today As Five Centuries Ago by Michael A. Ledeen
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
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com 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 http://slaverebellion.org/index.php?page=the-black-slave-owners, 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.
Lazarus Man (The Cyberhawk Series) (Volume 1) by Chet Nagle
Chet Nagle is a Naval Aviator, former CIA Agent, occasional contributor to this blog and the author of two earlier thrillers about terrorism, The Iran Covenant and The Woolsorter's Plague. Having loved and recommended them, I ordered my copy of Lazarus Man from Amazon as soon as it was available. I wasn't disappointed; this is Nagle's best thriller so far, right out of tomorrow's headlines. I don't want to say too much about the plot and give it away, but you can read a synopsis on Amazon at the link. It starts with a cybercrime. The high-tech bank robber is the good guy, the money speculator he robs is the bad guy, and the former East German STASI Colonel sent to look for him is a worse guy. The book features non-stop action and believable characters. I mainly read non-fiction about politics, economics and history, but like the occasional adventure novel for relaxation. This one doesn't disappoint. The best two words are in the title: Volume 1.
A State of Disobedience. By Tom Kratman
Tom Kratman, a retired Army LtCol, has become my favorite living science fiction author. (I have to say "living" because I have sat at the feet of Robert Heinlein since 8th grade-, 55 years ago.) Kratman writes military science fiction, some set in the far future (see A Desert Called Peace) and some, as with this book, set in the very near future. Thus, having been published in 2005, means it is now in the near past. Never-the-less, it is still as timely as tomorrow's headlines. Briefly, the federal government has fallen into tyranny, with de facto suspension of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and wide spread police powers established in federal agencies. All for the "good of the people," of course. But one state won't go along. A State of Disobedience explores the dichotomy between government power and freedom. This is Kratman's first published novel, but it bears all the touches of the master: believable characterization, intricate plot twists and heart-pounding action. History buffs will delight in picking out the many historical allusions in the book. For my health, I need about nine hours of sleep a night--and with A State of Disobedience finished, I can start getting it again. I highly recommend this novel.
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.
The Rods and the Axe by Tom Kratman
Another terrific book in the Carrera series. Kratman is a retired Army LtCol who writes military science fiction, with a very realistic picture of war. In my view, he gets better with every book. But that may be because this is the most recent I have read--I've loved everything by him so far. If you haven't read any of the Carrera series, do yourself a favor and start with A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman.
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.
Riding the Red Horse [Kindle Edition]. Edited by Tom Kratman and Vox Day
This is a terrific collection of short military science fiction and essays on war in the future that will be of interest to not only SF fans, but those interested in how future conflicts might go. The collection is edited by Vox Day and Tom Kratman, whose engrossing military science fiction books I have recommended on my blog. It acknowledges its debt to Jerry Pournelle's excellent There Will Be War anthologies, and contains a story by that master. Short stories predominate, with setting a few years to centuries in the future. Some of the pieces I rate as "must reads," including "Sucker Punch" and "Battlefield Lasers" by Eric S. Raymond," "Red Waves in the South China Sea" by James F. Dunnigan, "War Crimes" by Benjamin Cheah and Tom Kratman's very well thought out essay, " Learning to Ride the Red Horse: The Principles of War." The essay that hit me hardest was " Make the Tigers Fight: Soviet Strategy in Asia, 1925-1975," by James D. Perry. I cannot tell how much of it is based on fact and how much on informed speculation, but it was enraging and sickening in turns. Unfortunately, the book is available in only a Kindle edition. Being an antediluvian jarheadosaurus, I'm a paper and ink guy, so I had to download a reader to my computer. However, if the upcoming cataract surgery doesn't improve my reading, I will have to think about a Kindle, despite having five shelves of yet-to-be-read history, economic and political books plus a dozen novels, as I understand that like my computer the Kindle will enlarge the print. Their plan is to put out annual anthologies. My plan is to survive to read every one.
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
This terrific novel about Marines in Iraq and later at home was recommended to me by Col. Andy Weddington and a couple of other Marines. I believe this is the author's first novel. A Marine Captain, he has a brilliant future as a writer. Everything here has the ring of truth. I expect a Marine to "get" Marines, but his great characterization extends to the Iraqis in the story, especially their "terp." It is one of those novels where you have trouble believing these are not real people and you want to know more about their lives. His description of troops suffering from PTSD after the war is deft and subtle, not heavy handed. This will take its place in war novels with Battle Cry (WWII), Body Count and Fields of Fire (Vietnam). I can't recommend this tale highly enough. Anything Pitre writes I will read. ~Bob
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
Bonnie and I read this fine novel for a small book group we belong to. It is set in NW Italy in WWII during 1943-45. It is the story of Jews behind German lines, both Italian and refugees from other countries, of the Italian people who aided them, often at the cost of their lives, and of the brutal partisan war against the Nazis and the Italian fascists. It is also meticulously researched--it took her seven years to finish it. The narrative is harshly realistic, the characterization strong and the dialog sparkling. Russell, a paleoanthropologist academic by training holds a PhD. This was her third novel.
The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits by Jim Geraghty
The Weed Agency is a well written, well researched and insightful short novel by political pundit Jim Geraghty, the author of the excellent (and free) e-newsletter, Morning Jolt from NRO. This is also an enjoyable and fun read, though some parts that most readers will find hilarious I found frustrating, because as a former five-term Massachusetts state senator, I know this is exactly how most of the Federal and State Bureaucracies work--or don't work. City government bureaucracies, loaded with political hacks, can be even worse. As they say in Chicago, "We don't want nobody what nobody sent!" This also tells you why that the government grows under Republican control, though just a little less than under Democrats. (I joke that I vote Republican because the Republicans are ruining the country, but at a slower rate.) Eventually, and likely not that far in the future, we will hit the tipping point and collapse like the Soviet Union. Geraghty often footnotes the true life stories that he drew upon for inspiration. I learned, for example, that here in Wisconsin in 2004, there were 7,000 more ballots counted in Milwaukee than the number of actual voters. This was hidden until well after Kerry had been certified the winner here by 11,000 votes. I was a volunteer on the Bush campaign, but missed this report by the Milwaukee paper--hardly conservative--that came out when it no longer mattered, along with other reports of vote fraud. This book will open some eyes, if those who need it take the time to read it, because it entertains while it enlightens.
Jackdaws by Ken Follett
This novel about a team of female SOE agents in France right before D-Day is a realistic thriller that will keep you breathing hard with every page. Follett is a mater story teller. The book is not for the squeamish; it has graphic scenes of what happened when resistance fighters fell into the hands of the Nazis. Though a work of fiction, it is a fine tribute to the 50 female agents SOE dropped into France during the war, 14 of who lost their lives, over a 25% casualty rate. It is exciting, entertaining and inspiring. What more can you ask from a novel?
Harrowing: Five strangers. Five secrets. No refuge. No turning back by James Aitcheson
Having read and loved Aitcheson’s “Sword Sworn” trilogy, when I discovered he had another novel out, I ordered it straight away (as they say.) Sword Sworn is from the point of view of a Norman Knight in the years after 1066. This novel is set in the same period, but from the point of view of five English folk fleeing the Norman harrowing of the north county, with mass destruction and death. Those who were forced to read a bit of “Canterbury Tales” in school will find this account to that pattern, though far more readable. Aitcheson is a terrific writer, creating vivid images and intricate plots. He is also a fine historian who researches his novels in depth. I knew a fair bit about the Conquest (I have a master’s in history) but little about the immediate years after except for the legend of Hereward the Wake. So, his novels are both educational and entertaining, though I would not recommend them for the squeamish (like my wife). Given that Aitcheson is only in his 30s, I expect he will be recognized as one of the top five historical novelists in ten years. Since I have survived, so far, a lung transplant and will be 72 in April, I hope he also writes fast!
The Circle by Dave Eggers
I read this frightening novel for the “Right Book club” to which I belong. I can’t say I enjoyed it, because it is so easy to see it happening, and to an advocate of individual liberty, chilling. But it’s well-written and certainly held my interest. Imagine that Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and every social media site and search engine are joined in one company. That can track anyone, find anyone, monitor anyone and, if necessary, destroy anyone through the development of vast new technologies. One of the founders sees the danger to individual freedom and attempts to stop it by winning over the main character. A very scary message about an all-too-possible future.