mostly nonfiction listener
You know those questions that go "if you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?". Well...I think I'd choose Simon Schama. Or maybe a roadtrip. Schama is one of those historians who both have something to say about how we live now and the depth of knowledge to ground his thinking by weaving stories from our past. One part sociology, one part history, all very smart and engaging. The American Future should be read in conjunction with watching the BBC documentary of the same title, narrated by Schama.
Reading the book while watching the documentary does wonderful things for the brain in terms of reinforcing the concepts and stories with images. It helps the stories stick.
Schama's basic premise is that the election of Obama represents the culmination of an American journey towards our nation struggling to live up to our founding myths. Only American could produce the horror of the civil war, segregation and institutional racism while holding the promise of electing an African American to the highest office. This American Future beautifully chronicles our redemption, placing the biggest story of our times firmly within our American narrative.
The Shadow Factory takes us on a behind the scenes tour of the NSA and the development of what Bamford calls "The Surveillance Industrial Complex" following 9/11.
I read this book less from a perspective of worry about government intrusion or even national security - but more from a desire to understand the technology that the NSA utilizes to manage such large volumes of data.
What the NSA does in terms of data storage, analysis, capture etc. is truly next generation. After 9/11 - the NSA became an IT organization with a blank check to throw as much hardware, software and folks at a technical problem as it needed. Can you imagine if we had those resources to throw technology at education.
Sure...the story of the Bush's administrations warrant-less wiretapping is scary. I'm grateful that he tells this story and exposes this dirty side of our history.
I've been wrong twice about Iraq. Supported the invasion. Opposed the Surge. (I also tend to think a military solution to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear bomb might be necessary - so it is a good thing that nobody listens to my thinking on the military). Ricks', "The Gamble" follows up on his masterfully depressing "Fiasco" - detailing everything that went wrong in Iraq before General Petraeus took over. What I had not realized about the Petraeus strategy was the force in which the rest of the armed forces opposed this plan, or the degree to which Petraeus was a marginal figure within the military establishment.
In order to move to a strategy where the Iraqi people were "the prize" rather then the "playing field", Petraeus had to reverse many of the Army's (one of our largest and most conservative institutions) culture and doctrine on war fighting. As I was reading "The Gamble" I kept thinking of how we need someone like Petraeus in other institutions....education, car building, maybe newspapers? Ricks' conclusion is that while the Surge was the right thing to do, a tactical success, it does not represent a strategic victory. We are in for the "long war" in Iraq, with the most salient events of the war still ahead of us.
This was, from start to finish, one of the most engaging audio books I've listened to. Mayer covers the Bush administration from the eve of 9/11 until the end of its tenure with a focus on its manipulation of the law for political ends, especially as it related to executive power and the right to redefine how captured enemy combatants are treated. Far from being a critique of President Bush himself, she underlines his willingness to acquiesce to Cheney and his legal counsel, David Addington, in all matters regarding the treatment of prisoners and the methods by which intelligence was being extracted from them. It is a damning indictment of the unelected bureaucrats who cared more for their own peculiar and idiosyncratic dogmas than for the constitution of the United States, the separation of powers, or the will of the American people.
My only caution is - don't listen to it while you're trying to fall asleep; it will make you so angry, you won't get any.