This book provides a very useful framework for making some sense of the strange behavior that Pakistan often seems to exhibit in its relations with the US and the Western world. It is also a very informative introduction to the tangled politics, ethnic conflicts, economic backwardness and religious extremism that characterize elements of Pakistani and Afghan society and account for much of the violence that we often see in news headlines. These factors make it clearly wishful thinking to assume that all will be well once the US and NATO forces depart Afghanistan in 2014. Given the presence in Pakistan of nuclear weapons and its apparent inability to control violent extremist and terrorist movements within its own borders, Pakistan will continue to be a serious concern of the US and all countries concerned with the threat posed by international terrorists.
The picture the author paints of Pakistan is not a flattering one: a dysfunctional government in which the civilian politicians defer to the military establishment (including the now-notorious ISI) on national security and foreign policy; a government budget that devotes 60% of its resources to military expenditures largely focused on India rather than economic development or the more serious threat posed by internal militias in the tribal areas; a society in which the political parties are built around influential families rather than broad-based democratic associations; a judiciary that is frightened of convicting terrorists brought into court because of outside threats; and a military that continues to allow the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in Pakistani tribal areas so long as they do not attack Pakistani forces and direct their fire only at US forces in Afghanistan. How could the US not be frustrated and angry with such an ???ally???? To be fair and not mentioned in the book, one should recall that Pakistan was instrumental in capturing some of the high-ranking Al Qaeda members who sought hiding places in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. How Bin Laden was able to stay undetected so long in Pakistan is a later story and one that is of course at best a major embarrassment to the Pakistani military and security services.
The author is clearly expressing his own views through much of the book and it is difficult without more background to know how accurate he is on all points. Nevertheless, the book provides a sobering introduction to the realities and complexities of dealing with the problems posed by the conflicting parties and movements striving (oftentimes with brutal violence) for power and influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is hard for anyone who has grown up in fortunate circumstances in the West to grasp on a gut level the full horror of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This book lays bare in excruciating detail the workings of an unscrupulous leader who was crude, vicious, vile and ruthless. Unfortunately, he was also clever and resourceful enough to achieve near absolute power in the Soviet Union by 1938. Stalin and those he advanced in the Communist Party knew no bounds. He ordered the murders of former close associates; directed his secret police to extract false confessions from prisoners by torture in order to persecute them in “show trials” or to justify their summary execution after review by a corrupted kangaroo court. On a broader scale his program in the early ‘30s to collectivize agriculture led to massive famines, terrorist shootings and deportations that caused the deaths of millions. Later in the ‘30s the arbitrary arrests and forced confessions of his purges and campaigns against so-called “diversionists, spies, and Trotskyites” led to prison and death for further millions in the now infamous “archipelago” of labor camps.
The aim in all this was two-fold: eliminate all possible rivals to Stalin for supreme power in the Soviet Union and to force the public into compliance with directives from above through a regime of terror. Apparently, Stalin as well as others in the top echelons of the Bolshevik Party justified these methods to themselves, at least in part, as necessary for the greater good of moving society toward the ideal state envisioned by Marxist-Leninist theory. A criminal clique with vast political power who can justify their murders and cruelties by means of an extremist creed that squelches all qualms of conscience or moral restraint is a dangerous and fearful prospect. That certainly was the case in the Soviet Union from the 1930’s until Stalin’s death in 1953.
That said, this book reads more like an encyclopedia or a catalogue of crimes rather than a vivid account of individual horror stories. It does a good job of describing and documenting the overall scope of the horrors perpetrated by the Stalin regime and to some extent continued by his successors. It is not, however, great literature in the sense of graphically depicting life under these regimes. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” does that far better.
The many interesting characters and stories, the contrast in theme between their presence in vivid battlefield scenes and peacetime pursuits, their varied struggles with the great questions of life’s purpose, moral obligations to one’s fellow man, and the path to worldly happiness and spiritual peace all make this work both great and fascinating. With this book I feel I have expanded my circle of understanding to now include a number of 19th Century Russians who have shared their most intimate thoughts and feelings with me. They are described and presented in this book by a master literary craftsman who has portrayed them as real life characters, including all of their faults and foibles.
Tolstoy’s frequent background commentaries are part of the work. They are excellent and lend greater depth to the story. The narrator for this edition is also excellent. You will gain from this book not just an enriching personal experience, but a greater understanding of Russian history and sensibilities emerging from the great struggles against Napoleon. A major time commitment, but well worth your time.
Let me join other reviewers in singing the praises of the Vish Purry detective stories and the excellent narration by Sam Dostar. This is far more than a detective story, although the mystery plot is itself first class. The richness of this book lies in the colorful portraits of the people, neighborhoods, customs, characters, and mores of modern India. The writing—complemented by the superb and engaging Sam Dostar narration—lets you feel you are right in the neighborhoods described and in the presence of real people.
All in all, both an entertaining and a highly enriching book. Kudos to Tarquin Hall, who I gather is actually a native Englishman who is married to an Indian woman and has lived a number of years in India.
This is one of the best Audible books I have read. The main reason is that it is an excellent book, period. It offers fresh and clear understanding of the epic and decisive events that took place in Trenton, Princeton and northern New Jersey in late 1776 and early 1777. We learn that Washington’s Christmas 1776 crossing of the Delaware and attack on the Hessian garrison in Trenton was not simply a single daring raid. It became part of a larger thrust propelled by unforeseen opportunities leading to a second battle at Trenton a few days later (where Washington’s troops on high ground repelled to great advantage a series of attacks by Cornwallis) followed by a secret night retreat by the American forces from Trenton and a surprise attack the next morning on the small British garrison left at Princeton.
The book captures the tactical dispositions of the forces, the hardships on the troops because of the weather, fatigue, and illness, and the personal views of the troops and officers (based on letters and other reports) who took part in the battles. The author is a professional historian who has specialized in the Revolutionary era and is able to add insights on the political, economic, and cultural factors that all played key parts in the story.
I believe all Americans reading this book will be enriched with a much clearer understanding of their heritage and culture as reflected in this excellent account of a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Although often cited in the press as an “indictment” of Goldman Sachs, this book is not a mere diatribe against Goldman. It is just as much Greg Smith’s story of what he treasured about Goldman. He mentions many people he met at Goldman whom he greatly admired. He also notes with pride that Goldman was savvy enough to withstand the 2008 financial meltdown by being one of the few Wall Street firms with the good judgment to turn away from the alluring fool’s gold of subprime mortgage securities. He provides a very well written inside account of his 12-year career at Goldman, rising from intern through the ranks of the equities group as a well regarded trader and salesman.
What Greg Smith portrays is a firm that shifted priorities during his tenure from a place that went the extra mile for its clients (“advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm,” as he put it in his NY Times op ed piece) to one that focused primarily on an employee’s “GC’s”—his or her “gross credits” based on net profits realized by the firm on its trades with those clients. The conflict of interest in such cases is obvious. He cites examples from his final year in the GS London office in which the focus on “profits” led certain Goldman employees to take advantage of their clients when it was clear the client had made a mistake or did not understand the essentials of a complex securities trade. To be fair, he cites only a few such examples and emphasizes in an “afterword” that no one should doubt there are thousands of honest and hard-working people who populate the Wall Street firms.
To some degree, what I believe Greg Smith experienced at Goldman reflected a trend we have seen over the past 20 years in other institutions once highly regarded for their professional standards but who have become much more “bottom line” oriented as they have adapted to more competitive business conditions and focused their resources on the most productive sectors of their business. Consider, as an extreme example, Arthur Andersen, once the gold standard of accounting firms, since disgraced in the Enron scandal. I personally witnessed this trend myself over 20-some years practicing in a so-called “Big Law” firm.
I think Greg Smith is absolutely right that for the sake of a professional firm’s culture, reputation and long-time survival, it has to get the balance between professional standards and business priorities right. In his opinion, GS had fallen below an acceptable professional standard by the time he left the firm. Others within Goldman will no doubt disagree with him in good faith. In any case, the book provides a couple of apt warnings. First, for those considering a career in a top Wall Street firm, be prepared for constant pressure to produce profits in a way that may run counter to the best interests of your clients, even if perfectly legal. You should decide whether you are up to handling that pressure and maintaining your personal ethical standards. Second, if you are doing business with Goldman Sachs (or any Wall Street firm), be sure you know well the person you are dealing with before you place your trust in him or her. You cannot simply assume they will be looking out for your best interests.
This book was recommended to me by new acquaintances whom I had visited with about a stay my wife and I enjoyed in New York City over the 2011 Christmas holidays. It was the first time I had a chance to get to know Manhattan, its main streets and neighborhoods, and to feel somewhat familiar with the City. That experience greatly increased the pleasure of reading this book, because it is in large part a travelogue of modern and 1880???s New York City, with detailed descriptions of the places, streets, parks, stores, and public transportation of the two eras.
Apart from its interest as a sightseeing companion, the book features a very-well constructed science fantasy, mystery and adventure story. The main character travels from modern New York City into 1880???s New York through a secret time travel project in search of clues to solving a puzzling mystery. He discovers unexpected adventures and romance in his time travels, and the story features some hair-raising suspense as well as a number of completely unexpected (but still consistent with the story) plot twists and surprises. No ???spoilers??? in this review: you will need to read the book to learn what the plot twists are.
Well researched; Mr. Finney clearly did his homework on 1880???s New York. Also, a very entertaining and enjoyable read, particularly if you are familiar with New York City.
This is a very personal and illuminating account of Condoleeza Rice???s childhood in Birmingham, Alabama through her early years as a professor and as Provost at Stanford University. Very well written and memorable stories, particularly from her Birmingham days. Her descriptions of family and church activities reminded me very much of my own upbringing in southern California. In my case there was, however, the very great difference that I was not barred from most of the restaurants in town, nor relegated to back entrances to doctors??? offices, and never threatened by armed bands who were apparently being encouraged by the infamous ???Bull??? Connor and the local police.
A very worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in Condoleeza Rice or in gaining a better understanding of racial segregation as it existed in the South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
George W. Bush, Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney have already published very good books about their service in the Bush Administration. Yet this book is in my opinion the best of the group. Why is that? I think there are three reasons. First, Condi???s book focuses almost exclusively on her service during the. Bush 43 Presidency. That allows her to provide more detail than did the others, who include considerable material about their prior government service. Second, Condi is a former college professor in the field of foreign relations and a very good one. She appears to have wanted to include clear teaching points for her readers. In any case, her account provides richer background and context to particular episodes and issues. The book (or excerpts from it) should become an invaluable resource for college and post-graduate courses on international relations and political science. Third, Condi shares more openly her own joys, mistakes, concerns, and fears as she went about her work. This is perhaps because she was newer to high-level government service, making it a fresher experience for her. It may also reflect the fact she is not a professional politician and is perhaps less concerned about image and her popular persona.
There are a number of vignettes in the book that reflect Condi???s unique background as a native of Birmingham, Alabama and the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State. For example, who else would have described to the President the deteriorating scene in Iraq in 2006 as the ???Iraqis having a Bull Connor problem??????i.e., comparing the reports of Iraqi police forces joining with outlaw Shiite militias to the disgraceful record in 1963 of the Birmingham Police Commissioner directing brutal police actions against peaceful demonstrators seeking an end to racial segregation?
All in all, an excellent book that will provide many insights and useful information for anyone interested in the major international and security issues of our day.
Oracle Bones is another excellent book from Peter Hessler. He writes from a unique and insightful perspective. He has lived in China for many years; beginning as an English teacher at a Chinese college. He has remained in close touch with his former students, whose own experiences in working after graduation in the ???New China??? form an important part of the book. Mr. Hessler has also been accredited as a foreign correspondent in China for the New Yorker magazine. As a writer of magazine articles, he has been free to develop stories and themes at much greater length and depth than would have been possible as a reporter for a daily newspaper. In my view that is a big plus for his readers.
His books reflect first hand experiences and conversations with Chinese residents (not all of them native Chinese, by the way) from various walks of life, many of whom he can consider good friends. They also reflect extensive interview notes, some scholarly research, and a whimsical eye for things comic and ironic in everyday life. Mr. Hessler also shares poignant conversations with Chinese who experienced the trials and terrors of the 1960???s ???Cultural Revolution??? and the earlier ???Anti-Rightist??? campaign of the late 1950???s.
As readers we are fortunate that Mr. Hessler has developed considerable literary talent. The writing is clear, suited to the humor or poignancy of the events or conversations he is describing, and has a personal tone that allows us to share his fascination and feelings in what he is seeing and hearing.
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