Good reader (one of the authors), a great book that talks about a lot of things in a WAY that they are not normally talked about. The way it talks about them and the way to approach them is the real take-home... I, and I suspect the authors, will recognize the limits in the presentation.
If you want to listen to a book about bad things intellectuals say, this is for you. If you want to listen to a book about the effect of intellectuals on society, this is not for you.
I picked this book up because my first reaction was "oh, they're not important," and the spine says he thinks they are. He then proceeds to critique intellectualism, rather than show its import.
It's not really about "how" intellectuals influence society, it's about the annoying things lefties say and why they're annoying and why they've been wrong. Fine. So what?
Nothing in this book says a thing about whether the bad influence of intellectuals is (1) abnormal, (2) solvable, (3) important, or (4) anything else. Nor does he show how his arguments are peculiar to intellectuals - for example, he points out that lots of intellectuals supported Hitler. This is true. How many? Were there more or fewer intellectuals among his supporters than non-intellectuals? That he critiques this intellectual lapse in others and then indulges in it undermines his credibility.
When he defines intellectuals, he's very consistent (people who trade in ideas as an occupation), but he does not enforce that consistency throughout the book. You hear the definition at the beginning and end, and it's never mentioned in the middle. He has some strange lacunae in his thought regarding intellectuals - For example, he never says that economists are intellectuals, yet sometimes he says that intellectuals need to study more economics, and other times he calles Keynes and Galbraith (lefty economists) intellectuals. Similarly, it's very unclear whether he considers judges intellectuals.
When I left my last military command, I purchased several copies of this book to give to my subordinates. The book professes to provide as complete an account as possible of the Algerian war, and the author seems to do so with professionalism, integrity, and honesty. I have simply never read as fair or as comprehensive a historical account of war as this. The limitations in source material are explicitly recognized in the introduction, and the opinions of the author and conclusions exogenous to the subject at hand are both left to the preface and eminently reasonable and defensible. An incredible, fascinating read.
This book is good. The narration is quality, though there is some background noise throughout the recording. The general text of the book is mostly of quaint historical interest; at the time of writing, the major policy debate was how primarily coal-driven ironclads will influence naval combat in the future. It is kind of disconcerting that this is marketed under "Audible Kids" - to find a child's voice introducing one to a long, professional exposition of the war of Spanish succession is odd.
This book is fascinating from the start - as much or more for simple fun than intellectual appreciation. The book is written in an elegant, engaging, and subtly funny style, and the reader is a pleasure.
The content of the book is very good. He convincingly portrays mercernaries, plotters, and the various things that go into a coup and how they can go wrong. He's very descriptive of the decision making, and gives good reasons why they made these decisions and how they got the results they did.
He doesn't spend any time critiquing the coup, and he is remarkably uneditorial about the whole thing. I felt that I could understand and sympathize with all the plotters. If you want more abstract details and overarching commentary, read Luttwak's coup de 'etat. This is well written as an engaging an immersing story of how some folks might get the notion that a coup is a bright idea.
I was impressed with "Taliban", and was slightly put off by the polemic tone this book takes from the beginning, but I got over that quite early.
The good stuff:
1. By focusing on the internal decision making of the Pakistani and Afghan decision makers (Musharraf and Karzai, primarily), it helped me appreciate the effect of internal factors that I'd never have noticed or known how to process, even if I was living there, as a foreigner.
2. His contextual historical comments are very useful, but they jump around by issue and are hard to bring together. In each section he'll frame the history of the problem dealt with in that section, which helps me understand why it's a problem.
3. His harsh stance on most foreign decisions, including and especially those of the U.S., is etremely useful. Though he doesn't always fully explain the context of foreign decisions, that's fine (since this book isn't about them). The stance is useful for helping me understand what these decisions look like from another point of view.
Onto the negatives:
1. The narrator's abhorrent pronunciation of Arabic names is annoying and distracting. I cannot speak for his pronunciation of names from other central asian languages.
2. The author displays some imprecision in referring to American concepts - e.g., he says torture is forbidden by the U.S. Constititution, which is semantically imprecise; and he says that the PRTs were manned by "Special Operations Forces", which is technically true but misleading when juxtaposed with the description of Special forces. This makes me wonder if I fully understood his descriptions of things I'm less familiar with, like Pakistan.
3. Aside from his consistent stance (shoulda been nation building from the start), his policy recommendations jump around by issue, and are difficult to process as refinements to the original stance.
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