Expected big things from this book. I'm a fan of historical writing but this was too dry for me. I plodded through it but it was a chore. You really need to have a passion for this subject to be captivated here.
I quite enjoyed this look behind the scenes of the negotiations that led to the Egypt/Israel peace treaty. Wright has a reputation as a fastidious researcher and chronicler of modern middle eastern geopolitics and he doesn't disappoint here. As they say, the devil is in the details and this couldn't be more true not only of the level of detail provided here but also in the fitful negotiations which resulted in the Camp David accord. Wright interweaves his moment by moment account of the thirteen days of negotiations with backgrounder material on the history of the Arab/Israeli conflict as well as the personalities of Sadat, Begin, Carter, Dayan, Weizmann and others and how the interplay of these played a crucial role in not only achieving the accords but just as interesting for the reader, almost derailing them. Of particular note here is the illuminating role (the much maligned, but recently seen in the literary world in a kinder historical light) Jimmy Carter played not only in facilitating the talks but on numerous occasions, saving them when all appeared lost. The end result is is a gripping (I won't say thrilling; that really isn't Wright's style), almost claustrophobic insiders view of the talks as well as a treatise on the art of negotiation, facilitation, and peace making. Anyone despairing of middle eastern politics today would do well to read this book to understand how seemingly intractable differences can be overcome/set aside in the broader pursuit of peace and the role that peacemakers must play in order to achieve it.
I usually avoid biographies of partial lives lived but was intrigued not only by the person - Barack Obama- but also by the changing cultural forces that resulted In the election of America's first African American President. Based on these two criteria, I found the Bridge both a worthy biography of the man but also of "the times", ie. the past fifty years of the struggle for civil rights and equality that made the election of an African American as President possible. Throughout this thoroughly detailed and enlightening book, Remnick profiles Obama's life, from fatherless child of an itinerant mother, through his search for identity as a youth, professional and political rise to his election as President while also embedding that remarkable story within the context of a changing American civil rights landscape. I found this book informative and inspirational and whether you are a supported of Obama or not, the story of his rise and achievements, perhaps mirroring that of America itself over the past half century, is well worth the read. I hope that one day, post Presidency, Remnick writes and releases a volume II that chronicles the complete story of Barack Obama.
This had long been on my wish list and I am glad to have finally read it. The story of Belgian King Leopold's acquisition and rape of the Congo and its indigenous people will surely rank as one of the most brutal campaigns of pillage and murder in recent history but also an epitaph to any remaining romantic notions of colonialism in the dark continent. Hochschild's book skillfully links the character and ambitions of Leopold, a second rate monarch and first rate despot, with his desire to acquire, for his own wealth and vanity, a colony in Africa to exploit in the late 19th century. Aided along the way by Livingston and Stanley, as well as the naïveté and racism of rulers in the new and old worlds, he eventually seizes the Congo and therein establishes a colonial regime based on rubber cultivation that succeeds in lining his own pockets, achieves little for his Belgian subjects, and unleashes immeasurable exploitation and suffering on the Congolese people, the ramifications of which arguably still reverberate today. Anyone familiar with Conrad's Heart of Darkness (referenced throughout) will recognize what Leopold had wrought in the Congo. Credit to Hochschild's though for letting the facts speak for themselves rather than sermonizing. Throughout, he does not dwell solely on the evil but also focuses on the few brave activists who first sought, to little success, to expose what was going on. To me, it was this aspect that elevated the book from a run of the mill expose to a remarkable history of a little know and mostly forgotten genocide. As Mr. Kurz would say, "the horror, the horror."
Helperin and Heilemann have once again provided a hugely entertaining chronicle of the spectacle we have come to know as an American Presidential election cycle. Much like their insiders take of the 2008 election in Game Change, Double Down is equal parts historical narrative, electioneering for dummies, and tabloidesque dish on the players and personalities behind both the democratic and republican campaigns. The narrative deftly jumps between team Obama's year long re-election campaign and the Republican primaries and Romney campaign. There are lots of fascinating details throughout mixed with revealing and at times, juicy tidbits about the candidates that could only have come from a retinue of insiders. The authors don't pull any punches here with either side, though some may detect a slight team Obama bias. Nevertheless, clearly the authors have done their homework here and are establishing themselves as the preeminent chroniclers of modern American Presidential politics. I found this thoroughly entertaining and informative throughout and will eagerly await a hoped for post 2016 follow up.
Like him or hate him, most would agree that Joe Biden is at least an interesting personality. Add in an experienced and respected journalist/author in Jules Witcover and you would expect a compelling if not hard hitting read. Yet what results here is a rather pedestrian, by the numbers biography, devoid of any real insights. Most of the major events of Biden's personal and political career are covered, from the tragic accident that claimed his first wife, through his senate campaigns, with particular focus on the various Supreme Court confirmation hearings he chaired, through the 2008 election and his first year as Veep. Though clearly a fan, Witcover does not gloss over Biden's penchant for verbal gaffes and the accusations of plagiarism. Still, there is not much depth here and Biden's role, stance, or opinions on more than a few of the more major political events of the past thirty years (e.g the end of the Cold War, the rise of terrorism, the Clinton impeachment, the George W Bush presidency) receive only a cursory treatment. The end result reads somewhat like a campaign bio: factual but dull and uncontroversial. Given Biden's outspokenness - both for the public betterment and occasionally, his own detriment, it's a shame that this book couldn't match its subject.
For fans of the Presidency, this ranking of the ten worst executives provides fun but cursory reading. When ranking the best or worst Presidents, there is often broad consensus and little controversy over say the top five and the same applies here. It is when you get to six through ten that the disagreements and, well, fun set in. I can't say I was surprised by any of the men in Miller's list nor their rankings. Therefore, you won't find any surprises in here. He does a nice job providing a brief bio of each of his subjects as well as his reasons for why theirs was a failed or disappointing Presidency. None of it is approached in a scholarly fashion, but more as an extended op ed piece and I thought it was approached in a generally unbiased manner. It all makes for lightweight reading that will appeal to those with an interest in the presidency and historical trivia. Note that this was written during the Clinton administration so he, George W Bush and Barack Obama are excluded. An added bonus feature at the end are the two most overrated Presidents one of whom frankly surprised me.
Comprehensive and compelling history of the war in the pacific from the Japanese empire point of view. This is gripping military as well as political history which seeks to shed light on the motivations of Japanese society and the military clique which led Japan into and through its disastrous policies of aggressive expansionism. It is reminiscent of Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and I would say is a must read for those with an interest in WWII. Toland intersperses the narrative with many first person accounts as well as analysis. Pulls no punches while at the same time offers a nuanced take of events. My only criticism is that the primary focus here is the pacific war against the United States with far lesser detail given to the India, Burma, and China. Nevertheless, I found this a monumental work of history. The narration is very capable and keeps things moving along.
This is a monumental work covering the last year and a half of the WWII pacific theater. I found this wide ranging and expansive, offering insights at the geopolitical level, through military strategy, to the on the ground/sea fighting. I found it gripping from beginning to end. The narrative is effectively punctuated by frequent first-person accounts which is not often found in this genre. As well, Hastings takes pains to present the perspectives of all sides of the conflict and also weighs in on such ongoing moral controversies such as Japanese and allied war crimes, the morality of total war, the competence of the leading strategists and military commanders (in particular MacArthur) and the use of the atomic bombs. This is thoroughly enjoyable and informative reading and I will definitely be looking to read more of Hasting's works.
The narration is competent and Cameron punctuates the first person accounts by invoking various accents. Still, given that the war in the pacific was fought mostly by Americans, I found Cameron's English accent oddly out of place and had a hard time getting past it.
So this is the book for those who were always intrigued about how any of high school algebra and calculus would ever be useful/applicable in the real world. From the first anecdote - about how in it was ultimately decided where to place extra armour in bombers during WWII - this book had me. Math was never my best subject but I found this all intriguing and fun - a mix of Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell, and trivia rolled into one. Ellenberg - a college math professor - doesn't talk down to the reader and be warned, he takes us through various equations that underlie the real world problems at stake so some fluency in math is helpful but not necessary. I'll be the first to admit I got lost in some of the equations and logical problems which probably make the print edition of this an easier go than the audiobook format. Still, it should not deter you and it all adds up to great fun that is informative and at times, surprising. Ellenberg narrates this himself in a lively manner which makes you wish you had him in place of you fill in the blanks math teacher of your younger days.
This book is an epidemiologist's dream. This is an utterly engrossing history of the hunt for the origin of the HIV virus. I was completely surprised that scientists seem to have been able to trace the origins of HIV to seemingly pinpoint places and times, stretching back further than I had previously thought. Rather than one continuous storyline/narrative, the author breaks this up into chapters that weave parallel but ultimately converging lines of investigation, tracing back from those first diagnosed, through the carriers who were the unwitting spreaders of the pandemic, through the disparate strains of HIV that became identified and laid a train back to the places and animals of the virus' origins. Incredible and would strain belief if not true. This audiobook had me from minute one. Still, I can't give it a full five stars. At time, I found the writing a bit dry, as if reading a collection of scientific papers. A more skilled writer might have found a way to craft this more as a whodunit in the spirit of a good true crime writer for instance. For instance, you never get much of a sense of who any of the multitude of scientists are behind the investigation - thus the narrative appeals solely to the intellect rather than any emotion. As well, I found myself getting lost at times in the array of different names of primate species, their lineage, as well as the alphanumeric strains of the different HIV strains. Indeed, the audiobook frequently references various diagrams and figures that would only be accessible in the actual book and would help clarify things. Still, those with a curiosity or interest in the origins of this modern pandemic will enjoy this book.
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