First off, I'll admit I was no fan of George W Bush yet still the man intrigued me. Could he really be as dumb, arrogant, and stubborn as his persona suggests? Well, according to this well written account of his White House years, the answer is yes and no. This is a nicely nuanced portrait of the Bush and Cheney partnership that really only lasted he first term of the presidency. All of Bush's failings are in display here and the author links these in subtle ways with W's character flaws. At the same time, this is hardly a hatchet job. Undeniably the Bush presidency was a time of monumental challenges, some of Bush and Cheney's own making, some not. The influence of each man on the other is depicted in an almost Shakespearian tragic way as initial successes lead to epic failures and estrangement. A compelling read that will likely not satisfy hard core Bush apologists or detractors, this is well worth the read for anyone seeking a better understanding of he partner ship that made he White House tick.
The premise of What if, applying science to absurdist, hypothetical scenarios, is the sort of thing that should appeal to the geek in me but I can’t say I liked this book as a whole. Munroe based it on his popular website (I hadn’t visited it before reading What if) and the scenarios he examines seem to be drawn from submissions from its readers. He infuses this mix of absurdity crossed with science with liberal amounts of tongue in cheek humor but I found it became a bit grating after awhile, not because the subject matter needed to be treated with more respect (it doesn’t) but because I think it would have been funnier to let the absurdity of the scenarios/answers speak more for themselves. Particularly irritating were the short (non) answer responses to some questions which came off as condescending rather than funny. With that out of the way, What if does a good job of taking the listener through the science behind the answer to the scenario without getting bogged down in too much detail. Munroe also indulges the reader by extending the example further than the limitations of the original question – just to see what would happen. Aside from the humor part, I think the key to whether you will love or hate this book lies in whether you really are that interested in how hard you would need to shoot a hockey puck in order to knock someone over. For me, I wasn’t and although a few scenarios peaked my interest (if all humans simultaneously aimed a light at the same spot on the moon, would it be visible), there weren’t enough to sustain my attention.
Fine narration - well done Wesley Crusher!
The title to this audiobook is somewhat misleading as this is really about the events which led up to the war as well as an almost minute by minute recounting of the combat. About half of the book is devoted to each. With almost 50 years elapsed, and with access to a seemingly treasure trove of historical documents, Oren has pieced together a finely detailed, arguably definitive recounting of the momentous events which reshaped the Middle East, founded the “modern” state of Israel, and propelled a generation of religious and sectarian conflict since. For readers of history, those with an interest in the Middle East, Israel, or the interplay (or failures) of diplomacy and warfare, there is lots here to captivate – from the larger than life political and military leaders, to the half-hearted efforts of diplomacy, to the military strategy and tactics involved. Oren takes pains to move the narrative along by balancing the goings on of all sides during the inexorable march to war and thereafter and there are the occasional revelations, some of which I found genuinely startling. While this could have formed the basis of a suspenseful page turner, the focus here is really on factual information told (and capably narrated) in a straightforward manner yet I found the results anything but dry or plodding. My only criticisms are that the maneuvering of forces and locations of battles are at times, difficult to follow without benefit of maps. As well, the cessation of the war, aftermath, and ramifications are dealt with comparatively briefly. Nevertheless, I would say these are relatively minor and that this book is well worth a listen.
This follow-up book to Luttrell’s excellent Lone Survivor will appeal to those with an interest in the role of special ops in modern warfare (read: War on Terror), particularly the Navy SEALS. Unlike Lone Survivor, which more or less followed a conventional narrative structure in telling the story of the disastrous Operation Red Wings mission, Service reads more like a collections of loosely connected essays, with sections on his relationship with his SEAL brother Morgan, deployments in Iraq, the camaraderie of his fellow SEALS, as well as a few firsthand (and narrated) accounts of what life is like as the wife of a SEAL. All of this is written in Luttrell’s characteristic gung ho, patriotic fashion which is comes across more pronounced as an audiobook rather than read as a paperback. In the end, I didn’t find this as compelling as Lone Survivor (in some respects, it literally covers the same ground) yet I found it hard to dislike the message or even more so, the messenger. As long as you are willing to overlook these, then Service has a lot to offer about Luttrell and what it means to serve as a SEAL.
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.
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