Yes. It was a very compelling look at security issues in the broadest possible sense: what do we mean by being secure/insecure, how do we assess situations in those contexts such that we can increase our relative security?
This is a completely nontechnical book, and is composed of essays, columns, and articles written by the author in various publications. It's a very nice collection, compiled thematically in a way that delivers clear, concise analyses of security issues ranging in scope from airport security to cyber warfare. All the while, Schneier maintains his ability to cut through all the complexity to highlight the key relationships and focus on a high level, goal-oriented analysis. Security, Schneier says again and again, is always a trade-off. He shows us in article upon article how the way we view security in many every day situations, political debates, and even defense and police contexts is completely wrong because it lacks the fundamental perspective: that we are, each of us and all of us, security CONSUMERS who must make measured judgement about what we need protecting from and how best we can be protected. In the end, Schneier always brings it back to his most prescient question: is the security we are getting worth what we are spending or sacrificing.
I'm in awe of the breadth and scope of this book. The only title I've come across that truly does justice to the subject and tells the whole story in all its detail, he honestly and without compromise.
Should be re-titled: "The Positive Side of War and Conflict and Their Role in History and Society". Whether or not you agree with Morris, he lays out his thesis clearly and with considerable evidence. His method is rigorous and scholarly. His conclusion is that war is the historical and sociological underpinning of the state, and that the state is responsible for creating a social, economic, and political reality in which the individual quality of life is dramatically better, and more peaceful, than it was in "traditional" societies. These are points bound to be controversial, and building a case and explaining all of his qualifications takes the entirety of the book. The presentation of that argument is solid, with a thorough analysis that is nonetheless engaging, interesting, and well structured.
This is a lot of book for its length. Wallerstein lays out a broad but very concise narrative that takes the reader through the history of the world, and the historiography of the world, and lays out a clear case for how a different paradigm is needed for viewing and thinking about history and historical phenomena. The role of history and sociology among the other disciplines and the epidemiological issues involved in evaluating macro-scale events over long periods of time are evaluated with some depth for the run time of the audiobook.
Yet, there are quite a few portions of the book that nevertheless came across as dry and tedious lecture rather than an engaging treatise on a fascinating subject. And I love this subject matter and really wanted to love the book! Still worth a read, but I wish the book could have retained its scholarly emphasis without feeling so academic.
Rarely do I listen to a book where I agree with everything the author is saying for the most part, but find myself annoyed to the point where I didn't want to finish. I made it through the whole book, but only out of tenacity.
I love Chalmers Johnson, and I was a big fan of Blow Back several years back. I'm politically much in line with Johnson's conclusions, but his approach here is disappointing for several reasons.
First, the book takes the form of several essays rather than a single coherent and comprehensive volume. There's a lack of flow from chapter to chapter. There's no sense of Johnson starting the reader out at the bottom of the argument, and building up the argument with facts, examples, and analysis to a climax. Here, one would expect the center of the book to be several clear, concise recommendations, along with a plan for just how "dismantling the empire" might play out on the world stage and in the American political arena. But I didn't get that. There are a bunch of conclusions such as America should disband the CIA and replace it with the State Department's intelligence apparatus, but these aren't well connected enough to feel like a prescription for action and he often repeats them. Lots of information in chapters is redundant and tiresome. "You already said that..."
Second, I'm annoyed by the need to constantly rehash the first 3 books. They felt like shameless plugs and much of the information is duplicated from those earlier works.
Third, the tone is that of a diatribe. Johnson seems more interested in engaging in polemics that making an academic argument. Lots of loaded language and declarative statements. Some of it understandable. But not a book that is likely to convince the unconvinced. So, then what's the point? Preaching to the quire might feel satisfying, but in the end it's just masturbation. The people who need convincing will not be swayed by prose that comes off as pompous, preachy, and self-righteous.
Fourth, Johnson makes many conclusions that are not well supported and which rest of grand assumptions about historical inevitability and causal relationships that should hardly be taken for granted. For example, a neo-realist would tear Johnson's argument apart, even the argument is in essence perfectly compatible with a realist interpretation and even though Johnson himself often professes that his advice is mere prudence.
All in all, not the book I was hoping for.
Measheimer does what few others are in able or willing to do: to approach geopolitics from a rigorous theoretical perspective, to take a rational, sober view of the world using rigorous methodology and both basing and assessing theory in comparison to the broad range of historical case studies.
In this work, Measheimer lays out in detail the theory of "offensive realism", a neo-realist school distinct from its sibling defensive realism, but also distinct from classical realism. The greatest contrast, of course, is with liberalism, which in the context of foreign relations means that realism is a materialist paradigm that sees politics as being shaped by geography, economics, and power relationships, with offensive realism having the specific prescripts about the nature of the dynamics behind the picture.
For example, offensive realism envisions states as sociopolitical entities whose primary goal is to survive, and because the need for survival quickly brings into view some obvious security dilemmas (states can't be certain of the intentions of others states, therefore they prepare for war and likewise see the preparations and capabilities of other states as potentially threatening to their existence) states will seek to maximize their relative power.
Whether that view is cynical or astute depends on your own biases, but I found Measheimer's arguments well founded and well supported, with a rich analysis and historical backdrop that will make the work entertaining even if one doesn't accept his theory in whole. Indeed, while I think offensive realism has real merit as a theory for understanding international politics, I also think it omits some key factors, such as human psychology and moral influence (moral in the sense Sun Tzu meant the word, not simply in terms of right and wrong).
For me, I think Measheimer captures the essence of a very real pattern underlying geopolitical logic, but that this could only be one of multiple dimension in a more complex multi-stable picture. In any case, this book is meaty, well written, and well structured.
The narration is also quite good.
If you're looking for a typical book on strategy, that will recount famous exemplars from military history or the business world and perhaps even distill them into "lessons" that are really no more than subjective and axiomatic mantras, aphorisms, and maxims... then this isn't the book for you. Try the 48 Laws of Power, the 33 Strategies of War, or any number of other books, many of them thoughtful in their own rights, if that's what you are in the mood for.
This book? Well, I can sum is up as a broad and sweeping analysis of the question: what is strategy? What do we really mean when we use words like "strategic"? Is strategy the same thing as planning or preparation? What is it that enables human beings to be strategic animals, both psychologically and neurologically? This book is the most fundamental exploration of strategy I've ever encountered.
Oh, there will be much discussion of military history, the business world, science, philosophy, and even religion, searching for the origins of strategic thought and conceptions of strategy as an idea. But this is all back drop providing material and context to fuel the wider history (and historiography) of strategy.
Ultimately, the author comes to the conclusion and primary thesis that strategy is fundamentally not science, nor art, but some flexible realm between... consisting not of hard formulas, prescriptions, or even theories, but of the idea of many possible futures and outcomes and variables, and a method of identifying key narratives of events as they unfold and selecting from various available scripts to tilt the probabilistic chain of events in one's favor. It is an idea that respects the art of strategy, without resorting to postmodern solipsism, and which acknowledges the importance of planning and hard data, without overemphasizing quantitative analysis or resorting to pseudo-scientific theories.
In the book's journey, you'll start with emergency of early homo-sapiens and the unique potential for abstract thought and imagination that defines our human capacity for strategy. You'll look through ancient warfare and mythology and religion for the emergence of the idea of achieving ends using rational means that rely upon the employment of guile and wit, as well as that notion's antithesis. You'll cover military history, the study and theory of modern military "science", as well as the practice of military art. You'll look closely at numerous historical conflicts, from Napoleon and the rise of key thinkers like Jomini and Clausewitz, through to Vietnam, Iraq, and 9/11, with countless thinkers in between. You'll cover social and military revolutions, the establishment of social science, sociology, and many philosophical currents and paradigms therein. You'll even cover neuroscience and behavioral psychology, not only what they tell us for devising strategies that must by their nature influence others, but what they tell us of how people strategize, and how people actually think and behave. You'll discuss economics and rational actor theory, just as you'll look closely at game theory and complex systems theory and their applications and implications for the strategic arts and sciences. From Odysseus and Sun Tzu, to Jon Von Neuman and Mearsheimer. It's a big book and a long journey, but richly rewarding!
This is a breathtaking work, hugely ambitious and rigorous in its methods. I'll admit there were a few parts, mostly those delving into Christian theology, where I thought the author was stretching quite far to find relevance, and where I was less interested and entertained, but I appreciate the author's attention to all dimensions and angles.
Quite frankly, if you have an interest in strategy: what it really is, what it really means, it's practice, it's practitioners, its theory and its history... you will find no better resource than this book. For fans and students of strategic studies, whether military history or business, this book will open your eyes to a much wider picture and a much broader understanding of what it is you're studying. It will challenge your common sense, all of the "lessons" you've ever learned, and your conceptions of strategy in the purest and most basic sense. This is destined to be the definitive analytical work on the subject for the foreseeable future!
You can find a lot to criticize in this audiobook, but like all of the "Knowledge Products" line and especially the Global Hotspots series of which this title is a part, there is so much more to love. I'm totally hooked on these now. I started with the title on Ethiopia and have been working my way around the globe.
The quality is stellar across the board, even though admittedly some are better than others. I really like the narration and format, which sounds more like a radio show or TV show without the images than it does a typical audio book. Here, the narration really has the feel of an older history documentary from PBS. Longer period quotations are provided with character voice acting and, while I can see why some find this cheesy, I am of the opinion that they really add flair. I find the voice acting to actually be quite good most of the time, even if the accents are sometimes imperfect. The occasional use of music or sound effects further adds richness to the experience.
My only complaint is that these are short. Here, you'll learn about the entire history of the Mediterranean basin in under 3 hours. Wow, that's ambitious. Yes, they leave much out. It's a very high level overview and they are very selective about what large trends to identify and which details and case examples to use to add depth and texture. While you can certainly find lots of fault with any work of history so heavily condensed, I am continually impressed by the balance that is struck. Just what you would want and expect for a broad overview. Much more comprehensive and rewarding than a typical documentary today, but so concise and succinct that I'm amazed how much they are able to cram into 3 hours while still taking time to stop and examine select aspects with more meaty explorations.
I would recommend this and the entire series to students and anyone wanting a brief, well-made, high level introduction to the topics they cover. Here, we go all the way from ancient Rome, through the post war republic of Italy in no time at all, yet I still learned a lot I hadn't known before. I'm perplexed by some of the lackluster reviews and my only explanation is that perhaps they are expecting a complete 24 hour audio book on the subject, which is not what this is designed to be. There is a case to be made that the 3 hour audio titles are less value for your credit than a full book, but that doesn't mean they aren't excellent in their own right. Sometimes less is more. It's a shame that the producer (or Audible) couldn't bundle several of these into package deals or sell the entire series as a single set.
These are excellent overviews for travelers who want to know a bit about the historical background of a country or region, and are quite nice for those who can't afford to travel (such as myself!). I've worked by way through Africa, Europe, and am now listening to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, soon to be heading to Asia.
After finishing "the African Experience" series of lectures by the Great Courses (produced by the Teaching Company), I was left wanting a little more chronological history that tied things together a little better. This book was the perfect supplemental to that series, as it provided an excellent, traditional history of the continent.
Things I liked:
Comprehensive scope. From prehistory all the way through recent events, with a good distribution between periods.
The whole continent. For such a short work spanning such a long time scale, I was impressed that they didn't cut corners. Northern Africa is included as part of Africa, showing the full range of historical patterns and trajectories. Many "short" histories, and even many not-so-short ones, cut out Northern Africa as some kind of anomaly. This book manages to nicely incorporate Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Chad, Sudan, and others into the whole of African history. It's very interesting to see the flows of trade, people, ideas, and even the conflicts that have traversed the Sahara going back to ancient times as an integral part of the unique dynamics of the continent.
Focus on the big picture. This book does a really nice job taking so much time and space, so many peoples and places, so many cultures and religions, and synthesizing them into a workable narrative. You get a great sense of the larger story of African histories.
Multiplicity. In doing the above, the book doesn't shy away from the uniqueness of each region, sub region, nation, and all the cultures of the continent. The authors strike a good balance between the forest and the trees--managing to touch all the big bases with enough detail to provide substance without getting caught up in the minutia.
I'm especially pleased with the rather nice treatment of the ancient history in all the various regions, and likewise with medieval and colonial history, while still managing to give an impressive, sweeping account of everything you'd expect to hear about in the modern history (and some, like the West Saharan conflict) that I was surprised got more than a casual mention. The whole thing follows a well written narrative that bounces between all these geographical areas without the reader noticing or feeling disoriented.
If there's one criticism to make, I suppose it would be that to do all this in such a short volume leaves little room for historical controversy. Most of the book is a factual narrative style that sometimes glosses over, and other times skips entirely, some of the big historiographic questions. There's not enough time to go over competing hypotheses in detail, although the Authors do a decent job in several notable examples. Which is fine, just be aware that if you research more you'll uncover some distinctions regarding dates and exact chronologies, etc. But this is meant to be an overview and it's quite a brilliant one, so one can't expect exhaustive examination of each argument every time there's some ambiguity in the sources or in the archaeological record.
A great into to the history of the Nubian kingdom that the Egyptians knew as Kush. There are not many resources out there for someone interested in Kush, or African civilizations/history in general. Certainly not in audio format. Most of what you do find will offer history only as "context" and instead focus on anthropological, archeological, or sociological perspectives. It's also hard to find a good balance between the afro-centric views on one extreme side of the spectrum and the Egypto-centrists on the other extreme side.
I was overall happy with this as an overview. It's fairly short, lacks detail, and is obviously written for a high school level audience, but it has a good scope and packs a lot of good information in.
The biggest flaw is the writing. As I mentioned, it sounds like it was written for a younger audience. Highschool... maybe earlier, going by some of the vocab choices and the style of prose. For example, instead of the word "allies", the word "friends" is used throughout the book. Sentences are short and simple to the point of coming off as unsophisticated. It's fine; I just assume the book was written to be more accessible to lower grade levels.
Would love to see some higher level, more detailed works on African history (Kush and Axum in particular, but also Mali and Songhai and others) on Audible. Africa's place in ancient history is important, widely underrepresented, and poorly understood by the general population.
The lost continent gets found in this excellent overview course by the Teaching Company. All in all, this is a great course. Well presented and masterfully prepared. I would have liked more chronology and a bit more focus on the details of events (as I already understand the larger trajectories), but the professor was quite ambitious and careful in his selection of material. All of the Great Courses are a RIDICULOUSLY high value.
My biggest complaint would be that the course was too short to provide the level of coverage I would have liked. It really should be two separated into 2 separate courses: one for the pre-colonial period and one for the post-colonial period through to today.
For one thing, the discussion of ancient African societies is broad in scope, but shallow in depth. I wish there was more detail on Nubian culture, especially the kingdom of Kush and Ta Seti A closer look at Axum and Ethiopia, the dynasties and mysteries (was their a Gudit and who was she?). Interactions between these states and the rest of the ancient world (a role and context very underrepresented and unappreciated in traditional western historical analyses), and so forth. Likewise for the West African states, Kongo and Great Zimbabwe.
But, this really isn't a history course. Or, it is, but it is also so many other things. It's history, sociology, anthropology, geography, linguistics, etc. The professor sometimes gets side tracked on interesting and relevant questions (e. g. what is a state?) and these take up time that might have otherwise gone to giving more detail about Africa's history. Don't get me wrong, I truly appreciate the importance of these questions to the subject at hand (e. g. how we define a state impacts how we evaluate one culture/society's historical importance, and this even more pertinent a consideration when looking at Africa's history as in, say, the Middle East). I also really love a comprehensive, unified approach to history, because it is the only way to get context and understanding.
Unfortunately, there are lots more high quality resources on those tangential questions than there are about the history and role of some of these civilizations. Also, the modern conflicts are greatly summarized. Don't expect to come out of this case able to make sense of the recent conflict in the Congo, nor that in Sudan (in fact, modern Sudan is lumped in with NORTH Africa, and thus isn't covered save a lecture that discusses the role of it and Egypt in early African state formation). Liberian Civil War? You are told it happened, but not much else. There's too much to talk about, even without waxing philosophical on the nature of statehood or the value judgments implicit in the term "civilization".
Africa, much like Asia, traditionally gets isolated out into it's only little bubble of academic study. "History" is the history of the "West", focusing on Greece > Rome > Europe. Then you end up with "China studies" or "South American studies", and indeed "African studies". It's really not helpful in my opinion to separate out these regional spheres into little bubbles. We get overwhelmed by too much content to cover (try teaching a single class called "Neanderthal to the Netherlands") and ironically we lose some of the big picture (how our bubble truly fits in with all the other bubbles in the larger themes of world history). Sure, we see some lines that get drawn pointing out and/or back into those bubbles, but we draw clear lines of where one thing stops and another begins. This course doesn't play to that kind of dogma (much the opposite), but it can't help but bend under the burden of having to account for an entire continent (and a large one), both history and so much else. We end up missing the detail that might put into focus not only the local events (just what happened in Somalia over the past 30 years?) but how those local events bleed across regional lines (Ethiopia played a really interesting role in the geopolitical power struggle for Arabia between Byzantine Rome and Sassanid Persia, and Nubia had some quite interesting interactions with Assyria, Persia, and Rome). We get some very vague sense of this, but that is all.
More time (2 48 lecture course), would of course could have helped the problem, but better yet would be a bunch more courses! So hopefully there are enough people interested to badger the Teaching Company to do some more African History courses, with a finer level of detail and some more localized focus to supplement this one. We don't need another course on Greece or Rome, we need to fill in some of our knowledge gaps and Africa is a huge knowledge gap for me and many others! Email them!
All of that is really a form of praise in disguise. Thank you, Teaching Company, for having courses like this, and please keep going in this direction!
One word of warning: the Teaching Company courses all come with a downloadable PDF (the "Course Book" or "Course Guide"). At least when you buy them online from the Teaching Company. Unfortunately, not when you get the course here at Audible. The course book is a complete outline of the course material, lecture by lecture. Very handy for review, or even just to remember which lecture was the one where they discussed ______. The coursebooks also list references, suggested reading, contain supplemental material (pictures, maps, diagrams, tables, charts, etc) and a glossary that make them very handy. Again, these aren't just free, but a standard part of the course when you buy them directly from the Teaching Company. But not here at Audible. Do us all a favor and email Audible and the Great Courses and let them know we would love to have these made available to us (especially since Audible already has a means of providing supplemental PDFs that accompany the audio books they carry; I imagine this just wasn't considered when the two formed the partnership between them).
The chapters in Audible are also not correctly titled for the lecture titles. You can't just pull up the TOC and see "aha, the next lecture is on Great Zimbabwe. Awesome!" You're left lost in the lost continent. So you have very limited ability to navigate around the course. You can't go back and just easily to the lecture on African geography, because you can't tell which chapter that was. If you had the course book, you could at least look it up and then know what chapter number it was, but as I mentioned already that isn't provided (you can tell how much I want my coursebooks, huh!). But it would also be nice if the Audible app would list the actual chapter titles as well.
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