I cannot live without books. - Thomas Jefferson
I am a huge fan of books. Even in this Internet age of publishing with instant reactions, micro-blogging and information overload, there is still no surer way of defeating one’s own ignorance, of building one’s own vision of the world, or of having something worth writing, than by first reading books.
Time is an ever-present constraint however and I read only about half of the books I get. An even smaller proportion of them then get book reviews, my way of digesting the material and crystallizing my reactions to it. The following is a list of book reviews from my previous blog and elsewhere.
- “The Best of Worlds”, Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World. Obama was caught reading this on the campaign trail. It has the uncritical mediocrity typical of writers aiming for the American middlebrow market and features an astonishingly bad chapter on India (basically reflecting Zakaria’s complexes as an overcompensating naturalized American of Indian Muslim origin).
- “The Suicide of a Ruling Class”, David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest. The classic, depressing chronicle of the United States’ inexorable escalation in the Vietnam War. I was heartened to read later that Raymond Aron had also described the event as a “suicide” of the Liberal class. Great minds..
- “A Good Man’s Wars”, George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia. On the iconic writers’ memoir of the Spanish War against Fascism and of the self-destructive sectarianism of the Left.
- “Mitterrand’s Last Breath of Vanity”, François Mitterrand, De l’Allemagne, de la France. The Socialist French president’s strange little memoir-cum-essay on Franco-German relations. Extremely deceptive on his role (extreme anxiety regarding) German Reunification.
- “Memories of Thatcher”, George R. Urban, Diplomacy and Disillusion at the Court of Margaret Thatcher. A good memoir featuring the Iron Lady’s incredible opposition to German Reunification and the birth of modern conservative mythology (particularly self-congratulatory-to-the-point-of-masturbotory Anglo-American relations).
- Link, General Charles de Gaulle, The Edge of the Sword.The great French leader’s incredible prescient, fascinating study in leadership, written long before he was anywhere near fame or power.
- “Stopping the Infernal Machine”, James Sheehan, Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?. Short and sweet overview of Europe’s transformation from the most militarized, warring continent in the world, to perhaps the least.
- Link, Vernon Walters, The Mighty and the Meek. A polyglot American diplomat and troubleshooter’s memoir of portraits of ordinary people and famous world leaders he had met (virtually ever US president from Roosevelt to Reagan, Brazilian presidents, Popes, Montgomery, Marshall, Franco, Castro, Mobutu…).
- “Congo Wars”. Several books on the wars of the Congo since the 1990s, the world’s deadliest since the Second World War (3 million dead). Include French interventions, use of mercenaries, and the fall of über-corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
- Link, Steven E. Ambrose, To America. The famed U.S. historian’s easy, not particularly deep last book of essays on American history.
- Link, John A. Kirk, Martin Luther King, Jr. Part of the excellent “Profiles in Power”, series, looks at MLK’s strategy, decision-making and impact during the civil rights struggle. Excellent mentions of his (now completely, willfully forgotten) commitments to peace (against Vietnam War) and social justice.
- Link, Ronald Tiersky, François Mitterrand: The Last French President. Good overview of French Fifth Republic’s only Socialist president. Rather idealized and somewhat clichéd vision, but warts left in and well worth reading.