Xenophon: The March Up Country: A Translation of Xenophon's Anabasis
(4/5/2015) For some reason, a mercenary Greek army and the Persian prince who hired them thought it a good idea to march 1,500 miles on a shoestring budget to fight the king (the ambitious prince's brother) close to his capital - fricking Babylon! This worked out miraculously well and the Greeks got the best of the fight until the prince was killed in battle. Then came the march home, the long way through mountainous terrain, poorly-clothed (and -shod), hungry, without pay, and with the pissed-off (and probably embarrassed) king and all his petty satraps on their asses. Did I mention that the Greeks were mercenaries who thought that the army was a democratic institution? Good times!
Émile Zola: I Accuse!
Margaret MacMillan: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
(3/20/2015) From Germany and France to eastern Europe to the Middle East to China and Japan, the Treaty of Versailles screwed the pooch pretty thoroughly. Wilson was so hung up on the creation of his League of Nations that he couldn't be bothered with trifles such as justice and principle – except the ‘principle’ of his own ‘Fourteen Points’, which didn't exactly impress – and Clemenceau was insufferably demanding. (E.g., the ‘indemnity’ – charging Germany not just for reparations but also for the economic value of lost Allied men – was unhelpful and contrary to existing and stated principle. But the French were in no mood for forgiveness.) But Keynes's concern about the supposedly unbearable size of reparations was baseless. Unfortunately, the German people took Keynes's BS seriously, another terrible injustice among many as they saw it.
Another failing was the absence of proper war crimes trials for, at the least, the officers responsible for the murderous German behavior in Belgium – Falkenhayn, Ludendorff, and Bülow spring immediately to mind – rather than simply forwarding their names to the German government for trial at home (!) where they were either acquitted or allowed to escape and disappear without official trace. (!!) Also, allowing the German army to march home in good order, rather than forcing them to surrender publicly in the obvious disarray of defeat, encouraged the German public to believe that they had not really ‘lost’ but had rather been ‘stabbed in the back’ by traitors and Jews. Merde! (****)
Kevin Garrison: The CEO of the Cockpit
Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel
(2/20/2015) A bit juvenile for this old man. I wish I'd read it in the sixth grade. Or even the eighth. (****)
Isaac Asimov: The Stars, Like Dust
Dan van der Vat: The Dardanelles Disaster: Winston Churchill's Greatest Failure
George W. Bush: 41: A Portrait of My Father
Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
(1/9/2015) The title is slightly misleading (Zamperini was, ultimately, broken, but managed not to show it until he got home), but the book is an absolute must-read. I can't imagine how anyone could withstand what he did for so long.
I haven't seen the movie, but apparently the fuck-a-duck scene didn't make the cut. I can't imagine what the problem was .... (*****)
Ben Stein: How To Really Ruin Your Financial Life and Portfolio
(1/2/2015) Oh, the sarcasm, it burns! (*****)
Barbara W. Tuchman: The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
The chapter on the Dreyfus Affair is brilliant and well worth the price of admission. Other chapter on Wilhelmine German politics and culture (and music) is also highly instructive for those of us who are still trying to grasp what in hell could lead Germany into two world wars. Many chapters just pointlessly bore, but the whole is worth the reader's time. (****)
Edzard Ernst & Simon Singh: Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine
(10/09/2014) Treatments that have been demonstrated to be safe and effective quickly become conventional, leaving only quackery and worse in the ‘alternative’ category. Examples of such proven bogosity include homeopathy (although that is now a marketing term used very loosely), aromatherapy, and acupuncture. All have been demonstrated, in fair trials, to be bunk. Laetrile is worse than bunk and no, it's not an effing ‘vitamin’. (****)
Arthur C. Clarke: The Fountains of Paradise
Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August
Ian Kershaw: Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris
(8/13/2014) This is volume one of a horrifyingly thorough two-volume biography (volume two is entitled ‘Nemesis’). Hitler was a raving bore from before WWI, but went over the edge – and found a talent for rhetoric and propaganda – after Germany's defeat. But the key to the main puzzle: It wasn't that Germans mysteriously bought the outrageous soap that Hitler was selling, but that he was a brilliant salesman for an already popular product made even more popular by the horrible and destructive Treaty of Versailles. Hitler sold it, in concentrated form, by the truck-load as the only solution to Germany's desperate humiliation. (****)
Robert M Gates: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
General Stanley McChrystal: My Share of the Task: A Memoir
(7/13/2014) Btw, the Pentagon's Inspector General concluded that reporter Michael Hastings, um, misrepresented conversations with officers under McChrystal's command (gee, I didn't see that coming!), and the general is willing to let it go at that. Mrs. McChrystal thought that his retirement was long overdue, anyway. (****)
Daniel C. Dennett: Consciousness Explained
(7/9/2014) Lots of good stuff here, but I'll have to read it again, maybe in a month or so after I've had some time to digest this run through. It seemed that he was being a bit obtuse, perhaps semantically so, on a few points, but ... well, I have to read it again. It's a long one, so I think I'll try something a bit lighter in the mean time.
Yeah, who am I kidding? (****)
Daniel C. Dennett: Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking
Victor J. Stenger: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist
(6/1/2014) Stenger's project is to show that, when fairly and precisely examined as any scientific hypothesis would be (Gould's ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ be damned), the notion of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ‘God’ fails. Stenger succeeds sometimes quite impressively, but frequently manages only to prove his devotion to the conclusion. (E.g., in a bizarre passage accusing Justice Scalia of religious bias, Stenger forgets to refer to anything ever written or said by Scalia on the subject of proper legal interpretation, and also that a devout Roman Catholic, voting his religious beliefs, would have to rule against the death penalty!) The book is thus valuable in places but too deeply flawed to recommend.
Stenger's arguments against divine creation apply across the board, but his argument against providence is specific to this one particular God and His generally agreed attributes, whose existence is thus rendered implausible in the way that an alibi becomes implausible in the face of DNA evidence to the contrary: Not absolutely, but well beyond all reasonable doubt.
But ‘reasonable’: Aye, there's the rub. (**)