Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jeane Kirkpatrick & the Neocons

Making War to Keep Peace, by Jeane Kirkpatrick, HC/HarperCollins

Even if forcibly spreading democracy were feasible, is it actually desirable, the NYT Reviewer , Geoffrey Wheatcroft, asked. "...almost everywhere there are free elections, the American-backed side tends to lose."

We're backing the wrong side, what d'ya think.

The WSJ said this: "Her blunt style and strong defense of liberty will be missed. "

Here's apparently the text of Kirkpatrick's speech to the 1984 Republican convention:

Paul Krugman

The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman

"stimulating manifesto aims to galvanize today's progressives"

From Paul Krugman's blog:

The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.

Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

Heinlein and Conservative Sci-Fi

Conservative science fiction is described in this obituary for Robert Heinlein.

Amazon's review says about Heinlein's Starship Troopers: "Many consider this Hugo Award winner to be Robert Heinlein's finest work, and with good reason." It's #5,788 on Amazon's best-seller list.

Stranger in Strange Land is # 15,963. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is #7,761. That's pretty good for 50 year old books.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hubris, deception, and death - David Halberstam

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, By David Halberstam

On September 26, 2007, it's #25 on the Amazon best seller list.

Here's a comment by Glenn Greenwald on Salon about Halberstam's findings:

Amazon quotes Publishers Weekly this way:

At the heart of David Halberstam's massive and powerful new history of the Korean War is a bloody, losing battle fought in November 1950 in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea by outnumbered American GIs and Marines against the Chinese Communist Army.Halberstam's villain is not North Korea's Kim Il Sung or China's Chairman Mao or even the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who pulled the strings. It's the legendary general Douglas MacArthur, the aging, arrogant, politically ambitious architect of what the author calls the single greatest American military miscalculation of the war, MacArthur's decision to go all the way to the Yalu [River] because he was sure the Chinese would not come in.Much of the story is familiar. What distinguishes this version by Halberstam (who died this year in a California auto crash) is his reportorial skill, honed in Vietnam in Pulitzer-winning dispatches to the New York Times. His pounding narrative, in which GIs and generals describe their coldest winter, whisks the reader along, even though we know the ending.Most Korean War scholars agree that MacArthur's sprint to the border of great China with a Siberian winter coming on resulted in a lethal nightmare. Though focused on that mountain battle, Halberstam's book covers the entire war, from the sudden dawn attack by Kim Il Sung's Soviet-backed North Koreans against the U.S.-trained South, on June 25, 1950, to its uneasy truce in 1953. It was a smallish war but a big Cold War story: Harry Truman, Stalin and Mao, Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, among others, stride through it. A few quibbles: there were no B-17 bombers destroyed on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor, as Halberstam asserts, and Halberstam gives his minor characters too much attention.At first MacArthur did well, toughing out those early months when the first GIs sent in from cushy billets in occupied Japan were overwhelmed by Kim's rugged little peasant army. MacArthur's greatest gamble led to a marvelous turning point: the invasion at Inchon in September, when he outflanked the stunned Reds. After Inchon, the general headed north and his luck ran out. His sycophants, intelligence chief Willoughby and field commander Ned Almond, refused to believe battlefield evidence indicating the Chinese Communists had quietly infiltrated North Korea and were lying in wait. The Marines fought their way out as other units disintegrated. In the end, far too late, Truman sacked MacArthur. Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history.

Here's a link to David Halberstam's thoughtful words on uses and misuses of history:

Halberstam reports that MacArthur did not spend the night in Korea after reviewing the troops; in fact, he did not spend the night there during the entire time he commanded. That's hubris.


Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element, By Jeremy Bernstein

This is a bibliography of Bernstein work; he has been active in NY Review of Books:

Publishers Weekly - as quoted on Amazon

Physicist and former New Yorker staff writer Bernstein presents a scientifically rigorous (equations and all) but clearly written explanation of the recondite reasons why plutonium is supremely suited for bomb-making material—and little else. From the discovery of uranium in 1789 to the Manhattan Project, Nazi attempts at a nuclear bomb and the post-WWII efforts of the U.S.S.R. to become a nuclear power, Bernstein reviews the element's storied past. Although the discovery of the atom's structure has been covered before, Bernstein spins an accessible, insightful description of how the great scientists Curie, Bohr, Rutherford and Fermi, among others, deconstructed the atom through a combination of individual brilliance, a spirit of collaboration and serendipity. He also brings his acquaintance with several Los Alamos scientists (he interned at the laboratory in 1957) to the less canonical subject of the scientific and engineering problems inherent to building a working nuclear bomb.

The Arms Race

Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, By Richard Rhodes

Here's what it says at Amazon:
"Rhodes reveals the early influence of neoconservatives and right-wing figures such as Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. We see how Perle in particular sabotaged the Reykjavik meeting by convincing Reagan that mutual nuclear disarmament meant giving up his cherished dream of strategic defense (the Star Wars system). Rhodes’s detailed exploration of these and other events constitutes a prehistory of the neoconservatives, demonstrating that the manipulation of government and public opinion with fake intelligence and threat inflation that the administration of George W. Bush has used to justify the current “war on terror” and the disastrous invasion of Iraq were developed and applied in the Reagan era and even before."

Friday, September 21, 2007

How Slavery Shaped the US Constitution

Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitution, by Lawrence Goldstone, Walker & Company.

The Constitution was the result of the work of "highly pragmatic men who were pursuing limited and self-interested goals." Too bad we lack such men in high places now.

The author respond to a book review on Mary L. Dudziak's Legal History Blog:

It's possible that interpreting the Constitution based on original intent just isn't possible because the compromisers that got the Constitution written and adopted did not all mean the same thing.

Here's the link to the transcript of Goldstone's appearance on the NPR Tavis Smiley show:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Einstein - Legend, myth, idol and icon

Einstein - His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster

Einstein - A Biography, by Jurgen Neffe, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The Fall of Napoleon - The Allied Invasion of France, 1813-1814, Cambridge

Chalmers Johnson

The trilogy by Chalmers Johnson
  • Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire -,M1
  • The Sorrows of Empire -
  • Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic -
The publisher is Metropolitan

Johnson said about his book The Sorrows of Empire:
"I suggested the sorrows already invading our lives, which were likely to be our fate for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional government, endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally bankruptcy. At book’s end, I advocated reforms intended to head off these outcomes but warned that ‘failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.’ … " - Johnson has the courage to say that America dominates the world by the use of our military.

CHALMERS JOHNSON is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, a non-profit research and public affairs organization devoted to public education concerning Japan and international relations in the Pacific. He taught for thirty years, 1962-1992, at the Berkeley and San Diego campuses of the University of California and held endowed chairs in Asian politics at both of them. At Berkeley he served as chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies and as chairman of the Department of Political Science. His B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in economics and political science are all from the University of California, Berkeley.


Ove Arup: Masterbuilder of the Twentieth Century, by Peter Jones, Yale

India & The British Empire

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857, by William Dalrymple, Knopf.

Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex von Tunzelman, Henry Holt & Company.

The reviewer in the NY Times wrote: "The truth is that Britain wanted to quit India with dignity if possible, but speed above all; the cost in human lives was of secondary importance." Sounds like a prelude to Iraq.

Those British Authors

P. G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse: A Life, by Robert McCrum
P.G. Wodehouse: A Portrait of a Master , David A. Jasen

The Life of Kingsley Amis, by Zachary Leader, Pantheon


Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism, by Paul Starr, Basic Books

Michael Lind called it "an impressive achievement" in the NYT

Here's the book's own page:

"George W. Bush's presidency is another era of overreaction at the expense of constitutional rights, but the prospects for a quick correction are not auspicious. Nothing has helped end earlier bouts of repression so much as the fact that the wars themselves came to a close, and nothing has so exposed our liberties to indefinite jeopardy as the conception of a "war on terrorism" with no end." -

Starr is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, and Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs, Princeton University; Co-editor, The American Prospect -

Here's Starr's home page:


Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped to Save England, by Lynne Olson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Cold War Biographer

George Kennan: A Study of Character, by John Lukacs, Yale

We could learn from Kennan, as we embark on a new Cold War with Iran.

Rome's Fall

The Day of the Barbarians: The Battle that Led to the Fall of the Roman Empire, by Alessandro Barbero, Walker & Company

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright by Ada Louise Huxtable, Lipper/Viking

James F. O'Gorman in the NYT called the book provocative - It depends what you mean by morality. individualistic, egocentric and all the rest.

Free Speech

Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, by Geoffrey R. Stone, W. W. Norton & Company

The French

Lavoisier in the Year One: The Birth of a New Science in an Age of Revolution, by Madison Smartt Bell, Norton

Toussaint Louverture: A Biography, by Madison Smartt Bell, Pantheon


The Edwardians, by Roy Hattersley, St. Martin's

I've been reading the big biography of David Lloyd George, and this is a period that we Americans don't know much about, but the controversies are not so different from our times today.

Pirates & America's beginnings

The Pirates Lafitte: The treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, by William C. Davis, Harcourt

The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World by Frank Lambert, Hill & Wang

White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam's One Million White Slaves, by Giles Milton, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Peter Irons

I like Peter Irons' thinking.

War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, by Peter Irons, Metropolitan Books


A Matter of Opinion, by Victor Navasky, Farrar, Straus & Giroux


The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race, by Priscilla J. McMillan, Viking.

I don't know why we're so surprised by today's heirs of those 1950's predecessors of today's Washington bosses.


Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, by Selwyn Raab. Thomas Dunne Books


The First Crusade, by Thomas Asbridge, Oxford

The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, by Johathan Phillips, Viking

Fighting for Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades, by Christopher Tyerman, Oxford

Clarence Thomas and the Others

Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas, by Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher, Doubleday.

The Supreme Court : The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America, by Jeffrey Rosen, Times Books

Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court, by Jan Crawford Greenburg, Penguin

Lincoln's Beliefs

What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President, by Michael Lind, Doubleday

Robber Barons

Meet You in Hell, by Les Standiford, Crown

Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels, by Jille Jonnes, Viking.

Greek Olympics

The Naked Olympics, by Tom Perrottet, Random House

Ancient Greek Athletics, Stephen G. Miller, Yale

Wrestling with the Ancients, Alexander Kitroeff,

Facing Athens, by George Sarrinikolaou, North Point


The Man behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, by Leslie Berlin, Oxford

Computer software

From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog, A History of the Software Industry, by Martin Campbell-Kelly, MIT


River of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, by Rebecca Solnit, Viking

"Deeply intelligent" and ""close to inspired" the NYT reviewer Jim Lewis said.

Science survey

The Canon, a Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, by Natalie Angier, Houghton-Mifflin

Empire of the Stars: Obsession, Friendship and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes, by Arthur I. Miller, Houghton Mifflin

Conflict in the Cosmos: Fred Hoyle's Life in Science by Simon Mitton, Joseph Henry Press

The Scientist as Rebel, By Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About our Lives, by David Sloan Wilson, Delacorte Press

The Fellowship: Gilbert, Bacon, Harvey, Wren Newton and the Story of the Scientific Revolution, by John Gribbin, Overlook


Fallen Founder, The Life of Aaron Burr, by Nancy Isenberg, Viking

Copperheads - Civil War Peace Democrats

Copperheads, by Jennifer L. Weber , Oxford

Well reviewed in both New Yorker and New York Law Journal (on June 29, 2007).

Timely discussion of dissent and opposition.

Read the Bible

How To Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel, Free Press

The NYT reviewer calls the book "awesome, thrilling and deeply strange" -- sounds great.

Referred to as a book that is so good that the reviewer doesn't know what to say:

The Stillborn God

The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla, Knopf

Reviewed in both NYT and WSJ this weekend.

This sounds like a book I would like to read. Provocative.

Here's the review from the American Prospect: