Monday, April 4, 2011

Free Will Library

Here are some of the books I've read in the last couple months:

Decision Points by George W. Bush: the surprise best-seller from Chimpy McHitlerburton. This is sort of a memoir, but rather than tell his tale chronologically, Bush organizes his book around 14 "decision points" - crucial moments that left him with a choice with profound consequences. Obviously, a lot of this material covers 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but Bush delves into areas both well known (Katrina) and not so well known (his AIDS initiatives in Africa). His prose is forceful and unadorned with occasional touches of emotion. He seems to take a certain delight in quoting prominent Democrats who initially supported the Iraq War, which only underscores what a bunch of a**holes Bush had to deal with in his 8 years in office. Unlike the other chapters, his one on Katrina is full of harsh criticism, both of himself and of the others involved in the mess in New Orleans. You don't have to agree with Bush to know that he was a fundamentally decent man who took his job seriously, and who dealt with a seemingly endless series of disasters with cool competence. Worthwhile.

Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld. a magisterial look back on a life in public service that began in the early Sixties. Say what you will about Rumsfeld (and you never want to be the sort of person about whom people say "say what you will about..."), but the guy exercised power at a high level for most of his adult life with an agility and integrity that few could match. And he's still innovating at age 78. His use of a companion website to publish the memos he refers to in the book is something any DC insider should employ in publishing their memoirs.

The Human Factor by Ishmael Jones. one of the better "I was a CIA agent and this is what's wrong with American intelligence" books out there. Jones tells a familiar tale of bureaucratic waste and inefficiency at the CIA, one of many American institutions that have simply stopped functioning. Jones writes, not just of wasted money or intelligence opportunities, but also wasted lives. It is not uncommon for CIA employees to spend years preparing for a foreign posting, and then spend a few months abroad before being brought back to work in a cubicle at HQ. Lots of dry wit at work, but ultimately the story is too infuriating to be funny. As Jones points out, the CIA's most successful "mission" in the decade after 9/11 was its relentless effort to undermine the Bush Administration through strategic leaking.

Deconstructing Obama by Jack Cashill. this is the book arguing that Bill Ayers actually wrote Dreams of My Father. The available evidence is that Ayers, at least, acted as a sort of hands-on editor, but I'm not sure if the case is made that he actually wrote the whole book. Of course, editing the book is bad enough as it shows just how intertwined Obama and Ayers were, despite all of the careful denials during the 2008 campaign. A fun detail: Ayers' books - and Dreams - are filled with nautical imagery because Ayers worked as a merchant seaman for a couple years.

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder. a great idea: write a book about the areas in Central and Eastern Europe that suffered first under the fist of Stalinist Russia, then Hitler's Germany, and then Stalin again. Snyder starts with the Ukraine Famine and then moves on to one grim atrocity after another. The book does provide a definitive answer to the question, who was worse, Stalin or Hitler? The answer has to be Hitler. While Stalin might have killed millions, Hitler's death machine was much more cruel and sadistic. By the end of WW2, places like Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Poland had lost a third of their populations, a tragedy that the world has never really grasped ,or even readily acknowledged.

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