Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby svinayak » 23 Oct 2008 05:54

Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered
by Peter S. Wells (Author)

# Hardcover: 256 pages
# Publisher: W. W. Norton (July 14, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0393060756
# ISBN-13: 978-0393060751

Starred Review. As archeology professor and author Wells (The Battle That Stopped Rome) points out, the only texts available on the cultures of "Dark Age" Europe (roughly A.D. 400-600) were written by those educated in the Roman tradition. The only unbiased evidence, therefore, is the material evidence. Covering five decades of excavation in western Europe (including London, Copenhagen, the outskirts of Stockholm, Cologne and Trier), Wells chronicles a revolution in the understanding of Europe after the Western Roman Empire's collapse, ostensibly at the hands of "barbarian hordes." Evidence accounts for vast trade networks that ranged from Byzantium and the Black Sea through the Baltic to Ireland, and across the Alps and Pyrenees; artifacts from as far away as India have been uncovered in Scandinavia. Buildings, metalworking and gem-cutting sites, and evidence for continuous occupation of many modern European cities, also provide rich proof that, contrary to the Roman-centric collapse-of-civilization narrative, the post-Roman world pulsed with robust, vital activity. Wells's aim is obviously a wide audience of armchair historians and archeologists; they won't be disappointed, and they'll have a fine reading list in Wells's sources and suggestions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Description
A surprising look at the least-appreciated yet profoundly important period of European history: the so-called Dark Ages.

The barbarians who destroyed the glory that was Rome demolished civilization along with it, and for the next four centuries the peasants and artisans of Europe barely held on. Random violence, mass migration, disease, and starvation were the only way of life. This is the picture of the Dark Ages that most historians promote. But archaeology tells a different story. Peter S. Wells, one of the world's leading archaeologists, surveys the archaeological record to demonstrate that the Dark Ages were not dark at all. The kingdoms of Christendom that emerged starting in the ninth century sprang from a robust, previously little-known, European culture, albeit one that left behind few written texts. This recently recognized culture achieved heights in artistry, technology, craft production, commerce, and learning. Future assessments of the period between Rome and Charlemagne will need to incorporate this fresh new picture. 24 illustrations.

There are so many lengthy difficult books about the Early Middle Ages, written for and by specialists, what a delight to find a short and easy to read summary of the latest scholarship of this rapidly changing multi-disciplinary field, written for a general audience by a medieval scholar with an up to date and useful bibliography.

The term "Dark Ages" has a long and complicated history ever since its invention by Italian Humanists in the 14th and 15th centuries. Modern medieval historians try to avoid the term Dark Ages with its pejorative implications. However some will still justify its use because the period was "dark to us", because of the lack of written record. However even this is no longer the case, a wealth of archaeological information has surfaced to enlighten the period. The old prejudices of a violent, backwards and stagnant time are falling away. Was it different from Rome? Yes, but to apply a value judgment of a "Dark Age" is inappropriate, this powerful metaphor has sadly shaped many peoples vision of the period.

Peter Wells examines some of the enduring myths and shows, through new archaeological findings, rather than a sudden break with the past, a continuity of history. For example there is a myth that urban centers declined or were abandoned, Wells shows substantial evidence this was not the case, using a case example of London. There is a myth of continuous violence and warfare, however Wells suggests this could not have been the case because of freedom of movement and trade that was occurring. There is a myth that technology halted or went backwards, when in fact it was a period of innovation, including the deep plow, horse harness and 3-field system which created a surplus in food, population and specialization. There is a myth that Roman roads deteriorated, which is true, but the original Roman roads were built on ancient roadways and were mainly only meant for military purposes anyway. Artwork flourished in this period finding new and original expressions.

Barbarians to Angels is a quick read for a general audience that summarizes a lot of recent and difficult scholarship. For more specialized works, to understand how we know what we know, the "proof", there is an excellent Bibliography.

Like another reviewer, I remain unconvinced of the author's thesis about post-Roman Europe. He rejects the term "barbarians" for the people who followed the Romans, but because they lacked a written language, their level of "civilization" cannot be demonstrated. The fact that they made and imported decorative objects is not proof of either moral enlightenment or intelligence. I read this book with much interest, and admire its succinct coverage of a complex subject, accessible to the nonspecialist. However, I sense an apologia for our Enlightenment viewpoint, an attempt not to judge, to give "Dark Ages" Europeans too much of the benefit of the doubt. His philosophy is much like Jared Diamond's in his two best-selling books which try to downplay the "superiority" of the West and explain the lack of development in the Third World totally in terms of geographical happenstance and environmental negligence. I would put credence in the written evidence of contemporary Roman writers. The quality of the human beings involved to me is always paramount. And given the paltry evidence for Dark Ages civilization (except for the monasteries), I read this book with yes, skepticism.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby svinayak » 25 Oct 2008 02:20

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed
by Ivan Eland (Author)

# Hardcover: 250 pages
# Publisher: Independent Institute (October 1, 2004)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0945999984
# ISBN-13: 978-0945999980

Eland challenges conventional wisdom about why so many people around the world dislike Americans--it's not who we are or what we believe, but how our government behaves.
With specific chapters directed at both conservatives and liberals explaining how over-reaching US interventionism goes against their principles, there is something in this book for everyone.

"A sober, hard-hitting critique and a cogent brief for why liberals and conservatives should reject an imperial role for America." -- Richard Betts, Director, Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University

"Deserves the thoughtful attention of all Americans disturbed by the imperial pretensions evident in Washington since the Cold War." -- Andrew J. Bacevich, Professor of International Relations, Boston University

"Dr. Eland makes a persuasive case that current U.S. national security policy is actually undermining our security and civil liberties." -- Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense

"Impressively lucid, filled with careful research and highly insightful commentary, certain to satisfy concerned readers across the political spectrum." -- Ambassador Edward L. Peck, former Chief of U.S. Mission in Iraq

"The sobering antidote for the imperial wine that has impaired the judgment of American politicians since the Cold War." -- Harvey M. Sapolsky, Director of Security Studies, MIT

"Think a U.S. empire is desirable and viable? Read Ivan Eland’s insightful, essential book, and you will change your mind." -- Edward A. Olsen, Professor of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School

"[This] should greatly influence the debate in this country about how to restore a Constitutional foreign policy. Read this book." -- Chalmers Johnson, Author,

Product Description
Most Americans don't think of their government as an empire, but in fact the United States has been steadily expanding its control of overseas territories since the turn of the twentieth century. Now, through political intimidation and over 700 military bases worldwide, the U.S. holds sway over an area that dwarfs the great empires of world history.

In "The Empire Has No Clothes", Ivan Eland, a leading expert on U.S. defense policy and national security, examines American military interventions around the world from the Spanish-American War up to the invasion of Iraq.

Eland shows that the concept of empire is wholly contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives and that it makes a mockery of the Founding Fathers' vision for a free republic. Eland also warns that in recent years, "blowback" and the enormous expansion of domestic federal power resulting from this overextended empire have begun to threaten the American homeland itself and curtail the very liberties these interventions were supposed to protect.

Public debate of the United States' role in the world has finally begun in earnest, and Ivan Eland delivers a penetrating argument in this landmark book, exposing the imperial motives behind interventionist U.S. policy, questioning the historical assumptions on which it is based and advocating a return to the Founding Fathers' policy of military restraint overseas.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby ramana » 25 Oct 2008 02:30

Looks like a redux of he book "Ugly American" which was published in the sixties. So nothing was learnt.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby svinayak » 27 Oct 2008 05:15

Lost Discoveries : The Ancient Roots of Modern Science--from the Babylonians to the Maya
by Dick Teresi (Author)

# Hardcover: 464 pages
# Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 1, 2002)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0684837188
# ISBN-13: 978-0684837185

Lost Discoveries is a fascinating read, especially for the non-scientist like myself. The author does a good job of explaining broad scientific theories and area of study and then tries to show how non-Western, non-European peoples explored and made advances in many areas of science that most of us are taught had their beginnings in renaissance Europe. For example the advanced math of Babylonia, India and Egypt that dealt with concepts that Greek math did not.

Teresi makes a good case that a lot of this ancient science pre dates modern Western "discoveries," although at times the "science" that the ancients did seems only vaguely related to modern concepts of the same science. A better book might have spent more time on what how and why European authors stole (or borrowed) from non-Western sources. Teresi makes reference to anti-Islamic prejudice in renaissance Europe but does not explore that. I guess in a popular science book there is not room for the same rigorous defense in a more academic book. I just wish it was more clearly linked. At times I assume that the ancient discoveries were really lost and that Western scientists just stumbled on the same answers 1000 years later. Teresi does not do a good job convincing me otherwise except in a few cases mentioned in the beginning of the book.

This is an excellent book for undergraduates, the non-scientist or as a launching pad for class discussion about how History is written. It is very informative, but needs to be read with an eye towards some skepticism.

You know you're not in for a dry recitation of facts when the chapter on mathematics begins with the author and his fourth-grader son and his son's friends waiting in line at Taco Bell. The boys start guffawing at the menu. There were three sizes of drinks, and three prices: $1.19, $1.49, and $1.79. "The kids were laughing," Teresi writes, "at the sign beneath the prices: UNLIMITED REFILLS!" This sign, as Teresi explains, is an example of the concept known as "infinite sets." (An infinite number of small drinks is equivalent to an infinite number of large drinks, so there's no reason to pay the higher price of large drinks.) Infinite sets were understood by Indian scientists in the sixth century BC but apparently haven't made it to Taco Bell. From there, he goes on to explain the real -- and surprisingly entertaining -- origins of mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, physics, and other sciences. Gleefully mocking both the pretensions of chauvinistic Western scientists and the half-baked multi-cultis who believe that the Egyptians invented airplanes and used telekinesis, this book is a romp and celebration of human genius, which can be found in all cultures and time periods.

This book presents myth-shattering evidence about the non-western roots of science and mathematics. The part about mathematical contributions of non-Western science seems to be well-researched and lies on solid ground. Past that, however, the book flounders as it confuses religion and philosophy with science. To lay claim that the Buddhist concept of emptiness has something to do with the void at the heart of the modern concept of atoms is more than a little bit of a stretch. The ancients may have accidentally hit upon the right concept, but so did they have thousands of other philosophical concepts that don't mesh well with modern science, and nowhere did they possess the mathematical and experimental proof to backup their claims. This is the main difference we make today between science and religion: that which can be proven versus that which cannot. It is a pity the author decided to take this turn, when the ancients had much that can be classified as solid, true science. The ancient Arabs, for example, contributed much in terms of optics, dynamics, meterology, and geographical projection. They were able to explain the formation of rain, explain motion, and draw accurate maps. So did many other cultures have solid contributions.

Why focus on comparing the various Indian philosophic beliefs to string theory when the latter has less than a few dacades history and may be proven wrong? Isn't it more fair to compare those non-Western cultures to their European contemporaries, as the author briefly does in the introduction? It is another pity that the author refuses to include medicine in the scope of the book, since that is where much of non-Western contributions to science lie. Despite these shortcomings, this book is an exciting and gripping read.

In "Lost Discoveries," Dick Teresi sets out to prove (and largely succeeds) that many of our science discoveries, previously attributed to Hellenic and other white-European civilizations, were actually preceded by--or flat out ripped off from--non-white, non-Western types, such as the Chinese, Sumerians, Babylonians, Mesoamericans, Africans, Indians, etc. He selects several general areas of scientific endeavor--mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, geology, and mechanical invention--and shows examples from each of how Man's understanding of the laws of the universe is much older than we think.
And he names names. The book ends up being a fantastic compendium of science knowledge, with enough interesting trivia to keep the average dinner-party know-it-all armed for a lifetime.

What Teresi explains is that claiming Copernicus was the first to hypothesize that Earth orbits the Sun is like claiming that Columbus was the first to discover America. That ignores the natives, the Mesoamericans, the Vikings, and probably a few more. The same can apparently be said about who decided Earth was round, who invented paper, and on and on. There were plenty of smart thinkers in older times, and their discoveries have been "lost" or ignored for a variety of reasons. These, too, Teresi tries to detail.

Part of Teresi's problem is deciding how to differentiate between a notion and scientific proof. A 3,000-B.C. barbarian looking out across the ocean, noting its curvature, and deducing that Earth is round is not the same as Columbus sailing three ships out there and not falling off. Teresi really begins to stretch matters in favor of the ancients when he drags out their cosmic mythologies and tries to claim its early quantum physics.

A minor annoyance is that the book's premise would have been better if discoveries were traced back to their true origin without regard to race. Show the evidence and the links, and let the chips fall where they may. Teresi patronizes "non-white, non-western" types by trying to validate their heritage; and jumps on the PC bandwagon as he insults European descendents by constantly reaching for the conclusion that old dead white guys are never as smart as we're led to believe. As if it matters. He even hints that due credit for non-white discoveries may have been suppressed over the centuries by a vast conspiracy fueled by racial prejudice. This book would have been better if he'd just left Rodney King out of it. --Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake Up Dead.

On the positive side, Teresi has gathered together a great deal of scholarly work on Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Maya, and Arab science and mathematics, and presents it clearly and understandably. He more than makes the case that we need to deepen our understanding of the ancient roots of science and broaden our acceptance of the idea that science has existed in many non-Western cultures. Readers will come away not only with these big and very important ideas, but with many fascinating details about advances and discoveries made long before they were made in the West.

On the other side of the ledger, I found myself seriously put off by the author's willingness to present just about any story that ever expressed any culture's mythology about the creation or structure of the cosmos as a meaningful predecessor of current cosmological thinking. Maybe I'm just not post-modern enough to grant equal scientific weight to an ancient creation myth as to the inflationary Big-Bang theory. The ancient story may be poetic and psychologically very meaningful, but it can't predict the primordial percentages of hydrogen and helium, or the wrinkles in the cosmic microwave background. Similarly, when Teresi writes that when particle physicists finally find the Higgs boson, they will validate the Buddhist idea of "maya," I found myself wishing that the author had used a finer sieve when chosing what to write about and what to leave out.

Still, anyone who is interested in the history of science, and at all curious about what kinds of science and mathematics predated or paralled the canonical Western scientific tradition, will find Lost Discoveries well worth reading.

Robert Adler, author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation

Science is the investigation of the natural world using REPRODUCIBLE observations as the ultimate arbitrators of truth and the organization and systemization of those observations. Mathematics is the investigation of the meaning of axiomatic systems using deductive logic as the arbitrator of truth. Technology is the body of knowledge and facilities used by humans to create artifacts. Both science and mathematics are tools in the process of creating technology.

Lacking a clear understanding of these definitions, the author wanders about in the last 4,000 years of history confusing the development of technologies with science, science with mathematics, technology with mathematics, and worst, myth with all three.

Thus, for example, he notes that Pythagorean triples (e.g., 5x5 = 4x4 + 3x3) were know to the ancient Babylonians 1000 years before Pythagoras lived. The Babylonians, however, did not state the theorem or prove it. This distinction is pivotal from the point view of a mathematician. Mathematics as we know it today began when the first theorem was proved.

Likewise, "reproducible observation", the essence of science, did not become an identifiable and prevalent methodology by which to seek truth about the natural world until about the time of Galileo Galilei in Sixteenth Century Europe. Thus, although there has been a great deal of under reporting by European historians of technologies developed by Chinese, Indian and other civilizations, this book fails to make the crucial distinction between science and technological development, the history of which trails back at least 40,000 years and is certainly not confined to white European inventors.

Some scientists, notably Richard Feynman, have claimed that the development of science does not much depend the pre-development of mathematics, asserting that when the scientific need arises the mathematics will be developed by the scientists. However, it is difficult to imagine that Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century science would have occurred had three thousand years of mathematical development not preceded it. The author rightly emphasizes the fact that much of this early mathematics can be attributed to non-Europeans. Unfortunately, this point is almost entirely lost in the jumble of imprecision engendered by the lack of coherent definitions of the disciplines of mathematics and science.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, throughout the book the author repeatedly reports myths or half-baked and unsupported ideas that seem to presage some modern scientific fact or theory, he then implies that the myths were the precursors of the science. For example, 3,000 thousand years ago an Indian cult had the notion that all things consisted of vibrations. The author reports this and then announces that this may have been the beginning of quantum mechanics. It is as though he was rummaging around in garbage dump, found a shoe box, held it up and proclaimed here is the precursor of the radio because it had about the same shape at that of early radios.

This book is worth reading because of its factual content, but constant mental surveillance is required to avoid being caught up in the author's confusion about the nature of the basic entities he is discussing and his persistent tendency to give primitive myths the status of the precursors of modern scientific knowledge.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby svinayak » 27 Oct 2008 09:09

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
by Andrew Bacevich (Author)

# Hardcover: 224 pages
# Publisher: Metropolitan Books (August 5, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0805088156
# ISBN-13: 978-0805088151

In this caustic critique of the growing American penchant for empire and sense of entitlement, Bacevich (The New American Militarism) examines the citizenry's complicity in the current economic, political, and military crisis. A retired army colonel, the author efficiently pillories the recent performance of the armed forces, decrying it as an expression of domestic dysfunction, with leaders and misguided strategies ushering the nation into a global war of no exits and no deadlines. Arguing that the tendency to blame solely the military or the Bush administration is as illogical as blaming Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression, Bacevich demonstrates how the civilian population is ultimately culpable; in citizens' appetite for unfettered access to resources, they have tacitly condoned the change of military service from a civic function into an economic enterprise. Crisp prose, sweeping historical analysis and searing observations on the roots of American decadence elevate this book from mere scolding to an urgent call for rational thinking and measured action, for citizens to wise up and put their house in order. (Sept. 1)

This compact, meaty volume ought to be on the reading list of every candidate for national office -- House, Senate or the White House -- in November's elections. In an age of cant and baloney, Andrew Bacevich offers a bracing slap of reality. He confronts fundamental questions that Americans have been avoiding since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, first of all: What is the sole superpower's proper role in the world?

Bacevich is not running for office, so he is willing to speak bluntly to his countrymen about their selfishness, their hubris, their sanctimony and the grave problems they now face. He scolds a lot, but does so from an unusual position of authority. He is a West Point graduate who served his country as an Army officer for more than 20 years, retiring as a colonel with a reputation as one of the leading intellectuals in our armed services. A Catholic and self-described conservative, he earned a PhD from Princeton and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins before joining the Boston University faculty in 1998 to teach history and international relations. His many articles and four previous books have made him a respected voice in debates on national security.

In this book Bacevich treats the writings of theologian and philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr as a kind of scripture. He calls Niebuhr, who died in 1971 at age 78, a "towering presence in American intellectual life from the 1930s through the 1960s" who "warned that what he called 'our dreams of managing history' -- born of a peculiar combination of arrogance and narcissism -- posed a potentially mortal threat to the United States." Repeatedly, Bacevich uses quotations from Niebuhr to remind us of the dangers of American hubris.

Bacevich describes an America beset by three crises: a crisis of profligacy, a crisis in politics and a crisis in the military. The profligacy is easily described: What was, even in the author's youth several decades ago, a thrifty society whose exports far outdistanced its imports has become a nation of debtors by every measure. Consumption has become the great American preoccupation, and consumption of imported oil the great chink in our national armor. When on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States suffered the most serious attack on its soil since 1812, our government responded by cutting taxes and urging citizens onward to more consumption. Bacevich quotes President Bush: "I encourage you all to go shopping more."

After 9/11, Bacevich writes, "most Americans subscribed to a limited-liability version of patriotism, one that emphasized the display of bumper stickers in preference to shouldering a rucksack."

Bacevich's political crisis involves more than just George W. Bush's failed presidency, though "his policies have done untold damage." Bacevich argues that the government the Founders envisaged no longer exists, replaced by an imperial presidency and a passive, incompetent Congress. "No one today seriously believes that the actions of the legislative branch are informed by a collective determination to promote the common good," he writes. "The chief . . . function of Congress is to ensure the reelection of its members."

In Bacevich's view, the modern American government is dominated by an "ideology of national security" that perverts the Constitution and common sense. It is based on presumptions about the universal appeal of democracy and America's role as democracy's great defender and promoter that just aren't true. And we ignore the ideology whenever it suits the government of the day, by supporting anti-democratic tyrants in important countries like Pakistan and Egypt, for example. The ideology "imposes no specific obligations" nor "mandates action in support of the ideals it celebrates," but can be used by an American president "to legitimate the exercise of American power."

Today politicians of all persuasions embrace this ideology. Bacevich quotes Sen. Barack Obama echoing "the Washington consensus" in a campaign speech that defined America's purposes "in cosmic terms" by endorsing a U.S. commitment to "the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders" regardless of the circumstances.

Bacevich describes the military crisis with an insider's authority. He dissects an American military doctrine that wildly overstates the utility of armed force in politically delicate situations. He decries the mediocrity of America's four-star generals, with particular scorn for Gen. Tommy Franks, original commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He calls the all-volunteer Army, isolated from the society it is supposed to protect, "an imperial constabulary" that "has become an extension of the imperial presidency."

The heart of the matter, Bacevich argues, is that war can never be considered a useful political tool, because wars invariably produce unintended consequences: "War's essential nature is fixed, permanent, intractable, and irrepressible. War's constant companions are uncertainty and risk." New inventions cannot alter these facts, Bacevich writes. "Any notion that innovative techniques and new technologies will subject war to definitive human direction is simply whimsical," he writes, quoting Churchill approvingly: "The statesman who yields to war fever is no longer the master of policy, but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

Yet the United States is today engaged in multiple wars that both exceed the capacity of the all-volunteer force and are highly unlikely to achieve their political aims, Bacevich argues. War is not the answer to the challenges we face, he says, and "to persist in following that path is to invite inevitable overextension, bankruptcy and ruin."

The Limits of Power is a dense book but gracefully written and easy to read. It is chockablock with provocative ideas and stern judgments. Bacevich's brand of intellectual assuredness is rare in today's public debates. Many of our talking heads and commentators are cocksure, of course, but few combine confidence with knowledge and deep thought the way Bacevich does here.

Some of Bacevich's asides, however, are highly debatable -- that Richard M. Nixon and Mao Tse-tung together helped bring down the Soviet empire, for example. Bacevich is no globalist, and he treats trade as a sign of national weakness. One could provide a long list of objections of this kind, but quibbles cannot undermine Bacevich's big argument, which is elegant and powerful.

The end of the Cold War left the United States feeling omnipotent but without a utilitarian doctrine to guide its foreign policy. Instead, we have succumbed, again and again, to the military temptation. In Iraq we stumbled into a real disaster. If we cannot get our goals and our means into balance soon, our future will be a lot less fun than our past.

Bacevich is argumentative, and his case is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but at the end of this book, a serious reader has a difficult choice: to embrace Bacevich's general view or to construct a genuinely persuasive alternative. For many years our leaders have failed to do either. The price of their failure has been high and could go much higher. Bacevich knows a lot about the costs himself; his only son, Andrew John Bacevich, a first lieutenant in the Army, was killed in Iraq last year.

Candidates for office owe the voters their take on the big argument here: Do they think military power remains a tool of choice to help the United States make its way through the perils of the modern world? If so, can they explain why?

This is the bluntest, toughest, most scathing critique of American imperialism as it has become totally unmoored after the demise of the Soviet Communist empire and taken to a new level by the Bush administration. Even the brevity of this book - 182 pages - gives it a particular wallop since every page "concentrates the mind".

In the event a reader knows of the prophetic work of the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, you will further appreciate this book. Bacevich is a Niebuhr scholar and this book essentially channels Niebuhr's prophetic warnings from his 1952 book, "The Irony of American History". The latter has just been reissued by University of Chicago Press thanks to Andrew Bacevich who also contributed an introduction.

In essence, American idealism as particularly reflected in Bush's illusory goal to "rid the world of evil" and to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East or wherever people are being tyrannized, is doomed to failure by the tides of history. Niebuhr warned against this and Bacevich updates the history from the Cold War to the present. Now our problems have reached crisis proportions and Bacevich focuses on the three essential elements of the crisis: American profligacy; the political debasing of government; and the crisis in the military.

What renders Bacevich's critique particularly stinging, aside from the historical context he gives it (Bush has simply taken an enduring American exceptionalism to a new level), is that he lays these problems on the doorstep of American citizens. It is we who have elected the governments that have driven us toward near collapse. It is we who have participated willingly in the consumption frenzy in which both individual citizens and the government live beyond their means. Credit card debt is undermining both government and citizenry.

This pathway is unsustainable and this book serves up a direct and meaningful warning to this effect. Niebuhrian "realism" sees through the illusions that fuel our own individual behavior and that of our government. There are limits to American power and limits to our own individual living standards and, of course, there are limits to what the globe can sustain as is becoming evident from climate changes.

American exceptionalism is coming to an end and it will be painful for both individual citizens and our democracy and government to get beyond it. But we have no choice. Things will get worse before they get better. Bacevich suggests some of the basic ways that we need to go to reverse the path to folly. He holds out no illusions that one political party or the other, one presidential candidate or the other, has the will or the leadership qualities to change directions. It is up to American citizens to demand different policies as well as to govern our own appetites.

While this is a sobering book, it is not warning of doomsday. Our worst problems are essentially of our own making and we can begin to unmake them. But we first have to come to terms with our own exceptionalism. We cannot manage history and there are no real global problems that can be solved by military means, or certainly not by military means alone.

If you read the excellent review by Mr. David R. Cook, you probably wonder why I am bothering with one. Good thought. I am so impressed with this work, it is impossible not to praise it. When a book like Obama Nation can be pushed by false sales to the best seller list, and this book will probably never make it, we can only hope those who bought the Obama smear are too stupid to read it. Frankly this book offers more hope for the future than I see. We have had warnings of this condition we are now facing and ignored them long ago. Mr. Cook points to the book by Reinhold Niebuhr which was ignored because as the author here says Americans are too consumptive led to be willing to change. I must agree and would add that Americans have shown in the past several presidential elections they are afraid of change. As he points out we blindly believe the universe revolves around us and as the chosen of God's creation, no harm can come to us.

As Dr. Bacevich points out we are complacent about the outside world. We are unconcerned for the most part about the welfare of our armed forces. The American people are great at giving lip service, especially since World War II, but we stop far short when it comes to sacrifice. Our president, who has committed so many men and women to danger, flies around the world dancing with dictators and making bad jokes. The hope of our time, the Democratic congress has sold out to the select few who own the nation's future and use it for their own retirement program.

Until we reach that point in our economic and political situation when we are willing to face the truth that if our government is going to do its job, protecting its citizens, we must face the truth and not listen to palatable political pabulum, we are doomed. Anyone who can read and think should read this work. Let's take a bold step and show the ridiculous religious right, the most dangerous of all right-wing groups, that a book of real quality can be a best seller in America again.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Paul » 04 Nov 2008 03:35

Book review: Eng Lit and depiction of Muslims —by Khaled Ahmed

Islam and the Victorians: Nineteenth Century Perceptions of Muslim Practices and Beliefs;

By Shahin Kuli Khan Khattak;
Tauris Academic Studies 2008;
Pp205; Price £47.50;
Available in bookstores in Pakistan

If you ever wondered what was contained in the less read poems, plays and novels about Muslims by the writers of the Victorian Age, this book will walk you through the entire lot with pages marked for errors. Author Khattak begins sensibly by making Edward Said’s very tough Orientalism and Covering Islam her criterion and adds, for moderation, Albert Hourani’s Islam in European Thought. She begins by noting that Islam was the religious “other” for European Christian theologians in medieval times, but the attitude lingered in works of fiction too.

If George Sale (1697-1736) was blatant in his exegesis of the Quran, there were others who were fair but were disapproved of, like Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) whose monumental The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was questioning about Christianity and Islam both but much fairer to the latter compared to the past verdicts. William Muir (1819-1905) was bitten by the colonialist bug but Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was more in the Enlightenment tradition of fair inquiry or ‘autonomous knowledge’ and produced an objective portrait of the Prophet (pbuh).

People who travelled in the East brought back Muslim portraits that seemed to demean Islam. James Fraser (1783-1856) — not Sir James Frazer of The Golden Bough — is one of those who contributed to the body of works that misrepresented Muslim societies. But one must observe here that popular impressions are created more by fiction than by theological expositions and it is at the level of such minds as absorb information only through works of fiction that most of the damage is done. But at the same you will blame fiction writers less for misrepresentation as they begin by laying no claim to the accuracy of their depictions.

Edward Bulwer Lytton (1903-1873) was inspired by the Crusades and therefore had to be rather skewed against the Muslims in his The Last Crusader but his friend and prime minister-novelist Benjamin Disraeli was carried away by the romantic involvement of Lord Byron with Greece and its struggle against Turkish rule. Resultant biases in fiction were to emerge. William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) was more balanced perhaps because he had served away from home in Turkey and knew facts as they were on the ground. Like Lytton he too thought Muslims will not be conquered by the sword but, in his case, by technology.

William Wilson Hunter (1840-1900) ended up writing his famous The Indian Musalmans: Are they Bound in Conscience to Rebel Against the Queen? in 1887, when serving as Director General of the Statistical Department of India. Hunter thought Muslims to be the more belligerent section of the Indian population. His opinion affected Matthew Arnold (1795-1852) when he wrote his Preaching of Islam. Yet one cannot ignore that Hunter had recommended educating the Muslims according to their own madrassa system. This view coincided with the one expressed by Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) who wrote The Future of Islam.

An aside here is perhaps in order. Blunt was a British rebel of Irish origin and a friend of Jamaluddin Afghani. In his India under Ripon he describes a group of fanatical Muslims who climbed into his carriage and asked him, as a friend of Islam, to oppose Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Syed Ameer Ali as they were not really Muslims. He was greatly put off by this because his desire was that the Muslims should stand united. Author Khattak notes that Blunt wrote a sympathetic account of Indian Muslims in his Ideas about India in 1909. Blunt wanted Muslims of India to go the moderate way of Al Azhar in Egypt to force the British to treat them better. He helped establish a counterpart of Al Azhar in Hyderabad which indeed served the Muslims well.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) criticised the Hunter book for its wrong conclusions and particularly attacked his assumption of Wahhabism as the dominant creed in India after studying only the Muslims of Bengal. He stated that the creed of Wahhab was rejected by the Ottoman Empire as well as by most Muslims of India owing to the allegiance they owed to the Hanafism brought in from Central Asia. In India the followers of Wahhabism were called Ahle Hadith and were allowed to flourish only by the British who encouraged the followers of Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed to attack the Sikhs ruling in the northwest of the Frontier region. Here too the Wahhabis were resisted by the local Pashtun Muslims.

One must explain here the basic stance of the author. She says: ‘[While it is not surprising] to find the Muslims vilified for events that occurred centuries earlier...this factor does not endow Muslims with a mantle of saintliness because they were as capable of perpetrating cruelty as any other civilisation’. What the book finds is that Muslims are attacked together with Islam, which is wrong. But to defend Islam one must indict Muslims after the end of the Khilafat-e-Rashida or the first four pious caliphs of Islam. Without indicting the Muslims you can’t defend Islam as a pure faith.

There is nothing more misleading than the travelogue. In Pakistan, safarnama is the most falsified genre of literature and it is not surprising that Khattak too finds most fault with the travel accounts of the British, except the accounts left behind by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) the wife of the British ambassador to Turkey. One negative example is Francois Bernier (1654-1688) who left behind his most detailed accounts of India and was leaned on by John Dryden (1631-1700) for his play Aurang-Zebe on which Dr Johnson commented that the Indian Muslims would never know how false the depiction of the Mughal king was “because of distance”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was inspired by Byron’s lines on Greece to write his skewed poem The Revolt of Islam. During travels Fraser found a manuscript written by an associate of Nadir Shah that made him write his The Kuzzilbash, the early hard Turkic Shia community of Persia. Nadir Shah was of the Afshar branch of the Qizilbash. It is however amazing that Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was not resented as much by the Muslims because of his winning ways with local colour in his work although in his Jungle Book he equated the natives with Bandar Log (monkeys), incapable of order or civilisation.

One thought Sir Walter Scott’s novel Talisman did not err too much in the depiction of Saladin although he had based his knowledge of the Arab world and the great Arab hero on James Morier whose fiction about the Muslim world dominated Scott’s times. British stage demanded more pleasant sensation out of Imam Shamyl of Caucasia and Abdul Kader of Algeria because both were warriors fighting against England’s enemies in Europe. Ironically, today the Muslims of the world know about Imam Shamyl the Avar only through British sources.

Anyone travelling through Pakistan these days will agree with the author that Muslims are the last people through whom to exemplify Islam. Talibanisation, when described by the future Western writers as Islam, might put our coming generations of Muslims off, but it will have been true! Most Pakistanis today at least believe it is Islam! *

Khaled Ahmed's summary of Hunter's work on the Indian Musalman. What is surprising is that how British policy on Indian muslims changed within a few years to completely junk the thesis that Musalmans were the belligerant community and decided to favor them. The Brits had the Congress going to make the Hindoo a domesticated pet for them...but they still decided to favor the rabies infested mongrel.

This article also provides a glimpse of the tussle within the Brit establishment on the pros and cons of supporting the mussalmans. Looks like the pros won out...but why?

I have been looking for an answer for this about turn (specifically with reference) unsuccessfully for years.

The only answer I can think of is the alliance with Syed Ahmed Barelvi to defeat Ranjit Singh. This brought quantifiable gains to the British and their faith in the alliance is to been as evidenced by the British effort to reopen lines of comm'n with the Taliban.

The East India company provided leave to it's muslim soldiers so that they could go and fight the Sikhs on Barelvi's side.
A similar pattern can be seen in the 1948 invasion of J&K where Pakistan army soldiers on leave led tribesmen in plain clothes.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby mayurav » 04 Nov 2008 08:06

The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History
By David Hackett Fischer
Published by Oxford University Press US, 1996
ISBN 019505377X, 9780195053777
536 pages

"The history of prices is the history of change", writes David Hackett Fischer in this broad sweep of western history from the middle ages to our own time. His primary sources are price records, which are more abundant for the study of historical change than any other type of quantifiable data. Fischer uses these materials to frame a narrative of price-movements in western history from the eleventh century to the present. He finds that prices tended to rise throughout this long period, but most of their increase happened in four great waves of inflation - which he calls the price-revolutions of the thirteenth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twentieth centuries. The four waves shared many qualities in common. All had the same movements of prices and price-relatives, falling real wages, rising returns to capital, and growing gaps between rich and poor. They were also very similar in the structure of change. Each of them started silently, developed increasing instability, and ended in a shattering crisis that combined social disorder, political upheaval, economic collapse, and demographic contraction. These crises happened in the fourteenth, seventeenth, and late eighteenth centuries. They were followed by long periods of comparative equilibrium: the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Victorian era. In all of these eras prices fell and stabilized, wages rose, and inequalities diminished. Then another great wave began and the pattern repeated itself, but not in precisely the same way. Fischer quotes Mark Twain: history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Through all of these movements, Fischer explores the linkages between economic trends, social tendencies, political events, andcultural processes. He finds that long periods of price-equilibrium were marked by a faith in order, harmony, progress, and reason. By contrast, price-revolutions created cultures of despair in their middle and later stages. Fischer examines the cause of these movements, and discusses the models that have been used to explain them. He also considers their consequences. Fischer does not attempt to predict what will happen next, noting that "uncertainty about the future is an inexorable fact of our condition". Rather, he ends with an analysis of where we might go from here, and what our choices are now. This book should be required reading for anyone who is seriously concerned about the state of the world today.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Paul » 23 Nov 2008 04:23

India through foreign eyes

John Elliot. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Evidently, fighting broke out along border between West Pakistan and India this afternoon. India says Pakistan started it; Pakistan says India. Who knows? But India has been launching limited attacks on East Pakistan border for the past 10 days. What are you supposed to do when a war starts and the cable office is closed? Play poker. Go to sleep” — writes Peter R. Kann in his Dacca Diary, a despatch for The Wall Street Journal on December 14, 1971, which he could never send. It was later printed by his paper and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1972.

While Kann could afford a snooze when cable offices were closed, foreign correspondents today cover their beat minute-by-minute as South Asia emerges as a hot spot in the international arena.

It is in this backdrop that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a group of correspondents from abroad and a few Indian journalists covering South Asia for foreign media, celebrates 50 years of its existence with the book Foreign Correspondent, Fifty Years of Reporting South Asia, published by Penguin.

“The book is mainly the effort of the club,” said John Elliott, the president of the club and the India correspondent of Fortune. He is also one of the editors of the volume along with Bernard Imhasly, the former South Asia correspondent of Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung and Simon Denyer, the Reuters bureau chief for India and Pakistan.

The club received 400 articles, of which 80 were selected. “Rather than events, we focused on good writing,” says Elliott.

This explains why Indira Gandhi’s assassination doesn’t appear in the volume. Nor is there anything on Benazir Bhutto’s death or on Musharraff. What the book does have is a collection of articles on myriad topics from tiger hunting and domestic helps to wars and the economic boom, seen from a different perspective.

A case in point is Barbara Crossette’s last interview with Rajiv Gandhi, for The New York Times. While talking of the danger to India and Indian leaders as the country took on a larger role in the region, she writes: “He (Rajiv Gandhi) said that the danger would not come from the Soviet Union, however, which was too busy with its own problems. ‘Are you talking about the CIA again?’ I asked him. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, his mother, used to say that she feared the American intelligence agency would kill her one day... Mr Gandhi smirked. In the end, Mrs Gandhi was shot in 1984 by Sikh bodyguards … Now her son, who had many enemies among disaffected Indians... has followed her into martyrdom…”.

Crossette’s underlying remark is that the Gandhis, who publicly blamed the “foreign hand”, were, ironically, killed by men of their own country.

The volume recreates the history of South Asia over 50 years with some remarkable photographs, mostly black and white, from Indian and foreign shutterbugs, including Raghu Rai, Pablo Barthalomew and Bob Nicholsbird.

The book opens with BBC journalist Robert Stimson’s 1949 valedictory despatch ‘Goodbye to India’, where he recounts the experience of reporting a country that was largely critical of his own country’s rule. “Indians were most considerate partly because they value formal good manners and partly because Mr Gandhi (Mohandas), in his own dealings with individual Englishmen, set a good example.” But Elliott, who lived through the ’80s, says: “It is not a country that takes kindly to criticism.”


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Malayappan » 23 Nov 2008 18:31

India's Nuclear Policy
Author :Bharat Karnad
Publisher:Pentagon Press & Praeger Security International
Nuclear deterrence: India's minimum right

Since May 1998 Bharat Karnad has maintained that unless India conducts nuclear tests, and does so repeatedly, it will never have deployable weapons. His new book explains how the elasticity of the concept of credible minimum deterrence permits India to augment its nuclear forces as needed, writes Anil Bhat

India's Nuclear Policy
Author :Bharat Karnad
Publisher:Pentagon Press & Praeger Security International
Price: Rs 795

For almost five decades India's nuclear programme was pursued by a coterie of scientists closeted with successive Prime Ministers in typical Chanakyan mode of total secrecy. So much so that the two tests of 1974 and 1998 could not be detected by the most advanced of surveillance systems and the world came to know of them only after the government's announcement.

Begun at Bhabha Atomic Research Center, Trombay, in mid-1950s under the "Atoms for Peace" non-proliferation programme, aimed to encourage civilian use of nuclear technologies in exchange for assurances that they would not be used for military purposes, India acquired dual-use technologies with a Cirus 40 MWt heavy-water-moderated research reactor from Canada and purchased the heavy water required for its operation from the US. In 1964, India commissioned a reprocessing facility at Trombay, which was used to separate out the plutonium produced by the Cirus research reactor. This plutonium was used in India's first nuclear test on May 18, 1974, described by the Indian government as a "peaceful nuclear explosion."

While the first test was after Pakistan's then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's stated aim of acquiring an "Islamic Bomb", 24 years later, two days after Pakistan test-fired the Ghauri missile, then Prime Minister Vajpayee authorised a series of nuclear explosions under Operation Shakti. Tests were conducted a month later between May 11 and 13, 1998.

While that secrecy continues, the loop after the 1998 tests had to become larger and Bharat Karnad is one of the very few authors who have at least tried to raise the wraps a bit. Far more importantly, he has pulled no punches in conveying and reiterating shortcomings in the nuclear programme and policy as well as recommended courses of action.

In this book, his second on the subject, India's Nuclear Policy, he examines the Indian nuclear policy, doctrine, strategy and posture, clarifying the elastic concept of "credible minimum deterrence" at the centre of the country's approach to nuclear security. This concept, Karnad demonstrates, permits the Indian nuclear forces to be beefed up, size and quality-wise, and to acquire strategic reach and clout, even as the qualifier "minimum" suggests an overarching concern for moderation and economical use of resources, and strengthens India's claims to be a "responsible" nuclear weapon state. Based on interviews with Indian political leaders, nuclear scientists, and military and civilian nuclear policy planners, it provides unique insights into the workings of India's nuclear decision-making and deterrence system. Moreover, by juxtaposing the Indian nuclear policy and thinking against the theories of nuclear war and strategic deterrence, nuclear escalation, and nuclear coercion, he offers a strong theoretical grounding for the Indian approach to nuclear war and peace, nuclear deterrence and escalation, nonproliferation and disarmament, and to limited war in a nuclearised environment. It refutes the alarmist notions about a "nuclear flashpoint" in South Asia , etc. which derive from stereotyped analysis of India-Pakistan "wars", and examines India's likely conflict scenarios involving China and, minorly, Pakistan.

Being the first book to be published after the much discussed deal signed between India and the US, it again serves as a reminder about one of its major pitfalls for India -- that if it conducts any tests the 123 Agreement goes kaput. Karnad has maintained since the May 1998 tests that unless India tests, and does so repeatedly, it will not be able to have deployable or usable weapons. Computer-designed weapons which can be exploded in computer simulations are not the same as the real thing and if India does not test more, not only will it be no match for the Chinese, but will find it difficult to match even Pakistan when it comes to deployable arms. The Chinese have conducted some 80-odd tests and have a whole battery of data to use for comparing their computer simulations and to constantly upgrade their weapons. If Pakistan has conducted very few tests, it does not need to do so because its entire design and delivery systems have been "imported" from China.

Indian scientists and engineers have felt motivated to display their competence in the nuclear weapons and missile fields in the face of US-led technology denial regimes. At the core of the Indian nuclear policy, doctrine, strategy and posture is the concept of "credible minimum deterrence" denoting restraint, economical use of resources, and "responsible" state behaviour. The inherent elasticity in the concept, however, permits India to qualitatively and quantitatively augment its nuclear forces as needed.

The book reveals for the first time the military end-user's thinking on nuclear deterrence and doctrine, on the "no first use" principle and the consensus view of the Armed Forces. For instance, the claim of "massive retaliation" by the government may be fine by way of a threat but depending on the provocation, "graduated deterrence" is what will be practiced. Given the lack of political will to take hard decisions in crisis, the political leadership is the weak link in India's deterrence system.

The unreliability of armaments and weaknesses in the support paraphernalia and infrastructure -- like command and control -- notwithstanding, the Strategic Forces Command has put the deterrent in a reasonable condition to respond. Plans for nuclear confrontations with Pakistan and China have been made and targets selected, with only notionally "de-mated" nuclear weapons (given the co-location of the nuclear pits, weapons and the vectors).

With the induction of the indigenous SSBN leased Tu-160 "blackjack" strategic bombers, and the extended 5000 km range Agni IRBM, the strategic triad will be operational by 2012. But in the short to medium term future, a forward maritime strategy will be wielded to deter China .

Given trend-lines, the future is likely to feature nuclear crises with China over the diversion of the Yarlung-Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River , Tibet, material assistance to rebels in the Indian North-East, and the tussle for energy and other natural resources. The unresolved border dispute provides ready excuse. But India is handicapped. Lacking capabilities for a military offensive in Tibet it has no recourse other than nuclear weapons. But the widening nuclear disparity means it cannot threaten escalation to the nuclear level. Pakistan cannot afford nuclear first use because it cannot survive a retaliatory nuclear salvo. Hence, the punitive Indian "cold start" strategy, aiming for only shallow penetration, can succeed.

George H Quester, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland and author of, Nuclear First Strike, Nuclear Diplomacy and Deterrence Before Hiroshima opines that Karnad has produced a very thoughtful and comprehensive book, written from an Indian perspective, on the nuclear weapons issues of the next century. Quester says "He draws in a wealth of the past fifty years", foreign literature and foreign perspectives on nuclear deterrence, far beyond what all foreigners will have thought through. The book provides a host of details that would be difficult to find in any other book on the evolution of the Indian nuclear programme and the concrete steps that were taken when the decision was made to make Indian weapons explicit. While the author, from his own tough-minded perspective of political realism, is basically optimistic, his analysis will provide food for thought for those who are pessimistic about continuing horizontal nuclear proliferation. In the west one sees relatively little attention being directed anymore to the continuing broader issues of nuclear confrontations and nuclear deterrence. Karnad's book thus amounts to a very valuable wake-up call or a memory-jogger for the Americans or Russians or any other defense planners who have all too much relegated the nuclear issues to the back burner.

Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Washington DC, says in his foreword for this book, "We are thus doubly in Karnad's debt for this book: first for summarizing so concisely many of the arguments at length elsewhere and, second, for forcing the reader to think through, once again, how the logic of nuclear weapons operates in a globalizing the arsenals of eight states and many others....One accident, one miscalculation, could change the course of history."

The book ends with grave doubts about the future of the India-US nuclear deal, which the author argues was made too much of by the Manmohan Singh government and the George W Bush administration as well as viewed by both American nonproliferation lobbyists and India's strategic community as "wrongheaded and requiring the payment of too high a price" and one which could turn out to be a "sugar-coated poison pill for Indo-US relations."

Disagree, or debate, but do not dismiss.

-- The reviewer, a security analyst, is Editor, WordSword Features & Media

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Anabhaya » 24 Nov 2008 11:01

Paging Ramana, Acharya and other history buffs.

Best works to read about Mauryan, Gupta and Vijayanagar empires, anybody?

I'm temped to order Romila Thapars Asoka and the decline of Mauryan Empire. But then it would miss the important reign of Bindusara who ruled over 1/3rd of the then world population.

It is a pity we do not have many popular good works about these three great empires - none much shorter or smaller in life or size in comparison to Moghul or other well documented empires. Your recommendations?

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby svinayak » 30 Nov 2008 22:28

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Hardcover)
by Niall Ferguson

# Hardcover: 432 pages
# Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (November 13, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1594201927
# ISBN-13: 978-1594201929

Niall Ferguson follows the money to tell the human story behind the evolution of finance, from its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to the latest upheavals on what he calls Planet Finance.

Bread, cash, dosh, dough, loot, lucre, moolah, readies, the wherewithal: Call it what you like, it matters. To Christians, love of it is the root of all evil. To generals, it’s the sinews of war. To revolutionaries, it’s the chains of labor. But in The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson shows that finance is in fact the foundation of human progress. What’s more, he reveals financial history as the essential backstory behind all history.

Through Ferguson’s expert lens familiar historical landmarks appear in a new and sharper financial focus. Suddenly, the civilization of the Renaissance looks very different: a boom in the market for art and architecture made possible when Italian bankers adopted Arabic mathematics. The rise of the Dutch republic is reinterpreted as the triumph of the world’s first modern bond market over insolvent Habsburg absolutism. And the origins of the French Revolution are traced back to a stock market bubble caused by a convicted Scot murderer.

With the clarity and verve for which he is known, Ferguson elucidates key financial institutions and concepts by showing where they came from. What is money? What do banks do? What’s the difference between a stock and a bond? Why buy insurance or real estate? And what exactly does a hedge fund do?

This is history for the present. Ferguson travels to post-Katrina New Orleans to ask why the free market can’t provide adequate protection against catastrophe. He delves into the origins of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Perhaps most important, The Ascent of Money documents how a new financial revolution is propelling the world’s biggest countries, India and China, from poverty to wealth in the space of a single generation—an economic transformation unprecedented in human history.

Yet the central lesson of the financial history is that sooner or later every bubble bursts—sooner or later the bearish sellers outnumber the bullish buyers, sooner or later greed flips into fear. And that’s why, whether you’re scraping by or rolling in it, there’s never been a better time to understand the ascent of money.

About the Author
Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford. The bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, and The War of the World, he is also a contributing editor of the Financial Times. Since 2003 he has written and presented three highly successful television documentary series for British television: Empire, American Colossus, and, most recently, The War of the World. The Ascent of Money is a PBS coproduction scheduled to be broadcast in 2009. He and his family divide their time between the United Kingdom and the United States.

the recent financial crisis has forced you to rethink what money is, how it works, and how global economic trends affect when and how currency moves about. This timely book explains the origin and growth of money, banks, stock markets.

Ferguson shows us that the typical Wall Street logic of looking back the twenty or thirty years only the most experienced investors lived through is not enough to improve our current position. Ferguson says the only way to solve our financial crisis is to put the origin of money and financial strain in its proper historical context. It is far too late to be discussing expensive houses and cheap credit. We need to look way way back to understand the wreckage of banks, brokers and hedge funds that litters the markets. He shows us that looking back is the way to know what to do next. Otherwise, it'll be another new bubble down the road that leaves us scratching our heads after it pops.

Read Ferguson's book and you'll better understand the possibilities for disaster inherent in the loose credit and securitization of bad debt from which so much money was made before the crisis unfolded. His grasp of history vindicates his profession and brings an understated beauty to money.

The other book I read this week that I also recommend very strongly is The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book. Let's just say it makes it a little easier for me to watch the market, and in a little better mood around my husband when I come home from work :)

Niall Ferguson has written an easily accessible and very entertaining history of finance, ranging from the clay tokens of Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago to the hedge funds of today. The title of this book has apparently been modelled on Jacob Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man," and like that book it will be made into a television series. Being a television celebrity is not something that wins the admiration of one's peers in the history profession, to say the least. But those little rebukes are relatively mild compared to the scorn he received for his political views in Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power and Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. In those works he argued that empire was beneficial not only to the mother country but the dominated countries as well. In this work he chronicles not only the history of money but also makes a case for liberalized finance.

Ferguson examines the financial subplot behind some of the major historical powers such as the role of money in ancient Mesopotamia, the denarius in Roman society, and gold and silver in the civilization of the Incas. He is very good in his descriptions of financial families like the Medicis and the Rothchilds, and how they became banking dynasties. Another memorable episode was the rise of Amsterdam as the world's financial center and the center's subsequent shift to London.

History is also filled with financial disasters of which we are well aware today. Ferguson tells the story of John Law and how he became France's head of finance. He engineered a financial bubble that took them several generations to overcome. Making matters worse, it occurred at the same time as the British South Sea Bubble.

Also instructive is the history of the first great globalization (1870-1914). (For this period also read Jeffrey Frieden's Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.) The world had become so economically interdependent that the pundits believed the possibility of war between great powers had been eliminated. This sentiment was famously expressed in "The Great Illusion" by Norman Angell.

Although this book was written before the current economic crisis, the last chapter is very prescient. "From Empire to Chimerica" tells of the symbiotic relationship between China and America. The combined country "accounts for just over a 10th of the world's land surface, a quarter of its population, and a third of its economic output, and more than half of the global economic growth of the last eight years". This relationship, in which China saves and America spends, and in which China's savings is used to enable America to spend even more, is clearly unsustainable. Ferguson sees this savings glut as the cause of the current subprime crisis. That, in my humble opinion, was one of the causes; there were many bad actors involved in this catastrophe, citizen-borrowers included.

Although it is not obvious to everyone in the midst of a crisis, Ferguson correctly points out that financial engineering is one of the great forces behind human progress. The history of finance is a process of creative destruction. Financial risk-taking is necessary for economic expansion and human development, and Ferguson does a good job in making the case. Too bad it reads like a script made for the History Channel.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby SriniY » 03 Dec 2008 07:43

I recently came across a book called the Art of War by Sun Tzu. Any recommendations on whether it is a worth read for a newbie..

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Highly recommended

Postby jrjrao » 10 Dec 2008 05:37

I have been reading this book, and it is a great read:

"Chasing A Mirage -- The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State"
Tarek Fatah
Wiley, 2008. 410 pp.

The preface begins thus:
I am an Indian born in Pakistan; a Punjabi born in Islam; an immigrant in Canada with Muslim consciousness....

I write as a Muslim whose ancestors were Hindu. My religion, Islam, is rooted in Judaism, while my culture is tied to that of the Sikhs. Yet I am told by Islamists that without shedding this multifaceted heritage, if not outrightly rejecting it, I cannot be considered a true Muslim....

More quotes:
Nowhere in these verses of the Quran does God ask or authorize the creation of an Islamic State. Yet, from the same verses, Maudoodi concludes that God commands the creation of such an entity. In the same book, Maudoodi writes that such an Islamic State will "eradicate and crush with full force all those evils from which Islam aims to purge mankind."

In this one sentence Maudoodi reveals the true objective of the Islamists. The urge to "eradicate," "crush," and "purge" lies at the heart of their obsession with an Islamic State...

Whether one lives as an Inuit Muslim in the Arctic with not a single other Muslim in sight or in the heart of Mecca alongside millions of fellow Muslims, Islam does not differentiate between the two and certainly does not obligate the Inuit to create a caliphate on Baffin Island.

The very second chapter of this outstanding book is titled: Pakistan -- Failure of an Islamic State
If ever there was a case to be made against the creation of an Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan provide stellar examples....

Millions of Hindus left Pakistan after partition. However, the tragedy that befell the Sikhs was far more ominous and deserves special mention.

For Sikhs, the Punjabi cities of Lahore and Gujranwala, Nankhana Sahib and Rawalpindi were their hometowns and had shared a history with their gurus. With partition, not only was Punjab divided, but the Sikhs were ethnically cleansed from Pakistan's Punjab. As a result of the creation of the Islamic State of Pakistan, the Sikhs lost absolute access to the following holy sites: Gurdwara Janam Asthan, the birth place of Guru Nanak, in Nankana Sahib; Gurdwara Panji Sahib in Hasan Abdal,...... and of course the Shrine of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Lahore...

Even though we Muslims despair the occupation of Jerusalem, we still have the comfort of knowing that Muslims still live in and around the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But what about the Sikhs? To feel their pain, Muslims need to imagine how outraged we would feel if, God forbid, Mecca and Medina were cleansed o all Muslims and fell under the occupation of, say, Ethiopia. So why are we comfortable with Sikhs losing their holy sites? This is an outcome of our mad rush to create an Islamic State carved out of India. How can we Muslims ask for the liberation of Muslim lands while we institutionalize the exclusion and ethnic cleansing of all Sikhs from their holy sites inside an Islamic state? Muslims who cannot empathize with the loss of Sikhs need to ask themselves why they don't.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Vikram Rathore » 11 Dec 2008 19:44

Line of Control
By Mainak Dhar
Publisher- Vitasta, Oct 2008
Pages- 322

A review that appeared in Deccan Herald on the 7th December 2008.
It’s a dangerous world out there, along the LoC. Not just for Indians, but for Pakistanis too. Especially so for the personnel of the armed forces. They diligently follow orders issued by their higher-ups who, in turn, have their own axes to grind. This is precisely what Manik Dhar’s Line of Control tries to convey. Set in 2011, Line of… deals with the sensitive issue of jihad, the issue that almost brings the two countries of India and Pakistan to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.

The oil-rich Emir of Saudi Arabia, swearing allegiance to the dreaded Al-Qaeda, has only one wish on his mind — to spread jihad in India. To further his goal, he uses Pakistan Prime Minister Illahi Khan. Well! The suave and well-read Vivek Khosla, the prime minister of India, is no fool either. He is smart enough to figure out the machinations of the wealthy Emir and his association with Illahi Khan. He is out to prove that India is no easy game for their evil intention of spreading fundamentalist terror throughout the region.

Even as Khosla, with his team of intelligence experts and members of the National Security Council, is chalking out strategies to counter attacks from Pakistan, thousands of innocent soldiers are fighting it out across the LoC, sacrificing their much-valued lives for their motherland.

Life is no bed of roses for civilians either. For, riots in the name of religion are sparked off at the drop of a hat, killing some and maiming many, throwing their lives completely out of gear. Sadly, some politicians handling key portfolios in the cabinet fall prey to the manoeuvrings of the country’s enemies and fan terrorism. To add to the problems of India is Pakistan trying all the tricks under the sun to brand India in the United Nations General Assembly as a nation that is intolerant towards Muslims and is hence resorting to wholesale slaughter of Muslims. However, Khosla, the smart brain that he is, turns the situation around and manages to garner some amount of outside support.

But the Emir of Saudi Arabia is not happy. And so is Illahi Khan. What steps do the two evil minds initiate to further their goal of spreading terror in the name of religion? And, how do they go about putting their plan into action? Well! This forms the crux of Line of…

A page-turner right the word ‘go’, Line of… is also very timely. With utter chaos all around and many internal battles fought in the name of religion, Line of … couldn’t have been timed better. This racy war-thriller is exciting, to say the least, as the reader is drawn deep into the action of war, fought on land, air and sea, by characters that seem almost real, just like our neighbours next door.

Mainak Dhar’s characterization deserves a special mention too, as each character, be it the Pakistani or Indian, is sketched in detail, complete with their eccentricities and ordinariness. If Air Marshall Ashfaque Karim is intensely appealing for his concern for the lives of his soldiers, so is The Patriot, India’s mole in Pakistan, who lives and breathes for the welfare of India.

A fair amount of romance too is included in the Line of… in the form of pretty Pooja, a hotshot journo deputed to an armed forces unit to cover ‘real action’, who finds her man in Colonel Dev Chauhan. However, there are no superlatives as far as this love story is concerned, as Mainak uses romance only to relate the soft side of men in uniform.

Written in a lucid manner, Dhar employs an easy-to-comprehend style to make his story appealing to readers. Intense research that must have gone into the writing of the book flashes at every point, making Line of… intensely engaging. However, there are times when the speed of the narrative slackens with too much of war descriptions and abbreviations of modern weaponry taking over. If only such details were avoided...

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby ramana » 18 Dec 2008 00:18

New York Review of Books

Has lot of back issues.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008

Postby Keerthivasan » 23 Dec 2008 21:36

One solid book on China's economy.

Financial Architecture and Economic Development in China and India - A Comparative Perspective"
Author: by Dr Subramanian Swamy.
ISBN: 81-220-0718-X
Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, Delhi

Dr Swamy gives corrected data for China on various economic parameters. Compares India's growth. Also discusses the Financial Structural problems of China & why they can't be corrected by the Communist regime.

He gives alternative scenarios for India & China in year 2020.

He focuses on how China runs a huge trade deficit with SE Asian countries. Basically China imports lot of goods (Raw materials, Semi Finished) from other Asian countries, does the value add and exports to Europe & North America. Dr Swamy brings about how India can also benefit from this model.

P.S: This book is available in many publishers online for ordering like (, etc)

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 10 Jan 2009 04:15

Pioneer, 9 Jan., 2009

Miles of geography, millennia of history

Steering clear of the subcontinental politics around the Indus river, Empires of the Indus is an excellent travelogue deserving the readership of anyone interested in knowledge and pleasure. The book paints a rich tapestry of history and geography, say KR Phanda and Prafull Goradia

Empires of the Indus
Author :Alice Albinia
Publisher :John Murray, London
Price: Rs 550

The river gave logic to my explorations; it lies at the heart of this book because it runs through the lives of its people like a charm. So says author Alice Albinia in the Preface to her book. She goes on: “This book recounts a journey along the Indus, upstream and back in time, from the sea to the source from the moment that Pakistan first came into being in Karachi, to the time, millions of years ago in Tibet, when the river itself was born.” The last of the twelve chapters is on The Disappearing River which ends with the sentence: “How the Indus which once ‘encircled Paradise’, bringing forth civilizations and species, languages and religions — was through mankind’s folly, entirely spent.”

Apart from this augury, Albinia does not venture into the future of the country the Indus straddles, namely Pakistan. Quite possibly, politics and political prognostication are not particularly her interest. Nor probably had the civil conflict — so obvious now — been clearly predictable when she penned the book under review. Nevertheless, Empires of the Indus is an excellent travelogue deserving the readership of anyone and everyone interested in acquiring knowledge and at the same time obtaining pleasure. The Indus, while drying up as a river, is emerging as a frontier of sovereignty. But before we deal with that, let us get a few glimpses of the parade and pageantry of history and geography that the book has painted.

The Indus runs through the lives of its people like a charm, “From the deserts of the Sindh to the mountains of Tibet, the Indus is worshipped by peasants and honoured by poets; more than priests or politicians, it is the Indus they revere. And yet it is a diminished river. The mighty Indus of Sanskrit hymns and colonial tracts was heavily dammed during the twentieth century,” says the author. The British rulers of the past and the rulers of Pakistan and China at present have all contributed to the near disappearance of the mighty Indus. To feed the cotton mills of Lancashire, the British had set up the first barrage on Indus at Sukker in 1932 and this changed the Sindhi society forever. By 1947, Sindh had become a surplus province in the field of agriculture but no one cared about its delirious effects. “What the engineers had ignored was the need for plenty of fresh water down stream in the Delta, in order to maintain healthy balance with the salt water from the sea, and to thus safeguard the unique ecosystem of the mangroves, shrimp beds, fish and farmers.” The Delta lands were once the richest in all of Pakistan.

Pakistan built the Kotri dam in 1958. With this barrage, the Delta area shrank from 3500 square kilometers to 250 square kilometers. The result: With barely any water flowing south to the sea, salt water was sucked into the mangroves. “The fields of red rice turned to white salt encrustations, and the farmers had no choice but to turn to fishing.” Then came up the Tarbela dam, the biggest of all in the north of the Punjab in the 1970s. It made the lives of people lower down in the south of this river more miserable. After this, below the Kotri barrage, there is no flow of water. The local authorities use the glorious Indus as a conduit for sewage. The fishermen whose families have fished in the river for centuries show their catch to the author and complain that fish are exhausted by swimming on the sewage; they lie weakly in the water, barely moving. It is the same story everywhere in Sindh province; all protesting about the shortage of water.

The author in the course of her explorations of the river visited Senge-Ali, Chinese-built headquarters of Western Tibet. This is where the Chinese have dammed the river. In her words “The dam is huge, pristine. The massive concrete curve looms up from the riverbed like a vast wave frozen in mid-air. I stare at it in disbelief, fighting back tears. The structure itself is complete, but the hydro-electric elements on the riverbed are still being installed. There are pools of water in this side of the dam, but no flow. The Indus has been stopped.” She concludes her narrative of the Indus with the remarks: “But for how long will the waters continue pouring forth? The river is slipping away through our fingers, dammed to disappearance. When there is nothing left but dry riverbeds and dust, this ancient name would be rendered obsolete.”

Albinia’s observations regarding Pakistani society are equally painstaking and full of insight. In the West, to reject or accept religion is a personal matter but in Pakistan to reject religion is to risk one’s life. In her words: “For most Pakistanis, the script of combined religion and national identity has already been written. It was scripted in 1947, when Pakistan was born in the name of religion and baptized in the blood of those who died trying to get here.” Though the state was created in the name of religion, it continues to discriminate against the Shias and Muslims of African origin who had come to Sindh hundred of years ago. The Northern Areas or what is known as Pak Occupied Kashmir is predominantly Shia. So is Kargil in India. This is what the author records after her visit to PoK: “Wo bhi kafir hain (they too are unbelievers) a Sunni officer was rumoured to have shouted at a reluctant Shia soldier, ‘Shoot’”. The killing of Shias is almost an every day occurence in Pakistan: Sikhs and Hindus are a far more comfortable target than the Shias. And lies are peddled to make killing Shia Muslims bearable. In the Sindh province of Pakistan, there are the Sheedis, descendants of slaves taken from Africa by Muslim traders. They claim to be the original Muslims. And in support thereof they say that the Prophet Muhammad’s first male convert was Bilal, an Ethiopian slave. And the Prophet honoured Bilal by asking him to call the faithful to Islam’s first prayer. The author wonders at the irony that despite Bilal’s role in Islam’s early history, Sheedis are ignored by their co-religionists and regarded by other Pakistani Muslims as Jahil (ignorant) and Jungli (wild) on account of their African genes. The land between Hyderabad and Thatta is the home of South Asia’s largest African descended population.

The North West Frontier Province and particularly the Swat valley was home to Buddhist culture. Buddhism flourished there because the Kushan kings were followers of Buddhism. Ever since the Afghan tract of Ghazni came under the control of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, the process of destroying the Buddhist statues has continued unabated. During the British rule efforts were made to save this heritage. However, the creation of Pakistan on religious lines in 1947 gave the Muslim fanatics liberty to destroy every vestige of Buddhism in that area. The author of the present volume visited the Swat valley and has recorded: “Today, Islam and Buddhism are opposite ends of the religious spectrum: no two religions, perhaps have such different modern reputations. Yet, in north western India, along the banks of the Indus, the two came into prolonged contact with each other and it is undeniable that certain features of the older philosophy influenced the way the younger developed locally. In Bamiyan, after Islam came to the region, the monumental Buddhas were absorbed into Shiite popular religious folklore.

“In 2007, local Taliban group took control of Swat. One object of puritanical attack was the last intact Maitreya Buddha; it was dynamited, its head and shoulders drilled away. The fanatics then have largely succeeded in obliterating Swat’s pre-lslamic, Buddhist past.”

The author refers to the situation in Pakistan in these words: “The Pakistan movement inadvertently gave the Mullahs a voice by pushing religion to the centre stage of politics. The military dictator, General Zia, who ruled from 1977 till his death in 1988, gave them money, weapons and heroic cause; the anti-Soviet Jihad. President General Musharraf gave them political power in order that he could tinker with the Constitution. Thanks to Pakistan state support, covert CIA funds during the Mujahideen days and Arab money today, the former underclass is now the elite.”

Today, the Indus divides Pakistan; its western side appears to have gone out of Islamabad’s control. The material writ badly runs in Balochisan which is the southern and of the western side. Its people want to secede and be an independent country. The NWFP forms the northern end of the western side. With Peshwar as its capital, the province is in Taliban hands with Islamabad having little say.

With its military dictators, religion has failed to bind the country. Bangladesh went out in 1971. Which province officially next? To be seen before long. The Jio Sindh movement keeps raising its head for independence from time to time. Pakistan illustrates the political paradox of Islam. It is a great unifier of Muslims. But it cannot hold a nation together. The reason is simple although seldom appreciated. Islam is supra-national; its overriding priority is the world ummah. It is an antithesis of nationalism. How then can it be the binding force of a nation? The sooner Muslims realise the home truth, the wiser they will become! That is the unspoken, silent message of what Albina’s fascinating book does not say.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 17 Jan 2009 02:08



The spoils of partItion: Bengal and India, 1947-1967 By Joya Chatterji, Cambridge, Rs 795

The British loved to redraw boundaries and borders when they escaped from their own empire. The process of decolonization is littered with maps that were rendered out of date as the sun set on the British Empire. The Union Jack had flown proudly over India, but in August 1947 it had to be pulled down in two separate countries. India was divided into India and Pakistan because of the craftiness of British rulers which was helped not a little by Indian politicians, Muslims and Hindus, seeking a quick road to power.

Bengal was one of the provinces that were affected by the partition of India that came with independence. Bengal was broken up into the tiny state of West Bengal and the Muslim-dominated province of Pakistan, East Pakistan. On August 15, 1947, many Bengalis, who lived in the vicinity of what today constitutes the border between Bangladesh and India on the West Bengal side, woke up not knowing where they belonged, India or Pakistan. The partition was inevitably followed by a transfer of population: there was an influx of refugees from East Pakistan into West Bengal. This transformed the nature of life and politics in the state.

Joya Chatterji’s monograph is concerned with the gap that almost always exists between intentions and results. She argues that those responsible for partition and the creation of a new state wanted to achieve a peaceful and an orderly transfer of power which would firmly and securely fall into the hands of the small elite of which they were the leaders. “They expected,” she writes, “partition — by creating a small, manageable, Hindu-dominated state of West Bengal inside independent India — to restore a lost golden age of bhadralok power and influence.’’ This argument, a carry-over from her previous book, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition (Cambridge, 1994), is persuasive except that it takes the British rulers and their policies out of the partition process. This make the partition of Bengal in 1947 seem like the product of a fight for spoils between the Hindu bhadralok and the Muslims. :eek:

Proceeding from the premise of what she calls the Grand Design of the leaders of the Hindu elite, Chatterji shows how history rewrote the design. A shrunken Bengal soon lost its voice in national politics. (This point can be contested since both B.C. Roy and Atulya Ghosh remained important in national politics right through her period.) Bengal lost its fabled prosperity after partition. This can hardly be disputed. But the “gravest error of the architects of partition” was to assume that after partition, Hindu and Muslim minorities on both sides of the new frontier would remain where they were. This, of course, did not happen. Nobody gained from partition, Chatterji concludes. The Muslims of West Bengal, she asserts, were “terrorised and displaced” and the new rulers treated their problems “with callous indifference and blank disregard”.

The biggest loser, however, was the class from which the architects themselves came. They were squeezed out by restricting economic and administrative opportunities on the one hand, and by a migrant population on the other. Their promised land disappeared almost at birth. The levers of politics and power went out of the hands of the party, which represented their interests, into the hands of the Communist Party of India. Politics moved away from middle-class associations to the streets.

Chatterji reconstructs this narrative with great lucidity. She takes her readers through the reasons why Hindu leaders wanted partition and the vision they had for West Bengal. She moves from the top to look at the impact of partition on the people, and, finally, to the politics and changing structures of power.

This is a book on an important subject. Most books on partition stop with the actual partition or with the violence that came in its immediate aftermath. Chatterji brings the partition of Bengal in 1947 forward to 1967. It could have been stretched to 1971 when one aspect of the partition was undone. With illegal immigrants, even terrorists and drug smugglers, coming into West Bengal from Bangladesh, the partition could be said to be part of West Bengal’s present.

Chatterji’s book straddles history and contemporary history. The official archives for a large part of the history she covers remain closed. In spite of this, Chatterji’s research is solid, and her analysis penetrating and often provocative.


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 17 Jan 2009 02:09

We need similar work on East Punjab.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 17 Jan 2009 02:15



Andrew Taylor starts his introduction to THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT EMPIRES (Quercus, Rs 995) with the remark, “Empires seem to have gone out of fashion.” The truth of this is irrefutable, considering the fact that the new world order is dominated by a single superpower. Perhaps this also explains Taylor’s motive behind the gigantic literary task that he undertakes here: selecting “25 imperial hegemonies from every period of global history”, and documenting the nature of their power structures, the social and cultural values that were integral to their functioning and the factors that contributed to their rise and fall.

Taylor’s selection may not be a chronological account but will undoubtedly impress the most fastidious historian. He starts with the Sumerian Empire — “the earliest empire known to have existed” — and moves on to examine others in the early period: Assyria, Greece, Rome and the ones founded by the Chinese and the Mongols.

The greatness of empires lies not only in their military might but also in their geographical vastness. There are other factors that make them compelling subjects of research, and Taylor seems to be aware of this. Thus, he includes the Chola kingdom in South India, which rose to prominence as a centre of excellence in trade and the arts, as well as the volatile Umayyad Empire that witnessed the strange democratic spectacle of the people demanding the same rights and privileges as the rulers. The domains carved out by the Ottomans, Mughals, Portuguese, Spanish, French and later by the British, Germans and Soviets expectedly make it to Taylor’s list.

Like any other skilled journalist, Taylor too has an eye for detail. Apart from giving simple and concise accounts of the empires, he tries to ascertain the external and internal challenges they faced — for instance, the threats posed by rival powers as well as by their disparate subjects — and the legacies they left behind for the future generations. The argument in the final chapter as to whether the US has an empire, and how the notion of empire has changed in the modern times is also engaging.

However, unlike the colourful interludes and the larger-than-life characters, the paintings, lithographs and portraits in this book are dull. Extreme left is a floor mosaic found at the House of Faun in Pompeii, showing Alexander at the Battle of Issus. Bottom centre is a 19th-century mural of the Roman senate. Top centre is a lithographed representation of the meeting between the Spanish adventurist, Hernán Cortés, and the Aztecs. Jacques-Louis David’s celebrated portrait of Napoleon is top right while bottom right shows the historic summit between the US president, Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1985.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 18 Jan 2009 04:19

From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States) (Hardcover)
by George C. Herring (Author)

# Hardcover: 1056 pages
# Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 28, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0195078225
# ISBN-13: 978-0195078220

This new volume of the Oxford History of the United States tells the story of the foreign relations of the United States from its inception in 1776 to the present day. The author, George C Herring, is the Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky. He is the author of many books on United States foreign affairs, centering upon the War in Vietnam. Herring's study is nearly 1000 pages in length, but it is not a word too long. In its scope, learning, wisdom, and attempt to be even-handed, it is a joy to read.

Herring tells a long story of a subject with many unexpected turns and changes of perspective over the years. I enjoyed the sense of continuity that this large history brings to its subject. Herring shows how leading ideas and tensions in American foreign policy developed from the beginning of the new nation and both persisted and were transformed as the nation developed. His book encourages the reader to see how United States policy developed in particular parts of the world over time, such as in Latin America, Canada, the Middle East, and Vietnam. This encourages a depth of understanding that cannot be provided from reading the newspapers or even from specialized scholarly accounts of a single period.

The book begins with the Revolutionary era, and the first two of Herring's chapter titles state themes of American history that are repeated many times throughout the study: America's perceived mission "To Begin the World Over Again" and the need to keep the nation strong and prepared so that there are "None who Can Make us Afraid." The theme of mission is tied, broadly, to American idealism and exceptionalism. The theme of strength is tied, again generally, to realism. Herring identifies a combination of these broad traits in, among other ways, the "practical idealism" of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

From the Revolution, the book proceeds through the War of 1812, American expansionism and "Manifest Destiny" in the Mexican War, foreign relationships during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and American Empire, World War I and II, the Cold War and its aftermath, Vietnam, and our nation's current situation in Iraq, among many other recurring themes. The final section of the book on the war in Iraq seems to me rushed. It is difficult to bring a historical perspective to bear upon ongoing, changing events.

Herring pays close attention to transitional periods that are sometimes overlooked, including foreign policy in the Gilded Age and foreign policy in the years between the two world wars, that helped me to understand the larger, better-known aspects of the United States's foreign relations. Commendably, Herring also considers the United States's relationships with the Indian tribes as within the purview of foreign affairs during the time in which the United States expanded across the continent.

In general, Herring writes non-dogmatically and non-polemically. He makes his opinions known but frequently points out other interpretations and ways of trying to understand the history. He seems to admire greatly Woodrow Wilson and his efforts before, during, and after WW I to bring a just peace to a troubled world. Herring also finds much to praise, as well as to question, in figures such as Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Elihu Root, and Franklin Roosevelt. He offers qualified praise for George H.W. Bush, for "the strategic vision of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger" and for the "ability to adapt and adjust displayed by Ronald Reagan."

In the introduction to his study, Herring develops themes such as the relationship between realism and idealism in informing United States foreign policy, expansionism, and the tensions between the Executive Branch, Congress, lobbying groups, and the electorate in the conduct of foreign affairs. Herring is critical of what he perceives as the current unilateralist tendency in American foreign relations and he recommends a course that disclaims American exceptionalism or arrogance. He concludes that "the United States cannot dictate the shape of a new world order, but the way it responds to future foreign policy challenges can help ensure its security and well-being and exert a powerful influence for good or ill."

Herring has written an outstanding addition to the Oxford History of the United States. It taught me a great deal about American history and the American experience.

The Oxford History of the United States is the most respected multi-volume history of our nation in print. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize-winners, a New York Times bestseller, and winners of the prestigious Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. From Colony to Superpower is the only thematic volume commissioned for the series. Here, George C. Herring uses foreign relations as the lens through which to tell the story of America's dramatic rise from thirteen disparate colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast to the world's greatest superpower. A sweeping account of United States foreign relations and diplomacy, this magisterial volume documents America's interaction with other peoples and nations of the world. Herring tells a story of stunning successes and sometimes tragic failures, captured in a fast-paced narrative that illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation, and highlights its ongoing impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. He shows how policymakers defined American interests broadly to include territorial expansion, access to growing markets, and the spread of an "American way" of life. Herring does all this in a story rich in human drama and filled with epic events. Statesmen such as Benjamin Franklin, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, and Dean Acheson played key roles in America's rise to world power. But America's expansion as a nation also owes much to the adventurers and explorers, the sea captains, merchants and captains of industry, the missionaries and diplomats, who discovered or charted new lands, developed new avenues of commerce, and established and defended the nation's interests abroad. From the American Revolution to the fifty-year struggle with communism and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, From Colony to Superpower tells the dramatic story of America's emergence as superpower--its birth in revolution, its troubled present, and its uncertain future.

George C. Herring's "From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776" is the latest volume of the Oxford History of the United States, but there is a key difference between this book and the rest in the series. This is the one book in the series which is intended to cover a single aspect, i.e. Foreign Relations, while the other works all cover a period of time during the history of the United States. My opinion of this work changed dramatically while reading it. I had read a couple of books from this series before and found one to be outstanding and the other to be only slightly above average, but with the nature of this work being different, I was intrigued into seeing how effective this book would be at covering the subject.

I'll start with the easiest and also probably the least important aspect of the work and that is the organization. Though less important than completeness and accuracy, a poorly organized book can be very trying on the reader. This work attempts to cover Foreign Relations in a chronological fashion in 20 chapters. Each chapter provides a year range for what it covers, so one would expect that it would be fairly straight forward, but that isn't the case. As an example, the first chapter indicates that it covers from 1776 to 1778, but in fact it covers the entire period prior to 1789. Within each chapter it is tricky as well, as the author jumps around within the periods quite a lot, and the reader does have difficulty in following the examples at times. Herring also doesn't stay within the time periods indicated in the chapter headings. Overall though, these issues are minor and by themselves would not lower my rating.

The second issue for a work like this is completeness. I don't think that it is too surprising that trying to cover the entire history of U.S. Foreign Relations in a book, even one which is close to 1,000 pages, would be problematic. There clearly have to be things which would be left out. That being said, my feeling after the first two chapters was that the author was doing a very good job of covering the topic, but this perception began to change at the end of the third chapter and the start of the fourth. There is a decent discussion of the War of 1812, but absolutely no discussion at all of the second war with the Barbary States. This appears to get worse throughout the 4th chapter, though this is not a period that I have studied recently, but I have spent a great deal on the period covered in chapter five (1837-1861) and the gaps are very problematic. This problem gets worse as continues as the interactions with other countries become more detailed and complex and it simply isn't possible to cover them in the detail needed.

The last issue, accuracy, is by far the most important, as the lack of specifics and the so-so organization could still allow this to be a decent overview of the subject. I became worried when the author discussed Manifest Destiny, which he then referred to as a "sectional rather than national phenomenon, its support strongest in the Northeast and Northwest and weakest in the South, which supported only the annexation of Texas." While I strongly disagree with the statement that Manifest Destiny had its strongest support in the Northeast and Northwest, I do have to allow that such a statement is largely subjective opinion and that the author may well have reasons for believing that (though he doesn't make any attempt to support it). On the other hand, the statement that the South only supported the annexation of Texas is not just wrong, but it shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the history of the United States prior to the Civil War.

Fortunately, the author proceeds to cover the historical events which refute his own statement, and so the statement is puzzling and unsupported, but not a complete indication of failure on the author's part to provide a reliable history. He does discuss the South's efforts to turn the territories into slave states, the use of the annexation of Texas to get a war with Mexico which allowed the U.S. to take those territories. He also discusses the South's plots and attempts to annex Cuba, additional parts of Mexico, Central America, and even part of South America in an attempt to gain more slave territory. All of these things and more are evidence that his statement was fundamentally wrong, but one cannot judge an entire book on a single sentence.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 24 Jan 2009 00:16

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia

From Publishers Weekly
Some readers will see pessimism where others see sober appraisal in Gray's antiutopian argument that we must reconcile ourselves to a world of multiple truths and incompatible freedoms, where there is no overarching meaning and human values and desires can never be fully harmonized. The views that history progresses toward perfection and the millenarian faith in human salvation—both rooted in abiding Christian myths—are as tenacious as they have proven destructive, the renowned British political theorist and critic argues. Building succinctly on arguments developed in his previous work (including Two Faces of Liberalism and Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern), Gray traces the course of apocalyptic-utopian politics from early Christianity through its secular variant in the Enlightenment and into modern political thought from Marx to Francis Fukuyama, the French Revolution to radical Islamism. Centrally, he assails the contemporary American right (and staunch neoconservative fellow traveler Tony Blair), which after 9/11 advanced into the mainstream the utopianism previously confined to the extreme right and left. His eloquent and illuminating attack also challenges a notion common to the liberal establishment: that history moves inexorably toward the universal application of U.S.-style liberal democracy. He calls it a delusional article of faith that, like the utopian variants before it, easily justifies violence in the name of a greater destiny. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Gray's work traces the origins, and shows the evolution of the two ideas that have intertwined together to spawn the modern horrors of the French Revolution, Nazism, Communism, and which have now infiltrated the U.S. and are guiding American foreign policy, with absolutely disastrous results.

The genesis of these two ideas is due to Christianity. The first of them is that the world was soon coming to an end, and with its end, all evil would be forever banished, and a new world would emerge that was utterly good and harmonious. The second of these ideas is that history is a teleological process - it has a goal, an end point, it is moving towards something, progress is possible. This idea is derived from the Book of Revelation, which depicts the world as eventually becoming a better place with the continual destruction of evil forces.

These ideas got secularized during The Enlightenment, and give rise to the idea of a Utopia - a place where all human conflicts have washed away and everyone lives in perpetual peace. Such a place is possible because with enough knowledge will can set up a society that will not give rise to any conflicts. In other words, a perfect society is an obtainable goal, one that involves eradicating the maladies that have continually plagued our societies. Gray contends this is impossible, and this type of thinking is the danger inherent in pursuing, any and all, utopian projects.

Utopian thinking views the world/society, as the source of ills and conflicts, and not humans, and by doing so, makes human life expendable; ultimately compels the people who are under it spell to engage in violence as a means to attempt to achieve their goal. After all, what's a little bloodshed if it leads to the world becoming a heaven on Earth?

This line of thinking also precludes them from grasping the fatal flaw in their thinking - that human beings are not capable of becoming conflict-less beings; they will always possess conflicting and competing needs and values. No amount of knowledge will ever be able to make humans that mutable. And as such, people will resist having their lives radically altered by someone else's utopian scheme, and if nothing else this would prevent utopias from working, even if they were viable.

Gray goes on to explain how a left wing idea, a utopia, became embedded in right wing thinking. And also to show this utopian brand in thinking in action in the Bush administration in particular in foreign policy ventures. Instead of viewing terrorist as a security threat, he instead saw them as evil forces, whose complete annihilation would make the world a better place. Since making the world a better place is the right thing to do, anything that advances that goal is also good, it is imperative that various torture methods be adopted to achieve this end. Moreover, democracy and human rights are a good thing, so a world that has more places with these things in them, would be better, so the right thing to do would be to invade Iraq, by any means necessary (lying about the WMDs) and liberate it by force.

Overall, this is a thought, wide ranging, insightful, and interesting book about the well intentioned, but exceedingly dangerous mind set that is currently guiding U.S. foreign policy.

Actually its teh Western mind and not just US mind.

The idea of utopia even though its a Greek idea is really akin to Garden of Eden and is the driving force for all the monotheistic religious orders.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 25 Jan 2009 11:52

World Out of Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy
by Stephen G. Brooks (Author), William C. Wohlforth (Author)

# Hardcover: 226 pages
# Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 3, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0691126992
# ISBN-13: 978-0691126999
A sophisticated and elegant challenge to the view that U.S. primacy is fast on the wane. By deftly backing up theoretical argument with historical example, Brooks and Wohlforth redefine debate about the durability of a unipolar world and the future of U.S. grand strategy.
(Charles A. Kupchan, author of "The End of the American Era" )

World Out of Balance is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the constraints on the United States' use of power in pursuit of its security interests. Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth overturn conventional wisdom by showing that in a unipolar system, where the United States is dominant in the scales of world power, the constraints featured in international relations theory are generally inapplicable. In fact, the authors argue that the U.S. will not soon lose its leadership position; rather, it stands before a twenty-year window of opportunity for reshaping the international system.

Although American primacy in the world is unprecedented, analysts routinely stress the limited utility of such preeminence. The authors examine arguments from each of the main international relations theories--realism, institutionalism, constructivism, and liberalism. They also cover the four established external constraints on U.S. security policy--international institutions, economic interdependence, legitimacy, and balancing.
The prevailing view is that these external constraints conspire to undermine the value of U.S. primacy, greatly restricting the range of security policies the country can pursue. Brooks and Wohlforth show that, in actuality, the international environment does not tightly constrain U.S. security policy. World Out of Balance underscores the need for an entirely new research agenda to better understand the contours of international politics and the United States' place in the world order.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby Saral » 25 Jan 2009 21:16

Author's background. I have a doctorate in economics, and was formerly a member of the Indian Administrative Service (from 1982-2001). Upon resigning from the service in January 2001, I moved to Australia where I work in the public sector in regulatory policy. This book highlights India’s expensive but disastrous experiment with socialism. It proposes a way forward for India to become a great nation with freedom and ethical governance. My article in the Times of India in 2007 talked of some of these reforms.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 15 Feb 2009 07:47

Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq
by Michael Scheuer (Author)

# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0743299698
# ISBN-13: 978-0743299695

Scheuer, former CIA analyst and trenchant critic of U.S. terrorism policies (Imperial Hubris) develops his argument that America suffers from a collective insistence on sustaining Cold War paradigms in a fundamentally altered world. For all its culpable errors, the current administration is merely the present-day incorporation of willful historical ignorance, a paucity of common sense, and... a disastrous degree of intellectual hubris. These fundamental shortcomings are exacerbated by a pattern of making policy decisions on the basis of how a liberal-pacifist media and intelligentsia will react, rather than objectively considering the national interest. That interest, Scheuer argues, requires prioritizing the Islamic threat in security considerations and understanding that it does not manifest intractable, theologically based hostility to American values and lifestyles. The Islamic challenge instead reflects a series of concrete U.S. policy decisions, beginning in 1973, committing the U.S. to supporting an endless war to the death between Arabs and Israelis. An increasingly desperate effort to sustain a fundamental regional imbalance—and Scheuer does not spare the Clinton administration—has led to direct military involvement, culminating in the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan. These defeats, Scheuer declares, are the inevitable result of seeking to change the Middle East's dynamics by exporting the unique American patterns of democracy and republicanism. Controversial in its details, Scheuer's analysis suffers fundamentally from Occidentalism. Interpreting Islamic behavior as a consequence of American actions keeps the U.S. at the center of events in precisely the Cold War model Scheuer excoriates. (Feb. 12)
When Michael Scheuer first questioned the goals of the Iraq War in his 2004 bestseller Imperial Hubris, policymakers and ordinary citizens alike stood up and took notice. Now, Scheuer offers a scathing and frightening look at how the Iraq War has been a huge setback to America's War on Terror, making our enemy stronger and altering the geopolitical landscape in ways that are profoundly harmful to U.S. interests and security concerns.

Marching Toward Hell is not just another attack on the Bush administration. Rather, it sounds a critical alarm that must be heard in order to preserve the nation's security. Scheuer outlines the ways that America's foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has undermined the very goals for which we are fighting and played right into bin Laden's hands. The ongoing instability in Iraq, for example, has provided al Qaeda and its allies with the one thing they want most: a safe haven from which to launch operations across borders into countries that were previously difficult for them to reach. With U.S. forces and resources spread thinner every day, the war has depleted our strength and brought al Qaeda a kind of success that it could not have achieved on its own.

A twenty-plus-year CIA veteran, Scheuer headed the agency's Osama bin Laden unit, managed its covert-action operations, and authored its rendition program. Scheuer spent his career developing strategies to keep America safe, by any means deemed necessary by the presidents he served. It was his job to take available intelligence and devise plans to protect Americans, without considering bias, position, or even existing alliances. In Marching Toward Hell, Scheuer takes on the questions of "What went wrong?" and "How can we fix this?" and proposes a plan to cauterize the damage that has already been done and get American strategy back on track. He lists a number of painful recommendations for how we must shift our ideological, military, and political views in order to survive, even if that means disagreeing with Israeli policy or launching more brutal campaigns against terrorists.

America holds its destiny in its hands, Scheuer says, yet not nearly enough has been done to defend America and destroy its Islamist enemies. This is an eye-opening, alarming, contentious, and ultimately fascinating examination of how far off track the War on Terror has gone, and a critical read in understanding what we must do to save it.

Michael Scheuer, PhD and former CIA career officer, made a big splash in June 2004 as the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. At that time he contradicted Rumsfeld and other officials by informing us there was an insurgency in Iraq.

Now Scheuer tells us where we're going. We're going to hell.

Marching Toward Hell claims that U.S. foreign policy is often based on faulty assumptions and is driven by some lobbyists whose interests are different than those of the American people. This book goes well beyond the themes of Imperial Hubris.

Dr. Scheuer's book merits 5 stars. He sacrificed his career at the CIA in order to publicly denounce the 9/11 Commission for having become politicized. He did this at a time when other insiders protected their careers and are only now coming out. He's also superb at explaining the relationship between the intelligence community and elected officials in the U.S.

Scholars take Scheuer seriously because of his 22-year career as a top intelligence analyst and also the success of his first book, Imperial Hubris. He stalked and studied Osama bin Laden (ObL) for years and urged superiors to remove ObL no less than 10 times when the opportunity arose. No action was taken each time for political reasons.

ObL has recommended Scheuer's book, Imperial Hubris, to the American people in a taunting missive. Marching Toward Hell strikes back with recommendations aimed at helping the American people to wise up.

According to Scheuer, U.S. policymakers still prefer to present the bin Laden Movement as a lunatic fringe even though it has broad appeal in the Islamic world. Also, U.S. support of Israel and U.S. troop presence contributes to the popular perception within the Muslim world that the West is bent on destroying Islam.

As if that wasn't disturbing enough, Scheuer says that some officials possibly never intended to win in Iraq (and certainly not before the 2004 presidential election). Otherwise, more troops would have been sent. While the logic of this argument is irrefutable, it is almost too disturbing to think about.

Other points: the fact that very few political leaders have children serving in the wars is disturbing on many levels; the divide in the U.S. between the political elite and the rest of the people has never been wider; and young people will be sent to war in the coming 8 years regardless of election results.

Scheuer concludes that the U.S. cannot avoid war with Islamists, that it will be much more violent that what we've seen so far, and also that it's too late to win in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Scheuer is angry for several reasons including the reluctance of Americans to understand Muslim viewpoints, the Bush administration dismissal of Middle East experts' wisdom and advice, and the lack of political leadership regarding energy policy.

Marching Toward Hell includes a thoughtful proposal that is already being discussed seriously in the nation's universities. A summary of Scheuer's proposal (The Scheuer Proposal) is that the U.S. must reduce its foreign commitments and to first focus on domestic security, including stationing the Army along America's borders. Problems with U.S. foreign policy include operating without regard to the best interests of the country and also budget limitations. Simultaneously, the country would begin to take steps to reduce oil dependency. Then the U.S. would prepare to defeat its enemies such as Al-Qaeda.

Among other things, the Proposal calls for effective use of intelligence assets and willingness to use the military differently, more violently. The Scheuer Proposal is filled with surprises and brings into question to what extent it speaks for the intelligence community as a whole.

The author says foreign policy is going to become more important, not less. He wants America to change its message to Muslims by changing foreign policy. This means, among other things, to stop the current brand of support provided to Israel and to remove troops from the Arabian Peninsula. The wars, he says, are lost regardless - that we're in a fourth generation war where adversaries have a scorched earth strategy, leaving nothing for the occupier to occupy anyway. Remarkably, he goes much further and includes Russia, China and India as countries against Islam that the U.S. supports. Even so, he concludes that the U.S. cannot avoid an even more violent war with Islam.

In my view, the Scheuer Proposal cuts across so many emotional pressure points that Scheuer is guaranteed to get the attention of Middle America this time. I think the least contentious point is to change the way the President and Congress use the intelligence information and assets provided by taxpayers at great expense. The most controversial point is probably assignment of blame to Israeli lobbyists for encouraging the war in Iraq. (Notably Scheuer does not blame these lobbyists for the mismanagement of same. He also says this has made Israel less secure.) And the weakest point of the Scheuer Proposal is probably the lack of specifics for how the U.S. will reduce its energy dependency. The Scheuer Proposal relies heavily on a successful new energy policy.

Possibly Scheuer thinks hell is our destiny as the Proposal holds that alarming horror is in our future. Such an approach from such a man attracts and holds the reader's interest as if by a spell.

Scheurer's CIA career and innate intellect combine in "Marching Toward Hell" to create an outstanding and very timely book. He begins by pointing out that our bipartisan governing elite has an unquenchable ardor to have the U.S. intervene abroad in all places. Some prefer diplomatic, others military, humanitarian, covert, and/or foreign aid mixed with Christian proselytizing. The result is that we live in a prolonged Cold War hangover that creates more problems than it solves.

Scheuer's intent in the book is to reconstruct how the U.S. found itself with an untenable set of foreign policies and national security strategies on 9/11, and to explain the costs of trying to maintain them.

U.S. ties to Israel, a state that contributes nothing to America's economic welfare or strategic security, are absurd, per Scheuer. Responding to those claiming Israel has a "right to exist," he states that Darwin's "survival of the fittest" applies; further, "Are we to also resuscitate the USSR, Sparta, etc.?" "You form your country, and you take your chances."

The second major nonsensical decision that burdens America is our doing little in response to the '73 oil embargo. Thus, we have ended up playing both sides (Israel vs. the Arab states) in a religious fight-to-the-finish.

American policies are further undermined by human rights groups - eg. they pushed the Senate to pursue human rights for Afghan women instead of us being able to try to get the Taliban to turn over Bin Laden. Other secondary issues have stayed our hand numerous times - eg. blowing up Iraq's Intelligence Service headquarters at night (minimize casualties) in response to its effort to assassinate Bush I in Kuwait, and calling off multiple efforts to kill Bin Laden.

Scheuer believes we have lost both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and that launching the Iraq War was a major blunder. Further, we need to stop believing that a "post-war Marshal Plan" will change the hearts and minds of Arabs - not unless we stop backing Arab tyrants and Israel.

As for Europe, Scheuer sees it becoming overrun by Muslim immigrants and their children. Meanwhile, its support for the U.S. is weakening - witness the recent fall of supporting leaders in the U.K., Spain, and Poland.

Concluding, Scheuer states that Islam is the fastest growing religion, U.S. officials have lied to citizens (providing erroneous reasons why terrorists hate us - eg. "they hate democracy)," instead of telling the truth while counteracting terrorists, and the U.S. is VERY vulnerable to more terrorism subce we've cut funding to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons, failed to close our borders, and failed to even propose an effective energy policy.

As for "preventing follow-up terrorist attacks in the U.S.," Scheuer is unimpressed - they're simply defeating us without bombs, through dragging us down towards bankruptcy. His recommendation - focus on "America first" - issues that truly threaten our survival.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 15 Feb 2009 10:44

Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment
by William Inboden (Author)

# Hardcover: 368 pages
# Publisher: Cambridge University Press (August 25, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0521513472
# ISBN-13: 978-0521513470

'Inboden understands both foreign policy and religion, a rare combination. In addition, he does not condescend to evangelicals, gets John Foster Dulles right (no easy task, given the stereotypes of the dour puritan) and even gets Reinhold Niebuhr right (no easy task either, given Niebuhr's murky prose). This is an essential book for historians of recent foreign policy and students of the contemporary religious scene.' Leo Ribuffo, George Washington University 'William Imboden presents an illuminating and insightful account of how mainline Protestant theology not only provided rhetoric but also helped shape the substance of American Cold War policies under both Truman and Eisenhower.' George Marsden, author of A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards 'William Inboden's well-researched and carefully argued study documents the various ways that religion functioned powerfully as support for American participation in the Cold War and also its multiple uses as an instrument of battle in that conflict. Without denying the importance of military, economic, or political motives for post-war American foreign policy, Inboden shows how decisively religious factors worked to shape the nation's stance toward the world. This excellent book is important for clarifying a critical period in American history but also for providing perspective on the religious entanglements of more recent international politics.' Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame 'William Inboden has written a pioneering and profusely researched study into a core component of America's post-war foreign policy. His book is essential reading for scholars, students, and decision makers interested in how America looks at, and interacts with, the world.' Michael B. Oren, Professor at Georgetown University and author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present 'William Inboden is in the forefront of a rising generation of scholars who are fundamentally recasting our understanding of the role of religion in Cold War America. In this richly researched and gracefully written account, Inboden documents the myriad ways that American faith communities shaped and were shaped by the nearly five-decade stand-off between Washington and Moscow. Essential reading for students of both religion and diplomacy in modern America.' David M. Kennedy, Professor of History, Stanford University 'William Inboden has done something remarkable: he has said something genuinely new about one of the most heavily mined periods of American foreign policy. His thoughtful, rigorous discussion of the role of religion in early Cold War foreign policy reminds us of two fundamental truths. First, that religion is a powerful factor, across party lines, in how Americans see the world. And second, that religion never offers simple lessons about what kind of foreign policy America should pursue.' Peter Beinart, author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals - and only Liberals - Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again 'Inboden reads history with clear eyes and opens ours to the fact that diplomatic theology and theological diplomacy mattered far more to those who conducted American foreign policy than those who have studied it have hitherto understood.' Peter Feaver, Alexander F. Hehmeyer Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University

"William Imboden presents an illuminating and insightful account of how mainline Protestant theology not only provided rhetoric but also helped shape the substance of American Cold War policies under both Truman and Eisenhower." - George Marsden, author of A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards

"William Inboden's well-researched and carefully argued study documents the various ways that religion functioned powerfully as support for American participation in the Cold War and also its multiple uses as an instrument of battle in that conflict. Without denying the importance of military, economic, or political motives for post-war American foreign policy, Inboden shows how decisively religious factors worked to shape the nation's stance toward the world. This excellent book is important for clarifying a critical period in American history but also for providing perspective on the religious entanglements of more recent international politics." - Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

"William Inboden has written a pioneering and profusely researched study into a core component of America's post-war foreign policy. His book is essential reading for scholars, students, and decision makers interested in how America looks at, and interacts with, the world." - Michael B. Oren, Professor at Georgetown University and author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present

"William Inboden is in the forefront of a rising generation of scholars who are fundamentally recasting our understanding of the role of religion in Cold War America. In this richly researched and gracefully written account, Inboden documents the myriad ways that American faith communities shaped and were shaped by the nearly five-decade stand-off between Washington and Moscow. Essential reading for students of both religion and diplomacy in modern America." - David M. Kennedy, Professor of History, Stanford University

"William Inboden has done something remarkable: He has said something genuinely new about one of the most heavily mined periods of American foreign policy. His thoughtful, rigorous discussion of the role of religion in early Cold War foreign policy reminds us of two fundamental truths. First, that religion is a powerful factor, across party lines, in how Americans see the world. And second, that religion never offers simple lessons about what kind of foreign policy America should pursue." - Peter Beinart, author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals - and only Liberals - Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again

"Inboden reads history with clear eyes and opens ours to the fact that diplomatic theology and theological diplomacy mattered far more to those who conducted American foreign policy than those who have studied it have hitherto understood." - Peter Feaver, Alexander F. Hehmeyer Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Duke University

"The American academy has been rediscovering the importance of religion in politics and foreign policy; Inboden's new book makes a vital contribution to this ongoing project by examining the ways in which both politicians and religious leaders grappled with the challenges of Cold War diplomacy. . . . Ranging over subjects as diverse as the missionary influence in the China lobby and the political impact of the once-formidable Moral Rearmament movement, Inboden produces a stimulating and compelling picture of American religious and political life. " --Walter Russell Mead in Foreign Affairs

Wiliam Inboden's book on Religion and American foreign Policy is a good attempt to establish that truth contrary to the claims of its founders, that religion has always influenced the United States society and its foreign policy.
The cold war era'a containment policy was no exception and Inboden just takes out a sapmple period in the entire American foreign policy history to prove this.

The religious-ethical basis of containment, whether it has a self imposed grand isolation or a bid to contain and isolate the erstwhile Soviet Union are extremely interlinked. The entire gamut of US post war foreign policies show that adversaries may change but not the policy of isolating the opponents. American concept of liberal democracy indeed flounders on the rock of this single policy concept that has even used international forums like the UN for that purpose. Huntington has already established how religion deeply influenced the American psyche.

Inboden's book is well researched and specialized in that it is restricted from 1945 to 1960 but this period has been the trend setter for all future US foreign policies.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 15 Feb 2009 10:49

Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War
by John Lewis Gaddis (Author)

# Paperback: 512 pages
# Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; Rev Exp edition (June 23, 2005)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 019517447X
# ISBN-13: 978-0195174472

Strategies of Containment, by John Lewis Gaddis, is a description of the evolving strategy of containment that was the basis of US policy toward the Soviet Union from 1946 through 1989. Gaddis traces the concept of containment from its inception by George F. Kennan through the modifications applied by five administrations and assesses the strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness of each version. This book is more than another chronology of the cold war; it provides deep insights into strategic thinking and is essential reading for any serious student of the cold war. Here's a brief summary:

Kennan's Original Doctrine of Containment

* Identify and defend vital interests based on the centers of industrial strength - Britain, Western Europe, Japan -don't try to defend the entire world.
* Use all instruments of power: economic, diplomatic, political, and cultural power as well as military power. Rebuilding the economic vitality of the above areas is a high priority.
* Seek to divide the communist world. Our primary adversary is the Soviet Union. Other communist countries, if not actively supporting Soviet policy, may be led to serve as quasi-allies by depriving the Soviets of their support.
* General war with the Soviets is unlikely, so we can afford to take risks. We can limit our defense spending and not try to defend the world. A point defense of our vital interests is probably adequate.
* Define threats in light of US vital interests, not in terms of Soviet capabilities

Truman and NSC-68

* The policies articulated in NSC-68 moved toward a perimeter defense covering the entire world rather than a point defense of vital interests.

* Primary emphasis was switched to military power and to the entire spectrum of war
* US interests were redefined in response to perceived threats (anything that is threatened must be an interest).
* US strategy became based on a symmetric response to threats - responding in the same time, place, and with the same means as the adversary (e.g., the Korean War).

Eisenhower, Dulles, and the New Look

* Eisenhower's guiding philosophy was that defense is not just defeating the enemy - it is the preservation of our economic and political systems.
* Spending too much on defense could destroy these systems by leading to either inflation or the imposition of autocratic controls. He reduced the defense budget by 33% from Truman's last year and held it at about that level for eight years.
* Alliances relied on allies for ground forces with the US providing Air and Naval support.
* The nuclear threat became the cornerstone of deterrence across the spectrum of conflict - with goal of avoiding war - in belief that any war was all too likely to escalate to nuclear.
* Asymmetric response to threats - response need not be in same place or using same methods as Soviet threat
* Anti-colonial Conundrum: The communists are fomenting wars of national liberation while the US is trying to rebuild Europe (the colonial powers). If the US backs decolonization, it undermines the European allies it is trying to rebuild. If the US backs the colonial powers, it loses any chance of support from the colonies. The Soviets really put us in a no-win position on this issue.

Kennedy, Johnson, and Flexible Response

* Kennedy and Johnson return to NSC-68 reasoning by lowering threat of nuclear response and replaced it with flexible response, requiring a direct, symmetric response to threats - a respond in same time and place using the same means.
* These administrations applied a circular logic: Threats create interests which demand responses which require capabilities even where no interest previously had been identified. This was articulated in the "bear any burden, pay any price" rhetoric.
* This strategy necessitated greater reliance on military response versus economic, political, etc which increased demands on the defense budget.
* Kennedy abandoned Eisenhower's commitment to a balanced budget and relied on Keynesian fiscal policy to stimulate the economy. Spending was predicated on the potential of the economy rather than its actual performance. Lack of budgetary constraints led to inability to prioritize, to distinguish the essential from the peripheral, the feasible from the infeasible which encouraged more "bear any burden, pay and price' reasoning because it wasn't real money.
* Flexible response led to graduated escalation in Viet Nam which became "never enough to defeat the enemy, just enough to prolong the war". Stakes were repeatedly raised to prevent the humiliation of a defeat but this only made the eventual defeat more humiliating.
* Calibrated escalation yielded the initiative to the enemy - allowed him to define the terms of conflict. Deterrence can be made effective only if the adversary can be made to doubt that he can retain control of the situation. Taking the nuclear option away encouraged adversaries to call our bluff.

Nixon, Kissinger and Détente

* Nixon and Kissinger moved the US government from a bi-polar to a multi-polar world view by positing the existence of five significant power centers: US, USSR, Western Europe, China, and Japan. They recognized that these five power centers were far from equal. Only the US and USSR were superpowers able to exert substantial influence via military, economic, political, or diplomatic means. This strategy was a return to the balance of power envisioned by Kennan.
* In the military arena, they focused on sufficiency rather than superiority over the Soviet Union and sought to persuade Brezhnev that a similar policy would be in his country's best interest as well. Sufficiency won the logical argument over superiority because the latter invariably provoked the other side into matching every military advance, producing and endless and unwinnable arms race.
* Conceptually, Kissinger and Nixon changed the country's strategic definition of US interests and threats to those interests. For most of the interval between Kennan and Nixon-Kissinger, the US strategic view had started with the USSR, its capabilities and intentions, then identified the impact these capabilities could have. These impacts became viewed as threats and US interests were defined as anything thus threatened. Nixon and Kissinger reversed the logical flow, much as Kennan did, starting with the identification of US interests, independent of any adversary. They then identified as an adversary an entity with capability and intent to harm these interests.
* Again returning to Kennan's approach, Nixon-Kissinger sought to use negotiations to influence Soviet behavior. They took a long-term approach to negotiations, discarding the tendency of previous administrations from Roosevelt on to use negotiations and agreements with the Soviets for domestic political purposes. They discarded the approach of seeking agreements on specific areas where they could be reached and adopted a strategy of linkage - maintaining that Soviet unwillingness to negotiate in good faith on military and strategic issues of importance to the US would result in US refusal to accommodate Soviet desires for economic and trade relations and recognition of the post war division of Europe.
* The next step in the Nixon-Kissinger strategy was to seek an accommodation with China to reduce US-Chinese tensions and, thereby, free China to take a more assertive stance in its own dealings with the USSR. This was a return to Kennan's goal of dividing communism and redefined our prime enemy as the Soviet Union


Reagan continued the return to Kennan's original concept of containment:
* Adopt an asymmetric strategy - don't let the enemy determine the time, place, and terms of conflict
* Apply economic, political, diplomatic, and moral power more than military power. A prime example was his Berlin speech: "Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down this wall!" He put the Soviets in the same kind of no-win position that they had inflicted on Eisenhower over colonialism in the 1950s by setting the Eastern Europeans at odds with the Kremlin.
* He recognized that Soviet system was bankrupt financially, intellectually, morally and turned up the pressure until it collapsed.
* Reagan was also lucky. Kennan had hoped to transform the Soviet Union with the help of a new generation of Russian leaders. Gorbachev turned out to be the leader Kennan had hoped for. He and Reagan together ended the cold war and transformed the Soviet Union from a totalitarian system to one that might have evolved into a more liberal one had the 1991 coup d'état not destroyed it first.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 15 Feb 2009 10:56

Tracing The Eagle's Orbit: Illuminating Insights Into Major US Foreign Policies Since Independence
by Gautam Maitra (Author)

# Paperback: 258 pages
# Publisher: Trafford Publishing (November 18, 2007)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1425106706
# ISBN-13: 978-1425106706

Like the Eagle, the United States roves round a definite orbit defined by its foreign policies. It has its own set of values and principles, interests and goals that form the bedrock of its foreign policies guided by the Declaration of Independence. These values and principles, serve as lodestar that help keep the United States flying towards the furthest points in that orbit through the efforts towards the completion of the still unfinished jobs of the Declaration and the War of Independence.

The perimeters of these concentric circles happen to be those crucial phases that America attained through the successful conduct of its foreign policies at the various crossroads in that independent nation's journey towards the future.

The combined sagacity and 'burning will' of the American founding fathers triggered off a 'political' big bang that not only caused a great upheaval in the geopolitical foundations of European monarchic powers but also made American thoughts and ideals so powerful a 'religion' as to pervade the entire landmass of our planet for quite sometime to come.

With the abrupt termination of the bipolar world order in the early 1990s, the scepter of the dark and the chaotic Middle Age loomed. Instead of deciding to 'rule' the rest of the world by the power of sword that had characterized the Middle Age or instead of cornering the gains of modern scientific-technological inventions through colonial 'ploys' that had possessed several erstwhile European powers, ever-dynamic United States rather set on a post modern, neo-liberal course. As a result, 'non-imperial' United States now faces a dilemma in shaping the rest of the world in its own image. This book is unique in that it goes to the heart of that riddle.

Mr.Gautam Maitra has done a commendable job in writing Tracing the Eagle's Orbit. He has put in a lot of thought and power of analysis into this comprehensive work. It is indeed very timely at a time when the United States is struggling to maintain its superpower status. The introductory chapter is simply brilliant and puts the American political perspective in a new light. This first chapter reveals to the reader in a clearcut manner the evolution and future direction of American Foreign policy. The second chapter gives a concrete suggestion as to what factors guide international relations. In this politics of domination is a theoretical construct not found before in any of the books on US Foreign Policy. Chapters 6 and 7 are simply electrical and illuminating that equips both the reader and the policy maker with the knowledge of superpower machinations. I recommend this book strongly to readers since its written by non-Western fellow who is unbiased.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby ramana » 19 Feb 2009 01:01

Dated but relevant book review

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
Review by William A. Spriggs
Origin, May 2007

This book is an independent study of how ideas amongst the general population turn into "epidemics." Economists study group dynamics for the simple reason that profit - or more aptly - success or failure - of a product or idea -- depends on how that product is received amongst various groups and how can they can get the most bucks from their propaganda bang.

Despite the fact that the book is non-academic in its approach on the subject, I still enjoyed Mr. Cladwell's views because he uses everyday language to teach his readers how "ideas" move in populations from one person to another and then "transforms" the world around us as those ideas "catch fire" - or more descriptively - passes the "tipping point."

After all, if a solid object can be talked about, held in one's hand, and "purchased" for consumption to satisfy a personal need, then the same human projection mechanism from solid to non-solid object can apply upon which we call "values," "ideals," "religious dogma," "morals," "political objectives," or any "isms" that have been created (i.e., "feminism," etc). These non-solid "objects" can also be subject to the "tipping point" and become part of the social fabric that binds our species together in our survival voyage. And once again, let me remind all readers that 60% of human behavior is affected by our social context. That mostly means the group we live in and where that group is located on the planet.

This is the first of two books that Gladwell has written. The second, Blink: the power of thinking without thinking followed in 2005. It focuses on the biological individual and the power of "gut" instinct. It is in this second book that Cladwell touches more on the biological aspects of our behavior - in particular our ability to pick up "face language" by understanding the unwritten language of muscle movements under the facial skin. I will review it next.

The Tipping Point enters the evolutionary perspective with hints and innuendos and with little citations, so the book does not meet my evolutionary "recommended" reading list, but I found the two books helpful in understanding my own overall understanding in the social dynamics of "group thinking" and how ideas move from one group to another. I plan to move my studies from the biological individual to group behavior in the coming years - As I write this, it is now 2007.

If the GOP -"Greed Over People" crowd can understand how to sell products to all of us and then apply their marketing techniques to political ideas that suck money up into their own little world while the rest of the world perishes, then the progressive liberals can use the same techniques to reverse the money flow -to really "trickle down" - to the base population. True "Trickling Down" of resources creates a stable foundation to our species' survival; we as a species can not survive if the "top" is the only benefit to the sweat, toil, and labor of those of us below their pampered and privileged positions.


First, let's define what the author means by "Tipping Point." What he is talking about is the sudden shift in movement of an idea that flows through a population and "sticks." But how it sticks depends on how the information is spread and within the "context." By context, I understand it to mean - "location, location, location."

Gladwell teaches us that in order for there to be an "epidemic" three rules have to apply:

¢ The Law of the Few
¢ The Stickiness factor
¢ The power of context

[for there to be an "epidemic"] "…a basic, underlying pattern [has to exsist]. First of all, they are clear examples of contagious behavior." P. 7.

It is at this moment that we evolutionists have to ask the question: Why would a group of people in close proximity act in a contagious manner? The obvious answer would be that the behavior must have an evolutionary advantage.

The first law in "contagious behavior" is that "When it comes to epidemics…a tiny percentage of people do the majority of the work." P. 19.

Then the author identifies these "few" into three types: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

These three sub-groups that the author teaches us about are the ones who "spread the virus" or ideas. These are the humans that connect and then describe to others the advantages of a particular idea or product that is "being sold." The connector is useful in the amount of people he or she knows:

"…These people who link us up with the world, who…introduce us to our social circles…are connectors, people with a special gift for bringing the world together." P. 38. "Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances." P. 41. "The purpose of making an acquaintance, for most of us, is to evaluate whether we want to turn that person into a friend; we don't feel we have the time or the energy to maintain meaningful contact with everyone." P. 46. "…for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches." P.48. "…their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy." P. 49.

What Mr. Gladwell is teaching us that a small minority of our population makes a decision about a product or idea and then "suggests" to the rest of us that by "following them" there would be a beneficial outcome. These "connectors" have "picked" us as "worthy" to receive the benefit of their knowledge - they have "evaluated" us and found us worthy of their time and effort. (This last sentence is very important in our species' social development - but that is for another essay).

Because if we think about this from an evolutionary perspective, we know that our ancestors lived in small groups or clans in Africa and looked to those higher in their hierarchies to take the most risks and follow their lead. Our author is giving us evolutionary clues about "herd mentality" and how any idea or thought may have moved through that "herd."

It does make survival sense because sometimes it's a good thing - but it could also be a bad thing: Perhaps the clan finds a new kind of tree that bares fruit; it will be the innovative types, the "leaders" that will take the first bite. If the fruit is good, the whole clan prospers.

But what if the fruit is poisonous and the "first biter" drops dead? The rest of the clan still prospers because it will continue to survive until the next batch of "safe food" is found. Being the first, "the leader" has its advantages. To quote the mighty warrior, Alexander: "Good fortune favors the bold." Of course, Alexander only lived until he was 33. So, you see, there are evolutionary advantages to both behaviors of "risk taking" and "playing it safe." The risk takers (usually males), driven by "sexual madness" consider the risks worth it because the females choose them as best candidates for passing on their child's genes, and as such, usually have the first access to the females.

What choices we make as individuals depends on our "flash decisions" of the moment. A young male in his primal prime, say, 19 years old (primal ancestral prime, that is) most likely will take a more risky behavior path to "impress the girls" as a good candidate for mating; while an old fart like myself (I'm 61 as I write this), would most likely take the "safe road" and make sure that the strange fruit that I am about to eat is safe. And in both examples, one still must take into account the cultural context of the clan, village, city-state, etc., with regard to their longitude and latitude location on the planet.

The second type of person "who control word-of-mouth epidemics" (p. 60) are "Mavens."

"If you look closely at social epidemics, however, it becomes clear that just as there are people we rely upon to connect us to other people (the connectors), there are also people we rely upon to connect us with new information." P. 59.

"The word Maven comes from the Yiddish, and it means one who accumulates knowledge." P. 60. "The critical thing about Mavens, though, is that they aren't passive collectors of information…What sets them apart is that once they figure out how to get that [deal or information on an item] they want to tell you about it too." "This person likes to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests." "They are socially motivated." P. 62.

The third type of individual Gladwell has identified that help social epidemics to start is the person who "persuades" others.

"For a social epidemic to start, though, some people are actually going to have to be persuaded to do something." P. 69.

Gladwell thus introduces us to the Salesman:

".. with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics…" p. 70.

Cladwell then leaves the reservation by delving deeply into Cultural Microrhythms and Interactional Synchorony with language when two individuals meet - I will leave these for further study as they are very important, but will spare the momentary reader because I want to sum up all three roles from an evolutionary perspective and how "informational epidemics" spread.

If we go back into our primal ancestral group what we most likely found is that one or two in those ancient groups were all three of the personalities that Gladwell described. It wasn't until, we as a species, became so diverse and dense in our populations and accumulated resources that the information was so vast as to require specialization from various individuals. Crunch all three mechanisms together and you still have the same information that was necessary for our species to survive.

One of the theories about how our species emigrated out of Africa was that Shamans, priests, or religious "crazy" people with charismatic personalities "sold" people on the idea that following the beasts [of meat] on their migration path out of Africa (or within easy commute out of the continent) would be the only way for their clan to survive. Let me return to early part of the book for this quote from Gladwell concerning "group behavior":

"When people are in a group…responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem - is really not a problem." P. 28.

The second rule in Tipping Point is "Stickiness":

"In epidemics, the messenger matters: messengers are what make something spread. But the content of the message matters too. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of "stickiness." Is the message...or the food, or the movie, or the product - memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?" p. 92.

I think what Mr. Gladwell is trying to tell us is merely a re-framing the age old question: "Does the food, movie, or product" fill a need that the consumer thinks s/he needs to fill? If the item goes beyond the immediate need of survival, then the "extended need" goes to the next higher level of need, i.e., status - eating at a uppity and swank new restaurant, for example…by being seen and heard at a place where "non-qualifying" persons [of that status heirarchy] are priced out.

The final setting in which Gladwell posits for "epidemics" to occur is that there must be The Power of Context. He continues for about 20 pages in telling us about broken windows and street crime prevalent in New York City during the 1980s and comes to the conclusion that:

"they say that the criminal - far from being someone who acts for fundamental, intrinsic reasons and who lives in his own world - is actually someone acutely sensitive to his environment, who is alert to all kinds of cues, and who is prompted to commit crimes based on his perception of the world around him." P. 150.

"It says [The Power of Context] is an environmental argument. It says that behavior is a function of social context." P. 150.

"TPoC had little to do with the tangled psychological pathology of [the cited criminal] and very little as well to do with the background and poverty of the [perpetrators] who accosted him, and everything to do with the message sent by the graffiti on the walls and the disorder at the turnstiles." P. 150-1.

Well, Mr. Gladwell, welcome to one of the principles of evolution - and let's condense those 20 pages down into one sentence: Evolution is the adaptation to local environments. By "local environment" one means the mean streets of New York or Los Angeles or any major city with their graffiti, poor schools, and general lack of available resources to those "criminals" trapped in that environment. Sorry, old boy, but poverty [lack of resources] does have major impact on human behavior.

But is "environment" more important than the people that surround us? Gladwell seems to take that lead by telling us:

"…Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people's behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context." p. 160.

"We [humans] do this because,…we are a lot more attuned to personal cues than contextual cues." P. 161.

So, Mr. Gladwell seems to contradict his own teachings about "The Power of Context" by telling us that humans place more importance on other individuals than "context." It appears that Mr. Gladwell is showing his inexperience with evolution and human behavior.

But it does make sense when we understand that human behavior is about 40% nature and 60% nurture and that the social groupings of our fellow humans matter most. We are social creatures and we put more emphasis on following other's leads than on our immediate surroundings [context].

Overall, The Tipping Point is an interesting book in explaining human behavior to the common person. and how "epidemics" spread throughout those socieites. He ties everything nicely together to non-scientifically explain "herd mentality" in our species. But one has to be cautioned that because of the lack of scientific framework of this book, one can easily become confused as to "the bigger picture" of human behavior.

BTW, he wrote another book called "Blink" and has third book I forget the name.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby Anujan » 23 Mar 2009 06:54

Lalmohan wrote:you need to get hold of Gordon Corera's book "Shopping for Bombs", all is explained

Thank you Lalmohan.

Half way through "Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and Rise and Fall of AQ Khan" By Gordon Corera. I want to post a longish review, so breaking it into two parts.

My initial impressions first.

Corera goes out of his way when describing the genesis of the Paki nuclear program, to impress upon the reader that there was *no* islamist fervor in developing the Bomb. Neither from ZAB nor from AQK. Instead, he makes a case that the name "Islamic Bomb" (during the genesis of the program) was pragmatic and was aimed at monetary and diplomatic support from ME countries, especially Saudis, UAE and Libya.

The part where he discusses whether the Paki establishment (Army, ISI, Political masters) knew or abetted the nuclear transfer, Corera deliberately tries to be vague. This is believable (I will explain why) and unbelievable at the same time.

Believable because, he gives an impression of Paki estabilishment as disparate collection of power centers, each of which can harm the other. For example, ISI could harm the PM and vice versa, so they had evolved a scheme to coexist and not interfere much with each other's affairs. What is more interesting is that, these were not just organizational power centers, but also personality-based power centers. In this scenario, if Beg approves Nuclear know-how transfer, would you hold Paki government responsible ? As in was the decision taken in accordance with the chain of powers laid down by the constitution, formulated according to normal practices and implemented in accordance with Pakistani law ? If this is what one is asking when he wonders "Did paki government authorize the sale", the answer, ofcourse is a big NO ! This bears a striking parallel to terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Did Zardari sign a piece of paper authorizing Mumbai strikes and transmit it through official chanels to the ISI ? Obviously no. Same with Kargil. Was it debated in the assembly with the opposition, with a formal declaration of war ? No. So the Pakistani state was not involved.

On the other hand, this is a deceptive explanation. If one were to argue that Pakistani state was not involved in proliferation, one should also attach a disclaimer that the "state" in Pakistan does not correspond to what one would accept as a normal "state".

An impression given in the book, but not expaned upon (so far) is that the Chinese cooperation could have been extended to also piggyback on the Khan network to procure dual use items for China itself. Giving the chinese plausible deniability about industrial espionage from the west.

Some juicy excerpts so far.

Pakis going about methodically setting up infrastructure for shady dealings:
Payments from the Gulf states to Pakistan are suspected to have passed through the bank f credit and commerce international (BCCI), a shadowy organization founded by Pakistan that funded Pakistan's nuclear question among an array of other shady dealings.

About the nuclear lobby:
Business interests were a powerful lobby everyhwere. President Carter appointed Josephy Nye, a cerebral be the lead diplomat on the subject (preventing proliferation). Nye soon found that in addition to battling europeans who disliked the administration's moralistic tone, his new post also engaged him in vicious internal politics with those keen to secure contracts for nuclear energy.

Paki Bum design no 1:
Rifling through his papers, they reportedly found a document proving Pakistan was in reciept of outside help. A drawing of simple but effective nuclear bomb and steps needed to make it. It was clear that the design had come from China. Beijing had handed a full, proven weapons design, thought to be based on a chinese test in 1966.

Gul-Motorma History:
Hamid Gul and his deputy put out word to Islamists that "the ISI had intelligence that Benazir Bhutto has promised the Americans a rollback of our nuclear program. She will prevent a Mujahidden victory in Afghanistan and stop plans for Jihad in Kashmir

Impact of Paki proliferation on JK:
Similar proposals were being pushed forward....Beg and Interservices intelligence agency chief Durrani approached President Ghulam Ishaq Khan with a proposal to sell nuclear technology to finance ISI operations which were ongoing in Afghanistan (but now without US financial support), and just starting up in Kashmir. (Corera claims this did not move forward)

After Indian tests and US pressure on Pakistan to not test:
At the same time, Saudi Arabia was encouraging its fellow Muslim state to test. Saudi Arabia offered Nawaz Sharif fifty thousand barrels of oil a day to overcome the impact of any western sanctions that resulted from testing
(Saudi Nawaz romance goes back a long way)

About the involvement of Paki official agencies (Corera says "its hard to say", "not clear" ityadi)
In december 1997 Chief of Army staff, General Karamat traveled to Pyongyang. And at the same point, there were signs that NoKo's uranium enrichment program began to move forward more rapidly. Although there is no direct evidence, this seems to be the point at which barter began....By 1998 there were nine flights per month, following high level visits of NoKo officials to Pakistan.

About the detection of Pu in Paki tests
Theories abound that not only were North Koreans present at Pakistani tests, but the Pakistanis may have actually tested a North Korean device for them in addition to their own. This may have been the sixth and final test which took place at a different location and had a different signature, including traces of plutonium when other bombs were thought to be only uranium

Saudis with ICBMs ? Why ?
Concern had grown over Saudi Arabia's possible interest in unconventional weapons after it emergedin the late '80s that Saudi Arabia had secretly purchased dozens of of intercontinental CSS2 ballistic missiles directly from China's operational nuclear force inventories. Because of their relative inaccuracy, the missiles were almost useless for carrying conventional explosives.

Rest of the review and excerpts when I finish the book.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby SriKumar » 23 Mar 2009 08:08

ramana wrote:BTW, he wrote another book called "Blink" and has third book I forget the name.
His most recent book is called 'Outliers: The Story of Success'. It is quite an interesting book and worth a read. It is the author's take on how some people succeed wildly (Bill Gates) and how many of the rest fall by the wayside i.e. not succeed as much.

The first chapter is especially interesting: he discusses a scientific study done by one researcher Termas (Termer?) several decades ago, where he identified about 600+ kids aged (about) 4 through 8 years old, who scored very high on IQ tests (genius level). The researcher followed the lives of these kids till they were adults and had careers. The idea was to measure the success attained in their careers. About a third of them were, what some might call, successful. A good third actually ended up in less than stellar jobs (postal workers, temporary workers, some without jobs etc). The most successful ones ended up as judges, scientists and some other jobs that I forget- no household names in that list. The conclusion of the researcher was that high IQ was not a reliable indicator of future success. In fact, a kid they excluded went on to win the Nobel prize (Shockley).

There are other chapters- one on airplane crashes, which seemed a bit out of place, and one on the author's own life/heritage- on how a relatively fairer skin gave his Jamaican mother (and by extension, himself) a big advantage in life. The book is essentially about the roles of hardwork, smarts and luck/circumstance in achieving success, that the first two alone are not enough in many cases.

NY TIMES review: ... rdt-t.html

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby Anujan » 25 Mar 2009 12:17

Okay, so I finished the book "Shopping for Bombs" by Corera. This is the second half of the review, the first half of the review is a post above this post in the book review section.

My initial impressions first:

This book is a out and out chronicle of AQK's path to perdition. Other juicy details, infos, analysis about the non-proliferation regime etc are added on as a supporting artifacts to enhance AQK's story. So if you want to read it, please dont expect a comprehensive analysis of spread of nuclear weapons, the policy shortcomings, commissions and omissions by Unkil which resulted in the spread. Severely lacking still, is any sort of analysis about the motivation and weapon capabilities of the countries which were the recipient of Khan's help (including Pakistan itself. There is zero info about Pakistan's weapons capabilities. More on this later). With this focus (on AQK's story), as background, this book IMHO has two severe shortcomings. Two central questions have not been addressed satisfactorily

1. Was Pakistan a party to proliferation ?

The author wriggles around this while simultaneously making statements about C130 planes being chartered, but stating that there is a possibility that the military did not know. He mentions that KRL employees were always shadowed by Paki intelligence agents, but there is a chance that ISI didnt know. The most damning proof is that Beg and Karamat floated a plan to peddle nuclear capability and use the money to fund Jihad in A'stan and JK (which the author claims did not materialize), but when Pakistan was found peddling nuclear secrets, the author readily accepts that it might be because of AQK's personal greed and gain. This comes across as total BS. For example:
By the end of 1990s he went even further. Khan Research Laboratories was setting up booths around arms fairs around the world and advertising its willingness to sell both conventional weapons and centrifuge technology...The Pakistani government also got into the act. An advertisement appeared in local Pakistani newspapers in 2000 offerring specific nuclear expertise and material.

But Pakistani guvrmand wouldnt know. In the latter part of the book though, the author does bring in the fact that accepting Pakistani state's involvement, would mean that the US would be unable to pursue GOAT by giving out Baksheesh.
Even when he was army chief (Mushy), AQK's work was run through the former president's office in the 90's he explained. Mushy may have been trying to shift blame, but in doing so, he also acknowledged that Khan had not been acting alone and indeed did have the backing of some parts of the state.

2. Why did it take so long to bring AQK down ?

This looks like cuckooland and completely unbelievable. I am not the one usually given to conspiracy theories, but it all sounds like one huge conspiracy by Unkil and the west, to try very hard to look away till Pakistan had the bum. I am willing to buy the Zia era omissions and commissions, but what about the '90s ? The same 90's when GB-senior was making noises to PVN about CRE in India. Some of the happenings were incredible. in 95, for example, Unkil found a nuclear site in Iraq with documents which had a letter which stated
"We have enclosed for you the following proposal from the Pakistani scientist Dr AQK regarding the possibility of helping iraq estabilish a project to enrich uranium and manufacture a nuclear weapon...he is prepared to give us project designs for a nuclear bomb"

Apparently pakistan was confronted with this, and then pakistan denied it and Unkil and IAEA were satisfied with this response and did not pursue it further. A Paki was caught in 2001 Britain trying to export aluminium to AQK. A search of his records showed that he had sold several dual-use materials before. His legal defence was arranged through the Pakistani embassy and he got a 12 month suspended sentence, because the court determined that
"he did not know the role of AQK in Pakistan's nuclear program".

Unkil and the west seem to have woken up, *only after they realized that AQK was selling his ware abroad* and that conflicted in a big way with Unkil's foreign policy objectives. Glimpses of this are throughout the book. For example, the author says that excess procurements by AQK were thought as supplying a separate secret Pakistani enrichment facility and that the international community were taken by surprise when they discovered that it was actually meant for Libya and Iran.

3. A lesser rant is that the author takes great pain in protraying AQK as a "nationalist" but not "islamist". I suppose only the bearded ones are Islamists. For example the author quotes Khan of saying
Efforts to curtail the development of Muslim world, which the western powers see as a potential threat to their monopoly

And several other Ghazi like rantings.

Some juicy excerpts -
The Pakiness of AQK:
Khan summoned together a group of accomplices...They went to a building on some prized land that housed the Institute of Behavioral Sciences in Karachi. It was a busy time of the day, and about 40 mental health patients were waiting for examination....Khan's group confronted the security guards...and adopted postions in a somewhat dramatic battle order. Khan summoned the officials from the institute and told them that the building had been taken over....
In court, Khan's lawyers would defend him "the plaintiff is a national hero...It is pertinent to point out that the plaintiff deserves great respect and trust in the society"

To Rakshaks wringing their hands about "Quasab is not Pakistani". This has a looooong history:
The Pakistani reply that there was a lack of specificity to complaints was not just used over Khan but over all issues such as support for Taliban, for training camps in (Pakistan occupied) Kashmir, and problems over the line of control with India. British diplomats felt the argument was used whenever Pakis knew what the problem was but wanted deniability to continue pursuing something considered to be in the national interest

A joke here:
Powell told reporters that he had talked to Musharraf about the subject {AQK} and Pakistan's leader had given him a "four hundred percent assurance that there is no such interchange taking place now" :rotfl:

About Amritraj (he did not threaten to bomb pakistan to the stone age. The reality is lot more funny and sinister)
Armitage pointed to a decoration sitting in his office that he had recieved from the government of Paksitan, and said that if Islamabad did not help now (after 9/11), he would send it back and no American would ever want another decoration from Pakistan :rotfl: {Mahmood Ahmed immediately had a brown pant. Kinda reminded me of Al Paccino saying in Godfather, "You broke my heart Fredo, you broke my heart !" causing Fredo to get brown pants and downhill ski. Ultimately Paccino kills Fredo.}

AQK's insurance policy (AKA why he is still alive):
Since he returned to Pakistan from the Netherlands in 1976, Khan kept a diary....Khan kept volumes upon volumes of diaries in a large metal trunk...the current whereabouts of the diaries are unclear, although they are believed to be out of the country.

About Paki bum:
The designs were for a bomb that would weigh around 500 Kgs, not the latest, most advanced Pakistani design...Many of the notes were in Chinese, some in english. The latter were apparently from Pakistanis who had attended seminars given by weapons experts in China in the early 80s. One note said "Munir's (of PAEC) bomb would be bigger"

I am on to my next book "America and the Islamic bomb : the deadly compromise" by David Armstrong. Will post reviews and impressions soon.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 25 Mar 2009 16:17

Can you list all the books in this Pak nuke subject

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby negi » 27 Mar 2009 06:46

Gurujano where can I buy books on Hindi literature in massa ? I wish to revisit classics like 'Godaan' and 'Gaban' .

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby Anujan » 01 Apr 2009 10:06

Book Review - A Sight digression from the usual politics, history type fare. Since BRF is a forum with much discussion, we always try to make logical arguments. But what is exactly logic ? What is "logical" ? Is it just a warm fuzzy vague feeling through which we decide what arguments are right and what are wrong, or is there a definite mathematical, rigorous definition along the lines of "addition" or "multiplication" ?

So I finished reading "Engines of Logic - Mathematicians and the origin of the computer" by Martin Davis. Martin davis is one of the greatest computer scientists alive and one of the greatest mathematicians of our time. This book however, does not delve deep into math, it is more of a very well researched history book, but with delightful reading. Many people do not know this, but the concept of a computer was conceptualized by mathematicians who dabbled in logic (logicians) and the most famous logicians in history were.... philosophers !! So the next time your friend gets drunk and thinks that he is a brilliant philosopher, point this out to him. The story starts with a famous mathematician, who dreamt of a machine to free "excellent men" from tedious calculations. He praised such a machine thus
And now that we may give final praise to the machine; we may say that it will be desirable to all who are engaged in computations which, it is well known, are the managers of financial affairs, the administrators of others' estates, merchants, surveyors, geographers, navigators, astronomers. . . For it is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the labor of calculations.

This scientist realized that to create such a machine english was not useful. Math at it existed then, was definitely not useful. In his own words
A script or language....that perfectly represents the relationship between our much better will it be to bring under mathematical laws, human reasoning, which is the most excellent and useful thing to have

Thus started a quest to define and discover (mathematical) logic. In case you wondered who this visionary mathematician was, it was Leibniz in circa 1680 !! Leibniz wanted a machine which could do calculation, based on a language that "perfectly captured the relationship between our thoughts" (a logical "program" as we call it today). Leibniz is regarded as the father of modern logic, he would write about 10,000 pages and not publish any. Because as he noted with sorrow, in one of the sheets
After so many logics, the logic I seek is yet to be discovered

This quest would last for centuries ! Tortuous progress would be made slowly. Martin Davis beautifully weaves history with funny and sad anecdotes, with individual triumph and loss, sadness and happiness with progress and setbacks in the field of mathematical logic. The reader gets to share the triumph of Boole, who realized if "true" is 1 and "false" is 0, if the "negation" of 1 were to be 0 and vice versa, if multiplication were regarded to be "AND", then the fact that a statement and its opposite cannot be true at the same time can be written as (negation of A) * A = 0. Which perfectly works out irrespective of whether A=0 or A=1. Thus Boolean logic was formed, which could capture, as algebra with purely symbolic operations some aspects of what we call as "logic". But Boole's logic was relegated as a curiosity in philosophy classes. Till Claude shannon noted that Boolean operators can be performed by electrical relays and voltage can be used to represent a 1 or a 0, thereby inventing the modern digital computer. But we are jumping ahead. Boole, regarded as a gentleman (in fact so courteous and well mannered that he intimidated women who felt "evil" and "inadequate" in front of such a saintly man), married a cranky lady. One day, while in his 40's Boole would catch a minor cold. His wife thought that his cold can be cured by wrapping him in freezing blankets. Boole died of pneumonia.

We get many such fascinating insights. Martin Davis tells us the story of Frege. The genius, much shunned by his collegues, poor, lacking a steady job, working away on an arcane branch of mathematics called "logic". Frege devotes decades of his life, towards the single minded pursuit of his magnum opus. However, recieves a letter from the young Bertrand Russell (of Russel's teapot fame), who points out a fatal flaw. Devastated, Frege adds a letter to the preface of his book
There is nothing worse that can happen to a scientist than to have his foundation collapse just as the work is finished. I have been placed in this position by Mr Bertrand Russell

This is integrity !! What russell unearthed, was a curious paradox - the Russell's paradox, which would defy explanation for decades. Martin Davis takes us to visit Cantor and talks about transfinite induction, proving that some infinities are bigger than others ! We visit Hilbert, who once, walked for weeks with torn trousers (his colleagues and students out of politeness, did not point it out, but asked his assistant to gently point it out to Hilbert). When Hilbert's assistant takes Hilbert for a walk near some thorny bushes and says "Probably one of the thorns has torn your trousers", Hilbert famously replied:
"Dont worry, I have been wearing this for weeks and nobody noticed"

We then read about Gödel - (of Gödel -'s incompleteness fame), who proved that no axiomatic system can be complete and consistent (the author explains in a easy way, what these concepts are). While traveling to the courthouse to gain american citizenship, Gödel - talked about numerous inconsistencies in the constitution of US and was furiously distracted by Einstein, who was afraid that the judge would deny him a citizenship. Alas, this would be of no use. When asked by the judge if US can ever become a dictatorship like Germany, Gödel went on to show, how constitutionally and in a manner consistent with the constitution a dictatorship may be established in the US ! We then visit Turing who was the first to how how a logic "program" may be mechanically implemented using a "turing machine" the precursor to a modern computer.

The book is a grand journey through history, personalities and anecdotes sprinkled with lucid and accessible explanations of concepts from logic and mathematics, all put together in a fascinating and way.

A Must read !!

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 03 Apr 2009 23:55

The Silent Language
by Edward T. Hall (Author)

# Paperback: 224 pages
# Publisher: Anchor (July 3, 1973)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0385055498
# ISBN-13: 978-0385055499

The basic concept of "Silent Language" is that much of our communication is non-verbal, but that it consistently follows cultural and linguistic patterns, just as spoken and written communication does.
The major difference in non-verbal communication is that it is mostly subconscious.

The book revolves around the idea that all cultural conventions can be classified as either formal, informal, or technical. Although he spends an entire chapter introducing this concept, I personally found the distinctions a bit confusing, although I do believe that the author has an important insight.

One of my favorite concepts was the idea of 'spacial accent,' which describes the size of and culturally-specific behaviors associated with that invisible zone we all carry around with us. This concept helps explain why Europeans (outside of the British) generally don't queue, and why this so aggravates Americans (and presumably Brits). The concept of 'order' also helps explain different behaviors in forming lines (American belief in 'first come, first serve, is culturally relative). Besides speaking about space, he also discusses the cultural aspects of time, which he also describes in terms of an 'accent'. (He deals with both space and time more fully in two of his other books.)

Hall makes quite a number of connections between cultural behavior, these three types of cultural convention, and specific forms of expression. Examples include: --Why scientists are terrible writers (one of several digressions away from non-verbal communications) --A very believable explanation of why art is art --Why long-range planning is rare in America

--A concept of sacred place that anticipates the recent idea that men retreat to personal 'caves'

All in all, I found this an enjoyable and enlightening book. I wish that it could have been more clear in spots, and I think it is fair to say that some of his ideas are more fully worked out in some of his other books. My only real complaint is about the quality of Anchor's reproduction, which uses a cheap paper that cannot withstand normal highlighters at all (try the wax Textliners from Faber-Castell).

In 1962 this book was provided to all Peace Corps Volunteers as part of their preparation for working abroad in non-U.S. cultures. Hall describes categories of communication which can be used to compare any two cultures. He discusses not only conversation but a number of non-verbal communication areas, with good illustrative scenarios, for the variety of attitudes toward personal space, use of time, interaction with authorities and the law, etc. His ideas seem congruent with Marshall McLuhan's famous concept of "the medium as the message." For me, --as a very verbal person, an artist, and a world traveler-- this book provided new and useful insights about inter- and intracultural communication. It is clearly organized, well written, fascinating, and as relevant to today's global communication as when it was written.

Mr. Hall expounds a couple of key thesis. First, culture is not just the medium of communication. It is a method of communication all on its own. Second, if one "maps" cultural characteristics in ten "primary messaging systems", one can gain insight into the formal, informal, and technical aspects of that culture. Those ten primary messaging systems are: (1) Interaction, (2) association, (3) subsistence, (4) bisexuality, (5) territoriality, (6) temporality, (7) learning, (8) play, (9) defense, and (10) exploitation.

This book is indeed somewhat dated, but one can certainly see that the use of this monograph is that it provides a systematic way of analyzing culture. This can be useful when traveling or working abroad. Likewise, one could use these templates to improve ones understanding of his own culture. It is this latter purpose that makes this book relevant today.

The Silent Language is short enough to be easily read. However, for the sake of brevity, it sacrifices a more systemic or detailed analysis. As such, the author resorts to a limited amount of anecdotal information to support his framework. Anecdotal information is useful, but some more statistical analysis might be worthwhile. Indeed, one could argue that defining each primary messaging system as a collection of "sets", it would be possible to apply set theory from mathematics to anthropology.

While I have trouble believing that culture is a form of communication vice a medium of communication, I will probably use Mr. Hall's framework to analyze the "culture" each job and workplace that I deal with in the future.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby Anujan » 04 Apr 2009 11:16

Halfway through the Book "America and the Islamic Bomb: The Deadly Compromise" by Armstrong and Trento.
THIS IS THE BOOK RAKSHAKS SHOULD BE READING !! The authors are very subtle with a supple, complex and information-filled narrative. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Earlier I had posted a review for "Shopping for Bombs: Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity and Rise and Fall of AQ Khan" By Gordon Corera. To recap: Corera's book is psyops and WKK rolled into one. He has written a story of a pakistani renegade james bond who surprised the morally upgright west. The west was in a dilemma as to what to do, and somehow took AQK down with great heroism. Along the way, Corera has a few good things to say about how the bomb is not a Islamic bomb and the Paki guvrmand is completey (doe eyed) innocent about proliferation activities. If you think that you are going to get the same psy-ops from "America and the Islamic Bomb", you are in for a pleasant surprise. In page 2 of the Book the author says
The protrayal of Khan as a lone wolf operating out of government control provided the media and the public with a major diversion from the truth...The unpleasant truth is that what is known as the AQ Khan scandal is, fundamentally, a scandal of US foreign policy...The gravest dangers now confronting the west---Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation--- are, in short, the ba$tard children of foriegn policy decisions made long ago.

The author has no compunction in calling a spade a spade, and liberal use of profanities. However, it is not just a fact filled indictment of western perfidy. He outlines the domestic compulsions, political expediencies and foreign policy objectives which led to such decisions, while pointing out that the decisions, invariably put short term gain ahead of long term objectives. He traces the roots of nuclear proliferation to "pro-business" republicans, with their capitalism privatization mantra, who wrote laws prohibiting US government from Nuclear power generaiton, and private industries to own and operate reactors. This spawned a spate of private industries worldwide, who were suppliers of sensitive nuclear technology. All the while singing the non-proliferation song. This is the "raw material" AQK would use, to procure components for the Pakistani bomb. The author tries to point out that the bomb was always a "Islamic bomb". The participants were islamists of two kinds (a) Those who would not compromise anything for Islam (b) pragmatists (like Bhutto), who was normally an islamist, but could hide the tendencies when he had to turn his charm on. For example, when Bhutto announced plans to pursue a bomb (in 1972)
The scientists broke out in cheers. They danced and shouted "Allahu Akbar !", "Allahu Akbar !" {Imagine Dr Prahlad yelling "har har mahadev" after Agni IV go-ahead.}

Neither does he mince any words about the knowledge of the Pakistani government about proliferation. He points out a logical progression of government help to Khan's procurement activities
Khan enjoyed the full backing of the Pakistani government and its diplomatic corps for his purchasing campaign. Military aircraft were requsitioned for shipments of large or senstive equipment and PAEC officials were provided with diplomatic credentials and installed in Pakistani embassies in the west to facilitate purchases for the bomb program. Diplomatic pouches were sometimes used to smuggle proscribed items
The west's perfidy and deception is repeatedly pointed out without mincing words. For example
AQK has long boasted that Pakistan's enrichment program remained hidden from the west for nearly three years. Western officials have largely substantiated the claim. It is, of course, false; but has been a useful fiction for all concerned. It has allowed AQk to portray himself as a wily scientist who outwitted western intelligence agencies...and it has permitted the west to plausibly explain why it failed to prevent Pakistan from developing the enrichment capability.

On the other hand, the author does paint a complex picture of political compulsions. US-Pakistan relationship had deteriorated after Butto's hanging. However, Iran had a revolution and a band of armed fundamentalists had taken over Mecca to overthrow the Saudi royal family. Rumors had spread in pakistan that Mossad with CIA's help had orchestrated the operation and an angry mob gathered at the US embassy in Pakistan and set it on fire. This had two consequences, (a) US pakistani relationship hit a new low (b) The muslim anger against the US had to be deflected. Hence Brezinski and Carter had a masterstroke. They would help the mujahideen against the Soviets and deflect muslim anger against godless communists. This would result in Pakistan being a reliable ally after the loss of Iran while counter balancing Soviet-leaning India with Pakistan, whose proliferation activities would be tolerated. A same situation arose after 2003 Iraq invasion. No WMDs were found, so the Bush government, desperately looking for progress along the proliferation front, took down AQK network and presented it as a great success. However, they did not ask for access to AQK nor prosecute his crimes fully, because skeletons would have started to tumble out from the cupboard.

Some juicy excerpts:
The Paki tendency to use baksheesh on their army has a long history
The United states had begun to question the wisdom of its alliance with Islamabad. American development aid had done little to improve Pakistan's fundamental economic and political weakness, while US military assistance had helped create a Pakisani defence behemoth that Islamabad could not sustain without continued american support....By 1957, (Eisenhower) concluded that US alliance with pakistan had been a "terrible error" (his words) {10 years after partition, Pakis were already showing sings of being...Pakis. Zia made us bad onleee is just an excuse}

The author makes an interesting point that the pakis had anticipated in 1965 that they cannot wrest JK from India if India had a nuclear weapon. So try tried a war, and failed. Then they hit upon an idea that they might be able to wrest JK from India if pakis had a weapon, and so started GUBO to tallel than mountain fliends.
The CIA report (in 1965) predicted that Islamabad might seek "tangible assistance" from China in the form of fissionable material, technical aid or even a completed weapon. It was a prescient assessment

Some interesting snippet here
{Khan had written to a scientist at Urenco asking him for drawings}. Veerman showed Khan's letter to his FDO supervisor. He was later picked up by Dutch security and held for two days. Government agents reportedly accused Veerman of spying, but veerman turned the tables, accusing them of allowing dangerous technology to leave the country. The agents finally sent Veerman home, telling him to keep his mouth shut "You many not talk about this anymore, it is dangerous for Holland"

Why Carter served only one term :shock:
Carter's mass firing at the CIA headquarters became known as the Halloween massacre. Many of the covert officers had been George HW Bush's subordinates when he was CIA director. When Bush ran for office, Carter found himself with scores of former high level intelligence officers doing everything they could to remove him (carter) from office. Led by Theodore C. Shackley, the CIA's associate deputy director for operations, many of these officers formed what would be a renegade CIA accountable not to the president, but to his political opponents :shock: . For a complete account, see Joseph Trento "Prelude to terror: The Rogue CIA and the Legacy of America's Private Intelligence Networks"

Will post the rest of the review once I am done.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 05 Apr 2009 00:19

Anujan wrote:
Why Carter served only one term :shock:
Carter's mass firing at the CIA headquarters became known as the Halloween massacre. Many of the covert officers had been George HW Bush's subordinates when he was CIA director. When Bush ran for office, Carter found himself with scores of former high level intelligence officers doing everything they could to remove him (carter) from office. Led by Theodore C. Shackley, the CIA's associate deputy director for operations, many of these officers formed what would be a renegade CIA accountable not to the president, but to his political opponents :shock: . For a complete account, see Joseph Trento "Prelude to terror: The Rogue CIA and the Legacy of America's Private Intelligence Networks"

This private network is closely connected the evangelical groups and have targeted India.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 05 Apr 2009 00:20

Inheritance of Empire: Britain, India, and the Balance of Power in Asia, 1938-55
by A. Martin Wainwright (Author)

# Hardcover: 256 pages
# Publisher: Praeger Publishers (November 30, 1993)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0275947335
# ISBN-13: 978-0275947330

On 14 August 1947 shortly before midnight, the appointed time at which India would gain de jure independence, Jawaharlal Nehru described the approaching moment as one "which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009

Postby svinayak » 07 Apr 2009 10:34

Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism
by Michael Burleigh (Author)

# Hardcover: 592 pages
# Publisher: Harper (March 3, 2009)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0061173851
# ISBN-13: 978-0061173851

Burleigh (Earthly Powers), one of the leading English-language scholars of the role of ideas in the modern world, makes another major contribution in this pull-no-punches cultural study of terrorism as it has been lived and practiced for a century and a half. Burleigh sees modern terrorism's roots in the mid–19th century, with the emergence of the Irish Fenians, the Russian nihilists, the Western anarchists who used fear induced by violence to compensate for their lack of political power. Their tactics were adopted in the mid–20th century by movements seeking decolonization, like the Palestinian Black September, Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's Red Army Faction. By century's end, terrorism further mutated into a tool for marginalized local nations like the Basques. Most recently, terrorism has become identified with what Burleigh calls the world rage of Islamism. Burleigh's case studies demonstrate mercilessly that terrorism is a career, a culture, and a way of life attractive for its own sake as well as its ostensible objectives. The terrorist milieu, the author demonstrates convincingly, is morally squalid, intellectually bankrupt and politically barren. Burleigh considers the lessons history has to teach us, though he eschews policy recommendations. (Mar.)

'Magisterial...broad in scope, powerful in its argument and brimming with healthy rage. (Burleigh's section on Isamist terrorism) sees him at his polemical best, exposing the multiple hypocrisies - and lazy thinking - of the Islamist terrorist with a sharpened pen...A riveting book.' Evening Standard 'This timely and important books' relevance is embracing. [Burleigh] is a clear--eyed historian!he sets his targets in context!and then pulverises them with an orderly and ceaseless barrage of facts. "Blood & Rage" is in all sorts of ways an outstanding book.' Daily Telegraph 'A magisterial tome, broad in scope, powerful in argument and brimming with healthy rage![a] riveting book.' Spectator 'The clearest, sanest and most knowledgeable voice is increasingly that of the historian Michael Burleigh. No one writes so well or so reliably, and this powerful book will give another boost to his reputation.' Daily Mail 'Written in Burleigh's usual cogent and trenchant style, the book can be highly recommended.' Sunday Telegraph 'Burleigh's evident ability to assimilate and communicate incisively!a highly intelligent and comprehensive survey of recent terrorism.' The Observer 'In this volume, the handiwork of terrorists over the course of a century and a half is described with remorseless, stomach-turning attention to detail!Burleigh's greatest virtue as a chronicler of violence is that he always lets the facts speak for themselves.' Mail on Sunday 'Rich, dense and polemical!a deft and judicious guide. The anger that informs the book is seldom allowed to cloud the author's judgement.' The Spectator 'Caustic and forthright!Burleigh offers a witty, robust and self--confident guide to a subject that regrettably now affects all our lives to some degree.' Daily Express 'Makes rollicking good reading!Burleigh is good at analysing the response to terrorism.' Sunday Times 'His barely suppressed rage, not only at the casual cruelty he describes, but also at the weaselly excuses and justifications of the terrorists' apologists, make his book - though far from a rant - a refreshing douche of cold anger at our weak postmodern moral evasions.' Sunday Times '[a] rich, dense and polemical primer on the modern history of political violence...full of rewarding detail.' Spectator 'Burleight offers a witty, robust and self-confident guide to a subject that regrettably now affects all our lives to some degree.' Daily Express 'In this volume, the handiwork of terrorists over the course of a century and a half is described with remoreseless, stomach-turning detail...Burleigh's greatest virtue as a chronicler of violence is that he always lets the facts speak for themselves.' Mail on Sunday "Blood and Rage' is undoubtedly ambitious...[and] Burleigh's evident ability to assimilate and communicate incisively is perfect.' Observer "Blood and Rage' is in all sorts of ways an outstanding book; it is also fuelled by the manic energy and focus of someone accelerating a truckload of intellectual high-explosives into the gates of a 'stunningly credulous soft-liberal establishment, composed of 'colluding' human rights lawyers and 'celebrity useful idiots" Telegraph 'The conservative historian Michael Burleigh has entered the fray with a more magesterial tome, broad in scope, powerful in argument and brimming with healthy rage' Scotsman 'His writing is direct, tough-minded and surprisingly positive about a subject that otherwise invites depression and pessimism...when victory is finally secured, after much pain for Mankind, future historians will cite books like 'Blood and Rage' as having shown us the way through the carnage.' Waterstone's Books Quarterly '["Earthly Powers"] is no dry academic thesis, but a passionate, highly opinionated!survey of the damage done to European civilisation by various creeds!fascinating, important and thought-provoking.' Sunday Telegraph

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