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Showing posts from January, 2010

Spy vs. Spy

It is really hard to gauge what makes for a good spy book by the cover, but ever since the release of the Mitrokhin Archives, there has been a new round of books on Cold War espionage.  Some recent titles include:

Tim Weiner’s engrossing, comprehensive Legacy of Ashes is a litany of failure, from the C.I.A.’s early days, when hundreds of agents were dropped behind the Iron Curtain to be killed or doubled (almost without exception), to more recent humiliations, like George Tenet's now infamous “slam dunk” line.

In the “maze of mirrors,” as Bagley describes the spy-vs.-spy game in his dense but often fascinating cold war memoir, Spy Wars, things were often not what they appeared to be. To find out whether Nosenko was telling the truth, the C.I.A. decided to squeeze him a little.

The old saying that one cannot judge a book by its cover could be tweaked to observe that sometimes one cannot glean the truth by a book's title. This is especially so in the case of  Spies: The Rise and F…


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Game Change

With apologies, I know I won't be able to resist sharing all the juicy bits from this book, so thought I'd start a separate place to put them. I read the first two chapters last night and was in serious danger of reading it through to the end. Fascinating!

Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates

Interesting study by Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates,

One immediate effect of the American Revolution, however, was to strengthen the hand of those very same North African potentates: roughly speaking, the Maghrebian provinces of the Ottoman Empire that conform to today’s Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. Deprived of Royal Navy protection, American shipping became even more subject than before to the depredations of those who controlled the Strait of Gibraltar. The infant United States had therefore to decide not just upon a question of national honor but upon whether it would stand or fall by free navigation of the seas.

Hitchens also reinforces Wills' contention that,

There is of course another connection between 1805 and 1812. Renewed hostilities with Britain on the high seas and on the American mainland, which did not terminate until the Battle of New Orleans, might have ended less conclusively had the United States not developed a battle-ha…

State of the Union

I thought it was a very good address that Obama delivered, touching almost all the key points that have come to shape the "national debate" over the past 6 months.  I liked the way he defined the debt, making it clear how much was his due to the Recovery Plan, and how much he inherited.  I also liked the way he defined the Recovery Plan, noting how much it has helped America stave off what very easily could have been another Great Depression.

Sadly, much of what he said probably went unheard by the Conservative Right, as witnessed in the GOP response to Obama's address.  It seems this is a party that simply refuses to acknowledge past mistakes, as it just keeps repeating the same old message.  To hear the Republicans picking up on the national debt theme again would make me laugh if it wasn't for the sad fact that many fools out there will buy into it.  Until the GOP acknowledges that its policies over the last 30 years contributed to the situation we currently find …

Triumph of the Nerds

Seeing the anniversary note of Apple Macintosh brought to mind a wonderful documentary, Triumph of the Nerds, I saw years ago on the creation of the personal home computer.  Very well done, capturing the idiosyncrasies of these computer and software pioneers and developers.  It is also available on DVD.

There was also a good book written back in the the mid 90s, Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland, that gave a witty inside view of Microsoft and the attempt of a few of these computer geeks to branch off on their own.

Meandering River Wampool for the Weekend

This seemed to sum up what happened in Massachusetts.

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

On January, 18, 2010, people of all ages and backgrounds will come together to improve lives, bridge social barriers, and move our nation closer to the “Beloved Community” that Dr. King envisioned. Dr. Martin Luther King devoted his life’s work to causes of equality and social justice. He taught that through nonviolence and service to one another, problems such as hunger and homelessness, prejudice and discrimination can be overcome. Dr. King’s teachings can continue to guide us in addressing our nation’s most pressing needs---poverty, economic insecurity, job loss and education.

The History of the USA During the First Term of James Madison

I found this link to Henry Adams History of the United States of America During the First Term of James Madison.  It was too big for the title link.  Adams' books on Madison have been bound into a single volume by the Library of America.  I liked Wills discussion of this text in his book on Henry Adams, as Wills has a deep understanding of this tumultuous time in American History.  Madison and the US liked to think of itself as a major player, but as far as England and France were concerned, or for that matter Spain, the US was incidental to the events taking place in Europe.  Of course, the US would eventually get the last laugh.

A Serbian Meander for the Weekend

Steamboat Willie

Who'd ever think something as big as Disney could grow from this mischievous deckhand.  Love those old cartoons and the fun others have had with them, like Berkley Breathed's Mortimer Mouse, which was apparently the originally intended name for Mickey.

Here's the restored original, courtesy of Youtube.

James Madison by Garry Wills

In this concise and marvelously readable examination of Madison's life and career, the renowned historian Garry Wills outlines the confluence of unfortunate circumstance, misplaced temperament, and outright poor judgment that bogged down Madison's presidency. Though a brilliant theoretician and effective legislator and collaborator, he was not a natural leader of men, and the absence of leadership was keenly felt during wartime. In fact, the War of 1812 was the first foreign war fought under the Constitution, and Madison was forced to adjust many of the assumptions he had made during the drafting of that document. He had to confront hard, practical issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress, and the independence of the military. Though now remembered in part for fleeing the capital as it was under siege, Madison saw his administration come to a close with his popularity on the rise.

American Presidents Series

Very nice site on this series.  Seems like Sean Wilentz has taken over for Schlesinger.

Flashman for Freedom!

A lot of interesting new titles at Everyman's Library.  Flashman caught my eye.  This volume binds three of Fraser's witty tales together, including the hilarious Flash for Freedom! in which he finds himself as a fugitive slave in America and brushing shoulders with young Congressman Lincoln.

A New Year, a New Weekend, a New Meander

As If an Enemy's Country

It seems the Oxford University Press is one of the best places to turn for American history, especially early American history.  Here's another title by OUP that caught my attention,

Archer captures the popular mobilization under the leadership of John Hancock and Samuel Adams that met the oppressive imperial measures--most notably the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act--with demonstrations, Liberty Trees, violence, and non-importation agreements. When the British government decided to garrison Boston with troops, it posed a shocking challenge to the people of Massachusetts. The city was flooded with troops; almost immediately, tempers flared and violent conflicts broke out. Archer's vivid tale culminates in the swirling tragedy of the Boston Massacre and its aftermath, including the trial and exoneration of the British troops involved.

A thrilling and original work of history, As If an Enemy's Country tells the riveting story of what made the Boston townspeople, and with them ot…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Very interesting new title,

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

A Country of Vast Designs

Looks like a very interesting new book on the vast territorial expansion that took place during Polk's term.  The link is to a NYTimes book review by Sean Wilentz,

Robert W. Merry’s book is a refreshing challenge to the new conventional wisdom. Polk, in Merry’s view, certainly was an ambitious expansionist, but in this he merely reflected the electorate’s passionate desire to push the country ever westward. Enlarging and then consolidating the United States as a transcontinental nation would, by the lights of Polk and his supporters, greatly enhance the wealth, power and legitimacy of what was still, in 1845, the lone democratic republic in a world ruled by monarchs, despots and aristocrats. 

Mexico, far from being a passive, innocent victim of America’s lust for power and land, was ruled by a succession of corrupt, conservative, autocratic and truculent governments that administered a republic in name only, one that was distorted by centuries of domination by the Spanish crown and …

Meander into the New Year!

Crumb's "Heroes of the Blues"

Speaking of trading cards, Robert Crumb came out with a series of Blues, Jazz and Country trading cards in 1980, which had brief bios on the back.  These cards were eventually collected into a book that comes with a very nice CD.  Crumb himself loves picking on the banjo.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story

I see they've come out with reprints of this book and others in the MLK series.  Here's a link to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.