winterbadger: (pooh tao)
So, January was very busy for me book-wise:

Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran by Roxana Saberi (1) Interesting account of an Iranian-American journalist who was arrested and imprisoned briefly in Tehran on trumped-up espionage charges. Listened to it on CD, read by the author. Because the book is primarily about her experience in the political section of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, one gets very little perspective on Iranian society in general. But she does paint some interesting and engaging portraits of the interrogators and officials she deals with and, even more, of the other prisoners she encounters after her intitial period of solitary confinement. I read a number of the reviews of this book on Amazon after listenign to it on CD, and I found several good characterizations of it. I certainly agree with one of the commentators who grows restive with Saberi's whiny, self-pitying tone. She never endures any real hardship, and she seems inclined to overdramatize both her shame (after she initially decides to "confess" in hopes that it will get her released) and her heroism (when she subsequently decides to engage in hunger strikes to pressure her captors).

Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (2) Another novel by the excellent Furst, who is a great writer of historical thrillers set in the era before and during the Second World War and usually featuring some combination of espoionage and military affairs. This tells the story of the French military attache in Warsaw in the last few years before the outbreak of war, as he runs agents, conducts intelligence gathering himself, and romances a beautiful woman (or two). Mostly mellow (but not boring) with occasional bursts of chilling action, and full of convincing period detail.

The Monkey's Wedding by Joan Aiken (3) I'm always stumbling across new collections of Aiken's short storie, which I have been reading (along with her YA fiction and her novels) since childhood. This is a typical collection of her worK: some of the short stories it contains are whimsical, some gruesome, some mournful, and some simply odd. Lots of magical realism to be found in her stories, and a great del of fun as well.

FDR: The First Hundred Days by Anthony J. Badger (4) An excellent introduction to the subject, but for the novice a bit like drinking from a firehose. The names, dates, associations, and legislative histories come think and fast in this relatively short work (in recorded form it is just five CDs). While it's engaging, it only scrapes the surface of any of its subjects. I learned a great deal about the causes of the banking crisis, some of it quite different to the common conceptions of the origins of the Great Depression. The parallels to the Great Recession are many and startling; the biggest difference is the extensive cooepration that FDR got from his party and the Republicans. He was by no means popular with everyone, and resistance to the New Deal existed and grew during its lifetime, but he was always able to find sufficient legislative support for the policies he pursued. Part of that came from his strong support among Southern Democrats, cultivated over many years. (Blacks were more or less entirely shut out of the New Deal planning and implementation and hardly even considered at all during FDR's administration.) Part of his support came from a group almost unknown today, the Progressive Republicans who had backed his cousin Theodore Roosevelt; though not so much like those who call themselves progressive in today's politics, they were worlds ahead of the current mainstream of Republican thinking, being concerned to constrain business and industry far enough to make life fair and bearable for the working man.

Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke's Drift by Mike Snook (5) The second half of Snook's pair on the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, this tells of the British victory in the early stage of the campaign that served to leaven the disaster of the battle of Isandhlwana. The small garrison of a two-building supply depot guarding a river crossing managed to hold out against the reserve corps of the Zulu army. Snook examines the events immediately preceeding the "siege", the battle itself, the immediate aftermath, and the remainder of the campaign. Like any good storyteller who has given you deep and interesting portraits of a variety of chacters, Snook provides details of what happened to the major protagonists (and some of the supporting characters) throughout the rest of their lives. The book brings the invaluable perspective of a professional military man to examining the action. Snook has spent a good deal of time in the region, and he served most of his career in the modern descendant of the 24th Foot, the principal Regular Army unit invovled at both Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. His officer's eye view gives the reader information and an understanding of the combats (and the campaign overall) that few (possibly none) of the other well known writers on the campaign could supply. On the other hand, he seems (to me) a little too ready to show solidarity with some of the actors and excuse faults or put the best construction on a situation in order to preserve the reputation of his regiment and of the Army as a whole. I'm also inclined to think that a professional historian would manage to supress his inclination to snipe at characters he dislikes a little better than Snook does. But this pair of books remain, in my opinion, both invaluable and long-overdue analyses of the opening stages of the 1879 campaign.

Four by Jonathan Gash. He's a writer of mysteries centered around an antique dealer, Lovejoy, who lives near Colchester in Essex. He's an expert in many fields of the antiques trade, a diviner (able to suss out true antiques, whether he can analyze them or not), perpetually skint, and a cheerfully sexist womanizer. The stories follow a predictable pattern. Someone involves Lovejoy in a hunt for a specific treasured antiqu; he is or becomes invovled with one or more women; violence ensures--usually someone close to him is killed or injured and he goes out looking for revenge and the antique; more violence happens--Lovejoy getting his revenge...and the antique. Curtain. So, formulaic, but the stories are kind of a delivery mechanism for the things that Gash has learned about hunting for--or faking--antiques, which is quite a lot and certainly interesting. There's usually some location that we learn about too, often as part of the climactic events.

The Judas Pair (6): in which we learn about flintlock weapons, especially duelling pistols. No specific location.
Gold From Gemini (7): in which we learn about Roman Britain, especially coins. Location: the Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man.
The Grail Tree (8): in which we learn about religious relics, especially a cup that may be the True Grail. Location: Colchester Castle.
Spend Game (9): in which we learn about early railways. Location: a fictional failed railway, possibly modeled on the Colne Valley Railway.

In progress:
The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 by Michael Beschloss
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (books)
Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel by Max Blumenthal (14): This needs an entry of its own, as my reading of it and my reactions to it are tied up in a whole lot of other things. Suffice to say that it demonstrates in detail how Israel has transformed itself into the sort of despotic, racist, hate-filled state that Jews were trying to escape when they fled to Palestine.

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick (15): A bit Time magazine in its breathless prose, but an interesting (and sad) account of the recruitment of a Jordanian, arrested for acting as a jihadi propagandist, as a spy inside al-Qa'ida. As the title indicates, I'm not giving the game away by revealing that the recruitment doesn't exactly go as planned, and the spy turns out never to have been turned.

Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future by Stephen Kinzer (16): A rather fascinating book, part history, part policy proposal. The author (who wrote an excellent book, All the Shah's Men, on the US overthrow of the last democratic Iranian government, which I reviewed in 2009) proposes that the US needs to rebuild its relationships with Turkey and Iran and distance itself from its toxic connections to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs (17): A fun kids' book that JMR had on the shelf. A tale of the classic unpopular grade school boy and his funky female best friend, perhaps not so classically endowed with a wizard uncle and *his* powerful witch lady friend who lives next door. Our hero finds an old charm that may or may not be magical, and adventures ensue. I liked this a great deal, partly because I *was* that chubby kid in school who was too smart, too sensitive, didn't do sports, and liked building model ships. I also like it because the story is detailed and more complex than a lot of stories of its type, with richer characters, lots of backstory, and real connections between the characters and the adventure, instead of

In progress:
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz
winterbadger: (books)
Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fisher (21) This is a remarkably good book. I loved almost all of it and was very sorry when I was done with it. I borrowed it on CD from the library, but I will be sure to buy a copy. It gave me all sorts of ideas for wargames, for short fiction, and for work that might be interesting to do in real history. It takes the reader from the beginning of the Revolution through the aftermath of the American winter campaign in the Jerseys of 1776/1777. It includes excellent character studies of Washington and a number of his officers and some of the same (though not as comprehensive) for the British high command. Between this and other books, my appreciation for Washington, Knox, Greene, the Howe brothers, and Cornwallis (some of them already high) have grown, while my opinions of Charles Lee and Henry Clinton have plummeted. Some of the most interesting part of the book is the very detailed treatment of the British occupation of the Jerseys in the summer and autumn of 1776 and the winter campaign that followed. My only criticisms of the book are (1) that Fisher seems to challenge all of the casualty reports from the British while seeming to unquestioningly accept all those by the rebels and (2) that Fisher goes much too far, in my opinion, in trying to find relevance in current events for his work. History is worth researching and writing for any number of reasons, most of all simply for the sake of better understanding the past. A slavish insistence on being able to draw direct and immediate lessons for today from events 230+ years ago detracts from, rather than enhances, the value of a history book, IMNSHO.

Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (22) I've not yet read the same author's Lipstick Jihad, but this book makes me want to. This is an account of several years' life in Tehran, written by an Iranian-American journalist who met and married a German-Iranian man, started a family, and tried as best they could to build a life in Iran. Despite loving their country and their culture and having deep family roots there, they eventually found life under the Islamic Republic too arbitrary and stifling and left to live abroad. It gives a great perspective on life in modern Iran. I do have a few doubts as to the definitiveness of the author's take on Iranian public opinion and satisfaction with the regime; she comes from a very western-oriented, upper-middle class to upper class family from Tehran, and her time in the country outside the capitol seems to have been quite limited, as does her day to day insight into the lives of less western, less well off families. Nonetheless, she did travel widely and talked to a lot of people, and she is a useful corrective to what I see as some grievous misperceptions about Iran and its people in the west. Many Iranians detest Ahmadinejad and dislike the strictures imposed by his government and the religious authorities, but pressure from abroad will simply cause most Iranians the rally around the government they dislike.

The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley (23) I'd read this several years ago, but reclaimed it when we were going through my mum's remaining effects in storage. It's great fun in and of itself, and I also like it because it involves the same French court figures as Dorothy Dunnett's Francis Crawford books, overlapping the end of her series and mentioning a couple of important events that her characters also experience (the disastrous battle of St Quentin, England's final loss of Calais to the French). As she always does, Riley creates wonderful, engaging characters (even the baddies are appealing) and deals (as far as I know) with great respect for history, not mashing it around just to make her plot how she likes it (though, of course, when your characters speak to angels and demons, there's always a little bit of leeway from history that has to be accounted for. :-) I'm always torn between wanting to study 18th and early 19th century American and European history and wanting to study Early Modern (16th and 17th century) Europe. If I eventually go the latter route, it will in part be the fault of Dunnett and Riley.

In progress:
The Phantom Major by Virginia Cowles
Dolly and the Bird of Paradise by Dorothy Dunnett
Drinking Arak Off an Ayatollah's Beard: A Journey Through the Inside-Out Worlds of Iran and Afghanistan by Nicholas Jubber
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell
Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775 by Thomas Desjardins
The Western Front: Ordinary Soldiers and the Defining Battles of World War I by Richard Holmes
Knights of the Cross; or, Krzyzacy by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle

I trimmed off a number of others that I've started but haven't actually been reading recently. If they get revived, they go back on the list.
winterbadger: (iran)
Modern Persian has a whole slew of loanwords from French.
winterbadger: (iran)
Chuck Hagel is no firebrand. I don't agree with him about everything, but he's a careful, thoughtful observer.
I don’t think that we are necessarily locked into one of two options. And that’s the way it’s presented. We are great in this country and in our politics of responding to false choices; we love false choices.
This is so very true; Americans love forcing everything into binary choices: black or white, good or bad, yes or not, enemy or ally. The world, the real world outside our effed up consciousness, is not like that.

We Americans have this frame of reference … we see a problem, there has to be a solution... Well, the kind of complicated world we live in, I’m not sure there’s a solution to everything right now. What you have to do is manage it so it doesn’t get worse, manage it toward a higher ground of solution possibilities.
It takes a smart man to see that there isn't an (immediate) solution to every question.

I like what he says about Obama too. Why do we have so few of these people left in politics? What happened to "respectfully disagree"? It's all Cleon nowadays, and far too few Pericles.
winterbadger: (books2)
35/50 Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden. Read more... )
winterbadger: (books2)
Despite doing a fair bit of reading (not of books) for my class, I've been keeping up the reading/listening. Read more... )
winterbadger: (iran)
Top story on the front e-page, with art? A Barbie doll convention.

22 stories down the page, after important news like Canada's Wafergate scandal (also with photo), grad school tests, yet another investigation of Marion Barry, baseball scores, train service, and fashion clashes: a five-word, tiny-font headline for their coverage of yesterday's street protests in Iran.

Nothing like having your priorities straight!
winterbadger: (islam)
The news from the Middle East is impressively bad--Christmas seems to bring out the worst in all the actors there, for some reason.

However, I can strongly recommend that if you are interested in getting a good grounding in the background and current state of politics, society, and human rights in the Islamic states of the Middle East and North Africa, I can strongly recommend Robin Wright's Dreams and Shadows. I listened to the unabridged recording and, apart from the really atrocious job the reader did of mangling Arabic and Persian names, it was excellent and had me riveted the whole time.Read more... )
winterbadger: (islam)
Comments from my prof on my term paper:

I fully concur with your closing note here… Your paper significantly advanced the class in their overall knowledge base of the region… at first I was concerned that it might be too regionally narrow, focused on Iran alone as it was… yet its implications for the wider politics and cultural milieu of the region became manifest early on in the reading

Well written (of course), solidly researched, and an easy and informative read… just reaching assignment parameters, but its overall quality somewhat atoned for that…
Nice work! 98%

Those barmy enough to be interested in reading ~15 pages on "The Influence Of Britain And Russia On Iran Before And During The World Wars" are welcome to a copy by email. ;-)
winterbadger: (islam)
Another essay for my class, written early because I have other assignments I'll need to be doing this week. Read more... )
winterbadger: (iraq)
Is it possible that the administration is overreaching even within their own coterie of neo-con nutballs? Is someone finally willing to say to the Vice President "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

Read this, but read it through to the end.


Feb. 5th, 2007 02:02 pm
winterbadger: (islam)
also found in one of [ profile] percyprune's latest postings:

the coming war with Iran
Read more... )


winterbadger: (Default)

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