zenpundit.com » book

Archive for the ‘book’ Category

Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

Share

More Books for the Antilibrary

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]
        

 Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics by Frederic Spotts 

Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind by Mark Pagel 

How Hitler Could have Won WWII by Bevin Alexander

The American Way of War: A History of American Military Strategy and Policy by Russell F. Weigley 

All the Factors of Victory by Thomas Wildenberg 

The Longest War by Peter Bergen 

In my struggle with my Antilibrary, I must concede the Antilibrary has won. It has become the “research tool” that Nassim Nicholas Taleb once advised and I have small hope of ever reading through it, given my rate of book purchases:

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. he is the owner of a large personal library ( containing thirty thousand books), and separates vistors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and others – a very small minority- who get the point that a private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You wil accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growig number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.

I am also currently, temporarily out of shelf space and I am pondering the future, when the Eldest goes to college, how much of a library could be shelved in her room ;) I find, in wistful moments, that it would also be nice, if some eccentric billionaire handed out “reading fellowships” to itinerant bloggers to retire to a cabin, a lighthouse or a hermitage for a year of reading. I could put a sizable dent in the antilibrary that way and would come out of the affair having greatly added to my store of knowledge.

Of the books above, I am most interested in Spotts’ take on Hitler and the Arts. Following the historical example of Jacques Louis David during the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s regime, Fascism and National Socialism harnessed the power of music, architecture, poetry, sculpture, choreography and cinema in particular for political purposes that were sometimes monumental and dramatic  triumphs of propaganda and at times tawdry, comical or sterile gestures of bureaucratic totalitarianism. Hitler, to his dying day, conceived of himself as an “artist”, something he vaguely held to be of a station above that of a politician or military leader.  Hitler intervened in the arts in the Reich and conquered Europe in ways both trivial and criminal and possessed an intuitive judgement on the mass psychological effects of design and image. The Fuhrer used his powers to collect the art of a minor 19th century symbolist painter, Franz Stuck, he dictated what was to be considered “degenerate art“, personally tore up the draft records of German artists to spare them conscription, waded deeply into the details of massive building projects, critiquing designs and conferring with architects like Paul Troost  and Albert Speer.

All the Factors of Victory intrigues me primarily because my reading in naval history and strategy is very limited.

Comments welcome….

Share

REVIEW: The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Monday, August 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss 

Some biographies are as much about the era or the milieu as the man. The Orientalist is one of them.

This is not to say that Tom Reiss has written a bad book. On the contrary, it is an enlightening and informative one, even for someone well read in the history of Russia and Germany in the twentieth century, will find that The Orientalist has a rich store of little known anecdotes. In an effort to unlock the mystery of “Kurban Said“, the alleged author of the modern Azeri national epic, Ali and Nino: A Love Story, whose identity is hotly disputed, Reiss became a cultural archaeologist excavating the graveyards of Empires, Tsarist, Wilhemine and Ottoman. It was a search that brought Reiss to a remarkable character, Lev “Essad Bey” Nussimbaum, who had narrowly escaped the Bolshevik CHEKA, made fame and fortune as a literary freebooter in Weimar Germany only to sink into obscurity during WWII, dying in poverty and illness in Fascist Italy.

Lev, who was the son of a millionaire Russian-Jewish oil magnate from Baku, was a cultural chameleon, reinventing himself numerous times, converting to Islam, passing himself off variously as Muslim prince, a Transcaucasian “Wild Jew”, Orientalist scholar, monarchist and anti-Communist writer, briefly a literary star on Germany’s radical far Right. Even in the early days of the Third Reich, despite accusations of being a “Jewish story-swindler”, the many anti-Soviet books of “Essad Bey” were warmly endorsed by Josef Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda for reading by the Nazi Party faithful. The famous individuals who reputedly crossed Lev’s path are remarkable - Joseph Stalin, Fyodor Vinberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Walter Benjamin,  Giovanni Gentile, Walter Mehring,  Benito Mussolini, Egon Kisch, George Sylvester Viereck, Grand Duke Cyril Romanov, Max Brod, Stefan Zwieg, Hertha Pauli, and Ezra Pound among others.  “Essad Bey” was the denouement of the respectable intellectual tradition of 19th century Orientalism, particularly that of Jewish European scholars and ethnographer-explorers. Lev Nussimbaum was less a Martin Buber (whom Lev knew) than he was the Karl May of the East, a dime store mythologizer of  Transcaucasia, old Qajar Persia and Islam for popular audiences accustomed to a tabloid press.

Essad Bey as a character reflects the contradictions and juxtapositions of an interwar Europe, especially Germany, ravaged by the Great War and Communist Revolution in ways that would be highly improbable today.  Lev was a talented writer, a  Jewish refugee who was an exponent of Islam and an admirer of Fascism, more glib than insightful, more clever than wise, at home playing the outsider but his place never secure. When the official black sedans of the Fascist secret police rolled up to an ailing Lev’s hotel and found him dead, villagers assumed the OVRA men where there to arrest “the Muslim”; in reality, it was to take Lev to make wartime propaganda broadcasts for Italy in Persian.

Recommended.

Share

New E-Book from John Robb

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have been a long time fan of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog for many years and strongly recommend his military theory book  Brave New War for anyone interested in changes in warfare in the 21st century.  If you have been following GG, you know that John’s interests have turned in recent years  from the destructive part of  Boyd’s strategic continuum (tactics-operations/grand tactics -strategy) more toward the constructive ( grand strategy – theme for vitality and growth) with increasing examination of economic, ethical, legal, cultural and moral dimensions of societal rule-sets.

John has a new E-Book out, first of a series, that lays out his thinking in this area and how we can fix what ails America.

The American Way

My new booklet, “The American Way” is now on Amazon.  

If you are wondering what is wrong with America.  This booklet provides a concise answer.  

Also, this booklet provides a way to get us back on a path towards economic progress.  

Be forewarned, this booklet is just the start.  I’ll have more concrete ways to do it in booklets to be released over the next three months.  

Enjoy.  

PS:  I’ve got a booklet on iWar coming out next month too.

John gave me a preview of the manuscript and I thoroughly endorse the direction in which he is going with The American Way. America’s economic and political problems and strategic dysfunction have epistemological and moral roots.

Share

Many New Books

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]
            

Buda’s wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb by Mike Davis

An Enemy we Created by Alex Strick van Linschoten & Felix Kuehn 

A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade  

The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made can set Big things in Motion  by John Hagel, John Seely Brown & Lang Davison

Radical-in-Chief by Stanley Kurtz 

Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence & the Arab Revolt by James Schneider

Stalin’s General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov by Geoffrey Roberts 

Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of Crossfit and the Primal Future of Fitness by J.C. Herz

Almost finished with a very lengthy book review of  American Spartan: The Promise, the Mission, and the Betrayal of Special Forces Major Jim Gant by Ann Scott Tyson. Have probably three to five more paragraphs to go, so that should be up in a day or two. The books above are what I have purchased in the interim.

Most of these books, though not all, are controversial. Or their authors may be.  Nicholas Wade was recently fired  retired from his longtime gig as the science editor for The New York Times because his book explored the biological/evolutionary aspect of race;  British historian Geoffrey Roberts has been accused by other scholars of being an apologist and sympathizer with Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin; and conservative writer Stanley Kurtz’s investigation of President Obama’s personal ties to radical extremists made him the beta noire  of the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. In other cases, it is the topic that is controversial – the nature of the Taliban-al Qaida relationship, the historical importance of Lawrence of Arabia or the value of Crossfit as a model of exercise ( the intensity of feelings about Crossfit seems to surpass that of mere partisan politics or debating the best anti-terrorism strategy).

Readers who have read any of these, or who are reading something else we all should know about, are welcome to sound off in the comments. I will get to some of these before summer’s end, but not all.

Share

Switch to our mobile site