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A Plethora of New(ish) Books II.

Friday, September 16th, 2016

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for montefiore the romanovs  Image result for Sir Ken Robinson creative schools book  Image result for White world order black power politics 

Image result for Most Likely to succeed innovation education book  Image result for martin van creveld technology and war   Image result for Tough Liberal Al Shanker

   Image result for Tough Liberal Al Shanker  Image result for mercenaries in the classical world book

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson
White World Order, Black Power Politics by Robert Vitalis
Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the [….] by Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith
Technology and War by Martin van Creveld
Tough Liberal: Al Shanker and the Battle over Schools [….] by Richard Kahlenberg
With Arrow, Sword and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World by Alfred S. Bradford
The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein
Mercenaries in the Classical World by Stephen English

Long delayed part II.

Some repeat names in this batch; I have long been a fan of creativity theorist Sir Ken Robinson and eminent historians Simon Sebag Montefiore (Russia, USSR) and Martin van Creveld (War, Strategy) and own many of their other titles. These were easy choices – I’m curious to see how Montefiore’s Romanovs stacks up against the book of the same title by the late Russia scholar, W. Bruce Lincoln.

Some of these titles are outside my normal genres and political dispositions, but if you don’t read things that you might disagree with you’ll never learn anything new. The Vitalis book on the influence of African-American scholars on the evolution of international relations came highly recommended to me by Daniel Nexon so I thought I’d give it a go. The Shanker book I thought was interesting because Al Shanker was not only instrumental in shaping the teaching profession and unionism, he was a “Cold War liberal” and tough anti-communist of the kind the often bloody trade-union wars between the democratic Left and the pro-Soviet Communists in mid-century produced.

What are you reading?

A Plethora of New(ish) Books I.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Image result for goddess of the market  Image result for a gentle madness  Image result for small wars and faraway places burleigh

Image result for warfare in antiquity delbruck    Image result for on killing  Image result for Gulag applebaum  Image result for muqqadimah   Image result for denial klehr haynes  Image result for the restoration of rome Image result for excellent sheep

Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns
A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Small Wars, Faraway Places by Michael Burleigh
Warfare in Antiquity by Hans Delbruck
The Libertarian Mind by David Boaz
On Killing by LTC. Dave Grossman
Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun
In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage by John Earl Hynes and Harvey Klehr
The Restoration of Rome by Peter Heather
Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz

Nothing makes me happier than buying a new batch of books. So I did. In a large enough number to require two separate posts.

A Gentle Madness intrigued me, naturally enough, when I caught it years ago on the old C-Span Booknotes program, the book jacket mirrors the look of the old, fine press, book cover. Some of the authors, Burleigh, Boaz, Haynes and Klehr have written works I have enjoyed and already have on my shelf ( I used to be on a listserv with the last authors years ago in the pre-blogging era. Careful and smart scholars they were). On Killing is widely cited and remains controversial in military academic circles and two of the other books are classics.

I’m not reading any of these books at present. My time is currently occupied by with The Landmark Thucydides in preparation for the upcoming Thucydides Roundtable in October and also with Coming Apart by libertarian intellectual and gadfly Charles Murray (seemed appropriate given the election cycle).

What are you reading?

New Books

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]


Hitler’s Warrior: The Life and Wars of SS Colonel Jochen Peiper by Danny S. Parker

The Restoration of Rome by Peter Heather

Interestingly enough, the author of The Restoration of Rome is a professor at King’s College London which is also home to the War Studies Department at which a number of friends of ZP have studied and whose scholars have produced many fine books on strategy and military history. Professor Heather has included an array of excellent color photographs in The Restoration of Rome, an expensive choice that few publishers these days willingly go along with but which enhance the readers enjoyment. He is free with the inclusion of maps as well.

I am not familiar with Peiper, though he seemed to have been a swashbuckling character who had  earned a reputation for extreme bravery and recklessness on the battlefield. A convicted war criminal in the Malmedy Massacre who had also served on the personal staff of Heinrich Himmler,  Peiper died under mysterious circumstances in a raging gun battle in 1976 in Traves, France.

New Book- The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House

Friday, March 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a  “zen“]

The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House […] by Zalmay Khalilzad

Just received a courtesy review copy of The Envoy, the memoir of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, from Christine at St. Martin’s Press.

Khalilzad was part of a small group of diplomatic troubleshooters and heavy hitters for the second Bush administration, whose numbers included John Negroponte, Ryan Crocker and John Bolton who were heavily engaged during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like the others, Khalilzad had held a variety of important policy posts at State, the NSC and the Department of Defense before assuming ambassadorial duties; the bureaucratic experience, ties to senior White House officials and the exigencies of counterinsurgency warfare would make these posts more actively proconsular than was typical for an American ambassador.   Indeed, the endorsements on the book jacket, which include two former Secretaries of State, a former Secretary of Defense and a former CIA Director testify to the author’s political weight in Khalilzad’s years of government service.

It’s been a while since I have read a diplomatic memoir, so I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Khalilzad treats Afghanistan’s early post-Taliban years, given that he personally is a bridge from the Reagan policy of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahedin to the toppling of the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and helping to organize the new Afghan state. Khalilzad is also, of course, an Afghan by birth, giving him greater insight into that country’s complex political and social divisions than most American diplomats could muster.

I will give The Envoy a formal review in the future but Khalizad has given a synopsis of where he thinks American policy went awry in Afghanistan over at Thomas E. Rick’s Best Defense blog.

REVIEW: The Last of the President’s Men

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward

Last of the President’s Men is a short but revealing work by Bob Woodward, the prolific author on American presidents who returns full circle to the subject that made Woodward a celebrity journalist, Richard Nixon and Watergate. Specifically, Last of the President’s Men is about the relationship between Richard Nixon and Alexander Butterfield, the man who revealed to the world Nixon’s secret White House taping system which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation under the sure threat of impeachment. Butterfield, who unsuccessfully attempted a book of his own, is virtually Woodward’s co-author here and it is Butterfield’s voluminous personal papers, carted out from his White House office against the rules and hidden away for decades, that serve as the evidentiary basis of this book.

Aside from the precise description of how the taping system came to be installed in the Oval Office, a task Nixon’s feared chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, delegated to Butterfield, the focus is on Butterfield’s role as a top aide to both Nixon and Haldeman, a post to which Butterfield ascended only with considerable difficulty after first navigating Richard Nixon’s neurotic quirks, becoming in essence, “Haldeman’s Haldeman”.  Butterfield does not come across as an entirely admirable character. Like Mark Felt who in turning informer during Watergate had acted out of frustrated ambition, Alexander Butterfield’s betrayal of Richard Nixon had less to do with safeguarding the Constitution from an out of control president than the reaction of an unappreciated servant who had noted every slight and had nursed his grievances.

What shines through in the story is how truly weird and brittle Nixon had become in dealing with other human beings by the time he had reached the presidency. It is very difficult to reconcile the Richard Nixon of The Last of the President’s Men who had paralyzing anxiety attacks over working with – or even meeting- new staff with the Nixon who wrangled with lawyers, FBI agents and fellow Congressmen in investigating Alger Hiss, who forcefully debated Nikita Khrushchev or who remained steady when his limousine was attacked by a Communist mob in Venezuela. Perhaps Nixon grew worse with age or perhaps as president, Nixon finally had the means to keep unwanted people – and that would be nearly everyone – at bay. The portrait painted by Woodward of Richard Nixon is of a desperately lonely, misanthropic figure, inept at and pained by normal social relations to such an extent that he kept even his wife and children at a strange remove.


Yet Nixon had his gifts and even Woodward allows this, particularly his “strategic mind” which Woodward credits for Nixon managing to retain to this day, admirers. Nixon, for all his social awkwardness (which in sections is  downright painful to read and I speak as someone deeply versed in things Nixon) had a penetrating intelligence that let him understand the board and the players, the moves they might make and their strengths and weaknesses of which Nixon might take advantage. Had Richard Nixon not outsmarted himself with the taping system that Butterfield meticulously oversaw, he most likely would have prevailed in Watergate over his enemies and left office after two full terms. Nixon was far smarter than his critics gave him credit at the time and far more ruthlessly manipulative than his defenders are willing to concede to this day.

The Last of the President’s Men is fast read but an interesting one. Recommended.

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