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The Antilibrary of the Living Dead

Friday, November 30th, 2012

From time to time we talk here about “the pile” of books waiting to be read, or the larger “Antilibrary” which briefly also became a blog, now defunct:

….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 growing 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.

-    Nassim Nicholas Taleb 

It occurred to me the other day, that the Antilibrary contains some unread books that, while bought we the best of intentions, perhaps even an air of anticipation, yet were never read – and at the current rate of new book purchases, never will be. To get “living dead” status a book needs to have been sitting on a shelf for a minimum of five years (the archives of book collectors don’t count since they are buying to own or invest and not always to read) and ten is even better. Here are a few of mine:

Tecumseh: A Lifeby John Sugden

My only explanation is that this one was a gift by a well-meaning friend who knew in a vague sort of way that I am “into history”. I really don’t care very much about Tecumseh and still less about his brother the Prophet ( maybe if he had a better handle on the prophecy thing their confederation would have won).

The Oak and the Calf by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This has been sitting on my shelf for 20+ years. This is odd, because I’ve read The Gulag Archipelago twice, along with Cancer Ward,  The First Circle and August 1914.  Not sure if I burned out on Russian-Soviet studies at the time or if the collapse of Communism made it less relevant but it has never been cracked open.

Conquest by Hugh Thomas

Sweeping, magisterial, impressively detailed…..and decidedly unread for at least 15 years.

Nietzsche by Rudiger Safranski

As my Great-great Grandfather hailed from Germany, I now suspect the author may be a distant relation. That hasn’t helped me get started reading it.

Does America Need a Foreign Policy by Henry Kissinger

One of the more ironically-timed books ever written, coming out a mere six months before 9/11, I have had this one for 10 years + and I think I bought it in hardcover for $4 (you can it used on Amazon for one cent. Ouch!). I have read a fair amount of Kissinger, including his acromegalic, multi-volume memoirs, but I can’t muster the energy to read this one.

What are you not reading and why?

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Guest Post: Deichman Reviews Senator’s Son

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

My friend and sometime co-author Shane Deichman reviews Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel  by Luke S. Larson ( my review will be coming later this month).  For those readers unfamiliar with Shane, he is a former USMC Science Adviser at JFCOM. Physicist. Former Managing Director of Operations for IATGR. Former Managing Director of EnterraSolutions, LLC. ORCAS (Oak Ridge). Currently with the National Missile Defense Agency, Shane blogs at Wizards of OzDreaming 5GW and Antilibrary:

Review: Senator’s Son

by Shane Deichman

Nearly 25 years ago, as a freshman college student balancing a science major with the obligatory credits in the Humanities, my English 101 professor introduced me to the concept of “verisimilitude“: the likeness or resemblance of a creative writing effort to reality. While this was a difficult feat for me in my writing assignments, it is something that Luke Larson has effortlessly achieved in his first novel, Senator’s Son.

Luke was a journalism major at a rival PAC-10 school, courtesy of an NROTC scholarship to the University of Arizona, and as a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps served two tours in Iraq (both in al Anbar province – first in 2005 during the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government that was to draft a permanent constitution, and again in 2007 during the Iraqi national referendum and the start of General Petraeus’s “Surge”).

Senator’s Son wastes no time hurling the reader into the breech. Written in a tempo prestissimo style, this rapid-fire novel gives you a no-holds-barred perspective of modern counterinsurgency from multiple perspectives: the families at home with a dissociated populace; the wounded warriors battling the demons of recovery, opiate pain-killer addictions and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; the careerist bureaucrats that infiltrate every large organization; and most importantly the junior officers and non-commissioned officers who must make up for “higher’s” planning inadequacies and strategic myopia. Larson’s use of a 2047 scenario in the southwest Pacific, with a lone Senator holding the deciding vote on whether or not to commit U.S. military power abroad, helps to reinforce the strategic consequences our actions today can have on future generations.

Set in 2007 Ar Ramadi, a city of nearly a half-million that serves as the provincial capital of al Anbar province just west of Baghdad, Senator’s Son is the story of the platoons of GOLF Company. GOLF is a Marine company (part of a Marine battalion tied to an Army brigade) responsible for sweeping missions in south Ramadi in the days prior to the 2007 Iraqi national referendum (and a few months prior to “The Surge”). Their early ventures from the “Snake Pit” (a heavily fortified Marine firm base) poignantly demonstrate the complexities of contemporary warfare.

The force protection concerns are palpable – one can almost smell the raw sewage flowing through the ruined streets of a dying city, and feel the peering eyes of snipers tracking you in their sights. Every piece of litter is a potential Improvised Explosive Device, and every sound a threat. And like Mayor Giuliani’s “Broken Windows” theory in late 1990s New York City, the reluctant shift from a hardened, up-armored patrol mindset to one of cooperative engagement with a foreign culture underscores the essence of counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine now codified in FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5: Counterinsurgency.

Like real life, there are few “happy endings” in this book. Each platoon commander in GOLF has his own strengths and fallibilities: from steadfast Bama’s bravery and bigotries to the maverick Greg’s ingenuity and independence. And each must face his own demons in the prose that Larson deftly weaves.

At a minimum, Senator’s Son is a brilliant primer on leadership: how to learn which rules are worth breaking, the importance of adaptability when there are no black-or-white situations but only gray, and the primacy of relationships.

But it is also a tribute to those who answer a call to serve – whether they serve in their own communities as volunteers, or have the privilege of wearing the Eagle-Globe-and-Anchor of a Marine (like my grandfather, a mortarman with CHARLIE-1-6 in Guadalcanal and Tarawa, and my grandmother, a clerk-typist at Hunters Point-San Francisco who met my grandfather after his malaria washed him out of the Fleet Marine Force). Senator’s Son is a testament to the resilience of those who carry the burden of personal sacrifice with such humility that we can take our own freedom for granted.

This book is a “must read” for anyone who cares about the greater world beyond our neighborhood – and the role that power (be it the “hard” power of weaponry and kinetic energy, or the “soft” power of relationships) can play in shaping the world for better or for worse.

(cross-posted at Antilibrary, Wizards of Oz and Zenpundit)

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Adding to the Towering Antilibrary Pile

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika by Xenophon. Edited by Robert Strassler

Strassler’s “Landmark” series are gems. After enjoying this year’s Xenophon Roundtable at Chicago Boyz, I was glad to see Hellenika newly released. A little pricey though in hardcover.

I am adding more books to my Antilibrary, keeping in the spirit of  Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable:

….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 growing 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.

While the real estate markets are no longer “tight”, the substance still applies. Here’s what else I just picked up:

             

After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC  by Steven Mithen

Panzer Leader by General Heinz Guderian

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark

Strategy by B.H. Liddell Hart

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael Oren

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe by Wiliam Hitchcock

This last was an Xmas gift from my scientific amigo, Dr. Von

  

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Building the Antilibrary

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Due to a combination of good fortune, review copies sent by publishers and exercising wide-ranging discretion over a budget account at work, I’ve added an eclectic mix of tomes to the ever rising Antilibrary book pile.  Some of these are recommendations from readers left in my comment section last January ( working on improving my traditionally lame following -up skills)

   Alexander II The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky

    Engaging the Muslim World  by Juan Cole

    The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader by Peter Bergen

      The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato

                          and  The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2: Hegel and Marx by Karl Popper

      Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

and   Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson

            How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker

    Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets 

                                 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality  

                                by Charles Murray

   Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

  Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations 

                                by Clay Shirky

   The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age 

                                  by Joseph Turow & Lokman Tsui

  Islands in the Clickstream: Reflections on Life in a Virtual World 

                                   by Richard Thieme

Engaging the Muslim World is not long for the Antilibrary, as I have already begun reading it and will review it here soon. Some of these books can be read relatively quickly, a day or two but others, like The two volume The Open Society, I expect will require a greater investment of time and thought. It pays rich dividends though.

Note, Richard Thieme, despite his past as a scholar-clergyman of the Episcopalian Church, is not t be confused with the historicist, fundamentalist, theologian, Colonel R.B. Thieme.

UPDATED!:

Ha! A good one arrived today, courtesy of Columbia University Press:

   The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity

                                        by Antoine Bousquet

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Red Flag Rising

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Shane Deichman had a superb post on Soviet Admiral of the Fleet and C-in-C of the Red Navy, Sergei Georgyevich Gorshkov over at Antilibrary. The admiral was the father of Soviet blue water power projection. Shane is reviewing Gorshkov’s The Sea Power of the State:

Gorshkov’s “The Sea Power of the State”

In this book, Admiral of the Fleet Gorshkov not only offers a vision of the relevance of the “World Ocean” to any nation’s well-being – he also provides a compelling rationale for “joint operations” a full ten years before our own nation’s Goldwater-Nichols Act forced jointness onto a reluctant American defense establishment, and underscores the importance of the littoral in a navy’s ability to influencing events ashore nearly two decades before “… From the Sea”.

The Sea Power of the State is rich in dichotomy: a land-rich nation with few accessible ports preaching the relevance of sea power, an atheist totalitarian regime describing the social and cultural significance of the “World Ocean”, a nation besmirched for its negative impact on the environment bemoaning pollutants and the need for “union with the environment”, and a foundational tome for effective naval force planning from a nation that just this month claimed the lives of nearly two dozen civilians in a submarine accident. Such is Gorshkov’s compelling style – scholarly and impeccably researched, with steadfast devotion to the tenets of Marxism, decrying the “imperialist aggression” of the Capitalist powers who exploit sea power to “hold in check other states.”

….Most impressive about Gorshkov is the breadth of his perspective.  Alongside the typical Communist demagoguery (e.g., “Imperialist power exploit sea power to preserve their monopoly …”) are lucid arguments for balanced force structure planning (inclusive of creating large merchant fleets), diminished pollutants, and even maritime law (with an appeal to demilitarize the World Ocean beyond the 12 mile territorial waters).  Curiously, he never once expresses disdain at the limited blue water access of the Soviet Union – and was convincing enough in his vision that the Kremlin subsidized his development of a fleet that nearly reached parity with the dominant sea powers of the west

Read the whole review here

I am not an expert in maritime matters but I am relatively conversant on Soviet affairs. Shane’s right, by Soviet standards, where bureaucratic conservatism and enforced conformity to CPSU doctrine served to weed out independent thinkers before they could ascend the first rungs of the nomenklatura ladder, Gorshakov was making a daring, even a startingly bold argument. The Sea Power of the State could have easily been a career-ender had the ideological winds taken a wrong turn; Gorshakov’s argument has very little to do with Marxism or Soviet military doctrine. Instead, it draws upon the Petrine tradition of modernization and securing the “window to the west” that Peter the Great sought in building St. Petersburg and the warm water ports after which subsequent Tsars lusted.

Fortunately for Gorshakov, his ideas coincided with the noontide of Brezhnev’s faction, which was rooted in military heavy industry, the Dnepropetrovsk mafia and a national security axis of the power ministries – Defense, Foreign Ministry and the KGB which were controlled by Brezhnev’s then allies and proteges, Ustinov, Gromyko and Andropov. Gorshakov’s vision of expanding Soviet reach abroad also had appeal to party hardliners like Mikhail Suslov and Boris Ponomarev who were deeply interested in supporting radical third world regimes and adding the Ethiopias, Angolas and Nicaragua’s to the “Socialist camp”

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