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Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Celebrating the new year by looking at what happened in ’13 way back when…..

2613 BC  By some accounts, the construction of the Great Sphinx may have begun

413 BC – The Battle of Syracuse results in a cataclysmic defeat for the Athenian Empire’s Sicilian Expedition at the hands of Hermocrates and Gylippus.  The Athenian strategoi Demosthenes and Niciasare ignominiously executed by the Syracusans. This defeat contributes to the downfall of Athens in the Peloponnesian War.

213 BC The great inventor Archimedes builds catapults so powerful that the Romans laying siege to Syracuse believed the city to have the aid of giants

13 BC Rome enjoys the noontide of the age of Augustus 

13 AD  The great geographer Strabo publishes his book on the shape of the Earth.

113 AD Emperor  Trajan builds Trajan’s Column near the Colosseum in Rome to commemorate his victory over the Dacians in the Second Dacian WarOsroes I of Parthia violates the treaty with Rome by installing a puppet ruler in Armenia. The 60 year old emperor, Trajan, marches east and declares Armenia to be annexed and becomes a Roman province.

313 AD Emperor Constantine the Great issues the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity and ending the persecutions of Christians and initiating the decline of Paganism

613 AD The Prophet Muhammed begins preaching the call to Islam

1013 AD The Danes invade England.  King Ethelred the Unready flees to Normandy, and Sweyn the Dane becomes King of England.

1113 AD The Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, founded to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, vows to fight in its defense.

1213 AD  Jin China is overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, who plunder the countryside and cities, until only Beijing remains free, despite two bloody palace coups and a lengthy siege. Pope Innocent III issues a charter, calling for the Fifth Crusade to recapture Jerusalem.

 1513 AD Juan Ponce de Leon becomes the first European definitely known to sight what is now the territory of the United States (specifically Florida), mistaking it for another island

 1613 AD  An assembly of the Russian Empire elects Mikhail Romanov to be Tsar of Russia, and establishes the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Time of Troubles.

1813 AD Napoleonic wars rage in Europe, War of 1812 sees the American invasion of Canada and Mexico wages it’s War of Independence from Spain 

1913 AD Last year of the post-Napoleonic “Long Peace” before WWI. The Mexican Revolution and China’s Warlord Era accelerate. America passes the 16th Amendment, permitting the Income Tax to be levied and Henry Ford introduces the assembly line, revolutionizing industrial mass production.

What will 2013 bring that will be remembered in a century?

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?

New Book: The Rise of Siri by Shlok Vaidya

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The Rise of Siri by Shlok Vaidya 

Shlok Vaidya has launched his first novel,  dystopian techno-thriller in e-Book format entitled The Rise of Siri.  Having been the recipient of a late draft/early review copy, I can say Shlok on his first time out as a writer of sci-fi has crafted a genuine page turner.

Companion site to the book can be found here –  The Rise of Siri.com

Blending military-security action, politics, emerging tech and high-stakes business enterprise, the plot in The Rise of Siri moves at a rapid pace. I read the novel in two sittings and would have read it straight through in one except I began the book at close to midnight.  Set in a near-future America facing global economic meltdown and societal disintegration,  Apple led by CEO Tim Cook  and ex-operator Aaron Ridgeway, now head of  Apple Security Division, engages in a multi-leveled darwinian struggle of survival in the business, political and even paramilitary realms, racing against geopolitical crisis and market collapse , seeking corporate salvation but becoming in the process, a beacon of hope.

Vaidya’s writing style is sharp and spare and in The Rise of Siri he is blending in the real, the potential with the fictional. Public figures and emerging trends populate the novel; readers of this corner of the blogosphere will recognize themes and ideas that have been and are being debated by futurists and security specialists playing out in the Rise of Siri as Shlok delivers in an action packed format.

Strongly recommended and….fun!

Book Review: Kill Decision

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez 

Shlok Vaidya did an early review of Kill Decision here previously. I finally have caught up to Shlok and I’m ready to add my two cents without giving away any spoilers:

First, I enjoyed the book. Kill Decision is a tense, fast-moving,  page-turner. As I tend to read books at night before bed, Kill Decision kept me up later than I should have been and I was reluctant to put it down. I fully agree with Shloky that this book is a movie waiting to happen.

Secondly, the plot is all too plausible. While there is some of the normal deus ex machina in action-thriller novels of this kind, readers who are knowledgeable about the defense and intel worlds will have the uncomfortable feeling that while the first lethal autonomous drones would not operate on exactly the clever and disturbing premises outlined by Suarez , they will be within shouting distance. And with all the same dangerous societal implications.

Third, like William Gibson, Daniel Suarez excels as a conceptual novelist – the writer as futurist ( a near-term futurist in the latter case) with his labor of love going into theme, setting and plot. Suarez creates dynamic hooks for his books. Unlike Gibson, character development is still a weakness for Suarez. Of all the characters in Kill Decision, only Odin, the SOF covert operative, projects real depth and motivational development; he is the Sun around which the other, mostly one-dimensional characters, orbit – including the book’s nominal protagonist. The good news is that you’ll be so wrapped up in the flow of the story that you won’t much care. I can also commend Suarez for having a George R.R. Martin kind of willingness to ruthlessly terminate his characters with extreme prejudice because it kept me wondering until the very end as to who would survive.

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez is strongly recommended.

New Books

Monday, August 27th, 2012


Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez 

The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt 

Just picked these up from two authors I very much like, though sadly, Everitt’s Hadrian also sits in my antilibrary waiting to be read. My normally manic reading pace took a major hit this past year due to my being ridiculously overscheduled and admittedly, underdisciplined, but I am hoping to cure that this fall. Despite an academic foundation in US-Soviet diplomatic history and economic history, I find myself frequently gravitating to classical antiquity these days. Everitt’s biography  Cicero was a masterpiece that overshadowed his sequel, Augustus. What I would like to see Anthony Everitt do, were I able to give him advice, is to write  a biography of the indomitiable  Cato the Younger, whom Everitt blamed most of all for the death of the Roman Republic.

I rarely have time for fiction anymore, but Daniel Suarez is on my very short list of authors next to Stephen Pressfield and William Gibson. Shlok did a nice review of Kill Decision here at ZP and at his own blog. As qa result I am kicking Kill Decision to the top of my book pile.


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