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More Books and Bookshelf Musings

Sunday, June 30th, 2013


Mussolini’s Italy:Life under the Fascist Dictatorship by by R. J. B. Bosworth 

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott

Been busy writing a book review and a long and serious post, so here is something more lighthearted and tangible in the meantime.

Having recently purchased the Bosworth bio of Mussolini, I went back and bought his history of Italian Fascism. While doing that, I came across Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which had either been highly recommended in a discussion over at Chicago Boyz blog or perhaps in an email by one of the Chicago Boyz themselves ( maybe Lex will help me out here).

However, a long discussion by my amigo Adam Elkus on Facebook about his emerging organizational system for his books coupled with an hour long search to try and find a book I needed to cite in the review I was writing have made me realize something: I no longer have any organization to my books.

Sure, there’s still a semblance of a core – a Soviet/Russian bookcase, an antique/antiquarian bookcase for collectible editions 80-130+ years old, three shelves of strategy and war, two and half on Nazi Germany, two on Richard Nixon, an “Ummah” shelf on Islam, al Qaida, Central Asia and the Mideast but after that it starts getting messy. Once methodically organized, diplomatic history and diplo memoirs are spread across two rooms, four bookcases and three packing boxes in the garage; the Vietnam War is on two shelves in two different bookcases plus a half dozen or books so shelved at work; ancient history and classical philosophy have metastasized to occupy parts of three shelves in two different rooms; American history, European history, Japan and China,  sociology, general science, politics, biographies, neuroscience, intelligence community, economics are everywhere and anywhere. Your guess is probably almost as good as mine.

And then there are book piles randomly stacked horizontally on top of shelved books and bookcases or stacked by my computer desk or on/under/next to my nightstand. I no longer recall what books I have loaned out or to whom vice given away as gifts.

Bibliomania….A Gentle Madness …..


Half Price Books

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

An old Border’s location near where I live was taken over by Half Price Books, the growing used book chain. So I took a drive with the kids to check it out, though my expectations were not high.  My Eldest also decided to sell a box of books dating back to her more childish years.

The atmosphere of the store was pleasant and the employees friendly and helpful, much of the space is (quite properly) devoted to maximizing the display of the stock of books instead of various kinds of retail nonsense. We browsed while the buyers evaluated my daughter’s books for resale. The store was very well stocked for a used book store catering to the general public and the prices were excellent. While the decor was “no frills” there were comfortable, well-used, chairs in which to sit toward the back of the store accompanied by end tables for the piling of books.  My son enjoyed going through the bins of of old comics, of which he bought a fistful for .50 cents each.

The most expensive book I bought was $9 (for two volumes) vice a new retail price of $40; most ran $4 – $6. One brand new copy was purchased for all of $2.

Here’s what I picked up:


Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa byJason Stearns 

This one was the subject of a book review by Scott Shipman which you can read in full here.

Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography by Sir Hew Strachan

I have been wanting to read this one ever since we had The Clausewitz Roundtable at Chicago Boyz. Strachan is one of the leading military historians and strategic thinkers and can be viewed lecturing on strategy and war here.

The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon

This was in mint condition – literally had never been opened (must have been a student’s copy LOL) – and was only $2 as a Half Price Books “SuperBuy”. Deacon is a biological anthropologist and was/is a professor at Harvard Medical School and Berkeley. On the one hand, some of the neuroscience might be dated, given the 1997 copyright, but as he is investigating 2 million years of human evolution, so how off could it be in just 16 years?

The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian 

Arrian was cited frequently, but with significant reservations and commentary, by Paul Cartledge in his biography Alexander the Great, which I reviewed here.


War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History (vol. I & II) by Robert Asprey 

I am not very familiar with Asprey but I have deep sympathy for anyone who attempts this kind of epochal survey, they are very hard to pull off well ( and harder to get people to read all the way through  once they are written and published, see Arnold Toynbee and Will and Ariel Durant). Any comments here are welcome.

Mussolini by R. J. B. Bosworth 

A biography of il Duce by a leading expert on the period of Italian Fascism.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly 

I’ve read this before, when it was first published, but did not have a copy. Bought it to have on hand as a reference.

My only complaint about the Half Price Books experience was the store was a trifle warm. My Eldest pocketed a cool $15 from selling her old books and decided to treat herself to a detective novel and a used Xbox game.

A good time was had by all.

The Apple II of 3 D Printing?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

It may be 1977 all over again.

Check out the Form 1 Kickstarter page 

The Formlabs home page and their blog.

I recently reviewed Chris Anderson’s book Makers. What 3 D printing needs is the affordable, user-friendly, versatile device to move 3 D printing from the arcane realm of  techno-hobbyist geeks to the general population’s “early adapters”, which will put the next “consumer model” generation on everyone’s office desk; eventually as ubiquitous as cell phones or microwaves.

Formlabs should send one of these to John Robb and Shloky for a product review.

Hat tip to Feral Jundi


Grand Blog Tarkin’s Hoth Symposium

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Grand Blog Tarkin is hosting a symposium on the Battle of Hoth. Sparked by WIRED magazine’s original debate begun by Spencer Ackerman, Grand blog Tarkin’s Symposium features some of the finest sci-fi war nerd speculation from keen strategic thinkers from the blogosphere and Twitter.  Oh, yeah, I am participating as well, thanks to Kelsey Atherton.

Here are some excerpts and their authors:

Hoth Symposium Comes Home 

Dunkirk-on-Ice by Graham Jenkins

In 1940, French historian Marcel Bloch wrote a slim volume entitled Strange Defeat, on the incomprehensible defeat of the superior French Army at the hands of the Wehrmacht. 60 years later, Ernest May wrote the complementary version in Strange Victory, an account of the improbable German success in defeating France. Many have written on the utter failure of the Imperial Navy to successfully crush the Rebellion once and for all at the Battle of Hoth, but few have bothered to explore the rather unlikely escape the Rebels made from their icy fortress. “How did they not lose?” Contrary to Spencer Ackerman’s view, the Alliance was faced with dire options and chose mostly the best available.

Ackerman critiques the Alliance for keeping virtually all of their key military players in the same location at Echo Base, but ignores the value of face-to-face, instantaneous communication among Rebel leaders. Collaboration is key to any successful insurgency, and while distributed cells might have a better chance of survival, they still require a core group to perform key coordination and planning functions. This is most effectively provided through close, personal cooperation…. 

The Battle of Hoth and Grand Strategy by Mark Safranski

The key to understanding the Battle of Hoth is not in tactical minutia on the icy surface of the planet, nor in confused imperial strategic objectives or even in the quixotic leadership of Lord Vader, but in grand strategy. As a self-contained polity facing no external foes and only a scattered and poorly armed insurgency, the greatest potential threat to the Empire’s two-man Sith regime would likely emerge from the ranks of the imperial military itself. It was not that the Galactic Empire could not have fielded a vast, overwhelmingly powerful and incomparably competent armada against the Rebellion, it was that Darth Sidious did not dare to do so…..

May the Tech Be With You by Shlok Vaidya

The Star Wars world is a bleak one. Aside from the standard strata of humans, the aristocrats like Leia to the paupers like Solo, there exists a more distinct separation. The Force-enabled and the not. Able to summon electricity from thin air, jump great heights, wield weapons of light, it is no surprise that the Empire is run by those able to use the Force. Or that the Rebel Alliance, filled with battle-hardened veterans who fought day in and day out, for days, months, years in some of the most challenging environments the universe has to offer, suddenly promote the Force-empowered Luke Skywalker despite his lack of combat experience.

In a world where a wave of a hand can change minds, it is hard to say technology matters. But as the Battle of Hoth demonstrates, it invariably does. That particular engagement was an exercise in terrible technology decision making. Tanks with weapons that don’t rotate, raised onto legs reminiscent of ostriches, and move with all the finesse of an overweight wampa. Laser blasts that detonate on impact without consistent grouping. A lack of even basic infrared overlays on a ice-covered planet. The Empire’s foot-soldiers, otherwise decent men pulled from their homes and families to wage war in forsaken lands, were abandoned to the tools provided by the lowest bidder. Minor modifications could have addressed a vulnerability to harpoons. Major platform changes could have wiped out the rebel force in minutes…..

Hoth Symposium Comes Home 2: Late Registration

Let’s Cut the Imperial Fleet Some Slack by Brett Friedman

It’s difficult to tell from the original three movies, but the Imperial Fleet is a very new organization. Their operational and strategic missteps make much more sense in this light. A galactic fleet cannot be built in a day. Although we see a Star Destroyer at the end Revenge of the Sith, a fleet is comprised of more than just ships. Doctrine, tradition, staff work, planning processes, and institutional experience are just as important as the ships themselves. Even though decades elapse between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, it was just not enough time for the Imperial Fleet to become an elite force.

The Battle of Hoth occurs twenty-two years after Palpatine seized power.The first expeditionary operation conducted by the US Navy after their formative battles during the American Revolution occurred between 1801-1805, twenty six years after its formation. Both of these conflicts were waged against non-state actors by very new nations. Although the First Barbary War was successful for the American Fleet(thanks to a few Marines) there was an embarrassing mistake. The USS Philadelphia was run aground and captured, along with its entire crew, without a fight. Additionally the expeditionary force had to depend on third party support from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Presuming that years in the Star Wars galaxy are identical to our own, the two young fleets had a similar amount of time to develop. The Imperial Fleet that we see in Empire, while presumably leavened with clone-veterans from its formative battles, just did not have the know-how to conduct counterinsurgency on a galactic scale. The tactical and strategic situation that the fleet faced at Hoth was, to them, a new one…..

Missed Opportunity: Rieekan’s Failure at Hoth by Mike Forbes

The conventional wisdom regarding the Battle of Hoth is that it was a major Imperial victory, described in terms of the Rebels as the massively overmatched ragtag band scattering before the unstoppable Imperial juggernaut. Thecontrary wisdom of sci-fi strategists focuses both on the tactical blunders made by the Imperial force, and thestrategic factors that influenced the decision-making of key leaders. Both narratives are wrong. The Rebel Alliance was anything but a ragged insurgent mob; they were a well-equipped and well-organized hybrid threat# at the time. The Battle of Hoth should have been a decisive victory for the Rebels, perhaps even as significant as the Battle of Yavin had been. The Imperial forces bungled what should have been a fairly simple HVT capture or kill mission, their staggering incompetence playing right to the Rebels’ strengths. However, the Alliance only managed to scrape by with a strategic draw due to their failure to take advantage of key opportunities during the battle to strike a massive blow to the Imperial fleet and the Empire’s key leadership. Hoth was also not a total tactical failure for the Empire; in fact they managed to pull off a partial victory, since Echo Base was indeed reduced to rubble, and the Rebels lost a large amount of materiel in the process of their hasty withdrawal under fire. The Imperial forces managed to salvage a partial success out of what by all rights should have been a crushing defeat, thanks to the even greater failures of their Rebel opponents, in particular the criminal negligence of General Rieekan….


Mindlessness and Mindfulness

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

In the midst of writing a lengthy post, it may eventually become my longest, about Socrates.

There’s no assurance that volume will equate with importance – most likely, the opposite. The post began as a book review and then grew to two books, then I reversed course and started over; it has been unusually slow going because the subject matter has forced me to stop periodically and uncomfortably rethink my assumptions – and then pick up new books. In one sense, there’s no hurry. After all, Socrates will still be just as relevant or not when I finish blogging about him than when I began. On the other hand, the spirit of our times calls out for Socrates’ techne logon, his “craftsmanship of reason”, so I keep plugging away at it.

The flip side to this intense focus has been an increasing desire for a little mindless entertainment. So, I started watching Sons of Anarchy of my iPad, Season One. So far, It’s fun:

The theme and setting is interesting and the characters and plot are generally more credulity-stretching than even The Soprano’s in their twilight seasons, but Sons of Anarchy fills the bill in terms of entertainment.Boardwalk Empire, is also supposed to be very good, even better, but one at a time.

What do you use as a diversion?

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