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New Books and Reading

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

Strategy: A History by Sir Lawrence Freedman  
Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen

As I promised Professor Freedman a few weeks ago in the comments section, I ordered his book, Strategy: A History and it arrived yesterday, so I am bumping it to the top of my very large and disorderly book pile ( now a desk high stack) and will begin reading it immediately. I believe Scott Shipman is already reading it too, so perhaps when I review it we can have a mini-round table with other people posting or guest posting their impressions, maybe end of November.

Out of the Mountains will be the third book by COIN guru David Kilcullen that I have read. I think he is on the right track here, in big picture terms. If guerrillas need, like fish, to swim in the sea of people, densely packed urban areas, megacities, are needed to thwart aerial surveillance and inhibit freely administered “death from the skies” delivered by drones.  Bombing a hamlet in FATA is a different kettle of fish from taking out a Land Rover speeding on an 8 lane highway outside LA with a Hellfire missile  or targeting a shopping mall in a ritzy Chicago suburb on the Lake.

I am also reading the following books:


The former is giving me a granular view of Fascism in its original form with a social historian’s perspective. I’m 250 pages in and I’m not half finished. Echevarria is always a good read with clear arguments.

This past year, I have not read enough or read seriously with attending marginalia comments and I am feeling the absence. Too many things have been permitted to distract me; while this was not always within my control, honesty compels me to admit that my self-discipline slackened this year. It is time to rectify that – evidence for which will be more frequent book review here.

What are you reading?

23 Responses to “New Books and Reading”

  1. T. Greer Says:

    Just finished:
    Pastoralists: Equality, Hierarchy, and the State by Philip Salzman
    The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by the Arbringer Institute 
    In various stages of reading:
    Nomads and the Outside World by Antoly Khazanov
    Imperial China: 900-1800 by FW Mote
    Disarming the Allies of Imperialism: The State, Agitation, and Manipulation During China’s Nationalist Revolution, 1921-1929 by Michael Murdock
    Upon Lexington Green’s recommendation I also picked up The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition by M. Stanton Evans.
    Salzman’s book is one of the most lucid and easy to read I have seen an anthropologist write. A very good book, though for some a very narrow topic. Khazanov, in contrast, is ridiculously difficult to get through (partially, I think because Russian has different writing conventions than English, and the work loses its flow in the translation), but as it is the landmark study in the field I must read it regardless. Murdock’s book is also narrow in scope and is not the best introduction to the time (though the thesis he advances is… refreshing). Anatomy of Peace was thought provoking and very different from the sorts of things I normally read.
    FW Mote’s Imperial China is simply one of the best books I have read this year and quite possibly the best book of Chinese history I have yet read. I truly think every educated person who gives a whit about history should read it – Mote does an amazing job of putting a human face on Chinese history. Unlike most Sinologists, Mote focuses on political events and political men, an devotes quite a bit of time to discussing their individual biographies. Somehow he manages to tell 1,000 years of history without losing this focus. Before I read this book I did not think it was possible. Well worth its cost and the time it takes to read it.

  2. seydlitz89 Says:

    Hi zen-
    I think you’ll like Echevarria’s book.  Just finished Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke. Recommended.  Currently reading Andreas Kalyvas’s Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary and John Jay Chapman’s classic William Lloyd Garrison.

  3. Grurray Says:

    The Mongol Art of War thanks to T. Greer
    Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter by Terrence Deacon recommended by Scott
    I try to switch off – one day on one book, one day on the next – but now I’m scrambling to find some time to read Ernst Junger after reading Bousquet’s series of papers. I read Eumeswil this past summer, but I’ve been putting off Storm of Steel for too long.

  4. Lexington Green Says:

    Churchill: A Study in Failure, Robert Rhodes James
    The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up For Grabs and Who will Take it, Sean Trende
    Just finished: The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope (1875), a novel, which mostly lived up to its reputation.


  5. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Strategy: A History, Lawrence Freedman
    From Dawn to Decadence (in the last third, finally—love this book), Jacque Barzun
    The Ancient Paths, Graham Robb 
    Sir William, David Stacton (historical fiction)
    The Lives of the Cell, Lewis Thomas (great collection of essays)
    The Strategy Bridge, Colin Gray (dense, but good thus far)
    Why We Read Fiction, Zunshine
    Just finished Andrew Erickson’s excellent May 2013 paper on China’s Anti-ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) program—first rate analysis, and at only 160 pages, a quick read.
    Plus lots and lots of naval academic papers—when I’m not doing my day job. 

  6. Paul Harper Says:

    Small Wars, Faraway Places – The Genisis of the Modern World 1945-65 by Michael Burleigh

  7. Dave Schuler Says:

    I’ve mentioned this anecdote before but it’s a fun anecdote so why not repeat it?  On the mantle of a dear friend of ours there’s a photo of two old friends of hers from grad school days.  In their arms is an infant–their child, her god-child.
    The child is David Kilcullen.

  8. morgan Says:

    The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, by Roger Kimball

    South Africa and Contemporary Counterinsurgency: Roots, Practices, Prospects, Editors: Deabe-Peter Baker and Evert Jordaan

    Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations, by Norman Davies [Just started reading this]

  9. morgan Says:

    Sorry, should be Deane-Peter Baker–hit the wrong bloody key!

  10. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi morgan,
    I’ve heard a lot about Kimball’s book—-let us know when you’re finished. 

  11. prbeckman Says:

    A Guide to Naval Strategy by Bernard Brodie
    Rule and Ruin by Geoffrey Kabaservice
    China Market: America’s Quest for Informal Empire, 1893-1901 by Thomas McCormack
    War, Peace, and International Relations: An Introduction to Strategic History by Colin Gray
    The Military & United States Indian Policy 1865-1903 by Robert Wooster
    “Discussion of strategic military policy against Indians simply did not occur on a routine basis.”
    Recently finished:
    Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented The Ignored The First Personal Computer by Douglas Smith & Robert Alexander
    I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in intrapreneurship & innovation in organizations. 

  12. morgan Says:

    Scott, Kimball’s book basically argues that permanent things such as family, religion, and a morality-based worldview underlies the success of the West. He then critiques the left-liberal attempts to demolish those. As part of that, he describes what he terms “Friends of Humanity” such as Rousseau, Owens, Marc, etc and shows they and their utopian ideas have the opposite effect creating misery–some friends as he says. He then cites some whom he considers real friends of humanity such as James Burnham and Frederick Hayek, to name just two. It is an interesting and well written read.

  13. zen Says:

    Dave – the smallness of the world seldom fails to astound me. That’s amazing, considering he’s Australian!

  14. J.ScottShipman Says:

    morgan, thanks! Will add to the list.

  15. morgan Says:

    Scott, my pleasure.

  16. Dave Schuler Says:

    the smallness of the world seldom fails to astound me. That’s amazing, considering he’s Australian!

    His folks were in grad school in Toronto.

  17. Madhu Says:

    David Kilcullen: We founded Caerus Associates in January 2010.  At the depth of the recession, launching a start-up with no investors, no clients and no staff, we expected a very tough time. With generous help from our partner Noetic Group, we got started and then boot-strapped the whole operation, building from one client to another, creating a snow-ball effect. Today, less than two years later, Caerus has annual revenue just under $10m, zero debt, a multi-year backlog, a permanent team of 20 people and another 50 consultants and field staff, offices in three continents, and field programs in Afghanistan and Africa. – Forbes.com (
    Dr. David Kilcullen on the Future of Conflict and International Development)

  18. Madhu Says:

    President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address includes one of the most quoted phrases in political rhetoric. He warned “against the acquisition of influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial-complex, whose growing influence could have “grave implications … [to] the very structure of our society.”  Ike’s warning remains relevant today, but much less heeded has been the speech’s second warning. Ike noted that the government’s need for ever more advanced defense technologies would mean a growing reliance on science and scientific advisors, noting:
    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. . . . A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
    That trend, he noted, might change the nature of the “free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery.” Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.” Economic and power considerations might influence scientific research and the reporting of its findings, leading to the “domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money” – a trend that should be “gravely … regarded.”  Thus, while we should continue to hold “scientific research and discovery in respect . . . we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” [emphases added] – Center of the American Experiment (Eisenhower’s Second Farewell Warning).
    Even the well-meaning can contribute to this, I suppose. 

  19. Madhu Says:

    The two above are excerpts from first, Forbes, and second, Center of the American Experiment in case it didn’t come across that way. Forgot to use quotes, blockquotes, whatever.

  20. Madhu Says:

    Tiptoe through the window By the window, that is where I’ll be Come tiptoe through the tulips with me .Oh, tiptoe from the garden By the garden of the willow tree And tiptoe through the tulips with me .Knee deep in flowers we’ll stray We’ll keep the showers away And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight Will you pardon me? And tiptoe through the tulips with me .Maybe it’s flowers you stray will be the showers of life And when I kiss you in the garden in the moonlight Will you pardon me and tiptoe through the tulips with me

  21. Madhu Says:

    LOL. I wonder who will get it?

  22. Madhu Says:

    And no, I’m not making the obvious point.

  23. larrydunbar Says:

    “And no, I’m not making the obvious point.” and the obvious point being that the Baby Boomers didn’t heed it, and the Millenniums are paying the price? Of course if that was the point it wouldn’t be true 🙂

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