Friday, February 13, 2009

The bookshelf

I'm usually reading a couple of books at once, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.

The Gamble, Thomas E. Ricks -- following up his excellent Fiasco, this book examines the origins and execution of the "surge" in Iraq. I'm through the "origins" part, which leaves the impression that Washington is still the kind of place where a few well-placed renegades can buck the hierarchy. I'm also a little surprised that Ricks could get Gen. Odierno to talk to him, after the portrayal in Fiasco. After Cobra II (by Gordon & Trainor) and Fiasco, The Gamble seems likely to be the third volume in the history of the Iraq war.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan links to Ricks's summation of his message:

think the message of my book Fiasco was that Iraq 2006 was worse than you think, while the message of The Gamble is that Iraq 2009 isn't as good as you think.

The surge has brought us to an uncertain place. No one knows if there will be full-blown civil war in Iraq. Indeed, no one even knows the real strength of the Sadrists at this point. Or whether the Baghdad government indeed will keep its promises to bring into the fold the former Sunni insurgents who have been on the American payroll for the last 18 months. In fact, none, not one, of the major political questions that faced Iraq before the surge have been resolved--and the purpose of the surge, we were told, was to create the space to solve them.

My real worry is that all those tensions still exist, but all sides in Iraq are militarily stronger than they were a couple of years ago, because we have trained and armed a Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, but also helped organize the Sunni insurgents now known as the "Sons of Iraq."
From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, George C. Herring -- they've been blogging this at LGM, so I finally picked it up. Good, in that broad, solid, Oxford History of the United States kinda way. Not terribly compelling reading however.

Napoleon's Wars: An International History, Charles Esdaile -- this is really a diplomatic history of the wars, with an oft-repeated thesis that Napoleon brought about his own downfall rather than being the victim of an English-fomented conspiracy amongst the nations. Not a controversial thesis I would've thought, but there apparently are a few French historians still championing Napoleon, and Esdaile seems to know their names. Esdaile claims to be moving beyond the biographical approach to Napoleon, but doesn't miss many shots (or quotes from Napoleon's contemporary critics). Good for someone like me who knows only the outlines of the period.

Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne -- as the Onion AV Club points out, books on evolution tend to be vitiated by their sniping at creationism, and the fact that Coyne's book falls prey to the same problem made me skeptical. But then there it was in the library, so I've picked it up, as the latest effort in my search for A Good Overview of Natural Selection. Good thus far but unlikely to end my search.

Rabbit Is Rich, John Updike -- I'd bogged down about 50 pages into this volume of the Rabbit tetralogy, but Updike's death made me pick it up again. The man writes beautifully and has a certain amount of insight into human nature, but Rabbit's serendipity in falling into bed with admiring women seems a bit, well, serendipitous ... oh, wait, that's what you've read everywhere else about Updike? well I guess it's true then. I've currently stalled again at the realization that Thelma's illness, which had added some poignancy to her evident crush on Rabbit, was apparently a plot point motivated by the goal of getting Rabbit to fuck her up the ass. No, really.

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