Friday, May 01, 2009

The bookshelf

Currently reading 3 or 4 books, plus noting some I've finished:

Herring, From Colony to Superpower - long sidelined but now I've been at it in earnest; just got through his review of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Generally good at demonstrating that America's strengths and weaknesses in foreign policy stretch all the way back, or at least a good ways beyond, say, Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson. Herring does not have heroes, and can generally find something to criticize. For instance, however prudent JFK may've been in the missile crisis, it was his obsession with Cuba, coupled with his vacillation as to acting on same, that made Cuba a sore spot and inspired Khrushchev to try installing missiles there.

Axworthy, A History of Iran - apparently the only popular survey of Iran's history that gives due weight to how long that history is. Axworthy's is not a deep treatment, though he does veer off for a chapter into discussing a number of Persian poets, but his light, sure touch keeps the book enjoyable.

Hegel, Outline of the Philosophy of Right - I'd never picked this up, and Oxford's excellent decision to release a revision of Knox's edition in its World's Classics line brought it unexpectedly to a bookshelf near me. The introduction is good on disabusing the reader of Popper's nonsense. Thus far I'm still on Hegel's preface, which is remarkably snarky about contemporary contempt for philosophy and about Hegel's contemporary philosophers. Looking forward to this, especially when I get a chance to really sit down with it.

Perlstein, Nixonland - the shoddy, overpriced hardcover is now a shoddy, overpriced paperback, but I felt less cheated at the lower price. The content thus far seems about as good as advertised, though perhaps Perlstein worries too much about the reader's being bored and makes his style a little more catchy and clever than need be. (Or perhaps Perlstein is much smarter about his general audience than I am.) The tragedy of the liberal collapse is coming through vividly.

Rhodes, Masters of Death - his book about the Einsatzgruppen, who carried out the first steps of the Holocaust in the wake of the German invasion of Russia, is a disappointing contrast to The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Rhodes is fuzzy on some of his facts (like how America came to be at war with Germany), and displays an amateur's arrogance on such vexed questions as when Hitler took the decision to outright exterminate the Jews. But even those flaws, plus an unnecessarily pronounced contempt for such contemptible people as Himmler (yes, even that can be overdone), don't outweigh the value of the book for its documentation of the Nazi horror. Einsatzgruppen members said that they tossed small children in the air to shoot them, not out of cruelty, but because bullets passed through their bodies too easily, raising the risk of ricochet if they shot them on the ground. One detail like that, reminding one of how much practice underlay that judgment ... and it's hard to feel that one shouldn't have read the book.

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