What I’ve Been Reading

I haven’t been posting, so I guess I must have been reading.  Here is what I’ve read over the past month or two:

  1.  “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War” by the late Anthony Shadid (American journalist who later died leaving Syria). Published in 2005, it is the story of America’s attack on Iraq in 2003, with a little on the history of Iraq and the city of Baghdad thrown in for good measure.  Observations and reports of conversations with several families – Sunni, Shiite, rich, poor.  How the invasion was understood in Iraq, how America was understood, and how and why the Sunni revolt and the Shiite militias developed.  Well worth reading – very well written.  You will gain insight.
  2. “The Book of Intimate Grammar” by Israeli novelist David Grossman, published in English in 1994.  One of Grossman’s early novels, it is a coming of age story of a young teenager in Jerusalem.  Written in a unique, almost stream of consciousness style, it can be hard to follow for the reader (I often wondered exactly what was going on).  But it was also hard to live through for the unfortunate and sympathetic young protagonist.
  3. “Akiva: Life, Legend Legacy” by Rabbi Reuven Hammer, hot off the press.  The first biography of the second century rabbi in over 60 years, a number of points are made.  Some of the most popular stories about Akiva are legends and most likely unhistorical – that he abandoned his wife to study, that the Romans tortured and executed him. But the more important points are the biblical interpretative work of Akiva, using analogy and not literalness, and his mystical perspectives, and Akiva’s role in organizing the oral law which forms the basis of the Mishnah.  Worth reading if you are interested.  And you may be without even knowing it.
  4. “Captive in Korea” by Philip Deane, published in England only in 1953.  A British journalist during the Korean War, he was taken prisoner by the North Koreans and held for 3 years with other non-combatant prisoners.  Horrific (obviously) but worth reading if you want to know what was going on in Korea during that war.
  5. “Haunting Legacy” by Marvin Kalb and his daughter Deborah (2011).  The tragedy of Vietnam, and the continual fear that the country would enter, or be drawn into, another Vietnam has haunted American presidencies for more than 40 years.  This book looks at the presidents from Nixon to Obama and analyzes how the legacy of Vietnam affected presidential decision making.  Worth reading.
  6. “Let There Be Water” by Seth Siegel (2015).  Siegel tells the story of Israel’s relationship with water, how a society which started in a part of the earth without sufficient water turned into a society where water is so carefully managed and cultivated that it has turned into a country with a water surplus, able to serve some of its neighbors and enabling it to consult with governments across the world as to how to best use and conserve water resources.  Goes through the history of Israel’s innovative water management, agricultural usage, and water conservation.  Think this is boring?  Wrong.
  7. “Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith” by John Krakauer.  Published in 2003, Krakauer uses the story of a double murder in small town Utah in 1984 to discuss not only the crime, but the history of Mormonism and in particular fundamentalist Mormonism.  Fascinating reading.
  8. “88 Days to Kandahar: a CIA Diary” by Robert Grenier, who headed the CIA’s station in Pakistan (which also served Afghanistan) detailing the difficulties in the initial attempts to find Osama bin Laden and convincing the Afghan warlords to be our allies, and the Pakistani government from allowing radicals to hide out within the territory of the country.  Grenier, whom I heard at Politics and Prose, also deals with some of the American personalities involved and the difficulties in coordinating not only the various American governmental agencies involved but also coordinating the CIA guys at Langley with those out in the field. Published in 2015.
  9. “Washington Irving: an American Original” by Brian Jay Jones (2008), fascinating biography of the American author, diplomat and man about town.  I have been interested in Irving since I visited his house in the Hudson Valley, and read his “Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York” and “Astoria”.  Read the book if only to learn how the Knickerbocker book was written and publicized.  Jones describes a very human Washington Irving and thus humanizes much of what happened during his eventful life.



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