Books I’ve been reading

ACTS OF WAR: The Behavior of Men in Battle by military historian Richard Holmes uses a mix of historical accounts, memoirs and interviews to try to capture the essence of a soldier’s emotional life, from the bonding of basic training through fear of combat (“Most soldiers say the fear they felt in advance faded once the shooting started.”) the fog of war (“On most 20th century battlefields, it’s startling how little there was to see.”), sex (“The soldier who enlisted after Pearl Harbor had an average 25 women before the end of the war.”-though he doesn’t tackle the question of rape), what keeps them fighting (the homeland, their buddies, the honor of the regiment) and when soldiers balk at firing or obeying orders (accounts of fragging go back to the Romans). A very good job.
IRON COUNCIL by China Mieville is a sequel to Perdido Street Station set decades later, as rebels against New Crobuzon’s autocratic government decide the only way to defeat The Man is to recruit the legendary Iron Council, railroad workers who mutinied decades ago and headed west on a giant stolen train. Slower than its predecessor, but enough wild weirdness to make it enjoyable.
THE AFFAIR OF THE POISONS: Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan, and One of History’s Great Unsolved Mysteries by Frances Mossiker is an unsatisfactory account of the outbreak of alleged poisonings, black magic and witchraft at the Sun King’s court (which interestingly Voltaire argued was a triumph of rationalism, since the accused were put on trial for poisoning, rather than witchcraft). Part of the dissatisfaction is that the book spends too much time on Louis’s many affairs in general, part that the analysis of events is based, in part on Margaret Murray’s now outdated theories about witchcraft practice in Europe.
FLUKE, Or I Know Why The Winged Whale Sings has Christopher Moore veer from fantasy into SF as a whale biologist discover a primeval slime creature has created a fleet of synthetic whale ships (and humanoid “whale boy” crews) with the ultimate goal of purging humanity if we don’t stop hunting the whales (“The reason they sing? It’s a prayer-and that goo is their god.”). Moore’s style makes this feel considerably more bizarre than it really is, but this one worked for me.
THE BOX is a a reissue of Richard Mattheson’s Button, Button collection coinciding with the title short story being made into the movie The Box; it also includes other adapted-for-the-screen shorts such as “No Such Thing As a Vampire,” “Dying Room Only” and “Mute” (which works much better here than it did on Twilight Zone), as well as the rather dated satire “The Creeping Terror” (I was surprised that playing tennis back in the fifties was considered a distinctively LA phenomenon) and a couple of whimsical post-holocaust pieces (“Patterns of Survival” and “’Tis the Season to be Jelly”). Good reading
CONFRONTING IRAN:The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East by Ali M. Ansari is an excellent account of the Iranian/American relationship from pre-WWI (when Americans were attempting to help the former heart of the Persian Empire stand on its own two feet) through 1953’s Mossadeq overthrow (“This ranks for the Iranians with Pearl Harbor for us-and it unfairly associated America in their minds with the previous 150 years of foreign manipulation.”), the overthrow of the Shah (which Ansari shows was hardly as out of the blue as many people found it at the time) and the embassy seizure, Iran-Contra (which Ansari suggests really was an attempt by Reagan to re-establish contact with Iranian moderates) and the present nuclear crisis. Ansari argues that a running theme has been both sides misreading the other, from America branding Khomeini’s government as So Insanely Religious It Cannot Be Reasoned With to Iran assuming America could always be reasoned with (“They assumed all US decisions would ultimately be based pragmatically on oil and Iran’s strategic position.”), further complicated by internal politics and inept diplomacy on both sides (“Iran’s English-speaking ambassadors wound up in Tazbik, which is a Persian speaking nation.”). Very informative.

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One response to “Books I’ve been reading

  1. Pingback: So we might be at war with Iran soon … | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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