December 28, 2010

The Goat Rope book shelf: history and biography

El Cabrero is slacking this week, which means no links or comments about current events. Rather, I'm taking a look back at the year in reading. Today, the topic is history.

By far the most engrossing book of this kind for me this year was Arthur Herman's Gandhi and Churchill, an account of the decades long rivalry between two worthy opponents. People of different political tendencies idolize one or the other of these men (usually not both, however). I'll pass. Both had their moments, but both also were capable of incredible blunders, callousness, and bull headedness. If I had to choose between one or the other, I'd pick FDR or Walter Reuther.

I've always been interested in the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my father and two uncles served, but my interest was piqued after my trip to Okinawa, where I toured the Peace Memorial and two museums that had exhibits related to the terrible battle that raged there. I really learned a lot from Max Hastings' Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-1945. The Nazis had no monopoly on atrocities.

Finally, what is it about Western powers that makes them want to make ill-advised forays into the Middle East, anyway? They've been doing it since the Trojan War and it never seems to work out very well. Juan Cole's Napoleon's Egypt provided another case in point. It's amazing that he got to be emperor after leading that monumental goat rope.

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