Essential Reading

Noteworthy Books on the War on Terror (now renamed "Overseas Contingencies), Politics & Culture, the Media, Money, Religion and Other Impolite Subjects

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What's the Little Red House for?

I don't know about you, but I am a ravenous reader. The first thing I did when we were attacked was to get my hands on as much background material as I could find, both on the web and in books. I happened to have an old copy of James Michener's Caravans, a novel about Afghanistan that is strikingly current in spite of its 1961 publication date. Though I'd read it twice in years past, I devoured it again, and I found it to be an excellent general foundation for understanding the nature of Afghanistan and its society.  I can recommend it highly!

Since then I've read news and opinion from around the world, and I've found some excellent books. It's been an enlightening journey, to put it mildly.

I've read some of the books listed below, and some of them are on my "wish list."

A Basic: Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists

The War on Terror

Impolite Topics:
Money, Religion, Politics, the Media and Culture

 

The War on Terror

Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left

Treachery: How America's Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies

American Soldier

American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us

Holy War, Inc.: Inside The Secret World of Osama Bin Laden Most sobering. It makes me damned mad, too. Importantly, you'll learn why the assertion that we Americans "created" Osama is dead wrong.

Caravans Not only does Caravans give you an understanding of Afghanistan's warrior society, it's a heck of a good story! Particularly haunting in this novel, published in 1961, is the part in which one of the Afghan characters predicts that one day in the future, Afghanistan would find itself fighting either the Soviets or the Americans.... 

Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia  
"
This is the single best book available on the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Afghanistan responsible for harboring the terrorist Osama bin Laden. Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who has spent most of his career reporting on the region--he has personally met and interviewed many of the Taliban's shadowy leaders. Taliban was written and published before the massacres of September 11, 2001, yet it is essential reading for anyone who hopes to understand the aftermath of that black day. It includes details on how and why the Taliban came to power, the government's oppression of ordinary citizens (especially women), the heroin trade, oil intrigue, and--in a vitally relevant chapter--bin Laden's sinister rise to power. These pages contain stories of mass slaughter, beheadings, and the Taliban's crushing war against freedom: under Mullah Omar, it has banned everything from kite flying to singing and dancing at weddings. Rashid is for the most part an objective reporter, though his rage sometimes (and understandably) comes to the surface: "The Taliban were right, their interpretation of Islam was right, and everything else was wrong and an expression of human weakness and a lack of piety," he notes with sarcasm. He has produced a compelling portrait of modern evil."

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War  
An earlier round with a familiar and despicable foe.

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Impolite Topics:
Money, Religion, Politics & Culture

Money

Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression
Highly, highly
recommended. This re-interprets the common wisdom  that the Federal government under FDR "spent its way out of the depression." One should always understand that what "everybody knows" is sometimes synonymous with "what everybody's wrong about," and this is a prime example.

Let me put it this way... Let's pretend for a moment that our hypothetical citizen, Dave, is in a situation not unlike that of our nation. Our friend Dave is suddenly revenue-challenged: either unexpectedly unemployed, or otherwise underemployed. Either way, Dave's income has shrunk. Dave also has a great deal of debt, undertaken in more flush times. Perhaps he bought a very nice house during the real estate boom. Maybe he ran up his credit card balances a bit too liberally, and is shocked when the lenders suddenly and arbitrarily raise his monthly interest rates just as money gets tight.

However it happened, Dave's out of money and the bills are pouring in. Dave is stressed and very worried. What should he do?

If your answer is "spend every penny he has and then borrow even more than he can ever hope to repay, even if he lives ten more lifetimes," then... Congratulations!  You may have a future in the Obama administration.

If you think that Dave needs to buckle down live within his means while paying off that debt load as quickly as humanly possible, you're more likely to be able to give Dave some good advice. One does not get out of debt by borrowing more money than one can ever repay. Maybe Dave needs to get a second job, sell that house, and consider the virtues of budgetary restraint.

It's not rocket science, folks. Even if you're an Obama fan, you might be wondering just how "spend it all and borrow even more" can possibly help economic challenges on a national level any more than it would on a personal level. If you have those nagging doubts, you shouldn't just dismiss them when some nice fella from the government says, "Trust me. I know more than you do." Especially when that fella's about to commit your future to his spending plan.

Read Forgotten Man, and discover how FDR's policy of "spend,  spend,  spend" did more to deepen and prolong the Great Depression than it did to solve the country's financial woes. To be fair, this wasn't a purely partisan approach, and can't be chalked up to the Democratic party's love of spending other people's money. Herbert Hoover also took an overly hands-on approach, intervening when he should have left well enough alone, albeit for other motivations.

Religion

Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples icon
"Acclaimed writer V. S. Naipaul has the eye of a novelist, the fearless curiosity of a 2-year-old, and the tenacity of a cornered badger. In Beyond Belief, he puts these three attributes to use in delving into the secrets of Islam--the other Islam, that is. Journeying into the non-Arab Islamic countries of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, Naipaul wonders about how these young nations are absorbing a resurgent Islam into their ancient societies and where it might lead them. His exploration is at the grassroots level, through the people living and breathing Islam today. Naipaul illustrates his points with vignettes about characters he meets, by both happenstance and calculation, along the way. We learn about their histories, their families' histories, their motivations, and their dreams. The mosaic that materializes is not always appealing, for Naipaul is a sensitive but disinterested observer, more a watcher than a champion. Islam, we learn, is a font of hope for the converted peoples, sweet when taken in gulps but often bearing an acrid aftertaste. It buries traditional cultures under promising new foundations, indirectly encourages broken families through polygamy, and turns only tentatively to face the issues of modernity. From beginning to end, we find ourselves empathizing with Naipaul's subjects, seeing ourselves in their struggles with family, religion, and nation, feeling their drive to create a fresh world of virtue and prosperity." --Brian Bruya

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades)
"Islam expert Robert Spencer reveals Islam's ongoing, unshakable quest for global conquest and why the West today faces the same threat as the Crusaders did-and what we can learn from their experience."

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey  
V. S. Naipaul's controversial account of his travels through the Islamic world was hailed by The New Republic as "the most notable work on contemporary Islam to have appeared in a very long time."

Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith
"In Islam Unveiled, Robert Spencer dares to face the hard questions about what the Islamic religion actually teaches--and the potentially ominous implications of those teachings for the future of both the Muslim world and the West. Going beyond the shallow distinction between a "true" peaceful Islam and the "hijacked" Islam of terrorist groups, Spencer probes the Koran and Islamic traditions (as well as the history and present-day situation of the Muslim world) as part of his inquiry into why the world's fastest growing faith tends to arouse fanaticism." This is an excellent book!

Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs
"Raised as Sunni Muslims by a leader in the Muslim faith, brothers Ergun and Emir Caner have lived the Muslim life. Now Christians and highly respected theology professors, the Caner brothers are in a unique position to present an unprecedented insideršs look at Islam.

"Unveiling Islam is a sympathetic yet uncompromising presentation of the entire scope of Islam--its practices, ethics, and beliefs, including the primary differences between Christianity and Islam. With a basic knowledge of Islam in place, the authors then present a practical strategy Christians can use to open a productive dialogue with Muslims."

 

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Politics, the Media  & Culture

Was 9-11 your wake-up call, too? I heard one famous actor proclaim that if your politics didn't change after the attacks of September 11, you are an idiot! I'm not sure exactly whose politics he was referring to, but I certainly started paying more attention to politics ad current events more than I used to.

Well, I can't say my politics have changed that much: after all, I was totally  uninterested in politics. Socially,  I'm pretty liberal, though my personal values have become more conservative over the years. The key here is that I do not claim that anyone who doesn't share my values is wrong because they disagree with me. Perhaps I'm more of a libertarian at heart in that way. Politically? Well, I just wasn't interested in any of it. 

Pre-9-11, if you told me that "anti-Americanism" was a problem in our country - and potentially a serious one, I would have smiled and nodded... and then silently thought of you as a rather reactionary nut case. And of course, we all know that anyone who worried about "Commies" in the 50's was seriously deluded.

Weren't they?

At least that's the prevailing message we get these days. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle.

But in my reading lately, I've been playing catch-up.  Here are a few links and a few books that have made me look at everything I read with a much more critical eye. There's nothing like the righteousness of a "good cause" to get well-meaning, good people to stop asking questions of their leaders.

Have I become a "conservative?" Frankly, no, although I'm sure a liberal might label me as one.  I'm no longer apolitical, though. Call me independent, thank you very much. 

Independently pro-American.

I believe that the vast majority of liberal Americans are good people with big hearts. But have we been betrayed by the leaders of the so-called New Left? Have we been deliberately, systematically manipulated by people whose real goals are not consistent with a better America? Have we been manipulated by politicians who routinely push the position that they're only trying to help the poor, or the less fortunate, or the victimized, and who imply that if you don't agree with them then surely you want to hurt those same people. As if they've cornered the market on the charitable virtues, and that anyone who opposes the  must surely be puppets of the fat cats. Do you ever get the feeling that you're supposed to believe, in an unquestioning, knee-jerk way, the assumption that Democrats are "for the People" and Republicans are "for Big Money?" 

I personally find such assumptions to be insulting and degrading, both to me as a citizen and to honest, decent leaders on either side of the aisle. 

Puh-LEEZE.

Note: I don't necessarily agree wholeheartedly with everything in the links or books below! But I have found them to be good lessons in opening one's eyes.

The moral of the story? Never believe anyone unquestioningly. The same crowd who waved that banner, "Question Authority," now is the Authority. Unfortunately, too many of them, especially on our college campuses and in our mass media, are decidedly biased in their worldview. What was considered to be "center" not long ago is now condescendingly labeled "right-wing." "Patriotism" is a dirty word.

Is that right? I don't think so, and I think the stakes in this game have gotten very, very high. 

If you read only two books from this list, choose Bias and The Clash of Civilizations, both of which I can personally recommend.  Radical Son is a top pick, too. 

Arrogance: Rescuing America From the Media Elite

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

Drudge Manifesto

What's So Great About America

Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right Enlightening and milk-out-your-nose funny, too!

More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws

News Values: Ideas for an Information Age  
"
In this thoughtful, discursive book, Jack Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher of the Chicago Tribune, explores how the press ended up in the bind it now finds itself: the messenger everyone loves to hate. He points out that the whole idea of news that's actually true is itself new; newspaper used to be mainly propaganda sheets. But that development has led news professionals into messy problems. Such as: What does it mean when prominent newsmen such as Mike Wallace say they'd let U.S. troops get ambushed rather than break their so-called "neutral observer" status? Fuller provides seasoned guidance through these modern thickets. " From Amazon.com

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order   
"The thesis of this provocative and potentially important book is the increasing threat of violence arising from renewed conflicts between countries and cultures that base their traditions on religious faith and dogma. This argument moves past the notion of ethnicity to examine the growing influence of a handful of major cultures--Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African--in current struggles across the globe."

Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News A hot bestseller!  And for good reason, too. Interestingly, while Goldberg's peers have vigorously denounced him for this expose, I haven't heard any call him a liar...

Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey 
This one is an eye-opener in a big way! 
"Raised to be a committed Marxist by communist intellectual parents, Horowitz was in on the ground floor of Berkeley activism, and through his work as an editor at Ramparts magazine, he emerged as a key player in the New Left. He went on to become an active supporter of the Black Panthers and something of an intimate of their founder, Huey P. Newton. Yet today he is an outspoken political conservative who has supported many right-wing causes (such as the contras in Nicaragua) and been critical of '60s radicalism in general. It would be easy to conclude that Horowitz went from A to Z this way because he's superficial and unstable. Instead, as this moving, intellectual autobiography shows, his second thoughts about leftism emerged gradually as he experienced various aspects of the "Movement." The catalytic episode came when he discovered that the Panthers had murdered a friend of his, but even then Horowitz was slow to convert, primarily because he was heavily enmeshed in what he now views as the quintessential leftist habit of judging politics by its intentions, not its acts."

Horowitz is an editor of Front Page magazine, which is among my favorite sites. 

Baghdad Without a Map, and Other Misadventures in Arabia: And Other Misadventures in Arabia icon 
I thoroughly enjoyed Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, and I'm willing to bet this book will be a good read, too. One reviewer describes it: 

Horwitz has the touch, the ability to astutely capture the ludicrous essence of an experience while filling in all the pertinent socio-historic details. He chews qat with the Yemenis, plays soccer with the Sudanese Dinka refugees and listens to an endless refrain of "You are the perfume of Iraq, oh Saddam" in Baghdad. Horwitz' eye and wit are equally sharp, and his book is an exceptionally good read.

UPDATE: I got it. I read it, I loved it!

The No-Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America  
from Bill O'Reilly, host of The Factor on FoxNews.

More to follow

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  When you see this Little Red House, you know that I have the book on my shelves here at home and that I can personally recommend it!

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