I used to read books frequently but uni work and the endlessness of long-reads on the internet chewed through my book reading time over the last couple of years.
However, travelling has always been a great time to read. Here are some short reviews of what I’ve been reading, mostly to help me remember in the future what I thought of these books. As you can see, I needed a break from immigration-related material.
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Robert Gates) – A warts and all look at the U.S. military and defence policy from the person at the top. Gates writes openly and honestly about what went well and what didn’t. At times a bit over the top patriotic but the candor makes it worth it. Gates in the Obama administration is what bipartisanship should look like in politics. 7/10
The Insurgents: David Patraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (Fred Kaplan) – A highly readable case study of change within massive bureaucracies, in this case the U.S. Army. It’s fascinating to see who succeeds and who fails to advance change, due to timing, luck, scheming and persistence. Kaplan is an excellent storyteller and there are many lessons here. Many processes the U.S. Army struggles with I saw first hand when I worked at the immigration department. If you can’t commit to the book, Kaplan writes the War Stories column at Slate. 9/10
Jerusalem: The Biography (Simon Sebag Montefiore) – An intense history of Jerusalem. It takes a couple of chapters just to get to Jesus and the Romans. I don’t know much about the different religions but Montefiore fleshes this out expertly for the layman while weaving in tidbits about life in Jerusalem throughout different eras. Horrifying in parts, this book serves as a gentle reminder that conflict seems inherent and even peace over decades and centuries is shattered at some point. 8/10
This Town: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital (Mark Leibovich) – A rollicking birds eye view of ‘inside Washington’. Some (most?) of the people seem like fictional characters. Perhaps the saddest part is how realistic it appears. Hope gets brushed aside quickly for power. I can imagine many will be disgusted by what occurs on these pages but I don’t think that is the lesson of the book. To me, Leibovich wants to show how the combination of politics, media and money is part and parcel of doing business and that despite the the borderline nihilistic behaviour on display, the city functions. His portrait of Harry Reid in particular was excellent. 8/10
Power Failure: The Inside Story of Climate Politics under Rudd and Gillard (Philip Chubb) – I was excited to read this after a glowing review on Inside Story. However I was disappointed. I’m a pretty keen follower of progressive politics and I think Chubb does a disservice by playing to stereotypes. His exploration of the whole field lacked something (particularly parts about the Greens and the Liberals). I was unpersuaded by his case as I felt the complexity of the issue was underplayed. Undoubtedly critical mistakes were made along the way by important people but the end result was a policy on the cutting edge of addressing climate change from country with a massive carbon footprint. 4/10
If you have any books to recommend, please shout out in the comments. I’ve got a 36 hour trip home soon which needs filling.