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13 April 2010


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Good Soldiers is so super good (and so super readable and short) that I would say to jump on it.

Regarding the legitimacy of wars, have you read Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars?

I have a whole basement full (that's where my "reference collection" is) of books about war, history of war, and debates on just and unjust wars. But when you see how even a "legitimate" war just perpetuates everything (I truly believe that the "legitimate" WWII set us up for at least half a century, and counting, of poor military decision making, all based on that war's mythos, so how much world misery has that led to?). But I don't think I've heard of the Walzer book. Would you recommend it?

"Good Soldiers" had a lot of good word of mouth, and good reviews, and it is short, so I am still hoping to get it read.

The Walzer book is a classic, yes I do recommend it. I would agree though on the notion of legitimacy as whether one is or isn't it has little bearing on whether the war will be started or not.

I'm a new reader of this (totally awesome) blog so forgive me if you've addressed this before, but do you have a preference or opinion on reading current affairs books once years have passed since the years described? I'm thinking specifically of Ghost Wars by Steve Coll and The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright -- I own a copy of Ghost Wars and the Wright book has been on my TBR list since it came out. But I just haven't gotten around to either of them and now have started to wonder if it's worth the investment of time. I imagine they're both great reads and would be of excellent educational value. But I have this nagging feeling like I've missed the boat when I don't read books like this within a year or so of publication.

Thanks for the kind words. We're always happy to meet new readers!

You know, I've never been particularly bothered by reading "Current" Affairs books a few years out of their currency (although I do think it's a horrible category name--I prefer to call them "investigative" books). For one thing, I very rarely read to keep up with the times. The most talking I do with nonfiction readers, sadly (or happily?) mainly comes through this blog, as most people I know read fiction or won't talk politics--so reading books through word of mouth or to keep current in conversation is not really my thing.

If anything, I sometimes like reading such books out of their context, both for their unintentional takes on history (any book written in 2006, say, will retain a political flavor of 2006, I would say) and for good background. A good book is always a good book, even if some information changes or what we know changes. But then again I don't really think of nonfiction as gospel truth the way many people do--I recognize that all writers put their spins on topics, and even with extensive reporting, will miss or get some of the story wrong.

Both Ghost Wars and The Looming Tower were great solid reporting books, and you're certainly not going to be any dumber after reading them. Don't be in a hurry. You'll notice we're still in big worldwide messes due to war, so the more things change, the more they stay the same. Along the same lines, I would highly recommend George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate," about Iraq and its history and our involvement there--it's a few years old too but it was really a book that stuck with me.

Sorry if this comment was long and ranty. Hope I haven't turned you off of the blog already! :)

I second the vote on both Ghost Wars and The Looming Tower. There is some overlap between them, but they are great reads. I give Ghost Wars the edge though.

Thanks for the counsel and I'm definitely not turned off. You're right not to take nonfiction as gospel truth and I speak as a recovering journalist. Journalists/nonfiction writers are human beings which means they're individual, fallible, subjective and well, human.

Thanks for the back-up on these two titles. I'll admit I didn't make it all the way through Ghost Wars, but that wasn't because it wasn't a good book.

Always glad to have a "recovering journalist" around. :) (I'm a journalism grad myself, but never had the skills or derring-do to work in the industry.) That's one of the things I find most frustrating about how some people approach nonfiction--they accept that it's all true. To a certain level you can expect accuracy and a desire to tell the truth--but the fact remains that if five people witness the same simple event, you're still going to hear five different stories. That's partly what I love about nonfiction, actually, but it can surprise some readers who are expecting nothing by the facts, ma'am.

The question about currency of books is interesting. When I am weeding, I often am dismayed by how all of the checkouts were within the first six months to a year of issue. Our society pushes new too much at the expense of still valid, and it effects how people borrow books. That's why I think we need more good readers advisory, bringing books out of the stacks.

Alternately, I like that some political trash-talk books fade pretty quickly. We need to get them to open up some space.

If I'm not too late to post (gone two weeks for conferences and vacation)...

Always nice to have books to add to my list. (The last two, not the first two. It's nice to be done with college. I can read the "easier" scholarly books and save the dense and chewy ones for later! Although I do have Stripping Bare the Body on my list... Grr, drowning in books!)

I'm already waiting for Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, which sounds outstanding. If, that is, I can trust the WSJ review and the first few pages from Amazon.com.

The one bad thing about books about war is that they leave me in a gray fog for days, sometimes weeks. Then I have to fight the temptation to break out the Iliad and wallow.

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