New Book Reviews

The following books all deal with the situation of the United States in the world of 2004.  They are neither historical background nor entertaining reading.  They are “hard-nosed” information about the challenges that our country faces.  Opinions differ on the current state of affairs.  However any informed citizen needs to work to be as informed as possible.  The following books are all recommended as helping to accomplish that goal.

Salam Pax - Salam Pax -This book is a blogger’s diary of the time before, during and immediately after the Iraq war.  The word Blogger is short for Web Logger.  This is a person who posts a continuing account of an event or situation on the World Wide Web.  In this case, the blogger is a resident of Baghdad.  His continuing log of events starts several months prior to the invasion of Iraq.  It details daily life in Baghdad. The result is to give a valuable insight into how an informed Iraqui views his country, its place in the world and the prospects for the future. 

A commentary on how the world has changed in the current century is presented when the author discusses the arrival of the B-52 bombers.  He has a friend in England who lives near the B-52 base.  When his friend hears the bombers taking off on their mission to Baghdad, he notifies Salam Pax in Baghdad on the Internet.  Salam Pax then starts a countdown until the arrival of the B-52’s.  He times going to the bar and having a drink to allow time to get home, take shelter and sit out the raid.  This is only a small view of the interconnectedness and communications possible in our world of today.  The book gives a great overview of this quality.

Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern - John Gray -A short, very dense book about the philosophical basis of Al Qaeda.  The author maintains that Al Qaeda is both Western and modern. It is a byproduct of globalization’s international capital flows and open borders.  Their utopian zeal to remake the world descends from the same Enlightenment creed that informed both the disastrous Soviet experiment and the neo-liberal dream of a global free market. 

Anyone who thinks of Al Qaeda as a group of escapees from the Middle Ages or some sort of religious misfits needs to read this book.  It shows the face of the enemy and the view is frightening. The insight is into a totally different culture and set of values.  We ignore these viewpoints at our peril. The author is a Professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.

The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad - The authoress of this book is a Norwegian journalist who has covered many assignments in war-torn regions.  She was invited to move into the house of a bookseller in Kabul. She lived with this family for several months. The bookseller himself has 2 wives, 5 children and several other relatives who live in a 4 room house in Kabul.  The authoress moves in with this group and shares their joys and trials.  The result is to present a view of life in an Islamic community where the influence of the Taliban is never very far away.  Military operations and presence are a very small part of this book.  It is more of a social interest story of life in a very different culture.

The most outstanding conflict in the book is between Muslim hard liners and modernity.  As a bookseller, the main character must maintain a progressive, thoughtful and wide ranging outlook.  As a Muslim under very close scrutiny, he must be very discrete in his actions.  The book presents a balanced view of the difficulties of living a progressive and productive life under these conditions.  The problems of women and feminism in this culture also are well presented.

The Bubble of American Supremacy - Gorge Soros - This is a very disturbing book about the current foreign policy of the United States.  The author compares the current phenomenon of American supremacy to a stock market bubble similar to the one that collapsed at the beginning of this century.  He feels that current Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action is a potentially catastrophic policy grounded in the belief that international relations are relations of power, not law.  Soros argues that for the Bush administration legality and legitimacy are mere decorations and that military power is the true currency of all international relations.

Soros’ personal philanthropic commitments amount to roughly $500 million per year.  He directs these funds to promote open society around the globe. His argument in the book is that the supremacy attitude of the Bush administration puts all of our military might and reputation behind a single throw of the dice.  He alternately proposes that by building long term alliances and fostering cooperative actions with other nations, we can greatly increase the effectiveness of our efforts and enhance the long term influence of our country.  A somewhat dissonant point of view, but one that fits disturbingly well with the influential Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz.

All of these books are available at Barnes and Noble or Books and Company.

- Abbott ("Shorty") Williams