Very readable and insight-filled, The New Middle East: The World After The Arab Spring by Paul Danahar (@pdanahar) provides valuable context to the events of 2010-2011 in the region. As the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief from 2010-2013, the author was an eyewitness to what happened, and the immediate aftermath. Participants on both sides of the various uprisings provide comments, and the author vividly describes scenes like his viewing of the body of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a meat locker.
I learned quite a bit from this book, and found the chapters on Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict particularly interesting. But, it must be noted that this book — like all history books, especially those chronicling near-past events — is a snapshot in time. Subsequent events inevitably change those who determine “the past,” or at least reveal new information which in turn results in new interpretations.
An imaginative and well-crafted puzzle box of a story, Europe in Autumn (The Fractured Europe Sequence Book 1) by Dave Hutchinson (@HutchinsonDave) is an ultimately satisfying genre mix of science fiction and spy thriller.
First things first: the book seemed to take a long time developing a recognizable plot. A third or so of the way in, I began to wonder not where the story was going, but *if* it was going anywhere. To be sure, the scenes were well-written and interesting, providing important background on the near-future setting and main character, but the book seemed to be just a series of vignettes.
But then dots began to not only come into view, but become connected. Not every secret is revealed or event explained, but enough information is provided for careful readers to get a better sense of what’s going on. I’m glad I kept going as in the end I really enjoyed the way the story came together.
An engrossing character study with strong thriller elements, The Mud Dance by Neil Grimmett vividly brings to life a pair of working-class British rock-n-rollers trying to make it to the ‘big time’ in the 1970s. The music scene at that time was dominated by ‘supergroups’ like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Humble Pie, and featured ever-wilder tales of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll involving the bands and their groupies.
The chapters are named for songs of the period that help describe the events unfolding in that section. Each chapter also begins with a introduction set in the present where Kenny, our guide through the story, plays in a seedy music club by the seaside. Kenny’s a gifted drummer who became a ‘local hero’ more than once as his musical fortunes rose and fell. He’s now teamed up with a new keyboardist whose playing brings back some deeply-buried memories.
The latest entry in a hugely entertaining futuristic sci-fi series, Uroboros Saga (Book 5) by Arthur Walker (@ArthurHWalker) provides some answers to questions big and small, but — as has happened in every book — those answers tend to lead to more questions.
This tendency is helped along by the expanding nature of the plotline, as new characters and settings are introduced. Whereas Book 1 stuck mostly in and around the fictional city of Port Montaigne, by Book 5 the action takes place on Earth, Mars and the Moon’s Lunar Colony. There are hints of further expansion, too, farther out into space.
As for the characters, Mr. Walker’s vivid imagination has created some truly unique folks (although ‘unique’ is not exactly the right descriptive for the clones and cyborgs of several major characters that keep popping up). There are purpose-built drones like Brook and Ezra, and various species of really cool intelligent hybrid Metasapients — including bats, dogs, fish and bears — as well as humans, living machines and … well, whatever the members of the mysterious Cabal turn out to be.
I did an online search of the words “Hackers” today and the top results were news stories about (yet another) bank being hacked — perhaps by a group closely associated with North Korea — and stolen passwords from social media sites offered for sale or being released online. I typically see several headlines like this during any given week, and the frequency of hacking reports has only increased over the past few years.
So, when I saw Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan (@fmkaplan) I decided to take a look to increase my limited knowledge on this subject. I found the book to be an excellent primer on the subject, and very readable. Anyone concerned about getting lost in highly technical details need not worry: this is history, not how-to.
Dark Territory begins with a wonderfully apt anecdote about President Ronald Reagan taking in the movie WarGames in 1983 (full disclosure: it’s one of my favorite movies of that time period) before backtracking to address two landmark events: the creation of the computer network in 1967 and the founding of the National Security Agency in 1952. Continue reading
After watching the FX Network’s excellent limited-run TV series based on The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin, I realized there was a lot about the “so-called trial of the century” that I didn’t know. There’s a good reason for this: shortly after the trial began, I received orders to transfer with my family from Georgia to Naples, Italy. Moving overseas with two small kids is a pretty involved evolution so we paid scant attention to the trial, and were in a Transient Lodging hotel just up the coast from Naples when the verdict was delivered.
Knowing TV tends to merge events and characters, I sought out the source book to get a more accurate review of the trial. Many years ago I read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, which is probably the benchmark for books of this type. Toobin doesn’t match the scary intensity of the earlier book about the Manson Family killings, but in all fairness long before the first witness was called the Simpson trial stopped being about the violent, bloody deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Instead, the defense played the “race card” very effectively.
Robert D. Kaplan is one of my favorite authors and I’ve read all his books and many of his magazine articles. I especially enjoy the way he examines a region or locale by blending history, current events, politics, and interviews with residents ranging from government officials to clergymen — all the while in the guise of a curious traveler.
In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond marks Kaplan’s return to Europe after an extended run of primarily focusing on Asia. In many ways this is a bookend to his breakout Balkan Ghosts, as he explains how he came to travel through the region in the first place. I have Romanian in my ancestry, but admit to knowing less about the country than I would like. I greatly enjoyed filling in some of the blanks with Kaplan as my guide.