Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Geography Related Books Read in 2011

A long year for me has given me time to read geography books and other related genres as well (even more than last year).


Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History by Thomas Barfield: Yes! A great book on the history and culture of Afghanistan that is not afraid to point out that the great myths about Afghanistan, such as it being a graveyard and a self-sufficient country, are wrong.

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer:  I never trusted the story of Three Cups of Tea and this book seems to prove me right.  Be sure to read by Three Cups of Tea and a Coffee Cake of Lies post.

Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward:  A look at Obama and Afghanistan, late 2008 to mid-2010.  I can't wait to read the next one in order to find out just what the administration is thinking when it comes to America's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

War by Sebastian Juger:  A look at one unit's fight in Afghanistan. Goes into the mind of the solider look no other recent book


Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones by Greg Campbell:  A decent rundown of the civil war in Sierra Leone and how the diamond trade funded the war.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason Stearns:  Wow. The shocking history of the two wars you never heard about.


How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein:  The fun guide to how the states got their shapes. Equality of size, battles over slavery, and politics are the three primary reasons.

How the States Got Their Shapes Too: The People Behind the Borderlines by Mark Stein:  Brief biographies on those who impacted state boundaries.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt:  A fun murder mystery and an examination of what makes Savannah Savannah.


The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers:  With their weird racist-nationalistic desire for a strong mother I can say with certainty that the Koreas are very, very different.

God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China by Liao Yiwu:  A look at the lives of those in the various Christian movements, Protestant-Catholic / Independent-State run, in China.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick:  A decent collection of biographies of North Koreans in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal:  Ten years old but still good. A history of why Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Imagine the Israel-Arab conflict if no one cared.


The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower:  A good but way too brief history of Balkans with a focus of the pre-Cold War Balkans.

Discovering the Camino de Santiago by Rev. Greg J. Markley:  An easy read done in one sitting. A rare book in the sense that it is a religious travelogue of the Camino de Santiago... and done by a priest too!

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley:  A history into the war that saved Europe, a history we know little about.

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen:  The best book I read on 1989. It does a great job looking into events pre-1989 which made the European revolutions possible. Much more in-depth than "The Year that Changed the World."

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer:  One of the best history books I ever read (and by far the longest). It is the book on Nazi Germany. The 1990 afterward offering words of caution about the reunion of German is somewhat humorous now, though.

The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Michael Meyer:  A quick tour of the events of 1989... with a weird, unrelated introduction.

Latin America

The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream by Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez:  The good, bad, and ugly about Cuban baseball, those who made it to the majors, those who failed, the heroes, and the villains for free baseball

Middle East and North Africa

Children of Jihad: A Young American's Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East by Jared Cohen:  A very readable book but Cohen fails to realize that the younger generations he talks to are those predisposed to talk to Americans. Meanwhile, a huge bulk of the youth population is overlooked. One would get the impression that Iran is full of Europeans if they don't read this book with a grain of salt.

Egypt and the Revolution of 2011: A really poor stitching together of Wikipedia articles. I cannot recommend this book less.

The Instigators by David Wolman:  A good, short look at one of the Egyptian protest leaders.

The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years by Bernard Lewis:  Truly a good "brief history of the last 2,000 years." I enjoyed the parts on culture more than the geopolitical history.

The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next by the Council of Foreign Relations:  A great collection of essays on the Arab Revolts and Protests much a local, regional, and international perspective.

On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable by Alaa Al Aswany:  While I don't agree with all parts of his world view, this is a good book to see what issues were bothering Egyptians before the revolution.

The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution by Amir Taheri:  This could have been an informative book but Taheri makes claims that I even know are wrong (such as using Ghurabiyya Shia, a dead sect, to make claims about current Twelver Shia beliefs).

Revolution in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, And the Unmaking of an Era by the Contributors of Foreign Policy Magazine:  A good collection of essays and reports on the development of the Arab Protests of 2011. Some essays are great while in others you can tell the authors have drunk the Kool-Aid.

Tweets from Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as it Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it:  A good collection of English-language tweets from the Egyptian Revolution... though I wonder how these compare to the Arabic tweets in message and ideology.


Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" by Philip Plait:  A fun yet smart book showing that one holds a lot of false beliefs about the Earth and astronomy.

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark:  A military, political, religious, and social history of the Crusades.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner:  Sometimes I question the objectivity of the book (the case of British Guyana being a primed example) but a good book none-the-less on failures in the CIA and how it affected America.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel:  The discovery of the means to determine longitude at sea was the last battle which ended the marriage between astronomy and geography.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken JenningsBesides acting like the smartest kid in the room and one or two factual errors this is a wild, fun romp through the world of non-academic geographers

McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny: An interesting look at organized crime that seems to speed through and jump around a little too much for its own good.

Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member by Philip Freiherr Von Boeselager"It's a good personal biography of an aristocratic Catholic German officer on the Eastern Front. However, do not read it to learn about Valkyrie. Boeselager was only a very minor player on the side.


The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin: The Hebrew, Desert, Greek, and Latin Church Founders and their quotes on religious matters of both the past and present.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection by Pope Benedict XVI: Who Jesus was and what He said and meant.

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years by John Philip Jenkins:  Great read on the battle between One-Nature and Two-Nature Christians from Nicaea to the Rise of Islam.

War on Terrorism

Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground  by Robert Kaplan:  A look at those in the Navy and Air Force and the geopolitics that affects them and vice versa.

Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton:  An inside look into armed contractors, mercenaries, and adventurers in the post-9/11 world.

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda by Peter Bergen:  A biased mix of contradictions (Al Qaeda didn't have ties to Iraq except when it did) and focus on intelligence instead of the actual battles caused me to lose interest.

Militant Islamist Ideology by Youssef H. Aboul-Enein:  An excellent look at the difference between Islam, Islamists, and Militant Islamists; as well as the denominational battles within each group.

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Cool list. I also read The Cleanest Race, and it seems to ring true.