Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Geography-Related Books Read in 2012

Another year means more books read.  For past years check out 20112010, and select picks from 2009.

Americana

1812: The War That Forged a Nation:  An easy read overview of the War of 1812 from the American perspective.  I liked this book but I favor 1812: The War with America, which is mostly but not limited to the British perspective and ties the war with the French Revolutionary-Napoleonic Wars.

American Indian Mafia: An FBI Agent's True Story about Wounded Knee, Leonard Peltier, and the American Indian Movement - Overly long and in need of editing but a great look at the how and why concerning the rise and fall of the terrorist American Indian Movement.

The Siege of Washington:The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union - A great read about the days after the Fall of Fort Sumter when the geography of anti-Lincoln feelings cut off Washington DC from pro-Union states.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl  - The geography and history of the sadness of the 1930s Great Plains.  An interesting look at the desperation of people in a man-made disaster.

Americas

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus - An overall good book on the more advanced civilizations in the Americas.  Some cherry picking of data and a weird epilogue temper my enjoyment of the book, though.

For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada, the Cristero War and Mexico's Struggle for Religious Freedom - The most basic introduction to the Cristero War.  If you know anything about this war you won't learn anything new.  The book is not bad but very much meant for people who had no idea there was a Cristero War.

Asia

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power - A good overview of the geopolitics, demographics, cultural geography, and history of the Indian Ocean area.  Sadly, geographers missed out making this book thus leaving it to people like Kaplan to fill the void.

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang - An inside look into the late-1980s battle inside the Chinese Communist Party.  This is the sad story of reformist losing to tyrants, an all too common story.

Cartography

How Maps Change Things - The good: how maps can be selected to display certain message.  The bad: goes off on political tangents.

Europe

A Heart for Europe - A nice biography of Emperor Karl I, the last ruler of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and a possible soon-to-be saint.

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin - The sad, forgotten in the West geography and history of a land which saw the worst of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World - A fast read on how a cholera outbreak in London led to the birth of medical geography.  On the side, its interesting to note that the first two public health measures by the first official public health board helped cause the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people.

Imperial Twilight - The Story Of Karl And Zita Of Hungary - Compared to some other Emperor Karl biographies this has a lot more detail, while in other parts it lacks an incredible amount of important events.  The authors seem to play into the old belief that Empress Zita was the covert, knife and dagger monarch her enemies made her out to be.

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin - A good look into the rise of Vladimir Putin.  However, when concerning Chechen terrorists, Ms. Gessen betrays a radical "why don't we just negotiate with hostage takers who have already killed hostages"-bias.

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives - A fun, accurate look at our misconceptions of Medieval-era England.

History of Geography

Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus - One of the best histories I ever read.  The book focuses on the times, voyages, and man himself.  I have written elsewhere about Columbus and this book.  The man was a complex mix of genius and egotist, Catholic and cruel, excellent micro-geographer and horrible macro-geographer.

Language

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language - Great book on the history and origin of English and how other languages influenced it.  Great in audiobook format so one can actually hear the language throughout time.

Middle East

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis - A deep look at philosophy's role in Islam and why it was purged from the faith.  The book does a good job at showing how the impact of this purge is affecting the Middle East today.  Written before the Arab Spring but a good introduction into how Islamists work.

The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, The West, and The Future of the Holy City - While having some Israeli bias, the book does a great job with the history showing how Judaism has always valued Jerusalem while Christianity and Islam have gone through cycles of loving, hating, and ignoring the city.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City - While having some Israeli bias, the book does a great job with the history showing how Judaism has always valued Jerusalem while Christianity and Islam have gone through cycles of loving, hating, and ignoring the city.

Raid on the Sun: Inside Israel's Secret Campaign that Denied Saddam the Bomb - A very readable and enjoyable account of the intelligence preparation and actual raid by Israel on Iraq's nuclear power reactor.

Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power: A Memoir - Great but not for the reasons Wael wanted it to be.  This shows how the "liberal" youth of Egypt had their sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Listening to Wael confusion why Muslims would be blamed for 9/11 and his frequent references to the "moderate" Muslim Brotherhood reveal the civilization/cultural gap between the Islamic Core and the West.

The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West - A decent overview of Iran but not likely to inform anyone something they already did not know.  Also, little is actually dedicated to the nuclear program; it is more an overview of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations - I am really torn by this book.  Some parts it is hard to go along with while other parts seem really enlightened.  Either way, a very good read and an unique view into the Arab mind.

The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Ba'th Party - Surprised it is still in print as the "updated" editions have nothing of use after 1982.  Good historical background but not something to read if you want a greater understanding of what is going on today in Syria.

Rise of Man

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors - An interesting history of pre-history but still a bit tedious, I do not understand the finer points of genetics, in some parts.

War on Terrorism/Military Geography

The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda - The pre-9/11 information is a good, detailed read of what is already out in the public domain.  The after 9/11 parts are [blank] with some [blank] which led me to think [blank] so I must say [redacted passages].  A good read if you are interested in a personal account of intelligence interrogations.  If you want actual War on Terrorism knowledge there is not much to offer in this book.

Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace - Overall a good book on the use of cultural intelligence not only for winning conflicts but also peace building.  However, the disagreements with Huntington go too far and off base (one critique is even put in verse).

The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 - A good overall look at why the Surge was created and how it work, and where some of its gaps were/are.

In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan - A decent book on the events of war in Afghanistan.  Too much time is spent on the previous, pre-American, conflicts, however.

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan - A great travelogue about a reporter's one week journey with General McChrystal's crew.  A good mini-biography of some people under McChrystal.  The book falls apart when the author tries to analyze counter-insurgency and the Iraq war with weak claims linking Francoism and counter-insurgency's birth in 1950s Algeria.  Hastings is also a ignorant of the course events in Algeria's independence war.

Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan - Sometimes the book has great details on developments in Pakistan.  Other times the book diverts into Afghanistan issues.  Other times the book contradicts itself ("the U.S. needs to work more with Pakistan" while the next paragraph is "Pakistan is to corrupt and there is no leadership so every effort the U.S. has done was wasted").

The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle Against the World's Most Dangerous Terrorist Power - A pretty good detail look at Iranian's activity in the more covert fields.

Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude - The parts where he talks about US-Saudi relations are fascinating.  However, way too often does Baer want you to think he is James Bond with his off topic personal stories.

World

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest - Eating right, stress control, forms of isolation of the hectic world, and family support all combine to form life styles several cultures have used to live longer.  A good geography of why people in certain cultures live longer.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order - A very good book that is misunderstood by those who have not read it.  The portions on Islamic culture have been proven dead right and even include predicting the Arab Spring.

How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) - Eye opening when discussing foreign country trends concerning collapsing birth rates.  I think the book falls apart a little bit in the American section though.

Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide -  A look at the history and mechanics of peace keeping and how it is helping, in part, to reduce the numbers of wars around the world.

2 comments:

DoverGirl said...

Reading The Ghost Map now--fast read, definitely.

Have you read Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography yet? Thoughts?

Catholicgauze said...

Hi DoverGirl,

Revenge of Geography is good but it falls apart in parts because I feel Kaplan goes to far in determinism sometimes despite his caveats. Check out my interview with Kaplan in Septemeber 2012 about his book.