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Books & Reviews

Archive | Books & Reviews

Review of Carlotta Gall’s The Wrong Enemy

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Amazon

Amazon

After over a decade of war in Afghanistan, the United States is still grappling with the problems that plague that country. These problems range from the existence of the Taliban and threats posed by al-Qaeda to a dependent economy whose survival hinges upon assistance from the United States. Multiple and complex problems abound in Afghanistan — multiplex indeed. One cannot help but ask: why hasn’t the United States eliminated the Taliban and put an end to the violence that claims the lives of many Afghan civilians and its own troops serving in Afghanistan?

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Remembering Fred Anderson: Writer, Mentor, and Friend

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Fred Anderson

Fred Anderson

The late Frederick “Fred” Randolph Anderson was a man of deep learning and great heart. His imagination seemed kaleidoscopic. Others surely knew him as an ace lawyer, professor, and environmentalist. I knew him best as a writer, mentor, and friend. When I first met Fred, we talked about books and the writing process for several hours over lunch. He had recently published his first novel, Falling Together, under the name Randolph Anderson. He was eager to follow up with a new novel, Washington. So we discussed the fiction market and the world of literary agents.

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A Review of Robert Oprisko’s Honor: A Phenomenology

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Amazon

Amazon

Robert Oprisko’s book, Honor: A Phenomenology, while published in 2012, offers a fresh new look on how society is structured (from the individual to the international) through the practice of honor. Oprisko carefully outlines the many facets of the honor processes, clearly defining terms that describe how honor shapes our everyday lives. Common words, such as dignity and shame, take on enough meaning to describe each particular aspect of this complex topic. Oprisko engages a tremendous amount of literature on the subject to bring credibility to his argument, and manages to string the various views together in a way that lends itself to a more or less smooth narrative.

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The Monuments Men Reviews: Book and Film

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Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

Artistic license can take many forms when applied to historical narrative, and it is my hope that in reading my reviews of the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, and the film adaptation, The Monuments Men, the reader will get a full picture of the heroic men and women who rescued European art from the Nazis – the Monuments Men, and how they have been portrayed in print and on the silver screen.

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Karl Kraus, the Press, and War

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Alamy

Alamy

Reviewing Jonathan Franzen’s book The Kraus Project, the German poet Michael Hoffmann argues that people call the Austrian satirist, Karl Kraus, brilliant, “though it’s sometimes said with a there-now-go-away-please undertone.” By that Hoffman implies that people all too freely bestow the title of genius on the fin-de-siècle Viennese journalist, because they do not fully comprehend what he is trying to say with his intricate, quotation-drenched, and aphorism-dominated prose. After all, partial comprehension is often a prerequisite for mantled brilliance. If we could comprehend Kraus in his entirety, the title of genius might become superfluous. To many, therefore, to this day, Karl Kraus remains a distant mystery.

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Review of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

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Amazon

Amazon

Thanks in part to US fugitive, Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) is again in the spotlight. According to the former US intelligence contractor, not only is the NSA eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications, it is also monitoring the electronic communications of Americans. Like Jihadists, foreign leaders, international aid organizations, multi-national corporations and even ordinary citizens are allegedly monitored by America’s leading signals intelligence agency. Needless to say, Snowden has brought much unwanted attention on the secretive NSA. Besides complicating the spy agency’s work by revealing sensitive espionage methods, Snowden’s revelations also forced the Obama administration to introduce measures ending NSA surveillance of close US allies. This is of course not the first time the NSA found itself in the limelight.

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Alternative Commemoration of Mao, Review of Mao’s Great Famine

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Amazon

Amazon

In light of the 120th birthday commemoration last year for Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party continues to elevate him to emperor-like status. Indeed, there are over 2,000 statues in Chinese cities commemorating the controversial leader. It might be pertinent for the government and the people of China to scrutinize the actions of the revered figure. Since such scrutiny seems implausible in the one party state, the enlightening work of Frank Dikötter will have to suffice. Although not afforded access to sensitive documents, this has not stopped the Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong (only one of many prestigious accolades) on publishing several books on contemporary China like The Age of Openness: China before Mao (2007). Mao’s Great Famine (2010) must be considered his masterpiece because the work compiles a massive variety of statistics, records and other scholarly work on the Great Leap Forward.

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A Book for Black History Month: Devil in the Grove

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HarperCollins Publishers

HarperCollins Publishers

Last year featured a strong slate of Hollywood films on anti-black discrimination in America: 12 Years A Slave, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and 42. Someday soon, theaters will show what will surely be a powerful new entry to this genre; Lionsgate Entertainment has bought the film rights to Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (2012), winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Devil in the Grove narrates the underexposed but dramatic early career of American icon Thurgood Marshall. In the book, the brilliant lawyer and his NAACP colleagues travel to central Florida to defend four black boys from accusations of abduction and rape in the small citrus town of Groveland.

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Review of Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan by Klassen and Albo

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Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors, thus the joke: “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road? To get to the middle.” Oh, yes, bit of a muddle there in Afghanistan, but like Dudley Do Right, the Canadians were only trying to develop and tidy up the place. Not in the opinion of Jerome Klassen and a formidable stable of academics, researchers, journalists, and peace activists who see Canada’s role in Central Asia less as a series of policy blunders than a coldly calculated strategy of international capital. “Simply put,” writes Klassen, “the war in Afghanistan was always linked to the aspirations of empire on a much broader scale.”

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Tale of a 1940’s ‘Tiger Mom’

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Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

Amy Chua has attracted a lot of Internet heat for her chronicle of her drive for achievement at almost any cost in the child-rearing department in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom (famously refusing her daughter bathroom or water breaks until she mastered a tricky piano exercise). Chua recently squirted some gasoline on the fire by revealing that her next book will argue that certain “cultural” (they avoid the words “racial” or “ethnic”) groups succeed in the US. The list includes Jews, Cubans, Nigerians, Mormons, Indians, Iranians and Lebanese-Americans and the three traits they share, (the “triple package”) are, apparently, “superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.”

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Hatfields, McCoys, and the Legend of the American Frontier Warrior

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Iowa State Press

Iowa State Press

From the nation’s birth until the 1960s, American culture mythologized frontiersmen and glorified their violence in books, films, and other media. Two cultural narratives dominated. The first, espoused by historian Frederick Jackson Turner, linked the gradual settlement of the frontier with the rise of a democratic, civilized, industrial American society. Turner declared the frontier closed as of 1890 and warned that economic downturn could result. The second narrative, advocated by statesman and historian Theodore Roosevelt in The Winning of the West, emphasized violence to a greater degree. His ideal frontier was a deadly arena for racial competition and natural selection, where Anglo-Americans tested their spirit, patriotism, and manhood.

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Dos Passos, Hemingway, and France

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via Twitter

via Twitter

In the 1969 video clip below, a French TV crew interviews my grandfather, American author John Dos Passos, about his life and literature. The clip concerns Dos Passos’s earliest memories of his friendship with fellow American writer Ernest Hemingway. Though the writers had initially crossed paths as early as 1918 during ambulance corps duty, they did not socialize at length until the early 1920s.

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Review of David Folkenflik’s Murdoch’s World

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Amazon

Amazon

The eruption of the News International phone hacking scandal has caused significant problems for Rupert Murdoch and his business empire. It forced him to close his big money spinner, News of the World, and to withdraw his takeover bid for the enormously profitable BSkyB satellite TV broadcaster. More recently, he’s had to split the mighty News Corporation into two companies. All of this has spawned a veritable tsunami of Murdoch books, including David Folkenflik’s Murdoch’s World. It’s a well written account of some of the most dramatic events surrounding Murdoch’s career and impact.

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Review of Maajid Nawaz’s, Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism

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The Guardian

The Guardian

Maajid Nawaz subtly reveals much in his seemingly effortlessly titled, Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist ExtremismThe word radical, though often used in modern English to mean extreme, actually derives its meaning from the Latin word radix, meaning, “root.” Nawaz cleverly employs both meanings—the old and the new—to describe who he once was and who he has now become: a former leader of an Islamist organization who is now on the frontlines of a personal mission to rid Islam of the excessive, politicized ideology he once so firmly believed and forcefully preached.

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Review of Clan Cleansing in Somalia by Lidwien Kapteijns

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Amazon

Amazon

The publication of Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 by Lidwien Kapteijns has triggered bitterness among Somalis. The reason is because the author argues that the Hawiye clan aided and abated by the Isaq clan adopted a policy that defined the Darod clan as an enemy targeted for elimination and expulsion from Mogadishu between January 28, 1991 and December, 1992. 

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