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review 2017-01-07 23:39
NeoConservatism: Why We Need It - Douglas Murray

I have a great deal of respect for Douglas Murray. He is a confident and passionate speaker. The positions that he takes are often, shall we say, unpopular. Yet this does not deter him from putting forward his arguments. There are probably many areas where I would disagree with him, but I think it's important to get a range of opinions from across the political spectrum in pursuance of growth and learning, so I picked up his book on a controversial topic.

 

Neoconservatism is one of those blanket political terms most often associated with those that believe the Iraq War was the correct thing to do and that the correct path for American foreign policy is to pursue the spreading of liberty and democracy to as many nations as possible in order to protect freedom in the US. It is in some ways a product of the Cold War and the idea of the need to shield the free world from the advances of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian nature.

 

Other than a few core beliefs there doesn't seem to be much in the way of commonality between the people branded neocons. Murray attempts to underpin the roots of the concept and then document how it developed. He believes that it is often misunderstood or misrepresented in mainstream politics. The term has become, as a consequence of the highly-charged nature of the Iraq war, a vague, derogatory word to label those that defended the war and it is perhaps not surprising in 2016, given that in mainstream media and political opinion the war is roundly regarded as a catastrophe. 

 

Snippets of the book are useful for understanding what neocons roughly believe in, however the scope of that task proves too much for Murray in a mere 223 pages. For such a short book there are too many sections that just don't deliver the punches that I have come to expect from a man of Murray's intellect. When he does get some momentum going it ends up short lived because he moves onto another area and in the end a book that wishes to convince the reader of the need for this philosophy ends up a little bit thin on the ground. I can't help but feel unsatisfied. 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-07-31 18:17
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World - Peter Frankopan

Slight spoilers in this review, I know a few of you want to read it so I tried to keep it minimal. For a book that attempts to address thousands of years of human history in 521 pages, it does a solid job. I loved the first 400 pages or so, It is written in a gripping way that is often missing in non fiction. I learnt a lot about the world and I would have given it five stars had its sections on the holocaust, the nazis and American foreign policy in the middle east not been limited.

 

It descends towards the end into page upon page of America shaming, essentially blaming it entirely for taking on Britain's imperial mantle in the middle east and destabilizing it further during the cold war. I agree that the US is responsible in part for destabilizing some countries in the region and that this has led to a rise in ultra nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism, but the way this is written it is almost as though it's an opinion piece at times. It feels like Frankopan has decided the US is to blame entirely and looks for evidence to back up his claims, rather than going in with an objective outlook and trying to assess the evidence without bias.

 

But my criticisms of the later sections of the book are not to say it is also not largely interesting. I learnt things about weapon sales and oil that I previously had no knowledge of and my understanding of countries such as Iran and Iraq has improved as a result. Sections on Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were equally enlightening. 

 

Where the book really shines is in its early history of the formation of the east, sections on the viking Rus, the Islamic golden age, the slave trade and the mongols are fascinating. I had no idea that the word slaves comes from the slavs as they were heavy victims of Viking enslavement. I had no idea the mongols spread further after the death of Genghis Khan and were largely responsible for rebuilding areas they had pillaged. I even had no idea that Islam was almost spread into Europe as a dominant religion at its height, only to be repelled in France and knocked back by Christendom.

 

I went for a drink with a friend yesterday and he said something along the lines of, "I don't understand anyone who doesn't find history interesting." I have to say when I read a book like this one filled from the start to the end with dramatic feats, brutal politics, vast empires and powerful individuals it is hard to see how people can so easily dismiss history. I have only ever learnt from my interest in history, it has only served to increase my knowledge of the world around me and to help me make sense of what is going on in the world and for that reason, books like this that are filled with so many insights should be a must read for everyone. 

 

I'll leave this with my favourite quote in the book. 'Britain's politicians and diplomats were not made of the same stuff as the Francis Drakes and the other magnificent adventurers who created the empire; in fact, they are the tired sons of a long line of rich men, and they will lose their empire.' - Mussolini to his foreign minister Count Ciano.

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review 2016-05-24 08:57
Hercule in Iraq
Murder in Mesopotamia - Agatha Christie

Well, now that I've learnt a little bit of French I have discovered that Poirot's little sayings make more sense (such as Eh Bein, which means ah good). Okay, it isn't as if the entire book is in French, or that Christie overuses the phrases, but for some reason, until I actually started studying the language Poirot's occasional outbursts were a little meaningless (despite the fact that most of the time logic should probably dictate what those words actually mean, though for some reason when it comes to language logic seems, at times, to get thrown out of the window and we simply close our minds to the fact that while something may be written in another language, it doesn't necessarily mean that we are not able to understand it).

 

Anyway, this mystery is set in Mesopotamia, or as it is now known – Iraq (which I believe is what it was called back then), at an archaeological site. Mind you, this isn't the Iraq of today, with insurgents running around insisting that everybody follow their own totalitarian rule on pain of death (but then again isn't that what most governments do anyway), and bombs going off everywhere. No, Iraq in Christie's day was actually a lot more peaceful to the point that archaeologists descended upon the country in an effort to uncover the past (and to also ship numerous objects, including the walls of Ninevah, back to Europe). In fact Christie was an amateur archaeologist (and being a very successful author meant that she was able to participate in such projects without worrying about the need for funding). Here is a photo of her at a dig at Nippur:

 

Agatha Christie at Nippur

 

 

As such it is not surprising that we find a murder mystery occurring near a dig somewhere in Iraq. However, like the other mysteries that I have read, this one follows a similar pattern – the entire action occurs within a place that is effectively separated from the rest of the world, and the suspects are limited to the few that happen to have been in the compound at the time (as is always the case). Mind you, this does actually make for a rather enthralling murder mystery, especially when everybody in the compound has a reason to kill the victim (and the answer is never as straight forward as one suspects to be the case). However, there are a couple of clues that are left, particularly when Poirot suggests that once a murderer, always a murderer – or more precisely, it gets easier after the first one.

 

I've probably suggested this before, but real life murders never actually come out as they do in an Agatha Christie novel. Usually the suspect is known to the person, and they don't actually go out of their way to cover up their involvement. In reality the police tend to have a pretty good suspicion, it really comes down to actually getting the evidence to make the charges stick (and even Poirot admits here that while he may have worked out the mystery, he doesn't actually have any hard evidence to prove his case).

 

Mind you, in this particular instance, and in some of other other books that I have read, the murderer was also known to the victim.

(spoiler show)

 

However, real murders generally aren't performed in the way that they are performed in these books. They are either crimes of passion (and in these cases there is actually no mystery to solve, the police simply have to collect the evidence, and make sure that the evidence that has been collected is then admissible in court – which means not breaking the chain). Then there is the mob hit, which in some cases, probably go unsolved for a very long time because we are dealing with professional killers that know how not to get caught (leaving the body in the boot of the car means that there actually isn't a crime scene). Still I'm probably going a little bit to deep on this aspect because, well, it is an Agatha Christie novel and it is more about the mystery than actually trying to re-create a real murder – that is what True Crime is for. So, instead, here is a picture of Bagdad from the 1930s:

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Baghdad-Carriage_1930.jpg

 

 

It sure does look a lot more peaceful than the Bagdad of today (though I wouldn't be surprised if it is nowhere near as bad as the media portrays).

 

Anyway, I want to finish off with a quote from the end of the book:

 

You would have made a good archelologist, M. Poirot. You have the gift of re-creating the past.

 

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1641464910
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review 2016-05-07 14:05
Il profumo dei fiori in Iraq - Jessica Jiji,M. G. Melchionda

Inizio: 5 maggio
Finito: 7 maggio

 

Voto: 4/5

 

Consigliato: Si

 

Dopo secoli sono riuscita a regalarlo alla mia migliore amica e ne ho approfittato per leggerlo. Mi è davvero piaciuto, è scritto molto bene ed è davvero una bella storia d'amore ma anche di amicizia. Consigliato!

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text 2016-04-08 23:00
Femme Friday - My Next 5 TBR Memoirs
I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park
The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson
Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison

I have a soft spot for memoirs. Not just memoirs, but memoirs of regular people. I love to learn about the many lives that are out there and reality tv just doesn't do it. Memoirs are personal accounts of the things that people have been through. I've read a few already, but even those are mostly from people who are famous (or were by the time the memoir got into my hands). There is a lot more to the human experience than we see on a daily basis, so the next five memoirs that I've chosen to read (though they will be scattered among other reading in the coming months) are about people and experiences vastly different from my own. Here they are: 

 

  1. I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg  I have had this book on my TBR list for a long time. The title just called me in the middle of the book store. I have a bit of a weakness for stories about acclimating to new areas and cultures and this seems like a fun one. 
  2. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park  I also saw this a little while back. It popped up in my Recommendations feed on one site or another and seemed interesting. 
  3. The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson  This is another one that popped up on some feed. The reviews that I read on it were mixed but the premise is enough to put it on my list anyway. It was living and loving someone who is gender fluid that got me. 
  4. Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said  I stumbled upon this one while looking for a book about Arab-Americans. I was checking the Heritage/Diversity months and discovered that April is Arab-American month which led me to realize that I had yet to read about any real Arab-Americans. I say real because I LOVE Kamala Khan, but she is fictional. 
  5. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison I don't know about you, but mental illness scares me. It is often poorly self-diagnosed and I rarely know people who seek treatment. Even in that rare instance, sticking to a regiment can be arduous, proving illness can be tough, and it takes a toll on everyone, not just the ill person. This memoir explores manic depression from inside and outside the institution that treats it. 

 

Do you read memoirs? What are you reading next? 

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