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review 2017-03-19 00:00
The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid
The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid - Will Bardenwerper I don't love that this book compares itself with In Cold Blood, a lengthy book that goes to great pains to humanize its subjects and their victims, painting a vivid picture of what happens next after a tragedy. The Prisoner in His Palace is brief (~200 pages without the index and notes) and, to be fair, more tethered to the truth than Capote, and therefore more dry. Saddam Hussein is the most vivid presence in these pages, perhaps intentional, but it feels like Bardenwerper was unable to capture the essence of the soldiers who guarded Hussein in his last months.

Bardenwerper uses declassified notes from F.B.I. interrogations, the army's oral history interviews and interviewed many of those involved himself to put this book together. As it is its a disturbing situation for any soldier to be put in - providing care to a man who personified evil - and raises some interesting points about the mental costs of such a task. The book raised some questions for me - who were the guards who watched Saddam before the Super Twelve were assigned to him? There are some references to his capture and some hospital stays, but there are gaps in the 'chain of custody' as far as viewpoints go.

Other than a few physical characteristics and some vignettes of some of the soldier's (or doctor's or lawyer's) lives at home before and after guarding Saddam Hussein there isn't enough to distinguish the soldiers from each other. There were also some pointless inclusions, such as two soldiers scuffling in their room one night or another soldier being awkward and picked on. Neither of these examples were elaborated on as being part of a trend in the unit or the army at large, or representing any stress particular to the Iraqi conflict. Is there more Bardenwerper wants to say? Why doesn't he? I appreciate brevity, but the narrative wasn't strong enough for me to get a sense of who these men were. Except for Saddam Hussein, which, cool, but this book promises a lot more than that, and I was a little disappointed.
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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 2013-09-22 00:00
On Democracy by Saddam Hussein - Saddam Hussein,Paul Chan,Karen Marta Usually, I am enthusiastic about irony. Not so much for this one.
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