Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I cruised through Border's recently and netted a few good catches that I have read or am starting to read. First off is BOYD - the Robert Coram biography of fighter pilot turned master military strategist, John Boyd. Skeptical of the tendency of biographers to oversell the importance of their subject, I emailed Dr. Barnett and asked him in his capacity as a professional military expert to give me an assessment of Boyd's contribution to American military thinking. Tom sent me a one word reply:

" Substantial".

With that endorsement, I began reading and Coram, a talented writer, draws the reader in just a few pages. It reminded me a little bit of I how I felt when I read Caro's Master of the Senate.

Secondly I also finished Michael Scheuer's Through Our Enemies Eyes ( I had already read Imperial Hubris ). You read Scheuer for the trees, not the forest. He's a detail man on radical Islamist terror groups and al Qaida in particular. You learn useful things but you don't walk away wanting to put the guy in charge of the GWOT ( reforming CIA management, yes - grand strategy, no). The book is ready for an updated edition to encompass recent events but it remains valuable to anyone intersted in al Qaida and Islamism.

My third book is a two-for-one translation of Japanese classics - The Book of Five Rings by Myamoto Musashi and The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori. I am re-reading the first, having done so once before about twenty years ago and look forward to the second which I have never read. The translator, Thomas Cleary, is noteworthy for translating works in Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Pali. Whoa ! I don't even know what Pali is ( I'd guess an Indonesian or Indian language) and Japanese, Chinese and Arabic are all notoriously difficult and subtle languages to master. Where I come from, Cleary is what we'd call " learned".

Lastly but far from least is The Coming of the Third Reich by Cambridge historian, Richard J. Evans. The only reason I've left this one for later is that I'm fairly deeply read in the Nazi period already and I'm trying to raise my knowledge level in other subfields these days. Evans is accomplished at his craft and has a sharp, analytica,l mind. In his In Defense of History, Evans managed to make historiography interesting and relevant to the non-specialist ( a task which takes some doing, trust me) as he deconstructed the deconstructionist and pomo attack on History as a discipline.

Ah, if only there were " Reading Fellowships " to sit home and dive into the books. That would be something.
On the Coram book -- it read like a hagiography to me.

The problem I have with it is that it's really hard to pin down exactly *how* Boyd influenced things. Coram just tends to assert that Boyd was the genius behind any number of things, e.g. Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine. I'll have to read the Vandergriff book to get more details, I think. The Coram book tends to be biographical and light on specifics. I also think that the acolytes are a bit strange.
Hi prak

Hagiography is the occupational hazard of the biographer. Though sometimes the opposite is true as with Conor Cruise O'Brien's handling of Jefferson. Difficult sometimes to maintain one's objectivity when you've wrapped your life around the details of another person's for several years running.

I haven't gotten far enough in the Coram book yet. If Boyd briefed the right audiences at the right times he could have had a large effect on the institutional culture. I'll have to wait and see.

I'm also starting to read old RAND papers that are available online by Alfred Wohlstetter on the recommendation of a reader, Jacob H. Very interesting mind.
Pali is a now-extinct Indo-European language once spoken on the Indian subcontinent. It is the language of the earliest Buddhist text and, consequently, has something of the same relationship to Buddhism that Greek (or maybe Aramaic) has to Christianity.
Got a link for that Wohlstetter stuff? I'd like to read it.
You can find an excellent collection of Albert Wohlstetter's early work here:

Dave & Anon

Much obliged ! Linguistics is far afield for me and I'll check out W.
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