The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 16 August 2013]

Book roundup, part twelve

A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.

Non-fiction

The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel ★★★★★

A devastating account of Ranger battalion 2-16’s tour of duty in Iraq during President Bush’s surge, the surge the president famously said would work “because it had to.”

Finkel embedded with the unit both before and during its deployment, which allowed him to follow the soldiers over time. The Good Soldiers stays relentlessly focused on the men, their experiences, and the awful toll those experiences took, both physically and mentally.

It’s a punch in the gut and a very important piece of reporting.

The most wrenching, terrible scenes are from the hospital where the wounded of the 2-16 are sent, a place of anguish and pain where mothers and young wives spend 20 hours a day with their grievously injured sons and husbands.

The Good Soldiers is required reading for everybody, but chicken hawks should be forced to read it.

This Town, by Mark Leibovich ★★★★☆

Are you angry at Washington? No? Then allow me to introduce you to This Town. Written by a Washington press insider, it’s a portrait of the feudal class that inhabits Washington, moving through revolving doors between government positions, lobbying positions and media positions, with no misstep or scandal so large it will get them kicked out of the club.

The picture the book paints is of the Sun Court, a circus of greed and ego, unaccountable and of course completely out of the reach of the American voter.

Read it. Maybe it will lift some scales from your eyes. You will be angry.

At the very least, when you’re sitting bleary-eyed in some airport and one of the pundits shows up on one of the ever-present screens showing CNN you will know to turn your eyes away.

If even a fraction of This Town is correct and not too harshly skewed, the Republic is in much worse shape than we all thought. It’s scary.

Zealot, by Reza Aslan ★★★★☆

Zealot attempts to triangulate in on Jesus the man by looking at the Roman occupation of Palestine and what is known about how the people of that era lived and thought, including the Jewish establishment, poor farmers and the Roman occupiers. Zealot also looks at the material common to the gospels, arguing that things repeated between writers is more likely to be accurate. Which makes logical sense.

Naturally, any attempt to treat Jesus as a man of his times rather than a divine being has caused quite a bit of gnashing of teeth among certain Christians. But be that as it may.

The book is clearly directed at a lay audience (which I am), providing enough background about the history, the Jewish messianic prophecies, and the gospels to make things as clear as they probably can be.

Probably, because the task Anslan has set for himself is impossible. There’s just not enough historical record to be sure of anything, and the Torah and the gospels themselves are wildly contradictory hodgepodges.

But we can be fairly sure of things where the Romans were involved, as they were good about keeping records. And wow, was occupied first-century Palestine a nightmare. A brutal occupation, a massively corrupt establishment priesthood, a bare-subsistence existence for the populace leading to banditry and, of course, zeal, in this case meaning a drive to restore the Kingdom of God and drive out the Roman occupiers.

Apart from a constant undercurrent of uprising against the occupiers, the countryside was beset with traveling prophets proclaiming themselves the messiah, preaching and, apparently, performing miracles. It was a fairly common thing at the time.

What must be remembered about the Romans is that one thing they famously didn’t care about regarding the people they occupied was their religion. Anything went as long as the taxes kept flowing. But what you couldn’t do was talk about overthrowing the emperor. That was sedition, and the sentence was to die on the cross. And sedition, of course, was exactly what any itinerant messiah preached when talking about bringing back the Kingdom of God.

What Aslan shows fairly comprehensively is that Pontius Pilate would not have had any qualms about sentencing Jesus to die on the cross—he executed so many so willy-nilly a formal complaint was lodged with Roman authorities.

The end of Zealot argues it was the Apostle Paul, writing in Rome, who converted a small Jewish cult into something palatable to the Roman population. This makes sense.

No matter what your own religious beliefs, it’s an interesting read.

Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan ★★★★☆

Warm and funny book from the quirky stand-up comedian about life with five kids in a two-bedroom New York apartment. Yes. Five kids. Two bedrooms. By choice. And Gaffigan and his wife have apparently managed to somehow keep their sanity. How is a mystery.

As Gaffigan says, “Five kids. Pause. Catholic.”

I Wear the Black Hat, by Chuck Klosterman ★★★☆☆

Klosterman meditates on what makes somebody a villain and why we sometimes root for the villain, especially in fiction. What makes the book stand out is Klosterman’s ability to dip into popular culture to illustrate his points. He has clearly spent way, way too much time in front of the TV, listening to music and reading magazines, and we are all the better for it.

I Wear the Black Hat is a short, entertaining read.

Fiction

KOP, by Warren Hammond ★★★★☆

KOP combines sci-fi and noir, leaning heavily toward the noir. Taking place in a future where humanity has colonized sections of the galaxy but still doesn’t have faster-than-light travel, the story revolves around Juno Mozambe, dirty cop and former enforcer on a backwater slum planet where the inhabitants can only watch as off-world travelers arrive sporting unimaginable riches and god-like technology while they subsist at existence minimum.

Hammond builds a credible world and the characters are mostly well drawn and human. Combined with an, if not exactly likeable then at least understandable, anti-hero and a fast plot, KOP is a page turner.

Sometimes the noir meter gets a bit pegged with a prose style heavily cribbed from James Ellroy, but if you’re going to take inspiration, why not take it from the master?

A strong start to a series and recommended for fans of noir and gritty sci-fi.

(DISCLOSURE: All links go to the Amazon Kindle store and are affiliate links. If you buy one of the books through a link here I get a tiny kickback from Amazon. So, you know, be a mensch.)

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You like books? So do I!

Book roundup, part 27

Includes Hollywood Dead, Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood, The Court of Broken Knives, and Port of Shadows.

Book roundup, part 26

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Book roundup, part 25

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Book roundup, part 24

Lots of sci-fi in this installment. Includes Retribution, Boomerang, The Collapsing Empire, All Systems Red, and Ninefox Gambit.

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Hey kids, you like epic fantasy? ’Cause I've got some epic fantasy for you.

Book roundup, part 21

This installment features grimdark fantasy, peppy astronauts and the Roman Empire. Includes SPQR, And On That Bombshell, The Code Book, Schiit Happened, Beyond Redemption, The Severed Streets, The Martian and Veiled.

Book roundup, part 20

Includes The Antidote, One Nation, Under Gods, Losing the Signal, The Todd Glass Situation, The Last Policeman, The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Beacon 23, Killing Pretty and Queen of Fire.

Book roundup, part 19

Lots of fantasy and sci-fi in this installment plus a book about sports! Includes Boy on Ice, Difficult Men, Restaurant Man, The Red Line, Cunning Plans, Seveneves, Nemesis Games, Bitter Seeds, The Mechanical, Angles of Attack, and City of Stairs.

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Book roundup, part 17

Things go dark and magical in this installment. Includes So, Anyway…, Yes Please, The Mirror Empire, London Falling, Broken Homes, Perfidia, The Peripheral, Burning Chrome, and the Bel Dame Apocrypha Omnibus.

Book roundup, part 16

Lots of good reads in this installment. Includes All Hell Let Loose, Metallica: This Monster Lives, 10% Happier, Onward, Echopraxia, Cibola Burn, The Getaway God, Lock In, The Red: First Light, Terms of Enlistment, and Lines of Departure.

Book roundup, part 15

Solid reads abound in this installment of the roundup. Includes Console Wars, Your Inner Fish, Flash Boys, Digital Wars, The Perfect Storm, Tower Lord, By Blood We Live, I am Pilgrim and Lexicon.

Book roundup, part 14

Some great reads and a huge disappointment in this installment. Includes The Loudest Voice in the Room, Hatching Twitter, Dogfight, Ancillary Justice, KOP Killer, The Circle, Working God’s Mischief and Where Eagles Dare.

Book roundup, part 13

Some solid reading awaits you in this installment. Includes The Outpost, Masters of Doom, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, The Everything Store, Bomber Command, Gods of Guilt, and Low Town.

Book roundup, part twelve

A slimmer-than-usual book roundup is heavy on the non-fiction, including several must-read titles.

Book roundup, part eleven

Another book roundup, including some stellar athletes and soldiers, what might be the most jaded, soul-weary protagonist ever, and some grimdark fantasy.

Book roundup, part ten

The Core Dump is back! Books were read during the hiatus. Includes The Coldest Winter, Oh, Myyy!, Tough Sh*t, The Revolution Was Televised, The Rook, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, Gun Machine, Fortress Frontier, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, and The Memory of Light.

Book roundup, part nine

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From the heights of athletic excellence to the depths of depravity, this roundup includes The First 20 Minutes, Double Cross, The Heroin Diaries, Tattoos and Tequila, Dodger, Farthing, and Devil Said Bang.

Book roundup, part seven

Includes Wabi-Sabi, Making Things Happen, D-Day, Tallula Rising, Blood Song, The Americans and Amped. All in all, a happy romp through the meadows of literature.

Book roundup, part six

Includes Search Inside Yourself, The Information Diet, Redshirts, The Gone-Away World, Wool, Leviathan Wakes, and Prince of Thorns. One of these may very well change your life.

Book roundup, part five

Includes Shadow Ops: Control Point, The Night Circus, The Hunger Games, Quiet, The Science of Yoga, and Kitchen Confidential. Lots of good stuff in this one.

Book roundup, part four

Includes Angelmaker, The Magicians, Magician King, Iron Council, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran. One of these is the most important book of 2011.

Book roundup, part three

Includes The Drop, Ready Player One, Moon Called, Among Others, Excession, Inferno, The Paleo Solution and I am Ozzy.

Book roundup, part two

Includes Sandman Slim, Snuff, The Cold Commands, Reamde, Goodbye Darkness, Steve Jobs and The Psychopath Test.

Book roundup, part one

Some books you might enjoy reading.