The Core Dump

The Core Dump is the personal blog of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American pixel-pusher living in Phoenix, Arizona.

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[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.)

You have thoughts? I’m @niclindh on Twitter and I want to know what you think.


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