In Friday, Donald Morrison of the Financial Times of London published the names of what he considers the best political books of 2005. -- We're sorry to see George Packer's The Assassin's Gate on the list; Packer turns a blind eye to the deeper causes of a war that is really, as Harold Pinter put it on Dec. 7, "a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good." -- We were even more disappointed to see that three books that richly deserve to be on such a list were missing: Robert Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), Chris Hedges's Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America (Free Press, 2005), and Jim Wallis's God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)....
THE BEST OF POLITICS AND RELIGION
By Donald Morrison
Financial Times (UK)
December 9, 2005
What a glorious time to be writing about politics. The U.S. and Britain are mired in a foreign war and burdened with leaders nobody seems to like any more. The Middle East simmers, Africa suffers, and Europe wrings its hands over immigration, globalization, and its very future. A world ripe for diagnoses, recriminations, prescriptions.
The publishing industry has leapt to the challenge, starting with Iraq. A good primer is George Packer's The Assassins' Gate (Farrar Straus Giroux $26), a sweeping account of the U.S. decision to invade, the swift military campaign, the bungled occupation, and the resulting turmoil. Though much of his reportage has appeared in The New Yorker, Packer skilfully reassembles it in a tale of Anglo-American hubris and its consequences. In Secrets and Lies (Politico's £9.99), Middle East commentator Dilip Hiro recounts the misuse of intelligence that led to war. In The Great War for Civilisation (Fourth Estate £25), British journalist Robert Fisk takes on the entire Middle East, tracing the origins of the region's conflicts. Part-memoir, all heart, this 1,328-page behemoth will delight Fisk's fans, infuriate his foes, and fascinate all.
Looking to the future, in The Next Attack (Hodder & Stoughton £8.99), former Clinton advisers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon warn that the Iraq war has bolstered radical Islamists, paving the way for terror attacks while weakening the West's ability to defend itself against them. The authors' verdict on the war on terror: "We are losing." To put terrorism in its context, University of Manchester cultural theorist Terry Eagleton offers Holy Terror (Oxford £12.99), a quirky, provocative look at the metaphysics of political violence over the centuries. For those tempted to link terrorism with Islam, Iranian-born American writer Reza Aslan weighs in with No God But God (William Heinemann £17.99), a readable guide to understanding his faith, from the meaning of the Hajj to Islam's attitude towards women. That attitude has spawned a growing sub-genre of memoirs by Islamic women. In Lipstick Jihad (Public Affairs £18.99), Azedeh Moaveni, an Iranian journalist raised in California, returns to Tehran and finds women in quiet revolt against the male-dominated theocracy.
Saudi Arabia takes it on the chin in Twilight in the Desert (John Wiley & Sons £15.99) by Matthew R. Simmons, a Houston energy executive. Simmons examines mountains of data and concludes that the House of Saud's vaunted oil reserves are vastly overstated. The consequences for global oil production, energy prices, and the future of civilization, he warns, could be dire. That's also the message of Jeremy Leggett's Half Gone (Portobello £12.99), published in the U.S. as The Empty Tank (Random House $24.95). Leggett, a former oil industry geologist now in the service of Greenpeace, marshals similar evidence that global oil production is peaking. He also describes how the world can survive the catastrophe by using existing alternative energy technology.
Two sobering books about Africa command attention this year: Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You (Perennial £8.99), in which the veteran Africa correspondent examines the tragic history of Eritrea; and University of Paris scholar Gerard Prunier's Darfur: An Ambiguous Genocide (C. Hurst £15.95), a guilt-inducing account of how the world shrugged while thousands died in western Sudan.
Some of the year's most readable political books are about politicians. In Brown's Britain (Short £14.99), Robert Peston presents a thoughtful, balanced portrait of the chancellor as a fiscal genius, Britain's de facto prime minister for domestic policy and the soul of patience in dealing with the man he hopes to succeed, someday, as prime minister. That man's newly launched third term is the focus of The Blair Effect (Cambridge £15.99), a collection of essays edited by Anthony Seldon and Dennis Kavanagh, which updates a 2001 effort by Seldon. Their academic contributors find more to like in Blair III than in his rocky second term. Europhobes and -philes alike will find much to enjoy in the former Conservative politician Chris Patten's Not Quite the Diplomat (Allen Lane £20), a witty account of his four years as European foreign affairs commissioner. In Christopher Meyer's D.C. Confidential (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20), the former British ambassador to Washington undiplomatically describes Tony Blair as dazzled by power and paralyzed with indecision about what to wear when, in 2001, he first meets Bush (blue corduroys).
Meyer was widely criticized in the U.K. for his disloyal indiscretion, but in the U.S. these days book buyers are used to snarling, highly partisan political screeds. The sharpest come from the right, but the left seems to have more fun. Consider comedian-commentator Al Franken's The Truth (With Jokes) (Allen Lane £17.99), in which the latter outshine the former. (Bush won the 2004 election on "smears, fears, and queers." As for Iraq: "They told us that when we invaded, we'd be greeted with sweets and flowers. They left out the crucial modifier: 'exploding.'") Franken is thinking about running for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota. Let's hope he loses. Publishing needs him.