Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I didn't know what ARCADIA referred to until I read a book called One Christmas in Washington by David Bercuson and Holger Herwig. It's about the conference (code-named ARCADIA) between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill that took place from late December 1941 to early January 1942 in Washington, D.C. This was of course just after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, and so Churchill thought it was important to get right over to see FDR so that the two leaders could craft a joint strategy and consolidate their views. Bercuson and Herwig craft a portrait of two leaders of comparable levels of personal pride and national ambition, each trying to coax and coerce the other into ceding to their point of view. It appears that at this starting point, although Churchill and Roosevelt had a fair amount of personal rapport, their general staffs and top military advisors had to overcome a lot of animosity to reach the agreements that formed the foundation for the Allied coalition in the war. But overcome it they did-- the British got past their arrogance for the largely untested Americans and the Americans overcame their Anglophobia to eventually agree on a joint command structure and production and shipping strategy that formed the base for Allied success over the next three-four years. One Christmas in Washington was a well-written book about a little-known chapter in World War II history when politics and personal animosity were overcome in favor of a broader worldview that lead to their ultimate victory.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey, Bush Reads Too!

A few days ago, Karl Rove published a column in the Wall Street Journal about the reading competitions that he has been having with George Bush for the last three or four years. Countering the myth of Bush as a less than interested reader, apparently he has been quite a voracious reader of history and biography in particular. Then, weighing in, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen took a look at the books that Rove mentioned in his article and gave his own analysis of what they say about Bush's views and personality.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Predictably, reading and blogging both fell off the radar during the school year, evidenced by the sparseness of posts since August. Most of the reading I did was of the academic kind, for my classes, which were largely interesting in their own right but still, there's something to be said for having time to just sit down and read for your own interests. My friend Tom and I decided that we really just should quit school and catch up on our reading lists. Anyway, here's what I managed to get through during the first semester:

1. Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield-- memoir by a Rolling Stone editor about the love of his life, his wife for an all-too-brief amount of time before she passed away from a brain trauma. Each chapter begins with a playlist of a mix that he made for her-- hence the name of the book. Speaks to the fact that music speaks to the deepest part of humanity, whether in love, in pain, in tragedy, in trial, in joy-- in everything.
2. Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller-- more or less picks up along the same lines as another of Miller's books, Blue Like Jazz. A series of essays exploring concepts about God, how both He and then universe He designed are infinitely complex and that the sooner we accept that, the happier we will be and the more secure in our faith we will be.
3. Emma by Jane Austen-- classic English literature. I've been working my way through all of Austen's books. Having read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, this was my next pick. Enjoyed the storyline, but hated most of the characters except for Mr. Knightley. He's pretty much the model gentleman, a sort of Mr. Darcy with less pride.

That's all I got to read for pleasure during first semester. Over Christmas break, I have been absorbing myself in reading, and at this point two weeks in I've read through more than double the books I did in the semester. These books are:

1. Murder at the National Cathedral by Margaret Truman-- Pres. Harry Truman's daughter found her calling in writing books, and some of her most successful were the Capital Crimes novels-- murder mysteries set at famous Washington, D.C. locations. This was the first one I've read, and I found it a quick, interesting, suspenseful, and fun read.
2. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss-- Beschloss, a well-regarded presidential historian, picked about eight presidents (some well-known, some not), and profiled incidents during their terms of office in which they showed courage that shaped the course of the country's history.
3. John Adams by David McCullough-- this book won McCullough a Pulitzer Prize and spun off a successful HBO miniseries starring Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti, and it's not hard to see why. It's an exceptionally well-written biography of the second US president, often underappreciated for the role he played in bringing the country into being and keeping it out of an unnecessary war that they would have almost certainly lost.
4. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin-- the well-known actor's bestselling autobiography details the years he spent doing stand-up comedy, showing both how he got into it and, most poignantly, why he got out and went into film instead.
5. The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg-- OK, I admit, this one is a reread, and a frequent reread at that. The politics that Rosenberg adheres to and demonstrates in his books are way too conservative for my usual taste, but I will give him this-- the man can write a great political thriller. And that's exactly what this is. Read it-- and follow up with the sequels: The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, and Dead Heat.
6. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama-- our new president's book, written back when he was a senator (really not so long ago, I suppose)...figured it was about time I picked it up and saw some of his articulation and early formulation of policy ideas. I was very impressed by the scope and fairness of his vision for the country as he laid it out, and it only reinforced my view that the US made a good choice this election cycle. Here's hoping we're all right.
7. Promises to Keep by Joe Biden-- continuing a trend, our new vice-president's autobiography, written while he was still a presidential candidate. It's pretty well-written, with the definitive Biden flair for storytelling. But his story is compelling, and his politics (especially his views on government's responsibility for security of its people, and on international responsibility) are solid, and so despite the highly political pitches at the end, it's worth a read. The title is of course from a Robert Frost poem, Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening: "For I have promises to keep/and miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep."

Still got a couple of weeks left of vacation, and more books to read, so another post like this will probably be forthcoming...assuming I have time!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


This is the last week of classes at my university. As such, there are papers and projects and assorted pieces of work due in many classes, and most of us students are staying up until ungodly hours working on said assignments. So naturally this WOULD be the time that the maintenance and administration people team up to hit us (at least, those of us who live on North Campus) with a computer network and power outage with less than 24 hours notice. Honestly, people. There are over a thousand students affected by this, way more if you include those who would be affected by the shutdown in the academic buildings and the student center. According to my sources, the library was packed with everyone and their grandmother last night.
For me personally, I was lucky-- I had little enough work to do that I could get it done early on and just go to bed when the power went out. But it is not fair to the students of the university to hit them with this at such a stressful time of the semester-- way to make it even MORE stressful, guys. Way to go.

(P.S. The editors of my school's student newspaper agree with me-- bet you couldn't see that one coming. Oh, and on a completely unrelated topic, Jim Wallis has a good piece on the God's Politics blog today.)