On Saturday the library was partially evacuated owing to a tornado warning, and today Father Winter has well and truly hit the town. I’m currently reading a scrutiny of political utopias, transhumanism, and religious-spiritual ideas about life beyond death (from heaven to ghosts), as well as listening to an audiobook based on a long-favorite podcast of mine, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The latter is 15 hours, so it will be a good while before I finish it. But what about books I have finished? Well, recently, that makes two: The Long Game, on Obama’s foreign policy, and View from the Ground, an anthology of historical articles based on the primary-source materials of solders embroiled in the war between the states.
First up, The Long Game, which argues that President Obama entered office with a distinct foreign policy and that more often than not, he was able to apply it to the problems he encountered, if with mixed results.Chollet describes Obama’s approach as the ‘long game’, and identifies eight various elements of it. Summarized: while the United States is in a unique position to effect change globally, it also can’t do everything it wants or even needs to do, necessarily. Careful thought should be given to balance the nation’s attention and resources between domestic and foreign priorities. Actions taken should be both sustainable in themselves, and lead to stable results. Small moves are best. Although approaches can be tailored on the fly to adjust to changing circumstances on the ground, or tangible proof that a given policy is not working, patience is also vital. When something has failed, the best thing to do is figure out what to learn from from the experience and move forward, not sink new resources into the mistake. Chollet then reviews some of the foreign policy stories of the Obama administration, examining Obama’s careful attempts to work with Russia and reluctance to engage with Libya or Syria (pre-2014). Discussion of North Korea is noticeably absent from The Long Game, but it’s a refreshing reminder of a president who challenged DC in a constructive way.
Next up, View from the Ground, which I read because a transplanted northern friend of mine was insistent that I read it. I’d assumed it was just soldiers’ recollections of various battles, which I wasn’t too much interested in, but after I took a look at it I realized it was far more varied than that. The book is an anthology of different pieces, examining this or that aspect of life on the ground — from religious soldiers’ attempts to reconcile piety with burning and killing, to exploring the “abolitionizing” effect the war had on Union soldiers, who began fighting to protect the Union and only later were convinced of the necessity for ending slavery, which in their view had undermined the south both economically and morally. There are strictly military-related pieces, too, towards the end. Given that in college I used the songs of Civil War soldiers to explore their lives, motives, and view of the conflict as it developed, I largely enjoyed this.