I entered quarantine on Tuesday, immediately after having my COVID test done. Since then my physical condition has improved (coughing is minimal, energy levels are much better) although until I test negative I’m still locked away from the public. I’ve been reading nonstop since I entered quarantine, and have knocked a few titles off my list. If I come out of quarantine on October 10th as I hope, I may have done serious damage to my TBR in the meantime! A couple of titles will get independent reviews
First up was How Alexander Hamilton Screwed Up America, which is a history of how Hamilton, Judge Marshall, and a few others’ linked policies greatly strengthened the power of the central state over any meaningful opposition. Truth be told, it was incredibly difficult to concentrate on legal cases when I was still reeling from the news that I was COVID positive, so I didn’t take a lot of this book beyond what I already knew. I may revisit it in future.
More interesting was The Putin Diaries, one of my reward books from August. The book consists of interview transcripts between Oliver Stone and Vladimir Putin, who has governed Russia since 1999, either as president or as a force behind the ‘official’ president. I must confess that I find Putin darkly fascinating; while his contemporaries in the United States and Europe stumble around getting themselves stuck in decades-long wars and debt traps, Putin has been steadily and consistently solidifying his own power and Russia’s foreign influence nearly every year he’s been in office. This quiet, details-oriented professional stands in stark contrast to DC’s celebrity-kings. I don’t like him, but I admire his competence, just as I do Otto von Bismarck’s. I bought this volume to perhaps learn more about what makes him tick. Oliver Stone is a curious interviewer, one whose hostility toward DC is such that Putin regards him warily — not wanting to be dragged into “anti-Americanism”. Putin communicates his disappointment that regardless of the noises various presidents make about Russian resets, the DC establishment has a Russian fixation that derails any hint at progress. Even when Russia was helping DC in the aftermath of 9/11 to move into Afghanistan, Putin claims that DC also treacherously began promoting terrorist organization ins Chechnya. I was impressed by Putin’s repeated observation that DC’s bureaucracy is far more powerful than its presidents, and his opinion that changing the president has little real effect. This is something I wish more Americans understood — the DC machine has inertia of its own. There’s a lot for an American audience to consider in a book like this, though I was not impressed by Stone as an interviewer: he’s candid to the point of vulgarity, and almost seemed childish.
Other reviews will follow this week for Enemy at the Gates as well as And the Mountains Echoed.