Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reading list

I'm about to drop three books off my reading list. Two of them, because I finished them. One of them because I don't think I want to.

Curiously, the two I finished were both non-fiction. Iron Kingdom, a nearly 700 page massive history of Prussia, was a fascinating read. It really explodes the inanely simplistic, yet surprisingly common notion that the only legacy of Prussia was a culture of militarism and servility. In fact, although the Nazis appealed to that myth and tried to cast themselves as the heirs of that legacy, that was just propaganda--they bore very little if any real resemblance to traditional Prussian culture (in fact, the perpetrators of the "Operation Valkyrie" plot to kill Hitler more honestly deserve that label--and Claus von Stauffenberg was descended from an old Prussian Field Marshal on his mother's side.)

And let's not forget that not everything about the Nazis was terrible. Indeed, if it was, there would be no explanation for the phenomenal success the Nazis had in the court of public opinion in Germany other than to assume that the Germans were a fundamentally evil people. The Nazis were masters of propaganda; they managed to coopt a lot of virtues and drive those home to the German people over and over again, while meanwhile glossing over many of their true intentions.

No, the legacy of Prussia is, unfortunately, a sad thing. If only William II hadn't been a completely incompetent king, the worst in Prussia's 400 year history, we might have had a very different memory of Prussia today than we do now.

The second non-fiction book I read was Left Turn by Tim Groseclose. While this didn't surprise me in any way--I had intuitively already understood exactly what he was talking about and believed it anyway--it's nice to see a scholarly treatment on the subject of media bias, and one that quantifies it (and its effects on elections!) in a way that has not been seriously challenged. True, it's been beaten back and forth by liberal bloggers, book reviewers, and others, but the seminal paper Groseclose wrote, the center of his research, which was published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics remains unchallenged on its methods, models and results after more than five years, despite the fact that its professional audience is one that has every reason to refute it if they could. Why is this? Because they can't. The methods, model and conclusions are irrefutable, and most political science professors, as much as they might wish the conclusions were not true, can find no fault with them. Only those who don't understand the methods, model and conclusions, but which clearly don't like them, lead the charge in uninformed criticism.

This, along with the documentary Media Malpractice, which I watched a few months ago, are among the most important things I've read/watched this year. True, like I said, I already intuitively believed what they were quantifying. But it's one thing to perceive something and its another to see it proven. Every American should read this book (and then also watch that documentary) and then regardless of which side of the political aisle you find yourself, you should be outraged at the serious disservice that the American media has done to the American public. In most professions, that level of disservice; whether consciously done in pursuit of an agenda, or unconsciously done due to incompetence, would mean you were out of work. In the legal profession, an attorney can be disbarred. In the medical profession, doctors can lose their licenses and be sued for malpractice. Only journalists are patted on the back and congratulated by their collegues and editors for whatever it is that they think that they're doing.

And finally, I've been reading Andy McDermott's Tomb of Hercules. While I earlier spoke fondly of the first book in this series, The Hunt for Atlantis, I'm struggling a bit more with the second. Part of it may be the timing; I feel like I need to rush through it, and I've got a lot of stuff that's time sensitive on my docket; either because I got it through Interlibrary Loan, so I have to read it before it's due, or I got it as New Books from the library, where I'm limited in my ability to renew stuff that I haven't finished. I've read a little over half of the book, but I set it aside while reading both of the non-fiction books that I just described. And just last night, I kinda paged ahead and looked at the end of the book. The plot is a bit too much of a retread of the first; the entire book feels like deja vu in too many ways, and it's just not grabbing me.

That said, I feel reluctant to give up on it so late into it; if I could just get about three solid, uninterrupted hours and the motivation to do so, I could probably finish the last 200 pages or so that I have to read. But honestly, my problem is as much motivation as anything else.

I haven't completely made up my mind yet, but I'll probably abandon Tomb of Hercules and turn to some of the other stuff on my docket. I just added an "On Deck" set of books, but I realized that one of the books I have, Dark Jenny, is the third in a series. Granted, they're all stand-alones, but still, it bothers me to read the third book in a series first. So last night, on a trip to the library to pick up the second part of Timothy Zahn's post-Return of the Jedi novel for my 9-year old son, I also grabbed books one and two of the Eddie LaCrosse series, and I brought the first one in to work with me today (along with Tomb of Hercules) so that I can decide which fo the two I really want to read when I get a chance to take a break later today.

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