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Ross "fountain.blogspot.com" (Northampton, England)

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Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror
Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror
by Richard Miniter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best accounts of pre 9/11 Osama Bin Laden, 8 Feb. 2009
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For a history of what Bin Laden was up to in the 1990s this is hard to beat. It begins with a brief outline of Bin Laden's background and his role in the Afghan resistance to the USSR (Contary to popular myth he was not funded by the CIA who primarily funded Afghans not Arabs), where he used his family wealth to become a kind of quartermaster for the jihadis heading to Afghanistan. There is little evidence that he actually did any fighting himself but the role gave him a vast array of contacts that enabled him to become the head of a global Islamist movement.

In the 1990s he launched an ever larger series of attacks against the USA, Miniter's case is that the inadequacy of President Clinton's response enabled Bin Laden's murderous campaign to continue unabated until the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He makes with a strong command of the facts and an impressive array of interviews with key players.

As Clinton's record on terrorism was so abysmal any fair minded appraisal of his record will be beset by accusations of partisanship by Clinton supporters, but can anyone really defend his response to the first World Trade Center bombing, treating it purely as a criminal matter so that counter intelligence agencies couldn't share information? Or his refusal to even meet James Woolsey, directer of the CIA more than twice in his two year term? Clinton treated terrorism and foreign affairs as an afterthought at best a distraction at worst.

Miniter actually specifically defends Clinton against partisan accusations without basis- like the claim he did nothing, or that he only bombed Sudan and Afghanistan because of the impeachment hearings. He is also highly sympathetic to Richard Clarke, the Clinton era counter terrorism 'Czar' whose hostility to the Bush administration is well publicised.

Even so it is hard to arge that the response of his administration to the attacks that ran from late 1992 onwards was anything short of negligent.

The book is well written and each part of the story is told in an engaging manner and could probably stand alone as particularly good magazine articles.

The one criticism I would make is that Miniter should really have continued the story up to 9/11 rather than the end of Clinton's term, as that is a somewhat articial stopping point.


Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
by Tim Weiner
Edition: Paperback

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The case for the prosecution, 2 Feb. 2009
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Weiner's main charge against the CIA isn't that it is a sinister all powerful organisation that controls the world for good or ill, but that it has repeatedly failed in it's basic tasks. The legend of the ll powerful CIA doesn't match the reality.

In order to this he has assembled an impressive set of subjects willing to speak on the record about the CIA's activities. His case is devastating as he charts the CIA's activities over the course of over half a century, from the coups in Iran and Guatamala, to the intelligence assesments on iraq's weapons programmes the incompetence is a recurring feature.

The major problem appears to be that successive administrations have been unsure of what they want the organisation to do and thus give it tasks to which it is ill suited or even worse allow it to operate with minimal supervision. Of all 17 CIA directors only two emerge with any real credit from this account.

The accounts of the Agency's early years in the Cold War is particularly well researched, with the retelling of the succession of failed field operations behind enemy lines that resulted in a stream of US agents being killed for no discernable intelligence beneft.


The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain: A Genetic Detective Story
The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain: A Genetic Detective Story
by Stephen Oppenheimer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.43

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing on the genetics, not on the linguistics. Probably, 2 Feb. 2009
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Stephen Oppenheimer is a good writer who can explain scientific concepts and processes to a lay audience.

Other reviews have summarized the contents of the book so instead of going into detail about what the book covers so I'll be brief. My impression is that he is quite convinceing in his analysis of the genes of the British population and the likely origins of both the English and Celtic popularions.

However his more expansive theorising about the linguistics and archeological evidence seems less plausible. If his analysis of the origins of the English language is correct, then the entire field of linguistics up to now would have been proven worthless, and based on the available evidence this seems unlikely.

The Origins of the British presents interesting ideas in a readable manner, but readers should remember that Oppenheimer's ideas are not definitive.


Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition
Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition
by Milton Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.96

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A manifesto for liberty., 28 Jan. 2009
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This is the work of classical liberal considering how a free society should operate and what role the state has in a free society. To do this he considers some of the cases where the automatic assumption among many is that the government has to regulate, ban or provide services and argues, usually persuasively, that government intervention causes more problems than it can hope to solve.

There are instances where he proposes an idea that seems so extraordinary that it appears that only a madman, an ideologue or someone living in a fantasy world could even consider it, such as the case that abolishing medical licences for doctors would improve patient care, but then after examining the case it great detail the underlying assumptions believing in a need for licensing are demonstrated to be much weaker than initially believed.

The fact that it was written in a time when the intellectual climate was very hostile to classical liberal ideals is reflected in the manner in which he writes to persuade those who disagree with him rather than simply to preach to the converted, as so many current authors do.

As the title suggests capitalism is inextricably intertwined with democracy and that despite the sincere desires of those who wish otherwise, political freedom cannot survive without

This edition of Milton Friedman's seminal advocacy of classical liberalism includes two additional prefaces, one from 1982 and from 2002, in which Friedman discusses how his ideas have developed over the course of the previous 30 and 50 years. When the book was first published the ideas had no takers on the political stage, the age of free markets had died after the Great Depression. Yet by 1982 a few countries had elected government's sympathetic to his ideas and by 2002 some of his policies had been implemented with great success throughout the world. Whilst Friedman credits most of that to the experience of thestatist experiment rather than his advocacy of freedom he is being modest.


Ethnic America: A History
Ethnic America: A History
by Sowell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Informative but dry., 28 Jan. 2009
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Thomas Sowell's study of a few of the ethnic groups that make up the United States is a valuable contribution to discussions about race. He takes a number of ethnic groups and uses contemporary sources to see how they progressed over the period since they entered the United States. Individually each section is interesting and informative with fascinating anecdotes and statistics throughout. Seeing how some group traits remain in place over a period of decades or more and how some traits disappear as the groups integrate into the mainstream is

Whilst the general trend is of groups becoming more assimilated and more typical of the USA over time, different groups demonstrated different behaviours back in their countries of origin and these traits often persisted for decades or centuries after the groups were Americans. Thus even when groups lived next to each other in the USA the outcomes for each were very different on a variety of different measures, be it educational achievement, political success, crime rates and economic success.

Not all groups assimilate at the same rate or to the same extent however there are trends which are common among all groups. There are exceptions to this general pattern, the Mexicans for example haven't integrated as quickly as the European groups because of the proximity of Mexico to the USA lessens the imperative to integrate. Blacks were until the post-War era frequently prevented from integrating.

As with most of Sowell's books the analysis is logical and evidence based. This means that his analysis of immigration is neither alarmist nor pollyannaish. Most immigrant groups do integrate over time but there are real costs to be borne along the way.

The no nonsense writing style can make the book somewhat dry at times but that is a minor quibble.


The Korean War
The Korean War
by Sir Max Hastings
Edition: Paperback

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good account of an overlooked conflict., 27 Jan. 2008
This review is from: The Korean War (Paperback)
The Korean War is to some extent an overlooked war considering its importance and scale. This might be because it was the last big war before widespread television or because the result was inconclusive or because coming so soon after the Second World War it was simply eclipsed. Max Hastings sets out to redress the balance in this work about the confrontation between the USA and its Western Allies versus China and North Korea.

The book can essentially be divided into three parts. First of all is an account of the events that ultimately led up to war starting with the Japanese invasion back in the late 19th century. The second part is a chronological narrative of the military conflict itself, this takes up the bulk of the book obviously. Finally Hastings analysis specific aspects of the war, such as the impact of air power, intelligence and the treatment of prisoners by both sides. Most of the primary research is derived from interviews with survivors so the story is told through the eyes of soldiers, officers and civilians from many countries with illuminating anecdotes breaking up the straightforward recitation of events.

The war itself appears almost a morality tale about hubris. Although it ultimately ended in a stalemate both sides squandered opportunities to settle on far more favourable terms than they eventually got. After the sneak attack by North Korea almost succeeded in taking the whole peninsula the American led UN force rallied strongly and pushed the communists out of South Korea and deep into the North. Had MacArthur not tried to go for total victory then China would not have been sufficiently concerned to enter the war. This precipitated a panicky retreat by the American army (though the Marines were much more disciplined), all the way back down the peninsula. Here China failed to use it's advantage to secure a diplomatic victory and tried to rout the UN from Korea, but the UN again regrouped under a new General, Matthew Ridgway and drove the Chinese back over the 38th parallell. This time much to the dismay of the US officers, Washington decided against going for a total victory and sought a truce based on the status quo. Achieving the status quo cost the lives of over 30000 UN troops, hundreds of thousands of Korean civilians and hundreds of thousands if not millions of North Korean and Chinese soldiers.

In 2008 the Iraq war commands public attention despite being a relatively small war, yet at the time the Korean War attracted surprisingly little attention in the West apart from frustration and confusion about why they were fighting to support an impoverished hell hole governed by the corrupt and brutal Syngman Rhee. From a contemporary prospective it is not hard to see why the War was seen as a squalid and pointless stalemate that should never have been fought. With the benefit of almost 60 years of hindsight though, where we can see the difference between the free and prosperous South and the horrific North the cause is much clearer. It signaled that the West was willing to fight overt aggression by the Communists and it helped sow discord between the two Communist powers of China and the USSR.


Genes, Peoples and Languages
Genes, Peoples and Languages
by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ideal Popular Primer On Population Genetics., 20 Jan. 2008
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Although a lot of interesting books have been written in the last few years about deep ancestry and the origins of humanity it is important to have a work that concisely and authoritatively brings together the current broadly accepted ideas as they stand today. 'Genes, Peoples and Languages' reconstructs prehistory by using the concepts that are explained in the title and gives an outline of the origins of all the major populations in the world and their relationship to each other.

Other works of recent years have proposed new theories that challenge or modify the orthodox ideas on human origins but to make sense of newer theories it is necessary to understand how the accepted views were arrived at.

Some of the dry technical aspects of the methodology can be a little tedious at times but they don't take too long to read, and aren't necessary to understand precisely in order to grasp the conclusions that Cavelli-Sforza derives from them.


Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant
Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant
by Humberto Fontova
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent When He Focuses On The Facts., 13 Dec. 2007
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It may seem like a misguided criticism given the title of the book, but the focus of dim Hollywood types who prostitute themselves to Castro gets rather tedious after. From the time of Leni Riefenstal dictators have found a steady supply of useful idiots from the film world to suck up to them so learning that Danny Glover or Oliver Stone aren't very bright isn't that interesting. The more highbrow apologists like the New York Times and Stephen Ambrose are more noteworthy but even so knowing that people in free countries get off on tyranny elsewhere is sadly not news.

What Fontova is much better at is remorselessly hammering home the facts and dealing with the bogus excuses offered by Castro apologists. The chapter on Castro before Cuba is a revelation, Cuba was essentially a developed country with a long democratic history and the best health and literacy results in the Americas. Batista was a thug but there was a vibrant democratic which was likely to unseat him in short order had it not been for Castro's coup. To turn that country into one of the poorest in the world where people escape in droves is in a perverse sort of way an astonishing accomplishment.

Sometimes the author does let his justified distaste for the Castro regime colour his prose on occasion but that is a minor fault in a book that is a long overdue corrective to the far left propaganda.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2011 9:36 PM BST


The Struggle For Mastery In Europe: 1848-1918 (Oxford History of Modern Europe)
The Struggle For Mastery In Europe: 1848-1918 (Oxford History of Modern Europe)
by Alan J. P. Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.20

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed Diplomatic History., 13 Dec. 2007
This isn't the ideal book for someone to try and get acquainted with the subject for the first time as the sheer number of key figures and events is quite substantial. Despite that problem I did finish the book with a much greater sense of how the events of this seventy year period played into one another. The complex array of shifting alliances and jockeying for position is conveyed quite ably, although a glossary of the key figures would have been useful for relative neophytes like myself.


FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression
FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression
by Jim Powell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why The New Deal Failed So Completely, 13 Dec. 2007
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Roosevelt rose to power promising to respond to the depression that had sent the US economy into a tailspin. However such was his sheer ineptitude he managed to prolong it so that it became the greatest downturn in US history.

Time and time again FDR and his arrogant underlings were driven by ideology to impose obstacles to the economic recovery of the country. In an era where unemployment was rife New Deal policies made it almost impossible for businesses to employ more staff. New Deal demagogues made it clear that businesses were the enemy and were then mystified as to why investment plummeted.

In an era of chronic banking weakness the New Dealers demonised the strongest banks and encouraged the smaller more precarious ones to continue as they were. With unemployment sky high the New Dealers introduced labor laws that strongly discouraged businesses from expanding. With food shortages widespread FDR's agriculture policies resulted in food being burnt rather than sold. With black unemployment especially high Roosevelt introduced laws enabling compulsory unionisation, with the unions free to block blacks from joining. Almost every New Deal policy had the result of prolonging and deepening the depression.

This was accompanied by some outrageously authoritarian tactics by the administration, for example jailing business people for violating the price fixing agreements that were brought in, in one case a dry cleaner was imprisoned for three months for the 'crime' of charging five cents less to clean a shirt than the price government had fixed. They really did believe that they had both the ability and the right to micromanage the economy in this manner.

Towards the end of the book Powell goes away from the purely factual accounts of the New Deal failure to speculate on what would have happened if it had not been for the New Deal, if FDR had not managed to diminish the world's greatest democracy so thoroughly could the rise of fascism and communism worldwide have been avoided? It is an interesting question.

As a quick note about the previous review of this book on the 10th of July 2007, the writer of that review has clearly not read this book and is simply advertising her political prejudices by pretending to have done so. Anyone who thinks that Powell is engaged in partisan point scoring has plainly not read the book as he is almost as devastating about Hoover's errors such as imposing tariffs and tax rises and his criticism elsewhere of other Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt and George W. Bush are on record.


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