The 'Doc Boink' Cultural Literacy List
[being a list of books that contain a wide range of
intelligent reflection on many diverse human affairs]
(updated: 05 April 2010)
1) VIETNAM: A HISTORY, Stanley Karnow, Penguin Books, (1983) 1997, ISBN 0-14-02.6457-3 (paperback). Still one of the most intelligent assessments of this shameful and tragic period in recent American history available.
2) ROGUE STATE, William Blum, Common Courage Press, 2000, ISBN 1-56751-194-5 (paperback). Blum dares to strip away much of the hypocrisy that characterises America's myopic self-awareness: i.e. When is a 'police action' little more than organised state-sponsored terrorism? Blum shows how one man's "freedom fighter" can become another man's "terrorist" overnight. Best read with a healthy air of skepticism, but extremely thought provoking at the very least.
3) ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOCIALISM, Donald Sassoon, The New Press, 1996, ISBN 1-56584-373-8 (hardcover). Ponderous at times, this is nevertheless a valuable history of the West European left in the 20th Century. Not an easy read by any means, and not for the honneur et patrie crowd, of course, but well worth the concentration required for cogent understanding of fin de siecle European leftist thought.
4) THE AMERICAN HOUSE OF SAUD: The Secret Petrodollar Connection, Steven Emerson, 1985, Franklin Watts Inc., (NY), ISBN 0-531-09778-1 (hardcover). A very well researched and readable history of the US-Saudi Arabian oil relationship by an excellent investigative reporter, this book strips away much of the cloak of silence that has in past characterised American and Saudi Arabian interactions on every level (oil, defense, etc.). Just when you thought the Israelis were the REAL bad guys, too!....
5) SECRETS: A MEMOIR OF VIETNAM AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS, Daniel Ellsberg, 2002, Viking Press, Daniel Ellsberg, 2002, Viking Press, ISBN 0670030309 (hardcover). Just released this month (October 2002), the appearance of this book could not have been more timely, as George W. Bush's conservative government goes about inciting America to war with Iraq--a conflict that most Americans neither need nor want. Ellsberg's book reminds us of the vital importance of dissent as an instrument of applied patriotism, as the 'Chicken-Hawks' try to restrict and curtail American civil liberties in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist acts. The parallels found herein between the tragic Vietnam 'adventure' of the 60s and the present administration's efforts to mount a campaign against Iraq are chilling: read this book, written by one of the 'real patriots' of the Vietnam period!
6) OUR MEDIA, NOT THEIRS: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media, Robert W. McChesney, John Nichols, & Noam Chomsky, Seven Stories Press, 2002, ISBN 1583225498 (paperback). An important book for its insightful expose on how today's powerful American media (printed and especially televised) has been prostituted into a mass-propaganda generating machine that artfully serves corporate masters' ends, while fooling the 'average' citizen into thinking his need to be informed is being met. The authors pointedly focus (among many well-reasoned such observations) on how the clustering of all of America's media into the hands of a small, but extremely powerful corporate cartel has weakened the foundation of the democratic process; they demonstrate how public access to the factual details of contemporary American socio-economic life is denied, while intellectual pabulum that is more simple-minded diversion than coldly impartial analytical assessment is substituted in its place. Beyond being purely a critique, the authors suggest possible resolutions and explore active methods of returning control of the media to the American people.
7) THE BEST DEMOCRACY MONEY CAN BUY, Greg Palast, A Plume Book, 2003, ISBN 0-452-28391-4 (paperback). This is an important book in that it details and investigates the innermost sordid corporate and 'power-elite' connections and business cabals that 'run' modern US economic and political institutions. It traces the interactions and associations between powerful corporate organisations and the American economy, delving into such things as the role played by wealth in determining the shape and form of US foreign policy, the influence exerted by corporate and business affiliations on present American government, etc. Among the subjects analysed and documented in surprising detail are how only marginally endowed George 'Dubya' Bush came into his inheritance of the American Presidency and extensive background on how Bush, Cheney, and others involved in Texan 'Big Oil' energy interests managed to so thoroughly screw the State of California during recent years in terms of its energy cost crisis. While none of these subject are exactly unsuspected, Palast manages to connect the dots in a manner that is both shocking and alarming.
8) WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2003 (Center for Media & Democracy), ISBN 1-58542-276-2 (paperback). This is an important book that examines the deceptive public relations spin-doctoring and manipulation of facts that the White House has used to justify its obsessive war on Iraq. Students of 'propaganda' (i.e. 'public relations' and manipulation of the media to suit specific goals and objectives through use of established advertising techniques, which invariably twists veracity and factual authenticity to create a Disneyesque version of reality) will enjoy this carefully documented and exceptionally well researched investigation of how 'truth' has been pressure-cooked and served up to the American public by the Bush Administration in a form that supports and justifies its neoconservative political actions in the Middle East. Although many of us have long been aware of the fact that the American public (and the world at large) has been consistently lied to by a Republican White House that brazenly dissembles and 'invents' evidence to shore up its predetermined decision to attack Iraq, this book astutely provides impeccably documented background on exactly how untruthful and manipulative the Bush Administration and the American military-industrial complex have been in arguing the case for deposing the Hussein regime, despite the fact that Al Queda and the Ba'athist Party aren't even on speaking terms with each other. Ironically, now that the chaotic aftermath of Bush's action has revealed the terribly flawed, ineptly conceived, and half-baked neocon idea for what it really is, Bush has in fact created a terrorist cauldron out of that nation by carrying out his attack (the very terrorism he 'had' to go to war with Iraq to eliminate!). [It is indeed a pity that George Orwell couldn't be here to take notes on Bush's contemporary revision of Orwell's classic 1984.] This book is definitely worth your time.
9) BUSHWHACKED: Life in George W. Bush's America, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Random House, New York, 2003, ISBN 0-375-50752-3, 351 pages, hardcover. Molly Ivins is a no-punches-pulled three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has a nationally syndicated column in many major newspapers. Her co-writer, Lou Dubose, is a Texas journalist with whom Ms. Ivins has collaborated on several books in the past. Together, they carefully examine the sordid activities of the Texas corporate interests and oil industry with whom GeeDubya has been closely associated, as part of the powerful Bush Oil Empire. Carefully researched and corroborated with sources and references exactingly cited, Ivins and Dubose lay it all on the line in their expose of how Enron, Harken, Aloha Oil, and many other Texas corporations owe their corrupt and egregious excesses to GeeDubya' patronage and that of his corporate cronies (of Texas 'bidness as usual'). Anyone reading this and fully understanding how Texas business is typically conducted, will finally begin to get a glimmer of how the United States of America could possibly become as hopelessly enmired and thoroughly enmeshed in the Iraqi adventure as we currently are. It is also evidence to suggest that Lincoln wasn't entirely correct when he said "You can fool all of the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but you can fool all of the people all of the time." It is further strong and compelling proof that ALL Americans need to read more and watch television less.....
'DUBYA' BUSH: THE PHONY FIGHTER PILOT,
Hugh E. Scott, X-Libris Corporation (print-on-demand at www.exlibris.com),
309 pages, 2004, ISBN (hardcover) 1-4134-6517-X, (softcover)
fascinating book, written by a retired Delta/Continental airline pilot who flew
KC-135s during Vietnam, is both illuminating and amusing, since it reveals much
of the factual history of George Bush's supposed 'honorable service' with the
Texas Air National Guard as an F-102 Delta Dagger pilot. Although it is clearly
written with great bias against the President, the book is important information
for anyone who (like most of the less reflectively astute nation) has been
hypnotised by the Karl Rove spin-machine into believing that his political
fantasies are based in actual truth. This is definitely a book for anyone who
found himself gagging with revulsion when 'Dubya' staged that shameful S-3B
landing on the USS Independence to declare the Iraqi War had "ended"
(yeah...remember that? The "end" of a war that continues to this day,
two years later?). The author is a registered Republican, by the way, who still
considers ex-President Ronald Reagan a 'compassionate conservative'. Right...go
figure! But buy the book and read it anyway...it's a jewel! You can obtain a
copy directly through the internet, since it's printed by a 'print-on-demand'
1) TALES FROM THE NIGHT RAINBOW (an oral history from Molokai), by Koko Willis and Pali Jae Lee, Night Rainbow Publishing Company, 1990, Native Books Inc., Honolulu, HI 96817, ISBN 0-9628030-0-6, 112 pages, softcover. This important book may now be hard to find, since the last reprinting (5th) was done in 2001. However, it is one of the most important and significant books on traditional Hawaiian culture to come along in recent times. The oral history of a local family on Molokai that stretches back a hundred years and further, rare and important insights are revealed about traditional Hawaiian society and culture. Since there is no surviving written history of ancient Hawaii, with all personal, family, and social history being passed down in the form of chants, oral histories are far more important in the Hawaiian Islands than they are anywhere else. These fascinating stories are extremely worthwhile for anyone who is concerned with the ancient Polynesian civilisation that formerly flourished in the Islands. This book was specifically recommended to be for its cultural value by Jon Socher, the owner of 'BIG WIND KITE FACTORY' in Maunaloa, Molokai; I am pleased to affirm Jon's appraisal, as it is singular in the importance of its content.
2) 'OLEOLO NO 'EAU: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, by Mary Kawena Pukui, Bernice P. Bishop Special Publication #71, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, HI, 351 pages, hardcover, 1993 (reprinted 2004), ISBN 0-910-240-92-2. Unlike modern Americans, the ancient Hawaiians were a complex people, with a very well developed sense of aesthetics and subtle humor. Ancient traditional sayings, proverbs, aphorisms, and the like were multi-layered, allowing several different interpretations--depending on the astuteness of the listener. Above all, as rendered in the ancient Hawaiian dialect of the Polynesian mother tongue, they were supremely beautiful and conveyed a keen appreciation of natural harmony and the interaction of all things in the world. This collection of such folk knowledge, rendered in both Hawaiian and English, is treasure that will prompt many returns to its pages. There really is nothing about human nature and the forces of the natural world at work that isn't covered in one or several pages of this work. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the ancient culture that is fast disappearing from the islands, as old ways are forgotten and oral knowledge and transmission is lost.
3) HAWAII's PINEAPPLE CENTURY: A History of the Crowned Fruit in the Hawaiian Islands, by Jan K. Ten Bruggancate, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, HI, 187 pages, 2004, (www.mutualpublishing.com), softcover, ISBN 1-56647-667-4. This fascinating little book is well illustrated and does a superb job of explaining how the pineapple industry of the turn of the turn of the century effected major changes on the Hawaiian Islands' culture. Although today, pineapple cultivation on the islands has almost ceased to exist entirely, it was the pineapple (and sugar cane) that up until very recently exemplified the local economy. In the 1950s it was hard to think of Hawaii without simultaneously thinking of pineapples; today, the former large Hawaiian pineapple cultivating plantations have disappeared as the fruit may be grown in the Far East far cheaper than in Hawaii, but it was the pineapple industry that was largely responsible for helping make the islands so multi-culturally mixed. Large numbers of Filipinos, smaller numbers of Chinese and Japanese laborers were brought in to harvest pineapples during the peak decades of production. When the pineapple cultivation ceased in Hawaii, many of these imported workers remained and intermarried with locals. Today, partly as a result of this fusion of different peoples and cultures, "diversity" in the islands is far more than just a convenient, politically correct doctrine. A wonderful book.
4) EXPLORING LOST HAWAI'I: Places of Power, History, Mystery, and Magic, by Ellie and William Crowe, Island Heritage Publishing, Waipau, HI, (www.islandheritage.com), 2002, softcover, 210 pages, ISBN 0-89610-383-8. This is a book that focuses on the ancient Hawaiian people, their culture, and the spiritual 'Mana' that they regarded as a powerful force imbuing all things, natural and unnatural, in the ancient world. In it are described and investigated many sites of spiritual power revered by the old Hawaiian people. The 'power places' on each of the islands are described, accompanied by many beautiful photographic images. If you have an curiosity about the ancient Hawaiian civilisation, its legends, folk-tales, religious beliefs and practices, and society, this book should be on your reference shelf. It is also a fascinating read that can be savored and enjoyed quite apart from the worthy armchair archeological and sociological resource it comprises. Curious about human sacrifices, traditional Kahuna folk medicine, or 'Night Marchers'? Read this one for a grounding in the amateur archeological information it contains.
5) ARTS AND CRAFTS OF HAWAII, by Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter H. Buck), Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication #45, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, HI, 1957 (first published in separate sections, first collected bound volume reprinting 2003), 606 pages, ISBN 1-58178-027-3. Former director of the Bishop Museum, Peter S. Buck was the son of a Maori Chiefess and an Irish father. A remarkable man of many talents and abilities, physician, educator, research scholar, and much more, Peter Buck in this collection describes traditional Hawaiian cultural objects, artifacts, arts, crafts, methods of construction and fabrication in this excellent resource. One of the mainstays in any referenced collection on Hawaiian Islands culture, it is a very useful source of knowledge on just about every aspect of ancient Hawaii. Considered by many to be a 'bible', so complete and detailed is it, it is a book that one will return to thousands of times to answer questions about the old culture that existed prior to the invasion of the islands by white foreigners. Also available in softcover.
6) THE HAWAIIANS, by Robert B. Goodman, Gavan Davis, & Ed Sheehan, Island Heritage Ltd. Books, 1970/71, 295 pages, hardcover, (no ISBN, out of print, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 77-118012). One of the most honest, straightforward, and candid cultural portraits of the Hawaiian Islanders I've yet uncovered, it makes no secret of the tragedy that American colonisation of the islands has wrought, since the first contacts (with Cook), through the present. Skillfully mixing cultural analysis with first-person accounts of Hawaiian life, it is a very readable and sensitive assay of how ancient Hawaiian culture has been prostituted by American consumer capitalism. Bear in mind that this excellent book was written in the late 60s, yet every word is still as true now as it was then. Well worth using one of the many book-locating services (like ABE Books) to find a copy for your referfenced shelf on cultures. [NEW]
1) PARIS IN THE FIFTIES, Stanley Karnow, Times Books, (1997) 1999, ISBN 0-8129-3137-8 (paperback). Simply one of the best and most interesting personal accounts of life in stormy Paris in the immediate post-war years, by one of the most readable correspondents ever to grace our popular magazine media. This is a lovely look at what makes the French so unique, frustrating, admirable, and 'plus sage que les sages' in certain affaires! Any closet Bohemian would love it.
2) NO LOGO! TAKING AIM AT THE BRAND BULLIES! Naomi Klein, Picador Books (St. Martin's Press), 1999, ISBN 0-312-20343-8 (hardcover). A scathing condemnation of the mega-corporation advertising mind-set that wants to brand everything in our daily lives with corporate logo ("name-brand") advertising and an unsettling look at the betrayal of the information age's great promise to improve the quality of human life. Excellent and highly recommended for anyone who is repelled by the present American consumer mentality manifest in our society (and for anyone who is VERY tired of seeing that blasted little Nike swoosh plastered all over everything from shoes to hats).
3) RARE EARTH: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Copernicus Books, 2000, ISBN 0-387-98701-0 (hardcover). "Maybe we are alone in the universe?!...." An excellent exploration of the unsettling (but very likely true) theory that complex life (such as Homo Sapiens) is probably an anomaly, fully accompanied by arguments that support the contention that "Yes, Virginia, we really ARE alone in the universe". Sorry, sci-fi fans...what a let down to find out that there aren't interstellar bogeymen hiding behind every asteroid, just waiting to invade Earth and ravish our wimminfolk.... Highly acclaimed upon publication, but not a casual read.
4) THE MOUSE THAT ROARED: Disney and the End of Innocence, Henry A. Giroux, Rowman and Littlefield, Publishers, Inc., 1999, ISBN 0-8476-9109-8 (hardcover). This is but one of a number of similar studies of corporate making-over of reality in the effort to turn us all into mindless little consumers of mass quantities. While Walt Disney, Inc. has accomplished some very amusing things in the field of entertainment in past decades, the innocent days of amiable Walt sitting on his desk having a happy chat with Steamboat Willie are LONG gone. Read this book and never patronise a Walt Disney corporate product or production ever again!
5) A NATION OF VICTIMS: The Decay of American Character, Charles A. Sykes (Professor), St. Martin's Press, 1992, ISBN 0-312-09882-0 (paperback). One of the best and most incisive studies of the events and circumstances that developed into today's era of American 'Political Correctness', in which everyone has the potential to be elevated to the exalted status of 'victim' (thereby being granted special privileges and benefits that ordinary, honest, working people are not accorded). Tired of being called a racist, sexist pig, or other political epithet by misguided goody-goods? Confused and uncertain why you cannot discuss certain subjects openly and with full candor anymore? Dr. Sykes' excellent book explains our present unhappy state of being.
6) ASPHALT NATION: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take it Back, Jane Holtz Kay, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1997, ISBN 0-517-58702-5 (hardcover). Ms. Kay's excellent review of the events leading up to our present American dependence on the internal-combustion powered automobile is a portrayal of the abuse of socio-economic & political power by today's modern petrochemical and automobile manufacturing corporations that is even greater than that of the infamous railroad tycoons of the late 1800s. One of the best books on this subject I have ever read.
7) THE PLAGUE MAKERS: The Secret World of Biological Warfare, Wendy Barnaby, Vision Paperbacks (London), 1999, ISBN 1-901250-32-6. An excellent look into this little known area of exotic 'defense' technology. Basic information with which to better inform yourself, pending the next threat of bioterrorism from the lunatik fringe. If you are like most Americans, the amount of knowledge you possess on this subject would probably not fully fill a thimble.
8) THE OVERSPENT AMERICAN, Juliet B. Schor, Harper Perennial, 1998, ISBN 0-060977-58-2 (paperback). A very interesting look at the impact of 'The Credit Culture' on American citizens and how it creates dependent consumers who are hooked on the use of plastic money for which they enter into a form of financial servitude that makes them lifelong addicts, as surely as if hooked on drugs. This is a sober research into the subject that impacts us all, but one that is still very readable, and more importantly, which offers insights and solutions. Discover techniques for ceasing to be just another 'capitalist tool.'
9) A PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Howard Zinn, Harper Perennial, 1995, ISBN 0-060926-43-0 (paperback). One of the most interesting 'alternate reality' histories of the United States of America ever compiled, although any history is an exercise in subjective interpretation of past events, this excellent book reveals much of the brutally raw motivation and less than euphemistic objectives that lie beneath the major events of America's past. This is a book to keep at hand for review any time some yahoo starts playing Barry Saddler songs ('Ballad of the Green Beret', etc.) and waving the flag in a spurt of immoderate (and usually undeserved) knee-jerk patriotism. (Note: Author Howard Zinn has just recently passed away--February 2009--and truth in historical interpretation shall be ever the poorer for his loss of his important work).
10) BLACK INTELLECTUALS, William B. Banks, W.W.Norton & Co., 1996, ISBN 0-3393-0398-97. Banks goes into a fascinating account of Black Americans (sorry folks, but I can't be bothered to use the latest 'politically correct' term) who were intellectually in the avant garde of American culture and social movements. Many of these individuals achieved greatness in their lifetimes, despite suffering from the unceasing racial hatred that characterised American society from its foundation, but are all but unknown today by the public at large. Fascinating, but not a casual or easy read.
11) THE HOLOCAUST IN AMERICAN LIFE, Peter Novick, Houghton Mifflin, 1999, ISBN 0-395-8400-90. A book that anyone concerned about racial and ethnic prejudice, especially as directed towards Jewish-Americans and people of the Jewish faith throughout the world, should read. It casts new light on how this powerful emotional icon that was the Nazi 'Holocaust' has come to be evoked inappropriately by people who were in many cases only remotely associated with it. Novick shows how the holocaust event has become a conveniently "untouchable", mythologized and supremely emotional tool that is routinely invoked to achieve ends that are not entirely justified (or at the very least inappropriate).
12) HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH: The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, Alan Durning, W.W. Norton & Co., 1992 (World Watch Institute Book), ISBN 0-393-30891-X (paperback). The truth about humankind: that we are little more than a collective menace to the continuity of the natural world, as insatiably consumptive and damnably clever little parasites that regard the entire physical world as simply raw resource material to convert into consumable dross and disposable effluvia (the fact the we occasionally have pangs of conscience, such as this book & its sentiments, is probably a random coincidence..). Read this book!
13) THE CULTURE OF FEAR: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things (such as crime, drugs, minorities, teenage mothers, killer kids, mutant microbes, plane crashes, road rage & so much more....), Barry Glassner, Basic Books (Pegasus), 1999, ISBN 0-465-01490-9 (paperback). Although a bit pedantic, this is nevertheless an interesting examination of how today's 'informational media' industry creates fear in the public that ultimately not only creates gross misimpressions and generalised fears, but coincidentally creates convenient consumer preferences in one fell swoop. An easy and generalised read, but informative.
14) AN ALL-CONSUMING CENTURY: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America, Gary Cross, Columbia University Press, New York, 2000, ISBN 0-231-11312-9 (hardcover). A fascinating history of how a culture of unbridled consumption has taken over the United States in the last 100 years, replacing traditional values, customs, and mores with a pernicious, systemic materialism that today divides, isolates, and segmentalises Americans across all social and economic classes. Author Cross, Professor of History at Penn State, has elected to tackle a topic that should vitally concern any reflectively intelligent citizen of this nation, while simultaneously managing to make an excellent and interesting read of it at the same time. Read this book, if you read no other! (Not an easy read, but an important one.)
15) CULTURE JAM: The Uncooling of America, Kalle Lasn, Harper-Collins, 2000, ISBN 06-881-5656-8, (hardcover). Kalle Lasn founder and editor of ADBUSTERS MAGAZINE, argues (convincingly) that The United States of America is no longer a nation, but rather the world's most famous and best selling brand. The essence of AMERICA is now no different than McDonald's, or General Motors, or Nike. America is a nation subverted by corporate agendas and marketed with as much warmly engendered regard for the higher and nobler essences of human ethical aesthetics as the Vietnam War was waged for the benefit of the Vietnamese people. This book constitutes a basic primer on the decline and fall of what was once one of the most admired and highly regarded nations in the world.
16) RECLAIMING AMERICA: Nike, Clean Air, and the new National Activism, by Randy Shaw, Univ. of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-21779-9 (softcover). Shaw has prepared an excellent primer for grassroots activism against the increasing subjugation of America by corporate entities. This book constitutes an important weapon to use against the 'Great American Consumer Machine' (Jim Hightower's phrase) and further helps define what it is to Shaw has prepared an excellent primer for grassroots activism against the increasing subjugation of America by corporate entities. This book constitutes an important weapon to use against the 'Great American Consumer Machine' (Jim Hightower's phrase) and further helps define what it is to 'Live simply so that others may simply live'. Recommended!
17) THE HABITS OF HIGHLY DECEPTIVE MEDIA: Decoding Spin and Lies in Mainstream News, by Norman Solomon, Common Courage Press, 1999, ISBN 1-56751-154-6 (softcover). A useful and informative book on the art of media propagandizing, through modulation of information to suit sociopolitical & economic agendas. You'll never again listen to Tom Brokaw with the same trust and faith as before.
18) WORLD'S FAIRS AND THE END OF PROGRESS, by Alfred Heller, World's Fair Incorporated, 1999, ISBN 0-9665620-0-3 (softcover). Fascinating look at the concept of the "World's Fair" as a medium showcasing scientific progress and evolving technology, both as its chief proponent in the past as well as its possible modulator and environmental watchdog in the future. Fascinating look at the concept of the "World's Fair" as a medium showcasing scientific progress and evolving technology, both as its chief proponent in the past as well as its possible modulator and environmental watchdog in the future.
19) THE TRUE BELIEVER: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, by Eric Hoffer, Harper & Row (Perennial Library), originally published in 1951 and reprinted in 1989. Although this is a classic work, known (hopefully) to all graduate students of the social sciences, San Francisco's own longshoreman/philosopher's book on the nature of the manipulation of mass human sentiment and behavior is worth rereading. One of those books that deserve to be reread at regular intervals as the world becomes increasingly caught up in the throes of the 'American disease' (unconstrained hedonism and unbridled consumerism).
20) AFFLUENZA: The All-Consuming Epidemic, by John Degraaf, David Wann, Thos. H. Naylor (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001, ISBN 1-57675-151-1 (hardcover). A book based upon the Public Television documentary of the same name, this important book describes the epidemic "consumer addiction" that characterises contemporary American culture and which threatens to reduce the entire planet to merely a monumentally large 'resource' waiting to be ground down into a surfeit of consumer goods we neither need, nor gain satisfaction from owning. This is a MUST READ book.
21) CORPORATE MEDIA AND THE THREAT TO DEMOCRACY, by Professor Robert McChesney, Open Media Pamphlet Series, 7 Stories Press, New York, 1997, ISBN 1-888363-47-9 (softcover). Truly an important and brilliantly cogent explanation of why our present American democracy is teetering on the brink of extinction, as corporate control of the media continues to diminish our choices and in fact create those choices for us. Anyone who doesn't feel an absolute chill after reading this excellent 80 page paper by the Associate Professor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communications probably has probably long since gone brain-dead! Be afraid....be VERY afraid of what corporate media is doing to remake America into 'The land of the fee and the home of the enslaved'.
22) WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY: A Political History of the American Rich, by Kevin Phillips, Broadway Books, 474 pages, ISBN 0767905334, May 2002, (hardcover). An extremely thought provoking exploration of the nature of contemporary American power-elitist circles by the same amazingly astute analyst who back in 1969 predicted the Republican hegemony that has so recently characterised America's political scene for several decades. Phillips explores the political-economic trends that have seen such a radical gap develop between the supremely wealthy handful and the greater, far less well off masses of mainstream America. This is not a book to miss, if you wish to obtain devastating clarity of insight into how America has been increasingly subjugated by modern corporate greed and transformed into a captive population of consumers whose sole purpose is to feed the furnaces of corporate wealth.
23) A CONSUMER'S
REPUBLIC: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, Lizabeth Cohen, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, ISBN
0-375-40750-2, 2003 (hardcover). Professor of American Studies at Harvard
University, Dr. Cohen's book details the rise of the modern American consumer state after
the end of the Second World War. With alacrity and astute insights into how the 'benefits'
of America's great wealth have transformed American democracy into a hostage of
unconstrained production and mindless public consumption, Cohen chronicles this
transformation in great detail and backs up her findings with extensive documentation. No
one who is concerned with the dangers posed by the American system of exhaustive
consumption to the rest of the world should fail to read this book. Although it
is at times somewhat of a tough read, the information it contains should be common
knowledge for those who are alarmed about America's unbridled economic gluttony.
Professor of American Studies at Harvard University, Dr. Cohen's book details the rise of the modern American consumer state after the end of the Second World War. With alacrity and astute insights into how the 'benefits' of America's great wealth have transformed American democracy into a hostage of unconstrained production and mindless public consumption, Cohen chronicles this transformation in great detail and backs up her findings with extensive documentation. No one who is concerned with the dangers posed by the American system of exhaustive consumption to the rest of the world should fail to read this book. Although it is at times somewhat of a tough read, the information it contains should be common knowledge for those who are alarmed about America's unbridled economic gluttony.
24) THE UNREALITY INDUSTRY: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What it is Doing to our Lives, Ian I. Mitroff & Warren Bennis, Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford, ISBN 0-19-508398-9, (softcover), 1989. This is one of most important studies of the effects television is having on America's perception of reality. They argue (I think quite successfully) that American culture has fallen victim to the invented unrealities of the mass media. Citing television as the prime culprit, the authors direct our attention to specific issues such as the election of political candidates, celebrity worship, and the deliberate choice by political and business leaders to offer the public pleasing or purposefully contrived images to provoke predictable responses. One point made is the need to take commercialisation out of news media, due to the fact that American news programs now more and more resemble entertainment, rather than objective analysis of events and common concerns (the so-called 'info-tainment' syndrome). As Daniel Schorr of NPR stated it (astutely, I think): "This is a timely book that may help to pull us back from the brink of our national plunge into fantasy." Anyone concerned with the recent examples of 'spin-fantasy' that have been substituted for reality by the George W. Bush Administration, as it continues to pursue a dangerously deleterious agenda that is far-removed from the serious realities America MUST come to grips with soon, will find this book especially illuminating.
25) ON BULLSHIT, Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2005, 68 pages, (hardcover), ISBN 0-691-12294-6. Closely tied to the above book ("The Unreality Industry"), this small and modest volume is the first to dare to deal directly (if somewhat academically) with the proliferation of spin-realities that today pass for real life and that are known in the vernacular as "Bullshit". As I write this, I can't help but smile when I recall that Merrill-Lynch (Pierce, Fenner, & Smith) has adopted a Bull as their corporate symbol and delightfully claim that Merrill-Lynch is "bullish on America". My eyes see "Bullish" but my mind laughs as "Bullshit" substitutes aptly for that corporate slogan's key word. Whatever the truth, this subject is fertile soil for reflection and Professor Frankfurt is the first to do so directly. The small size of this book makes me want to flash it in a similar manner to that which Mao Tse-Dung's 'Little Red Book' was held aloft, back in the 70s. Also important is Canadian Laura Penny's new book YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO US: THE TRUTH ABOUT BULLSHIT! (see below).
YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO
US: THE TRUTH ABOUT BULLSHIT!,
Laura Penny, Crown Publishers, New York, 2005, 243 pages (hardcover), ISBN
-1-4000-8103-3. Regardless of the fact that books of this sort are long
overdue, in view of all the BS that present US administrative policies are
founded upon, Laura Penny has finally set down in print what many of us have
known for a long time: that the world (and especially The United States of
America) is swimming in bovine digestive effluent. Laura could have been
plucking her thoughts directly from my own head as she recounts the story of how
bullshit came to pass for reality in today's modern world. This is a delightful
read and it nails the subject to the cross well enough; the sad thing is that
nothing--neither recognition of the fact nor the public discussion of how
bullshit threatens to drown all of humanity--is going to change this extremely
unfortunate status quo. This book is required reading for all those pathetic
souls who grab the American flag and get all misty eyed whenever the current
President of the United States stares into the press cameras and tells us yet
again how important the war in Iraq is to fighting terrorism. Mindful of all
of George Bush's personal brilliance in the art of bullshitting the American
public, it helps to have a strong sense of irony in reading through this
CULTURE, LIFESTYLE, and COFFEE!
1) UNCOMMON GROUNDS: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World, Mark Prendergast, Basic Books, 1999, ISBN 0-465-03631-7 (hardcover). Hmmmm. This is a rather long book with much interesting information about our favorite beverage, but despite its 550+ pages, there are still important things left out by the author. Among them the fact that excessive coffee intake has now been suspected of increasing risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis (at least one study out showing this, thus far, and probably a few more about to be made public). Nevertheless, a very good read and much interesting information for those who (regrettably) equate good coffee with Starbucks (yuk!). One of the "must have" books on the subject of coffee, after reading this book, EVERY single swallow of coffee becomes a 'political act'. Read it and find out why!
2) THE WILDEST DREAM: The Biography of George Mallory, Peter & Leni Gillman, The Mountaineers Books, 2000, ISBN 0-89886-741-X (hardcover). Just published, this is an excellent and sensitive exploration of George Mallory, mountaineer, advocate of educational reform, intellectual, and finally part of the greatest unsolved mystery of Chomolunga (that's Everest to you, folks). As a mountaineer of many years, I found this quite a wonderful read as it explores much of what has not been said about this controversial figure of early 20th Century mountaineering. Capable of being enjoyed by anyone, mountaineer or not, once started I found it hard to put it down.
3) THE ROLLING STONE BOOK OF THE BEATS: The beat Generation and American Culture, edited by Holly George-Warren, Hyperion (A Rolling Stone Press Book), 1999, ISBN 0-7868-6426-5 (hardcover). Actually, a rather good, interesting illustrated general anthology of writing by and about the Beat writers, artists, and general-hangers-on who populated this late 40s and 50s movement. Credited as having fathered the "Hippie" and in fact frequently confused with the 60s era 'flower children' by the average, unread individual, they were in fact a completely separate phenomenon. A great book for anyone who was raised in the period, as well as an excellent source of overall information on the Beats for those born much later who wish to learn more about Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Snyder, et al.
4) ESPRESSO COFFEE: The Chemistry of Quality, Edited by Andrea Illy and Riantonio Viani, Academic Press Limited, London, 1995, ISBN 0-12-370670-X (hardcover). Just when you thought you'd discovered every single excellent reference on the subject of coffee, along comes this stunning and superbly complete tome dedicated to our favorite legal high (espresso). A scholarly compilation of chemistry and quantitative information drawing upon the work of a range of highly qualified academic authorities, this entire 253 page book is devoted to the subject of what quality consists of in terms of the correct preparation of espresso coffee. There is so much unbelievable information in this reference that you will find it hard to believe. The contributors have left nothing....NO-thing....out of this multifaceted analysis of how to make the PERFECT cup of espresso. Needless to say, this book belongs on the reference shelf of any person who takes his/her coffee seriously!
5) DOWNHILL: The Story of a Gravity Goddess, Marla Streb, A Plume Book (Penguin Group), Nov 2003, New York, NY, 352 pgs, ISBN 0-452-28458-9 (paperbound). The story of a bright GEN-X woman who has realised that there is more to life than growing up to meet Mom & Dad's 'White, Anglo-Saxon Catholic' expectations, finding the right MD or lawyer to marry & settle down with, have a family, and sustain a respectable career as a biomedical researcher. In the case of Marla Streb, that 'more' has taken the form of achieving notable status as a formidable mountain-bike racer at the age of 36. Streb is a talented woman who could have easily conformed to the expected role of an accomplished upper-middle class female with a graduate degree, but instead she has found fulfillment in pushing the personal physical parameters of her life to the edge of the envelope. Don't know about you, but she is the sort of woman I could easily see wandering off into the far-flung corners of the world with, on a voyage of life-long self-discovery and a search for enhanced awareness of what the human experience is all about. I very much enjoyed this vicarious introduction to Marla Streb' unique take on things, and you might also. (PS: Any woman who drives an old VW bus, enjoys Kerouac, Steinbeck, bicycles, and the benefits of vigorous exercise is MILES ahead of the rest of the pack, in my opinion).
6) POETS ON THE PEAKS: Gary Snyder, Phillip Whalen, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades, John Suiter, Counterpoint Books (member of Perseus Books Group), 2002, Washington DC, 340 pages, ISBN 1-58243-148-5 (hardbound). This is a wonderful and in my opinion important book for anyone concerned with the vastly innovative and richly creative Beat Movement of the early 50s and 60s. Author John Suiter has compiled an engaging anthology of photographs and commentary on Beat poets Snyder, Whalen, and Kerouac's seminal experiences as fire lookouts in the North Cascade mountain range. This shared experience--serenely isolated from the world on an indescribably beautiful but remote mountain top--was both an incubator and crucible for formulation of many of the literary insights that followed in the reflective thoughts and writings of each of these three central figures of Beat literature. No one who has read Kerouac's books (for example, Desolation Angels, The Dharma Bums, etc.) could fail to find the contextual history and information found in this book--both written and visual--absolutely fascinating. Further, even if you are not particularly interested in the Beat poets, anyone with an appreciation for mountains, mountaineering, and/or climbing will also find this book inspiring and aesthetically rewarding. Highly recommended. One of the best new books on the key Beat Generation figures.
7) THE DEVIL'S CUP: A HISTORY OF THE WORLD ACCORDING TO COFFEE, Stewart Lee Allen, A Ballentine Book, Published by Random House, 1999, New York, ISBN 0-345-441439-4, (softcover), 232 pages. I think a blurb on the back cover of this book states it beautifully: "Stewart Lee Allen is the Hunter S. Thompson of coffee., offering a wild, caffeinated, gonzo tour of the World of the Magic Bean. His wry, adventurous prose delights, astonishes, amuses, and informs." The foregoing is certainly true, but the book is in fact totally absorbing in that it traces the story of the coffee bean from its discovery through the present day, focusing on the profound influence caffeine has had on the development of modern human political, social, and economic civilisation. I took this book to Hawaii with me with the idea of using it as a casual read during airport layovers and couldn't put it down, once opened. Allen is an extremely articulate, sophisticated, and intelligent individual whose skillful use of the written word draws you into his experiences like few others can. Highly recommended for the person whose life wouldn't be complete without the juice of The Magic Bean to stir up the cerebral cortex into fits of reflective fulmination. Mindful of the fact that caffeine is one of the most commonly abused legal 'substances' in the world, I don't mind admitting (as a caffeine addict, myself) that without coffee, some of the world's most sweeping revolutions in thought, word, deed, and action, would probably never have gotten off the ground. One favorite quote: "In a coffee house just now among the rabble, I bluntly asked: 'Which is the reason table'?" READ THIS BOOK!
8) DA JESUS BOOK: A Hawaiian Pidgin New Testament, Wycliff Bible Translators, Orlando, FL USA, 2000, 745 pages, semi-hardcover, ISBN 0-938978-21-7. You might have trouble finding this book, unless you are in Hawaii, but it may also be obtained through the following URL: http://www.pidginbible.org . Although I am not a conventionally religious individual (let alone a 'Christian', fer crissakes!), I still consider any erstwhile 'Holy' book to be possibly worthwhile literature, and the Christian Bible is no more exception that the Islamic Holy Queran (or any other supposedly divinely inspired book of religious revelation). The real value of this book, however, is not in its being a roadmap to worship of the Christian deity, but rather in the language it is printed in. The entire book, from start to finish, is written and printed in Hawaiian 'Pidgin', that hybrid patois of slang comprised of English and Polynesian words that is used exclusively in the Hawaiian Islands. Anyone desiring greater understanding of Hawaiian Pidgin needs this book. I found it very worthwhile from a linguistics standpoint, but also found it entertaining and edifying to read the familiar old 'Bible Stories' of the Christian New Testament in Pidgin.
1) DON'T GET TAKEN EVERY TIME: The Insider's Guide to Buying or Leasing Your Next Car or Truck, Remar Sutton, Viking Penguin, 1997, ISBN 0140266704. This is an excellent book for those of us who, although we hate the automobile culture and would rather exist without these monsters, find that unavoidable life circumstances require ownership of one. Sutton goes into very useful detail about the tricks that automobile dealers routinely use to squeeze far more money than necessary out of us when we buy an automobile (or lease one). Mandatory reading for the well-prepared and knowledgeable auto buyer; 368 pages of practical insights & advice.
2) FINAL EXIT: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying, Derek Humphry, A Hemlock Society Hardback, 1991, ISBN 0-9606030-3-4. The definitive 'how-to-do-it' book that for years has provided humane and dignified advice on how to end one's life with dignity and without pain. As might be imagined, this book is considered 'heinous' by those whose religious compulsions force them to regard the voluntary ending of one's own life as 'sinful', 'a crime against God', etc., etc. By those who believe that a good life should culminate in a good death, it is considered thoughtful and helpful (there is no other instruction available other than an internship with Dr. Jack). An excellent book, sensitively written and full of important information about this always controversial subject.
3) BLOOD & GUTS: A SHORT HISTORY OF MEDICINE, Roy Porter, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003, 200 pages, hardbound, ISBN 0-393-03762-2. This is a relatively short and very interesting history of the discipline of medicine and healing, as it has emerged through the ages. Written with a light and very readable touch by (recently deceased) Professor Roy Porter of University College, London, it canvasses the chronicle of humanity's eternal contention with disease, physical affliction, infirmity, and death. Broadly covered, it provides a useful and quite often self-deprecating look at the art of the 'medicine man', both primitive and modern. It helps clarify the fact that, despite the elevation of doctors in modern western society to near God-like deification (in terms of cultural status, wealth, and social prestige), they remain nevertheless as simply 'clever medical mechanics' who still know far less about life and death than would have the average person comprehend.
4) THE CARE AND DISPLAY OF THE AMERICAN FLAG, The Editors of Sharpman.com, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, NYC, New York, 2004, ISBN 1-58479-321-X. Less complicated individuals frequently read the information that appears at my site and get the impression that I do not care for my native land. This is of course wrong, for I do have strong feelings for the United States of America. That 'love of country' I maintain is not, however subject to co-option by self-serving elements of political right-wing partisanism who frequently use the club of God-fearing 'patriotism' to quell reasonable and even vital criticism of our nation and the actions of its erstwhile 'leaders'. [One should never forget that our nation was forged in the crucible of rebellion against oppression (even though the strongest and most basic force behind the American Revolution at that time was most assuredly NOT a desire by simple individuals to obtain redress against spiritual repression, but the desire of wealthy private landowners to avoid taxation by Britain!).] At any rate, this small and well illustrated hardbound book of 137 pages contains everything anyone should ever want to know about how to treat the flag of our nation with respect and dignity that it warrants. Since few things irritate me more than observing dimbulb "knee-jerk patriots" desecrating our flag (by flying it on their car till it ends up dirty and tattered shreds, for example, or flying it 24 hours a day without the nighttime illumination that proper flag protocol demands), this book is strongly recommended basic reading for anyone who considers himself any sort of patriot.
1) NORTON THE FIRST: EMPEROR OF THE UNITED STATES (a biography of one of America's most colorful eccentrics), William Drury, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986, ISBN 0-396-08509-1 (hardcover). "Emperor Norton", born Joshua Abraham Norton and an English immigrant to California during the Gold Rush years, is one of the first and certainly the most sympathetic of California's MANY eccentric characters. His story, which is largely the story of the early days of San Francisco's rough & tumble establishment, is delightful from start to finish. Drury is well qualified as a distinguished journalist to tell this story. TRES amusing.
2) FART PROUDLY: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School! Benjamin Franklin, Ariel Press, 1990, ISBN 0-898-04801-X (paperback). In a higher context, a brilliantly funny treatise on the importance of maintaining a sense of humor throughout all of life's frequently too serious and boringly effete affairs. Also great fun for anyone who has an innate appreciation for the medical condition known as Borborygmus. (Available through any of the major internet book sellers and a perennial dark-horse favorite of rogue satirists).
ALTITUDE PHYSIOLOGY & AEROSPACE MEDICINE
1) HIGH LIFE: A History of High-altitude Physiology & Medicine, John B. West, MD, PhD, ScD, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-19-512194-5 (hardcover). This is one of the most important and comprehensive histories of high-altitude physiology and medicine ever undertaken. At 512 pages, and spanning developments from ancient Greece through the present, this fascinating and excellently researched book will be a valuable reference for your bookshelf on the medical physiology of hypobaric environments (near space and high mountain). If you are a serious researcher into the effects of high altitude environments on human beings, or merely a motivated amateur who is interested in this topic, this book is a mandatory acquisition. Dial up Oxford University Press (website following: http://www.oup-usa.org/isbn/0195121945.html ).
2) HIGH ALTITUDE AND MAN, edited by John B. West and Sukhamay Lahiri, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-520690-8 (hardcover). Next to the above book in your library should properly go this three-part compilation of investigations ('Man at extreme altitude'; 'Sleep and restoration at high altitude'; & 'Physiology of permanent residents of high altitude') that is based upon a high altitude symposium that included much of the findings of the 1981 American Medical Expedition to Mt. Everest. An excellent and interesting addition to any near-space or high altitude (hypobaric) physiology library.
3) PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE OF AVIATION MEDICINE, by Harry G. Armstrong, MD, The Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore, MD, 1939 (1st Ed.) and 1943 (2nd Ed.). Although this book is now well over 62 years old, it warrants a re-read if for no other purpose than to gain some understanding of how far the principles and knowledge of high altitude medicine & physiology had progressed in the United States by the late 1930s. Many of the prognostications for future life support systems were dead wrong (protective crash helmets for aircrew were deemed less than useful, and the pressure suit concept as a personal system for protection against the effects of high altitude was rejected as impractical), but the book is still a fascinating read in pulmonary/hypobaric medicine state-of-the-art for 1939 as a new world war was about to dawn. (The USAF School of Aerospace Medicine's laboratory was later named after Professor Armstrong.)
4) GERMAN AVIATION MEDICINE (IN) WORLD WAR TWO ( Vols. I & II ), Department of the Air Force, US Govt. Printing Office, 1950 (hardbound). These two volumes, containing a collection of the most significant articles (in English) on German aviation medicine developments and theories resulting from the 1930s and 1940s aviation physiology research in Nazi Germany, were put together by the United States Air Force. Placing the somewhat sensitive political aspects of the subject aside (German aviation researchers used live human political and military prisoners for many of their studies on the extreme limits of human endurance), it was recognized that these studies held extremely important data that would be useful for American space and high altitude programs of the 1950s and beyond. These two volumes, each of about 650 pages respectively, belong on the reference book shelf of any serious student of altitude physiology and aerospace medicine.
5) HIGH ALTITUDE MEDICINE & PATHOLOGY, Donald Heath & David R. Williams, Butterworth & Co., Ltd., London, 1989 (Hardcover). An excellent compendium of information on all aspects of medical physiology and pathology of humankind at high altitude. 352 pages. First published as 'Man at High Altitude' in 1977, by Churchill Livingston. A recommended reference for the aerospace medical specialist, presenting a view of this area of scientific investigation from the stance of researchers in the United Kingdom.
6) THE ROYAL AIR FORCE INSTITUTE OF AVIATION MEDICINE REPORTS (A SERIES OF HISTORICAL OVERVIEWS ON DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK), T.M. Gibson & M.H. Harrison, Published by the Institute of Aviation Medicine (IAM), 1980/81/82, IAM, Farnborough, Hampshire, UK. Special reports of particular interest include the following: 1) IAM Report No. 593, "British Aviation Medicine to 1939" (Bt1 9644/1 A32544 100 6/81 CL & BL); 2) IAM Report No. 594, "British Aviation Medicine During the Second World War--Part 1", Btl 9645 / 1 / A32544 100 7/81 B/CL); 3) IAM Report No. 610, "British Aviation Medicine During the Second World War--Part 2--G Protection" (Btl 1665 / 1/ 315 100 12/81 BL); 4) IAM Report No. 612, "British Aviation Medicine During the Second World War--Part 3--Vision Research" (Btl 103 / 1 / 319 100 11/81); 5) IAM Report No. 614, "British Aviation Medicine During the Second World War--Part 4--Flying Clothing" (Btl 3662 / 1 / B00023 100 7/82 BL); 5) IAM Report No. 615, "British Aviation Medicine During the Second World War--Part 5--Fatigue, Flying Stress, and Accidents" (Btl 3565 / 1 / B 00020 100 6/82 BL/CL); 6) IAM Report No. 617, "The History of the IAM: Post-War Oxygen Systems" (No archive reference given, but dated 7/82); 7) IAM Report No. 618, "The History of the IAM: Acceleration Research Since 1945" (No archival reference given, but dated 11/82); 8) IAM Report No. 620, "The History of the IAM: Protecting Against the Elements" (No archival reference given, but dated 11/82); 9) "The History of the IAM: Vision Research Since 1945" (No archival reference given, but dated 9/82). Taken together, these reports constitute a vast and valuable historical chronology of aviation life support advancements in the UK through the early 1980s.
7) ATTITUDES ON ALTITUDE: Pioneers of Medical Research in Colorado's High Mountains, Edited by John T. Reeves and Robert F. Grover, University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO, 2001, ISBN 0-87081-645-4 (hardcover). Fascinating history of the pioneering early American medical physiological researches undertaken in the high altitude regions of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. A narrative of some of the most productive and innovative explorations of the human response to high altitude accomplished in the United States in the early 1900s and later. This is a book that belongs on your medical respiratory physiology reference shelf, but it is also a fascinating read as well. Equally suited to medical historians, climbers, altitude physiologists, and even eclectic individuals with odd, but diverse interests!
8) THE PRE-ASTRONAUTS: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space, Craig Ryan, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1995, ISBN 1-557050-732-5 (hardcover). This is a history that is important for all students of high altitude physiology, detailing as it does the 1950s and 1960s period before orbital space flights were achieved via rockets, in which exploration of the Earth's highest atmospheric reaches was carried out by a handful of courageous military medical researchers who rode Helium filled balloons to altitudes in excess of 123,000 feet. The observations and experiments carried out on the Strato-Lab, Man-High, Excelsior, Stargazer, and Volga balloon missions provided vitally important information that greatly accelerated our early space program achievements. Much detail also about Captain Joseph Kittinger's free fall from 103,000 feet, during which he became the only human ever to break the speed of sound with his own pressure-suited body (without an aircraft!) in August of 1960.
9) X-15: The NASA Mission Reports, compiled and edited by Robert Godwin, Apogee Books, Ontario, Canada, 2000, ISBN 1896522-65-3, (softcover). This is an amazingly rich collection of data, information, and technical details chronicling the important American X-15 high altitude rocket research program of the late 50s and 60s. Much pioneering research on the limits of both human physiology and air/spacecraft design engineering was accomplished throughout the duration of this long and very productive research program that began in the 1950s. Fascinating information about early American pressure suit design, egress system developments, and high altitude, multi-Mach flight. As a child growing up near Edwards AFFTC in the Mojave desert, I was privileged to see the all three of the X-15s fly, and even met a few of the flight test people who flew them. This wealth of information on one of the most important high altitude flight programs ever undertaken definitely belongs on your bookshelf.
10) INTO THIN AIR: A History of Aviation Medicine in the RAF, T.M. Gibson and M.H. Harrison, Robert Hale, London, UK, 1984, ISBN 0-7090-1290-X (hardcover). Sadly, this wonderful history of the early years of British aviation medicine is now out of print. Copies may still be found, however, and it is a worthy aerospace medicine historical reference by any standard. This book was put together from the reports these two British RAF flight surgeons put together in 1982 for the RAF's Institute of Aviation Medine (see earlier entry, above); so if you missed out on the IAM reports, you can acquire the best of that earlier body of information in this book. A fascinating read and one of those books I personally couldn't out down, once begun. A wealth of information about important WWII and post-war RAF investigations into life support equipment, pressure suits, aircrew physiology, and egress systems technology. Much of this research served as the basis for many subsequent important American and English developments in aircrew life support systems.
11) EJECT: The Complete History of US Aircraft Escape Systems, Jim Tuttle, MBI Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN, 2002, ISBN 0-7603-1185-4, (hardcover). Unfortunately, this book's title is somewhat presumptuous, as the book is a bit of a disappointment for the serious student of egress systems history (it appears to have been been written more for the general, non-aviation public). There are a number of conspicuous errors and incorrect statements to be found in it, which is surprising, considering that Mr. Tuttle is heralded as "an industry insider" by the publisher (Tuttle is a retired cockpit systems engineer, formerly with North American Aviation, and possessed of over 33 years of experience in his specialty). That having been said, there are a good many things to be found in this recent book that shed new light on some of the more fascinating advanced high-performance aircraft of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I was disappointed that the very earliest days of American post-war egress R&D are rather quickly skimmed over and only the briefest passing mention is made of the "1st gen" (manual) egress systems used in the early post-war jet aircraft (the most interesting period of egress research, in my opinion). I would have titled the book "An Incomplete History, etc.", but it is still a worthwhile addition to the reference bookshelf.
12) GOING HIGHER: Oxygen, Man, and Mountains, Charles Houston, MD, The Mountaineers, Seattle, WA, 4th Ed., 1998, ISBN 0-89886-580-8 (softcover). The updated, 4th Edition of a classic book dealing with human physiological response to high altitude (originally published in hardcover format in 1980, as GOING HIGHER: The Story of Man and Altitude). Charles Houston is a former US Navy Flight Surgeon (WWII), internal medicine specialist, and mountaineer, who in this classic work on the high altitude aspects of pulmonary medicine has created a book that is also eminently readable, despite the technical subject matter. I only wish that I had had the opportunity to read this book many years ago when I was just starting my own career as a pulmonary technologist. The new 4th edition has much new and recent information on AMS, HAPE, and HACE and is an excellent addition to any reference bookshelf on this subject. Houston is a life-long believer in making medicine accessible to the ordinary layman, of which this book serves as a very convincing and useful example.
13) HYPERSONIC: The Story of The North American X-15, Dennis R. Jenkins and Tony R. Landis, Specialty Press, North Banch, MN, 2003, ISBN 1-58007-068-X (hardbound). With over 264 pages of detailed information and a gallery of splendid black & white and color photographs that span the entire length of the X-15 rocket research program, this book (along with its companion volume, 'X-15 PHOTO SCRAPBOOK'--also compiled by Landis and Jenkins, ISBN1-58007-074-4, paperbound) is perhaps the most comprehensive and valuable reference produced to date on the spectacularly successful explorations of near-space undertaken by this unique Mach 6 aircraft. Much of the information contained within, such as special section dedicated to the development of the MA-2 full pressure suit (that was the precursor of all following USAF full pressure suits) and that detailing the X-15's ejection seat escape system, appears for the first time in such detail and continuity. As a child who grew up close-by the Edwards AFFTC facility in the 60s, the North American X-15 was a very special aircraft to me. The members of my Boy Scout troop considered it an absolute thrill to be photographed alongside the X-15 in 1960 by the base photographer at an Edwards 'Open Day', and that thrill is still vivid to me in retrospect today. This book is a fascinating history of the entire 10 year long program and I highly recommend it to any aviation historian--especially those concerned with high altitude life support and aerospace physiology.
14) THE PARACHUTE MANUAL: A Technical Treatise in Aerodynamic Decelerators, Dan Poynter, Para Publishing Santa Barbara, CA, 3rd edition 1984, ISBN 0-915516-35-7, large softcover, 592 excellently illustrated pages. If ever there were a complete and comprehensive "bible" for the parachute rigger, sky-diver, military parachutist, or life support historian, this has to be it. Containing a wealth of information, data, history, resources, references, and instructional materials on every aspect of parachutes (from "Pull-the-Dot" snaps to proper packing techniques for ALL parachutes, military or civilian), this is a most invaluable book for any life supporter's reference shelf. The very latest revision is just out (4th edition), and this slightly older edition is here listed as a reference for convenience (the latest revision, done in September 1991, ISBN 0915516802, has 416 pages and is completely updated) and sold for about $45 in 1984 (doubtless a bit more costly now in 2004), but it is worth every penny of the cost. This manual would have be considered a basic standard reference for any modern day US Navy parachute rigger or USAF life support specialist. (Curious about what a "blast handle" is? Check this book for some specifics).
15) COUNTDOWN: A HISTORY OF SPACE FLIGHT, T.A. Heppenheimer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1997, 400 pages, hardcover, ISBN 0-471-14439-8. With all the great numbers of books appearing on the subject of space flight technology and developments of the 50s, 60, 70s, and 80s in recent years, it would be easy to erroneously dismiss this volume as simply another of that ilk. Despite the dramatic title, it is a surprisingly well researched and contextually integrated history of the entire story of modern space flight, starting with the early American and German amateur efforts of the 20s and 30s, and carrying through to the late 90s. What makes this book so valuable is the fact that it not only chronologues each technological development on both the Russian and American sides during the Cold War era 'space race', it perhaps more importantly provides the critical social and political context that underlay such immensely expensive efforts to be the first nation to land a man on the moon. I accidentally ran across it in a senior citizen's thrift shop (a public library 'discard') in the the sleepy little California coastal town of Cayucos and bought it for $1.00; however, after two pages, I was hooked and found it to be another one of those 'hard to put down' works that provides deeper insights into an age I personally lived through and experienced directly. No matter how erudite one's appreciations of modern social, cultural, and technological history may be, this is a great read.
16) ROCKET MEN: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, Craig Nelson, Viking Penguin, New York, 2009. ISBN 978-0-670-02103-1, 404 pp, hardcover. A very new and quite worthwhile accounting of the epic 'Cold War' struggle to land a man on the moon by the United States of America that benefits significantly both from the author's unique outlook and the overview that subsequent decades have provided him. A very readable and interesting work on this monumental space program. Told in satisfying contrast to most earlier books on the 'Cold War Space race' that usually dwell inordinately on the original 'Right Stuff' essence of the Mercury Astronauts, Nelson's book closely examines 'new' breed of 'engineer astronaut' that flew the Apollo moon missions. Best exemplified by 'Ice man' Neil Armstrong, of whom it was said that he never shared even the slightest subjective personal reflection of events and always kept his focus on the hard, cold, objective scientific facts, this book gives insights into the Apollo Program that are only covered indirectly in previous books of this genre. One quote, perhaps an Armstrong original (or perhaps not), I particularly enjoyed is this: "Great people discuss great ideas. Good people discuss people with great ideas. Ordinary men discuss people." That may not be an exact rendering, but I think it communicates the idea saliently enough! NEW
17) SPACESUITS: The National Air & Space Museum Collection, Amanda Young, Powerhouse Books, New York, 152 pages, hardcover, 2009, ISBN 978-1-57687-498-1. A beautiful, full-color pictorial history of the NASM's collection of space suits, with extended annotative remarks, this is an invaluable reference for anyone interested in the history of the US Space Program's technical developments in human factors and life support systems. An essential reference book for serious students of aerospace life support and human factors science. While this book is more visually oriented (with excellent photographs of particular suits in the NASM collection), when used along with Lillian Kozlosky's excellent earlier NASM book (US Space Gear: Outfitting the Astronaut, 1994), it is a very, very useful and informative volume. NEW
18) US SPACESUITS, Kenneth S. Thomas and Harold J. McMann, Springer (Praxis) Books (UK), softcover, 400 pages, 2006, ISBN 0-387-27919-9. An absolutely invaluable, fully illustrated, authoritative study of the development of American space suits by two extremely well qualified individuals, this is a book that many have long wanted, hoping someone would be able to tackle the daunting task of documenting a subject which heretofore has been somewhat obscure and esoteric. A companion reference to the equally brilliant volume on Soviet space suits titled 'Russian Spacesuits'. Exhaustively illustrated with photographs, diagrams, technical diagrams, and accompanying visual data, this is another of those absolute 'must haves' for any aerospace reference shelf. My only criticism would be that early developments in full pressure suit technology have been given rather short shrift and after a cursory overview the main substantive text really begins with the Air Force's A/P22S FPS assembly (which was a refinement of the David Clark MC-2 'X-15 suit'). In part this may be attributable to the fact (as pointed out by the authors) that in the aerospace industry, little or no effort has been made in recent decades (the past 50 years or so) to retain technical files and archival data older than about 7 to 10 years. Thus, much of the documentation pertaining to early suit development (pre-X-15 technology) has already been lost or otherwise been disposed of. In this context, we can often thank so-called 'collectors', who have consistently made efforts to save and retain any and all artifactual evidence and/or documentation related to these earlier efforts to devise aircrew high altitude life support protection, perhaps the most notable of these being Dennis Gilliam, formerly with TRW and a collector/historian of pressure suits for several decades. Similarly, the early years of the US Navy's R&D program to develop the first practical full pressure suit (the Mk IV), have all but been ignored (including information on the process whereby the Mk IV was modified into the first orbital spacesuit, the 'Project Mercury' suit). However, from the X-15 project suit onwards, the history presented is breathtakingly detailed and voluble. Despite these short-comings, this book is of immense value to all aerospace life support historians (and collectors). NEW
19) RUSSIAN SPACESUITS, Isaak P. Abramov and A. Ingemar Skoog. Springer (Praxis) Books, (UK), softcover, 366 pages, 2003, ISBN 1-85233-732-X. Considering the relative secretiveness and guarded nature that have always characterised Soviet military sciences and technology, the technical details and associated revelations in this volume alone are staggering. With an extensive collection of accompanying photographs, illustrations, diagrams, drawings, and charts, this book by Abramov and Skoog is the answer to a dream long held by Western historians, professional and amateur alike. Filled with not just fascinating visual material, but a comprehensive written history and chronology of all the Soviet/Russian spacesuit developments as well, it seems incomprehensible that anyone would not wish to have both this book and its companion volume ('US Spacesuits') on the bookshelf. In comparison with the companion volume on US spacesuit developments, there is far more early history available on Russian developments in spacesuit technology than on their US counterparts. It is interesting to think that for once, traditional Russian/Soviet preferences for close guardedness seem to have been put aside for once, as historical information presented in this book on the early R&R that led to their true orbital spacesuit designs is far more complete and available than it is on comparable US designs. One reason for this is likely that in Russia, ALL aircrew life support science and technology falls under the provenance of a single entity, NPP ZVEZDA, whereas in the United States, all corresponding US developments have been comprised of and based upon a wide range of separate contractor contributions to R&D and production. Many of these US defense contractors have over the past half century either gone out of business or been merged into larger firms (with older technical archives and much historical data having been lost or disposed of in the course of those mergers). In view of all this, the volume on Soviet/Russian suits constitutes an absolutely phenomenal resource. NEW
20) US SPACE GEAR: OUTFITTING THE ASTRONAUTS, Lillian Kozlosky, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, ISBN-13 978-0874744590, hardcover, 1994 (also released in paperback in 2000). This is an excellent book by former NASM historian Lillian Kozlosky (now retired), who back in the 90s recognised the need for publically available formal documentation of American spacesuit development technology and human factors science. Originally published in hardcover in 1994, the volume was later released in paper binding in 2000, but both versions are essentially identical and provide a tremendously helpful guide (both informationally and pictorially) on American efforts to provide aircrew protection in space environments. With a satisfying range of illustrative material accompanying the historical data, Ms. Kozlosky's contribution to printed historical data on personal human space life support systems is immeasurable. Her effort inspired present NASM historian Amanda Young to take the process even further with 'Spacesuits: The National Air & Space Museum Collection' (2009). Clearly, given the difficulty in researching and retrieving much now forever lost documentation on space life support technology, her early achievement in this arcane area of history stands out as a signal undertaking.
21) FROM LAIKA WITH LOVE: Secret Soviet Gifts to Apollo, by Duane Graveline, MD, published by Duane Graveline 2007, ISBN: 978-1-4243-3870-2. This 186 page paper bound book by former NASA flight surgeon Duane Graveline is both interesting and a valuable read on aspects of the 'Cold War' space race rarely gone into: the important aerospace physiological research without which our Apollo Program could not have gotten off the ground (and out of an Earth environment). Graveline specialised in intelligence derivations of physiological data obtained from Soviet orbital space satellite telemetry (among other things) and gives us a glimpse into an aspect of Soviet animal related research studies that NASA found itself involved with almost vicariously. Perhaps chief among the notable revelations coming to us in this book is Graveline's prescient and foresighted concern over American use of a five PSIG 100% oxygen space cabin environment long before use of that potentially hazardous mixture resulted in the tragedy that was Apollo 204 (AKA: Apollo 1). The second half of the book is provided by my friend Dr. Fred Kelly, former NASA flight surgeon, who writes about that tragedy from the perspective of someone who was not only on duty in the Cape block house when that Launch Complex 34 fire killed Apollo astronauts White, Chaffee, and Grissom, but a key member of the subsequent accident investigation who wrote the medical section of the investigation's report. Another of those small but immensely interesting books that belongs on your aerospace reference shelf. NEW
CHEMICAL & BIOLOGICAL WARFARE
1) GERMS: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, Judith Miller, Stephen Engleberg, William Broad, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-87158-0 (hardcover). An important, recent publication that presents a wealth of background information on the possible use of biochemical agents as weapons of war. Pulling no punches, this research describes America's involvement in the shadow world of biochemical weaponry, as well as that of other nations around the world. An excellent book and very readable, as well.
2) LIVING TERRORS: What America needs to know to survive the coming bioterrorist catastrophe, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Dell Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-385-33481-8 (paperback). A very interesting accounting of the possible terrorist use of biological weapons and a revealing assessment of the terrible vulnerability that the United States currently maintains in the face of this emerging threat to not just the USA, but the world. Specifically addresses the threat posed by smallpox (Variola Haemorhagica), which is formidable. This ranks among the books that all Americans ought to read (for a discussion of this timely book, see the Dec 2001 'Bioterrorism: You ain't seen nothing yet!' commentary found in 'The Mayday Cafe', appearing elsewhere on this site), in view of the Smallpox virus's great potential as a terrorist weapon.
3) THE BIOLOGY OF DOOM: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project, Ed Regis, Henry Holt & Company, New York, NY, 1999, ISBN 0-8050-5764-1. Former philosophy professor Ed Regis details the once highly classified biological weapons program of the United States, from its origins in the Second World War through its abrupt termination in 1969. At its peak, employing over 4000 workers, secretly conducting open air tests on American soil, and testing pathogens on more than 2000 live test subjects, the program was cloaked for decades in utter secrecy; this story should serve as a warning about what shocking activities even a supposedly enlightened nation like the United States can carry out "in defense of freedom".
4) THE GREATEST THREAT: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Crisis of Global Security, Richard Butler (former Chairman of UNSCOM), Public Affairs (Perseus Books Group), New York, NY, 2000, ISBN 1-891620-53-3 (hardcover). Despite the fact that we are about to renew war with Iraq, and putting aside the shallow arguments that the Bush Administration has advanced as justification for this, there is little doubt that Iraq did indeed pose a threat to the world with its unrepentant efforts to continue developing nuclear and chemical/bio weapons technologies. The irony is that this should have all been resolved back in the early 90s, since the situation now has changed measurably, with far more danger to world peace posed by Al Queda terrorists and North Korea. Regardless of this radically changed status quo, Butler's book is a very important examination of the Iraqi regime. Further, in light of France's strongly expressed present opposition to renewed American intervention in Iraq, Butler highlights the fact that France, eager to do business with Iraq back in the early 90s, bears substantial responsibility for having permitted Hussein to successfully stand off the UN inspectors, whose job it was to disarm and 'neuter' Iraq's NBC weapons capabilities after the 1991 'Gulf War' ended. A very well documented and very interesting book by a respected authority on this subject. [How further ironic, then, that the recently ended war in Iraq has found nothing to substantiate the present fear of a current Iraqi WoMD threat!].
5) A HIGHER FORM OF KILLING: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Robert Harris & Jeremy Paxman, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, NY , 2002, ISBN 0-8129-6653-8 (softcover). Truly an essential book for the NBC defense reference bookshelf, this is a re-release of Harris & Paxman's original 1982 hardcover history of modern era NBC weapons development. It contains a new chapter covering the immediate pre and post 1991 Gulf War period and has long served as an essential primer on the history of this most ghastly form of offensive and defensive warfare. A book that is often quoted and referenced repeatedly in any modern text on the subject, Harris & Paxman's work is a fascinating read as well as a valuable history that chronicles the rise of chemical and biological weapons technology since the early 1900s..
THE MIDDLE EAST
1) WHY DO PEOPLE HATE AMERICA? Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, The Disinformation Company Ltd., New York, 2002, ISBN 0-9713942-5-3 (paperback). This is a very timely, factual, and above all balanced analysis of exactly why America has become so thoroughly hated by so many people in the world beyond America's immediate borders. It is a fair-minded and very erudite attempt to help explain to everyone (but most of all to Americans) the basis of seemingly inexplicable antipathies that have resulted in such terrible expressions of violence as the 11 September terrorist attacks on the WTC and the US Pentagon. But beyond that, it is is a cogent and intelligent appeal for Americans to start reflectively assessing the effects and extent of their nation's massive economic and political impact on the rest of the planet. One of Sardar & Davies' central points is that Americans are so extremely self-preoccupied and obsessed with the belief that American beliefs and ideals are the only acceptable standard upon which to order present civilisation that we ruthlessly impose these tenets of belief upon all of humanity without qualification or question. They authors trace the path from which naive (and well-intended) American socio-economic and political ideas have been dangerously transformed into a new and blindly oppressive form of armed imperialism. A popular seller world-wide, except in America (where the book is given little publicity), this is a book that everyone needs to read in order to fathom the increasing resistance to the steamroller that is today's American 'globalism'. HIGHLY recommended!
2) SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL: How Washington Sold its Soul for Saudi Crude, Robert Bear, Crown Publishers, New York, 2003, ISBN: 1-4000-5021-9 (hardcover). Written by former CIA analyst Robert Baer, this is a very valuable and insightful book for its look into the guts of Saudi Arabia's connections and associations with support of world-wide terrorism. Almost as importantly he explains how it is that powerful American political and corporate entities have for so long allowed this situation to develop, by freely helping themselves to regular infusions of Al Saud wealth in the form of kickbacks, payoffs, "loans", "gifts" and many other creatively distributed forms of Saudi baksheesh. The ties traced by Baer linking the immense dispersals of Saudi wealth and the personal deep pockets of such corporate characters of 'sliding-scale morality' as the Dick Cheneys, George Bushes, and other power figures in American life (who have for so long fed at the Saudi trough) are clear and unerringly analysed. Although not anywhere as fully indictful as it could be (and also purged by the CIA before release, so as to protect details regarded as potentially compromising), this is about as close as anyone has yet come to mapping out the extremely hypocritical double standards of American corporate and personal business interests that have allowed the United States to simultaneously continue taking massive payoffs from Saudi Arabia, (thereby) blindly allowing the precursor events of the present terrorist threat to occur, AND maintaining unchanging & unquestioned support for the State of Israel (regardless of its human rights abuses in the name of national 'best' interests). Caution: You must have at least three active brain cells to be able to read and appreciate what this books offers!
3) THE AMERICAN HOUSE OF SAUD, Steve Emerson, Franklin Watts Publishers, 1985, New York, ISBN0-531-09778-1 (hardcover). One of the earlier detailed investigations of the Saudi-US Corporations oil connection. Emerson carefully and painstakingly documents the tangled interconnected web of Saudi Arabian and American corporate (oil and related technologised industries) interests that have perpetuated the present status quo. The difference between Baer's recent study ('Sleeping With the Devil') is that Baer investigates these Saudi-US business connections as critical component processes pertinent to the present growth of the Wahabi/Muslim Brotherhood terrorist movement, whereas Emerson investigates the corporate and industrial connections only. This is understandable in view of the fact that in 1985, the world-wide Islamic extremist funded terrorist movement was not yet recognised for what it now is, in light of the most recent developments (post 11 September). It is a detailed, exhaustive, and illuminating study of the corrupt business ties that Saudi Arabia has long maintained with the United States (and other major world players); as may be imagine, of necessity, it also paints a very fascinating look at the inner workings of Saudi Arabia of the Al Sauds. Regarded as one of a number of 'must read' background books on "The Kingdom".
4) THE IRAQ-IRAN WAR: Islam and Nationalisms, Abdel-Majid Trab Zemzemi, The United States Publishing Company, San Clemente (CA), 1986, (No ISBN). Translated by Zainad Mohammed from the original French. An interesting background book that focuses on many of the intricate component nuances of the Iraq-Iran War that also touches on contiguous areas within the subject area of developing Islamic extremist movements. The author is a professor and Sunni Muslim, formerly a member of the 'Investigative Commission of the International Islamic Tribunal', headquartered in Lahore, Pakistan. Although clearly slanted and skewed in its political thesis (Favoring Sunni Muslim doctrine over Ba'athist philosophy) , this book provides nevertheless an interesting insight into some of the internecine convolutions of the Islamic religion that have helped set the highly flammable context within which the present extremist Islamic terrorist movement has flowered. A useful book and also interesting in several ways.
5) NINE PARTS OF DESIRE: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, Geraldine Brooks, Anchor Books/Doubleday, New York, 1995, ISBN 0-385-47576-4. Modern Islamic sects have in many instances interpreted the Koran and 'Sura texts' (the philosophical proclamations on proper Islamic conduct by the Prophet Mohammed, as distinct from the 'Holy Word of Allah' which the Koran contains) in the most severe context, relegating the role of women to that of utter subservience, extreme limitation, and dependence contingent to absolute male domination. This is surprisingly NOT the norm in most non-Middle Eastern Islamic nations, wherein women are accorded a regard far more appropriate to their theoretical equality. The extremist interpretations of the Islamic religion have subjugated and literally enslaved women to strictly prescribed and circumscribed gender-related functions: home-keeping and child-bearing. Brooks takes a close and revealing look at the impact this ultra-conservative Islamic theosophical dogma on the lives of women in the Middle East region. An important and vital book for the light it sheds on Islamic gender customs practiced at their most cruelly conservative extreme, but also very important for the insights this tenet of the ultra-conservative Islamic Arab nations provides into the overall function of their entire culture.
6) THE KINGDOM: Arabia and the House of Sa'ud, Robert Lacey, Harcourt Brace Janovich Publishers, New York, 1981 (hardcover, out of print), ISBN 0-15-147260-2 (hardcover, out of print). This book by Robert Lacey was one of the earliest modern investigations of the highly secretive inner workings of contemporary Saudi Arabia, under the aegis of the Al Sa'ud monarchy. Considered one of the most revealing and detailed expostulations on Saudi Arabia, it focuses on the central role played by the Al Sa'ud ruling monarchy. At the time of its release it was considered so shocking to those in normally closed Saudi circles that it was banned in the Kingdom for many years. Revealed for the first time in its pages were complex details and accounts of the social, political, dynastic, and economic activities of the Al Sa'ud family. This is an important book for any 'Arabist' in that it pulls no punches in terms of revealing the wide-spread corruption, graft, and nepotistic practices of the modern rulers of the Arab peninsula. The book was frequently illicitly secreted into Saudi Arabia while I was working there and any westerner caught with it was subject to severe penalty. This book covers the entire history of the Al Sa'ud family, from their earliest days as just another nomadic tribe scrabbling for sustenance in the desert, through the important period of their original historic alliance with the strict Wahabist Islamic sect that enabled them to come to power (and dominate 'Arabia Felix'), and fully into the modern era characterised by growth into unlimited oil wealth, power, and world-wide influence (up to 1981). Another of the 'must read' books on this subject.
7) THE SAUDIS: Inside the Desert Kingdom, Sandra Mackey, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1987 (hardcover, out of print), ISBN 0-395-41165-3. Another of the vital 'core library' books any Arabist needs to have read and placed in the library, this book has many similarities to Lacey's earlier book (above), but it is interesting for many reasons. Not the least of which, is the fact that Sandra wrote the manuscript for this book while she was the wife of one of the prominent cardiologists I worked with at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre in Riyadh. Mackey courageously undertook this 'covert' project, after having successfully written a series of frank and revealing articles on Saudi society for the Christian Science Monitor, under a male pseudonym. It provides another unsettling insight into the steamy guts of Saudi Arabian society that few had prior to that time seen or experienced. It too was banned in the Kingdom, although it was also frequently smuggled in by expats working in the Kingdom. Mackey managed to work as a typist for the Saudi Ministry of Planning for quite a while, thus affording her a rare opportunity to obtain information from the very inside. As the wife of an important member of the KFSH&RC medical staff, she also was further afforded unique access to important Saudi men & women. I knew Ms. Mackey as an acquaintance (since I worked daily with Dr. Mackey), but had no clue that she was writing her book during the entire time I was at KFSH&RC. A very, very interesting book for the insights and intimate knowledge it shares on the workings of one of the most secretive societies in the world.
8) SAUDI ARABIA, Gene Lindsey, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1991 (hardcover, out of print), ISBN 0-87052-998-6. Written from the standpoint of an insightful expat businessman who lived and worked in the Kingdom during the 1980s, Lindsey views and interprets life in the Kingdom as seen from the inside. Although not as exhaustively documented and detailed as the Lacey and Mackey books, this is a valuable book for the candid impressions Lindsey records about daily life in the Kingdom. It is also a good 'starter' book for someone who has not previously done much reading on Saudi Arabian culture, or who might find the Lacey or Mackey books a bit too exhaustively detailed. Enjoyable and also informative.
9) THE CLOSED CIRCLE: An Interpretation of the Arabs, David Pryce-Jones, Harper Row Publishers, New York, 1989, ISBN 0-016047-0 (hardcover, out of print). The author spent his early years living and experiencing the richness of Arab Morocco, but advantageously gained from that experience a life-long interest in and empathy for the Arab peoples. This is a book that takes a balanced and anthropologically enlightened view of the social customs and deeply rooted cultural outlooks held by the Arab peoples of the Middle East region. It is an important book for gaining knowledge and awareness of why the Arabs think and act as they do and it is relatively free from the inherent biases that most western writers take with them as intrinsic 'extra baggage' when interpreting Arab society and writing about it. An interesting read and important for the equanimeous approach it takes towards the subject of its inquiry.
10) THE ARABS: Journeys Beyond the Mirage, David Lamb, Random House, New York, 1987 (hardcover, out of print), ISBN 0-39454433-1. Perhaps one of the best reviews of this book was written by Peter Grosse, former Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs and author of Israel on the Mind of America: "A revealing, highly readable survey of a little-understood people. Lamb comes to the task with none of the old ideological baggage--just a shrewd reporter's sharp eyes and ears. He cuts through the caricatures and presents sympathetic impressions of societies that often seem too strange for us in the West to fathom." Very worthwhile and interesting general background information on Arabs and the whole broad pan-Arab Middle East region.
11) A HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST, Peter Mansfield, Viking Publishers, New York, 1991 (hardcover, US edition, now out of print), ISBN 0-670-81515-2. Principally focused on classical Arab history and events prior to the modern 'Oil era', Mansfield's book is valuable background information on the vast history of the Arab peoples that comprises that part of the figurative iceberg that lies beneath the surface of present western knowledge about the Arabs. Perhaps this is a very poorly chosen allegory, given the desiccated nature of the Middle East (relative humidity in Riyadh is typically about 4% in the summer--that is considered by most scientifically minded people as being 'bone dry'), but Mansfield paints a fascinating canvas of classical Arab history, while incorporating the most recent era into his analysis. A very readable and interesting background reference for more fairly considering and understanding the Arabs of today.
12) A HISTORY OF THE ARAB PEOPLES, Professor Albert Hourani, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1991 (hardcover, out of print), ISBN 0-674-39565-4. This is the 'Holy Koran' of all modern histories devoted to classical Arab civilisation. Professor Hourani has summarised in a rather large and comprehensive work (550 pages) most of the essential documented history of early Arab civilisation in a manner that brings to life the brilliance and wisdom of that civilisation's formidable cultural achievements that flowered in earlier centuries. Everything any Arabist (or would-be Arabist) needs to know about Arab civilisation up to its most recent era is to be found here. Not an easy read by any stretch, it is still a most valuable resource for understanding, given the patience and fortitude required to plough through it from cover to cover. A 'must-have' in any library dedicated to Arab culture and society.
13) THE ARAB MIND, Raphael Patai, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1983 (originally published in 1973), paperbound, ISBN 0-684-17810-9. What sets this book apart is the fact that it explores the subject of the Arab peoples from the standpoint of their basic life-psychology, as derived from the richly convoluted events central to past centuries of their cultural history. Patai's book is not an easy read, nor is it a light-hearted inside glimpse at what makes the Arab peoples react to events and circumstances the way they do. It is, nevertheless, a very valuable and scholarly look at the 'mysteries' of Arab society that immensely furthers understanding of their culture. It additionally offers many insights into the basic personality of today's Arab and it includes a discussion of the challenges that recent acquisition of wealth and power have presented in most recent decades (up to 1983). Well worth reading and also an important addition to any Arabist's 'core library'.
14) IRAQ: An Illustrated History and Guide, by Guilles Munier, Interlink Books, Northampton, Mass, First American Edition 2004 (originally published in France, 2000), ISBN 1-56656-513-8, softcover. Someone questioned the publication of what is essentially a history book on Iraq, at a time when more immediate concerns regarding that nation obtain. The answer (obviously) is that it is this book and others like it that GeeDubya Bush and his cronies should have read before they waltzed into Iraq, Texas gunfighter style. Too often the shrill bias of right-wing 'patriotism' in this nation creates the impression that the Iraqis are (along with all '...them looney ragheads over there'...) semi-crazed berserkers who delight in wantonly killing our fresh-faced, innocent American children (read: 'soldiers') for the pure fun of it. This book, which is entirely a historical review of that nation and its storied ancient (and modern) culture, gives the reader a fascinating understanding of the region, its peoples, and the social, cultural, and political events which have shaped modern Iraq. This book is even safe for the most extreme, frothing, right-wing Republicans to read, since it provides them with knowledge that they should have had, had they taken history and geography in school (instead of Corporate 'Bidness' courses) as they ought. Excellently illustrated and a captivating read as well. Every American should be required to read this book (even if you still don't like the French). --
15) HOUSE OF BUSH, HOUSE OF SAUD: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, Craig Unger, Scriber & Sons, New York, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-5337-X, hardcover, 357 pages. This excellently researched book delves into the close associations maintained by the Bush dynasty with the Al Saud dynasty that have over the past 20 years resulted in remarkable personal gain for both families, and in so doing, set the stage for the emergence and development of the very radical Islamic terrorist threat that today threatens the West. Aside from revealing all the mutually duplicitous Bush/Al Saud interactions over oil and profit, it also covers the important story of the powerful Saudi Bin Laden family, whose money has substantially funded all of the present terrorist chaos. The deeply disturbing nature of the past close associations between the Bushes and the Al Sauds is something that needs to be understood by all Americans so that whenever GeeDubya mounts his Presidential podium today and mouths 'determined leader' platitudes, the sheer arrogant hypocrisy of his rhetoric may be more easily understood. Those of us who are ex-Saudi expats knew all of these things well enough, but it is well past time for the 'average' (read: 5-brain cell dip-shit) American to learn some of this important history (hopefully before he grabs a gun and joins the US Army to die in Iraq for the sake of American corporate greed).
16) MOHAMMED: PROPHET OF DOOM, Islam's Terrorist Dogma in Muhammed's Own Words, Craig Winn, Cricketsong Books, Canada, 2004, ISBN 0-9714481-2-4, 1000 pages, hardcover. I include this book merely as an example of the sort of over-reactive condemnation of the Islamic religion that the events of September 11th have provoked. Author Winn has exhaustively plumbed the depths of Islam's holy writings in a (misguided) effort to portray all of Islam as a religion based upon terrorist precepts and the personal human failings of Islam's Holy Prophet, Muhammed. The jacket blurb says it all: "The story that unfolds in these pages begins as laughable; it becomes repulsive and then putrid. Islam's own scriptures admit that Muhammed was an unrestrained sexual pervert, engaged in pedophilia, incest, rape, and womanising. He authorized deceptions, assassinations, tortures, thievery, slavery, and mass murder. He was a pirate, not a prophet!" This book is not something that one needs to read to gain greater understanding about ANYTHING (let alone insight into the history of one of the world's great religions), but it is a curious and bizarre exercise in extreme bias. It belongs on the reference shelf merely to serve as a counterpoint to paeans manifesting reverse bias towards Islam.
17) IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2006, ISBN 1-4000-4487-1, 322 pages, hardcover. The author is an assistant managing editor for the Washington Post newspaper who spent nearly 5 years living in and reporting on Iraq, both before and after the American invasion of that nation in 2003 (widely referred to by many as 'Gulf War II'). It details the catastrophically flawed post invasion 'democratisation' of Iraq under the aegis of George Bush's appointed 'viceroy', Lewis Paul Bremmer III, and skillfully exposes the appalling and at times almost unbelievable cultural naivete of the Bush Administration's neoconservative socio-political architects whose belief that an American-style democracy could not just be established in Iraq, but flourish, defies understanding (of anyone who has lived in that part of the world and who understands first hand the immense challenges that that nation's unique expression of Islamic beliefs pose)! This excellent book has just recently been translated into a film version titled 'GREEN ZONE' starring popular actor Matt Damon, which although good in its own right, has been exclusively themed around the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction, rather than the book's overall focus on the glaring ineptitude of the Bush Administration's failure to anticipate and provide for an appropriate post-invasion reconstructive recovery program. This book should be required reading for all who still don't think that the American decision to divert attention from Afghanistan and Pakistan (the chief refuges of Islamic terrorism, AKA Al Queda) and depose Saddam Hussein was a senseless and costly waste of American resources, lives, and effort. On another plain, it is a shocking testament to the extremely dysfunctional workings of privileged 'inner circle' politics at the highest levels of our government. I'll leave you with a quote from this excellent book that sums its thesis all up beautifully: "America's been so successful at being a free and permanent democracy that we think democracy is the natural way to rule--just let people go and there you have it: democracy. But all the ingredients that make it good and free--limited government, separation of powers, check and balances, calendared elections, staggered elections, plurality selection, differing terms of office, federalism but with national supremacy, the development of a civic spirit and civic responsibility, and above all the breaking and mo0deration of factions--all this we forget about. We act as of the aim is 'democracy' simply and not a mild and moderate democracy. We, as a nation, don't have a clue as to what has made our own country work and so we spread this notion of 'democracy at all costs' abroad gratuitously and capriciously. Until (Iraq) can find a Madison, it would be far better off with just a good ruler." NEW
1) LAIKA, Nick Abadkis, published by 'First-Second Books', ISBN-13: 978-1596433021 (hardcover) and ISBN-10: 1596433027 (softcover), 208 pages, 2007. This beautifully reflective and poignant graphic novel formatted fictional book is based upon the real life homeless Moscow mongrel known forever after her 3 November 1957 Sputnik-2 orbital flight as 'Laika the space dog'. Abadkis, blessed with an unusual artist style and deep reflective insight, has captured this tragically beautiful tale of man's exploitation of his faithful friend, the domestic dog, for the sake of scoring a political propaganda triumph in getting the world's first artificial earth satellite into orbit, occupied by a living creature. If this story doesn't rip your heart out and serve it to you on a humble earthstone dish made of ordinary clay, nothing will. Even though it is a lengthy cartoon creation, it manages to touch all the emotional tender spots we human beings curiously contain within our often hard-baked exteriors. For children it is a wonderful and very informative recounting of some of the most historic times in recent memory (the 'Cold War' era of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and the 'Space Race' between the USSR and the USA to get the first man on the moon). For adults who lived through those times, it is a sad reminder of our unending inhumanity to our dearest fellow creatures, our canine and feline domestic pets. Perhaps one of the best innovative books to come along in some time, it belongs on the bookshelf of anyone who has interests in space exploration and/or dogs.
Updated periodically / WAV sound track courtesy of Clay Loomis, to whom we are indeed indebted.
Visit Clay at: http://www.slonet.org/%7Erloomis/acafe.html
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