Mini-Reviews: Ralph Peters and More on linguistics

A couple of mini-reviews…
The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way
I don’t what it is about books on linguistics but I have had a terrible time finding books that do what they purport to do.  For example, it seems my quest for a good history of the English language continues.  In The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson takes the English language and describes it ad nauseum – he covers all the major periods of history but not in a coherent fashion.  Instead, this book reads more like a collection of entries on various facets of the language.  He provides plenty – and I mean plenty – of examples of different ways that words were formed, where they came from, and the differences across regions. He covers everything from naming conventions to pronunciation differences to swear words, and he covers the difference between British English and American English.  It’s great if you’re looking to win a trivia contest, but not so good for tracking the history of the language.
Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World

This weekend I read Ralph Peters’s book Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.  In the tradition of Robert D. Kaplan, he combines travel writing with political commentary.  The major part of the book is given over to his travels through the former Soviet Union in the mid-90s, and includes insight into Georgia,Azerbaijan, and Armenia.  His prose is beautifully written, and his insights into the situations there, although influenced by hindsight, are thought-provoking.  Later he recounts his involvement in the drug war in South and Central America as well as Thailand.  The book ends in 1998, when he retires from the army and becomes a civilian.  I’m hoping there will be a sequel.  Peters is a commentator on Fox news, and it should be noted that he has very strong opinions about things.  Overall, I think it’s worth a read for anyone interested in travel, COIN, or international security.

(Peters review originally posted at on 17 July 2012)

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