What I Read in 2017

I managed a book a week in 2017.  This year there was a lot of fiction; most of the technical reading I did was blog articles, working through tutorials, or just plain coding. Still, there were a lot of good books this year. I highly recommend the Timbuktu Librarians book, Machina, the Nexus series, Thrawn, and Protestants, all of which are linked below! Feel free to add any good books you read in the comments!

January

1.) Pythagoras’ Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery – Arturo Sangalli

2.) Sass for Web Designers – Dan Cederholm

3.) ArcGIS Web Development – Rene Rubalcava

February

4.) The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts – Joshua Hammer

5.) The Story of the Nations: The Byzantine Empire – C.W.C. Oman

6.) Gallipoli – John Masefield

7.) Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs

8.) The Return of Tarzan – Edgar Rice Burroughs

March

9.) War Stories from the Future – August Cole et al.

10.) Aftermath (Star Wars: Aftermath #1) – Chuck Wendig

11.) The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals – Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling

12.) The Rift: A New Africa Emerges – Alex Perry

13.) Machina – Sebastian Marshall

14.) The Horse and His Boy (Book 3 Chronicles of Narnia) – C. S. Lewis

15.) Bloodline (Star Wars) – Claudia Gray

April

16.) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Doto Get More of It – Kelly McGonigal

17.) The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Gary Keller, Jay Papasan

18.) The Bobby Gold Stories – Anthony Bourdain

19.) Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers – Simon Winchester

May

20.) Nexus (Nexus #1) – Ramez Naam

21.) The Judas Gate (Sean Dillon Book 18) – Jack Higgins

22.) Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction 1st Edition – Kristin Denham, Anne Lobeck

23.) The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials) – Peter Drucker

24.) Crux: Nexus Arc Book 2 – Ramez Naam

25.) Kierkegaard for Beginners (Writers & Readers Documentary Comic Book) – Donald D. Palmer

June

26.) Agile for Dummies: IBM Limited Edition – Scott W. Ambler

27.) A Devil is Waiting (Sean Dillon #19) – Jack Higgins

July

28.) The Once and Future King – T. H. Whyte

29.) Thrawn (Star Wars) – Timothy Zahn

30.) When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order – Martin Jacques

31.) Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom: Book 1 – David Wingrove

32.) The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (TED Books #5) – Pico Iyer

August

33.) Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World – Alec Ryrie

34.) Celtic Design: The Dragon and the Griffin: The Viking Impact – Aidan Meehan

35.) Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) – Gail Carriger

36.) The Sunrise Lands (Emberverse #4) – S. M. Stirling

September

37.) The Scourge of God (Emberverse #5) – S. M. Stirling

38.) The Sword of the Lady (Emberverse #6) – S. M. Stirling

39.) Aftermath: Life Debt (Star Wars: Aftermath #2) – Chuck Wendig

40.) The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months – Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington

October

41.) The Gnostic Gospels – Elaine Pagels

42.) The High King of Montival (Emberverse #7) – S. M. Stirling

43.) Feminist Theology – Natalie K. Watson

44.) Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction – Edward Craig

November

45.) Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path – Carl McColman

46.) A Beginner’s Guide to Philosophy – Dominique Janicaud, Simon Critchley (Foreword)

47.) Armageddon’s Children (The Genesis of Shannara, Book 1) – Terry Brooks

48.) Socrates: The Great Philosophers (The Great Philosophers Series) – Anthony Gottlieb

49.) Sisterhood of Dune: Book One of the Schools of Dune Trilogy – Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

December

50.) The Elves of Cintra (The Genesis of Shannara, Book 2) – Terry Brooks

51.) Speculator (High Ground Series Book 1) – Doug Casey

52.) Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: The Easy Way to Do More in Less Time (Pragmatic Life) – Staffan Noteberg

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Books I read in 2016

Last year was my lowest year in ten years for amount of books read.  To be honest, I was working through textbooks and FreeCodeCamp learning to code, which took away from my reading time.  Still, there were a lot of interesting books on this year’s list!
January
1.) 4th Generation Warfare Handbook – William S. Lind and Gregory A. Thiele

 

February
4.) Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft – by Elizabeth Bear and Greg Bear et al.

 

March
11.) Gorilla Mindset – Mike Cernovich

 

April

 

May
15.) The Circle – Dave Eggers
16.) Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War – P. W. Singer and August Cole

 

June
17.) The Cartel Hit (Mack Bolan the Executioner #438) – Mike Linaker, Don Pendleton (Series Creator)
19.) The Tournament – Matthew Reilly
21.) Scarecrow Returns – Matthew Reilly
22.) Progression – Sebastian Marshall

 

July
23.) Abyss Deep (Star Corpsman #2) – by Ian Douglas
26.) Bitcoin for the Befuddled – Conrad Barski and Chris Wilmer

 

August
28.) Star Wars: The Rise of the Empire – John Jackson Miller et al.
29.) Re-read GIS for Dummies – Michael N. DeMers
30.) The Blood of Gods (Emperor #5) –  Conn Iggulden

 

September

 

October
32.) Head First Mobile Web – Lyza Danger Gardner and Jason Grigsby
33.) The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi

 

November
34.) Public Health 101: Healthy People – Healthy Populations – Richard Riegelman, Brenda Kirkwood
37.) Planet of Slums – Mike Davis
38.) Proxima – Stephen Baxter

 

December
39.) There Will Be War Volume X – Jerry Pournelle, Editor
40.) JavaScript: The Good Parts – Douglas Crockford

What I’m Reading – October 2016

The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb. So when I was a kid, Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean was one of my favorite books (still is).  This is kind of like the real life version.  A commando team went into Norway during the War and took out the Nazi facilities that were racing to make their own Atomic bomb.  It doesn’t get more high-stakes than that and the fact that it’s all a true story makes it even more interesting.
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Head First Mobile Web by Lyza Danger Gardner, Jason Grigsby.  I am continuing to work on my programming skills.  Mobile is an area I haven’t explored much so this is more of a way to let me see what’s involved.  It seems just figuring out what device the user has is tough, much less tailoring the experience for their specific needs!  Still, more people in the world have cell phones than working toilets, so mobile is the wave of the future.
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The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free by Alex Perry.  Speaking of those billions of cell phone users, Africa is one area where the usage of cell phones has exploeded due to the lack of infrastructure.  Most of what we see on the news is famine, war, and pestilence and yet, there is another Africa, wired and high-tech, out there.  This book tries to show both sides, using the Great Rift Valley as a metaphor of the two Africas.
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Books I Read in 2015

I’m a little late on this one – Usually I put it up in January, but never late than never!

It seems like I read less this year than in previous years, but a lot of what I was doing was working through coding exercises.  Also, we moved in the middle of the year, and a whole lot of bad stuff happened too.  At one point I was working two jobs.  So, life happening plus less time to read combined with working through coding textbooks meant this year was anemic when it came to books.  Still, I hope you find some value in the list below. There are books on history, international affairs, religion, mathematics, epidemiology, and of course, many fiction books.

January

3.) Vengeance (Rogue Warrior #12) – Richard Marcinko
February
9.)  GIS for Dummies – Michael N. DeMers
11.) There Will Be War Volume 1 (Castalia House ebook version) – Jerry Pournelle, Editor
14.) Blowback (Vanessa Pierson #1) – Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett
15.) Men of War: There Will Be War Volume II (Castalia House ebook version) – Jerry Pournelle, Editor
16.) The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate – Scott D. Sagan & Kenneth N. Waltz
17.) The Art of War: A History of Military Strategy (Castalia House ebook version) – Martin van Creveld
March
19.)  El Borak and Other Desert Adventures – Robert E. Howard
21.) There Will Be War: Volume III Blood and Iron (Castalia House ebook version) – Jerry Pournelle, Editor
23.) GIS: A Visual Approach – Bruce E. Davis
April
25.) Rough Justice (Sean Dillon #15) – Jack Higgins
27.) A Darker Place (Sean Dillon #16) – Jack Higgins
May
28.) Wesley for Armchair Theologians – William J. Abraham
June
32.) Full Force and Effect (Jack Ryan #10) – Mark Greaney (Tom Clancy)
July
34.) There Will Be War Volume IV: Day of the Tyrant  (Castalia House ebook version) – Jerry Pournelle, Editor
35.) Why Homer Matters – Adam Nicolson
39.) Founders (The Coming Collapse) – James Wesley, Rawles
August
September
October
44. The Martian – Andy Weir
November
45.) Treasure of Khan (Dirk Pitt #19) – Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
December
46.) Finding Zero – Amir D. Aczel
48.) End of the Earth: Voyaging to Antarctica – Peter Matthiessen

U.S. Strategy and the New Medievalism

I’ve noted before that I’ve done some work with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  Dr. Phil Williams, a noted scholar on transnational security threats, was the director, and was also a visiting scholar at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, and for them he wrote several monographs.  One in particular that caught my eye was “From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age: The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy“.  At the time (two years ago) I toyed around with the possibility of a book-length expansion on this, going as far as working up a table of contents and listing some extra things that the book could cover that the monograph did not.
Real life intervened, as it often does, and I found myself back at work as an engineer, so I never got much further with the book.  Still, I think Dr. Williams’ paper deserves more consideration, and I’d still like to explore some of the ideas in the monograph in further detail.  Given the Arab Spring, Ukraine, and Syria, as well as the situation in the South China Sea, I think Dr. Williams foresaw a lot of things in this publication.  At the end of it, he gives some recommendations which are interesting in light of the cutbacks to the U.S. military that we are seeing.
I’ll explore different areas over the next few weeks – I’m aiming for one blog post per week.  For today, here is a synopsis of the monograph taken from the SSI website.  I encourage you to download and read it.
From the New Middle Ages to a ... Cover Image
“Security and stability in the 21st century have little to do with traditional power politics, military conflict between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead they revolve around the disruptive consequences of globalization, declining governance, inequality, urbanization, and nonstate violent actors. The author explores the implications of these issues for the United States. He proposes a rejection of “stateocentric” assumptions and an embrace of the notion of the New Middle Ages characterized, among other things, by competing structures, fragmented authority, and the rise of “no-go” zones. He also suggests that the world could tip into a New Dark Age. He identifies three major options for the United States in responding to such a development. The author argues that for interventions to have any chance of success the United States will have to move to a trans-agency approach. But even this might not be sufficient to stanch the chaos and prevent the continuing decline of the Westphalian state.”

My Books Read in the Last Year

Another year, another book list.  I read less book this year than last, but over two thousand more pages!  Here’s the list:

January
2.) Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
4.) Debt: The First 5000 Years – Peter Graeber
5.) Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat – Hans Christian von Baeyer
7.) Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography – Hew Strachan
8.) Tanks in the Cities: Breaking the Mold – Kendall D. Gott
February
March
13.) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Eliezer Yudkowsky
15.) A Magic Broken – Vox Day (Novella)
17.) Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender Wiggin Saga) – Orson Scott Card
18.) Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology – Rosemary Radford Ruether
19.) Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale – Ian Morgan Cron
April
24.) The Last Stand of Fox Company – Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
27.) Liberation Theologies: The Global Pursuit of Justice – Alfred T. Hennelly, S.J.
28.) Human Security in a Borderless World – Derek S. Reveron and Kathleen A. Mahoney-Norris
31.) The Mathematics of Life – Ian Stewart
May
40.) Worm: The First Digital World War – Mark Bowden
June
44.) Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
45.) Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War – Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss
46.) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
July
51.) Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty – Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
August
54.) Beginning Programming – Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes
55.) Sure Fire (Rich & Jade #1) – Jack Higgins with Justin Richards
56.) Just My Type: A Book About Fonts – Simon Garfield
60.) Head First HTML and CSS – Elisabeth Robson and Eric Freeman
September
63.) Star Wars: Scoundrels – Timothy Zahn
66.) Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think – Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier
October
67.) The Tao of Programming – Geoffrey James
November
68.) The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1 – R. M. Meluch
69.) Caliphate – Tom Kratman
70.) Kris Longknife: Mutineer (Kris Longknife #1) – Mike Shepherd
71.) Shadow Puppets (Ender’s Shadow series) – Orson Scott Card
72.) Starting Out With Visual Basic 2012 – Tony Gaddis and Kip Irvine
December
73.) Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things – Ken Wytsma with D. R. Jacobsen
74.) The City: A Global History – Joel Kotkin
79.) Theology: A Very Short Introduction – David F. Ford

Quote of the week

“Clausewitz’s claim to contemporary relevance has more than the prevalence of civil wars and of conflicts between non-state actors with which to contend…those who now reject Clausewitz, like all those who have done so in the past, do so on the basis of a selective reading of a vast body of material. On War is itself unfinished: the text which we have is a work in progress and its judgments are not consistent. That is the very source of its enduring strength.”

—Hew Strachan

My Books Read in the Last Year

I read quite a bit last year, with an emphasis on linguistics, Counterinsurgency, complexity, and mathematics.  Fiction, as always was scattered throughout the year.  Lots of good links below; I encourage you to check them out, along with the reviews I did of several of them…

January
1) Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence – Jane M. Healey, Ph.D
2) Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) – Jeffrey Kluger
3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
4) A New Kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
5) Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – Robert D. Kaplan
6) The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity – Richard Florida (My review here)
7) Language: The Big Picture – Peter Sharpe (my review here)
8) Understanding Physics: Volume 1: Motion, Sound, and Heat (Understanding Physics) – Isaac Asimov
9) Seven Firefights in Vietnam – John A. Cash, et al.  (My review here)

February
10) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – Guy Deutscher (My review here)
11) Chaos Theory Tamed – Garnett P. Williams
12) Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin (My review here)
13) The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” – Michael Burgoyne and Albert Marckwardt (My review here)
14) The Age of the Unthinkable , Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It – Joshua Cooper Ramo
15) The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Graham Greene
16) Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
17) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life – Len Fisher
18) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language – Seth Lerer (My review here)
19) Migration: Species Imperative #2 – Julie Czerneda
20) Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology – David S. Richeson
21) Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (My review here)
22) Chicago Blues – Edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann

March
23) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
24) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why – Richard E. Nisbett
25) Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer – Mireya Mayor (My review here)
26) A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
27) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World – Liaquat Ahamed (My review here)
28) Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions – Lisa Randall
29) The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
30) Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents – Robert A. Cutietta

April
31) Thought Contagion – Aaron Lynch (My review here)
32) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia 2) – C.S. Lewis
33) Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
34) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Open Market Edition) – Duncan J. Watts
35) The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
36) Hardwired – Walter Jon Williams
37) The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going – George Friedman

May
38) Almost Human: Making Robots Think – Lee Gutkind
39) Understanding Physics: Volume 2: Light, Magnetism and Electricity – Isaac Asimov
40) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) – Robert B. Cialdini
41) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
42) The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon) – Daniel Silva
43) Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Noir) – Edited by Kathleen George
44) Freedom (TM) – Daniel Suarez
45) Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots – Gareth Branwyn
46) The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) – John Twelve Hawks
47) Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back – Douglas Rushkoff
48) Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource – Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
49) Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants – Dennis Okholm

June
50) Counterinsurgency – David Kilcullen
51) Hunter’s Run – George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
52) The Killing Ground (Sean Dillon) – Jack Higgins
53) One Shot (Jack Reacher, No. 9) – Lee Child
54) The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, No. 10) – Lee Child
55) Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart – Mark E. Eberhart

July
56) Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One – Ian Douglas
57) Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese – Robert D. Kaplan
58) The Post-American World: Release 2.0 – Fareed Zakaria
59) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
60) The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization – Bryan Ward-Perkins
61) The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century – Thomas X. Hammes
62) Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved – Robin Wilson
63) How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel – Piers Bizony
64) The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives – David Bainbridge
65) The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World – Peter Schwartz

August
66) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine – Francis S. Collins
67) The Scar – China Mieville
68) The Profession: A Thriller – Steven Pressfield (My review here)
69) Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature – Marcus du Sautoy
70) The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) – Claire Hutchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
71) Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
72) How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Linda and Richard Eyre
73) The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
74) Havoc – Jack DuBrul
75) Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) – David Brin
76) Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy – Steven Metz

September
77) The Rest of the Robots – Isaac Asimov
78) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
79) 7th Sigma – Steven Gould
80) 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know – Tony Crilly
81) The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life – Thomas W. Malone
82) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser
83) Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself – Dan Pink

October
84) The Future of Management – Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
85) 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith – Sonia Arrison
86) The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics – Karl Sabbagh
87) Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (Great Discoveries) – David Foster Wallace
88) The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, Book 4) – James Patterson
89) Re-read Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
90) The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling

November
91) Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Jonathan Weiner
92) Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers (Helix Books) – Calvin C. Clawson
93) The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity – Amir D. Aczel
94) Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes – Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
95) Reamde: A Novel – Neal Stephenson
96) The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe – Donal O’Shea

December
97) Euclid’s Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace – Leonard Mlodinow
98) Millennium Problems – Keith Devlin
99) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
100) Godel’s Proof (Revised Edition) – Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
101) Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon #8) – Daniel Silva
102) The Bourne Legacy – Eric van Lustbader
103) Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus – John Eldredge
104) Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad – Steve Olson
105) The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets – Alan Boss

A review of Steven Pressfield’s The Profession

(Spoiler free!)

I’ve read most of Steven Pressfield‘s books, and The Afghan Campaign was the one that really made me realize that we couldn’t win in Afghanistan.  I had no idea that the tribes had been around since before Alexander’s time, and if Alexander, the British, and the Soviets couldn’t subdue them, how would we?

Since then I’ve followed Mr. Pressfield’s blog where he discussed the tribes and how an understanding of those tribal groups was a key to the fight in AfPak.  I looked forward to reading his newest novel, The Profession, because it combined three things that I have an interest in: the classics, futuring, and modern warfare.

By 2032, most land warfare is fought by mercenaries.  These range from Marine MEU-sized groups complete with logistical support such as intelligence and communications to Apache helicopters owned and operated by individuals.  Most of the action in this book takes place in the Middle East and the United States.  The events in the book cover the gamut from the tactical level – ambushes and so on – to the geostrategic level.

The story is well done, and I did get a pretty good feel for the characters.  There’s enough action to keep things moving but Pressfield also gives a sense of the geopolitical background and the history that has led to this world.  The book excels in portraying the brotherhood between warriors – the knowledge that above all else you are fighting for the man beside you.  You are left with no doubt that these men would die for each other.  Pressfield also does a good job of portraying what it takes to lead such men, at least in the character of Gentilhomme.  I also liked how he worked in quotes from and references to the classics such as Thucydides, Alexander, Xenophon, and others.

As for the geopolitics, personally, I hope Pressfield’s wrong about this becoming a world where nations and corporations hire their armies to do their dirty work.  One of the complaints I have about the book is that mercenaries are portrayed as honorable – in real life, some are, but many aren’t.  For example, in the Sudan, it has been noted that:

“among those in the counterinsurgency accused of war crimes were “foreign army officers acting in their personal capacity” – that is, mercenaries, presumably recruited from armed forces outside Sudan.  The involvement of mercenaries in perpetrating gross violence has also been seen…in Iraq.”(1)

Another thing that disturbed me – although I think Pressfield’s portrayal is spot on – was the utter amorailty of the characters.  For the most part, each one seemed to feel that the ends justified the means and it seemed many of them had values that changed with their circumstances.  As one of the characters notes, this is how things are done in 75% of the world.  My question is, if we abandon what makes us the other 25%, what makes us any different than those we fight?  It’s a tough question and I certainly don’t have the answer.  For a mercenary, it’s probably not as big an issue.

I was also interested in how much this reminded me of the Hammer’s Slammers series by David Drake – I wonder if Mr. Pressfield is aware of that series, which has a tank regiment of mercenaries that is employed by different groups on other planets to fight – you guessed it – other mercenary armies, and often is based on historical themes such as the odyssey or Xenophon.  A collaboration by these two authors would be outstanding (hint, hint)!

Overall, this was a good if disturbing read, and I highly recommend it.

(1) Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror – Mahmood Mamdani, Pantheon Books, NY, NY 2009. p.43.