- helpful votes
Spycraft at the Nitty Gritty!
Here is the reality of CIA life as told by a new and energetic officer on his first field assignment in an ugly war zone of Afghanistan. The story is both very personal--including Doug's struggles with his stateside love life--and very raw--describing in detail the sort of agents he was able to recruit in Afghanistan. Those local agents were motivated almost entirely by money, the one advantage Doug Laux had going for him in his efforts to build up a spy network to counter the Taliban and Al Qaeda efforts to kill American soldiers and Afghan security forces.
One can only say "thank you" to dedicated agents like Doug Laux, who are serving alongside our military forces overseas in an often thankless and frustrating task to help keep the country safe and improve life for those living in our allied host countries.
The book helped me to understand the enormous personal pressures and difficulties faced by a CIA agent who is trying to to do his job while carrying on a semblance of normal life when he returned to the US. As shown in the book, the balancing act in tough challenge.
Engaging writing and well worth the read, despite the redactions.
Stalin's Gulag in America
Central Florida in 1946 treated its black citizens the way Stalin treated his enemies in the Soviet prisons. I was immediately struck in reading this book by the similarities between the police tactics used by Sheriff Willis McCall and his cronies and the tactics used by KGB interrogators to extract confessions from prisoners during Stalin's purges of the 1930's. Sheriff McCall would have been fully qualified for a post in Stalin's secret police in light of the disgusting mistreatment he meted out to innocent black citizens during his "reign of terror" as Sheriff of Cade County Florida.
These events took place before I was old enough to appreciate just how bad things were. The book is a revelation for those of us too young to have seen first hand or read in newspapers about the worst abuses of the Jim Crow era. It was a disgrace that never should have occurred in our country and should never occur again.
Great Writing; Important Message
This vivid and personal account of the life of a woman born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia is riveting and noteworthy because she recounts from personal experience episodes that resonate across the world today. She knows first hand what it is like to be raised in a closed muslim clan environment, to be subjected to female genital circumcision as part of that muslim group's religious beliefs, to undergo domestic beatings from her mother and local &quot;imam&quot; as part of her religious training, to face an arranged marriage, and then by luck and her own grit and determination to escape the arranged marriage and the family and religious constraints that made her a second class person as a female in that society.
She found herself with the opportunity to escape by seeking refuge in Holland, where she sought and won refugee status. Her experience there also offers insights into the migrant crisis facing Europe: the pressure on migrants to lie in order to gain refugee protection, the tendency of some migrant muslim groups to segregate themselves in Western society and maintain their cruel customs of &quot;honor&quot; killings and female circumcision rather than integrating into Western society, and the tendency of some muslim &quot;schools&quot; to focus on religious instruction to the exclusion of the skills necessary to succeed in Western society.
The author became well known in Holland after voicing these &quot;wake up&quot; views in Holland after 9/11 and served in the Dutch parliament for three years. She was controversial. Her fellow collaborator on a film criticizing muslim treatment of women was brutally murdered and she was subjected to numerous death threats herself from violent muslim groups.
She now lives in the United States where she has continued her writing and speaking work on behalf of muslim women and efforts to bring reform to some of the backward aspects of Islam as she has seen it in practice.
Exposes Despicable Corruption in Putin's Russia
This book is an eye-opener! I previously had only a vague idea of the Magnitsky case as the death of a Russian lawyer who had died in mysterious circumstances. Not so. As this book lays out in well-documented detail, Magnitsky was the victim of a brazen and brutal retaliation plot by Russian police, intelligence agencies, and tax authorities after he filed charges of their fraud that had resulted in the theft of $230 Million from the Russian treasury. Worse yet, when Browder and others publicized the corruption of justice that had occurred in the Magnitsky case, the highest Russian authorities (including Mr. Putin himself) claimed repeatedly there was no merit in Magnitsky's charges, that he himself was responsible for the tax fraud, and even staged a show trial against Magnitsky and Browder to provide some prima facie support for their bogus claims.
The book is a must read for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the state of things in Putin's Russia today. Based on personal experience on visits to Russia, I do think things are better for average Russians today than they were in Communist days. However, the Russian standard of living still trails substantially behind western Europe. Worse yet, the Russian police and Putin's government have in no way given up the corrupt police methods of Stalin's day when they go after an opponent who seeks to expose corruption in their ranks.
I would strongly recommend this book for one of the current Presidential candidates who seems to have a rather naive view of Mr. Putin, his way of running things in
Russia and the means he is using to put pressure on the Ukraine and other neighboring countries.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
We Were Lucky to Have Him
Clearly written account of how the Fed works, how it tried to meet the demands of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009, and the special role it plays in government as an entity independent from direct political control. Bernanke's thoughtful and understated approach to banking and financial policy shows throughout the book, making this a very instructive and worthwhile read. If you listen carefully, you will learn much about the tools the Fed uses to manage the money supply and interest rates and the critical role the Fed plays in providing financial liquidity to the banking system when panics or major banking "runs" occur. He describes in detail the major role that financial "panic" played in seizing up the financial system once the financial players had belatedly recognized how shaky and bogus had been their reliance on subprime mortgage securities.
Bernanke had been in his academic life a close student of previous financial panics and crises, and had studied the approaches and mistakes made by central banks in dealing with those cases. That experience proved very valuable when he confronted the greatest US financial crisis since the Depression not long after he became Chairman of the Fed.
The only shortcoming I found in the book was a lack of detailed discussion as to how the banking regulators had missed the abuses and very dangerous speculation that was growing up in the subprime mortgage market. He cites the disjointed system of financial regulation as a reason why the Fed and other regulators seemed to lack a full picture of what was going on. That is of course not a basis for an "in the trenches" lessons-learned analysis of the build-up to the subprime crisis, and I would have welcomed a deeper dive into that aspect of the crisis.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
A Real Page-Turner
Very compelling and well written account from a young Iranian who experienced first hand the pleasures (as a member of a well to do family) of pre-Khomeini Iran and the horrors of the Khomeini regime and its successors. The story covers a lot of ground, including his days as a foreign student at USC to his witnessing the torture and murder of the family of his closest childhood friend at the hands of the twisted regime that governed Iran after Khomeini came to power. The book is very well written, with a personal, candid account of the author's loves, fears, and moral dilemmas as he moves forward to work with the CIA as the only course he sees open to counter the horrid regime that has taken over Iran.
All that said, the author advises that names and places in his story have been changed to protect his identity and that of his family, for obvious reasons. In that regard, I strongly suspect that many of the stories and adventures he recounts in this book may not be episodes in his own life, but accounts that he had heard from others. Still, he makes their stories his own in a gripping and very exciting book. An unfortunate eye-opener about the true nature of the most extreme elements in the Iranian regime.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
A Special Treat for Pride and Prejudice Fans
A very creative and well done spin on the Pride and Prejudice story: we are treated here to Darcy's self revelation as a counterpoint to Elizabeth Bennett's self revelation in the Jane Austen novel. The writing is very well done, with memorable descriptions of Darcy's own self reproach over his narrow focus on his family lineage and social position after he reflects on his totally unexpected rejection by Elizabeth. This is the highly engaging counterpoint to her self revelation as she reflects carefully on the letter she receives from Darcy the day after she has told him he is the last person in the world she would be willing to marry.
The Aidan book also brings in other interesting characters and scenes to fill out Darcy's life,
including the tried and true device of the close friend in disguise who saves Darcy from a dastardly plot. A most entertaining as well as a thoughtful read.
Full disclosure: I followed the advice of another reviewer and skipped the second novel in this series, because it apparently did not relate to the original Jane Austen story. Having finished the first and third novels, I feel fully satisfied.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I was expecting a book with some strategic context and insights into an interesting group of people who played an important, if little understood, role in the war effort. What it is instead is largely a collection of gossipy items with stereotyped character descriptions of the main "characters." I use "characters" loosely, because there is no coherent plot or theme to the book. I gave it up a bit over half way through.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
A Valuable Book on China
Many thanks to Hank Paulson for sharing numerous very interesting and insightful episodes from his high-level dealings with business and governmental figures in China.
Those experiences offer a vivid picture of a China that is far different from the single-minded monolith as often portrayed in the daily press and in many of our political debates. Like us, the Chinese grapple with financial, environmental and economic challenges. Although the Chinese political system is far from democratic as we know that system in Western countries, it is quite interesting to see evidence in the book of Chinese leaders’ genuine concerns for maintaining the confidence and respect of their citizens through civilized means. For a Communist government, that is certainly a sharp contrast with the methods of Stalinist Russia and of China itself during its so-called “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960’s.
The book is not a fawning tribute to all that the Chinese have accomplished since 1979 in the economic realm. Mr. Paulson spends time in the book on the problems in China arising from short-sighted and often corrupt government practices, as well as the daunting environmental and social problems that have accompanied an often heedless focus on economic expansion. It does offer very practical suggestions for our dealing with China in constructive and responsible ways—particularly by focusing on areas of clear common interest where we can work on problems together to our mutual benefit.
I strongly recommend the book. That said, Mr. Paulson would be the first to admit I suspect that he is not a literary star. His writing style relies largely on stock figures of speech rather than penetrating turns of phrase. Some of the latter parts of the book could also have benefited from sharper editing—they fall at times into generalities that could have well come from a text book. Still, the stories he tells are unique and illuminating, more than compensating for any literary shortcomings.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Very Worthwhile Read!
I have read a number of books on the 2008 Financial Crisis, and yet learned a lot from Mr. Geithner’s book. He emphasizes two key points that are critical for understanding why things became so serious:
1. The financial institutions that fueled the “subprime” crisis were highly leveraged. I already knew that, but had not appreciated the point that they were leveraged by means of extremely short-term debt—“overnight” repos in many cases. Thus, once confidence left the financial markets, these institutions were literally hours away from running out of money to pay their debts as they came due. Also important here is the fact that the most important players in the subprime market frenzy were “Wall Street” institutions outside the traditional banking system and thus outside the extensive examination and reporting requirements imposed on the traditional banks.
2. The financial markets were gripped by "Panic" once the players woke up and actually appreciated the fact that the subprime loans were not supported by any realistic credit review, but merely by the expectation that US real estate values would continue to rise and allow the loans to be refinanced. Once panic set in, investors wanted out period. They were not ready to analyze distinctions in credit quality, they simply wanted to avoid losses. That set in motion a vicious self-fulfilling cycle in which all tranches of CDO portfolios fell in value, buyers disappeared, and forced sales of securities through margin calls or funding obligations led to sales at “fire sale” prices and serious capital losses.
Mr. Geithner also addresses a point that most people (myself included) found very troubling in the government’s response to the financial crisis: the government’s approach of throwing lots of money and government guarantees at institutions who were clearly guilty of highly irresponsible management practices. In other words, these were institutions that deserved a punch in the jaw rather than taxpayer cash in their wallets. Geithner points out quite persuasively that although such sentiments are fully justified they are not useful responses to a financial crisis that endangers the whole economic system. “When the neighborhood is on fire, the focus should be getting the fire contained and out, rather than chasing down the arsonists who started the fire,” or words to that effect, is how he frames the issue.
I will add one point of serious criticism I have about the book. Mr. Geithner touches only very briefly and superficially on his role as head of the New York Fed in failing to
supervise properly the lending practices of Citibank and Citigroup in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. Citi was the only traditional banking institution (though it combined a large securities trading operation after the merger with Smith Barney) that had such large subprime loan exposures on its books that it has to be classified as one of the principal culprits in the irresponsible subprime lending frenzy. How did the NY Fed miss its exposures and why? There are no doubt important “lessons learned” from those questions that Mr. Geithner might have explored in depth but did not.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful