The Common Good

In the Stacks, January 31, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. Here are my picks from this week’s books.

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The Insurgents

By Fred Kaplan, reviewed by Thanassis Cambanis

“Fred Kaplan, [is] a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter. Kap­lan writes Slate’s War Stories column, a must-read in security circles. He brings genuine expertise to his fine storytelling, with a doctorate from M.I.T., a government career in defense policy in the 1970s and three decades as a journalist. Kaplan knows the military world inside and out; better still, he has historical perspective. With “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War,” he has written an authoritative, gripping and somewhat terrifying account of how the American military approached two major wars in the combustible Islamic world. He tells how it was grudgingly forced to adapt; how it then overreached; and how it now appears determined to discard as much as possible of what it learned and revert to its old ways.”

Trent: What Happened at the Council

By John W. O’Malley, reviewed by Michael Dirda 

“In his new book, John W. O’Malley, a professor at Georgetown University, succinctly lays out “What Happened at the Council” in fewer than 300 pages. Given that this conclave, held in Trento, Italy (then part of the Holy Roman Empire), took place over 18 years, in three distinct periods — 1545-47, 1551-52 and 1562-63 — and that its protracted and tetchy wrangling makes even last fall’s Congress look Periclean and statesmanlike, that’s quite an achievement. In multiple ways, Trent provided an ideological and political battlefield for three powerful factions: the pope and his advisers (the Curia); the sovereigns of France, the Holy Roman Empire, and a cluster of German duchies and Italian kingdoms; and, not least, the strong-minded and powerful bishops of the Church.”


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