FINEST CHINA

By | Book reviews for the press, China, Geopolitics | No Comments

I wrote Thunder from the Silent Zone some years ago, but much of it still resonates. I recently reviewed and compared the contributions from: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? By Graham Allison Scribe, 384pp, $35 China Matters: Getting It Right for Australia By Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson La Trobe University Press, 256pp, $29.99 Will China Dominate the 21st Century? By Jonathan Fenby Polity Press, 144pp, $21.95 My Recent Book Review In The Australian

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CHRISTOPHER ANDREW AND THE STRANGE CASE OF ROGER HOLLIS

By | Book reviews for the press, Intelligence | No Comments

  When Christopher Andrew’s Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 was published in late 2009, the Australian’s European correspondent, Peter Wilson, hailed it with a short piece headed “‘Mentally ill’ spycatcher more dangerous than KGB”. The spycatcher in question was Peter Wright, whose book, Spycatcher, the British government made strenuous efforts to suppress, only to be foiled in the Australian courts by the young Malcolm Turnbull. The book was published in Australia in 1987 (not 1985, as Wilson reported) and became a best-seller. Wilson’s piece was an eye catcher, because it concentrated exclusively on the question of…

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EXPERT KNOWLEDGE AND SCIENTIFIC THINKING ARE UNDER SIEGE

By | Book reviews for the press, Cognitive Science, Geopolitics | No Comments

A social Issue of New Scientist, dated 1 April 2017, was devoted to the question ‘What is Knowledge?’ The sub-title was ‘The Biggest Questions about Facts, Truth, Lies and Belief’. It was clearly not intended as an April Fool’s Day joke, but there would be plenty of scope for a spoof which had done just that, given the bizarre beliefs and attitudes to truth held by altogether too many human beings. As Carl Sagan expressed it some thirty years ago, we have created a scientific civilization, but have allowed a situation to develop in which the vast majority of people…

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UNDOING THE CONFUSIONS OF THE INTUITIVE BRAIN

By | Book reviews for the press, Cognitive Science, Psychology | No Comments

  Michael Lewis writes good books. They tend to be concise, highly readable, immensely lucid and concerned with fascinating matters of human confusion and how to find one’s way through it. He also tends to be highly interested in thinkers who operate outside the range or authority of both popular prejudice and conventional intellectual wisdom. His first book, Liar’s Poker (1989), was about his strange experience in a Wall Street bank’s bond trading department. Since then, he has written a string of best sellers. Perhaps the most famous of them have been Moneyball (2003) and The Big Short (2010). His…

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THE DEFENCE STRATEGY DEBATE WE HAVE TO HAVE

By | Book reviews for the press, Defence | No Comments

  James Curran Fighting With America: Why Saying No to the US Wouldn’t Rupture the Alliance (Lowy Institute Penguin Special, Penguin Random House Australia 2016 154 pp.) Adam Lockyer Australia’s Defence Strategy: Evaluating Alternatives for a Contested Asia (Melbourne University Press, 2017, 320 pp.) Each of these books is worth reading, if you have any interest in Australian defence and security. Both are timely, lucid, scholarly and readable. The first is a handy introduction to current debates about the ANZUS alliance, China and our security, which avoids over heated language and shows a deft familiarity with the scholarly literature. The…

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ISIS AND THE PATHOLOGY OF ISLAM

By | Book reviews for the press, Islam | No Comments

  Robert Manne The Mind of the Islamic State (Redback, 2016) and other recent writings on Islam, jihad and the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan The literature on the chaos in the Middle East, on Islam, jihad and terrorism is vast. The recrimination, conspiracy theory and angry rhetoric that swirl around it threaten to spiral out of control. It is vital, therefore, that we find a way through without losing our bearings. Robert Manne has just produced a beautifully crafted and lucid book on this problem. It deserves a very wide readership. I read The Mind of the…

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A SPLENDID PAEAN TO ART AND DISSENT

By | Book reviews for the press, China, History | No Comments

Over the past half dozen years, at least three journalists of Australian origin or based in Australia have written first class books about contemporary China. The first was Richard McGregor, in 2010. The second was Rowan Callick, in 2013. The third is Madeleine O’Dea, this year. O’Dea’s is easily as good as the other two and completely trumps (if one can now comfortably use that verb) all mealy mouthed apologetics for the repressive China of Xi Jinping. McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers was a brilliantly incisive expose of the huge Communist Mafia that holds the…

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THE MYTH OF A COSMOPOLITAN ANDALUSIA

By | Book reviews for the press, History, Islam | No Comments

There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book which upends this myth. It is comforting and even inspiring story that has been drawn upon to underpin the so-called ‘Toledo Principles’ regarding religious toleration in our time – an important point of reference. It has been used to suggest that Islam was a higher civilization than that of medieval…

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MAO ZEDONG WAS THE FULL CATASTROPHE IN CHINA

By | Book reviews for the press, China, Geopolitics | No Comments

With The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History (2016), Frank Dikotter completes a trilogy on the catastrophic impact that Mao Zedong and his Communist Party inflicted on China between their seizure of power in 1949 and Mao’s death in 1976. The first volume in the trilogy chronologically, though it was written second, was The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57 (2013). It covers the civil war, the seizure of power, the mass terror campaigns that accompanied and followed that seizure of power, the vaunted Marxist-Leninist nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the crushing…

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SUPERB HISTORY OF WAR THAT SHAPED THE CURRENT MIDDLE EAST

By | Book reviews for the press, Geopolitics, History | No Comments

  Thucydidean in tone and narrative style – dispassionate, systematic, detailed, rational and humane. Remarkable blow by blow account of the military campaign, supported by 30 detailed maps Published in French in 2013, it catches the Arab Spring and the Turkish armistice with the PUK, but misses the unravelling of the Arab Spring, the disintegration of Syria and the collapse of the brief peace between the Turkish government and the Kurdish nationalists French, but not pro-French – Valmy, Robespierre (Ali Khamenei) and Danton (Rafsanjani), but critical, detailed and slightly caustic treatment of French relations with the two warring states and…

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