Justin: Doug, what have you been reading lately?
Doug: One of the advantages of being out here in the middle of nowhere is that distractions are limited, and I have time to do some serious reading. Both books and articles. Magazine articles can be quite valuable, since many books are just extended articles, with no added value except to polish the author’s resume, and add to a publisher’s revenue stream.
Since, thanks to the Internet, there are about 1.5 million new books published every year, you have to try to spend time only with those that are most worthy. For instance, I’m looking at the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the shelf in front of me. It was published in 1910, and is a work of literature. Its articles aren’t written by nameless committees, like subsequent encyclopedias, but by people like Albert Einstein. Further proof, I think, that Western Civilization – which, I hasten to repeat, is the only civilization worthy of the name – peaked before World War I.
I rely on reviews and personal recommendations. Let me talk about the last six months or so.
In the way of fiction, I read The Adventurers by Harold Robbins. I’d read his Descent from Xanadu in college, and thought it was excellent pulp fiction. Which, notwithstanding what I just said about being selective, is an underrated category.
Harold Robbins has a bad reputation among the literati because he wrote potboilers, page-turners. He was the Charles Dickens or James Patterson of his day. But I found The Adventurers to be particularly fun. An upper-class South American takes over his little country with a violent revolution and then, in turn, gets overthrown. Just because he’s very un-PC, I’d like to reform the bad reputation Robbins has among The New York Times-style book reviewers.
I enjoyed Shibumi by Trevanian. It’s about a Westerner who grew up in Japan during World War II and became a political assassin – perhaps the template for the TV series The Blacklist. The book is well-written, well-researched, and interesting partly because it debunks much of what the U.S. government and its agencies do in the area concerning assassins and terrorists. It got my attention because the third novel in The High Ground Series that John Hunt and I are writing is called Assassin.
In the category of quasi-fiction, I read a recent translation of The War Nerd Iliad, by John Dolan, which was excellent. He’s a self-taught expert on the theory and practice of war from ancient times to the present day – and has vastly more common sense than any general employed by the White House for at least 50 years. He also publishes an excellent newsletter called The War Nerd.
And I have to say that when you read ancient history, the translation is critical to how enjoyable and understandable a book is.
I suppose that’s also true of the Quran. But frankly, the book is beyond redemption. Its 400 pages are inane, shallow, and repetitive. H. L. Mencken described it best when he said it’s like a dog down on all fours, barking. I felt obligated to actually read it, though, because about 20% of the planet doesn’t just take it seriously – many are fanatical about it.
About 25% of the book is about Allah (the compassionate, the merciful) telling you how great he is. Another 25% of it is retold tales that Muhammad remembered from the stories he’d heard from the Bible. But they lack the poetry of the originals. Another 25% is threats and imprecations about how you’ll be punished if you don’t do as Allah says, and how you should slay the kafir, the infidel, wherever you find them. The last 25% is just miscellaneous stuff and filler. It’s absolutely amazing that this book got the traction that it did. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that Mohammad (peace be upon him) was a political and military genius.
I followed up reading Why I Am Not a Muslim, which is excellent for explaining the background of the Quran. It also underlines some of the book’s particularly objectionable passages. The two books should probably be read in sequence.
Justin: What about in the nonfiction department? Pick up anything good lately?
Doug: One excellent nonfiction book that I’d recommend is The Darkening Age. I’m drawn to classical history, and The Darkening Age tells the tale of the rise of Christianity from the time of Jesus to late antiquity. Which is to say up to about 600.
Basically, the book’s message is that Jesus had absolutely nothing to do with what Christianity turned into. It points out how all the early fathers of the Church like Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, and Augustine, were basically just puritanical, prudish busybodies. And it shows how Christianity under their influence – as Edward Gibbon eloquently pointed out in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – was extremely instrumental in the collapse of Rome and its conquest by the Barbarians.
I’m not sure if it’s exactly Christmas reading, but it’s an excellent, worthwhile book. I wrote an article for The Casey Report in December 2013 on the collapse of the Roman Empire that covers the same ground.
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Justin: You’re clearly something a history buff, Doug. What other periods do you enjoy reading about?
Doug: I’m very interested in the Renaissance and medieval Italy. So, I read a book a friend gave me called Magnifico about Lorenzo de Medici, a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci and Cesare Borgia, among others. The period from 1500 to 1914 was critical to most of what we have today. Perhaps the most important time since the period from about 600-300 BC in Greece.
I also recommend 1177 BC, about the collapse of the Bronze Age. Everybody knows about the collapse of the Roman Empire, which essentially took place between 378 and 600 AD. But few people know that there was a very vibrant civilization in the Mediterranean over 1500 years beforehand during the late Bronze Age. This book centers around the year 1177, which is about when Troy was conquered by the Mycenaean Greeks. Civilizations all over the eastern Mediterranean collapsed with lots of deaths and burnt cities. Interesting read about a little-known period.
On a related note, there’s a currently popular book called The Silk Roads. It’s interesting because it offers a view of history not from the point of the West but from the point of view of Central Asia. The author feels that, up to about 1500, the Mid-East and Central Asia were by far the most important parts of the world. We tend not to think about it, but that’s largely correct. The problem is that the author has a tremendous bias, but one which isn’t clearly stated. There’s nothing wrong with a bias, per se. His – that the West is “bad” and the East is “good” – appears throughout the book. OK, thanks for the opinion. But he never spells out his premises. Which gives the whole thing a snide tone.
Nonetheless, it’s a different point of view with some good data. It’s also an extremely dense book, full of obscure facts, with footnotes that run to about 200 pages. I’d only recommend it to those who are very specialized in this area. The real problem with the book is that the author has somehow—against all odds—made it boring. It reads like a poorly compiled encyclopedia article. Yet, it surprisingly appears in lots of reading lists and a few bestseller lists. Which is why I bought it.
In somewhat the same class – but quite readable – is Homo Deus by an Israeli named Yuval Noah Harari.
It’s good for pointing out the big flow of history. But vastly overrated, with no real original thoughts, or interpretations, or predictions. Which makes me think that most people don’t think about these things, or else it wouldn’t be a bestseller. Then again, like the Silk Road author, he’s probably a member of this literary coterie that runs The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and London Review of Books. They’re a bunch of intellectuals who have the same worldview – it’s like the intellectual equivalent of the Deep State in politics. They speak well of each other, favorably review each other’s books, and try to make each other into household names. A lot of these types come to the Aspen Institute in the summer, where they’re insufferable.
Sadly, I only read one science book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. It’s good popular science, centering around current personalities in paleontology, written by an enthusiastic young paleontologist. I enjoyed it. Like a lot of boys, and a few girls, I was wild about dinosaurs when I was a kid. Thousands of species have been cataloged, with about a new one every week now.
Justin: What’s on your reading list for 2019?
Doug: Believe it or not, I’m reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott over the holidays – mine are longer than most people’s, since I celebrate the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia as well as Christmas. I never read it when I was a kid but many say it’s a fantastic novel and one of the best novels they’ve ever read, in a class with those by the Brontës and Jane Austen.
Justin: I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned any science fiction titles yet, considering you’re a huge fan.
Doug: Almost forgot. I had never read Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein until this year. It’s a war story, early Heinlein. He went through different writing stages.
Starship Troopers was made into a movie, but the book’s better. The movie only has the loosest relationship with the book itself.
I’m a big fan of Heinlein. He’s generally very ideologically sound, although in his early books, he’s quite nationalistic and militaristic.
But if you’re going to read Heinlein, and I urge people to, three books should be on top of the list. Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Glory Road. Fantastic books, much better than Starship Troopers.
The next science fiction book that I’m going to read is The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated from Chinese. I’ve heard very good things. But I can’t say anything about it because I haven’t read it yet.
Justin: Thanks for speaking with me today, Doug.
Doug: You’re welcome.
Justin’s note: I also recommend picking up copies of Doug’s fantastic novels: Speculator and Drug Lord. You can get signed copies right here.
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