Books of 2011: First Half

I’m posting my books read list every six months these days.

Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Stunning indictment of the national security state from Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international studies at Boston University and former Army colonel. As America’s appetite for foreign goods and foreign oil increases, it tries to maintain an increasingly expensive global empire that makes us less free and no more secure. After diagnosing failures in American culture, the political class, and the military, Bacevich calls for a foreign policy of “enlightened Realism” based on national self-interest, containment and police action against the Islamist threat rather than global war, ending the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and a return to Just War theory, and an inclination to non-interventionism due to the unpredictability of war. Based heavily on the works of 20th-century Christian thinker Reinhold Neibuhr.

Ferris, Joshua. The Unnamed. Tim is a high-powered New York City lawyer with a puzzling disease (the “unnamed” of the title) that compels him to walk off from whatever he’s doing to the point of exhaustion. Tim’s convinced it’s a physical ailment, while others think he’s gone crazy. But the novel isn’t so much a medical mystery so much as it is a novel about a marriage, the fight between body and mind, coping with illness, and being truly alive and fully aware of your surroundings. A somewhat inconsistent book—not all the plot lines are resolved (what did happen to the mysterious stranger who might exonerate his client? was he a figure of imagination?). The first act is a pretty straightforward medical/legal drama, the middle act gets trippy with events that appear to only happen in Tim’s head and some timeline jumping, while the last act gets overly philosophical on the nature of death, the mind/body divide, and human connections.

Giertz, Bo. Hammer of God. Three novellas in the same book. Three generations of Lutheran pastors in a sleepy Swedish town (roughly 1810s, 1870s, and 1930s) deal with rationalized, intellectualized faiths, evangelical revivalist nuttiness, and the dying of an old berg on the eve of World War II in their own times. All the while trying to maintain confessional Lutheranism, usually with help from an older, wiser mentor. They’re actually enjoyably books without getting too didactic.

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