My “Guilty Pleasure”

Tom Clancy novels.9780425101070_p0_v1_s192x300

That might sound strange coming from an anti-war leftist like myself, but hear me out. Despite the identification of Clancy’s work with right-wingers banging the drums for war, I find his novels to be very liberal in nature. Consider: Clancy’s characters, whether in the military, politics, or intelligence, are capable, hard-working, well-intentioned, and intelligent. It’s like reading a political fantasy, where everyone has the good of the nation at heart, is competent at their jobs, and sincerely wants what is best for the country as a whole, not just themselves. We could do a lot worse than to live in a country like that.

 

The Best Books I Read This Summer

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Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser

I started reading this history of the US nuclear weapons program in the aftermath of the August anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. My biggest takeaway from the book is that I am glad that nuclear weapons are so hard to trigger, or else there would be radioactive craters all over the world from accidental explosions. In the 70 years since they were first built, United States nuclear bombs have been shot, dropped, burned, crashed in planes, and mishandled so many times that it seems to be a miracle that there has never been an explosion with a nuclear yield. In the late 1940s through the 60s, safety and control of nuclear weapons were actively opposed by the military, because they were afraid those measures would make it too hard to use the weapons in a battle situation.

Another interesting point is how jury-rigged and low-tech the military and surveillance systems really were. The US had a forward warning base in Greenland, on the lookout for Soviet missiles or planes. But military leaders were concerned that a Soviet launch would take out that base first with a sneak attack, leaving the US with no notification of an impending attack. The Air Force’s solution? Fly surveillance planes over our own base 24/7, visually confirming that the base was still there. This plan continued for years. It is pretty scary how hodge-podge and thrown-together was our plan for controlling our own nuclear weapons. Remember the operations room from the 1983 movie Wargames? The producers of that movie were not allowed into NORAD to see the actual operations room, so they designed what they imagined it would be like. Later, actual NORAD personnel confirmed that they wished they had a room like the one in the movie; in reality, theirs was much smaller and less technical.


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How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Bart D. Ehrman

This is a fascinating intellectual history of ideas around humanity and divinity in the middle east during the first centuries CE. Ehrman uses textual analysis of Biblical and non-Biblical books to shed light on what Jesus and the Apostles most likely thought about themselves, and how those ideas were transformed in the years after Jesus’ death. Ehrman is an accomplished theologian, able to draw out the subtle distinctions in language within Paul’s epistles, distinguishing what Paul wrote himself from what he borrowed from other sources. He uses a historical eye, clearly distinguishing what we can learn from history from what we just cannot know at this remove from the actual events. He claims to not be interested in whether Jesus was actually God, only in the history of how Jesus was perceived by early Christians. This claim is not particularly convincing; an orthodox Christian, convinced of the eternal divinity of Jesus the Christ, would not have written this book.


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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain

I found this book to be fascinating, describing my own personality in surprising ways. The main argument here is that “introverts” and “extroverts” fundamentally differ in the amount of sensory stimulation they find to be ideal. While extroverts tend to be energized by the presence of many other people, by busy situations, and by active rooms, introverts tend to find that level of stimulation to be tiring, seeking out lower levels of sensory input. This leads to many fascinating consequences, both significant and trivial. Introverts (like me) tend to prefer written communication over verbal, genuine conversations over polite small talk, and fewer, more intimate friends over a greater number of casual acquaintances. The only chapter that I skipped was the one about neural development in the brain, and how early differences in children can indicate their level of introversion later in life. I’m not particularly interested in brain development, and as an educator I work with teenagers and adults, so ideas about early childhood don’t really apply to me. Still, I think this book is great for all educators, to realize and learn about the diversity in our students’ personalities.