Somehow I’ve been burning though books and audio content at an alarming rate and it seemed a good time to review them so I can relegate them to the nether realms for all eternity.
McMafia by Misha Glenny. Glenny describes how several organized crime networks took advantage of the spread of privatization, deregulation and collapse of the Soviet Union to become transnational organizations. Glenny certainly writes in an engaging style and there’s bound to something here about organized crime that you didn’t know before you cracked open the book but I was left a bit unsatisfied after reading it. The book seemed to be lacking any sort of central narrative to tie it all together and so felt a bit like a collection of stories. I also felt that his desire to describe examples from every part of the world left some of the chapters a bit short. It does have a nice section of recommendations for further reading which is particularly valuable if you want more detail on any of the subjects. Glenny clearly has a good grasp of his subject material and his ability to utilize sources in other languages enriched his work but I can’t help feeling that he’s got much more to say. Overall, I’d recommend it for a good general introduction to the subject but not perfect.
Drawing the Line by Steven Wise. Resisting the ‘cookoo for cocoa puffs‘ element of the animal rights movement (yes, I mean you Ingrid Newkirk and Jerry Vlassik) Wise, a lawyer, attempts to develop a logical argument in favor of animal rights. He argues for a ‘scale of practical autonomy’ which would grant rights to animals based upon their intelligence and ability to act with intentionality. So, contrary to the assertions of those who would like to discredit the movement, mollusks and houseflies wouldn’t be granted rights because they exhibit no evidence that they have any sense of self or acts intentionally. Clearly however, many animals (like chimpanzees or even Shiloh) have feelings, intentionality and some sort of sense of self and in these cases Wise argues for some sorts of limited rights (much like a child is granted some rights but not the ability to vote, bring a case to court, etc.). Wise identifies those rights as ‘liberty rights’ and they would guarantee the protected against exploitation and harm (again, similar to a child).
He then highlights several animals (honeybees, a parrot, dog, dolphins, elephant, orangutans, gorillas and his child) and suggests where each would fall on his practical autonomy scale. I do wish he would have taken the case of bacteria or a mosquito to demonstrate animals falling along the entire range of his scale. Ultimately, Wise’s scale is arbitrary but at least it’s a starting point for some discussion. The book was published back in 2002 and, unfortunately, I’m not seeing much in the way of debate on these ideas. Instead, everyone wants to focus on the nut cases which dilutes the whole argument.
Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik. I’m totally sold on this series. After all, what more could you want. Napoleonic warfare with dragons. Everything is better with dragons. The worst thing I can say about these books is that I devour them in a couple days and have to wait an interminable amount of time for the next book. It won’t go down as a classic in western literature but it is a fun read and one can imagine the possiblities if these books ever make it to the big screen.
She does an admirable job of fitting dragons into an otherwise normal world and describing, through the first four books, how the cultures of Europe, China, Africa and the Ottomans would adjust to the existence of such creatures.
This History of Rome Podcast. Mike Duncan does an admirable job of bringing the history of Rome to you in nice sized bits. He’s loosened up a bit lately as he’s (I assuming) getting more comfortable with the podcasting format and the series gets continually better.
If you like ancient history, go check out 12 Byzantine Rulers as well.
Underwood & Flinch Mike Bennett is podcasting his new novel. How this guy is unpublished is beyond me. His current novel (which he promises to be massive) is a vampire story. He has the best podcast voice I’ve heard and does a brilliant job of acting the roles. This guy loves what he does and does it well. I’d also recommend his other work. You won’t be sorry.
Daily Buddhism. Brian Schell does yeoman work in making Buddhism easy to understand and approachable to an American audience. I’m still catching up on achieved episodes but if you’re a bit put off by all of the mumbo jumbo of other approaches to Buddhism or intimidated by the alienness of some of the other practitioners, you should check this one out.