April 29, 2010
Traveling and Reading and Travel Reading
I have been tying up some loose ends here at CNAS, putting the final touches on my new Afghanistan paper as well as finishing up a research proposal with LTG (Ret.) Dave Barno, a longtime mentor of mine who starts work at CNAS next week. Starting this weekend, though, I will be gone for about 10 days on a trip to the Persian Gulf, which is a) the one area of the Arabic-speaking world in which I have not spent a lot of time and b) the area of the Arabic-speaking world in which the United States arguably has the most interests. So this research trip is long overdue.
I have bought a new Kindle for this trip and thought you guys might be interested in what I'll be taking with me to read while traveling:
1. Someone sent me a complimentary paper copy of Greg Gause's new book on the international relations of the Persian Gulf states, and I cannot think of a better introduction to the region. I have only met Gause once, back in 2007, and thought him both really smart and also kind of a smart-ass. So naturally, I liked him. I also have a reading packet prepared by the CSIS, which is leading this trip, crammed full with useful CRS reports and such.
2. I convinced the team here at CNAS to buy me a paper copy of Buying National Security: How America Plans and Pays for Its Global Role and Safety at Home, which readers of this blog will remember I'm excited about. Cindy Williams and Gordon Adams are both really smart and write about something -- the national security budgeting process -- that is rarely understood by policy geeks like me but really important.
3. I'm also about halfway through an advance copy of Megan Stack's beautifully written new memoir, Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War. More on this book later.
4. On the Kindle, I have two new books on Lebanon written by two journalists I very much respect. Both David Hirst and Michael Young have taken the time to tutor me on occassion during my time in Lebanon, and I answered a few technical military questions for David when he was writing his book. Their two books are, respectively, Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East and The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle. You can read a glowing review of the former here and a glowing review of the latter here.
5. Also on the Kindle are two books that have nothing to do with the Middle East: Louis Begley's Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.
6. Finally, I downloaded the ESV Study Bible and Phil Ryken's commentaries on Ecclesiastes alongside Tarif Khalidi's new translation of the Qur'an. That may seem like an odd combination of books, but both Ryken and Khalidi have been mentors* of sorts through the years: Ryken was a pastor at the church I attended in college, and Khalidi is, well, my scholarly hero. Despite his wicked sense of humor and light-hearted spirit, Khalidi is the most intimidating intellectual I have ever met. His command of English, Arabic, Greek and Latin is simply awe-inspiring, especially for someone like me who struggles with all four, and his new translation of the Qur'an is a remarkable achievement. I'm not about to get into the different ways in which Protestant Christians and Muslims approach their respective holy texts, but I will say that I someday hope to approach at least the New Testament with the erudition with which Khalidi tackles the Qur'an. Really impressive. Khalidi's humility** and interest in younger scholars also sets an example for others to follow.
*One of this blog's readers noted how many "mentors" I seem to have. It's true, I collect them. Some are those to whom I have consistently turned for advice through the years, and some are those from whom I have sought advice only a few times. I tend to seek out smart, older people, though, who seem to have figured things out that I have not. (It's worth noting, though, as my friend N.S. always does, that the first "Mentor" kinda sucked at his job.)
**Just to give you a few examples, Khalidi had this habit, during my two stints at AUB as both a master's student and as a visiting researcher, of periodically seeking my opinion on obscure points of Arabic or Greek grammar. Tarif Khalidi asking you a question about Arabic grammar is a little like Paul Krugman asking for your opinion on macroeconomics, and Khalidi's Greek is, I am 90% sure, far superior to mine. But I think it was just his way of engaging with me, in a remarkably self-effacing way, and it left a mark on me with respect to proper ways to treat students and younger scholars. What an incredible man.