347 Schaeffer Hall
Spring 2020 Office Hours
Tue & Th: 4:45-6:15
Dept of Political Science
341 Schaeffer Hall
20 E. Washington Street
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52242
Posted updated Prelaw FAQ
Posted two new books in What I'm Reading
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New book, Supreme Court Agenda Setting: The Vinson Court, published for Kindle devices and computers with Kindle reader.
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I'm sometimes asked what I'm reading for alumni newsletters or biographical pieces. I used to read a lot of science fiction, but these days it tends to be more along the lines of political non-fiction. I also tend to have several books going at the same time (partly, but not entirely, due to having a Kindle on several devices). I'll start this list with some of the books I've read in the last year or so and will add to it as I go along.
Note: I recently installed PC Matic and noticed that the widgets to display book links don't appear. So if you have PC Matic and want to see the links you'll need to turn the program off for this site.
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. This book was written in 1988 and won the Pulitzer Prize, so it's pretty well known. The subtitle, John Paul Vann and American in Vietnam, gave me the impression that the focus of the book would be on Vann, and a lot of it was, but there were other parts of the book that dealt more with America's general history of the conflict. The 800+ pages are divided into "books" which switch the focus at times. It works well in that the pieces (Vanns' personal history, how it fits with military activities, etc.) mostly come together. The book was written more than a decade after the war ended, so Sheehan had time for additional research and reflection. Still, one question I had was why some of this information wasn't better, more widely, known at the time. Perhaps it was, as there was certainly substantial conflict over the war at the time, but the focus seemed to be on other failings. Anyway, an interesting read if one wants to learn more about aspects of the war.
The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements by Paul Parsons and Gail Dixon. This is another one of those books that I ran across somewhere and thought would be interesting as it’s been a long time since my chemistry courses. The visual side of it is not all that impressive. Each description of an element is about two pages, one of which is a photo of the element or of the ore in which it is commonly found. There are also small figures showing where the elements is placed on the periodic table and its structure. The bulk of the remaining page is information about the element including such things as how it was discovered and by whom, how it’s used, what it’s properties are, and so on. This is a compact and inexpensive way to get a lot of interesting information about the elements.
Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy by Kurt Schlichter. Schlichter is a veteran (was a Colonel in the Army infantry) and attorney in California. He may be most well-known, however, for his conservative commentary, especially his acerbic tweets to people who try to attack him on the left. In this book he takes on not just the leftists but also those on the right who seek to maintain elite governing status over regular Americans. He uses a couple of hypothetical examples of regular people who are just trying to live their lives and get along and how the elites want to infringe on their rights. In some respects, this book makes a similar point to the one made by Zito and Todd in their book The Great Revolt (see below). The difference is that Schlichter is much more in your face about his points. If you are on the left you might not be happy with his approach, but the basic points he makes about “regular Americans” are important for understanding those who don’t pay attention to politics 24/7.
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China by Robert Jay Lifton. This was another book I saw discussed somewhere and thought might be interesting. It was, but the focus was a bit different than I expected. The author, a psychiatrist, conducted an examination in the 1950s of Westerners and Chinese nationals who had undergone “brainwashing” in Communist China. The idea of “brainwashing” was different than what one might expect from the term. The first part of the book dealt with how several Westerners had been treated (tortured) in a prison situation and basically been “reeducated.” That part was more of what I expected the book to be about. The second part dealt with the experiences of Chinese nationals who had left China. Some of these had also been in prison, but others just experienced “totalism” in other forms. After these two sections the book becomes more of a psychological study, discussing how the histories of the individuals affected their reactions to the torture, reeducation, etc. Interestingly, although the book was initially published in 1961 there were a few insights regarding thought reform toward the very end of the book that seemed to apply to how we are dealing with some topics today. On the whole, the book was interesting even though it wasn’t quite what I expected.
The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech by Kimberley Strassel. I thought this book was going to just be about how the IRS targeted conservative groups for harassment over their applications for tax exempt status. The book was about that, but provided more examples of efforts to silence conservative voices. In particular, Strassel details how transparency in political donations is used to harass those who contribue to candidates or causes the left doesn't like. Interestingly, Strassel starts with a discussion of NAACP v. Alabama (1958), the Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that Alabama's attempt to get membership lists from the NAACP was unconstitutional as a violation of the right to Free Speech (which includes a right to silence) or the right of Association. It seemed pretty clear to the Court that if Alabama got the membership lists those on it would be subject to various forms of harassment, or worse. Although what was happening to blacks in the South in the late 1950s isn't the same as what has been happening to conservative groups, there is a parallel in terms of the rights involved. This book is certainly worth reading given the extreme partisanship of today's politics.
The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics: This is an interesting and important book for those looking to understand how and why Trump won. Authors Salina Zito (one of the only reporters who saw Trump’s victory coming in 2016) and Brad Todd (founder of a Republican advertising and opinion research agency) interviewed voters in 10 counties in five states (Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) to find out why they voted for Trump. Although some on the left easily dismiss Trump voters (and those continue to support him) in highly negative terms (e.g., “deplorables”), Zito and Todd provide profiles of voters of various types and show them to be regular folks who had legitimate reasons for voting for Trump. The authors group their profiles into categories such as King Cyrus Christians, Girl Gun Power, Red-Blooded and Blue-Collared, etc. These groupings answer the oft asked questions about why one group or another would have supported Trump, often in spite of his comments. I highly recommend this book.
A Disgrace to the Profession: The World’s Scientists—in Their Own Words—on Michael E Mann, His Hockey Stick, and their Damage to Science: The subtitle of this book, edited by Mark Steyn, pretty much describes the content. Mann was the climate scientist who famously came up with the “hockey stick” of global temperatures. Steyn criticized Mann about it so Mann sued him. This book is essentially Steyn’s revenge. Steyn compiled comments of other scientists who over the years noted various problems with both Mann’s hockey stick and Mann’s approach to defending it. The “chapters” are all just two pages long. Each has a brief introduction indicating the background of the quoted scientist and a bit of context, then the relevant quote. The chapters are organized into a dozen sections, each with an introduction by Steyn. At first it didn’t seem that the short chapters were saying much about the actual climate science involved, but eventually the little bits of information add up and one gets a pretty good idea of how Mann arrived at his hockey stick and why it has been criticized. Steyn obviously doesn’t like or think much of Mann, but it’s hard to deny the criticisms of Mann’s work.
Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses: The basic suggestion of this book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa is that students today are not learning as much as they should in college. They point out several reasons for this based on data they have gathered from their own research and that of others. Not surprisingly, there are several aspects to the problem. More today than in the past students come to college less prepared and less clear about their academic goals. Colleges tend to "sell" the social and extracurricular aspects of college, which gives students a mistaken view of priorities. Faculty may be less interested or able to maintain rigorous standards for their students. The result is that for many students learning is limited, particularly during their first year or two. The authors do have some suggestions for improvement but I suspect it will be difficult in some cases to make such changes on a widespread basis. The authors also provide an extensive appendix with their findings. Overall an interesting, if somewhat depressing examination of the state of higher education at least as it exists for some students in some colleges.
War of Numbers: Author Sam Adams was a CIA analyst during the Vietnam War. The essence of the book is his analysis of enemy troop numbers and the resistance within the CIA and other government agencies to accept that his estimates were often much higher than the numbers contained in official and publicly released reports. For much of the book you might we willing to consider the conflict over the numbers to just be bureaucratic resistance to change, or a general belief on the part of higher ups to not believe Adams' analysis. It is not until very late in the book that Adams goes a bit further and suggests that there are political reasons for keeping the numbers of enemy strength low. In particular, to give the impression that the US is winning the war and it would be over soon. Other sources have suggested as much and that's one reason why this book has gotten praise in certain quarters. Still, even aside from such nefarious purposes I can see simple bureaucratic resistance to admit error as part of the problem as well. Overall an interesting read.
The Onion Field: Author Joseph Wambaugh is known for his police and crime novels, but this is the true story of two Los Angeles Police Department officers who were kidnapped and one killed by two criminals. I first read this book in law school and just reread it so I could recommend it for my Criminal Justice course. What stood out for me was the aftermath of the crime, both in terms of the effect on the partner of the killed officer and the extensive trial and appeal proceedings. In terms of the latter, the trial, appeals, retrials, and additional appeals took over six years. The toll on the surviving officer was dramatic, but the proceedings also had significant effects on the judges and prosecutors who were involved in the case over the years. Although Wambauch had been an LAPD officer himself, his experience writing novels gives book more of a dramatic flavor that one might expect from a true crime book. The first several chapters involve extensive introductions to the four main characters, the two officers and two criminals. The dramatic tone of the book was fine, but not as interesting to me as the specifics that came later. Either way, the book is a good read of a very interesting case. As a side note, the book was made into a good movie starring John Savage, James Woods, and Ted Danson in his first movie role.
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign: This book got some media attention when it first came out but less than it probably should have given that its thesis as to what went wrong for the Clinton campaign was different from what Clinton and her loyalists were suggesting. Although the authors do seem sympathetic to Clinton, they seem to do a good job of highlighting some of the fundamental problems in her campaign. There will be internal struggles in any campaign of this size, but difficulties specific to Clinton in terms of who had access, who she trusted, etc., tended to make the usual problems and conflicts more significant. Of particular note is the conflict between those wanting a more traditional campaign versus those who were more focused on data-driven analytics. I see this conflict on a regular basis here in Iowa. The Iowa Caucuses rely heavily on traditional campaign techniques (door knocking, phone calling, yard signs, etc.) and that is generally true for the general election as well. National campaigns that come to Iowa for the caucuses often don't understand that and want to focus on their way of doing things rather than relying on the expertise of local activists to understand how to reach local voters. Of course, local activists can be out of touch and stubborn as well, so it's really a matter of reaching the proper balance, something the Clinton campaign was unable to do in several key states. I don't think that Clinton's campaign was "doomed," at least not early on. It certainly had its problems, which we saw as early as the Iowa Caucuses, but it was more a matter of several weaknesses that were unable to compensate for a variety of mistakes and problems that ultimately caused Clinton's loss.
The Guns of August: This book is a Pulitzer Prize winner and quite famous so I thought I should get around to reading it (though reading a series of pretty depressing books had gotten to be a bit much). As the name of the book suggests, the author takes a very close look at the first month or so of World War I. I didn't know all that much about WWI, so the information was interesting, but the detail was a bit hard to follow without knowing more about the overall themes. I think part of my problem was that I read the book in fairly small chunks that made it harder to follow the people involved. Still, three interesting take aways were the importance of logistics, the problems with communications, and the conflicts among the generals.
Gulag: A History: As the title suggests author Anne Applebaum traces the history of the Soviet gulag system from the start of the Soviet Union until its fall. As much as we might know that millions died or were killed in the gulags, millions also survived and Applebaum devotes chapters to aspects of life in such horrible circumstances. As depressing as this history might be, and one which some would prefer to forget, it is important that we remember what was occuring in these camps. This is especially so as we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. The book was a Pulitzer Prize winner.
The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II: As the back of the book notes, "In December, 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians and soldeirs were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered. . . ." The details author Iris Chang chronicles are horrific,but the book more is more than just a recounting of what happened during the rape. She also provides details on what led to the incident, what happened during the events, and how the survivors fared. Importantly, she also explains why the Rape of Nanking seems to have been "forgotten" and why Japan and Germany were treated so differently after the war. Not surprisingly, parts of the book are hard to read, but it's an important aspect of the war that deserves more attention.
Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception: This is an interesting book. The authors caution readers that the book won't make them human lie detectors. They also note that one has to have some familiarity with a particular person to know where some behavior that might be an indicator of deception in one person isn't just a personal habit of another. That said, the authors run through several behaviors, physical and verbal, that tend to indicate that a person is being deceptive. Such indicators don't necessarily indicate that the person is lying, but may indicate deception requiring additional follow up. The authors provide examples from real life, and often famous, interviews as well as lists of suggested questions for different situations. I recommend this book, but be aware that after reading it you will have difficulty listening to any politician again!
The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War AGainst Radical Islam and Its Allies: The lead author of this book is Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, who was the Director of the Defense Intellegence Agency, among other positions. As the subtitle of the book suggests, Flynn has been an advocate for a more robust effort to defeat radical Islamism. Although one can expect that Flynn has to be careful about revealing too many details, the book still seems to lack much that's new in the way of information or insight. This is particularly true when compared to Hayden's book Playing to the Edge. On the other hand, perhaps that's the point. Flynn, and his coauthor Michael Ledeen, remind readers of who we are fighting against and the failures of leadership the brought us to the present situation. The "how we can win" portion of the book isn't all that unusual, but requires a strength of leadership that Flynn doesn't believe the current (Obama) administration possesses.
Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience With Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate: As the subtitle suggests, the selling point of the book was the extent to which the author was able to shed some insight into the character of the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency, and particularly that of Hillary Clinton. For those who were around during the 1990s the book doesn't really add to what we already know about the problems during the Clinton administration. Some new ground is covered when the author describes how the investigation of Bill Clinton's activities affected nonpolitical White House staff and how this continued for him after he was no longer part of the White House detail. The author also discusses several other jobs he had, including some events that occurred when he served as an air marshall. Those aspects are interesting, particularly from a bureaucratic perspective, but weren't really part of why most people probably bought the book.
In terms of style, the writing is rather choppy. By that I mean that the events the author is describing seem to jump around a bit. The author notes that he has dyslexia and ADD, but a good editor should have been able to clean it up a bit. Despite this problem, after a few chapters is doesn't seem as noticeable. Overall, the book has some interesting aspects to it, but less because of additional inside information on the Clintons than the author's experiences with several government jobs he held.
Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion: Although this book was first published in 1997, I just happened on it last year. Given that I teach about the Establishment Clause in my undergraduate constitutional law course, and I'm a fan of the movie Inherit the Wind, I thought this would be an interesting read. It was, but it was also more on the academic side than I expected. Although the main focus is on the famous Scopes trial, the author begins by reviewing the political climate regarding science and religion. This provides some important context to the Scopes trial. There's an extensive discussion of how the trial came about and how it was essentially both a test case and show trial. The author provides a lot of detail regarding the trial itself, though probably more than was necessary to tell the story effectively. I was particularly interested in what occurred in the years following the trial. This included the movie Inherent the Wind as well as the Supreme Court's decision in Epperson v. Arkansas, which ruled on the Arkansas version of the "monkey law" that was at issue in Scopes. Although probably not for a more general audience, the book is worthwhile for those with interests in Establishment Clause issues and famous trials.
Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror: This book is written by Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA. I thought that this book was a good primer on intelligence gathering and some of the issues surrounding it. Hayden obviously couldn't reveal any "secrets" of US intelligence gathering, but I thought he did a good job of putting a lot of the material we see in the news into context. Hayden obviously has a particular point of view regarding intelligence gathering, but the book was generally nonpolitical. From Hayden's point of view this would also be true at the end of the book when Hayden expressed concerns about the Obama administration's weaknesses though others might suggest otherwise. I liked the overall structure of the book. Rather than a strictly chronological approach to this time period (mainly1999 to 2014) he used each chapter on a particular topic (e.g., certain programs, working with allies, Snowden). Thus, although that meant that the chapters sometimes overlapped chronologically they weren't confusing. One particular point he made that I sometimes mention in my criminal justice course is that there is a big difference between intelligence gathering to prevent some terrorist event and evidence gathering to convict someone of a crime. In other words, law enforcement models cannot be applied to intelligence gathering. I must admit that I also liked the book because Hayden made frequent references to movies and TV shows to illustrate his points, something I do in my courses. I enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win: The essence of this book is how principles the authors learned as Navy SEAL officers fighting in Iraq can be applied in business and management situations. This includes principles such as the title of the book, extreme ownership. The idea of this principle is that leaders have to own failure of their team and not try to pass it off on others, basically a form of the buck stops here. Each chapter presents a principle in three parts. The first part is how one or both of the authors lived the principle in combat. The second part is the statement of the principle. The third part is then how they helped some business apply the principle. The most interesting part of the book for me was the descriptions of the various operations in which they were engaged. The principles and their applications were interesting too, though I sometimes had the feeling that one had to have a solid understanding of when one principle or another might apply. As it turned out, the authors understood this too and noted as much at the end of the book. Although the authors spoke of applying the principles in a business setting, I kept wondering the extent to which they might apply in public administration. The military is highly bureaucratic, but also not like other governmental units. I suspect that the next time I teach public administration I'll assign this book or parts of it as a discussion topic.
13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Behghazi: The events in Behghazi when four Americans were killed have become so politicized that it may be hard for some to read this book with an open mind. That would be a shame as this book tells the story of what happened that night through the eyes of the men who fought in the battle. Except for brief acknowledgement, the author stays away from the political side of things. We are told that the operators were kept from the fight longer than they desired, but blame for this in the book goes no higher than their immediate handler. The book is a fast read because it's hard to put down given how quickly events moved. As I write this I have yet to see the movie, but I certianly recommend the book.
The Crimean War: A History: Given what happened with Russia and Ukrania in the Crimea I thought it would be a good idea to learn a bit more about the Crimean War. The author spent a fair amount of time describing events that led to the war. That turned out to be good as it provided helpful context for current events. I probably didn't get as much out of this book as I should have, but it was an interesting read nonetheless.
Very Short Introduction series from Oxford University Press: During the summer of 2014 there was a promotion on this series and I purchased about 50 of the short volumes. (Each ranges from about 95 to 140 pages of text plus additional reading and often an index.) As I write this there are volumes on about 400 topics. I used the promotion to buy books on philosophy, science, and religion. The books are not of the "for dummies" variety. Although introductions, some of the books move along quite quickly and one must often have a grounding in the general subject matter to really understand the material. The link below is to the one I'm currently reading, Science and Religion, which I found particularly interesting given Supreme Court cases I teach involving the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.
Until Proven Innocent by Stuart Taylor, Jr., and KC Johnson: This book tells the story of the Duke lacrosse players falsely accussed of rape. They examine all the factors and people who refused to question the accusations or purposefully exploited them for their own ends. This book charts one of worst examples of the criminal justice system being misused in a political setting. I recently reread this book before assgining it as recommended reading in my Criminal Justice course. Strongly recommended.
This Kind of War: The Classice Korean War History by TR Fehrenbach: The war in Korea is sometimes called the "forgotten war." I ran across this book after reading the book below on the French involvement in the Vietnam War. Like many people, I knew little about the Korean war, so I decided to read it. It's interesting in a variety of ways, not least of which is how decisions early on have dramatic consequences.
The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam by Martin Windrow: I don't recall how I happened on this book, but the idea of reading about a critical battle of involving the French in Vietnam seemed interesting. This was particularly so given that it seemed to be indicative of the later problems US forces faced. The importance of some of the military decisions was likely lost on me, but the many maps provided helped to give a sense of what was happening.
Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror by Erik Prince: Blackwater came to have a very negative connotation attached to it. I thought it would be interesting to read how Prince came to found and operate Blackwater, as well as how it ended up as it did. I suppose one can easily dismiss Prince's version as what one would expect from the person whose company was thrust into such a negative spotlight. On the other hand, Prince provides an interesting explanation of how such military contractors came to be such an important part of the US effort.
Millenium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) by Stieg Larsson: I suspect most have heard of the first book in this series or at least the movie version of it (either the original in Swedish or the English language remake). The first book stands alone as a story. The second and third contain many of the same characters, but essentially form a separate two-volume story. I enjoyed the first movie in the series (all three books were made into movies, which I'll eventually list on the movie page) and wanted to read the books before watching all three movies. It wasn't really necessary to do so to understand what was going on in the second and third movies, but the books were certainly an enjoyable read.