June 2016 Reading Recommendations

Last month’s discussion of the book on John Boyd garnered more email response than any other book I’ve written about since I started doing these monthly recommendations.  Looks like there are a lot of Boyd fans out there.  Probably more now that I’ve touted the book on him.

For those of you who are or who may become fans, here are a few links others have sent me that I’ll pass along.

A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, and OODA Loop, and America’s War on Terror by Daniel Ford.  This little book is an expansion of the author’s dissertation (along with a couple of other essays he wrote) for a Master’s Program at King’s College London.  It is an abbreviated life of John Boyd along with an analysis of how his theories might be applied to the ongoing war against worldwide terrorism.  It costs only a couple of bucks on Kindle and, if nothing else, lets the reader get a glimpse of the life of this amazing character.

Here are a few YouTubes of Boyd himself in his later years discussing his theories of conflict.  These all courtesy of a reader of mine who provided them to me in an email.  You’ve got them just as I got them.

Colonel John Boyd USAF(Ret.) Presentation Q&A (32 min.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-RlUF9nFyA

John Boyd Patterns of Conflict Parts 1  through 14 (!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzRqZnPVeJI  (27.5 min)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9CpE1PvHLs  (27.5 min)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPcF0OYK1zw (27.5 min.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qVg1mg1UoI  (27.5 min.)

(the rest are listed in the right-hand menu, just keep going, if you wish!)

Chet Richards – On OODA Loops, Adaptability & John Boyd

Bringing to life Adaptability: Chet Richards, author, consultant, John Boyd associate and strategy guru talks about John Boyd, his ideas and applying the OODA loop concept to develop agile, adaptive businesses and leaders.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzwuRGdhwZs

Another reader sent me this nice pdf file of an analysis of Boyd’s OODA loop, much in use today in the military, business and competitive athletics:

Boyd’s OODA Loop (It’s not what you think)

Finally, the same reader who put me onto A Vision So Noble and all the YouTubes also recommended the following book.

4th Generation Warfare Handbook by William S. Lind and Gergory A. Theile.  I didn’t really think this book would be my cup of tea, but I purchased it because the Kindle version was just a few bucks.  I spent most of June on a long trip to Europe, so I took along a bunch of trashy mysteries to read (some are reviewed below) and figured I would get to the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook if I ran out of other stuff to read.  As it happened, I ran out of stuff to read about two hours into the eleven hour flight back from Italy.  I cranked my Kindle to 4GWH and within just a couple of pages I was hooked.  I was so dazzled I read the entire book start to finish.

One of the problems with buying books on Kindle is that unless you specifically look (which I almost never do), you don’t have any idea how long the book is.  Given its title, I assumed 4GWH was a lengthly academic treatise.  I had no idea when I started on it that a) it was going to be so brilliantly well written, and b) that it was only 134 pages long.  But what a 134 pages.  The ideas in the book are based primarily on the theories of John Boyd.  And given what I know about Boyd, I would never have believed these notions could be based on his writings.  But they are.  Which tells me I need to read a little deeper on Boyd’s actual theories instead of so much about Boyd the character.

As Boyd said, “When I was a young officer, I was taught that if you have air superiority, land superiority ad sea superiority, you win.  Well, in Vietnam we had air superiority, land superiority and sea superiority, but we lost.  So I realized there is something more to it.”

What Boyd came up with after he figured this out is nothing less than stunning.  At least to me.

4GWH is one of those books that when you read it, you realize instinctively it is correct.  And you wonder why it took so long to figure it all out.  And you realize why we’ve been losing.  And why we’ll continue to lose until we change our ways.  Sadly, as this book points out, the US hasn’t completely made the shift to 3rd Generation Warfare.  We’re still stuck in a sort of twilight between 2nd Generation and 3rd Generation Warfare ways of looking at conflict.

You, like I was, will be most surprised at what the recommendations are.  And you will immediately see why we need to make the switch.  In my view, this is an extremely important book.

I do have one recommendation, though, when you read it.  Start with the Introduction, which is just a few pages long, then go to “Appendix A” and read about the first three generations of modern warfare.  The entire book compares 3rd gen to 4th gen, but I wondered what were 1st and 2nd.  Read “Appendix A” and you won’t wonder throughout the rest of the book.

I’ve got to recommend an enlightening essay I read in The Atlantic.  The Management Myth basically posits (kind of tongue in cheek, but not really) that people planning on going into business would be better off studying philosophy rather than business.  As it turns out, the academic business literature is about as reliable as the nutritional ‘science’ literature.  Made me think of one of my earlier recommendations, The Halo Effect, which is my favorite business book, and one that has kept my from spending a lot of money on other business books.  Highly recommended.  I just checked.  The Halo Effect is only $3.99 on Kindle right now, which is a steal.

For those of you who are bereft over the end of Downton Abbey (as MD and I were), I’ve got a great follow up for you.  About 35 years ago MD and I watched Brideshead Revisited when it originally appeared on Masterpiece Theater.  As we were casting about in despair wondering what to watch after the end of Downton, I remembered BR.  I remembered it being fantastic back at the time, but I didn’t know whether or not it would hold up today.  We ordered the Brideshead Revisited: 30th Anniversary Edition on Amazon and binge watched it.  If anything it is better than Downton because, as I discovered when I watched BR, Downton Abbey is basically a soap opera set in WWI and the era between WWI and WWII.  Brideshead Revisited is literature.  The writing is incomparable because it was virtually all written by Evelyn Waugh.  After we binge watched the entire series (8 long episodes), I dug out my copy of the book Brideshead Revisited and rummaged through it, reading here and there.  Virtually the entire dialogue from the series was taken word for word from the novel.

The series does not lack for great actors, either.  It stars Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder in his first real role.  BR catapulted him into the big time.  Also starring are Anthony Andrews, who is perfect for the role of Sebastian Flyte, Claire Bloom, Sir John Gielgud (in a phenomenal performance), Diana Quick (for reasons obvious once you watch it), and Sir Laurence Olivier.  As I said, BR isn’t short of great actors.

Get Brideshead and watch it.  You’ll thank me for it.  Even if you hated Downton Abbey, you’ll like this one. And if you loved Downton Abbey, well…

As I mentioned above, I spent a lot of time this past month reading a bunch of trashy mysteries I took with me on our trip.  I did read one serious historical novel however and finished it just about the time we got to Rome.  Which was my plan.

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris is the first of a three volume novelized life of Cicero.  Since Cicero was a citizen of Rome and loved it above all places, and since he played such a large role in the history of Rome, I figured it would be a good book to read before going back there.  Though Rome is one of our favorite cities in the world, we haven’t been there for 7 or 8 years, and although I’ve read a fair amount on the history of Rome, I haven’t ever read an historical novel set there.  I picked well.  Robert Harris is a wonderful writer whose books are always well researched, and the facts I knew about Rome from my historical reading jibed with those same facts as he presented them, leading me to believe that those things I didn’t know were probably also correct. Nothing bugs me worse than coming across a glaring error in a historical novel.  After finding such an error, I’m always suspect of everything else I read, and it detracts considerably from my enjoyment of the book.  I’m glad such was not the case with Imperium.

The book follows Cicero through his legal and rhetorical training and his early cases tried before the Roman courts.  Doesn’t sound very gripping, but I’m here to tell you it is.  Not only gripping reading, but makes you realize things haven’t changed that much in 2,000 years.  Power-hungry politicians were the same then as now.  The first of this three-part set ends with Cicero achieving the goal he plotted and schemed and sacrificed everything for: his election as consul.

Cicero’s story is told from the perspective of his slave, Tiro, who served Cicero for 36 years, took notes of everything he said, recorded all his speeches, and was an author himself. Tiro invented the art of shorthand, so that he could record accurately on the fly the words of Cicero and other speakers.  Since Harris made liberal use of Tiro’s writings and his documentation of Cicero’s various orations, much of what is presented are the actual words spoken at the time.  They are, of course, translated into English, and one of the things I found a bit jarring in the book is that the some of the translations are obviously not word for word accurate, but are idiomatic translations.  One example is ‘airy fairy’, which I doubt was used in that form in Ancient Rome, but who knows?

One of the overriding themes of the book is a statement Tiro makes that certainly rings true today: “Power brings a man many luxuries, but a clean pair of hands is seldom among them.”  Imperium is a great book to read during this election season because as Tiro points out, “It is always said of elections, in my experience, that whichever one is in progress at the time is the most significant there has ever been…”  And “You can always spot a fool, for he is the man who will tell you he knows who is going to win an election.”

If you like Robert Harris’s style of writing and his depth of research, here are a couple of other books of his I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed: An Officer and a Spy (the story of the Dreyfus affair) and The Ghost Writer (a sort of thinly-veiled novel about Tony Blair).  Both great reads.

Now to the trashy mysteries.

The Surgeon, The Apprentice, and Vanish all part of the Rizzoli and Isles series and all by Tess Gerritsen.  I’ve got to say, these books are not really my cup of tea for a couple of reasons.  First, I couldn’t stand the main character; everything about her I despise.  Second, the serial killer is highly improbable.  And the same killer lurks throughout the first couple of these books.  You may wonder if I dislike these books so much, why did I read three of them?  Good question.  I read the first one because my son got it for me for my birthday.  I read the other two because a) despite my not liking the character or the set up, the books were gripping, and b) the author is herself a doctor, and she has gone to great lengths to describe all kinds of fancy forensic techniques in detail.  Why do I care?  Because I am in the throes of writing my own mystery novel, and I love learning about all the forensics from someone who has obviously put the research time in.  As a consequence, I’ll probably read the rest of this series just to get the CSI type of stuff in an easy-to-digest format.

No Name Lane and Behind Dead Eyes by Howard Linskey.  I can’t tell you why I started reading the first one of these because I can’t remember for sure.  I think I read a review somewhere, but the fog of too many Aperol Spritz’s while I was tearing through these in Italy has ablated my memory.  These are both set in a small town in northern England and involve a cop and a seasoned male reporter and a young female reporter.  When I read the review of the first one, it was touted as a Detective Constable Ian Bradshaw novel, so I assumed it was primarily about DC Ian Bradshaw.  Which was why I bought it.  I enjoy Brit police procedural mysteries, which I assumed this was.  Turns out that DC Ian Bradshaw plays a fairly minor role in the whole thing while the real star of the show is a hot shot reporter. Had I known that, I probably would never have bought the book.

But it was enjoyable enough that I bought and read the second in the series.

The first is about the search for a serial killer who abducts young girls and leaves them dead but unmolested.  During the search for said killer, a 60-year-old corpse is turned up, adding a twist to the already complicated situation.  The combined forces of the two reporters and the much ignored DC Ian Bradshaw figure it all out while the rest of the police force wring their hands.   As I said, a good enough read that I bought the second.  These books are both written in a way that makes it difficult to put them down.  Short sections that lead you to read just one more till next thing you know, it’s 2:30 AM.  Those kind of books.

Finally, I read a couple of private eye novels, which I normally don’t go for.  Police procedurals are my favorites.  But I got the first one of these because it was set in LA, and my mystery novel is set in LA.  So, I try to read all the mysteries I can that are set there.

Black and Black is Back were both written by Russell Blake.  Black, which as I type these words, is being given away free on Kindle, is about Artemus Black, who is a private investigator in Los Angeles.  He is broke and has a smart-assed secretary named Roxie, about whom he sometimes has unpure thoughts.  He hates his name, given to him by his hippie parents, who have bumbled through life as flower children and while doing so hit upon business ideas that have made them rich.  As Black struggles to make ends meet, his parents constantly plague him with their idiocy.  He drives an ancient Cadillac and wears suits that are about five decades behind the times and sound from their description as approximating zoot suits.  Given this set up, what can go wrong?

Black gets a job that is supposed to be an easy paycheck working for the aging director of what he hopes to be the big movie that regenerates his flagging career.  But things don’t go as expected (do they ever in these kinds of novels?), and soon everyone around this guy is turning up dead.  Black has to sort it out while fending off advances from the director’s young, beautiful wife, dealing with his parents, and fighting with Roxie.  A fun read.

Black is Back is more of the same.  If you like the first one, you’ll like the second.  It involves rappers and rapping – a subject I knew next to nothing about.  So in addition to being entertained by Black’s sleuthing, I ended up learning about a subject I would doubtless never had otherwise approached.

I’ll be back with the July recommendations before the end of the month.

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