Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Blue Blood - Edward Conlon

According to the NYPD website, the New York Police Department currently employs 39,110 cops, a force larger then the standing armies of some countries. At least one of them is a solid writer.

Edward Conlon's Blue Blood takes readers deep into a gritty, street-wise portrait of life in the NYPD, its politics, language, foibles, quirks and characters as well as the relentless nature of the urban police beat.

Blue Blood is part memoir, part history and part journey through the looking glass, tracing Conlon's history and roots in the NYPD, his experiences as a rookie cop in decaying Bronx housing projects, to narcotics stakeouts and the daily paperwork of a detective, the events of 9-11, as well as the day-to-day and life and death issues that cops face on the street. Conlon as a writer is canny and often blunt, offering a welcome perspective on such issues as police corruption and abuse, but also thoughtful and keenly observant, casting an often wry eye on NYPD practices, politics and the criminals they pursue.

Well-written, authentic and nuanced, Blue Blood is a unique, if lengthy, look at life behind the badge.

For more on one of the world's most famous police departnments, drop by the NYPD website. You can also visit the NYPD Police Museum and the NYPD Shop online - for those of you that desperately want a set of NYPD shooter glasses or your own police station. Unfortunately no handcuffs available.

Trace the history of New York's Finest here, or check out The Insider for a look at what is happening in the Big Apple. Check out the view from Times Square, or, if you prefer your New York from a couch - just watch these guys.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 - Steve Coll

"When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before."
- Kim, Rudyard Kipling

The Great Game is alive and well and living in the cold, stony peaks of the Hindu Kush.

Ghost Wars is Steve Coll's superlative account of the tangled morass of the last twenty-five years of byzantine manuvering, chaos and war on the Afghan frontier. The war against the Russians was conducted mainly through proxies - the Muhjaddeen and the warlords, the Pakistani government, and the quioxtic brillance of Massoud. Coll outlines the early rise of US policy towards the region, tracing carefully the gradual emergence and steady growth of US involvement as the Muhjaddeen war against the Russians gradually became a key element for US policy.

Coll judiciously examines the post-war American neglect of the region (literally dropping off of the policy radar screen overnight) and the sudden and abrupt roll-up of the CIA's covert support operations (exacerbating the political vacuum), its impact on both the rise of the Taliban and the development of Al Quada and Osama Bin Laden.

Reading Ghost Wars amply demonstrates that none of the subsequent events of 9-11 was surprising in retrospect and that, bluntly, no one involved is a new or unknown player. Bin Laden in particular was amply demonstrating his direction, policy and goals but was initially overlooked and ignored, and later indifferently dealt with, despite mounting evidence of danger. Neither the Clinton nor the Bush (Jr. & Sr.) administrations escapes censure for their failure to recognize the approaching storm and the glimpse Coll offers into the inner workings of covert policy in the region both fascinates and frustrates.

Coll's book is a must-read for anyone genuinely interested in understanding the complex interplay of history, politics, culture and religion in Afghanistan and is, on top of being exhaustive and comprehensive, an excellent, gripping, high-quality and well-written read. Highly Recommended!

Also of note, and previously reviewed on BookLinker is George Crile's Charlie Wlison's War.

You can find an free online copy of Rudyard Kipling's classic Kim at the Gutenberg Project. I also heartily recommend Kipling's The Man Who Would be King and the excellent film version with Sean Connery and Michael Caine.

Interested in the real Man Who Would be King? He did exist - check out Ben McIntyre's biography of Josiah Harlen, ex-doctor, soldier-of-fortune, Prince of Ghur and pretender to the Afghan Throne (he also runs afoul of Flashman here...)

Check out another solid Frontline report on Afghanistan here. Also good is Hunting Bin Laden, a report that was put together prior to the attacks of 2001.

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