Books that Let Me Down Badly

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Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Baker » 26 Jul 2012, 08:46

Okay, that is not the correct framing for this thread, since it's not the book that is at fault but my expectations. Still, the thread title sounded peppier this way. (And it's always nicer to shift the blame onto someone or something else. ;) )

Have you ever had your high expectations for a book dashed thoroughly?

The book that sparked this for me is "A History of Warfare" by John Keegan. I have a copy of his book "The Face of Battle" and remember it as a very good book. Keegan is a military historian. For many years he was a senior lecturer in military history at Sandhurst. On the back blurb, it says: "Analysing centuries of conflict, John Keegan unveils the deepest motives behind humanity's penchant for mass bloodshed. ... is a masterpiece of military scholarship, ireesistible in its style and terrifying in its implications."

So, I was expecting an insight into war: what motivates people and societies to participate in mass killing. Given the bloke's background, I expected this to be an erudite and thoroughly researched tract, and one coming from a largely understanding and possibly approving point of view. I was expecting this to be a thought-provoking read that gave me some insight into different ways of looking at warfare and how it fits with culture, politics, and human behaviour.

I made it to p59 and no further. Why? Because the man comes across as hopelessly naive! After over 50 pages of war in human history, and a detailed discussion of Clausewitz, he concludes the chapter with a paragraph inluding this:
Throughout much of the time for which we have a record of human behaviour, mankind can clearly be seen to have judged that war's benefits outweighed its costs, or appeared to do so when a putative balance was struck. Now the computation works in the opposite direction. Costs clearly exceed benefits. Some of those costs are material. The superinflationary expense of weapon procurement distorts the budgets even of the richest states, while poor states deny themselves the chance of economic emancipation when they seek to make themselves militarily formidable. The human costs of actually going to war are even higher. Rich states, as between themselves, recognise that they are not to be borne. Poor states which fall into war with rich states are overwhelmed and humiliated. Poor states which fight each other, or are drawn into civil war, destroy their own well-being , and even the structures which make recovery from the experience of war possible. War truly has become a scourge, as was disease throughout most of human history.

I checked the copyright page, and discovered the book was written in 1993. He fails utterly to consider the possibility of rich states starting wars on poor countries. He used the USA's first Gulf War as a datum that televised wars allow the general population to see the horrors of war to illustrate his idea that this would discourage the appetite for war. He didn't consider the obvious: tightly restricting coverage of war rather than not going to war.

So, from the back blurb, and his introduction where he waxes lyrical about the "warrior culture" and "soldiers are not as other men", I was expecting to get some meaty insight into how some people think war is the bees knees and soldiers (i.e. anyone who puts on a uniform) are totes awesome heroes. The conclusion that the human race had developed to the point where was was simply too costly blind-sided me utterly: especially since it is patently not true. The bloke might be an historian, but he is total crap at predicting the future. It also speaks poorly of his evaluation of human behaviour that he got this one so wrong.

I am gutted. :(

My only consolation is that this book was not lent or reccommended to me, so that I don't have to think of polite ways to explain to someone their book is shite.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby ElaineB » 27 Jul 2012, 01:03

I just finished a book that my boss handed me, saying, this will change your life. It did not, and now I must tell him. Sigh. That and the fact that it won a National Book Award raised my expectations. I wished I could have just read it without all the glowing praise on the back in lieu of a blurb and the big, embossed gold award seal on the cover. If I had expected less, I might have enjoyed it more. Some of what satisfies us as readers, perhaps, is that surprise factor.
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby sbarret » 27 Jul 2012, 12:12

Any and every book by Frank Herbert's son. And yet I keep reading that trash! At least I learned to get them from the library now. Tho the last one was so bad I didn't finish it. So maybe I'm done with that sick addiction,
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Baker » 28 Jul 2012, 08:24

I haven't read a single one of those, Sandra. Now I'm glad I didn't. I suppose literary nepotism is easy to pull off insofar as the marketing side, but being able to actually write as well as someone else takes a little more than the happy accident of being born to the right person.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Lt Sue » 31 Jul 2012, 08:23

Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

You may recall that Alison Bechdel wrote Fun Home a graphic novel which explored her relationship with her father, a closet homosexual. This book is about her mother...alledgedly...actually it was about Alison's depression, therapy and dreams. Very wierd and not very funny :(
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby ElaineB » 01 Aug 2012, 01:17

Huh, I was looking forward to that one. Too bad.
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Baker » 01 Aug 2012, 07:34

(Remember, E, this is Sue.)
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Proofrdr » 01 Aug 2012, 12:12

Not funny, but still humorous...ironic, self-deprecating, dark humor.
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Baker » 03 Aug 2012, 12:44

As a footnote to my first post, the bloke who wrote the book died yesterday (2nd Aug 2012). At least he won't be writing any more shitty books.
Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities ~ Voltaire
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Re: Books that Let Me Down Badly

Postby Proofrdr » 05 Aug 2012, 07:20

That's a relief.
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