Friday, October 23, 2009

History Books

What do you do if you have nothing to do? I stifled the urge to surf the Internet although I did surf for a few minutes. I try to limit myself to less than 5 minutes so I won’t leave a large footprint for any monitoring program. Last week, I shamelessly surfed the Internet and I felt guilty during the weekend. Thoughts of persecution filled my mind like being called to the security office and asked to explain. I remember my boss telling me during my early days here that an employee was fired because of surfing the Internet. So his comments remained in my mind although I think he was just trying to scare me for my own sake.

I am finishing David Halberstam’s ‘War in the Time of Peace’. I think it is a minor masterpiece which he is well known for creating. I think he is at a higher level than writers like Bob Woodward who focus on sort term news stories. For instance, Woodward’s book on Alan Greenspan, ’Maestro’ which adulates the Fed chief for his accomplishment but whose reputation is now shattered because of the financial crisis. I don’t think Halberstam will make this mistake because he takes the long view. He allows time to take it’s course before writing a book and he measure his words with the experience and wisdom he has accumulated.

Bob Woodward is more a reporter whose style is like combining a series of newspaper articles to make book. The intention is just to make money quickly by exploiting the current news. I guess Woodward’s books are good sources for deep penetrating works by more mature writers or thinkers like David Halberstam. I always like his books and have read ‘The Reckoning’, ‘The Powers That Be’, ’The Fifties’, ‘The Best and the Brightest’, ‘The Amateurs’ and ‘The Forgotten War.’ I think his books led me to discover the works of Theodore White. I read his book ‘In Search of History’ and ‘The Making of the President 1960’. I think I have also read his other Making of the President books which I all enjoyed. I think both these writers were pioneers in this genre and don’t have anyone around who can match their brilliance.

Another writer I liked it Barbara Tuchman. I enjoyed her books ‘The Guns of August’, ’The Proud Tower’, ‘March of Folly’, ‘General Stillwell in China’ and ‘The Zimmerman Telegram’. I read almost all of these books back in the Philippines when my mind did almost all the traveling. Now that I have traveled a fair bit, I have expanded the books and subjects that I have read. Most of the books that I liked where about American life and experience. The American history and adventure in foreign lands as well the famous people like its presidents. Now I am smacked right into the American way of life. I guess somewhere in my mind, I am trying to reconcile what I have read with what I see in front of me. I guess I have understood the idea and I am recapturing the joy of the American idea and experiment now that my son is studying American government.

I guess most of the stereotype in my mind was about the great Eastern cities like Boston or New York or even Chicago and the elites that live in these cities. Or the free-wheeling ways of California and the creative explosion of it’s movies and culture. I did not read a lot about the south and the old confederate states. The only thing of significance that I remember is reading Thomas Wolfe’s books. But I did not realize that he represented the south and only when I visited his home in Ashville, North Carolina that I realize what writer he was. My brief stay in Los Angeles in my youth plus my reading of American life has helped me adapt here easily and ease the transition for my family. I guess I was able to hit the ground running at work and enabled a smooth landing for my wife and kids.

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