Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review: Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi

Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious NaziHunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I am glad that they did. I knew the essence of the story: Israel stages a daring mission to capture Eichmann in Argentina and bring him back to Israel for trial. But I knew little of the details. In crisp and engaging writing, Bascomb’s book provides the mission details, but also how the mission came to be and who was involved.

We learn how Eichmann came to hold the power he held in Germany; we learn how he eluded capture after the war and made a new life in Argentina. Bascomb’s portrayal of the man is one of utter mediocrity mixed with unearned arrogance and haughtiness. It is haunting to hear Eichmann’s rationalizations for what he did, that he was just following orders; but at the same time clearly felt a kind of pride for being able to complete his orders as successfully as he did.

The detailing of the mission itself is obviously the most exciting and interesting parts of the book: it reads at times like a spy thriller. One almost expects Gabriel Allon to appear! The random near misses and mistakes that could have undermined the mission are mind-blowing. The author is able to create tension and suspense even though one knows the mission is a success.

Bascomb briefly covers the trial and execution, and includes an epilogue that explains what subsequently happened to all the main players: the agents involved as well as Eichmann’s wife and sons.

There are many books that tell the story of Eichmann’s capture; many written by members of the capture team. I haven’t read them, so I can’t compare. But Bascomb’s book seems well-balanced and thoroughly researched.

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Review: Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War

Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day WarCatch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War by Micah Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodman’s Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War is an excellent and important book. It lays out in concise and clear language the range of philosophical and political ideas that help to structure and frame the Israeli understanding of itself and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Goodman focuses on the core problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the way it is currently understood makes it impossible to make progress. Essentially, what Israel needs in a peace deal with the Palestinians is precisely what makes it impossible for the Palestinians to accept. Conversely, what the Palestinians need for a deal is precisely what the Israelis could never agree to. This is part of what Goodman means by “Catch 67;” a play on Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

Another “catch” is that Israel faces an internal dilemma between its security needs in the disputed territories and a population problem. To keep the territories for security purposes, means having to rule over a substantial non-Jewish, non-Israel population. This threatens both the Jewish and democratic nation of the state. If the Palestinians in the territories were granted Israeli citizenship, it wouldn’t be long before the state would lose its distinctive Jewishness. But the alternative within this security paradigm, ruling over another people, would violate the democratic nature of the state. But, on the other hand, to relinquish these areas means a significant security threat to Israel. Hence, the Catch-67 nature of the conflict.

These catches make progress, both internally amongst Israelis and externally between Israelis and Palestinians, impossible. The solution to each problem is itself a problem whose solution is the original problem.

Goodman’s approach, then, is to stop trying for a solution and instead to look to reduce the conflicts. Thomas Sowell said about economics there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Goodman’s approach is analogous. There isn’t a solution to the conflict in the offing. But there are things to do to reduce the conflict. And in the last part of the book Goodman’s discusses various proposals that could help to do just that. I am skeptical about the effectiveness or feasibility of these, but I think he’s correct about the overall approach of focusing on more practical things to do that could shrink the conflict. I think real progress could be made on that front. In the wake of October 7, this is hard, even impossible, to imagine. But Goodman’s suggestions could be useful frameworks for thinking about the so-called ‘day after.’

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Monday, May 06, 2024

Review: Sports Spectators

Sports SpectatorsSports Spectators by Allen Guttmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Noted sports historian, Allen Guttman, takes on the topic of sport spectators in this short volume.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is “Part 1 From Antiquity to Modern Times” and it covers just that, though, in 123 pages, in no great detail. Most of the chapters in the first part focus on specific sports of the era and their spectators. Guttman highlights some of the demographics and what we know (or think we know) about how sport was spectated.

The second, and shorter, part of the book looks at spectatorship more analytically. It considers the impact that media has had on spectatorship, in short, but useless chapter, what academic critics like neo-Marxists say about spectatorship, and then closes the book with two of the more interesting chapters. The chapter on hooliganism tries to get at explanations of spectator violence; though Guttman’s analysis seems to end with few answers. None of the theories offered satisfy, though they all explain at least a small part of it. The last chapter on what motivates fans to be fans has a similar trajectory. There are several different theories and analyses offered, all of which seem to get at piece of it, without themselves being satisfactory. It’s an aesthetic experience, but not art. It’s kind of like worship, but also not religion. It’s a way of self-identification, but that’s also really complex and fraught. This chapter was the most interesting to me as a philosopher; and in part tis what draws me to the study of sport spectatorship both professionally and personally. Why do we watch? Guttman’s chapter isn’t an answer, but it is a good palace to find some questions to answer about why we spectate.

Published in the mid-80s, there is much that is out of date. Obviously, in the last 40 years sports spectatorship has continued to evolve. But Guttman identifies many of the trends that are still relevant today. I would imagine the media chapter would be much more substantial and the changes in in spectator violence would make the analysis of that chapter even more ambivalent. The role of gambling and fantasy would also have to be covered.

The book as a total is uneven. There are sections that offer interesting insights but others that are a bit pedantic. The historical sections condense a lot of material to provide a useful overview of the history, but is also too general to be that helpful beyond the general sense of things. The analysis/methodological sections are just too limited in scope, though as I noted above the last chapter raises some important questions about fan motivations.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Review: The Battle of Jedha

The Battle of Jedha (Star Wars: The High Republic)The Battle of Jedha by George Mann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe it's the audio drama with a full cast, but this is the best High Republic book yet. Interesting characters, good action, and a clear story. The different sects of the force on Jedha is something new in Star Wars, we don't see that kind of thing much. Silandra Sho seems like an interesting character that I hope they develop more.

I'm still a little unmoved by the war between Eiram and E'ronoh. There are supposed to be in this forever war that has been raging for .... five years? These deep and unhealed wounds that make peace so hard are not well developed. The war/ struggle for peace angle seems a bit naïve, even for Star Wars.

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