“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in her incisive treatise on the intelligence of emotions, titled after Proust’s powerful poetic image depicting the emotions as “geologic upheavals of thought.” But much of the messiness of our emotions comes from the inverse: Our thoughts, in a sense, are geologic upheavals of feeling — an immensity of our reasoning is devoted to making sense of, or rationalizing, the emotional patterns that underpin our intuitive responses to the world and therefore shape our very reality. Our interior lives unfold across landscapes that seem to belong to an alien world whose terrain is as difficult to map as it is to navigate — a world against which the young Dostoyevsky roiled in a frustrated letter on reason and emotion, and one which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry embraced so lyrically in one of the most memorable lines from The Little Prince: “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
The Rise of Islamic State, written by senior Middle Eastern correspondent Patrick Cockburn, explores the origins of history’s most successful terrorist group and the unfolding of US and the West’s greatest foreign policy debacle. In military operations, by mid 2014 they had outreached Al Qaeda, taking territory that reached across borders and included the city of Mosul. The reports of their military power and brutality to their victims continue to shock and intimidate the West. Out of the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring and Syria, a weakened Al-Qaeda has allowed for new jihadi movements, especially Islamic State.
Some 150,000 people have returned to Raqqa, though they are not very visible on the streets. A few shops have reopened but there not many customers and business is slow. Beside an ancient ruin called “The Ladies’ Castle”, Basil Amar as-Sawas has a shop selling doors, some of which he makes himself, while others he buys from people whose houses have been badly damaged but they have been able to salvage some of the fittings.He says there is little money around and those who have any are reluctant to spend it while the situation remains so uncertain. Some people whose houses have survived “are selling them to businessmen because they need the money”. He has two small children below school age but for other people the absence of schools – mostly destroyed or badly damaged – is another disincentive for thinking of a return to Raqqa.
Reminders of the grim rule of Isis are everywhere. The tops of the pointed metal railing surrounding the al-Naeem Roundabout are bent outwards because that is where severed heads were put on display.
Journalist Michael Shapiro goes on a pilgrimage to visit the world’s great travel writers on their home turf to get their views on their careers, the writer’s craft, and most importantly, why they chose to live where they do and what that place means to them. A Sense of Place chronicles a young writer’s conversations with his heroes, writers he’s read for years who inspired him both to pack his bags to travel and to pick up a pen and write. Michael skillfully coaxes a collective portrait through his interviews, allowing the authors to speak intimately about the writer’s life, and how place influences their work and perceptions.
The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones, Confronting A New Age of Threat, by security experts Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum of the Brookings Institute and Harvard University Law School respectively, brings the reader into a very Brave New World. With the creation of everything from microdot surveillance instruments to swarm cameras to insect sized flying robotic weapons to viruses which can be manipulated by ordinary citizens and unleashed on entire cities to goggles, due to be commercialized by the end of 2015, which will allow an individual to be able to see in real time what is happening anywhere from the top of Mount Everest to Times Square, the future has already arrived. That in an era where a medieval-style holy war is also raging, the potential dangers of the rapid evolution of technology are all too painfully evident. Wittes and Blum begin their introduction to The Future of Violence with the scenario of a robotic drone spreading anthrax. But there are even more frightening scenarios: “We built walls around our countries with legal concepts such as jurisdiction. And for the most part, these intellectual, conceptual and legal constructions have held up pretty well. Yes, we had to adjust in response to al-Qaeda and other transnational nonstate actors. And yes, globalization has complicated the discussion. But the way we think about security–what it means, where it comes from, what threatens it, what protects it, and the relationship between individual and societal security–has remained remarkably stable… This way of thinking is now out of date… The fabric of society and its governance is based on dated assumptions about a technological world that no longer exists.”
A Sense of Place Publishing announces the release of the digital edition of America’s Destruction of Iraq. The author Michael M. O’Brien, shows how George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was the greatest foreign policy mistake the United States has ever made, the worst ever made by a modern nation-state. Tragically, he drew much of the Western world into the conflict, in the form of the so-called Coalition of the Willing. America’s notorious prisons in Iraq incubated the formation of Islamic State, not just because of the huge resentments they created inside a sovereign nation, not just because the human rights abuses which occurred within inflamed Muslim sentiment around the world, but because they proved the safest, most perfect meeting places for jihadists to plot the formation of the Islamic State. From a Washington insider and former contract worker within Iraq, America’s Destruction of Iraq brings a unique perspective amidst the growing body of literature on Iraq and the spiraling growth of Islamic State, neither soldier nor policy wonk nor academic, Michael O’Brien illustrates another aspect of the disaster of the American invasion, the appalling bureaucratic and managerial disasters that wasted billions upon billions of dollars scraped off the back of hardworking American taxpayers, all to make a dire situation worse.
Could it happen again? Of course it could. It already is. Here is an extract from John Koehler’s authoritative book Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.
“The Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people,” according to Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna, Austria, who has been hunting Nazi criminals for half a century. “The Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, while the Stasi employed 102,000 to control only 17 million.” One might add that the Nazi terror lasted only twelve years, whereas the Stasi had four decades in which to perfect its machinery of oppression, espionage, and international terrorism and subversion.
Compelling, groundbreaking and immensely readable, The Story of Australia’s People: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia, is the first installment of an ambitious two-part work, and the culmination of the life work of Australia’s most respected historian Geoffrey Blainey. The vast, ancient land of Australia was settled in two main streams, far apart in time and origin.The first stream of immigrants came ashore some when the islands of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea were one. The second began to arrive from Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. It was not – and is still not – an easy relationship, and the story of Australia’s people is complex. Gifted with a profound spirituality deeply attached to the land and a sense of place, Australia’s ancient people were devastated by the encroachments on their land, their proud and enduring tribal cultures utterly destroyed. Through their European notions of private property, their animals, the rabbit, alone, has transformed the landscapes of Australia from one end of the continent to the other, while their foxes and cats have destroyed native wildlife which had survived for countless generations. The arrival of Europeans was all about the brutality of invasion. And the Europeans, and now a polyglot rush of people from all over the world, those who opportunistically grafted themselves on to this ancient land, have proved they have learnt nothing: throughout the past Century Australia has been party to wars on foreign lands, and is party to the utter debacle that is the invasion of Iraq.
Margaret Atwood wrote in her tribute to the author of The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin: I am very sad that Ursula K Le Guin has died. Not only was she one of the literary greats of the 20th century – her books are many and widely read and beloved, her awards are many and deserved – but her sane, committed, annoyed, humorous, wise and always intelligent voice is much needed now.
Right before she died, I was reading her new book, No Time to Spare, a collection of trenchant, funny, lyrical essays about everything from cats to the nature of belief, to the overuse of the word “fuck”, to the fact that old age is indeed for sissies – and talking to her in my head. What if, I was saying – what if I write a piece about The Left Hand of Darkness, published by you in 1969? What if I say it’s a book to which time has now caught up?
Consider: the planet of Gethen is divided. In one of its societies, the king is crazy. Cabals and personal feuds abound. You’re in the powerful inner circle one day, an outcast the next. In the other society, an oppressive bureaucracy prevails and a secret committee knows what’s best. If judged a danger to the general good you’re deemed persona non grata and exiled to a prison enclave, with no trial or right of reply.
America’s war in Afghanistan is the longest war the U.S. has ever fought. Beginning a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the initial mission was to remove the Taliban from power and destroy the al-Qaida terror network. Now, nearly 17 years later, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll points out in his new book Directorate S: The CIA’s Secret War in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that the war’s goals have changed.
At best the war is a grinding stalemate.
“The prison was a hell on earth, as I will attempt to show in these pages, but I’m afraid my words will never be up to the task of conveying the filth, the danger, the uncertainty, the noise, the stench, the hopelessness, the barbarity, the cheapness of life, the random violence, the anguish, and the sheer fucking boredom that I had to wade through day after day, more than two thousand days and nights, in what should have been my prime.”
To the Edge of the World is an adventure in travel full of extraordinary personalities, more than a century of explosive political, economic, and cultural events, and almost inconceivable feats of engineering. Christian Wolmar passionately recounts the improbable origins of the Trans-Siberian railroad, the vital artery for Russian expansion that spans almost 6,000 miles and seven time zones from Moscow to Vladivostok. The world’s longest train route took a decade to build in the face of punishing climates, rampant disease, scarcity of funds and materials, and widespread corruption.
A Sense of Place Publishing is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of Sorry Time by Anthony Maguire. The book is action packed from the get-go, beginning with murder and revenge in a compelling and merciless outback. The breakneck story is tailor made for film and this quality ensures a visually rich and entertaining reading experience.
You’re driving along a lonely outback road when suddenly a kangaroo leaps out in front of you. Your car is wrecked and then things rapidly go downhill from there as you find yourself under attack from a pack of wild dogs. Having survived that, you cross bloody paths with a pair of violent criminals – brothers Ali and Abdul Fazir – who’ve murdered two people on a remote Aboriginal community.
Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew is a book about nesting ospreys, multiple universes, atheism, spiritualism, and the arrow of time. He takes the reader back and forth between ordinary occurrences-old shoes and entropy, sailing far out at sea and the infinite expanse of space. He looks toward the universe and captures aspects of it in a series of beautifully written essays, each offering a glimpse at the whole from a different perspective: here time, there symmetry, not least God. It is a meditation by a remarkable humanist-physicist, a book worth reading by anyone entranced by big ideas grounded in the physical world.
A Sense of Place Publishing is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of She Said She Said by Australian born American author Anne Reid. The ordinary and the extraordinary mix in this funny, moving, excruciatingly intimate, triumphant book which soars… Continue Reading →
Julian Assange continues to demonstrate why he is one of the most significant journalistic, publishing and whistle blowing figures of the 21st Century, with the latest bout of revelations about the conduct of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation, linking them to the same sources of Saudi Arabian funding as for Islamic State. WikiLeaks came to prominence in 2010 with the release of 251,287 top-secret State Department cables, which revealed to the world what the US government really thinks about national leaders, friendly dictators, and supposed allies. It brought to the surface the dark truths of crimes committed in our name: human rights violations, covert operations, and cover-ups. The WikiLeaks Files exposes the machinations of the United States as it imposes a new form of imperialism on the world, one founded on tactics from torture to military action, to trade deals and “soft power,” in the perpetual pursuit of expanding influence. The book also includes an introduction by Julian Assange examining the ongoing debates about freedom of information, international surveillance, and justice.
Award-winning former NPR correspondent, foreign policy expert, and associate at the Carnegie Endowment, Sarah Chayes has an urgent warning in her new book Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens National Security. Militant puritanical religion is presenting as a just alternative to depraved secular rule.
Something Wicked This Way Comes. It most certainly does. We are entering a new age of book burning, where ideas are ridiculed, contrary views cannot be debated, and governments reach for their only tool, crackdowns in the march towards totalitarian states. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was an entirely prophetic novel, and now sits alongside George Orwell’s 1984 as a book which predicted a future no-one truly expected to see, the closing of minds and the subjugation of dissent in the 21st Century. Here are some brief extracts.
It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.
In May of 2015 one of the most admired journalists of all time, “scoop artist” Seymour Hersch, revealed that much of what the Obama White House told the world about their killing of Osama bin laden in a Pakistani compound was simply a lie. In a not unusual display of arrogance from the Obama administration, the claims were dismissed out of hand. Instead Obama and his henchmen, in a classic case of disinformation, attempted to malign the name of one of the best connected, most thorough and most intellectually gifted reporters of the modern era. They claimed Seymour Hersch, whose books include Chain of Command and The Price of Power, had got it wrong. Unfortunately for the future of a decaying democracy, Seymour Hersch was a far more credible source of information than the Obama White House would ever be. In a transparent attempt to bury the Hersch story and manipulate public opinion, in the wake of Hersch’s revelations the White House released a flood of documentation of material found in bin Laden’s compound, including a list of his favourite reading material, including the book Obama’s Wars: The Inside Story by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bob Woodward. There is no such thing as coincidence.