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the relationship between individual and societal security–has remained remarkably stable… This way of thinking is now out of date… The fabric of society and its governance is based on dated assumptions about a technological world that no longer exists.”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.
The Secret River dramatises the British colonisation of Australia in microcosm. The dispossession of Indigenous Australians is made comprehensible and ultimately heart-breaking as Will Thornhills claim over a piece of land he titles Thornhills Point on the beautiful and remote Hawkesbury River brings his family and neighbours into conflict with the traditional owners of the land. In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand. But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself. Aboriginal people already live on that river. Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
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.
From one of the world’s most admired war correspondents, Christina Lamb, comes a searing indictment of the West’s involvement in wars against fundamentalist Islam, Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World. The pointless loss of American, British and Australian lives, has achieved nothing; despite the efforts to eliminate the Taliban from the country, their presence has continued to grow. Insurgent attacks have also increased, and the region still struggles against poverty, an unstable infrastructure and a huge number of land mines. Initially billed as the West’s success story by both Bush and Blair, Afghanistan remains a lawless, violent land. The promises made to its people in 2001 have not been fulfilled. Foreign correspondent for one of the world’s leading newspapers, The Sunday Times, educated at Oxford, a Fellow at Harvard University, a member of the National Geographic Society, former British Foreign Correspondent of the year and a multi award winner, Lamb has been reporting on the region of “pomegranates and war” since the age of 21, when she crossed the Hindu Kush into Afghanistan with mujaheddin fighting the Russians and fell unequivocally in love with this fierce country, a relationship which has dominated her adult life. Lamb has fought with the mujahadeen dressed as an Afghan boy, experienced a near-fatal ambush and head-on encounter with Taliban forces and successfully established links with American, British, Afghan government, Taliban and tribal fighters. Her unparalleled access to troops and civilians on the ground, as well as to top military officials has ensured that Farewell Kabul is the definitive book on the region, exposing the realities of Afghanistan unlike anyone before, compelling, moving and impossible to put down.
Despite the billions of dollars funnelled to them, and their thousands of personnel, Australians know almost nothing about the well-resourced, ultra-secretive intelligence agencies their dollars support. This is against a backdrop where the government has greatly expanded the powers of the agencies, but the citizens themselves have few legal rights when it comes to those who spy so avidly upon them.
There is no legal right to privacy or freedom of expression written into the Australian constitution, and the government has a reputation for spying on its own citizens to a far greater degree than any other Western democracy.
With the multiple incompetencies of Australian governance now a byword across the nation, transparency at zero and oversight chaotic at best, Australians can only take the word of their politicians on the value of these agencies, routinely described by the Prime Minister of the day as “the best in the world”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flew in the face of opposition from the agencies themselves and many of his most senior ministers, when he announced the formation of a new Homeland Security style mega-agency.
Reviews of the nation’s security agencies are extremely rare. While a determinedly “inside the beltway” view, with almost no public input, the new Independent Intelligence Review, when read with a certain between-the-lines scepticism, is a valuable insight at a time when the entire future of intelligence in Australia is in play.
Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand, and stand a very good chance of being stolen. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months pay for many Thais. There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized. Foreign embassies, fearful the documents are ending up in the hands of Islamist militants and international criminal networks, have made repeated representations to the Thai government without affect. INTERPOL Chief, Secretary General Ronald Noble describes passport fraud as the “biggest threat facing the world”. But for decades the Thai authorities have done little to stop their country’s blatant trade in stolen, doctored and forged documents. By inaction and complicity, Thailand has become an epicentre for the trade, a key link in international terrorist networks and a danger to the travelling public worldwide. Forged passports from Thailand are regarded as the highest quality of any in the world. Clients from the Middle East are one of the major buyers of fake passports in Thailand. In The Age of Terror, the failure of the Thai authorities to abolish the trade has set alarm bells ringing around the world. Here in its entirety is Chapter Two, called Passports, from the recent book Thailand: Deadly Destination.