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An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future

An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future - Robert D. Kaplan [★★★★☆-4/5]

If all of our human behavior could be explained through simple logic, probably everything would be tremendously easier. Mass transit, for one, would be a lot better, and with logical, rational food-distribution, we'd have feeding troughs running into inner cities. Fresh vegetables! Plenty of fruits! Less red meat!

Unfortunately, we're quite the illogical species. It means more Big Macs and more Whoppers. It means the disorderly / anarchistic / world-leading USA.

The story of how I got this book might be an illustration of the limits of human logic. I was at the used bookstore--the expensive one-- and considering putting down $5 for two or three different possibilities (vaguely remember one being a famous military sci fi work; another being something guaranteed to be fair--not poor and not good, but at $5 for a book, who's to say...). Then I saw AN EMPIRE WILDERNESS. For some reason, most likely because I've heavily discussed [a:Victor Davis Hanson|15262|Victor Davis Hanson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1227566672p2/15262.jpg], I kept confusing the author. The little data storage point in my head said-- keen Republican, great writer, definite value. The bookstore wanted over $9 for this book that new retails for $14. Ouch. But the counter-thought kept intruding: hey, how much is just food for a day. How much versus the learning, the life-time ownership, the guaranteed (thanks to goodreads and all this review writing which allows for better scientific bookselection) Good Read.

So I bought in. It wasn't until I finished, that I realized Kaplan is the guy who fought in wars, killed 10 people, laid with 1000 teenage Thai hookers. His jaded, jaded voice is the super-annuated and super-knowledgeable analysis of things beyond explanation. He embedded with mujahideen in SOLDIERS OF GOD. He predicted THE COMING ANARCHY. He visited THE IMPERIAL GRUNTS. He went to THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. All 4s or 5s.

Maybe I was a trifle generous with COMING ANARCHY? And perhaps the argument could be made this is a 3.7 rather than a 4.0? But goodreads.com doesn't permit decimal or half-star ratings... and 3.7 probably rounds up to 4.0 rather than 3.5 in any case. Maybe I'd push for 3.8 in any case. In fact, why not, call it a 3.9

There are heaps of matters to discuss about Kaplan, most complicatedly being his very slight centre-right political views, his compliments about business, his elitism. Yet, in contrast to the definite-right stance I was expecting, there were moments of sympathy for hard-knocked Latinos and some of Kaplan's vision of a patchwork American West don't seem entirely negative.

plusses: in truth, it's hard to write about 'continental us;'-- most stories are in san francisco or new york; Kaplan is very skilled and very fluent;

minuses: touch of militarism? elitism?

overall, I'm still a little miffed at myself that I laid out 9 sheets for this, but, then, there's no way i'm ever selling it from my bookshelf. and the really great writers who produce half a dozen great non-fiction books are few few few and far between.

other bloggish notes: K-pop "Crayon Pop" is hot.