Daily Archives: March 20, 2009

Gideon Rachman

A blog-reader recently e-mailed me, asking to know what books I was reading. I am happy to oblige with an answer. In return, I would like some suggestions for further reading matter.

On the long plane-trips to Afghanistan, I read Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent into Chaos – How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia”. As the title suggests, this is not the world’s most cheering book. But it is gripping, fast-paced and full of insider detail. Rashid is justifiably hard on the suicidal policies being pursued by the Pakistani military and intelligence services, and their cultivation of Islamist nutters. I found what he had to say very convincing, but fear it is very much a minority view-point in Pakistan.

I’ve also been reading a fascinating and fun new history book – “Scandal and Civility, Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy” by Marcus Daniel, published by Oxford University Press. Daniel’s book has a deliberately contemporary edge to it. He takes as his starting point modern lamentations about wild and irresponsible journalism (the blogosphere, Fox etc) and shows that there never was a golden age. Even at the very birth of American democracy, things were pretty rough. Tom Paine called George Washington “a cold hermaphrodite”, which makes Rush Limbaugh on Barack Obama seem positively mild.