Books and literature

Researching social movements — where relevant information is often on social media, or the websites of NGOs, universities, or corporations that reorganize them frequently — link rot is an acute problem. Increasingly, the default way to let a reader see the source you’re referencing is to provide an internet hyperlink, and yet there is no […]

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After finding his quartet of books about the global history of nuclear weapons so valuable and intriguing, when I saw that a used book shop had a recent history of energy by Richard Rhodes I picked it up the next day. It includes some nice little historical parallels and illustrations. One that I found striking […]

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My friends Patrick and Margot gave me a paperback of Mikhail Lermontov’s 1840 novel A Hero of Our Time, translated by Paul Foote. Reading the introduction, I was struck by the similarity between the idea of the protagonists of Russian novels from this period as “superfluous men” “set apart by their superior talents from the […]

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But the Patten con [an evangelical congregation cultivated and exploited for self-enrichment of the preachers] wasn’t just any scam. It was the scam of all scams—the one that gets to the heart of why confidence games not only work but thrive the world over, no matter how many expert debunkers and vocal victims there may […]

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The confidence game starts with basic human psychology. From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who he is, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must […]

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On one of today’s walks I listened to an unusually good episode of the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast: The Confidence Game. I ordered Maria Konnikova’s book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It… Every Time and will read David Maurer’s 1940 book The Big Con when I go back to visiting libraries. […]

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Having just finished Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, I appreciated the chance to get his perspective on the years of his first administration. Perhaps the most consistent substantive point that struck me is the difficult and ambiguous balance between pressing a decision maker to go further on an issue like climate change and hampering that […]

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Although al-Qaeda was unvanquished it was also unable to repeat its startling triumph. America was sinking ever more deeply into unpromising, fantastically expensive wars in the Muslim world—following the script that had been written by bin Laden. Repeatedly, he had outlined his goal of drawing America into such conflicts with the goal of bleeding the […]

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The fateful decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 revivified the radical Islamist agenda. Simultaneous wars in two Muslim countries lent substance to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was at war with Islam… Although bin Laden and his cohort were essentially reduced to virtual presences on the Internet and […]

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One can ask, at this point, whether 9/11 or some similar tragedy might have happened without bin Laden to steer it. The answer is certainly not. Indeed, the tectonic plates of history were shifting, promoting a period of conflict between the West and the Arab Muslim world; however, the charisma and vision of a few […]

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