Review: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: When undertaking the negotiations of, or simply reading about, the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, everyone becomes aware of how influences within and beyond the borders of the Middle East become a party to the issue. “The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall, investigates the dynamics of these relationships and how they influence outcomes. His thesis establishes the element of force as core to achieving change, regardless of country and/or organization. “Compromise on each side has been driven less by the promise of peace than the aversion of pain…not limited to bloodshed. Economic sanctions, boycotts, threats, unarmed protests, and other forms of confrontation have been just as important in bringing about ideological concessions and territorial withdrawals. “Force” in this broader sense has, sadly, proved the only language “they” understand” (2).

Mr. Thrall explained the suppressive aspect(s) of the Oslo Accords, despite not being viewed that way by international courts because “the agreements” maintained a status quo. He made the reader think differently about the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, Madrid Conference of 1991 and other related conference outcomes. I had viewed them as a tremendous amount of beneficial progress toward peace in the Middle East–especially after reading “The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003,” by Yossi Beilin. At the time of Beilin’s work, great achievements were made; but, in the long-run, it looked like situations eroded. To truly understand the making of each stage of agreements, readers needed more knowledge of the context, language, and time-frame in which the agreements were reached, and Nathan Thrall did an excellent job of covering those details along with some over-arching themes in support of his thesis:

*Intifadas, wars, terrorism, and other aggressions.
*Exporting the Holocaust to the Palestine Mandate.
*Zionism and the diaspora.
*Revisionist history and racism.
*Corruption.
*Frameworks for peace and statehood.
*Foreign powers and positioning.
*Decision making processes: short-term versus long-term reality.
*Periphery Doctrine effectivity.
*Collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis.
*America’s role the in the peace process: mediator or trouble-maker?

The author made it easy to recognize how themes played out repeatedly and ultimately existed as a form of force. He also made the reader ponder intelligent, though likely unpopular and uncomfortable, questions: Would the diaspora have survived without a separate Jewish state? Who truly had the right to promise Palestine to the Jewish people? Did America need to be involved in this peace process? Did the parties squander their opportunities to reach a two-state solution? Did some of the Palestinian leadership carry responsibility for continued nationlessness and some of the harm to their people? Was the author pro-Israel or in favor of the Palestinians? Ultimately, there was no denying that the author did a phenomenal job in supporting his thesis while writing a very interesting, fact-filled, thought-provoking book. Nathan Thrall’s “ The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine ” enveloped a highly-recommendable read that earned a well-deserved five-star rating.

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ARC Reveal: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine

cvr_The Only Language They Understand- Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan ThrallThe Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy via LibraryThing Early Reviewers

BOOK INFO
*Genre: Political Science
*Published by Metropolitan Books (April, 2017)
*320-336 pages
*ISBN: 1627797092 / 9781627797092

CONTENTS
(Pages ix-x)
*Forcing Compromise
*Domination: Israeli Conquest and Its Justifications
*Collaboration: Easing Occupation as a Failed Strategy of Ending It
*Confrontation: Palestinian Pressure and Its Limits
*Negotiation: Political Horizons, and Other Euphemisms for False Hope

AUTHOR HIGHLIGHTS
*Analyst and Commentator: Arab-Israeli Conflict
*Senior Analyst: International Crisis Group
*Regular Contributor: The New York Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The London Review of Books
*Regular Contributor: The New York Times

Review: Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War

cvr_who-lost-russia-how-the-world-entered-a-new-cold-war-by-peter-conradiWho Lost Russia?  How the World Entered a New Cold War by Peter Conradi

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Have you seen a film called, “The King’s Speech” (starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush)? It delved into how the grandfather of England’s Prince Charles became king while building his nation’s confidence in him via a set of inspirational war-time speeches that reflected that he had overcome a stuttering issue and that the originally-intended king’s abdication would not adversely affect the nation. This film was based upon a book by the same name and was written by co-authored by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (with the latter also serving as author of another book, “Hitler’s Piano Player”).

So, what lead me to read my first Peter Conradi book? At first glance, it was the book’s title, “Who Lost Russia?: How the World Entered a New Cold War.” It was written in large and bright, Russian-red, Cyrillic-like block-style letters.  The cover art intrigued me, so I had to read the work’s synopsis.  The paragraphs included some teasers that dealt with the reality of what happened after former U.S. President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”  “In reality, Russia emerged from the 1990s battered and humiliated, a latter-day Weimar Germany, its protests ignored as NATO expanded eastwards to take in ex-Soviet republics.  Determined to restore his country’s bruised pride, President Vladimir Putin has overseen rapid economic growth and made incursions into Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, leaving the Western powers at a loss.  Now a cold war threatens to turn hot once again” (back cover).  What a tease for someone, like me, who has an interest in modern Russian history, the aforementioned countries, and the enigmatic Putin–I had to read Conradi’s newest book!

Nobody could have chosen a better writing sample as my introduction to Mr. Conradi’s work. “Who Lost Russia?” did not disappoint!  The story-telling (which included the author being an actor in some parts of the text, too) made the Russian-to-Soviet-to-Russian Federation backgrounds so much more enthralling than any of those found in the average college textbook and many competing works. I greatly enjoyed reading about the Tsars and Lenin, tribalism, ethnic Russians and how they managed their colonies, Russification, unifying propaganda and other themes, with a few of my favorites as follows:

*US permissions and Russian leadership: Who’s your daddy?
*NATO’s changing size: Is bigger always better?.
*Russia’s propaganda portfolio: Serving trolls with a side of catfish.
*Gerasimov:  Just what the doctrine ordered.
*Russia’s former republics:  Relationship status–“Its complicated.”

Peter Conradi demonstrated his ability to take complicated histories and weave them into an easy-to-follow storyline; the enigmatic Vladimir Putin repeatedly became the core of those stories in this up-to-date epic.  When most people heard about “Russia,” didn’t they instantly think about “Putin?” The United States found his rise to Russia’s most coveted leadership position to be a mysterious one. “IF WASHINGTON INITIALLY STRUGGLED TO GET the measure of Putin, it was understandable. His path to the Kremlin had been extraordinary for both its speed and its unexpectedness. At the end of 1991, as the Soviet Union broke up, Putin had been in his native St. Petersburg, where he held a relatively minor post in the Mayor’s office as head of the committee for external relations. It was not until June 1996 that he had come to Moscow to become a deputy chief of the presidential property management department. Yet by July 1998 he was head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), one of the successor services of the KGB. In August 1999 he was named prime minister” (108).

Putin’s ascension to prime minister revealed a great dichotomy when comparing his present life with that of his past one; and, it was something in his childhood that aided me in connecting with this book. Conradi shared the following about Putin’s upbringing: “A flurry of biographies has been written about Putin, starting with is poor upbringing in Leningrad, as his home city was then known. The only child of a stern father, who was the Communist Party representative in a factory making railway carriages, he grew up in a run-down communal apartment in a once-elegant nineteenth-century apartment building in the centre of town. Amusement came from chasing rats around the courtyard. Accounts of his childhood have undoubtedly been coloured by his later career, yet he seems to have been an unremarkable boy and young man, who briefly went off the rails before finding redemption in martial arts” (108).

This story about Putin’s life reminded me of some stories my father (of Russian, English and Austrian descent) shared about his young years. Like Russia’s current prime minister, my father claimed to have had a poor childhood with a stern father; the family supposedly went from riches down to rags when they lost almost everything due to America’s 1929 “Great Depression,” which started a few months after my father’s birth. During my dad’s third year of life, his parents decided to move from Buffalo, New York, to Boyle Heights, CA for new opportunities. The new place boasted a large Russian-Orthodox Jewish community. In fact, in the early 1930s, advertisements labelled Boyle Heights as the largest Orthodox Jewish community west of the Mississippi River. The community seemed close-knit and my father shared some great memories of living there; but, what made me connect most with Putin’s childhood story came from stories of my own father finding dead rats in the streets. He claimed that he used to pick them up by their tails, swing the critters around and throw them at other kids. I remember simultaneously feeling disgusted and also laughing at the idea of my father doing something like that “back in the day.” He called those rats, “Depression Era Toys.” Thankfully he eventually grew out of (or became bored with) those toys, moved out of the neighborhood, and achieved his own successes.

Vladimir Putin moved outward and upward as well; and Peter Conradi expertly explained the reasons why Russia’s current Prime Minister ordered his military into Ukraine.  This specific area became another connection I experienced with the book, because Ukraine was not always “just Ukraine.”

My grandmother and her parents left a city specifically known as “Dolyna,” in order to the United States circa 1903. Their hometown sat within the confines of the province of Galicia, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. This territory later became part of modern day Ukraine; and, it could eventually become part of Russia, again.

Peter Conradi’s approachable writing style took complex histories and converted them into a modern compendium for multiple audiences. I found his book to be a highly recommendable read for every individual who would want to understand personalities of world leaders, complications created by colonization and empire, complexities of geo-politics, and dynamics of international relations (emphasizing those between the United States and Russia). The author made it possible for me to re-connect with my own personal experiences and family history. While the connections I found in this book may be rather unusual, other readers may relate to facets of the book as well, embedding this highly memorable piece of literature within them (and me) for many years to come. In the meantime, as to the question of “Who Lost Russia?” future readers need to read the book and decide for themselves.

Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer (Part Two)

the-true-flag-theodore-roosevelt-mark-twain-and-the-birth-of-american-empire-by-stephen-kinzerThank goodness that I recently joined the Twitter-verse (@StreedsReads)! It was there that I quickly became a follower of one of my favorite authors, Stephen Kinzer (@StephenKinzer), resulting in something I had dreamt of, but never thought would happen: meeting him. On the eve of one week ago, I just happened to be on Twitter late at night…such a romantic thing for a wife (who adores her husband) to do…don’t you think? Instantly I saw the transformative tweet from Kinzer, about his newest release, “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.” If you missed it, details were posted in: Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer.

The next day, I called Vroman’s to reserve my copy of “The True Flag.” No way was I going to risk not having one for the event. Plus, that bookstore’s policy stated that with the purchase of said book, attendees could bring up to three other Kinzer works from home library for the author to sign–YIPPEEEEEE!

But, just one problem: the “Kinzer Groupie” status was achieved by borrowing books from my local library system. The time had come for that big word—“C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T:” It was the only way to prove my groupie worthiness by purchasing some of the author’s books. My husband revealed that he was already one step ahead of me, because he intended to take me to the local (for us, but not in a corporate sense) bookstore so that we could pick up other Kinzer titles for the event.  Finally, I would officially have Kinzer-esque bragging rights!

The store had only two other Kinzer books:
1. All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (I read this one years ago, having reviewed it on my Goodreads and LibraryThing profiles at the time; recently, I posted it to this blog as well.)
2. The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (I planned to read this one upon its release in 2016 but allowed myself to be lured into temptation by other books…even though they kept their covers on. Shame on me! What kind of Kinzer fan am I?)

My husband and I got dressed up for our date night, because nerds-at-heart do things like this for excitement. We really do! We left our home to allow two and one-half hours for the commute and arrived in approximately 90 minutes…relieved by the lack of normally-heavy Los Angeles and Inland Empire traffic.

2017-02_kinzerbooksfortrueflagauthoreventOnce inside the store, I immediately purchased my book, bringing my “To Be Autographed” set to three pieces; so, I knew I could relax a little bit.  I realized that I was in a special place…feeling as though no outside world existed.  Endless aisles of texts surrounded us, as well as anything that a book nerd/aficionado would want to couple with reading: luxury pens and high-end stationary sets, fragrant candles and exotic incense, cosmopolitan coffees and unusual teas plus specialty cups/mugs to enjoy them, themed socks and aprons, plus more, more, more. We entered the adjoining cafe and ate a light meal together, not wanting to chance a growling stomach interrupting Stephen Kinzer’s lecture. My husband opted to have some coffee and work for a little bit while I walked around the store…with less than a half-hour left in my “Countdown to Kinzer.”

I’ll never forget what happened next…as I was looking at books in the “Military History section, I heard HIS voice. Not to confuse anyone…it was not GOD’s voice. It was that of the man of the hour (other than the one of every hour, who is my husband) Mr. Stephen Kinzer. I turned toward the voice, and there he was! Adenaline coursed through me, causing my heart to race. For an instant I froze, like a little girl caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The next second I came to my senses, slowly took a deep breath and sauntered away.

How rude of me to walk away, right?  I moved calmly, as though seeing Kinzer was an everyday thing. Then, when I rounded the corner, I doubled by pace and raced to get to my husband, back at the cafe. I leaned toward him and in an excited whisper I said, “He’s here!” And, my totally calm and cool husband smiled and said, “That’s why we’re here, right?”

Of course that was why we were there! But why did I walk away from one of my favorite authors, especially when I had been wanting to meet him for years? YEARS!!! My reason was simple. Despite my excitement, I wanted to be respectul of the fact that the man was not “On Stage” or “On Duty” yet. His personal time was his own; so, what possibly appeared to be rudeness or indifference was really about my effort to respect boundaries.

I spent the remaining time just perusing the opposite side of the store taking pictures. Then I began to feel more like a tourist or a really bad wanna-be spy. After two non-covert and very obvious snapshots were taken, I realized I had snapped the most important pre-event images anyway (except a display of “The True Flag“): Scrabble and Shakespeare, and I’ll tell you why.

My husband and I played Scrabble on our first date. We had agreed to meet for coffee; but I brought Scrabble, a Scrabble Players’ Dictionary, and Boggle. He had never played Scrabble before; and, wouldn’t you know it? They guy won the game and the girl!

Shakespeare was a man who snuck into my teenage daughter’s bedroom in a way that I never would have guessed. A while back, my teenage daughter began disappearing to her bedroom and only coming out for meals, school, and quick chores. I was growing concerned; so, one night I tip-toed to her door (wanna-be spy mode, again) and suddenly knocked. She immediately responded for me to come in. That was when I found her in bed with Shakespeare. I was proud to discover that she was disappearing because she did not want to stop reading books. Later I learned that she had been giving her younger brother lessons in Shakespeare, which really warmed my heart. That was why I took a picture of the Shakespeare socks.  I think I should get them for her.

Groupie Moment: Countdown to Kinzer

Late last night my husband and I had just settled into bed. He had worked one of his extended days that seemed to start the day before, and I was looking adoringly at him…so thankful for him. I thought about how in that moment I loved him more than when I woke up yesterday morning.

Then, I did what any loving wife would do…I opened my iPad and went onto Twitter. It was in that moment when I saw a tweet from one of my favorite authors, Stephen Kinzer. He announced that he was going to be in Pasadena (California) tonight (Feb. 13, 2017). Excitedly, like a hyper-puppy greeting its owner as she walks in the door, I was all over my husband and mentioned the event.

tweet_kinzerevent_trueflag_vroomans-bookstore

He told me we could go, and a long-held dream of mine (to meet Kinzer) was suddenly going to come true in the only way that it could ever happen…because it was a gift from the man I love more than the air I breathe. My husband is giving of his time, hard-earned money, and making the drive, all for the woman he loves. I am so grateful to him and idolize him more than anyone else on the planet.

So, tonight, my husband and I will be in a different area of the planet…which can take one and one-half to three hours to get there, from where we live, depending upon traffic. And, when is there ever not traffic in Southern California!!! I am sharing a link to the event details on the Vroman’s Bookstore web-site.

Event: Stephen Kinzer Discussion and Book Signing
Subject: His Newest Book–The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire
Details: Vroman’s Bookstore

To say that I am excited is an incredible understatement. I have already read a few of Kinzer’s works, but I figured that his piece titled, “The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles & Their Secret World War” would be my next read of his. But, I’ve been naughty by not keeping up on my Kinzer reads. What kind of a groupie am I??? These are his books that I have already read:

*All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
*Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
*A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (My favorite of his, so far!)
*Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future

I would love to read about any of Stephen Kinzer’s works that you have read and what you thought about them. In the meantime, I’ll be doing two things as once: 1.) spoiling my husband all day to express my utmost gratitude; and, 2.) doing my countdown to Kinzer.

Review: Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History

cvr_lenin-on-the-train-the-journey-that-changed-the-course-of-history-by-catherine-merridaleLenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History by Catherine Merridale

MY RATING: 2/5 Stars

FTC NOTICE: Free Review Copy from Library Thing Early Reviewers Program (in exchange for an honest review)

REVIEW: Author Catherine Merridale became known for authoring several works involving Russian history. “Lenin on the Train: The Journey that Changed the Course of History” became her newest book. Its basis relied upon the premise that the author travelled the same train tour as V.I. Lenin did to give his speeches and rally followers for revolution. “In April 1917, at the height of the First World War, the exiled leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, travelled back to Russia by train” (5); he had developed himself into a revolutionary with the intension of transforming the government via appealing to class struggle.

Merridale wasted no time getting to the rail station in order to begin Lenin’ s tour. But the pre-history would have better developed the story, properly setting the stage for what happened next. She rushed past the 1905 “Bloody Sunday” event, thereby downplaying its significance in the lead-up to the 1917 Revolution. I wished that she had delved into Rasputin’s power over the royal family, coupled with their excesses and assassination(s).  The author adeptly covered the effect of WWI on the country, and this was undoubtedly an incredibly important factor in understanding the mindset of many Russians.  From the impoverished to the bourgeoisie, and up through to royalty, Lenin also achieved a comprehensive understanding of the Russian mindset, which proved valuable in allowing him to develop highly-targeted speeches as his trip progressed.

Lenin on the Train” provided an in-depth approach, or micro-historical account, of a vital facet to the 1917 Russian Revolution. “For almost every socialist who witnessed it, what was happening in February 1917 was a march towards democracy and liberal reform” (225). “Socialism, which required the people take control of everything from economic life to war and peace, was not thought to be possible in a land of boorish peasants. In private, moreover, a good many socialists in Petrograd had been more than a little terrified of responsibility in any form” (225). Merridale’s work delved into these challenged and many others in a manner that reflected her thorough understanding of that historical era. My favorite components of her book that reflected her in-depth knowledge existed as follows:

1. The V.I. Lenin quotes set the tone for each chapter.
2. Notes regarding Russia’s calendar compared to that of Europe enabled the reader to understand travel time and date complexities.
3. A detailed map tracing Lenin’s train route created an additional way to engage the reader.
4. Details pertaining to the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, coupled with threats to the revolution, increased the story’s depth.
5. Stories of Germany’s and Britain’s influence increased the sense of international intrigue.
6. Feuds between Lenin and others demonstrated that his mission did not become easily achieved.

While the aforementioned numbered points served as my favorite aspects of the book, overall I experienced struggles in reading the compendium. There was a lot of back-and-forth in time, that I did not find to be respective to the calendar issue cited in the author’s “Notes on Text.” The dates seemed like they were thrown around without respect to a clearly delineated timeline. Dialectology challenges caused the writer’s style to come across as clunky, stuffy, and dry. Expression not typically encountered in the United States compounded these issues, for example:
1. The happy fortune of that lot must have made Switzerland seem more than ever like the white wolf’s wretched cage” (134). 
2. “Lenin had worked up an appetite, and back in the Regina’s dining room he tucked into a steak…” (197)

Additionally, I found that transitions between paragraphs seemed rough, while sentences within them did not always belong together. Unfortunately, despite the author’s delivery on her promises and demonstrated subject matter knowledge, I ultimately found this book to be difficult to enjoy and finish.