Being as the last four weeks have been what passes for "vacation" here in the world of Texas in Africa (meaning that we stay up until all hours, sleep 'til 11, and stumble into the office for a few hours of remarkably productive dissertation work before leaving for the gym at 5. Or, you know, go to DC for a week to sit in the Library of Congress all day.), I've actually gotten to read some books FOR FUN of late. Here are my (mercifully brief) thoughts on each:
- The Heartless Stone, by Tom Zollner. I'm reading this right now. It's about the global diamond trade, written from the point of view of a guy whose fiance returned her diamond to him when they broke up. Basically, if you or someone you love are planning to purchase a diamond as a symbol of your love, you probably shouldn't read this book. Unless you want to be reminded that children die in mines in Africa digging for what is, at its essence, nothing more than a really hard rock whose supply is controlled by a monopoly cartel. A beautiful, sparkly rock, yes. But still a rock. (And you do not want to know how some of those rocks get smuggled out. Put it this way: you wouldn't put one of those on your finger if you knew where it had been.)
- Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone, by Larry Devlin. Yes, I read "popular" books about the Congo for fun. Larry Devlin was the CIA's main man in Leopoldville (now called Kinshasa) from a few days after independence through most of the sixties. The book is full of fasinating tidbits for those of us who follow the Congo. For normal people, it's an exercise in justifying having done some questionable things in the name of keeping the Soviets out of Africa. Devlin comes off as having been awfully paranoid about Kruschev's intentions (not to mention the USSR's capabilities) in the Congo, but then again, what do I know?
- The Atomic Bazaar: Dispatches from the Underground World of Nuclear Trafficking, by William Langewiesche - I should say up front that I am totally in love with William Langewiesche, based entirely on his story about Congolese aviation in last July's Vanity Fair, because he managed to capture the Congo for what it is and not for the pity party that's generally portrayed in the western media. When Steve the Lawyer told me he met Langewiesche by chance in a bar in Baghdad a couple of years ago, I was totally, completely, 100% jealous. Anyhoo, I thoroughly enjoyed Langewiesche's take on how one with bad intentions would hypothetically wreak havoc in the world by using a little nuclear mischief. The book was originally a series of articles in the Atlantic and it shows - the second half is really disjointed from the first. You probably shouldn't read this if you like to sleep well at night. It reminded me way too much of things I learned in a singularly bizarre summer internship many, many years ago.
- The Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest installment of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series (the only series I read now that A Series of Unfortunate Events ended in such an unsatisfactory fashion) is fun and totally predictable. I still like it. And nothing in it makes me 1) feel guilty or 2) worry about the fate of humanity.
Well, how's that for variety? Blood diamonds, nuclear terrorism, espionage, and a Botswanan detective novel. Next up is an autobiography of legendary Texas politician Ben Barnes, a copy of which the Librarian was sweet enough to pick up for me at the Texas Library Association meeting in April. I love vacation. You read your beach books and I'll read mine.