History Commons Groups

February 16, 2013

What We’re Reading: Three by Robert Parry


Derek, our executive director, sent me three books from the Consortium News’s Robert Parry, the site’s founder and lead investigative journalist. The books are: Lost History, Neck Deep, and Secrecy and Privilege. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll see material from those books finding their way into the Civil Liberties, Iraq, Iran-Contra, Domestic Propaganda, and other projects.

Have you read any of these? Let us know what you think.

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August 13, 2012

Books We Read….

Filed under: Books We Read — Max @ 11:06 am

I’m currently finishing Michael Goldin’s Red Cloud at Dawn, a fascinating examination of the USSR’s development of its first nuclear bomb (Joe-1) and the political aftermath. At some point, when some of the projects I’m working on are wrapped up, I intend to use some of the material from the book in the US International Relations project. It won’t make for a lot of entries, unlike, say, Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, which I think could be the basis of an entire project, but it will add depth and breadth to the project.

Coming up on the reading list is Jason Leopold’s The Other Abu Zubaidah, which he was kind enough to donate to the History Commons in Kindle form. Leopold provides key contextual information on Zubaida that needs to be in the HC databanks.

What are you reading? Anything that might add information to the HC projects?

August 10, 2012

Welcome back, Kevin!

Filed under: Books We Read,community — Max @ 12:07 am
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Admin Kevin Fenton, the author of Disconnecting the Dots, is back from a well-deserved vacation. Just a quick shoutout to say we’re glad to have him back. 🙂

February 10, 2010

Wonders Will Never Cease: An Intelligent Book about Conspiracy Theories


In Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11, University of California, Davis, History Professor Kathryn Olmstead takes a refreshing look at conspiracy theories. Almost nobody will agree with every word she wrote, but what makes it different to the usual dross others turn out on the topic is that Olmstead can think out of the box some. This is best illustrated by the “conspiracy theories” she covers: Woodrow Wilson manipulated the US into World War I, Pearl Harbor, McCarthyism, JFK, Watergate, the CIA’s “crown jewels,” aliens, Iran-Contra, 9/11 and others. This is a really interesting cross-section and not one usually found in such books—while most people would probably strongly doubt aliens exist, is there anybody out there that doesn’t think Watergate was a conspiracy?

The main question analysts of conspiracy theories try to answer is this: why do people believe them? Usually, the conclusion is packaged in psycho-babble, but Olmstead has a much better response: people believe conspiracy theories because the government sometimes lies to the people and conspires against them. Take the introduction, she kicks off with 9/11,  name checks Loose Change (which she obviously doesn’t agree with) and asks why people believe this stuff: “Here’s one reason: it has happened before.” Then she goes into Northwoods.

Later on, we get this, on why Americans believe conspiracy theories:

First, as the government grew, it gained power to conspire against its citizens, and it soon began exercising that power. By the height of the cold war, government agents had consorted with mobsters to kill a foreign leader, dropped hallucinogenic drugs into the drinks of unsuspecting Americans in random bars, and considered launching fake terrorist attacks on Americans in the United States. Public officials had denied potentially life-saving treatment to African American men in medical experiments, sold arms to terrorists in return for American hostages, and faked documents to frame past presidents for crimes they had not committed.

The second reason is that the government is itself constantly packed with conspiracy theorists. The chapter on 9/11 is particular instructive in this regard as she draws a very extensive parallel between Neocon attempts to pin the attacks on Iraq and the idea that the 9/11 was performed or facilitated by elements inside the government. You might not agree with this, but it at least demonstrates that Olmstead has committed the sin of independent thought instead of trotting out the usual rubbish.

Or take the JFK chapter. She clearly does not think elements inside the government murdered JFK, but she doesn’t have much time for the Warren Commission, which she calls a coverup. I like this part especially, about the assassination researchers:

Over the years, they would convert millions to their cause. They had the virtues of dedication, diligence, and almost messianic belief in the righteousness of their cause. They also had the advantage of being partly right.

Towards the end she takes a pop at Paul and HC, which I obviously disagree with, but you don’t have to agree with every word of a book to find it interesting.

Overall, well worth reading. This is the last paragraph:

Since the First World War, officials of the U.S. government have encouraged conspiracy theories, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally. They have engaged in conspiracies and used the cloak of national security to hide their actions from the American people. With cool calculation, they have promoted official conspiracy theories, sometimes demonstrably false ones, for their own purposes. They have assaulted civil liberties by spying on their domestic enemies. If antigovernment conspiracy theorists get the details wrong—and they often do—they get the basic issue right: it is the secret actions of the government that are the real enemies of democracy.

October 31, 2009

People of the Veil: A Novel by A CIA Rapist

Filed under: Books We Read — kevinfenton @ 12:00 pm
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I recently read People of the Veil by Andrew Warren. Warren is a CIA officer accused of date rape I blogged about yesterday. Understandably, I didn’t stumble on the book just by chance, but bought it specifically because I was curious what a book by an alleged CIA rapist would look like.

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July 23, 2009

Book Review: ‘Longshot’

Filed under: Books We Read,community — Max @ 10:32 am
Tags: , ,

Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA
by Lance Allred
Published by HarperOne

This book has almost no political content whatsoever. I couldn’t tell you whether Lance Allred is a Republican, Democrat, independent, or Mugwump. I don’t know who he voted for in 2008, or if he voted at all. Allred is a basketball player in the NBA’s Summer League, hoping to catch on with the Orlando Magic after one brief stint with the Cavs. So what does Allred’s book have to do with the topics we cover at the History Commons?

Not much, really. It’s just a damn fine book, and as such, deserving of mention.

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May 9, 2009

Books We Read: Takeover, by Charlie Savage


Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of Democracy
by Charlie Savage
©2007 Little, Brown

Charlie Savage is, to my mind, a consummate reporter. When he wrote this book, he was with the Boston Globe, and now he hangs his hat at the New York Times. He does not, to my knowledge, spend a lot of time on the various cable talk fests like so many other reporters who aren’t fit to carry his pencil case. He simply…reports.

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February 11, 2009

Books We Read: American Lightning

Filed under: Books We Read — Max @ 9:56 pm
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American Lightning, by Howard Blum
2008 Crown Publishers

Nothing from this book is likely to appear on the History Commons any time soon: it deals with the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910 and the repercussions and rationales behind the bombing, which claimed 21 lives. The Commons doesn’t yet have a project dealing with US labor relations (the driving issue behind the bombing), nor does it, as a rule, cover events from a hundred years past.

Too bad, because it’s a hell of a good read about a historical incident that has long been forgotten by most, but at the time an incident that rocked the nation.

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January 11, 2009

Review: ‘U.S. Vs. Them’


U.S. Vs. Them, J. Peter Scoblic, 2008 Viking Press

When I checked out Scoblic’s U.S. vs. Them, I envisioned an interesting read and a few dozen entries or augments to existing entries. Instead, I ended up creating several scores of entries, particularly from the Carter and Reagan years, and almost all in the US International Relations project.

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January 3, 2009

Books for 2009


Here’s some of the books I’m reading, and will post about, in the early weeks of 1999:

U.S. Vs. Them by J. Peter Scoblic (already being processed and included, largely in the US International Relations project);

Angler by Barton Gellman (another Cheney bio, probably will add to the two Iraq projects, the 9/11 project, the Propaganda project, and the International Relations project);

Torture Team by Phillipe Sands (mostly info for the Prisoner Abuse and Civil Liberties projects).

One of these days, I’d like to work on John Dean’s Watergate biography, Blind Ambition, but updating and extending the Watergate project isn’t one of my main priorities right now.

What are you reading this year?

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