Jack’s Books: Going Beyond Fear

Critical thinking is in critical condition these days.

More and more, education and news media seem geared to indoctrinate, or reinforce a notion, and the skillset of questioning anything is atrophying.

It was great to reconnect with critical thinking in rereading Bruce Schneier’s landmark 2003 book “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World”. Even twenty years later, this respected security consultant’s advice is spot on: we need to ask questions before we act, and about how the “authorities” act in our supposed defense. You’ve heard the axiom that “generals always fight the last war”? Schneier lays out, plainly and analytically, various security measures, some of which were new in ’03 and are old-hat now, and points out what works and what doesn’t. While he’s writing about things like terrorism and cybercrime, he’s also giving you practical ways to think about safekeeping your kids and home. Well worth chasing down a copy!

Before he became uberfamous for “Silence of the Lambs” and the unforgettable Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris wrote a neat little novel about terrorism called “Black Sunday” (1975). It imagines an attack on the Super Bowl game, and per Bruce Schneier (above), we see how easy it is to do something diabolical for the first time, when the experts are busy defending against the kind of attacks we’ve already seen. They’re looking for bombs and snipers, never imagining what’s coming. “Black Sunday” will keep you awake to the last page.

Also these last few weeks:

“The 9th Man” by Steve Berry (2023) In his latest, Berry introduces Thomas Rowland, a former Secret Service agent on the JFK detail in Dallas that fateful day. He’s rich, evil and intent on protecting a very personal secret from the assassination. Both for its suspenseful crafting, and for weaving in one of the oddest and most tragic “conspiracy theories” from the assassination (think “friendly fire”), this is one of Steve Berry’s best.

“The Perfumed Sleeve” by Laura Joh Rowland (2004) I highly recommend this series of history-flavored mystery novels set in feudal Japan, with an imaginary modern-techniques detective solving crimes and intrigues against the Shogun. And if you do read them, read them in order from the beginning, if possible. Here, a powerful man is found dead in his home, a home full of people with a motive and means for killing him. Chief Inspector Sano always has to not only solve the crime, but save his own neck while doing so.

“Longshot” by Dick Francis (1990) Again, an author I always enjoy, and this was actually one of his best. Survival-travel writer John Kendall, down on his fortunes, agrees to move in with and write the biography of a famous horse trainer, around whom murders are accumulating.

“A Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron 8” by Robert Mrazek (2008) Written by a former member of Congress, we follow and get to know intimately a small group of men flying torpedo bombers at Midway and Guadalcanal. While not an exhaustive history of either battle, this is a richly-detailed, beautifully-told story of the men and the machines from the earliest and most uncertain days of America in WW2.

“President Fu Manchu” by Sax Rohmer (1936) Mostly forgotten today, the Fu Manchu series is a kind of Sherlock Holmes-type series about a global archvillain, who, in this book, is seizing control of Depression-era America with a puppet president. A scorching page-turner.

“Help! I’m Being Held Prisoner! by Donald Westlake (1974) A terrific and humorous mystery writer takes us inside a NYS prison where the inmates have a tunnel out, but instead of escaping, just go on “excursions”. One excursion is a bank robbery plot, which is foolproof because who would suspect guys already in prison?!

As always, love to hear what you think or what you are reading: [email protected]

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