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  Strange the Dreamer was a book that, while not perfect, was well written and showing a lot of promise. If anything, I was surprised to see that Muse of Nightmares will be the second and final book of the series, because I couldn't understand how everything begun or hinted at in the first book could be wrapped up. And indeed it wasn't, which doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy reading the book. I feel the series lost a lot of unrealized potential, though. By focusing on the main characters, now starstruck lovers that would do anything for each other, Laini Taylor left all the others behind, without a growth arc or closure. Not only that, but she also brings in another antagonist, from the past of one of the slain gods, so she has even less space to work in.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first book so much that I immediately started on the sequel and I've read this one really fast, too. It was entertaining, it was exciting and it was intense in places. But it wasn't better than the first book and the way it ended, with everything nice and cozy and people realizing their dreams and resolving their inner conflicts and helping each other and so on and son on, made have a feeling of jarring fakeness.

  In short, it's a decent book to finish the story, but it went by too fast, paying no attention to characters dragged along from the beginning and left in the dust, focusing too much on love scenes and less on consequential events, using McGuffins all over the place and making people not think of solutions that were employed just pages later by the antagonist using their own powers.

  Like Minya using her powers to force ghosts to do her bidding, regardless of their own desires, so did Taylor corral her characters through the narrow confines of her planned storyline.

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  Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy book with good writing, characters and story. I will probably start reading the second book in the series immediately. The style reminded me of Brandon Sanderson a bit: beautiful and imaginative world, empathetic and compelling characters who are mostly good at heart, even when they are villainous and a bright spirit that celebrates love, curiosity and exploration.

  More than that, this is a normal book, one that is focused on the plot and characters and has no agenda other than telling a good story. I had feared the worst when I saw Laini Taylor is a writer of Young Adult fiction, has bright magenta hair and started with comics. Glad to see my fears so unfounded.

  The main characters are Lazlo, an orphan boy with a love for knowledge and myths, obsessed by the existence of a mythical city of the desert, and Sarai, a half goddess with blue skin and a rather sad existence. But there is more: libraries full of mystery, alchemy, magic, gods, desert warriors, young love, explosions, a sky fortress and more.

  What I felt was the biggest issue with the book is the introduction of so many characters that had an episodic effect on the story or even none at all. There is a part of the story where there are hints of rivalry and intrigue with another character, then it escalates and then... months pass, on the road, and those two characters don't interact at all. The desert trip itself is less than fulfilling, after reading so much about how cruel and difficult the desert is. And then there are characters like the warriors or the girl who climbs things for fun. I hope they will have more of a role in the second book, because otherwise why introduce them at all?

  Bottom line: I feel great promise from Laini Taylor. I liked this book a lot and it's her second, but I expect even greater things from her in the future.

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  Dave Grohl sounds like a very nice person. He says only good things about people, he is passionate and goofy and everybody seems to like him. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music has a whooping rating of 4.5 on Goodreads with many stellar reviews, especially the audio version that Grohl is narrating himself. But I only read the book, which to me seemed to lack a lot of the strong emotions I am used to associate with well written autobiographies. And a book called "The Storyteller" should feel well written.

  It's not like I didn't enjoy the book, but it never goes deeply into anything. Made out of disjointed chapters that factually focus on various events in Dave's life, it merely describes Grohl's feelings, but doesn't make the reader empathize and feel them. There is a scene (I call it a scene, because it really does feel like a PG-rated movie rather than reading an honest self reflection) where the band is playing in Sweden, Dave falls and breaks his leg. He doesn't feel the pain, because of all of the excitement and adrenaline (ahem!) and gets back on stage and plays from a chair while a doctor is holding his leg in position. After the concert he starts feeling the pain but the chapter ends. The whole thing is related just as deadpan as I did here. You don't get to experience being on stage, singing with a broken leg in front of so many people, the concern of other people washing over you, the pain, the fear or even the effect of having to play the guitar and sing from a sitting down position. It all feels remote, curated, antiseptic.

  You know when actors talk about their involvement in a movie and they praise everybody and everything, making it sound all great and perfect? That's what The Storyteller felt like to me.

  And I did check out the comments and reviews for the book and, while others feel like me, most people seem to have emotionally connected with Dave Grohl and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Is it because they were already fans and loved any piece of lore they could get about their favorite performer? Is it because I didn't get it? The book told stories, but I didn't feel them true. A better title would have been: "A Birdseye View of Dave Grohl's life: Random Scenes Seen From Afar"

  Bottom line: an informative yet ineffectual biography.

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  I was expecting a deep dive into the fascinating biological realm of the fungi - I even postponed reading it until I could give it my full attention. Instead, I got a long string of tiny chapters, each telling some story related to fungi, but never going anywhere. A book that is part journal, part cook book and part history anecdotes and has the compelling title The Secret Life of Fungi cannot say so little about fungi and be so shallow.

  It's not even a long book, it's a one evening read, but it never explains enough to shed light on the subject, it brings in unrelated ideas from too many other directions and has no continuity or narrative thread. It's just a series of episodes that might be interesting, but most of the time are completely forgettable. I don't know what Aliya Whiteley thought when deciding on this format, but I personally loathe it. She doesn't love fungi, she loves hearing herself say things.

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  While it happens after Alien: The Cold Forge and features one of its characters, Alien: Into Charybdis is standalone enough to not feel like a sequel. It can be read by itself with no problems. That being said, you should start with The Cold Forge, also by Alex White as it brings not only extra context, but is a very decent book.

  Into Charybdis tells the story of human sacrifice on the altar of corporate/military greed, with the aliens as a trigger and then used more like a backdrop. In that sense, it's very similar to Cold Forge. While there is plenty of creature action, the focus is never on them, but on psychotic humans who are the true monsters. That's both interesting and frustrating, but there are plenty of new features that subvert expectations and expand the Alien universe even if, as curious as this sounds, both novels are set in the Prometheus timeline of Alien and even features black goo. That someone can write a decent story in the universe corrupted by that stupid movie is a testament to White's talent.

  Now, without spoiling stuff too much, there is an idea that I really want explored further, the one of the human alien hybrid. While the book ends things pretty definitively, there is some wiggle room left so that that idea could be continued in a third book. It would be a terrible loss to have reached this point and not go a little further.

  Bottom line: I liked The Cold Forge and I liked Into Charybdis, which managed to outdo the first book without just making things bigger and exploding more and instead bringing new ideas, building on the old ones and even subverting expectations. I don't know about other Alien books, but I will follow what Alex White writes next in this universe.

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  I've read several fantasy satires before and some of them were absolutely brilliant. Now, I am not saying that Dark Lord of Derkholm is not good, for it is competently written and complex in both plot and characters. What I am saying is that it is not that funny. Reading the book is like hearing a corporate colleague make fun of what happens at the office, which should be entertaining and humorous, but comes off as sad and frustrating. The trigger for change in the magical land is a conspiracy of women who couldn't bother to consider the emotional consequences of their actions to the people they supposedly love. And the ending was terrible as well, with a slap over the head moral that lacks any subtlety.

  I didn't know Diana Wynne Jones was famous. She wrote Howl's Moving Castle, which I had no idea was a book, on which Ghibli's anime was based, among many other works. Anyway, I had no expectations, but still I stand disappointed. First published in 1998, Dark Lord of Derkholm is quite prescient with its very interesting premise: corporate psychos from Earth (or something similar) manage to find a doorway to a magical land which they immediately proceed to exploit for their own gain. The inhabitants of said magical land need to find a way to protect it.

  The book is a not so subtle satire of our own magically beautiful land that we, through inaction, let it be despoiled by greedy idiots who can't think further than the length of their noses. But that's all that it is. There are a lot of inconsequential characters, a lot of setup and world building that leads nowhere and a final act in which so many new characters and races and lands are added for no good reason. The ending neatly closes all story lines, but in a blunt and narrated way that I felt very dissatisfying.

  Bottom line: interesting premise, competent writing, but a rather bland and inconsistent story.

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  Oh, wow! I vaguely remember Sven Hassel as an author of war novels, written with irony and humor, because this is how I remember people referring to his books. I might have even read some of them, but I was a child and if I did I don't remember and clearly they made the wrong impression on me. Because reading Legion of the Damned, especially now, in times of war in Ukraine threatening to spill over, was an amazing experience. I think this is one of the most anti war books I know about and one of the best I've read. One thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin did not read this book.

  Apparently Sven Hassel himself asked that this book be considered a documentary and in it there is a scene where a few German soldiers, unwillingly fighting for the Nazi regime, swear that whoever survives must write a book to expose to the world the horror and hell they went through. Well, he did write the book and thirteen others after. I don't know if I will have the courage to go through them all.

  The book starts with Hassel being tried for desertion and, because of a woman sacrificing herself to say she seduced him into it, his life is "spared" and he is sent to a concentration camp. He survives the atrocities there only to be "pardoned" and sent to the war, as part of a battalion of convicts. More horror follows, only for him to be captured by the Russian army and send to a prison camp. Again, pain and pointless suffering ensues, but he survives and escapes, only to be sent to fight again in a war he and all of his comrades consider pointless, barbaric and inhumane. He suffers personal loss, he almost goes mad, but he has his friends and together they keep each other alive, mentally and physically. Then he is wounded and has to go through the horror of military hospital, where people are actually competent and kind, but death and suffering is inevitable. And after all of this, the ending might be the most heartbreaking of it all.

  The traditional portrayal of hell is a place where devils take great pleasure torturing sinners in perpetuity. You read this book and you realize how childishly optimistic that vision is. Try to imagine something similar, but where devils are educated, kind and compassionate and punishing sinners is just as much a punishment for them, forced to do it and loathing the pointlessness and brutality of it all. Yet one cannot escape the system Satan implemented, himself too far removed to be witnessing the horror and pain he architected and immune to retribution.

  Sven Hassel is a very good writer, perhaps because he is writing from his heart and it just pours out of him, and the subject is terrible and captivating at the same time. Yet the best part of the book, for me, was the feeling of joy in the little things, the things we take for granted and these damned people enjoyed every single one of them, whenever rarely afforded, to the fullest. Stripped of the complacent veneer of civilization that most humans live under, they lived every moment as if it were the best and last of them all. At no time is there an accusation or bitterness towards another people or group, or attempts to vilify anyone other than the bourgeois and generals that started and perpetuated war, from both sides, to appease unknowable urges that no ordinary person understands or supports.

Bottom line: a very strongly recommended book, one that I think is so apropos of these times, not only because it applies to war in general, but also because (from pure coincidence) the war locations described are places like Donetsk and Kharkiv (which is razed to the ground in the book, as the Germans retreat). The writing is both sweet and personal, educated and educational. It's a heart laid bare and printed into words. A must read.

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  Imagine if the fairy godmother would teach Cinderella the very basics of magic, warned her to not do it, then promptly vanished forever. Then imagine Cinderella was French right around the time of the French Revolution. That's the plot in a nutshell.

  All That Glitters has the hallmarks of greatness: good writing, a very interesting world and a character that grows with the reader. However, I found it really difficult to finish it. I believe the reason was the telegraphing of the protagonist's suffering, making me think of all the horrid things that were going to happen to her, only for her to actually find rather convenient and facile ways of getting out of trouble. 

  And I have to tell you that it was a weird feeling throughout. Made me feel guilty for fearing of all the bad things that were predictably going to happen to the heroine and then resentful of Gita Trelease for letting her off the hook. I mean, this girl and her sister have to deal with the death of their parents, systemic classism, being disconsidered for being women, having a violent addict and gambler of a brother that leeches from them even the money for food and rent, nobles, sorcerers and, of course, the worse of it all, romantic triangles! We can't miss those. And the only solution, a form of magic that feeds on one's sorrow and actual blood and only gives illusions in return.

  Now, of course, this is the first book in a bloody series, luckily a duology, at least for now. There are no standalone books anymore. Therefore the author has all the opportunity to grow as a writer, torture her protagonist to her and the readers' content and determine the most important thing of them all: who is Camille going to marry? Can you imagine being able to turn anything iron into coins for a limited time and not once considering what (or who) else can you turn into what? Maybe that will happen in the next books, but I won't be reading them.

  Bottom line: a definite success of a debut and full of potential and value. However it seems the author and myself are focusing on different things in life and even if we witness the same story, we only want to see the parts the other doesn't. I guess the book appeals more to the feminine side of the reader.

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  You've seen this before, either as a book or as a TV series or something similar: the hidden world of magic, the gatekeepers tasked to keep the veil on the eyes of the common folk, the particular technique that they use (in spite of many others in existence), the ethnic flavor of the inspiration, even the formulaic definitions of good and evil. As it stands, Ink & Sigil is a rather bland book, with very little original content and the little that is being inspired by other cultures than the one of the author.

  You see, it all happens in Scotland, where everybody speaks with a strong Scottish accent, even the goth lesbian battle seer girl who is Indian. And there is a magical world of the fae, separated from ours by ... legal bindings, enforced by only five people in the whole world who work for no particular reason, with little resources and themselves bound by inexplicable moral qualms. Every fae described is a horrid caricature, an average of the most common clichés. Every fight is fought exclusively with the particular magical trinkets specific to the gatekeepers and nothing else.

  So forgive me when I am not impressed by Ink & Sigil, another uninspired fantasy millionology which translates to a classic detective story with a little bit of magic and locale sprinkled for taste. It's as authentic as a Margarita in a Ruby Tuesday or a single malt whisky made in Texas.

  As for Kevin Hearne, I didn't know who he was, but I could feel he was not Scottish in any way or form. Not because I am an expert in the culture of Scotland, mind you, but because it was obvious. It was funny how American the world view was, even when bad mouthing Americans, people who leer when they see an attractive girl or, God forbid, are racist. The author tried to be subtle and not stink up his writing with politics, but he couldn't help being a raging progressive from time to time.

  Bottom line: it was partly fun, but it was a chore finishing the book while knowing exactly what was going to happen and trudging through the flood of clichés that made up this story. I would not recommend it.

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  Sorcery of Thorns starts with an interesting idea that made me curious and involved: a library like a prison of Necronomicon-like books, bound in flesh, partly alive, trying to manipulate people in various ways, fighting amongst each other, destroying minds and bodies of unguarded people and able to transform into murderous demonic beasts when damaged.

  Then, almost immediately, Margaret Rogerson turns away from that premise and proceeds to write a very young adult fantasy romance where a Mary Sue orphan girl who has lived all her life in one of these libraries leaves it and falls in love with a young very eligible sorcerer while battling an old sorcerer in authority and patriarchy in general. Gad!

  The writing is not bad, but nothing spectacular either. It's the way the author fails to put her character in even the slightest challenge that makes this book average at most. Whenever something bad happens, or rather about to happen, she immediately finds a new ability or a new friend to save her. Her "best friend" is there just to be used in various occasions and then forgot for the rest of the book. Men dismiss her opinions, not because she is a shut-in orphan and poor and uneducated and doesn't know anything, but because she is a woman. Only then to do 360s and completely believe and support her when the actual need arises.

  And that ending! There is one thing that feels like a consequence, like it all wasn't some sort of bed game to spice up Elisabeth's romance, then it goes poof!

  In conclusion I can't recommend this book. It's not bad, but certainly not good. Somehow I got duped again by the legions of horny girls using fantasy to scratch their itch and then rating books in droves. The only good thing I can say about the book is that it's standalone and not part of some misbegotten series.

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  Using my system of randomizing the choice of books, I started reading Dread Nation. The very first page there is a dedication to all people of color. So I immediately deflated, as there are some people who think writing with a political agenda doesn't require any actual knowledge of bookcraft. Then there was the author's name, Justina Ireland, suggesting anything else than the Black female writer she is. And then it was a period piece, set right after the American Civil War. And then... it was also about zombies! So I prepared for a bad woke book written by a woman who looks to the past to justify her antiracist outrage. Yeah, I know, I'm a monster. But then I kind of liked the book!

  That doesn't mean I wasn't partly right. The story is told from the first person perspective of a character who is a Mary Sue. She is a Black girl, birthed by a White woman, but also partly raised as a slave, but also knowing how to read and being well read, but also speaking in Black English, but only randomly or when it suits her, she is smart, perfectly trained to fight zombies and also trained in etiquette, but also a rebel and a tomboy, but also cute enough to attract the attention of a beautiful and fiery Black boy, oppressed her entire life, but also capable of taking control of any situation, small of build and being hurt repeatedly, but then shrugging off damage like an action hero, which she also is, and so on. Then there are the male White characters, which are all bad, except maybe some which I am pretty sure will turn out to be bad too in the end. White women are vile, but some of them, if they are not rich, are OK. Black boys are naive and needing guidance, even if they have their hearts in the right place.

  In short, the book is very inconsistent in its characterization and this girl can do *everything*, except maybe feel when people are sneaking up to her to cock guns when the story requires her to get caught and brutalized. But the world building is good. The author researched books about the forced Native American "educational" centers, another bright spot in the U.S. history - land of the free if you survive, are not enslaved and are White - and created this world where the dead had risen right in the middle of the Civil War, abruptly terminating it, yet not solving any of the social issues that had been in dispute during it.

  And yes, it does feel a little "inspired" from the likes of Lovecraft Country, only instead of cosmic horror you get the run of the mill zombie outbreak as the background for a story about racism. The writing is typical Young Adult, focused on what the character feels, intends and believes, with action and interaction with other people just there to further the story in a blatantly obvious way. But it was also fun. Unfortunately, it is yet another "first book in a trilogy" and you would have to read the two other books to get any closure. I liked the book, but not that much to continue reading the rest.

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  Senlin Ascends reminded me of many things: the intellectual protagonist, lost in a world that feels part dream like in Zamyatin's We, a metaphorical world that reflects our own social order like in Snowpiercer, the cruel tourist traps hiding horror like in Song of Kali. But the book is anything but derivative. Josiah Bancroft writes this in his own voice, slowly building both the world and the characters.

  Have to admit that I've found it difficult to keep reading the book. The naïve character that never seems to catch a break and keeps getting abused by an uncaring world makes it hard to enjoy. The book is very well written, but starts by destroying your faith in humanity. This also does make the last quarter of the book a little jarring, as the winds suddenly blow in a slightly different direction. It is possible that Bancroft found it as hard to torture his protagonist as I found it to bear reading about it. Yet, he seems to have kept at it, as this is just the first book of a series of four books (and a series of shorts).

  The book is a steampunkish novel set in a fictional tower of Babel where a teacher and his new bride go on a honeymoon, only to be swept into the tumultuous world contained by the tower. Each level of the tower is separate in culture and resources: the higher the level, the harder to get to and the richer the society. But that doesn't mean better, in any way.

  That's the plot in a nutshell, but the beauty is in the details. I can't say the book is perfect, but I am going to give it my highest rating because it is certainly a good book and refreshingly original.

 T-SQL Querying is a very good overview of SQL Server queries, indexing, best practices, optimization and troubleshooting. I can't imagine someone can just read it and be done with it, as it is full of useful references, so it's good to keep it on the table. Also, it's relatively short, so one can peruse it in a day and then keep using it while doing SQL work.

What I didn't like so much was the inconsistent level of knowledge needed for the various chapters. It starts with a tedious explanations of types of queries and what JOINs are and what ORDER BY is and so on, then moves on to the actual interesting stuff. Also, what the hell is that title and cover? :) You'd think it's a gardening book.

Another great thing about it is that it is available free online, from its publishers: Packt.

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  I have a problem with LGBT books, because they are read by mostly LGBT people who then feel obliged to praise the story and how they identified with the characters. Have the writer be a woman and you will be hard pressed to find the few reviews written by people who just randomly stumbled upon the book or maybe lazily read some very positive reviews and decided to read it, like I did. And when you get burned like that, the more you stop trying to read these books, amplifying the effect.

  Unfortunately, Karen Memory is one of those books. Funny enough, I've previously read a short story collection by Elizabeth Bear and I've forgotten all about it, but then I reread my review and... it's kind of the same. She writes well, but I can't relate to the stories or the characters and mostly because she uses fantasy settings to sell basic bland ideas that are not related to fantasy or sci-fi. A bit of a bait and switch.

  Karen Memery (with an e) is a teenage middle-end lesbian prostitute who knows horses, fighting, shooting and is also a seamstress. In a Western-like steampunk universe which sounds suspiciously similar to episodes from Warrior (great TV show BTW), she is the protagonist, but there is very little steampunk and no sex. Instead it's all about diverse people caring about each other's feelings while the bad men are coming for them.

  20% of the book in, I've decided to abandon it, but I did make the effort to hunt down the reviews that were focusing on the story and not on the diversity or how cool steampunk westerns are. People finishing the book didn't think much of it either, especially since she seems to go all Mr. Nobody towards the end. She's a teenage girl!

  Anyway, no.

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  I started reading this book at random, and by random I mean I used a tool to choose it for me. And what a coincidence that, published in 2011, it talks about the geopolitical and economical drivers that would shape the next decade while I read it in 2022, as a conflict between Russian and the U.S. in Ukraine is looming. Was Friedman a sort of Hari Seldon and he predicted it all or was it all just bull? Well, a bit of both.

  The Next Decade wants to be a U.S. centric but objective dissection of the world, all pretenses aside, with the goal of predicting what will happen and what Americans should be doing about it. George Friedman starts by explaining why the United States have become an empire, almost by accident, and that while the reality of the fact cannot be denied, the anti-imperial principles upon which the nation was founded as still relevant and even essential to the wellbeing of America (and hence the world). He decides that the most important actor in this story is the American president, the modern embodiment of both the principles of the nation and of a Machiavellian prince. The rest of the book is a continent by continent analysis of what countries are driven by and will do and what this prince has to do to ensure and promote American supremacy over the world. In the author's view, the highest virtue of a good leader is to act in the best interests of his nation, while attempting to follow a moral code as well as possible in the circumstances.

  Does it sound arrogant, pompous and presumptuous? Yes, quite. But does it also sound close to how heads of state think and make decisions? A resounding yes. In fact, his talk of the Georgian conflict, where Russians invaded and Americans wrote some stern condemnations in response is terrifyingly close to what happens now in Ukraine, only the U.S. cannot afford to repeat that performance now.

  Here's a quote:

  In order to understand this office I look at three presidents who defined American greatness. The first is Abraham Lincoln, who saved the republic. The second is Franklin Roosevelt, who gave the United States the world’s oceans. The third is Ronald Reagan, who undermined the Soviet Union and set the stage for empire. Each of them was a profoundly moral man … who was prepared to lie, violate the law, and betray principle in order to achieve those ends. They embodied the paradox of what I call the Machiavellian presidency, an institution that, at its best, reconciles duplicity and righteousness in order to redeem the promise of America.

  Friedman thinks, for example, that bin Laden forced the hand of the American president to overextend in the Middle East, a pointless military gesture, but a politically necessary one, which lead to a rise of Iranian influence and distracted from Russia. As in The Next 100 Years, the author is still obsessed with the importance of Mexico, Poland and Turkey, but he adds more stuff related, for example, to Romania, which must be built up militarily so that it defends the Carpathians for the Americans for free. The European Union is a joke, fractured by history, culture, economy, financial systems, laws and held together by a fairy tale ideal of a bureaucratic world where war (inevitable to Friedman) doesn't exist. But even so, Germany must be stopped from joining up with Russia and as best as possible removed from its alliance with France. Africa is a place that the U.S. should just ignore. And so on and so on. Basically, America should make sure that in no place will any power even begin to rise in a region because it would impede its natural right to rule the world.

  The scary thing is that every one of these predictions or analyses are propped by well explained and documented arguments. It's not that Americans are assholes for doing that, it would be costly and stupid for them to not do that. As Friedman puts it, the U.S. has become empire without intention and is now forced to act as such for better or worse.

  I must warn you that this is not your school history book, where valiant heroes defend their homeland against evil, but a very cynical overview of how foreign policy is done. It describes a world in which every country is at war with every other country and any sense of morals is slave to necessity and only serves to bring a modicum of validation to the inevitable evil nations do.

  Bottom line: a very well written book, extremely apropos these days, something that I urge to be taken with a grain of salt, but highly recommended as a read.