Hello everyone, and welcome to my new column, Fat Lee Adama! For those of you who don’t know, “Fat Lee Adama” refers to the glorious television series “Battlestar Galactica.” At one point in the series, one of the main characters, Lee Adama, became fat because he was no longer soldiering. It was a very tragic story, but don’t worry—Lee was quickly saved by some jump rope, a Helo, and spirited determination. Basically, everyone who hasn’t needs to check out Battlestar Galactica.
Now that we’re done with that tangent (and 79 words closer to the prize), I wanted to give a brief introduction regarding what this column will focus on. It will essentially be a Zooey Deschanel tribute site. I just love everything about Zooey, from her quirky, every-girl charm, to her massive wealth, to her enormous fame. So, please get ready for bi-hourly updates on the life and times of Zooey Deschanel.
But seriously, folks, I’ll be here all week. This column will actually consist of book reviews. Sometimes, I will review series, while other times I will review individual books. I’d like to point out from the get-go that I have no qualifications to be a book reviewer, save the fact that I went to college and have in the past read books. My interests are wide, and range from neo-noir, to fantasy, to history, to historical fiction, to “normal” fiction, to everything in between. I’d like to use this column to introduce readers to books with which they’d be otherwise unfamiliar. For this reason, I may include some semi-arcane works of history that most general readers wouldn’t know. If anyone has any suggestions for books or series they’d like me to review, please let me know.
To act on the second to last sentence of the previous paragraph, I’d like to begin my column with a review of William McNeil’s The Pursuit of Power, an analysis of the so-called “rise of the west.” When he wrote this book, a magnum opus in the vein of his earlier The Rise of the West, McNeill was Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago. The book’s main argument is that the development of capitalism and world market forces were the primary factors that led to the competitive technological and military interactions between European nations that spurred arms races that defined western military technological development between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. It was these arms races, McNeill contends, that enabled European nations to triumph easily over the peoples of the “New World” when they encountered them during the first age of colonization.
But this argument has been covered elsewhere, perhaps most famously in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Pursuit of Power is most useful for its insights into how modern arms races function. Although today, the Cold War is a distant memory—especially for people of my generation—it cannot be forgotten that nuclear weapons do exist, and that much of modern human history has been characterized by deadly races between superpowers. McNeill offers cogent insights into this problem. His analysis of the interaction between technology and the marketplace in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is particularly important. In these discussions, he demonstrates how technology, politics, and economics interacted to form a “feedback loop” whereby a new weapon or organizational innovation was quickly adapted by all European nations, a reality that itself spurred further innovations. Thus is born a tragedy of modern, great power politics: the ever-present quest for safety becomes a guarantor that safety—or at least the weapons that could permanently destroy any sense of what “safe” means—would never be a reality.
Unfortunately, the later chapters of McNeill’s work suffer from the fact that The Pursuit of Power was written during a “hot” period of the Second Cold War (1984). Perhaps for this reason, McNeill took a particularly dim view of the future of inter-state warfare. Statements such as “the vast armed establishments currently protecting the NATO and Warsaw Pact powers against one another are liable to catastrophe” appear dated, mainly because the author’s assertions turned out to be, with hindsight of course, incorrect.
In sum, The Pursuit of Power is particularly useful for a layman who would like to know more about the development of European war technologies and bureaucracies. McNeill addresses the technological and military histories of several different nations, and also offers many provocative ideas that can be further explored, including an interesting thesis regarding how the naval arms race between Britain and Germany in the late 19th century led to the development of a collaborative military-industrial complex in Britain (and, subsequently, other nations). McNeill demonstrates that market forces impelled western nations to continually develop new, and increasingly deadly, military technologies. Although his final call for a one-government world may appear naïve, given the course of history over the past millennium, it is perhaps prudent for world citizens to seriously consider such an option in the future.