A review of Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, by Richard. A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID. If you’ve been conjuring up nightmare visions of terrorists toting suitcase nukes to Chicago or San Francisco, get ready for an even more ominous threat. The term of art is “cyber war,” and because in theory it poses no direct threat to human life, it may strike the casual observer as no more than a potential nuisance. But for Americans, cyber war is to terrorism as a lethal influenza epidemic is to mad cow disease: the latter may be unspeakably awful in its effects, but few people are affected — and the former has potential to wreak nationwide damage impacting millions.
Forget technical definitions: cyber war means that a future enemy of the U.S., potentially a rogue state as well as a rival power, could immobilize the U.S. military, destroy the nationwide power grid, bring all our transportation networks using planes and trains and trucks to a halt, and wipe out the international financial system — all by hacking into the vulnerable computer systems that run these functions through their connections to the Internet. In other words, cyber war has the potential to catapult the United States back to the 19th Century, if not the Stone Age . . . in a matter of days!
Richard A. Clarke knows whereof he writes. From the early 1970s until George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, he filled high-level national security positions under seven Presidents, from Nixon to Bush the Younger, and he advised candidate Barack Obama on national security issues. In an earlier, bestselling book (Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror), Clarke provided an authoritative, high-level perspective on the evolution of policy and action against the non-state entities classified as terrorists by the U.S. government. Against All Enemies was largely an indictment of Bush Administration national security policies, and it raised its author’s profile and made him an easy target for knee-jerk, Right-Wing attacks.
Although Clarke is generally supportive of President Obama, Cyber War is, like the earlier book, a full-throated critique on the short-sightedness and misdirection of the Obama Administration’s weak-kneed response to a potential cybernetic attack. The book is detailed in relating several little-known recent examples of cyber war activity, in its portrayal of the cyber war games played within the U.S. government in recent years, in conveying the long history of prescient official studies about cyber war and how they were disbelieved or entirely ignored, and, perhaps most important of all, in laying out a full-bore policy prescription to prepare the U.S. for a major cyber attack. The policies Clarke recommends in this important book are, presumably, the same he tried — unsuccessfully — to sell to the Obama Administration. Which explains why Clarke, still under the age of 60 and eminently qualified for a very high national security position, is working on his own as a consultant rather than extending his three-decade career in government.
My top 20 nonfiction picks
For nearly three-and-a-half years now, I’ve been posting book reviews in this blog, typically twice a week. For my own benefit as well as yours, I like to look back every so often at the books I’ve read and think about what I’ve learned from them. What follows below is a list of the 20 nonfiction books (out of more than 100 I read) that have added the most to my understanding of the world. They’re arranged in no particular order: I can’t imagine trying to pick the best of this lot!
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright
The definitive study of the belief system known as Scientology, with an emphasis on its human rights violations and the Hollywood celebrities it has gathered into its “prison of belief.”
Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney
Revelations galore from newly unearthed evidence about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his last years in the White House.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
The seminal role of a long-forgotten ancient Greek poet and philosopher on the thinking of the geniuses who shaped the Renaissance and on the course of history that followed.
The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, by Robert D. Kaplan
Recent history and current events through the distorting lens of geopolitics, which views Planet Earth, and the machinations and foibles of earthly leaders, from a very different perspective than is found in most history books.
Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman
The astonishing story of America’s rearmament in World War II, with a focus on the two larger-than-life personalities who made it happen through sheer force of will: William Knudsen and Henry J. Kaiser.
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben McIntyre
The stranger-than-fiction story of the British double agents whose brilliant work in Europe played a pivotal role in the success of the Normandy Invasion.
The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan
A comprehensive and well-informed view of the world of social enterprise and the extraordinary individuals who stand out in a field that attracts brilliant and inspired people by the carload.
The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham
An in-depth refutation of the myth of rugged individualism, lionized by Ayn Rand’s novels and enshrined in conservative and libertarian ideology for four decades.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
How the War on Drugs, and the institutionalized racism that undergirds it, has weakened American society and fostered a new underclass dominated by young men of color.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
A first-hand account of three years in a slum neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world, focusing on the hopes and challenges of two local families.
Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion, by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy
A beautifully-written account of the history of a nonprofit South Indian eye hospital that has pioneered a revolutionary approach to eye-care which has brought relief to millions of poor people worldwide.
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
An unvarnished biography of the design and marketing genius who built Apple and gained a place in business history alongside Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton.
Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin
The troubling story of the institutionalization of a new military-intelligence complex triggered by 9/11 and accelerated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson
The long-overlooked story of FDR’s ambassador to Nazi Germany and his frustrated efforts to turn U.S. policy against Hitler in the face of horrific violence against Jews in Germany and anti-Semitism in the State Department.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A History of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
An oncologist’s critical study of the diseases lumped together under the label of cancer and of humanity’s halting efforts to arrest and cure them.
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
A fresh new take on one of history’s most powerful and fascinating women, long caricatured in popular fiction and history books alike.
The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers, by Vicky Ward
An illuminating tale of the people who set off the Great Recession, bringing to light the greed, self-delusion, and miscalculation that came so close to collapsing the world economy in 2008.
Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, by Richard. A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake
A profoundly troubling look at the rapid rise of cyber warfare and the existential threat it poses to American civilization, written by the top counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Based on ten years of dogged research, a science journalist’s deeply moving account of the African-American woman whose cancerous cells seeded six decades of medical discoveries.
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Tagged as Aravind, Ayn Rand, Ben McIntyre, Bill Knudsen, cancer, CIA, cia conspiracy, Cleopatra, cyber warfare, D-Day, Dana Priest, Erik Larson, eye care, geopolitics, Henrietta Lacks, Henry J. Kaiser, hollywood celebrities, John Elkington, John F. Kennedy, Katherine Boo, Lawrence Wright, Lehman Brothers, libertarian ideology, mary pinchot meyer, mass incarceration, michelle alexander, military-intelligence complex, Mumbai, Nazi Germany, Pamela Hartigan, poverty, racism, Rebecca Skloot, Renaissance, Richard A. Clarke, Robert D. Kaplan, rugged individualism, scientology, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Stacy Schiff, Stephen Greenblatt, Steve Jobs, The Swerve, Vicky Ward, Walter Isaacson, War on Drugs, William S. Knudsen, World War II