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Enter Stage Right's Best Books of 2009

By Steven Martinovich
web posted January 4, 2010

Some years are better than others when it comes to books -- 2008 for example saw a few strong examples but in general the year was weak. We can't say that about 2009 though, each month saw some strong releases which gave book lovers reason to rejoice. Here are the books that we believe were the best of 2009.

The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America

If America's war on terror can claim any successes, and there are a few contrary to popular belief and media reportage, it's that the world's most infamous terrorist has been reduced to making the occasional amateur video in the hills of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, however, is far from America's only threat and while George W. Bush was and Barack Obama will likely be primarily focused on Iran and North Korea, there is a connected threat not far from America's shores largely ignored by everyone.

That threat, according to Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan, is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Though seen by many Americans as the prototypical banana republic buffoon, Schoen and Rowan argue in the eye-opening The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America that Chavez is far more dangerous than he seems and his primary target is what he calls the "American Empire." (Read on)

The Islamist

Within the past few years the face of Islam has changed from what was a deeply spiritual pursuit of a relationship with God to a politically charged ideology whose core mission is the establishment of a God-centered government. A rain of books and policy papers written by western pundits and eastern Islamists around the world agree that argue that a clash of civilizations is inevitable as an expansionist Islam has dedicated itself to the destruction of the West – chiefly the United States and Israel. It would appear that Christianity and Judaism cannot coexist with Islam. Is this apocalypse, however, really that inevitable?

Few are better placed to answer that question that Ed Husain, who as a British teenager of Bangladeshi extract joined the Islamist movement based in London during the mid-1990s. (Read on)

The Horse Soldiers

It is rare that fiction is just as strange as reality. Based on an 1888 Rudyard Kipling story, the 1975 movie The Man Who Would be King told the story of two ex-British soldiers who travel to Afghanistan. Armed with Martini-Henry rifles, then perhaps the best weapons technology in the world, and in concert with local tribes, they eventually take over a remote part of the nation and one declares himself the successor to Alexander the Great. Before their eventual downfall, the two have united warring tribes armed with little more than advanced technology and diplomacy.

One might be forgiven for being reminded of that movie when reading Doug Stanton's Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, minus the bleak ending, of course. Stanton tells the story of handful of Special Forces soldiers who helped unite the tribes that made up the Northern Alliance and with the aid of American air power broke the back of the Taliban during the fall and winter of 2001. (Read on)

Blue Thunder: The Truth about Conservatives from MacDonald to Harper

Pity the poor Canadian conservative. The first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was a conservative who won six majority governments, served 18 years and managed the feat of turning a collection of disparate colonies into the nation of Canada. Since then, however, conservatives have spent more time out of office than in and have watched what was once an economically and socially conservative nation turn into European style 'social democracy'. What was once "God, King and Country" is now "Beer, The Dole and Hockey."

Bob Plamondon charts the history of Canada's conservative leaders in Blue Thunder: The Truth about Conservatives from MacDonald to Harper, a sometimes depressing but always informative romp. (Read on)

Great Powers: America and the World After Bush

Among foreign policy aficionados on both the left and right there has been a fight to claim Thomas P.M. Barnett as one of their own. Author of Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating and The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, Barnett has attracted both sides with a compelling worldview which sees an America play an essential role in fighting world poverty, ending the scourge of terrorism and civil war, and making the world safe for liberty and capitalism. With his latest endeavour Barnett has essentially declared himself as member of the centre-left and while that may be a loss for conservatives, it is an invaluable gain for liberals that have been flailing for a visionary foreign policy.

Barnett manages this feat with Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, an effort that is even more grand in its scope than his previous works. (Read on)

The Good Soldiers

Not quite four years after George W. Bush stood in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln declared the Iraq War a success was a new strategy for dealing with the insurgency announced. On January 10, 2007, Bush announced that 20,000 additional soldiers would be sent to Iraq – mostly to Baghdad – while another 4,000 Marines found their tour of duty in Anbar Province extended. The move provoked an immediate reaction from al-Qaida in Iraq, the Sadr Army and other elements unhappy with the continued American presence. That reaction included increased ambushes, improved explosive devices and attacks on military targets.

Among the soldiers taking the brunt of the attacks were the members of U.S. Army Ranger 2-16 Infantry Battalion, sent to Baghdad for a 15 month deployment. Joining them was Washington Post correspondent David Finkel, who chronicled their tour in The Good Soldiers, a harrowing account of the chaos, attacks and their personal sacrifice. (Read on)

Children of Dust: A memoir of Pakistan

One can't help but be sympathetic to American Muslims in the post-9/11 era. Their patriotism has been questioned and they are simultaneously pulled in opposite directions by the fundamentalists and reformers in Islam. Though secure in their faith, many are beginning to question some of the assumptions that their communities have accepted and promoted, triggering what may be the beginning of an Islamic reformation. It is not surprising, therefore, that many Muslims in the United States are confused about their place in the world.

Ali Eteraz, noted blogger and lawyer, was certainly one of those Muslims. As he relates in Children of Dust: A memoir of Pakistan, he was born in Pakistan but was raised for much of his life in the United States. (Read on)

Going Rogue: An American Life

Sarah Palin's new book, Going Rogue, gets its title from an expression McCain staffers made about Palin during last year's presidential campaign, referring to her unscripted interviews with the media. The book is both about her time on the campaign and an autobiography. It provides a revealing look at the real Palin, off the cuff and delivering straight talk. Ironically, after the Senator known for straight talk chose her to be his Vice-Presidential running mate, his staffers tried to stifle her straight talk on the campaign.

The book reads quickly. Written in Palin's no holds barred, colorfully descriptive manner, you can hear her speaking as you're reading it. She writes candidly and caringly about her five children, particularly the very special Trig. She holds nothing back, describing in explicit detail the specifics of hunting and fishing and raising babies. (Read on)

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.



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