In the Arena

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After seven months, I returned to Senjaray in Kandahar Province and found the situation much improved…even if the Pir Mohammed school remains closed. I’ve just arrived in Dubai, heading home after two weeks in Afghanistan–and I’d like to share with you some spectacular books I’ve been reading during my travels:

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes–an absolutely joyous and entertaining account of British scientists at the dawn of the 19th century–before the word “scientist” was invented–and the romantic poets who loved them. The sheer optimism of that time contrasts so profoundly with the pinched exhaustion of our own.

Monsoon by Robert Kaplan–this is part history, part travel odyssey, part geo-strategic treatise about the Indian Ocean, perhaps the most crucial body of water in the coming century. Kaplan’s evolving views on what sort of governments work best in the developing world are smart and provocative. His skepticism about George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” is well-founded. His realism about America’s diminished role, as India and China move onto to center stage, is admirably detailed and important.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson–winner of this year’s Booker Prize is a hilarious and profound treatise on Jews’ obsession with themselves and the world’s obsession with Jews. I’m going to go back and read everything this guy ever wrote; he’s amazing.