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From the Library

October 6, 2019

Today’s first book is one I read when it first came out. I saw it on my shelf the other day, and decided to re-read it. I’m glad I did, for several reasons, as we’ll see.

Today’s second book is a reader recommendation. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this book before he recommended it, but I appreciate the recommendation more than I can describe. It’s like carrying an 18C (Special Forces Engineer NCO) around in your pocket, in a lot of ways. When I texted photos of the table of contents, and some of the illustrations and diagrams, to a former 18C buddy, and told him it was 700 pages, he was stoked, and his comment was, “It looks really comprehensive!”

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard

Like many people, much smarter than me, I’ve discussed, numerous times, that the idea of a homogenous “WASP” “American” culture is a politically expedient imaginary thing. The United States specifically, and North America generally, was conquered and settled by a variety of cultural colonists, many of whom despised one another, for various legitimate and illegitimate reasons.

For a number of decades, starting in roughly 1900, and through the end of World War Two, a couple of those cultural groups had managed to amass enough power and influence to appear to be the cultural norm in the US, and thus became the default imperial culture. A large portion of what we’ve seen in recent decades as “Balkanization” has been exactly that: a fracturing of the imperial culture, back into the component cultures that have struggled with one another for the last 300+ years, to determine whose would be the dominant one, determining how we defined “American” culture.

Mr. Woodard is a contemporary journalist, and his political biases do come through in some places in this book. However—and this is an important however—he does a really good job of citing his sources, as one would expect, and his sources, thus far, support what he claims they support (which is not necessarily to be expected, in this day and age…).

This treatise goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the cultural phenomena we see occurring in America today, if you read it as more than “on the shitter” reading. From the increasing urge among Americans, among various social classes, for “nannyism,” to the ongoing spiritual battle between the Puritanical urge to inflict one’s moral constraints on others and the individualist urge to tell busy-bodies to “go fuck yourself,” and more. (Want to know why Boston and Massachusetts, the birthplace of the American Revolution, is okay with encompassing gun control? There’s a cultural reason for it, and Mr. Woodward explains it, even though I doubt that was what he was trying to do…)

Unlike Haskett’s Seeds of Albion (which I’ve discussed here before, and also heartily recommend), this doesn’t focus solely on the British cultural groups, but covers the impact of German immigration, French immigration, and the influence that slave and post-slavery cultural accomodations have had on American cultural norms. As such, no cultural group is covered as in-depth as they are in Seeds of Albion, but there’s a much broader coverage that occurs.

Highly Recommended.

Engineering in Emergencies: A Practical Guide for Relief Workers by Jan Davis and Robert Lambert

Before I say anything else, let me say this: Stop reading, go get on Amazon, and order a copy of this book. Right now. Do it. Seriously. New copies are expensive as fuck. Used copies are still kind of pricey. It’s worth every penny.

So, this book was first published in 1995, as a handbook/training tool for NGO Aid workers, in disaster struck areas. It is, as the title suggests, a hands-on working guide, for developing recovery plans, at the local village level, of what we would consider basic infrastructure: clean water, sewage disposal, electrification, etc. All the stuff covered by the SWEAT-MSS acronym (for the most part), of TACFAC development.

This book is 700+ pages, including the appendices. I can’t even describe all the stuff it covers, in detail: an overview of emergencies and different principles and standards of international humanitarian relief efforts (yawn), a chapter on “personal effectiveness,” discussing things like “what are you bringing to the table that will be helpful, personal planning, cultural awareness and how to deal with cross-cultural differences, personal security issues, including accepting that bad shit can happen, protecting yourself from that bad shit, and deterring threats, as well as development of SOP, and planning for contingencies, and more. It has a lengthy chapter on assessment and planning, effort management, including how to deal with local government forces and labor, including recruitment of locals and motivating them…a chapter on finance and budgeting (because, contrary to popular mythology, most funding and donations to NGO Aid organizations never actually makes it to the field, so the aid workers themselves are working with peanuts), and logistics. Telecommunications, environmental sanitation, emergency water supply, and permanent water source development, water storage, treatment and distribution, generators and other “off-grid” (no grid) electrical generation methods, including shit like “how the internal combustion engine works in a generator,” and “how to fix it.” A lengthy chapter on vehicle selection, management, and maintenance. Building and improving roads, bridges and fords, and airstrips, shelter and built infrastructure, and temporary settlements.

Seriously. Go get a copy of this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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  1. Andrew Bornman permalink

    Thanks for the recommendation of Engineering in Emergencies. I just found a copy on Abe Books for $30, cheaper than Amazon.


  2. You’re not kidding the “engineering” book is expensive new… I found a “used good” copy for $18.50. Sounds like a good thing to add to the library. I hope their definition of good matches mine, although for $18 bucks as long as its serviceable I’ll be satisfied.

    • John McGinnis permalink

      Dear Sir,

      $90 is about the going fare for a textbook these days. Those of the STEM variety can easily be double that price. You got a steal for < $20.

    • So… B&N cancelled the order. And another (from England!, ;)) ended up getting an order to go through for $42,00. I guess the $18 buck deal seemed to good to be true…

  3. ViejoTorro permalink

    American Nations is a good read but the authors near pathological anti Southern bias as well as his complete ignorance of the Southwest flaw the work.

  4. Mike M. permalink

    I also ordered one from England for about the same price, it’s the 2nd edition. Saw the original edition for under $5, but also from England, so shipping was going to add another $6 or so. Another book to go with this engineering tome which is mostly formulas, tables, and graphics is the “Field Engineer’s Manual”, 2nd ed, by Robert O. Parmley, P.E. It’s a reference work that i think most civil engineers either have or had at one time or another. I think it would be quite handy in the second stage of rebuilding our infrastructure,

    • Vagus permalink

      Where did you find the reasonably priced options?

  5. temp permalink

    check for price cheaper than Amazon right now….

  6. Grumpy Hermit permalink

    Holy Jesus John $170 for that book. But you certainly found something that piques my interest. I stuck it in the shopping cart and it might take me six or seven months but I’ll buy it. Hope to hear from you soon, grumpy

  7. Grumpy Hermit permalink

    Guess what I found at Barnes & Noble for $43? Knock knock knock knock

  8. Donk permalink has them for around $50

  9. Kevin M permalink

    B&N’s inventory computer must have noticed the rush – now it’s up to $50….

    I’ve used successfully for obscure/expensive titles. It accesses new and used booksellers worldwide, and some books that are rare here can be much more affordable in the UK, for example.

  10. Former Sapper permalink

    That disaster engineer book is solid. Couldn’t ask for a better book for setting up a TACFAC. The only thing missing is the defensive engineering side which is outside the scope of that book I guess. Definitely one for the reference shelf.

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