Sunday, September 7, 2008

More on Bass, Freedom's Battle, and reviews of books on Liberia, Hitler and the history of marriage

Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention by Gary J. Bass (Knopf) receives more attention, after last week's not-so-helpful NY Times review. Joshua Muravchik in the Wall Street Journal writes that Bass

buttresses the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention by reacquainting us with three 19th-century episodes in which military invasions were undertaken to rescue populations subjected to terrible abuses. He describes the naval efforts of Britain, France and Russia in support of the Greeks fighting for independence from Turkey in the 1820s; the suppression by France of communal warfare between Druse and Maronites in Lebanon and Syria in the 1860s; and Russia's defense of Bulgarians against Ottoman "horrors" in the 1870s.

For this reviewer, "Bass relates these episodes masterfully, providing a wealth of detail in fluid prose," enabling readers to "reflect on how much things have changed since the 19th century, and how much, in certain ways, they have not."

Christopher Hitchins writing in Foreign Affairs, finds the book "absorbing, well-researched, and frequently amusing." "On the whole," Bass
makes a sensible case that everyone has a self-interest in the strivings and sufferings of others because the borders between societies are necessarily porous and contingent and are, when one factors in considerations such as the velocity of modern travel, easy access to weaponry, and the spread of disease, becoming ever more so. Americans may not have known or cared about Rwanda in 1994, for instance, but the effect of its crisis on the Democratic Republic of the Congo could have been even more calamitous. Afghanistan's internal affairs are now the United States' -- in fact, they were already so before Americans understood that. A failed state may not trouble Americans' sleep, but a rogue one can, and the transition from failed to rogue can be alarmingly abrupt.
There is more on Bass in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and Time.

Helen Cooper, THE HOUSE AT SUGAR BEACH: In Search of a Lost African Childhood (Simon & Schuster), a memoir about Liberia, is "a coming-of-age story told with unremitting honesty," writes Carolyn Elkins for the New York Times. Through Cooper's eyes, "we see the carefree decadence of Liberia in the years just before it descended into chaos," and a personal narrative of Liberia's unravelling.

Also reviewed this week: Susan Squire, I DON’T: A Contrarian History of Marriage (Bloomsbury) in the New York Times, and Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe (Penguin Press), in the New York Sun.