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Samuel Flag Bemis, John Quincy Adams And The Foundations Of American Foreign Policy. Well-written, well-referenced study of one of the best trained, intelligent and effective of the US presidents. Great insights into early US history particularly foreign policy, neutrality, manifest destiny (credited to Andrew Jackson but JQA should get credit)...

Ernle Bradford. Themopylae: The Battle for the West. Greek city states led by the Athenians defeated Darius the Great's Persian army at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Darius son Xerxes tried again in 480 BC with an overwhelming army and fleet. He was ultimately defeated at sea by the Athenians in the Straits of Salamis, and strategically delayed on land at the "Hot Gates" by a few thousand men that included several hundred Spartans led by King Leonidas. The Persian army was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Plataea.

Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Who wins, who loses... has far more to do with luck than virtue. Whatever germs of truth might be found in Social Darwinism, people who ascribe to this philosophy shouldn't be too happy with this book.

Jared Diamond. Collapse: Why Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail. A great followup to Guns, Germs and Steel. The Polynesian societies on Tikopia, Henderson and Easter Island can teach us important lessons... if anyone has the courage to learn...

Charles Freeman. The Closing of the Western Mind. The merging of Platonic philosophy and early Christianity had far reaching consequences. Nice complement to Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Ullysses S. Grant. Grant's Memiors and Selected Letters. Grant wrote his Memiors to keep his family out of the poor house. Grant and Lee met during the Mexican American War. Lee graduated near the top of his West Point class, Grant near the bottom of his. Grant was only good at mathematics and riding. Lee was one or two years senior to Grant. Lee was a great general and ultimately a great man but Grant was a major military innovator and a better general.

Peter Hopkirk. The Great Game. The Middle East was conquered, divided and ruled by Great Britain and Russia from about 1500 to 1900. Russia bowed out but France, Germany and the U.S. joined the party after 1900. I wonder why people of the Middle East are suspicious of foreigners?

Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba the Greek. Too much worry about ethics, philosophy, religion and pie in the sky... Zorba and Madame Hortense know what's important in life.

D.G. Kousoulas. The Life and Times of Constantine the Great. Christians comprised 5% of the Roman Empire. Why would Christianity become the empire's religion? How was Constantine's recorded life distorted by his biographer Bishop Eusebius? The Synod of Nicea and the Apostle's Creed. The suppression of Arryan Christianity. This book was a twenty year labor of love for the author... We should all be so lucky to have such passion.

George R.R. Martin. A Song of Fire and Ice. An epic fantasy series. The story and character development is generally wonderful. Yes it is a fantasy and a hormone fest... but I don't care.

William Lee Miller. Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography. Adamantly against the instution of slavery, Lincoln made the necessary pragmatic decisions to win the Civil War. Lincoln is often misrepresented by historians who focus on his short term tactical decisions rather than his long term strategic goals and achievements.

Greg Mortenson. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. Mortenson is an incredibly fine and talented human being, from mountain climber to builder of schools for girls in Pakistan... One of my favorite books. Check out the Central Asian Institute.

Mark Perry. Grant and Twain. Grant was a great general but a lousy president. Diagnosed with cancer of the tongue, his old friend Mark Twain led him to write The Memiors of Ulysses S. Grant. The Memiors are considered to be one of the finest works of American non-fiction. More than 500,000 Memiors were published before 1900 and stood on the bookshelves of well-read Americans (at least in the north). Mark Twain read Grant's Memoirs closely but refused to edit or offer suggestions. When Grant became concerned, Twain offered that he didn't provide input because Grant's Memiors already compared favorably with Ceasar's Commentaries (on his conquest of Gaul)... Forget the canard that southern armies were out-numbered and out-gunned. It just wasn't true. Grant was meticulously honest in assessing both friends and enemies. He just out-generaled Lee.

Robert M. Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Important and great book. Ok, I'll take a swing, but some people know this book way better than I do. Among many insights, Pirsig's dichotomy of static and dynamic reality and linkage of pre-Platonic Greek Philosophy (e.g. Sophism, original use of Arete) to Buddhism are both illuminating. Pirsig's discussion of Platonism is particulary relevant to the evolution of Christianity (see Charles Freeman's book above).

Mark J. Plotkin, Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest, Before Europeans invaded the America's, the people's in the jungles of South America had an average lifespan of about 72 years (far longer lives than the Europeans). Shahmans tended to the physical nad spiritual health of these peoples. The Shahman's natural medicines provided no remedy for new European diseases. The Shahmans lost faith in themselves and rapidly abandoned their knowledge. Plotkin learns languages, finds shahmans, places students with these shahmans to record their heritage, natural remedies are turned into new drugs, $ returned to the Shahman's villages and countries...

Jay Winik. April 1865: The Month that Saved America. Civil wars almost always carry on for centuries and wounds from these wars almost never heal. Decisions and acts of a few men (Grant, Lee, Lincoln, Sherman, Johnson...) allowed the US to uniquely avoid this terrible fate.

Karl Zimmer. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures. How little we all know...

Howard Zinn. The People's History of the United States. Every American should read this book. The victor writes history and choses their heroes...