Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Maybe There Are Really Two Books?

A marketing ploy occassionally employed by book publishers is to release a book with several different distinctive covers - the World According to Garp was one such example, if memory serves. From the book reviews, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Plan of Attack, seems to have gone one step further and brought out two entirely different books with the same author, the same title and treating the same topic - but with distinctively different writing styles, contents, conclusions and analyses:

John Podhoretz, New York Post:

"Plan of Attack" is indeed a startling book - startling because it offers a persuasive portrait of an extraordinarily serious Bush administration and the 17-month process that led to the war. .... If the Air America talk-show hosts and their ilk actually do plow through the 465 pages of "Plan of Attack" (which is a fate I would actually wish on them, because reading Woodward's sludge-like prose is an agonizing experience on a par with being forced to read a 465-page stereo-assembly manual), they are bound not only to be disappointed, but enraged at the way it explodes the myths and reveals the distortions they have been trying to foist on the American people. .... The conviction that Saddam possessed stockpiles of those weapons and was prepared to use them pervades and permeates the book. No honest person could come away from "Plan of Attack" thinking that George W. Bush didn't believe the weapons existed. [Link thanks to Henry Hanks]

Michiko Kakutani, New York Times:

"Plan of Attack" ratifies assertions made ... by the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (in Ron Suskind's book "The Price of Loyalty") ... [and] Richard A. Clarke (in his book "Against All Enemies"). .... Mr. Woodward - who has long specialized in forward-leaning narratives that are long on details and scoops, and short on analysis - does not delve into the intellectual and political roots of the war cabinet, he does pause every now and then to put his subjects' actions and statements into perspective. The resulting volume is his most powerful and persuasive book in years. .... "[Reports by General Franks] ... could, and should, have been a warning that ... the intelligence ... probably was not good enough to make the broad assertion, in public or in formal intelligence documents, that there was `no doubt' Saddam had WMD." Vice President Dick Cheney had done exactly that just days before.

Mr. Bush and the people around him - most notably Mr. Rove, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, the national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz - are constantly talking about the importance of showing resolve, of standing firm, of talking the talk and walking the walk. And as plans for war advance, this posture becomes part of the momentum toward war. .... Adding to the war momentum was the growing buildup of troops in the Iraq theater, the approach of hot weather in the gulf..., promises made to allies like Saudi Arabia (Prince Bandar, Mr. Woodward reveals, was told of the president's decision to go to war before Colin Powell was) and risky C.I.A. operations in the region. In the final walkup to war, Mr. Bush repeatedly asks associates: "What's my last decision point?" ... Mr. Rumsfeld eventually tells the president, "The penalty for our country and for our relationships and potentially the lives of some people are at risk if you have to make a decision not to go forward."

Remarkably, these two reviews were both written by people who claim to have read the same book.

AN ASIDE: Michiko Kakutani happens to be the daughter of Kay and Shizuo Kakutani. Shizuo Kakutani is, to my mind, unquestionably the most underappreciated great mathemetician of the 20th Century - and he should have been awarded the Nobel Prize in economics. He is, among many, many other amazing things, the author of the Kakutani Fixed Point Theorem on which all of modern rigorous mathematical economics depends - including the work of John Nash and the putatively-respectable academic work of Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman. Unlike the nasty, loony Nash and the paranoid, shallow Krugman, Shizuo Kakutani is a supremely charming, sensible and good-natured human being - terms which also apply to his wife, Kay:

Professor Kakutani is a gentleman and a scholar of the old school. His mild manner, gentle graciousness, and total dedication to mathematics leave an indelible impression on all who have gotten to know him.

Never a truer word was written.

UPDATE: Slate has it's own take on Woodward. Sample:

Page 250: Karl Rove, a Norwegian-American, is obsessed with the "historical duplicity" of the Swedes, who seized Norway back in 1814. This nationalism manifests itself as hatred for Swedish weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Eric Lindholm! Uppmärksamhet! Kännedom! Call your office!

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