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by Richard F. Starr, trade format paperback, 248 pages,1996, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.

This extremely well organized and clearly written book is at once a formal treatise and a "can't put it down" compelling read. If you think the Russian military is down and out for the count, think again, hard, without your rose-colored glasses on. The myth of the glorious Western victory at the end of the Cold War is, alas, something of a wishful thinking fantasy seen only through Western eyes. The Russians, ex-Soviets, have a very different view on things. This book is eye opening, sometimes painfully so, and parts of its information will surprise, shock, even anger you. Richard Starr holds a doctorate in political science, has been an expert on Russia for twenty years, and at the time of writing this book was a senior fellow at the prestigious Hoover Institution think tank. The book went through the usual extremely high standards of peer review and editing common to all non-fiction published by the U.S. Naval Institute, and what Starr has to say needs to be taken very seriously indeed. And things in Russia's military posture have definitely not gotten better from the point of view of democracy within Russia, or national security within the U.S., in the years since this book was written.

by Matthew Brzezinski, hardcover, 317 pages, 2001, The Free Press (Simon & Schuster), New York, NY.

Brzezinski is a strongly-credentialed journalist and successful freelance writer who spent several years living in Russia in the 1990s and reporting on conditions there. This book is a compelling description of the tragic failure of democracy in the former Soviet Union, and of the wild and bizarre lifestyles achieved by the rich and famous in Moscow while they shamelessly profiteered off the collapse of Communism -- even as most people throughout Russia were devastated by rampant unemployment, hyperinflation, and devaluation of the ruble. Boris Yeltsin was no hero, and this book, from 2001, foreshadows the increasingly autocratic, repressive, and militaristic tactics of his successor, Vladimir Putin. A good companion piece to read before or after the book I recommend above about the Russian military. CASINO MOSCOW is a close look, by someone who was there, at the tragedy of the endless strife in Chechnya, the massive ecological destruction in Siberia, the utter inadequacy of the Russian health care system, and more. Parts of this book will make you want to cry, or scream, or go out and get drunk (no pun intended on chronic Russian alcoholism). But you need to know the truth. Russia wants to be a superpower again, and is fielding an increasing number of extremely sophisticated nuclear weapons even as pandemic AIDS and drug abuse among its youth force the Russians to depend more on nukes than manpower for their paranoiac national offense and defense. Many experts say that a new cold war with Russia has already started. Read this book. Understand why. Know the enemy! And I am NOT exaggerating.

by Brian Lavery, hardcover, 318 pages with photos and maps, 2003 reprint, Caxton Editions, London, UK.

The UK has been celebrating the Bicentennial Nelson Decade, leading up to this year, 2005, the 200th anniversary of the famous Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 at which Admiral Horatio Nelson was victorious, and died in action. Because Trafalgar was his last battle and guaranteed the Royal Navy's command of the seas for a hundred years, it tends to get by far the greatest amount of attention from Nelson's many biographers. But Brian Lavery, a noted UK naval historian and terrific writer, in this book makes a strong case that in some ways Nelson's first great victory against a French battle fleet, in Aboukir Bay near the delta of the Nile in Egypt, was his most important of all from the strategic perspective of the UK's long war against Revolutionary France and then the Napoleonic Empire that it morphed into. For one thing, it established in a single dramatic and violent night engagement the fact that Nelson was one of the most brilliant naval tacticians and leader-commanders of all time. For another, it crippled Napoleon's plans to conquer Egypt and from there threaten the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, their possession/colony of India. The Battle of the Nile won Nelson instant worldwide fame, the acclaim and love of the British people -- and its immediate aftermath directly led to him getting into serious trouble, through his infamous adulterous affair with Lady Hamilton and unauthorized meddling in the internal politics of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (an Italian monarchy-state based in Naples). Using some original documents of the period only recently discovered or released by their owners, Lavery's research makes this book a definitive treatment on the bigger picture of the prelude to the battle, Nelson's life at around that time, the innovative tactics that defined him as a true military genius, the grit and "atmosphere" of life at sea in the Age of Fighting Sail, and the geopolitics of an era that still fascinate many naval history fans today.

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