My Top Ten Reads of 2018

Though writing occupied much of my time in 2018 (two book publications, sixty-eight blog posts, and 13,000 words into my next novel) I still managed to read through 37 books with a good mix of fiction and non-fiction covering diverse topics. How did I get through 37 tomes? I supplemented my regular reading with listening to audiobooks on my commute to work.

I would have preferred to provide the list in January instead of March, but this year got off on a difficult foot and I am still struggling to regain my stride. Below are my top ten of the bunch in the order I read or listened to them. Any that spark you interest is well worth your time to read.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff

With story after story filled with Christ’s love and how transforming it is to actually follow Jesus instead of just stalking Him, this book is an inspiration and challenge all wrapped up in one. Its child’s-faith outlook stands on a firm biblical foundation. The author’s audacity to live as a change agent in response to God’s love has led him up an elevator hauling a 4×8-foot Valentine’s Day Card and down to the depths of dungeons to liberate incarcerated and enslaved children.

Profound statements abound throughout the work and Goff’s writing and observations gave my red pen a work out as I found myself underlining section after section. A couple of my favorites: “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” (p.25); and, “Love is a do thing. It’s an energy that has to be dissipated.” (p.48). Say yes and read this book!

The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael S. Heiser

Exciting, affirming, and challenging, Heiser’s work is both approachable and technical. An academic work superbly written and assembled for the general public, it offers compelling evidence to continually hold in mind the reality that we live in both a supernatural and material world. The epic tale of the revelation of God’s manifold wisdom through the church to the principalities and powers of the world is fleshed out in ways that are startling. The consistency of Scripture in presenting these ideas inspires awe for the Author of the Bible and appreciation for His human agents. As one who has consistently held to the idea that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed, it is eye-opening to read a work that follows the precept that the Old Testament is what informs and supplies the New Testament writers with their ideas, theology, and metaphors.

Favorite quotes: “My conscience wouldn’t let me ignore my own Bible in order to retain the theology with which I was comfortable.”

“There’s no need to camouflage what the Hebrew text says. People shouldn’t be protected from the Bible.”

The Black Widow (audiobook) by Daniel Silva

I may need to actually read Daniel Silva! George Guidall’s performance was exquisite. Silva uses repetition to great effect. His description of Gideon standing with his hand to his chin, his head tilted slightly to the side becomes a refrain that makes you familiar with the character and comfortable with the writer. It is nearly poetic in its use.

(Spoiler Alert!)

The bad guy getting away and the entire operation not bringing any of the desired fruit was a letdown. It may be Silva’s attempt at realism. Regardless, the entire tale maintained suspense and the resolutions hinted at provided some satisfaction of closure. It was a great listen.

Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying by James Olson

James Olson spent his entire career in the Directorate of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and is a former Chief of CIA Counterintelligence. His book is an excellent resource for those serious about the practical and ethical challenges inherent in espionage. Well written, informative, and full of insights from multiple sectors. The Spying 101 notes alone are worth the purchase price of the book. They contain a treasure trove for espionage writers and enthusiasts.

Shared Sorrows: A Gypsy Family Remembers the Holocaust by Toby Sonneman

I expected an informative read when I purchased this book. I received much more than I bargained for. Sonneman’s collaboration with Rosa Mettbach not only highlights the little known Great Devouring of the Gypsies under the Nazis, it also delves deeply into the burdens of bitterness, the betrayal of humanity, and the need for forgiveness. Studded throughout with exemplary scholarship, it retains its personal touch and avoids falling into dry academic “objectivity.”

Beautifully written, deeply personal, comprehensive, and unflinching in its description of the horrors of the Holocaust, it is a must read for those who want to learn about the Gypsy experience under the Nazi’s from the recollections of those who survived it.

Tripping over the Truth: How the Metabolic Theory of Cancer is Overturning one of Medicine’s most Entrenched Paradigms by Travis Christofferson, MS

As a cancer—and a cancer treatment—survivor, this book was a revelation. Had I been told in my original consultations that chemotherapy came from an accidental exposure of sailors to mustard gas and what they wanted to put through my veins was mustard gas’s cousin, I may have investigated alternative therapies more thoroughly. But by then, I was hurting and scared.

Early in the 20th century, Otto Warburg developed a workable metabolic theory of cancer that has recently gained momentum as the chasers of singular, or even manageable, DNA mutation causers have run into dead end after dead end at the death of millions, the misery of millions more, and the cost of billions. Warburg’s succinct thesis is below. This book is the history of that insight and its promise and implications nearly one hundred years later. If you have cancer or have a loved one battling it, read this book before the mustard gas begins dripping into the veins.

“Cancer, above all diseases, has countless secondary causes. But even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugars.” Otto H. Warburg

Story Trumps Structure by Steven James

Steven James is a national bestselling novelist whose pulse-pounding thrillers continue to gain wide critical acclaim and a growing fan base.[1] I had the pleasure of attending a couple of his workshops at a writers’ conference. I would consider this book to be the text book for his presentations.

Encouraging and challenging, this unique how-to tome had me stretched from, “I can do this” to “why did I ever think I could write?” Enjoyable to read and a valuable reference manual, it will sit on my writer’s reference shelf with my Roy Peter Clark books, dictionaries, and style manuals. Thank you, Steven James, for generously sharing your tools of the trade!

Man Without a Face by Markus Wolf

The victors of war write different histories than the vanquished. Markus Wolf was a Cold Warrior par excellence who perforated the West with strategically placed agents for nearly 30 years. While our side’s modus operandi relied on buying treason, Wolf managed to recruit ideologues who believed in the Communist cause. He enjoyed a prime advantage in his career. He was a German spying on Germans. His biography adds flesh and blood to the dreary concrete of the GDR’s surveillance state. A professional intelligence officer even in revealing his own life, the book is a far cry from a tell-all tome. But what is told is well worth reading.

Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner

Hoover’s FBI was first and foremost an intelligence gathering organization. His agents acquired information in the traditional espionage fashion: break ins, black bag jobs, and wire taps—lots of wire taps. J. Edgar Hoover hated Communists and Communism and considered them both to be the most pressing threats to the American way. He was willing to violate the rule of law to make sure that Moscow couldn’t gain traction in the United States. Enemies carries the reader from those early days to the tragedy of 9/11 and all the successes and failures along the way. Paced like a political thriller, Tim Weiner’s history of the FBI is a highly enjoyable and informative read.

The Midnight Line (audiobook) by Lee Child

Absolute mind candy and pure entertainment, but then …

I thought the writing almost simplistic, until I found out that Lee Child was actually the pen name for James D. Grant, a British novelist with a background in TV production. He nails Americanisms in his novels. What I first considered simplistic is actually minimalist. He allows the reader to fill in blanks. Small towns USA are his canvas. He paints in details at will. He uses repetition in his writing for rhythm to drive the story forward and it works. Want a great escape? Forget Tom Cruise. Read the real Jack Reacher.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Steven-James/e/B001IU0RQS, accessed March 23, 2019.

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Dealing with the Devil: U.S. Foreign Policy and Iranian Nuclear Power

Mohammad Mossadegh is seldom mentioned in connection with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. But his memory was alive in the minds of the young revolutionaries who sacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took over sixty Americans hostage.[1] Remembering one of the many interrogations he endured during his 444 harrowing days of captivity, John Lambert recounted “he asked me about the 1953 coup…that overthrew Mossadegh, organized by Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA. ‘What was your role in that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I was about ten years old at the time. I don’t think I had much of a role.’”[2]

Mr. Lambert may have only been about ten years old when the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran was pushed out of power through the machinations of the CIA, but the Ayatollah Khomeini was fifty-one and he would not forget the impacts American intervention made on his country and his people.

To fully appreciate the causes of Mossadegh’s downfall, one must go back to 1901 when Iran still called herself Persia. It was in that year that William D’Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated a 60-year concession with Persia’s then Shah, Mozzafar-al-Din of the Dajar dynasty.[3] The concession gave D’Arcy the exclusive right to prospect for, extract, and sell Persia’s petroleum. Discovery of large oil deposits at Masjid-i-Saleiman led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the grandfather enterprise of the oil giant we now call BP.[4]

The British government purchased the controlling interest of the company in 1913. Shortly thereafter, Winston Churchill – then an official in the British Admiralty – convinced the navy to switch from Welsh coal to Iranian oil.[5] The world hasn’t been the same since.

WWI saw Persia overrun by British and Russian forces as they slugged it out with the Ottoman Turks. The war’s conclusion found Persia impoverished, broken, and ripe for plucking. Reza Khan, commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, staged a coup d’état in 1921 with British complicity. He had himself crowned the first Shah of the new Pahlavi Dynasty in 1925 and began an intensive program of modernization. Though he had benefited from British patronage, he was never keen on their entrenchment in his country.

Faced with an aggressive political entity to his north in the form of the nascent Soviet Union and the overt power plays of the British Empire within his own borders, the Shah continually played one side against the other in order to retain as much of his sovereignty as possible. Changing the nation’s name to Iran in 1935 is perhaps indicative of who he believed would wind up king of the hill in European and global affairs. Iran is a cognate of Aryan and refers to “the Land of the Aryans.”[6]

By 1941 Germany was Iran’s greatest trade partner. Over 2,000 German nationals were living in Iran working on various industrial projects. Their presence on the main vein of Britain’s oil was certainly cause for concern to the Crown. On August 21, 1941, Great Britain and the Soviet Union made a joint demand that Iran expel all German nationals. The Shah refused. The Brits and Russians invaded four days later. Aryan or not, Reza Shah read the handwriting on the wall and abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[7] The Pahlavi Dynasty’s second and last Shah would be a tool in the hands of the West his entire reign.

Enter Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. A distinguished public servant of Iran whose career began long before Reza Khan’s coup, he was in 1950 the parliamentary chairman of the committee responsible for negotiating Iran’s oil contracts and concessions. The committee turned their attention fully on the now named Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) to garner a more equitable deal than the D’Arcy concession had bequeathed them. Iran’s share of the profits from AIOC was less than the taxes the company paid to the British Crown. Mossadegh pressed AIOC for a 50-50 deal. They countered with a proposal which increased the payments to Iran but fell short of the requested share. Mossadegh’s committee rejected their offer.[8]

AIOC returned the following year with a 50-50 proposal, but it was too late. Mossadegh’s patience had run out. He rejected the deal and pushed for the full nationalization of AIOC’s properties. Having begun his opposition to the Pahlavi Dynasty in 1923, he was a force to be reckoned with in 1951. When he was elected as Prime Minister, the Shah didn’t have the political or popular clout to keep him from the post.[9] As Prime Minister, Mossadegh pushed forward to nationalize AIOC. The British government would have none of it and they easily convinced the Americans to help them intervene.

Known to the Britain’s MI6 as Operation Boot and to the CIA as TPAJAX, the covert operation to remove Mossadegh from power was led by the Americans under the guise of needing a win against the Soviets in the early years of the Cold War. The “TP” in TPAJAX stood for “Tudah Party,” a Communist political party in Iran. But an official CIA internal history of the operation written in 1954 by Dr. Donald N. Wilber reveals the true cause and aims of the coup d’état against Mossadegh:

“By the end of 1952, it had become clear that the Mossadeq government in Iran was incapable of reaching an oil settlement with interested Western countries…It was the aim of the TPAJAX project to cause the fall of the Mossadeq government; to reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah; and to replace the Mossadeq government with one which would govern Iran according to constructive policies. Specifically, the aim was to bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement…”[10]

To reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah, the CIA chose as their puppet a Major General in the Iranian Army, Fazlollah Zahedi. Though General Zahedi led the charge and was installed as Prime Minister by the Shah upon the coup’s successful completion, the Americans were not going to leave its continued success to chance. The U.S. sent in Major-General Schwarzkopf – “Stormin” Norman’s father – to form and train security forces that were loyal to the Shah. These security agents, organized and trained by Americans with the assistance of Israeli Mossad officers, developed into what became the dreaded SAVAK; Iran’s secret police and the brutal enforcers of the Shah’s power. Though the Ayatollah Khomeini would repurpose the Shah’s torture chambers to a new class of victims, it was ostensibly against this oppression that he inspired his countrymen to revolt under the banner of Islam.

I remember my glee when after having been held captive, humiliated, and paraded under an incompetent Jimmy Carter for 444 days, the American hostages in Iran were released within minutes of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office as President. My revelry would surely have been shorter had I known that once in the Oval Office, Reagan would authorize the sell of billions of dollars’ worth of American weapons to Iran through Israeli hands. Not content with this level of interloping, we later sold even more arms and provided intelligence to Saddam Hussein in order to bolster him in his war effort against Iran. [11] The Iran-Iraq war would claim by some estimates nearly a million Iranian casualties in its eight year course.

Though much has changed in the thirty-five years since Saddam invaded Iran, ever so much remains the same. Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran Nuclear Agreement brings together frenemies old and new – the E3/EU+3: China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The plan is practical, measurable, and highly technical.[12] Considering the fact that all five permanent members of the UN Security Council took part in crafting the plan, it is irresponsible to characterize it as the foreign relations debacle of a single man regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama’s politics. And even though the JCPOA specifies the types of nuclear material and facility designs the Iranians may use down to level of their neutron fluxes, the Iran Nuclear Agreement isn’t really about nukes. It’s about oil.

Reminiscent of its reactions to Iranian politics in the 1950s, the West hasn’t allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to fully function in the global economy since its violent birth in 1979. Her oil fields are still rich and their infrastructure is in dire need of investment and repair. And the world is thirsty for fuel. Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iranian crude will once again flow freely into the world market. The E3/EU+3 will benefit from the sell of equipment and technology to Iran as well as extend and deepen the economic benefit of reduced oil prices.[13] Iran will regain her long-frozen assets and garner better prices per barrel than she was enjoying on the black market as well as increase her production through oil field upgrades. Though Putin’s Russia may lose some European petrol sells in the short term, it gains even greater hegemony in the uranium market as it is where Iran must sell its excesses and who it must turn to to down blend their current stores of enriched uranium. Everyone wins. Well, almost.

America would have been much better served had President Eisenhower and the CIA opted to support Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s. Though nationalizing an industry runs counter to the philosophy of property rights and free trade, it presents much less of an ideological affront than the toppling of a democratically elected leader in favor of a despotic monarch. It is quite possible that an Iran under Mossadegh might have developed into a more modern mindset than she finds herself in today. And if he had had the chance to lead his country through that dangerous decade, it is highly probable that we would have negotiated a nuclear agreement with men of his breadth and caliber: lawyers, financiers, musicians, and tirelessly courageous public servants.[14] As it stands, we are beholden to the Ayatollahs.

The problem with the JCPOA isn’t the wording of the nuclear agreement. The problem is with the wording of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CIRI). Much like our founding documents, the Iranian Constitution presents the reasons for the rise of the Islamic Republic. Its revolution was part of a “devastating protest of Imam Khumayni against the American conspiracy…which was intended to…reinforce…economic dependence of Iran on world imperialism.”[15] Having identified its primary enemy, the CIRI proceeds to declare its global intentions.

“With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the Constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community (in accordance with the Koranic verse “This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” [21:92]), and to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world…”[16]

“In the formation and equipping of the country’s defense forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them” [8:60]).”[17]

The White House estimated as late as July of this year that Iran could have enough weapons grade uranium to build a bomb as early as September and at the latest October.[18] Nuclear weapons notwithstanding, Iran has proven quite capable of exporting bloodshed, mayhem, and jihad abroad with purely conventional weapons and a severely restricted money supply. The JCPOA is definitely a deal with the devil. But who the devil is depends on which side of the table the parties are sitting.

[1] “The Iranian Hostage Crisis”, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/carter-hostage-crisis, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[2] “444 Days: Memoirs of an Iran Hostage”, http://adst.org/2013/10/444-days-memoirs-of-an-iranian-hostage, (accessed September 6, 2015).
[3] “Anglo-Persian Oil Company”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Persian_Oil_Company, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[4] “D’Arcy, William Knox (1849-1917)”, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/darcy-william-knox-5882, (accessed September 25, 2015).
[5] “How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us” by Tom Philpott, http://grist.org/article/oped, (accessed September 24, 2015).
[6] David Motadel, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014), 57.
[7] Michael E. Haskew, The World War II Desk Reference, (Edison: Grand Central Press 2004), 89.
[8] “Mohamad Mossadeq, the Nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Attempted Overthrow of the Shah” by Thayer Watkins, http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/mossadeq.htm, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[9] Pahlavi was insecure enough in his position that he actually left the country.
[10] Dr. Donald N. Wilber, Overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953, (CIA, Clandestine Services History 1954), http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/summary.pdf, (accessed September 20, 2015), emphasis added.
[11] “U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq Early in Its War Against Iran” by Seymour M. Hersh, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/26/world/us-secretly-gave-aid-to-iraq-early-in-its-war-against-iran.html, (accessed September 21, 2015).
[12] The full text of the agreement is available at http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/full-text-iran-deal-120080, (accessed September 27, 2015).
[13] Crude oil prices dropped in mere anticipation of the agreement. It is estimated that Iran’s projected injection of one million barrels per day into the world market could reduce prices by $5-$10 per barrel. [“How Much Pressure Will Iran Put On Oil Prices?” by Ekaterina Pokrovskaya, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Oil-Prices/How-Much-Pressure-Will-Iran-Put-On-Oil-Prices.html, (accessed September 6, 2015).]
[14] Mossadegh held his first post in government at the age of 15 as Chief of Finance of the Khorasan Province. He studied political science in Tehran and Paris and attended law school in Switzerland. He also played the Tar, a traditional Persian string instrument. See http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/biography, (accessed September 20, 2015).
[15] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sec. The Dawn of the Movement. Emphasis added.
[16] Ibid., sec. The Form of Government in Islam. Emphasis added.
[17] Ibid., sec. The Religious Army. Emphasis added.
[18] “6 Things You Should Know About The Iran Nuclear Deal”, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/07/14/422920192/6-things-you-should-know-about-the-iran-nuclear-deal, (accessed September 20, 2015).