‘Most Humans are Susceptible to Propaganda’

Erna Paris writing in The Globe and Mail:

The core learning future generations must acquire, in addition to the facts of Holocaust history, will be to recognize the impulse to genocide, how and why it starts, the propaganda tools it employs to persuade, and the known consequences of silence and indifference. I think this learning must also include the somewhat rueful acknowledgement that most humans are susceptible to propaganda in various degrees, which is why early-stage vigilance is so crucial.

Erna Paris was born in Toronto in 1938. She is the author of seven works of literary non-fiction and the winner of twelve national and international writing awards for her books, feature writing, and radio documentaries. Her book Long Shadows: Truth, Lies, and History was chosen as one of “The Hundred Most Important Books Ever Written in Canada” by the Literary Review of Canada.

‘The Liberation of Paris’

How Paris Avoided Destruction

Dietrich v. Choltitz – Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R63712 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

The Liberation of Paris is a gripping book that is packed full of interesting details about Nazi-occupied Paris and its last commander Dietrich von Choltitz.

At the end of WWII, Adolf Hitler ordered Choltitz to hold Paris, but if that wasn’t possible, to destroy it. Although General Choltitz had been very loyal to Hitler, he could not bring himself to obliterate the City of Light. He ultimately surrendered Paris to French forces on August 25, 1944. He’s been called the “Saviour of Paris” for preventing its destruction.

After his surrender, Choltitz was held for the remainder of the war in London and the United States and was ultimately released from captivity in 1947. He died in Baden-Baden in 1966.

The author of this exceptional book was the distinguished political scientist and biographer Jean Edward Smith. Smith’s work includes highly regarded biographies of Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He died on September 1, 2019 at the age of 86.

The audiobook is ably narrated by Fred Sanders, who has narrated many fine audiobooks including Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

’21 Lessons for the 21st Century’

What are today’s greatest challenges and choices?

Yuval Noah Harari is a history professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But he’s no ordinary history professor. His current research focuses on big picture questions including:

  • What’s the relationship between history and biology?
  • Does history have a direction?
  • Have people become happier over time?

Harari does not tackle easy questions and always has something thoughtful to say. Only time will tell if he’s right.

Bill Gates included Harari’s book entitled, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century on a list of five books he loved in 2018. Gates found it offered “a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face.”

Harari helped me put the day-to-day news in context, especially on the topic of the degree to which automation will affect the job market. Harari believes that artificial intelligence will have an enormous impact on the job market. For example, he argues that artificial intelligence will replace doctors in diagnosing common ailments.

The book helped me to think about the forces at work and the impact they will have on the world. To me, that’s more important than the accuracy of specific predictions.

The audiobook is ably narrated by Derek Perkins, who is British but now lives in Boston. He still sounds quite British. I found his narration easy to follow.

If you’d like to see what Professor Harari is like, he gave a one hour talk at Google in 2018:

Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Re-enacted

“Report from Nuremberg: The International War Crimes Trial” is a collection of reenacted radio broadcasts providing news covering the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. Given all that has been written about the trial, it is interesting to hear the contemporary radio reports. It is almost like CNN updates on the trials. The descriptions of the defendants and their dress, mannerisms and personalities were of great interest.

I commend Audible for creating these reenactments and making them available. I enjoyed listening to them. The narrators were all excellent. The sound of the mechanical typewriter at the start of each broadcast helped me imagine what it must have been like to hear these broadcasts live.

Between October 18, 1945, and October 1, 1946, the International Military Tribunal, as it was known, tried 22 people on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit such crimes. Twelve of those convicted were sentenced to death. Three defendants were acquitted.

‘An Officer and a Spy’

Recounting the Dreyfus Affair

Before listening to An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, I knew only the broad outline of the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that divided France from from 1894 until 1906. The twists and turns during this 12-year period are amazing and exciting. It is sometimes hard to believe this all really happened. Émile Zola’s 1898 open letter to the President of France accusing the French government of antisemitism was bold and courageous.

This is historical fiction but Robert Harris’s writing is based upon through research. The book has a lot of detail which added to my enjoyment. As a result of this detail, I felt as though I was actually in France.

I enjoyed learning about an important chapter of French history filled with intrigue. The ending is amazing and left me wanting more, despite the length of the audiobook — a little over 16 hours.

The audiobook is narrated by David Rintoul, an accomplished Scottish actor. His intonation and pronunciation are exceptional and added greatly to my enjoyment of the audiobook.

‘Intelligence Matters’

Since 2017, the Intelligence Matters podcast has provided an in-depth insider look into the intelligence community. The host of the podcast is Michael Morell, who served as the acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) first in 2011 and then from 2012 to 2013. Morell was by President Bush’s side on September 11, 2001 when terrorists struck America and in the White House Situation Room advising President Obama on May 1, 2011 when America struck back-killing Usama bin Ladin.

Central Intelligence Agency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Morell interviews top leaders of the U.S. intelligence community as they reflect on their lives, careers and the roles they play in shaping national security policies.

Past guests have included former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism at the New York Police Department and former National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA Director General Mike Hayden. What results is a conversation between two people with deep knowledge of the intelligence community.

Before podcasting, interviews like this would not have been available to the general public. Morell is a skilled interviewer. While no secrets can be revealed, listeners learn how those in the intelligence community approach national security issues and how they advise the country’s top leadership, including the President. It’s an eye opening experience.

Morell is the author of “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism–From al Qa’ida to ISIS” and is now a CBS News national security contributor.

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