the evil that men do to live life close to kings

And now, the remainder of your media blow:

Kitchen Confidential: Now I see what the fuss was about! Bourdain writes accessibly, but also with the intent to educate – about what goes on in kitchens, the way restaurants are run and, most importantly, what separates good chefs from the great ones. A fun read.

Killing Pablo: Perfect airplane reading from the author of Black Hawk Down. Bowden chronicles the rise to power of Pablo Escobar, a man so ruthless that he cowed the largest Colombian cartels into obedience and so wealthy that he talked the Colombian government into letting him build his own prison once they caught him. He also discusses the efforts of first the Colombian police, then of America’s Delta Force, to bring him down. It’s a gripping story that moves at a good clip.

It’s not perfect, mind you – Bowden tries to force some parallels between Escobar and his son vs. a father-son team of Colombian inspectors who track him. But Bowden gets major cred for all but accusing U.S. Army Intelligence of aiding the efforts of rival drug cartels and disenfranchised cops in terrorizing Escobar: assassinating his men, planting car bombs in his family’s neighborhoods, and the like. The evidence seems pretty compelling, and the implications are heavy.

Emergency: A rather self-absorbed but still informative look at one man’s efforts to survive “off the grid.” Over the course of several years, the author rolls through a virtual checklist of both left-wing and right-wing escape tactics: hiding your currency off shore, getting a second passport, learning how to shoot and survive in the wild, and urban combat. He ends up becoming more self-aware and active in his community as a result, “graduating” from an L.A. music writer to a part-time paramedic and emergency responder.

The book’s downside arises from the name on the cover: Neil Strauss, author of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-up Artists. This book isn’t about how you can prepare yourself to survive a disaster – it’s about how Neil Strauss can prepare himself. Step one is to have wealthy, equally paranoid friends who put him in touch with immigration lawyers on St. Kitt’s. Step two is to expense a variety of survival retreats and self-defense lessons to your publisher. Strauss spends equal amounts of time puffing himself up – telling anecdotes about busty publicists who throw themselves at him, or the creepy neckbeards who expect the U.S. is going to collapse – and poring over his own soul in agonizing detail – am I not really a man unless I can slit this goat’s neck and skin its corpse?

If you’re looking for actual ways to hide assets, get out of the country, survive in the wild or defend yourself, this book will be of limited help. It’ll point you in the direction that Strauss took, but that’s it. Contra the reviews of Tim Ferris or Rolling Stone, this book is not a manual. It is, if anything, a tawdry and flimsy overview.

Kings: When Leonard first mentioned this NBC drama, I decided I had to watch it just for the balls-out lunacy of its concept alone. A modern day retelling of the Biblical story of King David, set in a one-step-removed America called “Gilboa”? Starring Deadwood‘s Ian McShane as King Saul Silas? How did that ever get greenlighted? “It’s, er, like Dallas … but with actual royalty!”

Don’t ask me how, but it works. Like Battlestar Galactica (in its S1-S2 heyday), Kings overlays medieval sensibilities onto a modern setting. You have kings and high priests and court historians and the occasional coronation, but you also have cell phones, global news networks and runs on the Treasury. King Silas, pulled in a hundred different directions by his family, his faith, his subjects and the corporations that helped rebuild his city, latches on to a farm-boy hero – David Shepherd – who singlehandedly takes down a Goliath tank and saves the King’s son. David gets promoted to high office and drawn into the inner circle of court.

I like Kings – the one episode I’ve seen so far – for its political maneuvering and for the “how are they gonna bring this in?” puzzle of all alternate universes. I like watching Ian McShane play the Shakespearean patriarch, and even the pretty faces playing the next generation aren’t bad. But I’m most fascinated by its take on religion. Kings uses religion not as an excuse to be preachy, or even as the butt of a joke, but as a crucial factor in court politics. The God they refer to is the God of the Old Testament – not the source of right and wrong, but the source of power. When Silas is warned that he’s turning away from God, it shakes him, and rightly so.

Sadly, Kings probably won’t last a season. But I really hope it does.


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