Haberman (2022), Galeotti (2022), and O’Kane (2022) among others are exemplars of the gangster genre of literary nonfiction

At a previous post I have highlighted Haberman (2022), Galeotti (2022), and O’Kane (2022) among other works of literary nonfiction. [1, 3]

After reading Haberman (2022), it has occurred to me that when we read such a well-written, well-sourced account of recent history, we are dealing with cartoon-like themes related to gangster literature, a genre I have previously highlighted at this website:

Click here for previous posts about the gangster genre >

I have chosen three of the above-noted previous posts from years ago and share texts from (or related to) each of them below.

Gangster movies

Starting in 1920s, gangster movies underlined capabilities of talking pictures

The post refers to a book by Masha Gessen entitled The Man Without a Face (2012).

A blurb for the latter study at the Toronto Public Library website notes:

Handpicked as a successor by the “family” surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country’s fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.


James C. Scott (1972) argues that corruption, like violence, must be understood as a regular, repetitive, integral part of the operation of most political systems. It’s an interesting study. (Thieves of State (2016) – see below – addresses the same topic in a particularly well-organized, cogent manner.)

Gangster history

Warfare including psychological operations, propaganda, and hybrid warfare (as subset of warfare or its central feature) entails organized violence aligned with pursuit of political goals.

Gangster history is a subset of military history.

Click here for previous posts about gangs >

Click here for previous posts about military history >

If you want to read about corruption I recommend Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security Paperback (2016) – a well-written, highly informative book; a blurb reads:

The world is blowing up. Every day a new blaze seems to ignite: the bloody implosion of Iraq and Syria; the East-West standoff in Ukraine; abducted schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. Is there some thread tying these frightening international security crises together? In a riveting account that weaves history with fast-moving reportage and insider accounts from the Afghanistan war, Sarah Chayes identifies the unexpected link: corruption.

Since the late 1990s, corruption has reached such an extent that some governments resemble glorified criminal gangs, bent solely on their own enrichment. These kleptocrats drive indignant populations to extremes – ranging from revolution to militant puritanical religion. Chayes plunges readers into some of the most venal environments on earth and examines what emerges: Afghans returning to the Taliban, Egyptians overthrowing the Mubarak government (but also redesigning Al-Qaeda), and Nigerians embracing both radical evangelical Christianity and the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. In many such places, rigid moral codes are put forth as an antidote to the collapse of public integrity.

The pattern, moreover, pervades history. Through deep archival research, Chayes reveals that canonical political thinkers such as John Locke and Machiavelli, as well as the great medieval Islamic statesman Nizam al-Mulk, all named corruption as a threat to the realm. In a thrilling argument connecting the Protestant Reformation to the Arab Spring, Thieves of State presents a powerful new way to understand global extremism. And it makes a compelling case that we must confront corruption, for it is a cause – not a result – of global instability.

Extremist Mindsets and Strategies (2021) by Clara S. Kim addresses similar themes; a blurb reads:

Presenting an analysis of modern-day extremism, this book explores how any group or movement – political, ideological, racial, ethnonational, religious, or issue-driven – can adopt an extremist mindset if they believe their existence or interests are threatened. Looking beyond “fringe” resistance groups already labeled as terrorists or subversives, the author examines conventional organizations – political parties, religious groups, corporations, interest groups, nation – states, police and the military-that deploy extremist strategies to further their agendas. A dynamic of mutual causation between conventional and resistance groups is argued: extremist resistance surfaces in response to oppressive measures by conventional powers to maintain their supremacy through systemic injustices, including slavery, caste systems, patriarchy, colonialism, autocracy, exploitive capitalism, and discrimination against minorities.

A related topic concerns crime and the prison system. As with all categories of information addressed at the current post, crime is a topic regarding which many ways of seeing are available. [2]

Class and status

Class and status drove the British empire, David Cannadine (2001) argues

Some years ago, I began to read about the British empire and gradually began to picture what the empire – and historiography related to it – was about. I began reading about the British empire because I wanted to learn more about an obscure British colonel who in 1797 built a log cabin at the western edge of what is now the City of Toronto. The cabin was torn down, the evidence indicates, in 1955. Many accounts claim, without evidence, that the cabin was torn down in 1952.

It’s easy to understand the reason for such a spread of misinformation regarding the date when some event in local history took place. Many people who write about local history like to repeat – without further thought or reflection – whatever they come across online or in a published source such as a book about local history in a public library. The idea that information about dates and the like would benefit from verification and corroboration is beyond the grasp of some of us.

A Dec. 7, 2020 EuropeNow article is entitled: “Britain’s Postcolonial Crisis: The Denial of Racism in Little England.”

An excerpt reads:

This essay is not about statues inasmuch as it is about the contemporary denial of racism in Britain. However, my argument is that it is the same logic that inspires so many people to view the British empire as being a philanthropic endeavor – as seen in their vehement defence of colonial statues – that also drives the view that Britain is not “racist” in the present day. In other words, there is an inherent connection between Britain’s “postcolonial melancholia” (Gilroy 2004), and the country’s commitment to post-racialism. I will demonstrate this argument by focusing on how representations of a benign, charitable British empire relate to the state’s exonerating themselves from any responsibility for the disproportionately high COVID-19 mortality rate for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) Brits in the present day.

A Nov. 29, 2013 Independent article is entitled: “Revealed: How British Empire’s dirty secrets went up in smoke in the colonies: Thousands of confidential papers were destroyed as British rule neared its end in many colonies.”

A June 29, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled “The Great Divide: The violent legacy of Indian Partition.”

The article notes:

The question of how India’s deeply intermixed and profoundly syncretic culture unravelled so quickly has spawned a vast literature. The polarization of Hindus and Muslims occurred during just a couple of decades of the twentieth century, but by the middle of the century it was so complete that many on both sides believed that it was impossible for adherents of the two religions to live together peacefully. Recently, a spate of new work has challenged seventy years of nationalist mythmaking. There has also been a widespread attempt to record oral memories of Partition before the dwindling generation that experienced it takes its memories to the grave.

4 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Note 1

    I recently finished reading Galeotti (2022) and found the study really interesting and well-written.

    I subscribe to an email newsletter from Mick Ryan whose Dec. 11, 2022 Substack update is entitled: “Winning The Adaptation Battle: Ukraine and Russia are continuously seeking to out think each other and adapt.” Such a newsletter is highly valuable.

    I now read a few such updates regularly, taking more time to read each one and giving the reading closer attention than when I was active on Twitter.

    An excerpt reads:

    Writing in the Royal United Services Institute journal in 1974, Sir Michael Howard described how he was “tempted to declare that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What matters is their capacity to get it right quickly when the moment arrives.”

    This has become an oft quoted aspect of Howard’s broad contribution to the history and theoretical underpinnings of war. However, the reason it is used so often is because Howard was right in describing a common phenomenon where military institutions often get bogged down in reinforcing the lessons of past wars during peacetime or apply insufficient rigor to the study of future warfare.

    More importantly, Howard was describing the uncertainty that is inherent in preparing for and conducting military operations. This uncertainty is a result of the interactive nature of war, the friction of masses of humans fighting and influencing each other, and the ongoing search for advantage while deceiving an adversary.

    I also subscribe to a newsletter from Phillips P. Obrien whose Dec. 11, 2022 email update is entitled: “Little Movement of the Front Line.”

    An excerpt reads:

    On the battlefield of Ukraine little changed this last week. There were some tiny changes in the lines around Bakhmut, but once again the Russians are really not close to taking the city. There were also some small changes in Ukraine’s favor in the northeast near Svatove, but again these alterations were pretty small. This has basically been the position since the Russians were forced to pull back across the Dnipro in Kherson Oblast in October.

    The Institute for the Study of War’s update earlier today has some good maps of where things stand.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Note 2

    A Dec. 12, 2022 New York Times article is entitled: “The Root Cause of Violent Crime Is Not What We Think It Is.”

    An excerpt (I’ve omitted embedded links) reads:

    I have seen the message of “strong communities keeping everyone safe” open the minds of Republican voters, Democratic voters and many in between. It is backed up by science. Academics, government commissions and even many police chiefs have agreed with the substance behind the message for decades. And there is evidence, including the results of last month’s midterms, that it can work politically on a larger scale.

    Local successes can be harder for national and statewide candidates to take credit for. But they are still better off telling a story about solutions than trying to outpunish their opponents. Senator-elect John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, often advertised his efforts to eliminate shooting deaths as the mayor of Braddock.

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Note 3

    The assessment by Galeotti regarding the haphazard nature of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 finds corroboration in a Dec. 18, 2022 New York Times article titled: “Putin’s War: A Times investigation based on interviews, intercepts, documents and secret battle plans shows how a “walk in the park” became a catastrophe for Russia.”

    Galeotti (2022) presents a comprehensive overview of the history related to the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

    I have accessed the New York Times article through the Toronto Public Library website.

    An excerpt reads:

    Russian soldiers go into battle with little food, few bullets and instructions grabbed from Wikipedia for weapons they barely know how to use. Russian soldiers go into battle with little food, few bullets and instructions grabbed from Wikipedia for weapons they barely know how to use.

    They plod through Ukraine with old maps like this one from the 1960s, recovered from the battlefield, or no maps at all. They plod through Ukraine with old maps like this one from the 1960s, recovered from the battlefield, or no maps at all.

    They speak on open cellphone lines, revealing their positions and exposing the incompetence and disarray in their ranks. They speak on open cellphone lines, revealing their positions and exposing the incompetence and disarray in their ranks.

    They have trained at dilapidated Russian bases hollowed out by corruption, including this one, home to a tank division badly defeated in Ukraine. They have trained at dilapidated Russian bases hollowed out by corruption, including this one, home to a tank division badly defeated in Ukraine.

    They are given wildly unrealistic timetables and goals for taking Ukrainian territory and complain of being sent into a “meat grinder.” They are given wildly unrealistic timetables and goals for taking Ukrainian territory and complain of being sent into a “meat grinder.”

    This is the inside story of historic Russian failures.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A Nov. 17, 2023 CBC Front Burner transcript is entitled: “A buried history of Canada’s Afghan war.” Click here to access the Nov. 13, 2023 CBC Front Burner broadcast on which the transcript is based.

    An excerpt from the transcript reads:

    In 2007, in the middle of the war, the Canadian military commissioned a historian to write Canada’s official account of it. One of the things that stands out about that official history is that it was documented as the war was being fought in real time. The result is a three-volume book called The Canadian Army in Afghanistan, which was expected to be published in 2014. The other thing that stands out is that for nearly a decade, this book hasn’t seen the light of day. According to its author, there were concerns from within the military about what he had written. Not that it wasn’t accurate, but that it contained uncomfortable truths. The book was quietly released last summer, but a limited run that makes it more or less inaccessible for anyone who actually wants to read it. Today, CBC Defence and security reporter, Murray Brewster, on the long delay, what’s actually in the book and why historical accounts of war can be so divisive.


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