One brilliant and bustling day in the fall of 1988, I was in Manhattan, visiting the Rolling Stone offices on Fifth Avenue. It was an opportune time for a writer to be seen at headquarters; my latest piece for the magazine was currently on the newsstands, which still flourished everywhere, and particularly in New York. The pre-internet marketplace was limited to paper and newsprint. To be published was to be selected; you couldn’t just post something yourself; and it took millions of dollars to start a magazine. Walking along the streets of the greatest city in the world, seeing the new issue with your new piece displayed again and again and again. I guess you could say it was the old school version of going viral, with an additional you-are-there component.
Issue 535 of Rolling Stone featured on the cover a rising young singer named Tracy Chapman. The logo was red. The book was 119 pages printed in an outsized format, 10 by 12 inches. (The most recent Rolling Stone delivered to my house was 46 pages, 8 by 11 inches.) Inside was my account of six weeks embedded with V-13, a well-established and once-feared Mexican-American gang in Venice, California, that had fallen prey to the ravages of crack.
If stories teach us what it means to be human, then it’s no surprise that chess crops up again and again in literature. After all, people from all over the world have been playing this game for thousands of years. The game has a profound hold on our collective imagination? What about chess commands our respect as “the immortal game” or “the royal game,” whereas most of its peers are seen as harmless time-wasters?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what makes a German mad, because Germans always seem mad. But there’s a marked difference between Resting Deutsch Face—the Teuton’s natural state, wherein arguing about soccer and pointing out other people’s insignificant grammatical errors does not actually mean that one is böse (BOOO-suh), geärgert (guh-AEEER-gurt), or sauer (ZOW-ur)—and actual Wut (VOOT, or “rage.” Fun fact, the German word for “rabies” is Tollwut, TOLE-voot, meaning “crazy rage.”) Yes, all right, the Germans have a lot of words for being pissed off, but I promise you that usually they’re not. Unless, that is, they discover that you’re fucking with Nutella.
This is not really a book about the future of warfare, with all that might imply in terms of exotic technologies that will transform not only the character of war, but, some believe, even its very nature. Lawrence Freedman does indeed discuss the impact of cyber-attacks, artificial intelligence and machine learning on the conflicts of the future. But that is not his main purpose. The clue is in the title. The author, arguably Britain’s leading academic strategist, examines how ideas about how future wars could be fought have shaped the reality, with usually baleful results.