Book Review of Tiger Trap
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Book Review of: Tiger Trap

America's Secret Spy War with China

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Review of Tiger Trap , by Author (Hardcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This nonfiction account of international espionage is as good a read as any spy thriller. Of course, you won't come across the car chases, bombs, and sci-fi weapons. But you will come across the lying, stealing, and illicit affairs (no, I am not talking about the US CONgress).

Tiger Trap, as the title suggests, is about Chinese spying rather than the Russian spying that has captivated the American imagination for the past half century. Why this arena has been largely neglected by publishers is hard to say, but it's every bit as fascinating. The author presents exceptional detail, all of which is the result of exhaustive research and almost five hundred interviews.

In addition to providing what is really an inside look at some Chinese espionage cases (and the bungling done by the folks whose job it was to protect USA national secrets), Mr. Wise contrasts the Chinese system to the Russian system. One point of contrast, for example, is the Chinese spy operations tend to be inter-related and entangled. A person who understand Chinese culture will understand why this is so, and will also understand why the Chinese methods are so very different from the Russian ones. Mr. Wise provides some interesting insights on these differences.

Something I liked about this book is that, despite addressing a national security topic, the author didn't try to use the book to proselytize for one wing of The Party (Demopublicans) or the other. In fact, he didn't hold himself up as an armchair expert with any solutions at all. What he did was present the cases, as factually as possible.

He does this in an engaging, "turn the page" style. He had me hooked from the first paragraph of the Prelude. Part of that was the actual subject matter. You just cannot make this stuff up! Part of it was also in how he chose to write. By that, I mean exciting and fast-paced, rather than dry. While this book is academically rigorous, it's not academically boring. Quite the opposite. This book is so exciting and intriguing that it's hard to put down before you finish it.

The author stops short of rendering any judgments. For example, he could have referred to the FBI as the Federal Bureau of Incompetence and been justified in that remark based on these cases. But he's not out to criticize anyone. The author has no agenda, here. And that's the essence of good nonfiction; you just can't see the author's personal views in the writing.

While it appears this book doesn't provide any practical lessons (i.e., something you can apply to your own life), it does help us taxpayers to be more informed about what is actually happening on the international scene. While I try to ignore our state-run media, other people repeat the disinformation they get from it. I haven't heard them talk about Chinese espionage, so I am guessing you won't get this information from television or the newspapers. But you'll find it in this book, and you will consequently have a solid understanding of the situation. It's a situation that is costing the USA bigtime in lost jobs and excess military spending.

I believe it's acceptable to extrapolate from these cases what is probably going on in our own federal government (or, more accurately, what poses as a government--it doesn't actually govern or else the Pentagon Acquisitions program would not be burning $21 million an hour with only 5% of that resulting in fieldable weapons). If spying and betrayal can be done between governments, it can happen within governments. So if you're looking for something practical, you can think in those terms. The author wasn't making any such claim, so don't infer that from what I just said.

Something else the author brings up is the decades long prejudice in the USA against the Chinese. Astute scholars of US history will recall that The Party formed as a consequence of "The Chinese Problem" in California during the Reconstruction fiasco that followed the war between the states (It was a war of secession, not a civil war, according to US Grant and he is a pretty reliable source having led the Union forces to victory).

The anti-Chinese laws that were placed on the books stayed there for decades. If I recall correctly, the last repeal was in the 1950s. Some of the laws banned any Chinese immigration at all. So, you cannot blame Chinese people for being less than thrilled with the USA. The author doesn't explain why those idiotic, unconstitutional (and thus illegal) laws were enacted. His doing so would have been outside the scope of this book. Another book that does explain is Driven Out. It might make a good complement to this book, if you are interested in a longer view of things.

Having extensively studied Chinese martial arts and other aspects of this very ancient culture, I'm pleased to have read an accurate account of Chinese espionage in the USA. Of course, I wish the Chinese didn't spy on us. But they do, and this book provides an intriguing, informative, primary-research based view of that effort.

I reviewed the advance reading copy, so the actual page count of the final copy may differ from the 246 page version I read. Its Notes section may also differ from the 30 pages of research notes (really a "source-ography") in my copy. The text consists of twenty two chapters, a prelude, and author's notes. The book also contains the research notes I just mentioned. My copy doesn't have an index, but the final one does.

Add this book to your collection. Share it with friends. You'll have hours of interesting conversations.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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