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RAND: Soldiers of Reason, by Alex Abella

Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire, by Alex Abella is a history of the RAND Corporation, and a fascinating history it is. RAND began as one of the first think tanks. It was founded by Air Force Generals, and a man named Frank Collbohm. It was, at first, a division of Douglas Aircraft but would later be spun off into its own non-profit corporation. Its first assignments had to do with what strategies the USAF should employ in order to win future wars.

Some of the "best and the brightest" young thinkers found their way into RAND. Employees of the company came up with innovative ways to handle problems including systems analysis, game theory, and rational choice.

Alex Abella does a good job with character portraits and making complex ideas understandable. He has a knack for making even arcane matters interesting. Most readers would shrink from reading about bureaucratic infighting. Yet Mr. Abella helps us to understand that many of the ideas bureaucrats argue about can have profound influence on the world in which we live.

The United States since the Second World War has consistently put its best minds to work solving military and social problems. RAND has been in the forefront of this trend. Mr. Abella chronicles RAND through the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam, the "Great Society", Watergate, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. We see how this corporation has shaped the lives of so many.

If there is a flaw in "Soldiers of Reason" it is that the author seems somewhat hostile to his subject, and has a tendency to interpose his own opinion far beyond necessity - even beyond reasonableness. The last chapter of the book I came to the conclusion that Mr. Abella has an axe to grind. An author's opinion is not always unwelcome, even within the text of a history. However, I would have felt better if I thought the author had used judgement and discretion in his comments and not formulated them based on knee-jerk reactions that undoubtedly originated more in feelings than thought.

Soldiers of Reason is available at Amazon.

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