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Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire Hardcover – May 12, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

When President Eisenhower famously warned against the military-industrial complex, he largely meant the Department of Defense–funded programs of the RAND Corporation. Abella (coauthor, Shadow Enemies: Hitler's Secret Terrorist Plot Against the United States) presents a sometimes dry but thorough account of this think-tank, which he asserts not only played a key role in the U.S.'s biggest foreign misadventures in Vietnam and Iraq but also, through its development of rational choice theory, has affected every aspect of our lives, not necessarily for the better. Abella, working with the cooperation of the usually secretive organization, details RAND'S history, from analyst Herman Kahn's energetic support of a virtually unrestrained nuclear arms buildup to the organization's role in sparking America's involvement in Vietnam and the current war in Iraq. But even more, Abella says, RAND theorists' notion that self-interest, rather than collective interests like religion, governs human behavior has influenced every aspect of our society, from health care to tax policy. The RAND Corporation continues today—as brilliant, controversial and, in Abella's view, amoral as ever—with the complicity of all Americans. If we look in the mirror, Abella concludes, we will see that RAND is every one of us. The question is, what are we going to do about it? 8 pages of b&w photos. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


• The main character in stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is based on RAND analyst Herman Kahn.

• JFK may have owed his presidency to his RAND advisors, who provided him information about America’s weak defenses and the so-called “missile gap” that heavily favored the Soviet Union. as it turns out, there was no missile gap—an estimate of five hundred soviet ICBMs was later amended to fifty.

• Thank RAND for the cost-sharing features of our health care: under Nixon, RAND carried out a massive multiyear study of the health-care system that ushered in the widespread use of deductibles and co-payments.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010813
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #485,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Reinstedt on June 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Soldiers Of Reason may have been okay if it were the biography of Wohlstetter. As it is, it resembles someone who has visited the Louvre for five days and writes a book about what Europe is like.
To consider Wolfowitz and Perle as RANDites is absurd. C Rice came a bit closer, but not much. Rumsfeld was on the Board but only on the Board, and that was a long time ago.
There was never a fist fight in any manangement meeting. Shapley (a member of the National Academy of Science) and Belman were mathemeticians, not an economist and a physicist. The correct decription of RAND by Pravda was The Academy of Death and Destruction. These are minor errors and are perhaps to be expected in any book. It always is a plus, however, for authors to do their homwork.
The author makes RAND look like a group of wild eyed hawks bent on death and destruction without a thought for human lives or social consequences.. An assemblage of Dr Strangeloves. To imply that ethics and morals was a luxury that the researchers couldn't afford or chose not to address is an insult to the vast majority of RAND researchers.
My guess is that most of the real RANDites will gasp in horror at what is portrayed of the organization. Yes, a great deal of emphasis was on the cold war and how to fight it, but also how to avoid it. To imply that our current policy in the Middle East is a direct result of RAND is another absurdity. There may be many who have taken what they wish to further from some of the studies performed at RAND, but there are different interpretations and indeed different studies to the contrary.
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Format: Hardcover
I came across Alex Abella's fascinating book in the LAX airport newsstand, moments before boarding my $230 Virgin America flight to Washington. After my late friend Kevin's disturbing RAND conference room memorial service, I simply had to read it cover-to-cover on the flight. It took me until somewhere over Ohio. I really could not put the book down. The desire to reduce all questions to a matter of numbers was one I had come across last week in my late father's 1941 diary. It turned out we had moved into a home of one of the the founders of RAND--J. Richard Goldstein--when we arrived in Santa Monica.

Coincidentally, a high school friend had been the son of RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame. The cousin of someone I know worked for RAND after leaving the CIA. The girlfriend of another cousin of someone I know worked at RAND while on leave from the State Department. When I saw the book in the bookstore, I realized that I had known practically nothing about the "mother of all think-tanks." From the book I found out that the Hudson Institute was a bastard child of RAND, set up after Herman Kahn left the mother ship. The Albert Wohlstetter room at AEI is named after a RAND guru. And almost everyone who is anyone in Washington these days--especially the architects of America's Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires--seem to have some sort of RAND connection.

Yet so far as I know, there had been no book about RAND, until this. It explained a great deal, and I recommend it highly. It is about the possibilities--and limits--of operations research and systems analysis. Reading "Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire" helped me better understand the sudden and tragic death of my friend...

Must reading for anyone interested in the ways of Washington, or what President Eisenhower (apparently with RAND in mind) called "the military-industrial complex."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was looking for a detailed review of the history, and more importantly the influence of RAND on US policy and this hits the nail on the head. In addition you get a real sense of the 'Mad Men' social era in which these guys operated. Reads like a political thriller in places. Excellent book!
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, the book is about a lot more than foreign policy, but that's what I find most interesting about RAND and what I think really shines in this compelling history. Yeah, yeah, there's social science that RAND did, too, and that's good to know, but where the writing really comes alive is with the great larger than life characters who were at the center of the Cold War -- people like Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, Bernard Brodie, Paul Wolfowitz, Daniel Ellsberg, Donald Rumsfeld, and on and on. A lot of the material has been glancingly covered elsewhere, but never has one book presented the whole story. And with the whole story in one place, it becomes shockingly clear what enormous influence RAND's "soldiers of reason" had in every administration for over 60 years.

It's a relief that for most of the book Abella just presents history -- story after story of all the players and their deeds (and more important, their incredibly influential ideas). It's also a relief that at the end Abella sums up the achievements and failings of RAND's systems analysis and approach to problems by stating: "the problem with rational choice theory is that it is not rational. It fails to comprehend the world as it is..." Exactly. One need look no further than Viet Nam (or Iraq!) for proof.

A very good secret history of American foreign policy during and after the Cold War.
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