I like to think I get out and about a fair amount but, really, I don’t take advantage of the unique offerings of DC nearly as much as I should. Take, for example, Politics and Prose. I can’t count how many times I’ve read about author events they’ve hosted that seemed interesting but to which I never actually made it. With an event almost every night, it would be difficult not to find something appealing, I just can’t ever seem to find myself up in that part of northwest on one of those nights.
I ventured out there for the first time last Tuesday (via metro and then walking several blocks as it isn’t really convenient to any stop, which is another prohibitive factor) to see Leslie Gelb discuss his new book, Power Rules. The store itself is larger than I expected for an independent bookstore but still manages to retain a certain intimate charm to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check out their selection of merchandise all that much because I was running from and to something before and after the event, but cursory perusal would suggest a return trip is in order.
As for the event, the one thing that struck me right away was that there were exactly two people out of maybe fifty attendees who were around my age. It’s safe to say almost everyone else in attendance was over sixty. I don’t know if this was due to the nature of the book, the slightly inaccessible to public transportation location of the store, or some combination thereof, but it doesn’t really seem like a good place to meet people (however, I have tentatively marked two other events I would like to attend this month so I’ll revise that observation should my one experience turn out to be a fluke).
The talk itself was rather engaging. Gelb is an entertaining speaker, though not without an air of self-importance. As for the self-importance…well, if I were a player at State, took a turn as a Pulitzer winning journalist with the New York Times, and then dabbled in academia as head of the Council on Foreign Relations, I would probably affect a bit of an air myself. As an aside, that seems like a pretty ideal career path, I should get on that. But I digress.
If the mark of a superior intellect lies in raising the right questions, if not always providing the right answers, then he is quite exemplary. I’ll spare you the substance of his arguments, though I am looking forward to reading the book having been sucked in by his commentary. What I found most intriguing was the premise itself — going back to fundamentals (how do you define power and, by extension, how does that definition inform your understanding of the international arena). In his words, you can spend an entire career dealing with these concepts and throwing terms around “knowing” what they mean but not really giving that understanding a second thought. In so doing, he critiques Nye, Zakaria, Friedman, etc., on the basis of how their particular grand theories don’t quite square with a more thorough exploration of what power means and application of that to today’s geopolitical realities. Judging by the examples he cited, some of it fits and some of it doesn’t, in my opinion. However, the writer in me swoons over that aspect of the approach — drilling down, and subsequently playing off of, what commonly invoked terms/concepts mean.
In an attempt to keep on with my desire to take advantage of more (free!) things like this, I’ve created a calendar of upcoming talks/exhibits/screenings that I would like to attend (work schedule permitting, naturally). I shall make my best effort to report back here.
P.S: If you’re running the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler tomorrow, good luck! I’ll be out there dying with you 😉