The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman - a strong 8/10
So the theme of this book should be fairly obvious from the title. Barbara Tuchman explores the concept of folly in ruling institutions - military, political, and religious. She establishes several criteria for what qualifies as folly, but the most important is when a government clearly acts against its own self-interest (as opposed to merely screwing things up for a lot of people). The four main cases presented are the fall of Troy, the Catholic Church just before the Reformation, the British losing America, and America losing in Vietnam. With the exception of the Troy story, I found the historical coverage in this book to be top notch. I could accuse Tuchman of over simplifying the political lessons to be derived from these events, but considering how often these lessons are ignored I suppose they need perpetual attention.
My timing with this book was serendipitous because I managed to hear two interviews on NPR about Richard Nixon while working my way through Vietnam portion. I've come to terms with the idea that savvy political leaders often make stupid mistakes, but it makes my stomach churn to see people that are full-blown paranoid delusional somehow become in charge of a democratic nation in the midst of a war. Somehow the magnitude of screw ups in Iraq really didn't hit me until reading about how our Defense Department dealt with conflicting intelligence reports during Vietnam.