Not a book review, but more just my impressions. I just hate doing surveys of books.
Just finished Robb's book, "Brave New War," and I liked it for where it succeeds brilliantly (tactical and operational descriptions of the emerging threats, which Robb views as ascendant and which I view as just what's left over) and forgive it where it succeeds least (he doesn't sell me on the death of either nation-states nor globalization--the ultimate open-source network--in large part because he can't adequately define "win" and "defeat" in his rather expansive statements about global guerrillas declaring wars on states and even the world and "winning."
I mean, other than the nutty Salafi jihadists, who want to go feudal and pre-market, every other group John cites as successful tends to imitate your basic nation-state the first chance they get (or the first territory they can control), so how is that a "defeat" of nation-states? Even the "proto-states" and "states-within-states" suggest that the Gap suffers from too little statehood (as in, they need more, smaller states) than too much, so I guess I just see the need to remap the post-colonial Gap where John sees the end of the Westphalian Era.
When I read the book, it reminded me a lot of reading Karl Marx's stuff: stunningly concise and elegant on the dissection of current vulnerabilities created by technology's advance and its revolutionary impact on economics, plus good analysis of a growing gap between those developments and the political means we currently possess to manage that change. But, like Marx, John becomes too sweeping in his generalizations of why our current system is doomed to collapse and is basically incapable of reform, plus his prescriptions at the end trail off in a vague sort of way that's unsatisfying, like reading Marx's dream of a post-capitalist world that wistfully reconstructs much of the pre-capitalist world's charms (John's version of a resilient future utopia is a global society built around the same, bottom-up principles of the Internet, which makes it pleasantly communitarian in a way no one would resist--at least no one who grew up in a small town like I did).
John's book is deeply informed by the fact he's a serious technocrat who distrusts politics. Indeed, politics as any form of solution is basically missing in action in this book. When it's referred to glancingly here and there, it's always to catalogue dysfunction or corruption (e.g., America's entire political system is dismissed with a reference to Jack Abramoff's ability to purchase it at will--a blanketing statement which comes off as strangely naive in its cynicism, but that's not unusual for military guys who often describe Washington like it's some modern-day Sodom). Big entities of all sorts are dismissed in this way by Robb, whereas the heroes and change-agents are always outsiders, "guerrillas" (an all-purpose term to John, like "connectivity" is to me) and small entrepreneurs and start-up companies.
That bias shouldn't surprise: it's basically John's career talking. So his heroes come from his experience and ranks: they're the proles of this revolution who are going to inherit the earth the rest of "them" created but can no longer control.
So, like Marx, whom I consider to be one of the great conceptualizing geniuses of his age, I like John for his obvious and stunning strengths (the dissection of now), trust him less on his projections (he sees primarily the bad in all of this networking and tends to believe in only wholesale reshaping from below to achieve the better), and basically dismiss his dismissal that change cannot be made within existing structures: political, corporate and--yes--even hierarchical ones. I think that, like Marx, John vastly underestimates the role of political institutions in positive change and their capacity for adaptation.
My synthesis tends to be additive (politics and markets are all about adaptation and compromise, so every new thing helps), while John's is more destructively revolutionary, like Marx (the brittle old order must die and be replaced by a new, technocratically-tinged order that's vastly different in form and function).
I think John's dissection of guerrillas inside the Gap is very powerful, but that when he cites--by extrapolation--similar capacities for system disruptions and system perturbations in the advanced world, he doesn't prove his case very well. Again, to me, his argument there reminds me of Marx's description of capitalism getting to a certain stage and then just collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Keeping a failed state failed is not the same as crippling a functioning state with a growing economy. If it were, they'd be revolutions going on all over the Core regularly, when in reality change and adaptation is achieved more smoothly than John believes any nation-state capable of, even following huge expansions of technology like we've just endured again, but certainly not for the first time, in America's history.
Where John's criticism of states makes more sense to me is inside the Gap (I don't see states "hollowing out" inside the Core like John does--indeed, the most globalized states have the biggest and best and most powerful governments). There I do think his guerrillas can rule, under certain circumstances, by negation. But in the Core, by and large, I see these guerrillas as more nuisance than all-encompassing threat, so John's ROI arguments don't rock my boat, because the vast majority of such efforts by bad guys will never rise above the everyday noise level of routine failure and breakdowns, and when they do, they force change that's beneficial in far more ways than simply defeating terrorism, so the notion of being bled dry by guerrillas is--to me--unconvincing.
But again, I just ignore what I can't use in books and focus on what I can use from them, and here John's promise of a smorgasbord comes true, and he offers a panoply of cool conceptualizations that enhance our understanding of the future of warfare and the connected world's growing need for resilience. If I had been John's editor, I would have pushed him to make his entire book a more expansive treatment of these ideas, any one of which could have received far longer treatment, plus exploration and scenario description in venues less Iraq-centric.
John does give my books some treatment, but because he distrusts politics so, John views them as a diametrically opposed sort of utopianism (again, John trusts technologists, not politicians). Granted, the emergence of my more effective rule sets over time presupposes successful politics--both nationally in the synchronization of rule sets across the Core and globally in the Core's expansion and diplomatic integration (e.g., strategic alliance between America , China, and India), resulting in mutual aid efforts like my "A-to-Z rule set on processing political bankruptcy inside the Gap," which I believe is proven by our Balkans experience to be feasible and which John believes is disproven totally by Afghanistan and Iraq (the contrast to me being all about good political leadership versus incompetent political leadership, just like the difference between Barbor in Mississippi and Blanco in Louisiana WRT Katrina).
So, not surprisingly, being a top-down strategizer, I cast my communitarianism on a far grander scale than the tactically and operationally minded John, who likes his version more localized in form (i.e., bottom-up like the Web).
In sum. I really enjoyed this book and plan to consult it often in the future for deeper understanding of John's many brilliant conceptualizations of network vulnerabilities. I only include my criticisms here because I know a lot of readers consider John and I to be doppelgangers of each other on the question of connectivity, whereas I'm more the optimistic builder/white hat and John's more the pessimistic breaker/black hat, so some parsing of universal views seemed warranted.
To that end, I think John's predictions of great stressing of globalization will happen and that we'll collectively surmount them in many of the ways he advocates. I just don't see that process in the same disrupting revolutionary terms that John does, but rather in more relaxed (in terms of tempo) evolutionary adaptation where politics remains--in its many forms found throughout the Core--a useful tool of compromise (thus the importance of grand strategic vision).
But I am serious about comparing John's essence-capturing skills to that of Marx, which is not praise I give out lightly. That ability alone, as it did with Marx, makes John a formidable talent in helping us understand this world we live in.