Recent Reading 18: Copeland Family Edition

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order. In this edition, the books include several written by Miles Copeland II and his sons, Miles III, Ian and Stewart Copeland, or about them.

  • Ian Copeland [1999]: Wild Thing: The Backstage – on the Road -in the Studio – Off the Charts: Memoirs of Ian Copeland. Simon and Schuster.
  • Miles Copeland II [1989]: The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA’s Original Political Operative. Aurum Press. A well-written and fascinating, but often unreliable, account of Miles Copeland’s life. I admire the great intellectual heft and subtlety of political analysis Copeland demonstrates, something he shared with his contemporaries among the founders of CIA. These features stands in great contrast to the simple-minded nature of many of the attacks on intelligence, both from the State Department and the Pentagon in the 1950s, and from the left in the years since.

    It is interesting that a book published in 1989, in a chapter about his work in the US intelligence community in the late 1940s, argues that the main thrust of Soviet aggression towards the West was expected even then by Copeland and some of his intelligence community colleagues to be disinformation campaigns (dezinformatzia) directed against the West (page 74).

    It was unexpected but very heartening to see how much he despised the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement.

  • Casey McQuiston [2019]: Red, White and Royal Blue. Macmillan. A novel about love between a son of a US President and a grandson of a British monarch. Not as badly written as the subject matter might lead one to expect. The political chicanery and its implications for foreign policy are fascinating. More politics and less sex would have made this a much better book. Young Royals avant la lettre.

    Added 2023-08-13:

    Just saw the Amazon Prime film (directed by Matthew Lopez) of this book. This is a romcom, Boy meets Boy, in a story as old as . . . well, Henry James. An idealistic but inexperienced American meets a sophisticated European. From the experienced European, the naive American learns the ways of the world. From the enthusiastic American, the buttoned-up European learns to speak about emotions. The film is a paean to the widespread American view that openness is always to be desired.

  • Hugh Wilford [2013]: America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East. Basic Books. When it was created, the state of Israel had strong support from the USSR and its allies (particularly Czechoslovakia) and less support from the USA. This fascinating book presents an explanation for the US policy, in terms of Arabist leanings in the US Government, and particularly through the CIA careers of the two Roosevelt cousins (Kim and Archie, grandsons of TR) and Miles Copeland II. It should be noted that this explanation is contested by Copeland in his autobiography.
  • Miles A. Copeland III [2021]: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life In The Music Business. Jawbone Press. As well-written as his brother Stewart’s memoir, and a fascinating account of career in front of the leading edge of popular music (punk, post-punk, world music). His understanding of the Arab musical street led to Miles Copeland III being asked by the US Defense Department to advise them on winning hearts and minds in Iraq after the invasion of 2003. Everyone always becomes their father eventually, it seems. Not that anyone in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon took his advice.
  • Geoffrey Robertson [1998]: The Justice Game. Chatto and Windus.
  • Gordon Corera [2020]: Russians Among Us: Sleeper Cells, Ghost Stories and the Hunt for Putin’s Agents. William Collins.
  • Caroline Stafford and David Stafford [2021]: The Police: Every Little Thing: The Adventures of Sting, Stewart and Andy. Omnibus Press. An account of the lives and times of The Police, written by people who were at the same parties, vomiting on the same cars. Very snarky style, which quickly grated.

    There is something odd in this book. In Chapter 2, at location 314 of the Kindle Edition, we read a statement allegedly quoted from Stewart Copeland’s autobiography, following the introductory sentence,
    “At Berkeley, he experienced an odd change of personality.”

    ‘One moment I was lacking in imagination,’ he [Stewart Copeland] says in his 2009 autobiography Strange Things Happen, ‘the next I was a bright spark, I started thinking and accomplishing. I hate to say it and I would never recommend it because I know of too many casualties, but the only thing it could have been was LSD. I don’t take it any more. It did really open my eyes though. Probably an inspiring book might have done it, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to read an inspiring book.’

    This statement is not in Copeland’s book, neither in the Kindle edition nor in the hard-copy version. Indeed, a search for “LSD” returns nothing in the Kindle edition. (The hard copy has no index, making searching difficult.) Copeland’s memoir does not talk at all about his time at Berkeley, even though he alludes to it a couple of times later in the book.

    Perhaps the Staffords are quoting a pre-publication copy of Stewart’s memoir, and the words cited here are in that version. Note that the book by the Staffords appeared in 2021, and the memoir by Stewart Copeland in 2009, which is a long period of time to rely on a pre-publication version, if indeed that was the case.

  • Stewart Copeland [2009]: Strange Things Happen: A Life with “The Police”, Polo and Pygmies. Igniter Press. Who could believe that Sting was 70 last year, that this year Stewart Copeland will be 70 or that Andy Summers 80? This is a memoir written by Copeland back in 2009, and it is one of the most uplifting books I have read for many years.

    Copeland has had a very interesting life (starting by growing up in the Middle East as the son of a famous former CIA officer whose birthday he shares) and he has pursued several fascinating careers. He has had major changes in career direction (from drummer to composer of film-music and video-game-music, to composer of ballets and operas, to film-maker, with a detour to successful amateur polo player), most of which seem to have occurred by accident or synchronicity. But he has always been quick to recognize and grasp opportunities and to work hard.

    The book radiates energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, and mental agility, and Copeland would clearly be a fascinating person to know. His father called him “the family genius” in his father’s own memoir, which is quite the accolade in that particular family. He understands the shamanic power of music, and the emotional and psychic resonances of its performance. The writing is generous, warm and positive. Copeland has a rare ability to recount dispassionately arguments he was in, being both fair to his opponents and honest about himself. His descriptions of these arguments do not sound like PR spin or read as compromises glossing over conflicts. I only heard him speak after reading this book, and I was shocked to hear his American accent. I still am shocked: in my head, as a member of The Police, I think of him as British.

    Reading this book is ennobling. I think differently about life after reading it.

    Added 2023-12-19: Stewart Copeland has recently talked about growing up in Lebanon and watching American TV shows dubbed into French. One of these was Bonanza, and he was surprised when he later saw it in the original language. This series (shown in English) was a feature of my childhood. Before televisions were common, friends of my parents who had bought an early TV would invite us to TV-watching parties after dinner on Saturday nights, where Bonanza was shown. I have remarked before about bonding with strangers from across the world after realizing we had watched the same TV shows in our childhood, often American shows but sometimes Japanese.

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