As we get into summer vacation season, we decided to revive
a Shadow Government tradition and present another installment of our "beach
reading list." Following are the books that our Shadow Government contributors
are reading this summer, and some brief comments why. As you'll see it is a
diverse and eclectic list, and if nothing else should show that foreign policy
hands read about more than foreign policy. Read, and enjoy.
(Click widget to view a collection of all of the Shadow Government recommendations on Goodreads.)
Baseball Explains America,
Hal Bodley. I've always thought it's impossible to understand the willful
innocence of American culture in the 1950s without reference to the generation
of men who came of age fighting World War II, their recoil from that horrific
experience into a simpler moral universe, and baseball exemplifies that. Plus,
the chapter "Change is Good" is a simple explanation of the way big
data is revolutionizing the game.
What Is It Good For?,
Ian Morris Morris makes smashing political correctness fun, and he does it with
a sweeping mastery of numerous academic disciplines. I'm eager to read the
chapter titled "The Last Best Hope of Earth: American Empire, 1989-?"
I fervently hope his work portends a return to historians asking big
A History, Lawrence
Freedman. There is simply no finer mind applied to the questions of national
security in our time than Sir Lawrence. His argument that strategy as a process
of constant and creative refinement to ensure goals and means are aligned is a
gentle rebuke to those who seek the holy grail of a grand strategy. This book
is a master class in the art of creating power and a really fun read.
and Consent, Allen Drury. I had been hearing about this book for years
and finally got around to reading it this summer. This Pulitzer-Prize winning
novel in many ways remains as fresh and insightful about Washington today as it
was when it was first published 55 years ago in 1959. The writing style alone
makes it worth the read, with an abundance of arresting passages and memorable
descriptions, and plenty of plot twists that kept me up late reading for
of Hippo, Peter Brown. So I confess I first started reading this 15
years ago in graduate school, but never finished it. A couple of recent David
Brooks' New York Times columns
about Augustine reminded me to return to this book -- one of the greatest
biographies ever written, about one of the most profound thinkers the world has
known. Augustine's life and thought indelibly shaped so many areas of human
activity today, such as just war theory, the relationship between church and
state, the simultaneous folly and nobility of human nature, and love.
at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War, Ken Adelman.
The past few years have seen the beginnings of a scholarly reassessment of
Reagan, who had been previously dismissed by much academic opinion as a
lightweight, warmonger, or both. As scholars begin to appreciate Reagan's
strategic insights and Cold War leadership, a great help continues to be firsthand
accounts by those who knew and worked with him. Adelman's account, delightfully
written and full of fresh insights, is among the best.
Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, Erik Larson. Anyone planning time relaxing
on the Gulf might want to read this, which I just finished. Larson, is better
known for his recent history of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and life in
Berlin during the 1930s as Hitler consolidated power. In the Garden of Beasts was a more dense history but Isaac's Storm is written with the same
sense of tension and anticipation of dread happenings. Why read it if you're on
the Gulf enjoying the sun and sand? It is about the legendary hurricane that
hit Galveston in 1900, still the worst natural disaster in American history in
terms of loss of life. It also has something to say about bureaucratic hubris
Halberstam. Another suggestion is this big history of the 1950s that I'm,
admittedly, only half way through. Written by David Halberstam, it is lively
and filled with anecdotes from the time so can be read in a casual setting. It
is a useful reminder that history did not begin when JFK became president and
that the 1950s were not a boring time notable only for Mad Men selling fake
dreams to gullible consumers. It also contains a few lessons about the dangers
of disarming too fast and promising too much.
Chance, Kem Nunn. This latest novel by Kem
Nunn is on the to-read list because everything he has written has been
interesting and a lot has been outstanding. Pomona
Queen was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1993, but my
favorites are his first book Tapping
the Source and his fourth The
Dogs of Winter, which capture the danger and allure of surfing as
a metaphor for life and death in California. And where better to spend a
splendid vacation than on a California beach, whether with a board in tow or
just a towel and a good read?
Ghost Corps, Nathan Prefer. 20th Corps and the 94th
Infantry Division had the job of cracking the Siegfried Line from December 1944
to February 1945. The cracking of the Siegfried line was one of the two major
breaks in the defenses of Nazi Germany signaling the end of the Nazi regime.
The fall of the Siegfried line lead to a swift run across Germany starting at
Trier all the way across into (then) Czechoslovakia. My grandfather was in the
94th and I am rereading this history because of a recent trip to Europe to help
rededicate the 94th Infantry Division Peace Monument on the Luxembourg-German
Story of the Jews, Simon
Schama. The new history of the Jews by acclaimed historian Schama is something
I can't wait to read. It has been given rave reviews, and I look forward to
being inspired by one of the most consequential stories in human history.
Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis and Transformation of the American World Order, G. John Ikenbery. A good analysis of the
origin and evolution of the American order, as I am interested in how we
preserve that order.
Banker's New Clothes: What's Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It, Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig. I've
started in on this one. It's a clear, engaging discussion of a topic that can
be both dauntingly complex and very important.
of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos. I have long admired Evan's
writing in the New Yorker and had the
chance to talk with him when he spoke at The Chicago Council this spring. That
only whet my appetite for more.
Catton. A big, thick, historical novel, set in New Zealand -- all good
qualities for a summer read. And winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
Politics, Aristotle. I'm teaching this again this
summer, and no matter how many times I read it, it is enormously rewarding.
It's best read in association with the Nicomachean
Ethics. Those in a hurry can concentrate on the first five books.
Rational Animals, Alasdair
MacIntyre. MacIntyre, known for deep skepticism of the modern state, is one of
the great philosophers of our day. This book begins with a reminder of how we
are animals, closer to other animals than we sometimes like to think, and thus
dependent on each other especially in early and later stages of life. That
dependence is essential to understanding the virtues necessary to be
independent practical reasoners and to understanding the common good (which is,
necessarily, bound up with our own individual good). It's an accessible read
that will also reward re-reading in future years.
Life of Samuel Johnson, James
Boswell. I continue to read this a few pages at a time, so it's at least a
mid-life project and maybe a lifetime effort. Very human and humane.
Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, Rick
Atkinson. I found the first two installments of Atkinson's trilogy fascinating,
bringing to life aspects of the war I had never seen before. As the 70th
anniversary commemoration reminds us, D-Day still speaks to us today.
Physics: How Good Ideas Spread -- The Lessons from a New Science, Alex
Pentland. A Duke colleague recommended this book to me on the margins of a
conversation about how the move of our department from one campus building to
another had changed departmental dynamics and, perhaps, departmental politics.
Apparently, there is a lively field called "social physics" that
studies just this phenomenon. In an age when we may be unaware of how we are
the subjects of social experiments, it seems all the more important to bone up
on how we are influenced by our social networks.
Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson. It doesn't count as a beach reading
list unless there is at least one fun book on the list. Bryson is my favorite
author. He has an extraordinary knack for finding unusual connections between
interesting and obscure anecdotes. So far, this book is proving to be an
especially good installment in this genre. There is also an implicit insight
for those of us in the security business: when we teach and write about policy
history, we tend to follow just the single thread of a particular policy even
though, in real life, that thread is interwoven amongst many others, some directly
related and others related only because they happened concurrently. By tracing
multiple story lines across a single summer, Bryson reminds me that
policymakers are very much living in time and therefore a product of their
times. Also, it is a reminder that what may thoroughly dominate headlines in
the moment can be just as thoroughly forgotten decades later. I wonder what
stories of 2014 will fall by the wayside like that.
It Takes: The Way to the White House, Richard Ben Cramer. Perhaps the best book ever written on presidential
campaigns. Ben Cramer provides a tour de force of psychological insights,
political maneuverings and character assessments of six presidential candidates
seeking the 1988 Republican (Bush and Dole) and Democratic (Dukakis, Hart,
Gephardt and Biden) nominations. No one will ever be granted the access that
Ben Kramer enjoyed; his masterpiece has withstood the test of time.
in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, Richard E. Neustadt
and Ernest R. May. A classic that I have been meaning to read for
many years. Based on a course that the two professors jointly taught at
Harvard's Kennedy School, it uses case studies to examine how policy makers
should make better choices.
Race: A History of the British at War, Lawrence James. Britain historically has combined extraordinary martial
qualities with foundational democratic institutions. Not only the United States
itself but the liberal international order it upholds today -- one which has
made more people more prosperous than any other -- grew directly out of the
British inheritance. The world we live in would look very different had
Napoleon beat Wellington at Waterloo or Churchill not stood up to Hitler. In
the post-heroic and morally muddled age we live in, this book is a useful
reminder of the values that matter, and why sometimes democracies need to fight
to uphold them.
Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, Robert Kaplan. Anyone who thinks the
maritime disputes between China and its neighbors are a local issue should read
this book, which argues that the South China Sea is the pivot of the emerging
global balance of power, and the canary-in-the-coal mine for the future of U.S.
power and the nature of China's relations with the world as a budding
superpower. Kaplan has written the definitive book on why the South China Sea
matters in a strategic, global context.
The West and the Rest, Niall
Ferguson. Lays out the "killer apps" that helped a small collection of states
at the western edge of Eurasia come to rule the world. These include property
rights, pursuit of science, the embrace of competition, and the work ethic. Others
have done this in weightier fashion: For an explanation of Western global
dominance that covers literally all of human history, see Ian Morris's Why
the West Rules -- for Now. But Niall's book is learned, fun, and has
China-Pakistan Axis: Asia's New Geopolitics, Andrew Small. Forthcoming this summer
from my German Marshal Fund colleague, who spent years not only interviewing in
foreign ministry reception rooms in Beijing and Islamabad but trundling around
back streets in places like Kashgar and Gilgit-Baltistan, bearded and dressed
like a local, to understand the nature of one of the world's most important and
least understood alliances. Promises profound insights into the two countries
that (outside the Middle East) dominate American anxieties about future
Celeste Ward Gventer:
Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, Adam Tooze. The print edition of
this does not come out until later in the year, but I downloaded the Kindle
edition to start right away. Why? If you read Tooze's Wages
of Destruction, then no further explanation required. If not, you
should! Tooze. Wow. He combines great scholarship, terrific writing, and
convincing, swing-for-the-fences reinterpretations of twentieth-century
Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War, David C. Engerman,
Nils Gilman, Mark H. Haefele, Michael E. Latham. Dissertation
research! A great set of essays that includes pieces by several of the most
thoughtful and articulate historians of modernization theory.
from the Heavens: A History of Strategic Bombing, Kenneth P. Werrell. More dissertation
research! A useful history and overview of a still-controversial strategic
the Light of What We Know: A Novel, Zia Haider Rahman. A friend insists that I read it, James Wood raved
about it in a multipage New Yorker review, and I am intent
on making time this summer to read fiction!
Choices, Hillary Clinton.
Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It,
Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson.
As the world evolves from the United States as the unipolar
power to a global economic landscape of multiple, more evenly balanced economic
powers, history suggests a more uncertain and potentially hostile future. Not
only have multiple nations jostling for power historically led to conflict, but
the rise of new powers has typically sparked great conflagrations.
The shadow of foreign turmoil is lurking ever more ominous
in Syria, Iraq, and disputed islands in the Pacific. The changing global
landscape makes leading the world to consensus on these and other matters ever
It will be increasingly difficult for America to play a
leadership role in world affairs, though this task will be no less essential. I
have found that in all areas of life seeing situations from every angle reveals
new paths to winning.
That is why I believe that even though I have not always
agreed with their decisions, it is beneficial to read the recent firsthand
accounts of those who have shaped the foreign policy of the United States in
recent years -- Hillary Clinton's Hard
Choices and Robert Gates' Duty.
I expect both to be give the principal's point of view and
seek to spin history to cast their role in a favorable light. Yet even with the
bias that is natural in any autobiography, reading them can provide a review of
recent activity and a stimulus for developing a personal worldview responsive
to the characterization of events they advance.
One of the clear failures of our political system in recent
years is our failure to accommodate competing points of view to move beyond
agitation to action. This is not only evident in Washington, but also in the
failure to reach agreement with the Iraqi government to continue to preserve a
United States troop presence. The troops that remain in Japan and Korea to this
day have shown to be a highly beneficial stabilizing force for the region,
something that is sorely missing in Iraq.
The school I lead is committed to making democracy work, a
goal that is impossible to consistently achieve in a divided land without
collaborative effort. To better understand how to better surmount the obstacles
to compromise in a way that allows you to achieve your core objectives, I have
been reading The Spirit of Compromise,
Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It by Amy Gutmann, the
president of the University of Pennsylvania and Dennis Thompson from Harvard.
Their review of this unpopular but essential skill provides solid background
seeking to move beyond shouting to governing.
The Turnaround, George Pelecanos. Pelecanos knows
Washington. Not the halls of power that bookend Pennsylvania Avenue, but the
streets, the neighborhoods, the history of the city, and its varying cultural
and social milieus -- the vibe. That's his backdrop for terrific tales of
crime, tragedy, redemption, race, and class, written with a literary flair and
often profound feel for the human condition.
White Noise, Don Delillo. It took me almost 30 years to get to what many consider
Delillo's greatest work. I'm certain I don't "get it," but the man
sure can write. An extended meditation on death, technology, alienation, and
the general absurdity and dystopia of late 20th-century American life. And all
written before the advent of the internet, big data, NSA surveillance, and the
global war on terror.
Born to Run, Christopher McDougall. McDougall, like me, was in his spare time a
middle-age, mediocre long-distance runner fighting off chronic injury. He went
in search of a solution to his travails and thinks he found it in an obscure
tribe of Mexican Indians who can allegedly run for days on makeshift sandals
that are the antithesis of the modern American running shoe.
No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation
into War, David E. Kaiser.
I've been looking forward to this book by my former colleague David Kaiser
since he first started work on it. Kaiser's account of how Roosevelt formulated
a grand strategy for the United States and then navigated constraints both
domestic and foreign to see it through is a powerful reminder of just how
important it is to have a president with vision, political acumen, and
Pacific Crucible: War
at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942, Ian W. Toll.
Toll is a masterful storyteller, and the story he has to tell, that of the U.S.
navy during the first six months of World War II, is a compelling one. Those
who seek to understand what war at sea against a capable adversary entails need
look no further than this book for a primer.
Conservative Internationalism: Armed
Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman and Reagan, Henry Nau. In
contrast to seemingly interminable contemporary debates pitting "realists"
against "liberal internationalists," Nau reminds us that power and principle
need not be uneasy bedfellows. Quite the opposite, he demonstrates how four presidents
effectively spread freedom, used force to back diplomacy, and preserved
President Me: The America That's in My Head,
Adam Carolla. Adam Carolla is one of the sharpest and wittiest observers of the
human condition around. In his latest book, he details a political manifesto to
redress many of contemporary America's most annoying aspects. And besides, at
least some summer reading should be fun.
Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama. Part one of
Fukuyama's two part series on political order seen in historical perspective.
These works are valuable for foreign policy actors and politicians as well as
academics, who often forget to focus on fundamental issues like political order
-- what it is, where it comes from, how it is destroyed or maintained. Studies
like this encourage attention to the big picture and the long view rather than
slavish devotion to the political or media cycle.
Richelieu, Hillaire Belloc. A portrait of one of the
world's most interesting and capable statesmen drawn by one of the most
interesting and insightful commenters and politicians. Like him or not,
Cardinal Richelieu understood human nature and the nature of the emerging
states system he was helping to produce.
and Double Standards, Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Re-reading this after reading
Peter Collier's bio of her entitled Political
Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick provides
some timeless insights worth pondering for those who set national security as
the number one priority yet also desire to see freedom spread around the world.
Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life, David Lawday. The world continues to be
roiled by revolution and social upheavals and none of these are possible
without leading figures who inspire and channel forces of change often
accompanied by violence. George-Jacques Danton is the indispensable figure of
the French Revolution and understanding him and how he thought and acted can
provide insight into the revolutionary mindset that foreign policy leaders deal
with still today.
America in the World from Truman to Obama, Steven Sestanovich. In it, Sestanovich describes a cycle over
the last seven decades of U.S. foreign policy of over-commitment followed by
retrenchment. As I gather, Sestanovich argues against the misconceptions that
the 20th century was characterized by bipartisanship in foreign policy and
continuity between administrations. He demonstrates that U.S. willingness to
engage in the world has always been the subject of fierce debate, has
significantly ebbed and flowed, and that presidents have been most successful
when they have had the flexibility and vision to course correct when necessary.
For those of us who believe in erring on the side of an
active and engaged United States, it's welcome news that the current trend
toward retrenchment may be short-lived. I will be curious, though, to see how
Sestanovich deals with our fiscal trajectory. The periods of active involvement
he describes (Marshall Plan, New Frontier, GWOT) involved substantial
commitment of resources. As others have described in more
the U.S. budget picture over the long-term, especially debt related to domestic
entitlements, threatens to significantly constrain our flexibility to exercise
leadership in the future.