There are two kinds of politics: international, which deals with diplomacy and international institutions like the United Nations, and national, which deals with domestic issues like taxes and education and the economy. As long as the national politics you’re reading about isn’t your native country, it counts for this challenge. After all, it’s a national government that decides its country’s diplomacy! Speaking of which, foreign policy really combines international and domestic politics. All books about foreign policy also fall under this category, and feel free to read books about your native country’s foreign policy as well as any other. So, since I’m an American, I could read a book about US foreign policy but not a book about the US supreme court. I could read all about South Africa’s apartheid system.
I’ve put together a reading list addressing various topics:
- Summits by David Reynolds: this book looks at six key summits-diplomatic meetings between national leaders-of the twentieth century. I thought this was well-written and engaging-Reynolds tries to figure out why summits sometimes work and sometimes don’t.
- Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret Macmillan: a look at the peace talks after World War One. I haven’t read this one, but Janet says “The Margaret Macmillan one truly is worth the while. She is also the great(?)-granddaughter of Lloyd George, one of the main players in the book. I will confess that my head began to spin with the complexity of it all – imagine the difficulties faced by the participants. Even if they had been entirely selfless and altruistic, it would have been simply impossible to achieve results that would have satisfied everyone involved. Trying to answer the national aspirations of peoples they barely knew anything of was daunting, at the least. You come out of it with a vivid appreciation of the complexities of geopolitics, if nothing else.”
- Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger: an examination of diplomacy, and international relations, beginning in the early 17th century Europe and going through twentieth century America. Despite how one feel’s about Kissinger’s politics, he’s quite a scholar, and the majority of the book is quite strong. However, Kissinger’s analysis of the time when he was in political power is hazy.
- Chasing the Flame: One Man’s Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power: this biography of UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello also looks at UN refugee policies since the 1970s. Impeccably researched and well written, I absolutely loved this one! See my review.
- The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis: even though I made the line betwen history and politics the Cold War, on the assumption that most people know about it, a refresher course is always good. This one is very impressive: it’s readable, short, and intelligent. I recommend it!
- The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria: an exploration of how nations around the world are gaining power. It’s very current, by an editor of Newsweek, U.S. President-Elect Obama was seen reading it. I haven’t read it, though.
- The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington: this is one of those classics of the field, so it’s worth reading even though it was published in 1998. Huntington predicts a new world order in which countries clash along religious lines.
- The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama: this is another classic of the field. After the Cold War Ended, Fukyama argued that since communism has failed, liberal democracy will spread around the world and conflict will end. Obviously, it’s a bit dated now, but good for those interested in the intellectual history of international relations.
American Foreign Policy
- Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll: this is a thoroughly-researched, very intense, very information discussion of the subtitle’s topic. I recommend it, but only if you’re really interested, because it gets long.
- The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer: I think this is the best analysis of America’s war in Iraq. Of course, it was published in 2005, so it’s no longer quite current. But it’s really well-written, and I recommend it to everyone.
- The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright: another well-researched, exhaustive study of the subtitle’s topic. Another one I highly recommend. See my review.
- The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America by Kenneth Pollack: this is a very academic study of Iranian-U.S. relations. I’d say it’s aimed at the specialist rather than the generalist.
- America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies by George Friedman: I was very impressed by this analysis of recent American foreign policy.
- America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama: a more theoretical approach to U.S. foreign policy; mainly an analysis of Bush’s policies and suggestions for the future.
- The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the 21st Century by Michael Mandelbaum: this is an intelligent, well-written argument that America’s power is good for the world. I might not agree with it all, but it’s still an impressive case.
- Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis by Mark Bowden: this is a fascinating account of the American diplomats held hostage in Iran during the 70s. It isn’t heavy on analysis or politics and focuses mainly on the personal aspect.
Politics in Europe
- Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy by Anna Politkovskaya: Politkovskaya is the outspoken Russian journalist who was recently assassinated (it’s widely accepted at the request of the Russian government). I haven’t read this book yet, but I certainly plan to.
- The Ambassador: Inside the Life of a Working Diplomat by John Shaw: this is an interesting year-in-the-life account of Sweden’s ambassador to the U.S.
- Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan: Kagan is well-respected in the field, and while I haven’t read this book, which is about the increasing differences between America and Europe I’m sure it’s well-researched.
- Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt: this is a very long, highly respected analysis of Europe after World War II. It looks at both continent-wide phenomena and specific countries. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to.
- Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick: Remnick is a well-known scholar in Russian area studies, and this book is considered one of the best for addressing that time period. I haven’t read it yet, but I want to.
- The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism by Tina Rosenberg : a look at how three Eastern European nations dealt with the transition from communism.
Politics in Asia
- The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History by Don Oberdorfer: an account of Korean relations since 1972, which was the first time Pyongyang representatives visited Seoul since the war. Oberdorfer used to cover Asia for the Washington Post and while I haven’t read this one yet, I intend to.
- China: Fragile Superpower by Susan Shirk: well-researched analysis of China’s domestic and foreign politics. I haven’t read it, but I want to!
- India After Gandhi: the History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha : I haven’t read this one either, but it w, as chosen as ‘book of the year’ by lots of respected publications (including my favourite, The Economist). It covers politics, obviously, and has some sociology stuff thrown in for good measure. It’s really long at 900 pages, but I certainly want to read it.
- Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower: this book looks at how Japan was reconstructed after World War II, especially how it transformed into a democracy whose constitution banned deploying forces abroad. I haven’t read it, but it did win the Pulitzer!
- Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine by Jasper Becker
Politics in Africa
- The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith: this is a comprehensive look at modern politics in African nations. Each of the fifty-three states is discussed at least once. I found it very readable and a wonderful introduction! It’s kind of long (over 700 pages), but you don’t notice that when you’re reading it.
- House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe by Christina Lamb: this book is a mix of politics and personal story, but I’m including it here, because I think it gave me a good introduction to Zimbabwean politics. It’s very readable as well-definitely recommended! See my review.
- A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa (Paperback)
by Howard W. French by Howard W. French: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s a lot shorter and apparently focuses on central and west Africa. It covers the same time period as Meredith. French apparently emphasises conflicts and the West’s effect on the continent.
- We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch: this book covers the Rwanda genocide, both the personal stories and the politics behind it. It’s incredible well-written, and I highly recommend it. The first part is the saddest, so don’t give up because it seems just too depressing.
- Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent by Blaine Harden: this book is older (1991) but seems to cover quite a bit of the continent from a political perspective and is shorter than the Meredith. I haven’t read it.
- In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by Michela Wong
Politics in the Middle East
- Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis by John R. Bradley: I haven’t read this, but it’s an account of Saudi Arabian politics by a Western journalist who speaks Arabic. It seems good, and I want to read it!
- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael B. Oren: this is a detailed account of the Six Day War and how it changed the situation in the Middle East. From the summary, it seems like it has a bit of pro-Israeli bias, but I haven’t read it yet so I don’t know.
- Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land by David K. Shipler: this is a Pulitzer-prize winning account of Israeli-Palestinian relations. It’s a bit dated-originally publisedh in 1987, but seems strong for the time it covers. It’s impossible to understand modern Middle Eastern politics without knowing about the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, since it lies at the heart of many foreign policies. I want to read this one.
- The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll: another well-researched epic, this biography of the Bin Ladens encompasses modern politics on the Arabian peninsula as well.
- Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright: this one has such a pretty cover! Anyway, this one looks at the current state of the Middle East and its possible future…and finds hope. I definitely want to read it!
Politics in Latin America
- Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul by Michael Reid: after a brief history, this book focuses on modern politics and economics on the continent. It has a definite neoliberal economist bias, apparently, but it should still be an intelligent analysis.
- Politics of Latin America: The Power Game ed. by by Harry E. Vanden and Gary Prevost: this one looks like a university class reader (expensive; each chapter and essay), but I’m including it because it’s full of case studies of the politics in various Latin American countries.
- A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet by Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela: looks at Chilean politics in the 70s and 80s.
- Brazil: The Once and Future Country by Marshall C. Eakin: this is a slightly dated (1998) but good general overview of Brazil.
- Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy by Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon: this is an account of the change in Mexican politics that happened in 2000, when the ‘democratic’ party that had ruled for seventy years straight lost the presidency. It’s written by two NYT reporters, and although I haven’t read it, I really want to!
- Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson
- Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen E. Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer