The Washington Note’s Holiday Book List


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I’m going to make a list of books here — some out recently — and some others that I think are just great reads for people to consider picking up over the holidays. I’m going to make this an ongoing list as I get so many requests from people for books to read.
So this will start a core list, and I’ll add over time.
I’m going to first suggest America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and David Ignatius. This book was high up in Michiko Kakutani’s Top Ten for 2008 and the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation helped produce this book for the New America Foundation/Basic Books imprint series.
Another Kakutani pick was my colleague Steve Coll’s The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century. Think you know how to really research an issue? See what detail Coll can get into. . .
I’m then going to suggest a number of books of friends and others with close relations either to me personally, or to The Washington Note, or to the New America Foundation. Many of these books, though not all, were mentioned on the New York Times Notable Books of 2008 list.
Here are books that people should read, some new and some old (in no particular order):

1. America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and David Ignatius
2. Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman
3. House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper
4. The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in an American Century by Steve Coll
5. Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power
6. Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein
7. Fixing Global Finance by Martin Wolf
8. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer
9. The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means by George Soros
10. They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons by Jacob Heilbrunn
11. Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright
12. The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
13. The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson
14. The Consequences of the Bush/Cheney Government Ignoring the Powell Doctrine by Colin Powell [I wish!] (actually, General Powell has no such book out under this name. I just wish he would write one along these lines — and I know that shortly after January 20th, Colin Powell is going to be working on his own book)
15. The Second World: How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the Twenty-First Century by Parag Khanna
16. The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life by Michael Lind
17. The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror by George Soros
18. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich
19. Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower by Zbigniew Brzezinski
20. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt
21. Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman
22. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States by Trita Parsi
23. Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation by Barbara Slavin
24. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd
25. Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency by Robert Kuttner
26. Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values by Philippe Sands
27. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
28. Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice by Andrew Oros
29. America: Our Next Chapter — Tough Questions, Straight Answers by Chuck Hagel and Peter Kaminsky
30. Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia by Richard Samuels
31. The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace by Aaron David Miller

I’ll keep adding to and refreshing this list.
Happy reading.
— Steve Clemons


13 comments on “The Washington Note’s Holiday Book List

  1. söve says:

    It’s a wonderful story of a little known incident in Kern County, CA in 1939 but really is a socio-cultural-political-economic work on the many forces in play in California during the 1930s. It reads like a novel and a much more fun read than many books on your list. Rick makes the people in the book come alive as personalities. And many of the themes now are very relevant to our current fiscal crisis.


  2. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, if you haven’t read “Say A Prayer For Owen Meany”, then you haven’t lived.


  3. Susan says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  4. Susan says:

    I also like the idea of reading fiction to get insights into contemporary issues. I would recommend Leo Tolstoy’s last novel Hadji Murad. It is even timelier today than when it was written in 1904. It describes Russia’s battle with Chechnyan separatists. The book is about the roots of terrorism, the search for identity and the brutality of ethnic conflicts. The book deals with Russia’s relationship with Chechnya in the 19th century but it could just as easily be about Russia’s relationship with Georgia or the Ukraine in the 21st century.
    One nonfiction book that I will be giving as a Christmas Gift is Thomas Frank’s, The Wrecking Crew.


  5. Taylor Marsh says:

    Terrific list, love many of these books. But one that simply must be add, in my humble opinion, is “Descent into Chaos,” by Ahmed Rashid.
    Timely. Important. Fantastic.
    But I’m finding myself reading everything I can get my hands on re: Central Asia.


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    Well, the Barton Gellman book may be good. Some of the reviews even claim it is engrossing. But I halfheartedly followed the discussion of the book over at TPM Cafe, and unfortunately that discussion made the book seem like a most boring document of beltway bureaucratic maneuvering. None of the participants in the online discussion seemed willing to engage morally with the book’s subject.
    You simply can’t treat a figure like Cheney in such a morally disengaged fashion. History is not going to remember Cheney as the guy who knew how to play all the angles. They are probably going to remember him as a moral ghoul and villain who usurped power, subverted constitutional norms, and lead his country into eight years of torture, paranoia, violent war, internal surveillance and nightmarish perversions of its most precious traditions.
    You want to know what Cheney’s “angling” was all about? Read this piece in Commonweal
    which contains the following delightful anecdote:
    In addition to mockery and systematic distraction, professional interrogators used grotesque methods of sexual harassment to impede religious observances. For Muslims, impurity prevents prayer. In Inside the Wire, former Army translator Erik Saar recounts a shocking exploitation of Islamic rules about ritual impurity. Saar was translating for a female Army interrogator who was having trouble getting information out of a young Saudi detainee named Fareek. She told Saar that she wanted to break the strength of Fareek’s relationship with God: “I think we should make him feel so fucking dirty that he can’t go back to his cell and spend the night praying. We have to put up a barrier between him and his God.” So she did a striptease. When Fareek wouldn’t look at her, she walked behind him and “began rubbing her breasts against his back.” According to Saar, she told Fareek that his sexual arousal offended God. Then she told him that she was having her period, and showed him her hand covered in what he thought was menstrual blood (it was red ink). She cursed him and wiped it on his face. As she and Saar left the room, she informed Fareek that the water to his cell would be shut off that night. Even if he managed to calm himself down, he would be too defiled to pray. As for Saar himself, he writes that “there wasn’t enough hot water in all of Cuba to make me feel clean.”
    Cheney isn’t going to be remembered chiefly for his bureaucratic skills. He will be remembered as the chief architect of the Directorate of the Sick Fucks.
    An author should not strive for clinical neutrality about such things. I suspect Gellman’s book will be seen by future scholars as a strangely numb and disengaged casualty of the fall that misses the story wildly.


  7. Linda says:

    I assume that with all you read and do, you probably haven’t had time in the past couple of months to read New America Irvine Senior Fellow Rick Wartzman’s book that came out in September, “Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath.”
    It’s a wonderful story of a little known incident in Kern County, CA in 1939 but really is a socio-cultural-political-economic work on the many forces in play in California during the 1930s. It reads like a novel and a much more fun read than many books on your list. Rick makes the people in the book come alive as personalities. And many of the themes now are very relevant to our current fiscal crisis.
    Rick now is Director of the Drucker Institute at the Claremont Graduate University. He previously was West Coast editor for the “Wall Street Journal” and business editor of the “Los Angeles Times.”
    Rick discussed his book yesterday on “After Words” on BookTV on C-Span2. I believe podcasts of it are available.


  8. easy e says:

    “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot” – Naomi Wolf


  9. WigWag says:

    I heartily recommend #20 on Steve’s list, “Cicero.” It’s author, Anthony Everitt is a classics professor from England (I think Cambridge) who is erudite, avuncular and extremely funny. It’s worth looking up interviews he did about the book on the NPR archives and on You Tube. They are very entertaining.
    It may sound silly, but I think that sometimes fiction can reveal as much or more about nations and culture as non fiction can. With that in mind, these might be worth a look:
    To understand contemporary Turkey, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow” is a good read and very revealing. It centers on the head scarf issue, the motives behind terrorism and what it’s like for an émigré to return home. But his best book, “Red” is a novel about different conceptions of art held by the Ottoman Turks and Renaissance Europe. My description is not doing it justice; it’s extraordinary.
    The immigrant experience, especially as it applies to South Asians in England is beautifully described in Monica Ali’s first book, “Brick Lane.” And of course, anything by Bengali author Jhumpa Lahiri is worth looking at. She is best know for her novel, “The Namesake” but if you want to understand South Asia in general and Bangla Desh in particular, her short story collection, “Interpreter of Maladies” is worthy of all the acclaim it has received.
    To understand the Israeli experience, anything by peace activist and Ben Gurion University professor Amos Oz is worth reading but I particularly liked “The Panther in the Basement.”
    Finally those interested in South America should take a look at a series of three books by Louis de Bernieres. This British author is best known for Corelli’s Mandolin and he wrote a great work of fiction about Turkey called “Bird without Wings”, but his fictionalized account of Colombia’s war with the FARC rebels is best of all. The three books in the series are: “The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts”, “Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord” and “The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman.”
    And the best work of fiction written in the last 50 years is also about poverty in South America. That would be “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


  10. Bartolo says:

    I can highly recommend #5. De Mello was quite a human being; quite a man.


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