The World Next Week podcast is up. This week, Bob McMahon and I took a break from our regular discussion of next week’s news to kick off the summer with some reading recommendations. We were joined by Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, who also gave his suggestions.
We started off by recommending great books we’ve read recently. On Bob’s list:
- Geesen, Marsha. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (2012). Gessen tracks Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, which took him from a relatively “faceless” political unknown to the dominant figure in Russian politics.
- Bayles, Martha. Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad (2014). Through interviews with observers in eleven different countries, Bayles examines how American public diplomacy has been replaced with cultural exports that deliver a false image of freedom and democracy.
Gideon also shared his recent favorites:
- Karabell, Zachary. The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World (2014). In lively and engaging prose, Karabell explains the origins and history of statistical measures such as gross national product, unemployment, and inflation that we rely on to understand the world.
- Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday (1942). At the height of his career, Stefan Zweig was one of the most wildly read and translated authors in the world. His memoir, which documents his travels through Europe and illustrates the “golden age of literary Vienna,” gains added poignancy from the fact that he committed suicide the day after completing it.
Two books I read recently are:
- Ferguson, Niall. The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (1999). Ferguson argues that Britain’s entry into World War I was “nothing less than the greatest error of modern history” because Britain’s vital interests were not at stake and the war’s consequences were catastrophic. It’s a good book to pair with Max Hastings’s Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914, which stakes out the opposite end of the debate.
- Gates, Robert. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (2014). The former secretary of defense, who was renowned for his calm and sober demeanor, provides a surprisingly frank, and often unsparing, assessment of what it was like to work for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Perhaps the book’s biggest surprise is that Gates says he didn’t much like being what Washington insiders call “SecDef.”
Bob, Gideon, and I also discussed six books we’re hoping to read this summer.
- Drake, Richard. The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion (2013). Fighting Bob La Follette was one of the most influential senators in U.S. history, but his criticism of the U.S. entry into World War I, coupled with a wildly inaccurate news report, prompted an effort to expel him from the Senate. (The effort failed.)
- Kaiser, David. No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation Into War (2014). Kaiser expertly details how President Franklin Roosevelt prepared Americans for a war they didn’t want but eventually had to fight.
- Klima, Ivan. My Crazy Century: A Memoir (2013). Klima, a Czech novelist and playwright, uses his memoir to trace Czech history through a personal lens, from World War II and the Holocaust through communist rule to the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
- Malkasian, Carter. War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier (2013). Through hundreds of interviews with influential officials, tribal leaders, religious elites, Taliban members, and civilians, Malkasian provides a comprehensive account of the war through the eyes of Afghans in the Hemland province.
- Mankoff, Bob. How About Never—Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons (2014). Mankoff paints a humorous behind-the-scenes portrayal of the psychology behind professional cartooning and his personal journey that led him to a career as cartoon editor of the New Yorker.
- Osnos, Evan. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (2014). Osnos draws on his experience as the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker to write about Communist Party’s struggle to maintain power in a changing China.
A summer reading list wouldn’t be complete without some lighter beach reads. Bob looks forward to reading:
- Time-Life, Official Guide New York World’s Fair 1964 /1965 (1964). This 280-page illustrated guide contains maps, sketches, and advertisements that provide excellent insight into American culture in the 1960s.
Gideon plans to read a book that has a lot of fans:
- Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1 (1996). The first book in Martin’s epic fantasy series chronicles the fictional struggle for power between the continents of Westeros and Essos as a dynamic cast of characters utilize magic, conquest, and romance to achieve their goals.
Meanwhile, I hope to read:
- Bryson, Bill. One Summer: America, 1927 (2013). I love everything Bill Bryson writes. He is funny and informative, which is a nifty combination for a writer. In his latest book, Bryson recounts the summer of 1927. I can’t wait to learn more about Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, Babe Ruth’s record-shattering home runs, and Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly’s two weeks spent sitting atop a flagpole in Newark.
And if you’re still looking for more recommendations, you can give last year’s list a try.
What books are you planning to read this summer? Leave your suggestions in the comments box below.