Carl BildtCo-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Foreign Policy

After Tamerlane, by John Darwin. On the rise and fall of global empires from 1400 to 2000. Grand history. Lessons for our time?

Fiction

If there is time, I think I will reread the memoirs of Arthur Koestler. Unrivaled in exploring the century that has passed.

Home Country (Sweden)

Gustaf Mannerheim: aristokrat i vadmal (Gustaf Mannerheim: An Aristocrat in Cloth), by Henrik Meinander. Fabulous on the Finnish military leader and statesman Gustaf Mannerheim as Finland turns one hundred. In Swedish, although the author is a prominent Finnish historian.

Movie, TV Series, or Documentary

I guess it’s seeing Star Wars with my son. May the force be with us!

Charles GrantDirector of the Centre for European Reform

Foreign Policy

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder. This account of the lands between Germany and Russia from 1930 to 1945 is not only tragic but also revelatory. Snyder’s sober description of what happened to Poles, Balts, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians highlights that many more people died from famine, from being shot, or from being incarcerated than from being killed in Nazi death camps.

Fiction

The Big Green Tent, by Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya. A fine novel that analyzes the evolution of Russian society in the final decades the Soviet Union, seen through the eyes of three boys who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. It is unusual for a book to be so perceptive about both people and broader social and political trends.

Jonas Parello-PlesnerHead of the foreign policy department at the Embassy of Denmark to the United States

Foreign Policy

My coming project at the Hudson Institute, where I will work from August onward, zooms in on stabilization in Iraq and Syria. In that line, I have picked Joel Rayburn’s great book on Iraq’s unraveling, Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, which is based on his firsthand military experience. And Nadia Schadlow’s War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success Into Political Victory argues for clear political outcomes following military intervention (win the peace, in short). Both books are very topical for the aftermath of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Both authors occupy senior positions on the current U.S. administration’s National Security Council.

Fiction

Everything Paul Auster. I just finished his most recent great “What if?” book. It is titled 4 3 2 1. The numbers refer to the protagonist Ferguson’s four different lifespans. Each life story starts out similarly, but several big life-changing episodes differ (Ferguson’s father dies in one, he dies in another). In the end, one life story is left on the book’s final pages. The reader is gifted with pondering the multiple trajectories in Ferguson life—and in the reader’s own.

Home Country (Denmark)

I press the repeat button on this: Out of Africa, by Danish writing goddess Karen Blixen, often known in the Anglophone world by her pseudonym Isak Dinesen. My favorite is Seven Gothic Tales, great storytelling that breathes beauty into the Danish language.

Movie, TV Series, or Documentary

The TV series The Americans, of which we have binge-watched several seasons. The series tracks a suburban family with a twist—the parents are KGB illegals! The series skillfully mixes everyday family life with undercover missions in the 1980s in Washington, DC, our current family home. Great indoor activity if summer weather fails you.

Jake SullivanSenior fellow in Carnegie’s Geoeconomics and Strategy Program

Foreign Policy

Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, by Dean Acheson. I read it when I was a student, and it sparked my interest in serving in government.

Fiction

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Twain mixes humor and humanity to tell a distinctly American story.

Home Country (United States)

I am a sucker for anything written by Bill Bryson. I love his stuff.

Movie, TV Series, or Documentary

A Few Good Men (movie), The Wire (TV series), and Baseball, created by Ken Burns (documentary).

Jan TechauDirector of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy in Berlin

Foreign Policy

The School for Dictators, by Ignazio Silone. Silone wrote this book in 1939, analyzing the rise of fascism in his native Italy and in Germany. It comes in the form of a book-long conversation among four archetypal intellectual characters. A more instructive and entertaining book about how democracy dies if it is not properly defended is hardly imaginable.

Fiction

The UnAmericans, by Molly Antopol. When writing comes as smart, deep, humane, and wise as this, it is hard to understand why short stories are still a tougher sell than novels. Antopol tackles the essential—and often heartbreaking—questions of identity and belonging, brotherly love, family, and guilt against the backdrop of American, Israeli, and European history and politics. A perfect read.

Home Country (Germany)

Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald. Sebald, who died in 2001, is a legend in the UK but almost completely ignored in his native Germany. Austerlitz is his magnum opus, a lyrical, pensive, whimsical, richly loaded novel about Jacques Austerlitz, a melancholic loner raised in rural Britain whose inquiry into his own identity unearths the full tragedy of twentieth-century European history.

Movie, TV Series, or Documentary

When Paul Came Over the Sea, directed by Jakob Preuss. Paul is a refugee from Senegal who has made it all the way to the North African coast and now seeks to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Award-winning German filmmaker Preuss follows him from Morocco to Berlin, covering the tragic, funny, Kafkaesque, and touching twists and turns of one refugee’s journey. Whether you like the documentary’s politics or not, its humanity will be with you long afterward. In movie theaters this summer.