Time for Strategic Europe’s annual summer reading suggestions! Carnegie Europe has asked a cross section of diplomats, policymakers, and analysts to share their favorite books.
Judy DempseyNonresident senior associate and editor in chief of Strategic Europe, Carnegie Europe
Warped Mourning: Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied by Alexander Etkind. This is a fascinating and haunting study of how successive Kremlin leaders and the intelligentsia have explained the Gulag and Stalin’s crimes. There is no confrontation of the past that the Germans have undertaken. Putin’s attempts to close down the international civil rights society Memorial show his unwillingness—and fear—about opening this long and ignominious chapter of Russia’s history.
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier. This is very special novel that throws open a window on Salazar’s Portugal.
Book from your home country (Ireland)
The Dalkey Archive by Flann O’Brien (alias Myles na Gopaleen). I can’t resist going back to this—it’s completely irreverent and just so funny. I hope his wit, humor, and musings are accessible.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. This boundless tale—fiction, politics, and history all in one—takes the reader through the twentieth century with an irrepressible optimism in human nature and little time for the arrogance of power.
Florence GaubSenior analyst, EU Institute for Security Studies
Daughter Of The Desert: The Remarkable Life Of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell. The story of Gertrude Bell never ceases to inspire me. She was a smart, unmarried, determined woman exploring the Middle East under impossible conditions, which is why I like to think of her as my spiritual mentor.
Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh. Set against the Lebanese civil war, this novel takes the reader into the hearts and minds of a population torn apart by war and conflict. It made me fall in love with Lebanon even more.
Book from your home country
As I have two home countries, I suggest two books.
France: Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies’ Delight or The Ladies’ Paradise) by Emile Zola. Zola’s greatest talent consists of building a parallel universe you can lose yourself in for months, only to emerge sad over the loss of your characters once the novel is over. In his typical Darwinistic way, Zola depicts the emergence of Parisian department stores in the nineteenth century and takes a modern, critical look at female shopping addiction.
Germany: Das kunstseidene Mädchen (The artificial silk girl) by Irmgard Keun. Keun is probably one of the most underrated German authors, partly due to the fact that she wrote little and drank a lot. This novel, written in 1932, is so amusing, modern, yet sad that it doesn’t feel in the least outdated.
The Green Book by Muammar Qaddafi. Not intended as a fiction book, this is truly the work of a fantastic mind.
David LidingtonUK minister for Europe
Millennium by Tom Holland (published in the United States as The Forge of Christendom). Holland combines rigorous scholarship with vivid narrative prose of a kind you usually only get from a top novelist. This book is a perfect cure for anyone so misguided as to think medieval history is dull reading, and tells the story of a vitally important stage in the shaping of Europe.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. This is a tale of physical, mental, and social imprisonment that has a sharp relevance today. The Circumlocution Office still lives in London and Brussels and naive investors are still duped by financial con artists like Mr. Merdle. Throughout, you sense Dickens’s joy in characterization and in both the inventiveness and the ambiguity of the English language.
Book from your home country (UK)
The New Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1950 by Helen Gardner (ed.). This really speaks for itself. If I lost every other book in the world, this is the one to which I would cling.
C.J. Samsom’s Shardlake novels. Detective stories set in mid-Tudor England. He’s done his homework bringing the period to life and keeps you turning the pages. Start with the first in the series: Dissolution.
Jonas Parello-PlesnerSenior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations
I’m running happily through the pages of my former colleague Ben Judah’s excellent book Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin. Stagnant Putinism will be Russia’s decline, Judah predicts.
On my Kindle, I’m clicking through David Shambaugh’s China Goes Global: Partial Power, a well-crafted and insightful account of modern China’s foreign policy.
The Music of Chance by Paul Auster. This remains a favorite with its powerful and cutting narrative that runs as smoothly as a straight line.
Book from your home country (Denmark)
I enjoy reading Peter Høeg, who has a masterful command of the Danish language. Don’t delve into Høeg through Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow), which was an international hit, but rather through Fortællinger om natten (Tales of the Night), which has Karen Blixen moments with sentences as beautiful as scenic landscapes.
I am reading guidebooks to Washington, D.C., since my family and I will relocate there in August. With my Danish-speaking sons, I read the The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss to train their English—and to be entertained about feline mischief.
Thomas PaulsenExecutive director for international affairs, Körber Foundation
Regional Disorder: The South China Sea Disputes by Sarah Raine and Christian Le Mière. Raine and Le Mière offer a compelling summary of one of the most important conflicts in Asian regional security. In the last section they map out four possible scenarios for how the conflict could evolve. A must-read for anyone dealing with Asian security issues and the great power conflict between China and the United States.
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany. In his best-selling (and taboo-breaking) 2002 novel, Al Aswany—later an active supporter of the Tahrir Square revolution—reveals the darker aspects of pre-revolutionary Egypt: violence, corruption, bigoted sexual morals, and a brutal class society. Against the backdrop of current developments in Egypt, The Yacoubian Building makes for an even more intriguing and unsettling read.
Book from your home country (Germany)
Die Diktatur der Demokraten: Warum ohne Recht kein Staat zu machen ist (Dictatorship of the Democrats) by Juli Zeh. Zeh, an acclaimed German novelist and legal scholar, recently published her first non-fiction book. Taking postconflict mechanisms in the Balkans as an example, she makes the case for improving the legal basis of international state-building missions. Democracy promotion will fail if its legal basis is fundamentally flawed. A provocative read! (Only available in German.)
Asterix and the Black Gold by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. The Gaulish heroes are sent to the Middle East in search of a vital ingredient for Getafix’s magic potion: petroleum! Asterix and the Black Gold is full of brilliant ironic stabs at the oil industry and the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics.