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.

 

Cornelius AdebahrAssociate in Carnegie’s Europe Program

Fiction

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. About a decade old, but a perfect re-read these days to learn more about Ukraine’s past in ways that are seriously funny and imaginative. Quite a contrast to following the everyday news about the crisis there.

Book from your home country (Germany)

Teheran Revolutionsstraße (Customs of the People of Revolution Street) by Amir Cheheltan. Not exactly a book from Germany, but one by an Iranian author who has lived in Berlin since 2009. It was first published in German and not in its original Persian version because the psychograph of the director of Tehran’s most notorious prison was too telling about the state of Iranian society at large for the authorities there.

Recommendation for the EU’s next foreign policy chief

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig. A rich description of a world gone by, vividly bringing to life the Europe between Paris and Vienna at the turn of the last century and written by a thoughtful and humane European who wanted to warn of the political catastrophe that was to follow this golden age—and then chose his own end.

Guilty pleasure

My Old Man and the Sea by David Hays and Daniel Hays. One of those books that makes you laugh and cry and then laugh again, touching you very deeply with its story of a father-son relationship put to the test—and to its fullest expression—by a sailing trip around Cape Horn.

 

Meg BortinJournalist, writer, and blogger

Fiction

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A fabulous novel, wonderfully inventive, about writing, history, and, yes, love. Krauss embeds puzzles within puzzles as she takes the reader from contemporary New York to the terrifying forests of Poland during World War II, and then on to Chile to unravel the mystery of a lost manuscript by a Holocaust survivor and a young girl’s search for the author. A tale both touching and wise.

Book from your home country (France)

Persécutions et entraides dans la France occupée : Comment 75% des juifs en France ont échappé à la mort (Persecutions and Mutual Help in Occupied France: How 75 Percent of the Jews of France Escaped Death) by Jacques Semelin. This exploration of the 75 percent survival rate of Jews in France during the war illuminates a little-understood French paradox. Semelin’s magisterial 900 pages of riveting stories is the best history of the fate of Jews in occupied France I’ve encountered in my forty years in the country.

Recommendation for the EU’s next foreign policy chief

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen. Thoughtful, tragic, and occasionally hilarious, this multigenerational memoir captures the essence of the Soviet experience through the lens of one of the most basic human needs—food. Its insights will prove useful to anyone having to deal with Vladimir Putin’s back-to-the-USSR policymaking in Russia.

Guilty pleasure

The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. This mystery novel takes us to Dordogne, where my friend and colleague Walker’s irrepressible village cop, Bruno, unravels a series of crimes involving a 1944 train robbery and secret U.S. aid to France’s 1970s nuclear program. I’m guilty of having read most of the Bruno novels, in which great food and wine form a delicious backdrop to skulduggery.

 

Florence GaubSenior analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies

Fiction

Her Lover by Albert Cohen. Probably the best French book of the twentieth century but one that is little known outside France. It is a delightful read not so much for its love story but for its hilarious depiction of the League of Nations and its civil servants.

Book from your home country (Germany and France)

Given my dual citizenship, I will go for a German and a French title.

Erfolg: Drei Jahre Geschichte einer Provinz (Success: Three Years in the Life of a Province) by Lion Feuchtwanger. Nobody paints a more terrifying yet amusing picture of Munich in 1931 than Feuchtwanger. Like him, I was born in and exiled from Munich, and I share his bittersweet relation with the city.

Considérations sur le malheur arabe (Being Arab) by Samir Kassir. I interviewed Kassir ten years ago for my doctoral thesis in Beirut; a year later, he was dead and became the symbol for everything that is wrong in the region.

Recommendation for the EU’s next foreign policy chief

I am an Arabist, so I would shamelessly attempt to use this opportunity to promote a better understanding of the Arab world. The 1966 title T. E. Lawrence: An Arab View by Suleiman Mousa is notoriously hard to find but an enlightening read.

Guilty pleasure

Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. The only factual book that really should be fiction.

 

Shada IslamDirector of policy at Friends of Europe

Fiction

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. I’m really looking forward to reading this book by a very exciting Latino American author, especially since I spend most of my life reading novels written by American-Asian, British-Asian, and Asian-Asian writers, and it’s time to diversify and explore. If this one grabs me—as I think it will—I intend to read his Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Recommendation for the EU’s next foreign policy chief

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42 by William Dalrymple. Dalrymple’s colorful history of the first British campaign in Afghanistan draws effective parallels with recent events. It will allow the EU’s new high representative to understand not only the complexities of modern-day Afghanistan but also the reasons for the rather quixotic politicians or “modern-day” kings who run the country. A fascinating book that should be a must-read for anyone who frets about the future of post-2014 Afghanistan. Dalrymple’s lesson: yes, it’s always been a crazy, chaotic place—but it has survived!

Guilty pleasure

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. In this lyrical, exuberant novel, Turkish novelist Shafak chronicles the life of the great Sufi mystic poet Rumi and his complicated relationship with Shams, another more charismatic and mysterious mystic. Set in Turkey but also in Syria and Iraq, the book reminds us that before petrodollars allowed the Saudis and others to spread a toxic and cruel version of Islam, there was another widespread interpretation of the religion that was about spirituality, peace, and love.

 

Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

Fiction

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Tartt writes very few books, but they are fascinating and gripping.

Book from your home country (Austria)

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. You’ll need a very long holiday to read this masterpiece of Austrian and European literature, but it will definitely be worth it.

Recommendation for the EU’s next foreign policy chief

Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin by Ben Judah. Based on hundreds of interviews conducted between Kaliningrad and Vladivostok, Judah paints a dark and utterly convincing picture of the Putin system. Reading this will greatly enhance the next high representative’s understanding of one of the EU’s greatest challenges.

Guilty pleasure

Mission London by Alek Popov. A wonderfully amusing satiric novel on the absurdities of diplomatic life.