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.

 

William J. BurnsPresident of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Foreign Policy

The Long Game by Derek Chollet. An eloquent new book about U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy by a very thoughtful friend and former colleague.

Fiction

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. A classic American novel about the dangers of populist leaders, especially relevant in this strange political season.

Home Country (United States)

Memoirs, Volume I (1925–1950) by George F. Kennan. A beautifully written memoir by a brilliant and consequential American diplomat.

Guilty Pleasure

Dream Team by Jack McCallum. A great account of America’s 1992 men’s Olympic basketball team.

 

Judy DempseyNonresident senior associate at Carnegie Europe and editor in chief of Strategic Europe

Foreign Policy

White Spots—Black Spots: Difficult Matters in Polish-Russian Relations, 1918–2008, edited by Adam Daniel Rotfeld and Anatoly V. Torkunov. This is a fascinating, gripping, and monumental service to history. Two sets of historians, Polish and Russian, give their own versions of Polish-Russian relations in chapters that span ninety years. You can hear in the pages the controversies, the tensions, and the narratives. The editors have done a terrific job in shepherding through this unique Polish-Russian group of experts. Imagine a volume on Russia and the Baltic states!

Fiction

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev. A beautifully written and special novel about the Soviet prison camp system narrated by a young boy who when older embarks on a journey to discover the landscape of the gulag.

Home Country (Ireland)

The Best of Myles by Myles na gCopaleen (aka Flann O’Brien, nom de plume of Brian O’Nolan). These stories are a delight to return to. They consist of satirical columns O’Nolan wrote for the Irish Times. The humor, fun, and wit are contagious—I hope for non-Irish readers, too.

Guilty Pleasure

Submission by Michel Houellebecq. Like him or loathe him, this novel combines satire and disdain for the political class and many other centers of power as Houellebecq narrates an Islamic takeover of France, helped by the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, especially Qatar. It was written before the collapse of oil prices when these countries were awash with cash.

 

John R. DeniResearch professor of national security studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College

Foreign Policy

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power by Paul Fischer. I actually read this a few months ago but felt compelled to include it here. It’s not a policy book as such, but it is a truly amazing story that offers great insights not only into the DPRK but also into the collective psychosis that grips an authoritarian state and all its citizens. I couldn’t put it down once I started.

Fiction

Fiction? Who has time for fiction? If I must, I’d choose Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (originally published in German in 2012 as Er ist wieder da, the English translation finally out in 2015), a very funny novel for us history geeks, decisively undermining the notion that Germans don’t do satire.

Home Country (United States)

Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? Karen Dawisha’s excellent scholarship and clear writing expose the kleptocratic tribute system that is the Russian authoritarian regime today. It gives the lie to the notion that Russia can somehow be transformed—if only we applied more diplomacy, understanding, time, openness, aid, trade, civil society support, and so on—into a European-like country.

Guilty Pleasure

Anything by David Sedaris.

 

Steven ErlangerLondon bureau chief at the New York Times

Foreign Policy

Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization by Branko Milanovic. Not the easiest read, but vital to understand why populism is rising in Europe and the United States. A sometime collaborator with Thomas Piketty (Capital), Milanovic is outstanding.

Fiction

Submission by Michel Houellebecq. A beautifully written and structured dystopia about France and collaboration. This time, with Islam.

Home Country (United States)

Honeydew and Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman. Two volumes of sharp, witty, wonderful short stories about the human comedy.

Guilty Pleasure

The Whites by Richard Price. A New York policier of the highest quality.

 

Roderick ParkesSenior analyst at the EU Institute for Security Studies

Foreign Policy

At the time, this incident was dressed up as an example of great British spirit, when really it came down to a petty rivalry between two English aristocrats, Lucan and Cardigan. The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith deflates the myths behind the Charge of the Light Brigade, the 1854 disaster that saw 600 British cavalrymen choose to ride to certain death, and reveals its distinctly unheroic political motives.

Fiction

I think I understood the subtext in the Radetzky March, recommended here last year by a journalist, about an unimaginative bureaucrat who in 1914 fails to notice how the empire he serves is collapsing. My own recommendation is not fiction: Ernst Toller’s I Was a German is about the doomed attempt of a bunch of writers to set up a people’s republic in 1919.

Home Country (Isle of Man)

From home, I can offer the Dadaist poetry of Kurt Schwitters (interned on the Isle of Man), the Flashman books of George MacDonald Fraser, and of course the erotic bodice rippers of the late great Charlotte Lamb (Temptation, since you ask). My Dad unwittingly bought Lamb’s library in a car boot sale last year and has had his eyebrows pinned to the back of his head ever since.

Guilty Pleasure

I’ve been reading the memoirs of various oddball ancestors who lived in far-flung places—soul-searching about where I belong, and what the citizenship rules are. You can download The Adventures of Dunsterforce free online. Lionel Dunsterville led a secret army through neutral Iran to defend Baku from the Germans and Turks. Fascinating for its geopolitics, but also to see a man applying to Caucasus Bolsheviks the tactics learned in his Indian homeland. Dunsterville wrote this memoir in the place he ended up—turns out that was the Isle of Man.