Peter KellnerVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

Fiction

Never by Ken Follett. Britain’s leading thriller-writer explores whether the world could drift toward nuclear Armageddon, rather as Europe drifted toward war in 1914. Compelling, well-researched, and terrifyingly plausible.

Politics

The Lost Café Schindler by Meriel Schindler. The true and remarkable story of a Jewish family in Innsbruck before, during, and after the Nazi era. Having just acquired an Austrian passport to remain an EU citizen post-Brexit, I found it helped me to understand the forces that devastated my own family.

Podcast, film, music

The Rest is Politics. Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair’s spokesman when he was prime minister) and Rory Stewart (a former Conservative cabinet minister) provide that rare thing: people with different views who debate political controversies with intelligence, wit, and respect—and without slogans or petty interruptions.

Guilty pleasure

Watching reruns of black-and-white TV dramas from the 1960s—the BBC’s Maigret series is a particular favorite. Gems among the dross in our multi-channel times.

Steven ErlangerChief diplomatic correspondent, Europe, The New York Times

Fiction

Two recommendations, of novels based on deeply political figures: The Magician by Colm Tóibín, a fictionalized version of the life, politics, and desires of Thomas Mann; and The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen, a fictional take on a job-hunting visit to Cornell University by Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, the academic Benzion Netanyahu, with his wife and three children—a strange tale originally told by his host then, the late critic Harold Bloom.

Politics

It’s not brand new, but The Light that Failed by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, a pained and insightful interpretation of why European liberalism stumbled in the effort to integrate the newly liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Reminiscent of The Captive Mind, the landmark essay by Czesław Miłosz.

Podcast, film, music

I loved Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, his first film to deal with the memory of Spanish fascism. Yet it is elegant, subtle, beautiful—even if I didn’t much care for the last minutes.  

Guilty pleasure

The latest series of Borgen, of course. And a spin again through Martin Scorsese films, thanks mostly to Netflix—Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Departed, etc.

 

Ulrike Esther FrankeSenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

Fiction

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. This is my first Murakami book, and I am already a fan. The Internet tells me the book’s genre is “alternate history”—I am not certain that actually is a genre, but maybe that’s because Murakami feels like a class of its own. An intriguing story somewhere between the real world and fantasy, set in 1984 (or 1Q84?) Tokyo.

Politics

East West Street by Philippe Sands. This is a story about Lviv—the Ukrainian town many Western embassies migrated to at the beginning of the war. It is a story of genocide, the Nuremberg trials, family, Jewish history, and the development of international law. All that in a page-turner.

Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road. I came to this book purely by accident—I picked it up in my local free book exchange—and was hooked from the beginning. A tale of community organizing, American history, and feminism by a woman of whom I knew little beyond her name.

Podcast, film, music

For the French-speakers, Le Collimateur from the Institute for Strategic Research at the Military School (IRSEM). It is a podcast on defense and military questions of outstanding quality.

Guilty pleasure

Das kleine Ich-bin-Ich (Little I-am-me) by Mira Lobe. At this point, my newborn probably does not care one bit what I read to him. But I am already enjoying so much revisiting my own childhood favorites.

Nicholas WestcottDirector of the Royal African Society

Fiction

A book I reread this year and was (re)astonished at its understanding of populist psychology and autocratic behaviour was George Orwell’s 1984, as relevant now as ever.

Nonfiction

The best nonfiction was undoubtedly Robert Cooper’s The Ambassadors: Thinking about Diplomacy from Machiavelli to Modern Times, an immensely insightful survey of great political diplomats: check out particularly the excellent chapters on Kissinger, and on Finland and Denmark.

Podcast, film, music

The only podcast I listen to regularly is the Institute for Government’s weekly Inside Briefing on British politics; I’m sure Bronwen Maddox will deliver the same quality analysis on foreign affairs when she moves to direct Chatham House later this year.

Guilty pleasure

Watching Dix pour cent: who knew the French could be so witty about themselves? Genius comedy.

Stefan LehneVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

Fiction

W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz: a haunting search of identity and self-discovery of a person orphaned and displaced by the Holocaust. This sounds depressing, but it is brilliantly written and therefore a joy to read.

Politics

Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday is an autobiography of the Austrian author, written shortly before his suicide in Brazil in 1942. A timely read these days, as it shows a peaceful Europe full of optimism suddenly torn apart by hatred and conflict.

Podcast, film music

The Ezra Klein Show, the New York Times’ podcast. Mostly on U.S. politics and society, it features brilliant guests and a host that puts a lot of his personality into the show, so that after a number of episodes he almost seems a friend.

Guilty pleasure

Lupin: a French TV series about a genius gentleman thief, with a great lead actor. Enjoyable despite somewhat silly plots.

Shada IslamManaging director of the New Horizons project

Fiction

It’s been a stellar year for fiction and among all the wonderful books I’ve read I continue to be haunted by the lingering soulfulness and melancholy of the women who are at the center of Huma Qureshi’s collection of short stories in Things We Do Not Tell the People We Love. Pure magic.

Nonfiction

I’ve managed to read a number of amazing, thought-provoking non-fiction books in recent months but the one that made me really sit up and take notice is Rafia Zakaria’s Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption, which highlights the need to make feminism more inclusive and challenges conventional Western feminist views on power and how to wield it. Don’t be put off by the title, read the book.

Podcast, film, music

Watching movies with strangers in a cinema is not my cup of tea but I can’t stop streaming Turkish, Indian, Pakistani, Arab, South Korean, and Brazilian movies on my iPad whenever and wherever I like. My advice to those who say “there’s nothing to watch” is simple: be adventurous, dare to go outside your comfort zone, you won’t be disappointed.

Guilty pleasure:

Yoga—all kinds but especially Iyengar yoga—both in real life and vicariously through watching uplifting videos on Instagram. Heaven for an aching back and serenity for a seeking soul.

Zsuzsanna SzelenyiVisiting fellow at the Central European University’s Democracy Institute

Fiction

Harmonia Caelestis is a fascinating example of Hungarian literature: a monumental, part-autobiographical family history of Péter Esterházy, an outstanding Hungarian and European writer of the twentieth century. In this rich novel Eszterházy displays his captivating language and original storytelling. It is everything but a conventional memoir and ultimately threaded together by a profoundly witty and wise philosophical vein. Not an easy summer read, but it is a deep joy with the promise to understand Central Europe better.

Non-fiction

We know a lot of illiberalism already but the Routledge Handbook of Illiberalism, edited by András Sajó, Renata Uitz, and Stephen Holmes is a fascinating collection of works dedicated to illiberalism, showing it as a complex social, political, cultural, legal, and mental phenomenon. The book discusses the sources of resistance as well, providing a silver lining for this distressing global problem.

Podcast, film, music

When traveling overseas is still so complicated, watching non-European series is a lot of fun. Tokyo Vice is a new crime drama by HBO set in the Tokyo underworld, full of extraordinary excitement and cultural learning.

Visegrad Insight is a weekly podcast of the journal with the same title, covering and analyzing events on Central Europe, from Central Europe, week by week. It is a refreshing English-language source that helps one to understand the politics of countries from Estonia to Bulgaria, on the “Eastern flank” of Europe.

Guilty pleasure:

As I got into the habit of working 24/7 during the pandemic, I am actively practising “doing nothing.” It is hilarious. It’s easier if you go out to nature, but it’s also possible anywhere else. You just have to throw away your laptop and phone.

Dimitar BechevNonresident scholar at Carnegie Europe

Fiction

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov. Bulgaria’s celebrated author ploughs through history and memory to look at our day and age with his inimitable sense of irony. No wonder he is among the nominees for the Nobel Prize in literature this year.

Non-fiction

Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by Vladislav M. Zubok. Zubok documents in meticulous detail the death of the Soviet empire, blaming Mikhail Gorbachev’s inept management of the economy for the disintegration. I am not sure I agree with his diagnosis, but the book contains plenty of food for thought.

Podcast, film, music

The Rest is History from Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. Clever and entertaining. I enjoyed the episode on the Cultural Revolution in China featuring the University of Oxford’s Rana Mitter, but there is much, much more in the back catalogue.

Guilty pleasure

F is for Family, an animated series on Netflix set in the early 1970s. A portrait of America of yesteryear that will make you laugh as well as think. Sheer delight.

Paul HaenleMaurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Nonfiction 

Where Great Powers Meet: America and China in Southeast Asia, by David Shambaugh. This is one of the books I plan to delve into this summer. As the title suggests, it tells a story about the United States and China encountering one another and competing for influence in a region of vital global significance. Covering centuries of history and over ten countries, the book offers an expansive account of regional politics across time and space.

Podcast, film, music

I listened to the Fat Leonard Podcast this year after arriving in Singapore. Tom Wright, the author of Billion Dollar Whale about the 1MDB scandal, reveals the shocking story of Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as Fat Leonard—a Malaysian entrepreneur arrested in 2013 on bribery charges in what is described as the worst corruption scam in the history of the U.S. Navy. For more than twenty years, Fat Leonard used cash and other illicit means to bribe U.S. Navy personnel—including U.S. Navy flag officers—from the Seventh Fleet, making a huge fortune as a U.S. Navy contractor in the process.

Guilty Pleasure

The Bureau is a riveting French spy series about a French intelligence officer, Guillaume Debailly, who returns to Paris after years undercover in Damascus to reconnect with his family and rediscover his former identity. The plotlines are terrific and based on real accounts by former spies and contemporary events. Anyone who hasn’t watched The Bureau should dedicate some down time this summer to do so.