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.
Sarah ChayesSenior associate in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program and South Asia Program
Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories about England at the time of King Alfred, or Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series about the Mongols.
Home Country (United States)
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. (Guilty because we’ve been friends for half a century, so it feels a bit like nepotism to put it on my list.)
Lina KhatibHead of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House
A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East by James Barr. It was General Sir David Richards who recommended I read this book about the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement because of what it reveals about how far even allies like Britain and France can go to undermine one another in their bid for influence abroad.
The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke. A story about an incredible and unexpected comeback now made popular by an Oscar-winning film, showing that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Home Country (United Kingdom)
Taking Command by General Sir David Richards. A most inspiring autobiography about leadership and the fundamentality of telling truth to power. Its critical take on the mishandling of the Syrian conflict is a sobering reminder of what strategy really means.
Life by Keith Richards. The passion for music shines through this riveting tale of going for it and getting away with it.
Jonas Parello-PlesnerHead of foreign policy at the Embassy of Denmark in Washington, DC
I have just finished Alter Egos by New York Times journalist Mark Landler, an up-to-date account of the foreign policies of U.S. President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton tracking their reactions to Syria, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and Russia. Mandatory reading to prepare for the foreign policy universe of a Clinton presidency. I’m also halfway through The Pivot by scholar-cum-diplomat Kurt Campbell, an inside account of the U.S. rebalance to Asia under Obama and Clinton.
During a couple of rainy days in the summerhouse in Denmark, I clicked through the mesmerizing pages of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which starts in 1980s suburban England and ends in the 2030s, when resources are scarce and China leases part of Ireland. Mitchell is a worthy successor to the erudite writings of Umberto Eco (RIP), whose last book, Numero Zero, I still have in Kindle storage.
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.
I reread George Orwell’s Animal Farm with my two sons. We chose our favorite animals. I went for Benjamin, the ever-skeptical donkey. Reread it for its ever-valid critique of creeping authoritarianism and pick which animal you would be.
Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations
The Industries of the Future by Alec J. Ross. Populism springs up in the United States and Europe from a lack of jobs. Without growth, our democracies are yet again at risk. Ross, a former adviser to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is not a dreamy futurist but delivers an impassioned appeal for a fair new economy.
War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich is by far the best book by the 2015 Nobel prize winner for literature. It is a work of narrative drawn from interviews with old women, veterans of World War II. You will be moved by their pride, their romance, and their grit in a war they fought often having left as girls to return home as scarred heroines.
Home Country (Italy)
Severino Cesari, the fiction editor at the publisher Einaudi, has been sick for a while, and every day on Facebook he publishes the diary of his struggle. While fighting for his life, Cesari is funny, endearing, and brave and gathers thousands of readers online. His book will be published by Rizzoli in the fall but in its digital version is already a masterpiece.
Dumas, Simenon, Conan Doyle, and Collodi (Pinocchio’s dad) never won a Nobel, Booker, Medici, or Pulitzer prize. Critics frown on the mass fiction the late Umberto Eco taught us. So read two great contemporary writers whom future critics will love: George R. R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones saga, and J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter’s mom. Martin explains the world of Syria, the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Brexit, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Vladimir Putin, and Beppe Grillo better than Henry Kissinger does, while Rowling teaches us that magic, not a business plan, will save the world and our souls.
Jan TechauDirector of Carnegie Europe
Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. This hardcore tome of geopolitics stands in marked contrast to Robert Kaplan’s overrated Revenge of Geography. It is a great eye-opener, is well researched, is free of jargon and vague generalities, and avoids the trap of simplistic, mechanical forecasting that so much geopolitical writing falls into. Analysts and map fans alike will love this.
The Night Manager by John le Carré. Novels by this former spy now have a reputation for being serious literature, because le Carré writes so fabulously well and keeps his moralizing subtle enough to be taken for sophistication. He is a keen observer of human folly, and some of his insights are real gems. But he also loves to sell books, so this thriller is above all the stuff of manly daydreams: cool, smart, violent, fast paced, and incredibly sexy.
Home Country (Germany)
Ein Buch nur für meine Freunde (A Book Only for My Friends) by Lion Feuchtwanger. Feuchtwanger, a Jewish critic and novelist, was one of Germany’s preeminent intellectual voices of the 1920s and 1930s. He compiled this selection of 100 essays in 1956 as the essence of his writings from four decades. It is a cornucopia of deep and wide analysis, critical insight, and timelessly beautiful writing. His merciless dissection of anti-Semitism remains frightfully pertinent today.
Any issue of Tatler magazine. Tatler is Britain’s key debating platform for postmaterial worries. Glossy fantasies of the perfect life and its attributes clash nicely with the ever-present background hum of status angst. Tatler is the perfect bathroom read for anyone with a side interest in anthropology. In a recent anxiety special, the number one piece of advice for readers was: Look at something blue. Priceless.