Booklist | The Best Diplomacy Reads for 2013

Looking for a good book from 2013? Take a look at these from across the web (all comments are from others):

1 – A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, Recommended by Emily Bazelon, senior editor, Slate.

The book that most riveted me this year is Amanda Lindhout’s story of being kidnapped for 460 days in Somalia, written with the fabulous Sara Corbett. Lindhout was a travel lover who was trying to transition from cocktail waitressing (she saved her tips for plane tickets) to journalism, on her way to report on health education for women outside of Mogadishu, when she was abducted by men determined to ransom her. Have you read Jaycee Dugard’s memoir of the years she spent in captivity, or Elizabeth Smart’s new best-seller? With no disrespect to either, this book goes much, much deeper. It includes a heart-pounding escape attempt, Lindhout’s insight into her captors, and the seeds of her recovery. Somehow, since coming home to her native Canada, she has launched a foundation to help Somali women. Here’s a Q&A I did with Lindhout. Her fortitude and honesty has stayed with me and taught me. Pick up this book and I promise you’ll understand why.

2 – War Reporter, by Dan O’Brien, Recommended by William J. Dobson, politics and foreign affairs editor, Slate:

This book of poetry by American poet and playwright O’Brien is powerful, inventive, and utterly original in the way it plumbs the numbing horror of being a witness to war. A collaboration between O’Brien and Canadian war reporter Paul Watson, who won the Pulitzer prize for his photograph of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, War Reporter is visceral, disturbing, at times consoling, and always honest. O’Brien’s work is an incredible achievement. Anyone who cares about how we go to war—and how we return—must read it.

via Slate staff picks for best books of 2013.


3 – ‘Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East,’ by Scott Anderson

4 – ‘The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914,’ by Margaret MacMillan

5 – For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey through a Chinese Prison,’ by Liao Yiwu. Poet Liao Yiwu’s account of four years spent in a Chinese prison is raw and disturbing yet also a deeply human and essential read

6 – ‘The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster,’ by Jonathan M. Katz. Journalist Jonathan Katz considers why well-intentioned foreigners have done so little for post-quake Haiti.

7 – The Battle of Bretton Woods, Benn Steil  February 2013. A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn.

8 – The Great War edited by Mark Holborn, text by Hilary Roberts (Jonathan Cape).

A collection of photographs from the vast holdings of the Imperial War Museums. I have never seen or read anything that brings the first world war quite so vividly alive. Some of the events of 1914-1918 have been told and retold so many times that the whole conflict has, for many people, acquired an obscuring antique patina. This book strips it all away. It will make me seem a fool, perhaps, but I kept turning pages and thinking, my God, these are real people. These things actually happened – recommended by Mark Haddon on the Guardian.

9 – The Return of a King by Walter Dalrymple.

It is a history of the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839, one of those passages of history the close examination of which requires a strong stomach – and which therefore also require the most thorough investigation. The seductive artistry of Dalrymple’s narrative gift draws the reader into events that are sometimes almost unbearable, but his account is so perceptive and so warmly humane that one is never tempted to break away. via the Guardian.


10 – The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, by Adam Lankford (January)

An assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, Adam Lankford decided to examine what motivates suicide bombers. Poring over interviews, case studies, suicide notes, and other sources, Lankford concludes, contrary to many psychologists and political scientists, that suicide bombers do not act simply in the name of a political or religious cause, but instead have a clinical suicidal impulse; their acts are attempts to escape depression, anxiety, and other personal hardships, Lankford finds (as he has also written in FP). His book, which has earned advanced praise from both government officials and psychologists (including Steven Pinker), feels especially timely amid the discussion surrounding mental health and mass shootings in the United States.


11 – The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, by Kishore Mahbubani (February)

For all the talk of an ascendant China threatening the West, longtime Asia booster Kishore Mahbubani sees not a clash of civilizations but a “new global civilization” on the horizon. The former Singaporean diplomat, who now serves as dean of the National University of Singapore’s school of public policy, announced a “New Asian Hemisphere” in his previous book. With this one, he argues East and West now occupy “one world,” welcoming a convergence of worldwide values, perceptions, and standards of living. Still, Mahbubani also warns that the West must proportionately cede some of the spotlight on this shared global stage, for instance at the United Nations and the World Bank, to adapt to the new balance of powers.


12-14 – China Goes Global: The Partial Power, by David Shambaugh (February); The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World, by Craig Simons (March); Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower, by Henry Paulson and Michael Carroll (September)

China’s rise is hardly news, but the rest of the world is in many ways still grappling with the consequences of this new global power — the focus of three books out beginning early next spring. David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, takes a broad view, charting China’s vast economic reach and growing but still limited military might, while arguing that the country still “punches way below its weight” when it comes to international diplomacy and cultural influence. Meanwhile, Craig Simons, a China-based environmental journalist, documents the ecological devastation, both at home and abroad, that has been the byproduct of China’s rise — from the Three Gorges Dam’s impact on wildlife and soil along the Yangtze River to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, where trees have been felled and land cleared to meet China’s vast demand for soybean oil and beef. In September, Henry Paulson will publish his take on China’s economic rise, drawing on his tenures as CEO of Goldman Sachs and U.S. Treasury secretary to plot out how Western companies can engage — and challenge — their greatest global competitor.


15 – Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, by Joshua Kurlantzick (March)

Two years after a wave of democratic uprisings swept the Arab World, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Joshua Kurlantzick takes a far more sober view of global political progress, arguing that a “spate of retreating democracies” are not outliers but a trend — democracy is in decline. Countries once considered emerging democracies, like Brazil and India, “have not only failed to step up as global advocates of democratization,” Kurlantzick says, “but have, in many cases, moved in the other direction, propping up some of the world’s most authoritarian governments — helping preserve the same kind of repressive regimes they themselves often had escaped, reinforcing divides, and often siding with autocrats against Western democracies.”


16-17 – Russians: The People Behind the Power, by Gregory Feifer (April) and Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin, by Ben Judah (June)

How to explain Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which often hovers somewhere between the bizarre and the fearsome? Greogry Feifer, a former NPR correspondent in Moscow and author of a well-received account of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, draws on eight years of reporting in Russia to try to explain, from the inside, how Russians view their leader and their sometimes puzzling place in the world. In Fragile Empire, Ben Judah, a former Reuters reporter based in Moscow, considers Putin’s standing as Russia asserts itself economically, particularly as an energy power, while mass opposition protests that began in December 2011 threaten the two-time president at home.


18 – Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, by David Rohde (April)

Drawing on nearly a decade of reporting and analysis for the New York Times, Reuters, and the Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize winner David Rohde — who wrote an influential article on the “Obama doctrine” for FP in March — takes a sweeping look at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11. He lambastes the United States for wasting lives and money in Afghanistan and Iraq and for failing to use nonmilitary weapons — consumerism, investment, and technology — to win over allies, namely moderate Muslims. Moderates in the Middle East long for American goods and education, Rohde says, arguing that they are also the only people ultimately capable of rooting out militancy in their midst.


19 – Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Connection, by Ethan Zuckerman (June)

Come summer, media guru Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, has a new book about why technology falls short when it comes to bringing people around the world together. Despite vast improvements in connectivity made possible by the Internet and social media, Zuckerman argues we’ve failed to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by globalization. But by “rewiring” tools already in place, he says, humans are fully capable of breaking down cultural, linguistic, and national boundaries.




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