Everyone at Just Security would like to wish our readers a wonderful holiday season. To help make the season bright, here are some book recommendations from our Just Security editors, including the books we wrote, the books we loved, and the books we’re planning to read next.
New Books by Just Security Editors:
The Trump Administration and International Law by Harold Hongju Koh
Drones and Other Unmanned Weapons Systems under International Law, chapter by Nathalie Weizmann
The Companion to International Humanitarian Law, three entries by Nathalie Weizmann
Moonglow by Michael Chabon. Chabon never disappoints. In this touching, autobiographical novel, Chabon recounts his grandfather’s memories of WWII, love, and prison terms in his dying days. Chabon is there, listening, prodding, and recording his grandfather’s thoughts. The novel is as much about the stories of the past as the relationship between the two and the self-discoveries along the way.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. I loved this novel even before the N.Y. Times named it the #1 best book of the year. Surprising, beautiful, and often dark. Loosely interconnected stories about connection, love, and power relations. The asymmetry between young and old, east and west, the personal and the official. Elegantly written. Hard to put down.
Dawn of the Code War by John P. Carlin with Garrett M. Graff. My former boss, John Carlin, has, with Garrett Graff, written a remarkable account of the cyber-enabled threats facing the United States and our efforts to respond to those threats. Carlin draws on his experiences at the highest levels of the FBI and Justice Department leading novel work to defend America in the digital age, and his narrative puts on full display those experiences as well as his intellectual leadership in this area as a leading practitioner and now as a top analyst.
The Desert and the Sea by Michael Scott Moore. In this moving book, Michael Scott Moore brings readers into the two and half years he spent held captive by Somali pirates. As insightful into the captors’ circumstances and state of mind as his own, Moore conveys his experience powerfully and revealingly, providing rare insight into circumstances that would otherwise be truly unimaginable for most of us.
The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil. It has become a cliche for post-war disaster zones, exclaimed by American experts and advocates as well as political and civic leaders on the ground trying to dig out from the rubble: “What we need is another Marshall Plan!” Steil delivers an intricately researched account of how the iconic aid initiative came about, despite a decidedly isolationist mood in the United States after WWII. He also looks at the impact the Marshall Plan generated, for better or worse. His analysis is controversial in parts, but the book adds to the understanding of what it takes to achieve such political milestones and the risks they pose.
Deep South Dispatch: Memoir of a Civil Rights Journalist by John Herbers. The author was a correspondent for the New York Times who grew up a working-class white boy in the segregated South and went on to cover the Civil Rights movement for more than a decade. Written with his daughter, Anne Farris Rosen, who also is a journalist, before he died in 2017, this is a moving account of his personal and professional journeys. It holds lessons for how journalists and others in civic life today might handle the tumult of our own time.
With Us and Against Us: How America’s Partners Help and Hinder the War on Terror by Stephen Tankel. At this point, it’s become a truism that successful counterterrorism relies on partners. But few have truly grappled with what that means in practice: the frustrations, the misalignment of priorities, the challenges of ensuring that partners operate at the same legal and ethical standards as we do. Professor Tankel does just that, addressing those challenges and then some. And as an academic and former policymaker, he lands on clear ideas and solutions for better working with partners to address our shared terrorist threats.
The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age by James Crabtree. Former Financial Times journalist James Crabtree takes us on a journey through India’s gilded age and introduces us to the titans who rule the country. It’s a scary tale of what happens when the barons are left unchecked and raises tough questions about whether and how the world’s largest democracy can manage super-charged capitalism driven by a tiny ultra-elite.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. It’s been nearly 70 years since Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, a book that achieved instant celebrity. Re-reading Origins today is a fascinating experience. Some bits of it are of mostly historical interest. But the second of its three major sections, “Imperialism,” with its analysis of racism, the theory of the nation-state, and human rights, seems entirely relevant to contemporary politics.
Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century by Kathryn Sikkink. Sikkink’s book is exactly what its title advertises. In a time of waning enthusiasm for human rights, and powerful critiques of the human rights movement (for example Samuel Moyn’s powerful if controversial Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World), Sikkink pointedly responds with a strong and tough-minded case for the difference the human rights movement has made.
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky. Where do our better and worse angels come from? Sapolsky’s book is science writing for the general reader at its best. Sapolsky (a primatologist) pulls together neuroscience, genetics, social and behavioral psychology, cultural anthropology, and animal studies in a comprehensive survey of what science teaches us about our moral and immoral behavior.
The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel by Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes. Halbertal and Holmes have written a short, lucid, and original book that combines political theory and biblical scholarship. This is not a specialty book – the authors make a powerful case that the histories of Saul and David cut to the heart of monarchical and dynastic politics, with its paranoia, its emotions, its populism, its conspiracies, and its self-destructiveness. Their case that this saga truly is “the beginning of politics” is compelling: for the first time in the ancient Near East, kings neither claimed to be gods nor were favored by them. Terrifically interesting.
Fionnuala Ni Aolain:
The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary by Atef Abu Saif. This is a compelling rendering of ordinary life lived in a conflict zone, and the undulating harshness mitigated by the triumph of surviving daily life. Its prescient observations about the effects of contemporary warfare, particularly war from the skies on civilians and family life bring deeply human perspective to a conflict many have ignored or grown tired of hearing about. It is also funny, reflective and brings the humanity of families, culture and community life in extremis into much needed view.
Seamus Heaney, 100 poems. No holiday season is complete without Irish poetry in hand. This is a collection drawn together by Seamus Heaney’ family that spans the course of his life and his many interests. There is inspiration for life’s journey and a reminder of the importance of living in the present moment in this collection.
Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple. A tough read memoir of the Syrian war from its beginnings to the present moment, told by a young man reflecting on his own path and that of his contemporaries. The illustrations are also a beautiful rendition of what has been lost. The writing and the images capture the essence of what has been lost along the way.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. A real-life whodunit, which details how the newly created FBI was sent to solve a series of unsolved serial murders among the Osage Indian tribe. It’s a sad chapter of American history, but one that sheds light on little-known historical details about the intersection of law enforcement, Indian rights, and the oil industry at the start of the 20th century.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the real life behind the children’s stories: Wilder’s mildly dysfunctional relationship with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane (which leads to the creation of her famous series) is placed against the larger backdrop of western expansion and the clash between pioneers and native tribes, the impact of American farming on the environment, and the divisive politics of the Progressive Era. The perfect complement to Killers of the Flower Moon!
Transcription by Kate Atkinson. This novel is about a young woman who gets recruited by MI5 in the run up to World War Two to transcribe surveillance tapes of British Nazi sympathizers meeting with a British spy posing as a German agent. Or is he? A hall of mirrors.
Educated by Tara Westover. A riveting memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist religious sect in rural Idaho, on the fringes of the network of anti-government, survivalist, white separatist groups near Ruby Ridge. While one brother helps Westover discover music, and later college—she eventually ends up at Cambridge University—she faces abuse at the hands of another brother.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. This is the best novel I read this year and sent me back to Philip Roth—American Pastoral; Goodbye, Columbus; and the Ghost Writer.
Beth Van Schaack:
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig. A work of historical fiction that is based on a true story involving the author’s mother (a former mixed-race beauty queen who becomes a Karen freedom fighter), the book follows the family through then-Burma’s turbulent independence period. It explains the origins of Buddhist nationalism (personified by Aung Sang, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father), the authoritarianism of the previous military regime, and the pervasive ethnic repression and serial civil wars—the conditions that have resulted in today’s genocide against the Rohingya people.
The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide by Azeem Ibrahim. A harrowing account of the origins and manifestations of Myanmar’s ongoing genocide against the Rohingyas. It begins with the ancient origins of this group and traces how they became the world’s most oppressed people.
Financial Exposure: Carl Levin’s Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse by Elise Bean. A first person oversight memoir by one of the best in the business. Elise chronicles over 20 years of critical financial oversight work by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) and his team, including his chairmanship of the storied Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. During the current period of intense polarization, this book offers hope by pointing to recent successful and effective bipartisan oversight efforts by strange political bedfellows.
The Third Hotel by Lauren van den Berg. This fever dream of a novel follows a woman on a grief-stricken tour of Havana as she captures a glimpse of her dead husband on the streets at a film conference he was supposed to attend before his untimely death months earlier in the United States.