The 2019 Just Security Holiday Reading List

As 2019 comes to a close, we’d like to thank everyone for reading Just Security during what has been an extremely busy year. We hope you’ll continue to turn to us for analysis and legal commentary of today’s pressing national security issues in the new year, which promises to be just as momentous, if not more so, than 2019. If you appreciate our work, please consider making a tax-deductible donation this season to our non-profit (link). 

In the meantime, we’d like to wish all our readers a wonderful holiday season and a very happy New Year. Here are our end-of-year reading recommendations from our Just Security editors.

Recommended Reads

David Cole

Say Nothing by Patrick Raddan Keefe. Best book I have ever read about political violence, its costs, and the challenges of reckoning with it.  

The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age by David Sanger. A harrowing and clear-eyed account of how vulnerable we all are to cyber attacks, and the challenges of countering that threat.

Daphne Eviatar

The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal by Martha C. Nussbaum. From the publisher: “From one of our preeminent philosophers―winner of the Berggruen Prize―a work that engages critically with important examples of the cosmopolitan ideal from ancient Greece and Rome to the present.”

Joshua Geltzer

Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear. Many of us are deeply frustrated by the Trump administration’s inhumane and at times unlawful approach to changing immigration law and policy. It turns out that many within the Trump White House are also deeply frustrated about immigration — but in their own way. Julie Davis and Mike Shear’s “Border Wars” gives fascinating insight into how a president whose campaign centered on changing the nation’s approach to immigration has failed to deliver change that even his closest supporters find meaningful.

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow. Don’t read Rachel Maddow’s new book–listen to it.  Because the story Maddow tells in “Blowout” of an oil and gas industry that has deeply influenced our world’s politics, societies, economies, laws, and environment is troubling enough on its own, but becomes even more gripping with Maddow’s familiar voice telling it–outrage, humor, and all. That makes listening to it a delight, even if the book’s rendering of the oil and gas industry is more than a little scary.

Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos by Peter Bergen. Peter Bergen has provided the definitive account of President Trump’s approach to foreign policy in the first few years of his presidency. “Trump and His Generals” reveals a president who saw foreign governments and even his own military as caricatures–and who then grew increasingly frustrated when they defied the script that Trump assumed they would follow.  Bergen offers a powerful rendering of a president who, left to his own devices, is more suited for creating national security crises than solving them.

Adil Ahmad Haque

_______ by John Gardner. John Gardner’s life was as inspiring as his death, at the age of 54, was tragic. For a glimpse of a life well-lived, read one (or more) of the moving tributes written by his friends and colleagues here, here, or here. Every lawyer should read everything John wrote. Where to start? His essays on criminal law theory, collected in Offences and Defences, had a transformative effect on that field (and on me). But John found private law more interesting and, if you agree, you should start with the essays collected in Torts and Other Wrongs or, better yet, with his only monograph, From Personal Life to Private Law. These writings reflect a number of core themes of John’s work, including the role of law and morality in a good life. And if you are that rare sort who wonders about the nature of law in general—public, private, national, international—then you might start with Law as a Leap of Faith. That’s where I returned when I learned of John’s death. It was good to hear his voice again.

Luke Hartig:

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. Meticulously researched and written in crisp prose, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing is an account of the conflict in Northern Ireland told through the eyes of the people who lived it. It’s a story of the war but really of the human consequences for its soldiers and the communities in which it was waged. And it’s a tale of how a few people and incidents come to define the narrative of a conflict and what happens for those overlooked by history. It made me think about insurgency and terrorism with an intimacy I had never fully grasped before.

Prisoner by Jason Rezaian. Jason Rezaian’s account of his 544 days of being unjustly detained by the Iranian government is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the human beings at the center of the Iran deal. But it’s really an account of the inanities of bureaucracy in an authoritarian country, human relationships in the worst of circumstances, and the triumph of two incredible people (Jason and his wife, Yegi) and their families in fighting global forces, U.S. government bureaucracy, and short media attention spans to secure their freedom. 

Oona Hathaway

How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr. From the publisher: “In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light…Rich with absorbing vignettes, full of surprises, and driven by an original conception of what empire and globalization mean today, How to Hide an Empire is a major and compulsively readable work of history.”

David Luban

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman. This is an amazing job of investigative reporting, a remarkable history, and a page-turner as an added bonus. It’s an even-handed book – equally vivid in describing the ruthlessness of targeted killings the very real threats that prompted them. Some of the most interesting episodes are stories of internal resistance to illegal killings and its occasional successes.

What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars by David Wood. Journalist David Wood has spent years embedded in U.S. combat units, and he writes with exquisite compassion about the moral injuries that come from witnessing or perpetrating violence that – even when it is lawful and just – violates deep tenets of the fighters’ moral code. The book is a worthy successor to Jonathan Shay’s classic Achilles in Vietnam.

While we’re on the subject of moral injury:

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. It probably isn’t necessary to go into detail about this book, one of the New York Times’s 10 best books of 2019. At once a detective story, a window into the Troubles, and a human tragedy.

Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century by James Loeffler. This is a fascinating history of the role of Jewish lawyers in modern human rights law. It is not a book of merely parochial interest, and the story Loeffler tells – based on remarkable archival research in multiple languages – is not a familiar one. Loeffler and Moria Paz have also (just recently) published an anthology that fills out this story: The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyers and International Law in the Twentieth Century. The chapters are by a roster of distinguished scholars. Both books take a hard look at the tension between moral universalism and deeply rooted identity.

The Anatomy of Antiliberalism by Stephen Holmes. The book was published in 1993. Why read it now? Because antiliberal arguments from the right have hardly changed in the past quarter-century, and Holmes’s hard-hitting rejoinders – especially in the second half of the book – are as relevant today as they were in ’93. How much longer do we need to hear that liberalism rests on an “atomization” of society, or indifference to the common good?

Fionnuala Ni Aolain

Milkman by Anna Burns. This extraordinary book won the Man Booker Prize in 2018. It is a book about conflict and also a book beyond conflict. It comes in a narrative form that will surprise, delight and frustrate the reader simultaneously.  Without ever naming the conflict site as Northern Ireland, and avoiding the use of names and geographies throughout the book, this is unmistakably a book about one place, and one conflict while being relevant to the lives of ordinary people experience conflicts in many places. It gives birth to a whole new vocabulary about violence, those who produce it and those who experience it. An extraordinary read.

The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty. This is one choice among many from a new genre of post-conflict thrillers and crime novels written about Northern Ireland. It has the feeling of conflict nostalgia wrapped up on a fast-paced story that mixes together insights into the logic of violence in a conflicted place, had a sharp wit which gives a biting sense of what normal life in an abnormal day-to-day and is a fun read. Will be enjoyed by conflict connoisseurs.

Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith. This is an indispensable book of poetry for our times. Smith’s preoccupations take us to the epicenter of violence, exclusion, discrimination and distrust in the United States. Her words are fierce and true. She does not flinch from hard and uncomfortable histories and the present reality of undulating violence against black Americans is front and center.

The Wall and The Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard. For human rights lawyers who want to understand the inside story of decades of litigation in the Israeli courts on torture, setttlements, military justice, deportation and discrimination, this is a savvy and perceptive book. More than anything else, I appreciated the way in which Sfard grapples with the moral and ethical complexities of bringing legal cases that produce long-term justifications for entrenching systems of power and dominance that may not be dismantled by law. He exposes the ethical dilemmas of entrenching the occupation by making accommodations around it. It tells some hard truths about the power of the law and the courts’ instruments of structural violence. There is also value to the analysis of long legal struggle and the power of building movements with unexpected allies.

Asha Rangappa

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. This fast-paced historical fiction is about the legal battle for electricity at the turn of the last century, which shaped the course of America’s future. It features Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Paul Cravath (yes, that Cravath), and even the inventor of the electric chair. Perfect holiday reading for legal eagles, history buffs, and technology enthusiasts!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou: The story of Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, which illustrates how shamelessness, deceit, and a willingness to rationalize bad behavior and ignore red flags allowed this company to pull off a con that duped major investors, government officials, and even Walgreens. It also highlights the importance of whistleblowers and the threats and risks they face when speaking up. (It’s actually a great template for understanding the Trump administration.)

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: This novel is based on the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharatha, including the final battle between good and evil which is the basis of the Bhagavad Gita. It is told from the perspective of Queen Draupadi, the female character who is central to the story but not often given a voice in traditional interpretations. This book is a great way to get to know a central literary and religious text and the characters in Hindu mythology…with a feminist twist!

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear: If you are looking to make New Year’s resolutions, this book is a must-read. Clear shows why systems are fundamental to changing habits, and why even a 1 percent progress towards your goals will make a huge impact over time. If you’re someone who (like me) takes an “all or nothing” approach to your goals, which can make things overwhelming and/or result in procrastinating, this is a great book to help you reframe goals differently.

Crossfire Hurricane: Inside Donald Trump’s War on the FBI by Josh Campbell. This book offers a real-time glimpse into the minds of the decision-makers at the FBI as the events leading up to the 2016 election unfolded. Campbell was “in the room where it happened” at each step and offers experience-based assessments, honest reflections, and criticisms of key decision points — many of which have and are being reviewed now, with 20/20 hindsight. If you want to have a critical perspective to evaluate claims made against the Bureau by Trump, members of Congress, and the attorney general, this is a must-read.

Laura Rozen

Out of Egypt: A Memoir by André Aciman. Worked my way backwards to Aciman’s engrossing 1994 memoir, about the half century his extended family of Sephardic Jews, originally from Ottoman Turkey, spent in Alexandria, Egypt, before being forced into exile in the late 1960s, during Nasser’s reign. Also recommend Aciman’s memoirish novel about the friendship of an Egyptian-born Jewish graduate student in the 1980s with a charismatic North African Arab taxi driver, Harvard Square.

Julian Sanchez 

Berlin by Jason Lutes. Indie comics aficionados had to wait more than two decades for the completion of this ambitious, epic portrait of life in Weimar Berlin, but with the trilogy now compiled in a single massive graphic novel, there’s little doubt the wait was worth it.   Lutes’ clare ligne style conveys both an immersively vivid sense of place and nuanced shades of emotion with an economy that seems like it shouldn’t be possible, as he follows a sprawling cast of journalists, laborers, art students, jazz performers, brownshirts, parents, and communist activists, among many others. Berlin deserves to be counted among the masterworks of its medium, alongside the best of Will Eisner or Art Spiegelman.  

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This epistolary love story follows two post-human time travelers—agents of warring factions from mutually incompatible futures—as they cross swords and trade barbs across the multiverse in a dizzying variety of imaginative settings, gradually realizing that their commitment to each other is stronger than their fealty to their respective causes.  The only real defect in this gem of a novel is that you’re apt to finish it in an afternoon and wish it had been longer. One of those rare books you will find yourself irritatingly urging all your friends to read as soon as you’re done.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. (nee Alice Sheldon). You will find yourself double-checking the publication dates as you make your way through this shockingly prescient collection of sci-fi short stories from an author who, despite having racked up most of the genre’s major awards over the years, remains criminally under-read—possibly because Sheldon’s coruscating exploration of gender relations was discomfiting for the still largely-male 1970s audience.  One of my favorites, the 1973 novella “The Girl Who Plugged In,” reads like a parable about social media celebrity that could easily be a Black Mirror episode.  Recommended for readers who find J.G. Ballard excessively pollyannaish.        

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway. Imagine you could distill everything that’s brilliant about Thomas Pynchon while excising the long sloggy bits that have made Gravity’s Rainbow one of those “classics” most people fling themselves at repeatedly only to abandon a quarter of the way through.  That’s Nick Harkaway, who won my heart with his phenomenal debut The Gone-Away WorldGnomon may be Harkaway’s  best novel yet, a series of interlocking (and initially seemingly disconnected) narratives framed by a detective story set in a disturbingly plausible near-future where state surveillance penetrates the recesses of the human brain. You’ll meet a Greek finance bro plagued by mysterious visions of a shark swimming the currents of the global economy, an ancient alchemist haunted by the death of her son, an Ethiopian painter who walks through walls, a hive-mind assassin… let’s be honest, this one is impossible to summarize; just read it.     

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Murakami meets Kafka in a magical realist tale of an island where the Memory Police, for their own unfathomable reasons, gradually erase concepts and objects from the lives and minds of the populace.  This novel is the bizarre dream you can’t quite shake.

The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America by Sarah Igo. That rarest unicorn: A deep history that’s also a solid work of theory.  Privacy, Igo argues, has become the frame through which we mediate contemporary debates about the proper balance between public power and personal autonomy.

The Secret World: A History of Intelligence by Christopher Andrew. Single volume histories of a sweeping subject tend necessarily to be idiosyncratic.  This is no exception, but that’s part of it’s charm—and as yet it’s unique in its space: An overdue and necessary attempt to place the history of modern intelligence agencies in a global and historical context that reveals deep patterns elided in more narrowly-focused studies.

Of Privacy and Power: The Transatlantic Struggle over Freedom and Security by Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman. American debates about privacy and security tend to be framed in terms of purely domestic interests: This book details how those conflicts are critically shaped by international relations, and how the US and EU facets of that fight can’t be understood in isolation.  

The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present by Ronald Hutton. At a time when “witch hunts” are routinely invoked in political discourse, it doesn’t hurt to pause and understand what the original “witch hunts” were, how they arose, and why they continue in parts of the world.

Andrew Wright 

The Shadow War: Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America

by Jim Sciutto. From the publisher: “In The Shadow War, CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto provides us with a revealing and at times disturbing guide to this new international conflict. This Shadow War is already the greatest threat to America’s national security, even though most Americans know little or nothing about it. With on-the-ground reporting from Ukraine to the South China Sea, from a sub under the Arctic to unprecedented access to America’s Space Command, Sciutto draws on his deep knowledge, high-level contacts, and personal experience as a journalist and diplomat to paint the most comprehensive and vivid picture of a nation targeted by a new and disturbing brand of warfare.” 

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