Below you will find a list of books that members of the Geopolitical Futures team are currently reading. It highlights insightful and relevant books from around the globe and the reasons we chose them.
Meredith Friedman: This book’s value is that it gives us a glimpse into the thinking of the Soviets and how their intelligence assessments and perceptions of the United States were derived during the Cold War. Many books examine how the U.S. viewed the Soviet Union, but this one is written by an American through the eyes of the Soviets and Russians. Garthoff traces the development of Soviet perceptions of the U.S. after World War II formed “by a combination of ideological determinism and geopolitical rivalry.” The book focuses not only on how Josef Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev interacted with their heads of intelligence but also on how this impacted intelligence assessments. Given all the recent arguments over whether Russia’s intelligence apparatus is playing a role in American politics, it’s refreshing to read a balanced study of the two nuclear superpower adversaries that sparred for half of the 20th century and to see how the U.S. was viewed.
Antonia Colibasanu: What first interested me about this book is that it was the fastest selling title in Turkish history when published in 1994. It seemed odd that a book with such a record would be less known internationally than other books written by Pamuk, such as “Snow” or “My Name Is Red.” Or so it seemed to me. “The New Life” starts with the statement, “I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” Pamuk provides insight into the eternal conflict between West and East by describing an evolving and problematic social environment in Turkey. The book describes the differences between the traditional and the modern, the rural and the urban, the provincial and the elitist flavors of Turkish culture, bridging them through the main character’s experiences on a road trip. It explains how resistance to the West is built up at individual and community levels, how frustration is transformed into hatred and how that leads to violence. The book also speaks about how local politics develop and how village rhetoric can rise to the national level and contribute to national politics. It also includes a personal story of the main character, Osman, his affection for Jannan – the girl he falls in love with – and his thirst for meaning. All in all, this is a book that stays with you – it is difficult not to think about it even after turning the last page.
Cheyenne Ligon: This Friday, I will be boarding a plane bound for Beirut, Lebanon, where I will be staying for a month. I have never been to Lebanon, so for my book choice this week I wanted to pick something that would help me learn more about Lebanon’s culture, history and people. I chose “The Hakawati,” which means “the storyteller” in Arabic. The book is about a young Lebanese man who must return home to Beirut for a vigil after his father passes away. The main character’s grandfather was a storyteller, and the family members recount his stories and tell their own in an attempt to heal. This book is often described as a modern-day “Arabian Nights” – it is filled with classic, richly retold Middle Eastern folklore. But it also maintains a modern-day narrative during which more recent happenings, such as the 1967 Arab-Israeli War or life in a Palestinian refugee camp, are discussed. Reading “The Hakawati” has been a wonderful way to get a better sense of what awaits me in Beirut. I recommend it for those hoping to gain the same knowledge.