CISAC Faculty and Fellows Recommend Books, Podcasts for Summer 2019


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CISAC faculty and fellows offer their summer reading selections:


Hyun-Binn Cho, postdoctoral fellow at CISAC, recommends:

Active Defense: China's Military Strategy since 1949

“With the designation of China as a “revisionist power” in the 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy, understanding the military equation in debates about China has become ever more important. With a plethora of articles and books on China, however, it can be difficult to know what to read. This excellent new book by a leading scholar on Chinese foreign policy explains the evolution of China’s military strategy and is a must-read to stay abreast with these debates. For experts on the military strategies of other countries – say, Russian military strategy or U.S. counter-insurgency strategy – the book’s novel theoretical framework will also be illuminating. For nuclear security aficionados, the book’s penultimate chapter is dedicated to China’s nuclear strategy.”

Martha Crenshaw, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and professor, by courtesy, of political science, recommends:

Educated:  A Memoir

“This autobiographical book completely held my attention during a very long trip from Bangkok to San Francisco via Beijing.  It deserves all the awards it's won.”

Paul Edwards, William J. Perry Fellow in International Security and Senior Research Scholar at CISAC and Professor of Information and History at the University of Michigan recommends:

Invisibilia (NPR podcast)

“Invisibilia is a long-form podcast (45-60 minutes) that explores psychological phenomena of all sorts - cognition, emotion, perception - through surprising stories about real people. A recent episode on empathy made a huge impression on me. It profiled a self-described "incel" (involuntary celibate) who had renounced his intense misogyny and left a poisonous online community — at least apparently. Two female interviewers reached strikingly different perspectives on the story, leading one to ask whether empathy is still a virtue in our current political culture.”

New York 2140

“New York City after 50 feet of sea level rise. Lower Manhattan is underwater, but inhabitants of the new "intertidal" zone still live in its skyscrapers, farming on some floors, generating solar electricity, traveling by boat and skywalk, and fighting to maintain the slowly corroding foundations below the waterline. Meanwhile, the real estate market is alive and well - but heading for a collapse much like the subprime crisis of 2007-8. One character travels the world by airship, evacuating endangered species to relocate them in climatic zones where they can still eke out a living.”

Gabriele Hecht, Frank Stanton Foundation Professor of Nuclear Security at CISAC, Professor of History, and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, recommends:

Hollow Land

“This should be required reading for anyone interested in security issues. An architect by training, [Eyal] Weizman is rapidly becoming one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. The book examines the infrastructure of Israel's occupation of Palestine, looking at tunnels, highways, checkpoints, and more to explore the multiple dimensions through which the Israeli military exerts power, and the multiple dimensions through which Palestinians resist. A particularly arresting chapter discusses how Israeli military thinkers were inspired by radical social theorists to develop new tactics for raiding Palestinian towns, such as blasting through walls of residents' living rooms to move from one side of town to another. Powerful prose and ample illustrations make this book very hard to put down!”

David Holloway, senior fellow emeritus at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, and professor of political science recommends:

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

“My recommendation is Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (Random House 2016). This is based on interviews Alexievich did between 1991 and 2012 and it provides an incomparable insight into the Soviet Union and post-Soviet reality, on the basis of what has been called a “symphony of Russian voices." I found it compulsive reading and very moving. It is not not about policy, but it is very much about the impact of politics on individuals and on society. Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 but you shouldn’t let that put you off.”

Colin Kahl, CISAC co-diredtor, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and professor, by courtesy, of political science, recommends:

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

“George Packer is an incredibly gifted storyteller and observer of world affairs. His latest book provides a fascinating account of Richard Holbrooke, one the most important and ambitious U.S. diplomats of the late 20th century, and uses this personal history to surface broader insights about American foreign policy from Vietnam to the end of the Cold War and the aftermath of 9/11.”

Erik Lin-Greenberg, predoctoral fellow at CISAC, recommends:

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam

“In The Road Not Taken, Max Boot chronicles the life of Air Force intelligence officer Edward Lansdale and his role in planning American counterinsurgency operations during the Cold War. Drawing from interviews and extensive archival materials, Boot analyzes Lansdale's efforts to develop strategies to win hearts and minds in Cold War hotspots including the Philippines and Vietnam. While the book offers a historical narrative, many of its lessons are directly relevant to contemporary counterinsurgency and conflict reconstruction efforts in places like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.”

Michal Onderco, junior faculty fellow at CISAC, recommends:

Fractured Continent: Europe's Crises and the Fate of the West

“Despite the attention that China receives, Europe continues to be an important partner for America. To understand better politics inside European countries today, read Drozdiak's award-winning book. Packed with detail, but still readable and oddly captivating.”

Alarums and Excursions: Improvising Politics on the European Stage

“Van Middelaar is a Dutch academic who served in the cabinet of the first President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy in 2009-2014 and witnessed at first hand how the EU crafted institutional response to the Eurocrisis or the Ukraine crisis. The book is an excellent insight into how the EU works. No wonder the Financial Times picked it among the five books to read on the EU.”

Scott Sagan, Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and senior fellow at CISAC and the Freeman Spogli Institute recommends:

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel

“Jeffery Lewis has written a spectacular novel about the risks of war with North Korea. The book is grounded by Lewis's deep knowledge about nuclear weapons and Asian and American politics. This book should be made into a TV series, which could influence U.S. public opinion in the same way that "The Day After" did during the Cold War.”

Sherry Zaks, postdoctoral fellow at CISAC, recommends:

The Ventriloquists

“Fast-paced (based on a true) story about fighting nazis with humor and wits. Think ocean’s 11 meets The Book Thief. (NB: I’m married to the author...but it’s actually really good. Comes out August 27!)”