The War on the Rocks 2016 Holiday Reading List

December 20, 2016

Our new holiday reading list comes out just in time for you to enter your Amazon order in time for delivery before Christmas. I hope you find something for you on this list. If you’re anything like us, you wish you could just import the entire list directly onto your home bookshelves.


Rick Berger (@bergerrichard):

On War and Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington’s Beltway by Arnold Punaro. I generally find memoirs insufferable, but this one caught my eye. Punaro delivers an eminently readable tale of his time in Washington built upon his adroit understanding of the key players in defense policy: Congress, the uniformed military, the Pentagon bureaucracy, and industry. From his combat experience in Vietnam and Marine Reserve commands to his role in some of the most momentous military legislation in the past three decades, Punaro does not shy away from critiquing his own mistakes or excoriating the frequent failings of Washington without undue score-settling. It’s an unpretentious and educative read, perfect for the young national security professional, grizzled veteran, or curious family member in your life.

Buildup: The Politics of Defense in the Reagan Era by Daniel Wirls. A lot of my day job focuses around the defense budget, so please indulge me this pick. With Trump and a GOP Congress set to pursue a rebuilding of the U.S. military, I dusted off this old treatise that examines the domestic drivers and effects of the Reagan buildup. The book challenges the conventional wisdom that external factors drove that splurge, instead arguing that Reagan and Congress used what was a necessary buildup on its own merits to also cement their domestic coalition. The current upheaval in American party politics looks a lot like the early 1980s — enough that reading Wirls can help to orient us to the role that defense issues will play in the next decade.


ML Cavanaugh (@MLCavanaugh):

An Airman’s Letter To His Mother by Unknown. War demands death. Death demands meaning. It is the search for meaning that animates letters home from war. This very short book’s core is such a letter that says nothing less than everything in a mere six pages and 757 words addressed from a British Royal Air Force pilot son to his mother, forwarded to her on his death in 1940 , and subsequently published. While some of his language has fallen from favor, the gravity of sentiment here is stronger than the gravity that likely ended this young man’s life. For students, this provides some understanding into what drives those who fight wars: Why do they go over there? Especially knowing the pain this causes loved ones, why would anyone do this voluntarily? For reflective warriors, reading this provides inspired guidance for the challenge of the so-called “last letter.” For all citizens, reading this is a poignant reminder that our world was built on the painful sacrifices of others, and we can convey some small, last token of gratitude by bearing witness to the love that was, by any standard, a meaningful endeavor.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman. Strategies are stories. Author August Cole has called war “narrative by other means,” scholar Yuval Harari reminds us societies require myths to thrive in competition and survive in conflict, and strategist Lawrence Freedman finished his book Strategy: A History by highlighting the importance of stories. In my own “view from the cheap seats,” I’ve written to amplify this idea, that creating an accepted narrative is central to success at war: Story-making is strategy-making. And few make stories as well as British author Neil Gaiman. In this case, he has plied his fiction skill in the non-fiction world, and the book brims with unexpected lessons for those engaged in the everyday art and study of persuasion, threats, or violence visited upon other people (or nations).


Brad Carson

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. A new and acclaimed biography of the doomed Confederate general. Not only a great recounting of this odd man’s life, but a book replete with potted histories of equally doomed characters like Turner Ashby and JEB Stuart. How someone so apparently mediocre before the Civil War and in so many ways rather insufferable could have emerged as the preeminent general of the age is a tale worth knowing!

How The North Won: A Military History Of The Civil War by Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones. I don’t just read Civil War books, but I recently finished Williamson Murray’s A Savage War, which has been recommended elsewhere on this list. There are three full-blown military histories of this conflict – books that mostly leave out the diplomatic, political, and economic aspects of the war. Murray’s is the most recent and I recently finished it. Another is The Longest Night, by amateur historian and astronomer David Eicher. But I think the best might be this older one by Hattaway and Jones, which I’m only half-through, but love already.


Patrick Cronin (@PMCroninCNAS):

War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft by Robert D. Blackwell and Jennifer M. Harris. America must compete within a world of heightened economic competition, and this book is a timely reminder of our own lost wisdom about and potential for geoeconomic strategy.  And for those seeking more about our largest economic competitor, China, check out the new volume by William J. Norris, Chinese Economic Statecraft: Commercial Actors, Grand Strategy, and State Control.

The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945 by James D. Hornfischer. I almost listed a classic book author about the Korean War — such as Allen Whiting, T.R. Fehrenbach, Allen Millet or Max Hastings — to underscore the most compelling immediate military threat in the region.  But instead I opted for a well-written book about the last year of the Pacific War as a stark reminder of the enormous sacrifice required to win a conflict in the Asia-Pacific.


Loren DeJonge Schulman (@LorenRaeDeJ):

Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime by Eliot Cohen. Choosing Supreme Command is less about the book itself and more about going back to the pile of books you kept from grad school, rereading one, and mentally shaking yourself as you wish you’d actually understood the book’s themes at various points of your career.  And then, making your spouse/drinking partner listen to your enlightened professional recap.  And then feeling a bit smug, if wondering how, exactly, you spent your time in grad school.

A Wrinkle in Time series, by Madeleine L’Engle. You are likely not shocked I was drawn back to a children’s series on the fight of good vs. evil that includes an episode in which a unicorn uses time travel to prevent a crazy dictator from launching nuclear war.  But seriously, revisiting as an adult your favorite children’s wartime fiction (Number the Stars, Rilla of Ingleside, Johnny Tremain, even the Harry Potter series) lends a completely different perspective.  Dig around your attic over the holidays.


Adam Elkus (@Aelkus):

The Protracted Game: A Wei-Ch’i Interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy by Scott A. Boorman. In the late 1960s, Scott Boorman published a study of Maoist strategy that utilized the Asian game of Go as a device to explain 1940s guerrilla campaigns in Southeast Asia. Boorman, as some modern reviewers note, does not succeed in establishing a linkage between either Go and Mao or Go and strategy writ large. However, the book is a fascinating intellectual exercise in trying to understand a different concept of strategic behavior — which still baffles us today, quite frankly.

From Whirlwind to MITRE: The R&D Story of The SAGE Air Defense Computer by Kent C. Redmond and Thomas M. Smith. The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) — an early Cold War continent spanning air defense and command and control network — was a monumental and perhaps even science fiction-like achievement of modern computer engineering. But it was also a milestone in more than just military technology or computing. SAGE, as Thomas Rid notes, turned the entire North American continent into a partially automated air defense battery. Hence, SAGE was a harbinger of a future in which the boundary between human and machine action grows increasingly blurry. Redmond and Smith explain the technical and institutional aspects of how SAGE was developed.


Ryan Evans (@EvansRyan202)

Mussolini: A Biography by Denis Mack Smith. The story of how a megalomaniac possessing a popular personal brand and lacking any real principles can ascend to power. Perhaps relevant to the present, perhaps not.

Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military edited by Gen. (ret.) Jim Mattis and Kori Schake. There are three major reasons to read this book. The first is that it is based on new survey data that allows for a fresh and current look at civil-military relations. Second, the editors collected an amazing group of scholars, including Nadia Schadlow, Mac Owens, Rosa Brooks, Benjamin Wittes, and more. And third, the editors have written two of the book’s chapters and are themselves important authorities on civil-military affairs. Indeed, one of them is our likely next secretary of defense.

Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order by Hal Brands. The author is perhaps our nation’s most talented young historian and he has produced a monumental history of how our nation perceived and misperceived itself during a period of epic transformation.


Jason Fritz (@JasonFritz1):

The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory by Brian Fishman. Brian is always worth reading. Beyond that, this subject dovetails with some of my long-term research on the strategies of armed non-state groups.

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Focusing mainly on the last part of the book, Arendt’s insights into the rise of Hitler and Stalin have great explanatory power of today’s political forces.


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (@DaveedGR):

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. When even the result of our last presidential election can be considered a Black Swan event (a term coined by Taleb), there is no excuse for discounting the inevitability of disorder or random events of sweeping consequence. Antifragile deals with the question of how individuals, institutions, and societies cannot just survive the uncertain but “dominate, even conquer, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable.” Written in Taleb’s characteristically bombastic and scathing style, the book is a worthy read for our uncertain age.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. As much of my time over the past couple of years has been spent building my own organization from the ground up, I have become intensely interested in the question of organizational design and the way private enterprise can advance the public good. In last year’s WOTR holiday reading list, I recommended How Google Works — Google being the organization whose internal design I most admire as driving innovation and enabling its personnel to reach their highest human potential. Elon Musk, though, is the entrepreneur whom I most admire. The breadth of his vision and his overarching drive to save humanity are remarkable, and his private for-profit ventures are inherently wedded to his notion of the common good. Tesla is an outgrowth of Musk’s belief that humankind needs to end its mindless dependence on fossil fuels and SpaceX, an outgrowth of his belief that survival of the species requires reaching space. Whether or not you agree with the vision, there are few figures as compelling as Musk. This book provides unique insight into who he is, what makes him tick, what helps him to succeed.


Robert Haddick:

Airpower for Strategic Effect by Colin S. Gray. The eminent British strategist analyzes the theory and practice of airpower from its origins to today and delivers a balanced account of airpower’s promises, shortfalls, and future prospects.

Thinking About Deterrence: Enduring Questions in a Time of Rising Powers, Rogue Regimes, and Terrorism edited by Adam Lowther. This anthology explores whether policymakers can apply deterrence theory to cyber threats, rogue states, non-state actors, and war in space.


Frank Hoffman:

A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War by Wick Murray and Wayne Hsieh. This military history of the American Civil War is chocked with key insights on the major causes of war, technology’s potential revolutionary role, and the critical impact that organizational culture and command climate have on military effectiveness.  Savage War is operational history at its best, but the author’s lace the narrative with frequent strategic insights that are invaluable to a deeper understanding of war.

Successful Strategies by Wick Murray and Richard Sinnreich. As a new administration comes to Washington and seeks to revive America’s clout and global influence, it should closely examine Successful Strategies. The case studies are authored by a number of well-respected scholars including Thomas Mahnken.  The latter’s assessment of the Reagan era grand strategy against the Soviet Union is ideal for an inbound GOP foreign policy team seeking to overcome the underfunding of the instruments of power.


Bob Killebrew:

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastain Junger. A thoughtful meditation on war, veterans, and society — a must read.

To Lose a Battle: France, 1940 by Alistair Horne. An old but engrossing book, and a powerful reflection on the influence of turbulent politics and the sapping of military spirit.


Peter Mattis:

Essential Works of Lenin: “What Is to Be Done?” and Other Writings, by Vladimir I. Lenin. Vladimir Lenin was one of the most influential political thinkers on the course of the 20th century, ranging from the great revolutions to the great power confrontations. Lenin’s legacy still lives with us as China plays an ever-greater international role in the 21st century. His theories and practical concerns continue to animate the rhetoric and practices of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century by Stein Ringen. Stein Ringen approaches China through the lens of state capacity that he developed in examining other Asian countries, such as South Korea. He invites readers to reexamine what they thought they knew Chinese party-state. Ringen’s pessimistic interpretation provides a much-needed wake-up call about the prospects and possibilities of political reform. The question is whether a Chinese state such as he describes can possibly be the kind of country that Washington can shape.


Al Mauroni:

The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century by Brad Roberts. Dr. Roberts lays out a very coherent and frank discussion on U.S. nuclear weapons policy that should be required reading for anyone examining the next administration’s nuclear posture review. He clearly lays out the challenges  post-Cold War with respect to nuclear-weapon states and provides excellent commentary on how U.S. strategy and policy needs to evolve.

Weapons of Mass Destruction and US Foreign Policy by Michelle Bentley. Few terms of government policy have been as abused as “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”  Dr. Bentley does a superb job of dissecting the conceptual use of the phrase and explains the diversity of interpretation by policymakers and other analysts. Required reading for anyone who wants to accurately use this term in defense policy discussions.


David S. Maxwell (@DavidMaxwell161):

The Art of Peace: Engaging in A Complex World by Juliana Geron Pilon. I am partial to anyone who can write about Sun Tzu and apply the Art of War to contemporary strategy.  However most such attempts use Sun Tzu as a gimmick to gain attention.  Not so with The Art of Peace.  Dr. Pilon masterfully uses Sun Tzu to illustrate the problems we have with strategic thought and reminds us of the timeless elements of strategy that are arguably more relevant today than at any time in history.  I am even more partial to anyone who can combine Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers to discuss national security strategy and Dr. Pilon masterfully incorporates American history and political philosophy into her work.

The Collapse of North Korea: Challenges, Planning, and the Geopolitics of Unification by Tara O. Few want to think about the collapse of North Korea and the unification of the Korean Peninsula. Those who are marked as “collapsists” are ridiculed because the Kim Family Regime has not collapsed — yet!  If it does happen it will be catastrophic with the potential for much loss of blood and treasure.  In her succinct and timely book, Dr. Tara O outlines the various scenarios (WMD, chaos and disorder, mass migration, etc.); the indicators of instability and collapse; the interests of and risks to the regional powers, and she shows how all are ill prepared for this possible eventuality.  Most importantly she outlines ways to mitigate risks and the fallout from collapse and set the foundation for unification and ultimately regional stability and prosperity.


Mike Mazarr

War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft by Robert D. Blackwell and Jennifer M. Harris. We are now entering a period of dominantly geoeconomic competition, and this book is as good an introduction to the required mindsets as any.

World Order by Henry Kissinger. Kissinger’s portrait of the character of international orders, and the requirement to think in more restrained terms about the level of U.S. predominance, is a necessary corrective to the primacy convention.


Bryan McGrath (@ConsWahoo):

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. The author is a superb story-teller and the complex story of Benedict Arnold’s treachery is worthy of his talents.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book has been on my shelf for years, yet I avoided it for some inexplicable reason. As the election approached this year, I felt a need to reconnect with true greatness, and so a few days before the vote, I grabbed it and began to read. I learned in it the degree to which brilliant, accomplished men had come (before his assassination) to realize that Lincoln was their better, and shared these thoughts in their private correspondence. My respect and admiration for Lincoln remains unmatched.


Peter J. Munson (@peter_munson):

Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler. Published this year, it’s the latest from Butler, a Vietnam veteran who won the Pulitzer in 1993 for A Good Scent from Strange Mountain. The novel discusses Vietnam only fleetingly, but the shadow of combat looms large over the multigenerational cast. After nearly four decades, Robert Quinlan still feels the guilt of a single, deadly combat incident during the Tet Offensive. Even given his service, he feels he did not live up to the expectations of his WWII infantryman father. Robert crosses paths with Bob, the son of a Vietnam infantryman. Though Bob never served, he lives with the demons his father passed on. Butler addresses these issues with the nuanced lens of time, going beyond a simple conception of PTSD and combat trauma to explore the complex, even generational, effects of combat.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This book, written in 2012, is especially timely as we contemplate the results of the 2016 election and the political struggles to come. Haidt’s book has more utility for national security professionals, however, by introducing a body of moral psychology that helps us understand the different logical and psychological foundations of non-WEIRD cultures. WEIRD stands for Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Haidt provides a wealth of well-supported insights about how left and right, WEIRD and non-WEIRD see the world differently, and how to message across these gaps.   


Michael P. Noonan (@NoonanFPRI):

Shadow War: A Tom Locke Novel by Sean McFate & Brett Witter. A quick, enjoyable read that illuminates much about the complexities of modern warfare, particularly in the so-called “gray zone.”

The Flashman Papers by George McDonald Fraser. I’m cheating here. There are actually 12 Flashman books, but they are quick and fun reads of historical fiction that deal with diverse settings and potentially illuminate as much about the 21st century strategic environment as they did about the 19th.


Luke O’Brien (@luke_j_obrien):

The Iran-Iraq War by Pierre Razoux.  It is an exhaustive and compelling study of the conflict that embroiled the Persian Gulf from 1980 to 1988.  Combining detailed statistics, nuanced examinations of the internal and external politics of both Iran and Iraq, and illuminating studies of the operational and tactical conduct of the war, Razoux’s book is essential for understanding this highly important conflict as well as dispelling many of the myths that exist about the war to this day. By reading The Iran-Iraq War, one can gain valuable insight into not just the past but also learn just how many of the same lessons from the Iran-Iraq War remain applicable to contemporary warfare and statecraft in the region.

Cassandra in Oz: Counterinsurgency and Future War by Conrad Crane. Too often, studies of doctrine design focus on the technological and sociopolitical changes that drive them.  We forget that, like any academic or bureaucratic endeavor, doctrine design is a human affair.  The experiences of the people participating, and the political pressures they face, are essential to learning just how doctrine came to be the way it was written.  Conrad Crane’s Cassandra in Oz provides just such an opportunity to understand the origins and drafting of FM 3-24, the 2006 joint Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency manual. Crane, a key participant in the design of FM 3-24 and an insightful strategic thinker, details the design process from his personal perspective. If you want to understand not just the development of counterinsurgency doctrine but also the practical ins-and-outs of the process, Crane’s book is an insightful and compelling must-read.


Douglas Ollivant (@DouglasOllivant):

The Rope by Kanan Makiya. Only a novel can capture the violent ambiguity the Iraqi population experienced after the fall of Baghdad.  A hard look at what everyone did wrong in Iraq, culminating in a Grand Inquisitor-like dialogue between a gallows-bound Saddam Hussein and his Sadrist guard.  A must-read for anyone who spent at least a year of their life trying to understand Iraq (or expects to be among a similarly traumatized population).

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson. It’s hard to say anything about the first volume of this Kissinger biography that hasn’t already been said.  This may not be “the” biography of Kissinger, but it’s still a masterful one.  It can be read as a primer on how to prepare, intellectually and bureaucratically, for positions of power.


Afshon Ostovar

Jihad as Grand Strategy: Islamist Militancy, National Security, and the Pakistani State by S. Paul Kapur. Looks at the issue of state support for non-state groups through the lens of grand strategy and national security decision-making.

The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent, and Sectarianism by Toby Matthiesen. Important, and underwritten topic. It’s been at the top of my list forever, and I will finally have time to get to it this year.


Michael “Starbaby” Pietrucha:

The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan by Chris Mason. A political/historical analysis that examines the folly of trying to pick a side in a civil war and expect a positive outcome, in states that have no shared history, coherent national identity, or natural boundaries.

On Basilisk Station by David Weber. The first in a fairly credible space-opera series loosely modeled after the Napoleonic Wars.  A welcome break from purely professional reading, and the book that I have lent out and lost more copies than any other.


Patrick Porter (@PatPorter76):

Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall. Great classic diplomatic history and consequential.

Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age by Frank Gavin. The best account of nuclear counter-proliferation with U.S. grand strategy


Iskander Rehman (@IskanderRehman):

Arms Races in International Politics: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Mahnken, Joseph Maiolo, and David Stevenson. An excellent and comprehensive discussion of the concept of arms races. The volume contains twelve illuminating case studies, ranging from the Anglo-German naval arms race of the early 20th century to ongoing military competition in East Asia.

Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991 by Xiaoming Zhang. A timely and hugely informative study of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, albeit from a Chinese perspective. Of immense value to anyone interested in the history of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship, with some fantastic insights (via recently declassified Chinese documents) into the Chinese decision-making process at the time.


Stephen Rodriguez (@steverod78):

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This book offers ground breaking research written in an accessible (e.g. Moneyball) way for encountering our own biases in decision making.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. Meacham chronicles a flawed human being who overcame personal demons, horrible setbacks, and titanic fights at America’s inception to create the modern democracy that we have today.


Nadia Schadlow:

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump. It remains to be seen how much information can be gleaned about the incoming administration from the mainstream media. Until then, I am going to the source(s).  “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it.” The book sheds light into the way that President-elect Trump sees himself and can, perhaps, shed light on the operational code that is likely to undergird the new administration.

Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East by Michael Doran. The Middle East will remain a critical arena of competition for the United States.  Doran’s book challenges the conventional wisdom that the key to the region has been, for many, about Arab-Israeli peace. Instead, through careful historical research he explains that an understanding of inter-Arab rivalries has been much more central to driving events in the region — a realization that President Eisenhower eventually arrived at, after the Suez crisis.


Kori Schake (@KoriSchake):

The Causes of War by Geoffrey Blainey. I honestly don’t think there’s a better or more engaging analysis of the various theories of what causes wars.  It’s worth the price for the “Myths of the Nuclear Era” chapter alone.  And I love that he emphasizes one’s theory of how to foster stable peace needs to match one’s theory of what causes wars.

Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France by Ernest May. Another great sifting of theories, this time about why France capitulated so quickly in World War II — a careful analysis of tactical and strategic mistakes, shrewdly exploited by the Wehrmacht.  A great education in intelligence analysis and application, as well as innovation.


Paul Scharre  (@paul_scharre):

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.

Every War Must End by Fred Ikle.


Erin Simpson (@charlie_simpson):

Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt. A tour de force that remains remarkably relevant — and prescient — a decade after its writing.

Search the Dark (an Ian Rutledge novel) by Charles Todd. An English murder mystery that also explores the long-term implications of World War I on its characters — and English society. The war breaks men but also breaks relationships and families, albeit more slowly. A strong mystery but a heartbreaking one, as the characters reveal wounds that few can see.


Stan Sloan:

War with Russia: An Urgent Warning from Senior Military Command by Gen. Sir Alexander Richard David Shirreff. Having met and talked with this officer as he prepared to become NATO’s most senior European military commander, I am convinced that he is a serious and capable man who has put an important warning in the form of a fictional but fact-based story.

Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain by Stanley R. Sloan. Unabashedly, I offer my own new book because it not only offers a clear and readable history of transatlantic security relations since 1949 but also focuses on the very real threat to the alliance from by the perfect storm taking shape at the intersection of external threats posed by Russia and ISIS and internal political challenges coming from illiberal tendencies on both sides of the Atlantic.


Mark Stout (@WWIPhD):

Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea by Shiraz Maher. Maher’s book is a useful antidote to anyone who believes that the Islam of al Qaeda or ISIL is the “real Islam.”  He demonstrates that while these group’s ideologies draw on the Quran, they are largely shaped by cynical expediency.

Company Confessions: Secrets, Memoirs, and the CIA by Christopher Moran. Focusing on CIA memoirists and the CIA’s Publication Review Board, Moran makes the strong case that the Agency has harmed itself by an excessive and often capricious or vindictive secrecy.


Stephen Tankel (@StephenTankel):

The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World by Derek Chollet. Whether or not one agrees with President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, Chollet distills how the president thought about the issues and helps us understand why the president made the decisions that he did.

Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History by Thomas Rid. Rid has written a book about cybernetic that Luddites can not only understand but also enjoy.


Joshua Walker (@drjwalk):

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald White. While Abraham Lincoln is lionized as one of the greatest American presidents for holding America together during the Civil War, Gen. and later President Grant is less well known but equally important. Compared to the mythologies of Lincoln, Grant seems more accessible and appropriate for the times we are living in today. In particular, this new biography written by a presidential historian who has also written Lincoln’s biography is an easy read with fascinating details such as Grant’s world tour and relationship with his wife which were completely new items for a foreign policy wonk like myself worthy of attention.

World Order by Henry Kissinger. Not a new book but never more relevant given the discussions about the changing world order. Focusing on regional orders and how system level changes over history have brought us some of the great world events, Kissinger, in a way only this grand strategist can, lays out the world and how to think about it.


Craig Whiteside (@CraigAWhiteside):

Waging Insurgent Warfare: Lessons from the Vietcong to the Islamic State by Seth Jones. The relative (if temporal) success of the Islamic State movement demonstrates a need to continue assessments about today’s insurgencies and place them in a historical context. Jones does that exceedingly well in a book that improves upon past attempts to trace the development of insurgencies throughout history, and we learn there are many more commonalities than differences among practitioners of this type of warfare. This book is useful in determining the future of multiple conflicts in the Middle East as well as growing/possible insurgencies in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 by Bruce Hoffman. We tend to think that jihadi groups have cornered the market on brutal terrorism, but of course, this idea isn’t true. Hoffman’s book about the Zionist terror/insurgent groups that forced the British out of Palestine is valuable counter to the prevalent narrative that terrorism doesn’t work and always backfires on its perpetrators. It is quite a strategic tool when amplified by proper influence campaigns, and it has a seductive draw that is more attractive to adherents and supporters of revolutionary movements than analysts want to recognize.


Ali Wyne (@Ali_Wyne):

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg. We are relentlessly inundated with stories of death, despair, and destruction ­­— an onslaught that would make it hard for even the most optimistic among us to brave.  And yet, as Norberg demonstrates meticulously, there is a pronounced disconnect between perceptions of the human condition and the realities thereof.  His account serves as a powerful antidote both to misguided nostalgia for the past and inordinate fear about the future.

The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline by Jonathan Tepperman. This book is a vital affirmation of a conclusion that, while self-evident, has become almost radical in an era of increasing cynicism and hopelessness: Namely, it is possible for individuals, organizations, and countries to make concrete, sustainable progress on seemingly intractable challenges.  Drawing on over 100 interviews, he explains how they have done so and, in so doing, offers important lessons for the next generation of policymakers.


Image: Jarmoluk, Public Domain