Summer Reading Recommendations 2011

It’s that time of year again! The World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh is here with the second edition of our Summer Reading List. This year, we bring you six internationally-themed books that our staff has enjoyed and we think you will, too. So if summer reality shows and reruns are making your mind go numb then arouse your neurons by checking out these intellectually stimulating reading recommendations! These books may be found in many bookstores, or even your local library. For your convenience, we have provided a link to the book’s listing at Amazon.com.

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe
By Peter Godwin

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

In mid 2008, after nearly three decades of increasingly tyrannical rule, Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old Robespierre of Zimbabwe, lost an election. But instead of conceding power, he launched a brutal campaign of terror against his own citizens. Peter Godwin… was one of the few outside observers to bear witness to the terrifying period that Zimbabweans call, simply, The Fear. … The Fear is… an important, brilliant testament to humanity’s ability to transcend fear, to rise up, even in the face of astounding adversity.

(from http://petergodwin.com/books/the-fear/)

Why we liked it:

You don’t have to know a lot about Zimbabwe to appreciate The Fear. Peter Godwin’s expertly-written narrative paints a startling picture of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial descent into corruption, brutality, and violence. Using the case of Zimbabwe, Godwin opens up a larger discussion of dictatorship, political violence, and the legacy of colonialism in Africa.

The Pick Up
By Nadine Gordimer

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

When Julie Summers’s car breaks down on a sleazy street in a South African city, a young Arab mechanic named Abdu comes to her aid. Their attraction to one another is fueled by different motives. Julie is in rebellion against her wealthy background and her father; Abdu, an illegal immigrant, is desperate to avoid deportation to his impoverished country. In the course of their relationship, there are unpredictable consequences, and overwhelming emotions will overturn each one’s notion of the other.

(from http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780142001424,00.html)

Why we liked it:

This book by South African novelist and Nobel Prize Winner, Nadine Gordimer, is a must-read for anyone who has been a foreigner in a foreign land. At its core is a discussion of displacement, cultural differences, identity, and the ways in which people find connection and love across these divides. In beautiful, poetic prose, Gordimer provides a very 21st Century look at home, nation, and what it means to belong.

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
By John Carlin

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

After being released from prison and winning South Africa’s first free election, Nelson Mandela presided over a country still deeply divided by fifty years of apartheid. His plan was ambitious if not far-fetched: use the national rugby team, the Springboks—long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule—to embody and engage a new South Africa as they prepared to host the 1995 World Cup. The string of wins that followed not only defied the odds, but capped Mandela’s miraculous effort to bring South Africans together again in a hard-won, enduring bond.

(from http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780143115724,00.html)

Why we liked it:

Many people are familiar with the story of Nelson Mandela, who emerged after 27 years of prison to become South Africa’s first leader, post-Apartheid. This book (the basis of the movie Invictus) takes a closer look at how Mandela used rugby (a traditionally white sport in South Africa) to inspire patriotism and unity within his fractured nation.  Incredibly well-written, I couldn’t help but feel personally invested in the outcome — and other readers will undoubtedly be as overcome with emotion as I was.

Purple Hibiscus
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

Set in Enugu, Nigeria, on the eve of a military coup, Purple Hibiscus tells the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili and her painful awakening from an abusive home life to the beginnings of personal freedom. … [T]he violence of Kambili’s home life is echoed in Nigeria, as a repressive regime takes power in a military coup. … It is a time of great turmoil, both personal and political, and the lives of all the main characters are brought to crisis points. In this beautifully written and poignant first novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers a moving and nuanced exploration of the ongoing tension between the forces of oppression and the irrepressible human desire to be free.

(from http://www.randomhouse.com/book/880/purple-hibiscus-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie#reader’sguide)

Why we liked it:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an amazing storyteller. Set against the backdrop of political unrest in modern-day Nigeria, Adichie’s plot grapples with the tensions between modernity and tradition. While the story can be depressing at times, Adichie brings a lightness to her writing that prevents the text from becoming heavy or overwrought.

A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides
By David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

In November 2008, David Rohde, a Pulitzer-Prize winning correspondent for The New York Times, travels to meet a Taliban commander outside Kabul, Afghanistan. The interview is risky, but Rohde hopes it will be the final piece in a book he is writing about the Afghan war. … But the interview is a trap. Rohde, his driver, and the Afghan journalist working with him are kidnapped by Taliban militants and taken deep into the tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan. For the next seven months, they are spirited from one Taliban stronghold to the next… In the process, Rohde becomes the first American to see close up the thriving terrorist ministate the Taliban have established inside Pakistan. As the militants train suicide bombers and plot attacks, Rohde and his colleagues witness how Pakistan’s powerful military turns a blind eye to the Taliban’s activities.

(from http://aropeandaprayerthebook.com/description-of-book/)

Why we liked it:

I purchased this book when David Rohde came to Pittsburgh to speak as a guest of the Council. I already had a hunch that there’d be a happy ending (having met the man in person). With that said, this book was an absolute page-turner. Creatively written, chapters alternate between the story of David (a hostage of the Taliban) and Kristen (his new wife, trying to maintain her life and sanity in the U.S. and bring David home safely). Important background information on Afghanistan and Pakistan is expertly woven into the gripping story, making it an exciting and educational read.

Theories of International Politics and Zombies
By Daniel W. Drezner

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

What would happen to international politics if the dead rose from the grave and started to feast upon the living? Daniel Drezner’s groundbreaking book answers the question that other international relations scholars have been too scared to ask. … He examines the most prominent international relations theories—including realism, liberalism, constructivism, neoconservatism, and bureaucratic politics—and decomposes their predictions. He digs into prominent zombie films and novels… to see where essential theories hold up and where they would stumble and fall. Drezner argues that by thinking about outside-of-the-box threats we get a cognitive grip on what former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously referred to as the “unknown unknowns” in international security.

(from http://danieldrezner.com/zombies/)

Why we liked it:

Combining two of my very favorite things (international relations and zombies), this book is a fun primer on the different schools of international thought. The author is a contributing editor for Foreign Policy magazine, and is well-qualified to answer the question, “What would a neoconservative do in the event of a zombie outbreak?” Entertaining and educational, this book leaves me optimistic that zombie-lovers and policy wonks can co-exist in harmony.

Have you read any good internationally-themed books lately? Share your recommendations with us in the comments!

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