Summer Reading Recommendations 2012

Charge your e-readers, dig out your library cards, and dust off your bookmarks – the moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived! It’s time for our third annual list of staff reading recommendations. (In case you missed the previous two, they can be found here.) For convenience, we linked to each book’s page on Amazon, but check out your local bookstores and libraries, too!

Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War Against the Taliban
by Stephen Tanner

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

For over 2,500 years, the forbidding territory of Afghanistan has served as a vital crossroads for armies and has witnessed history-shaping clashes between civilizations: Greek, Arab, Mongol, and Tartar, and, in more recent times, British, Russian, and American. When U.S. troops entered Afghanistan in the weeks following September 11, 2001, they overthrew the Afghan Taliban regime and sent the terrorists it harbored on the run. But America’s initial easy victory is in sharp contrast to the difficulties it faces today in confronting the Taliban resurgence. Originally published in 2002, Stephen Tanner’s Afghanistan has now been completely updated to include the crucial turn of events since America first entered the country.

(from Google Books)

Why We Liked It:

Although the conflict in Afghanistan no longer dominates the headlines as it once did, it continues to be an ongoing struggle for the United States. This book provides a larger historical context of Afghanistan, and sheds light not only on the military history of the country, but also the people and customs of the region.

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Berlin 1961
by Fred Kempe

 Find it on Amazon

 About the book:

 In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called it “the most dangerous place on earth.” He knew what he was talking about. Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War – and more perilous. For the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against one another, only yards apart. One mistake, one nervous soldier, one overzealous commander – and the tripwire would be sprung for a war that could go nuclear in a heartbeat. On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster and a humiliating summit meeting which left him grasping for ways to respond. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, East Germans, and hardliners in his own government. With an all-important Party Congress approaching, he knew Berlin meant the difference not only for the Kremlin’s hold on its empire – but for his own hold on the Kremlin.

  (from Fred Kempe)

 Why we liked it:

An easy, enthralling, and informative book, Kempe takes readers to “Ground Zero” of the Cold War. He uses interviews and recently declassified information to illustrate the story, and demonstrates how even the smallest decision made by a U.S. president can forever change the course of global history.

_____

Dark Market: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You
By Misha Glenny

Find it on Amazon

About the book:

In this fascinating and compelling book, Misha Glenny, author of the international best seller McMafia, explores the three fundamental threats facing us in the twenty-first century: cybercrime, cyberwarfare and cyberindustrial espionage. Governments and the private sector are losing billions of dollars each year fighting an ever-morphing, often invisible and often supersmart new breed of criminal: the hacker.

Glenny has traveled and trawled the world. By exploring the rise and fall of the criminal website DarkMarket he has uncovered the most vivid, alarming and illuminating stories. Whether JiLsi or Matrix, Iceman, Master Splynter or Lord Cyric; whether Detective Sergeant Chris Dawson in Scunthorpe, England, or Agent Keith Mularski in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Glenny has tracked down and interviewed all the players—the criminals, the geeks, the police, the security experts and the victims—and he places everyone and everything in a rich brew of politics, economics and history.

 (from Knopf)

Why we liked it:

 As more of our daily lives move online, the issue of cybersecurity is a hot topic. In this fast, frightening read, Glenny travels across the globe, looking at both sides of the war on cybercrime.  The book reads like a high-tech crime thriller, despite being full of information.

_____

The Dictator’s Learning Curve:
Inside the Global Battle for Democracy
by William J. Dobson

 Find it on Amazon

About the book:

We are witnessing an incredible moment in the war between dictators and democracy—waves of protests are sweeping Syria and Yemen, and despots have fallen in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But the Arab Spring is only the latest front in a worldwide battle between freedom and repression, a battle that also rages in a dozen other countries from Venezuela to China, Russia to Malaysia. It is a struggle that, until recently, dictators have been winning hands-down. The reason is that today’s authoritarian regimes are nothing like the frozen-in-time government of North Korea. They are ever-morphing, technologically savvy, and internationally connected, and they have replaced more brutal forms of intimidation with seemingly “free” elections and talk of human rights. Facing off against modern dictators is an unlikely army of democracy advocates—students, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, activists, and millionaires—who are growing increasingly savvy themselves. The result is a global game of cat-and-mouse, where the future of freedom hangs in the balance. Dobson takes us behind the scenes in both camps, and reveals how each side is honing its strategies for the war that will define our age.

(from Random House)

Why We Liked It:

Fareed Zakaria said, “William Dobson is that rare thinker who combines a gift for storytelling with an understanding of how the world works. Marrying a historian’s judgment with a journalist’s eye for detail, he spots the emerging trends that others miss.” We couldn’t agree more! This timely book is well-researched and positively fascinating. (Not to mention, the author will be visiting Pittsburgh for a Political Salon on July 17th!)

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No One’s World: The West, The Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn
by Charles A. Kupchan

 Find it on Amazon

About the book:

The world is on the cusp of a global turn. Between 1500 and 1800, the West sprinted ahead of other centers of power in Asia and the Middle East. Europe and the United States have dominated the world since. But today the West’s preeminence is slipping away as China, India, Brazil and other emerging powers rise. Although most strategists recognize that the dominance of the West is on the wane, they are confident that its founding ideas–democracy, capitalism, and secular nationalism–will continue to spread, ensuring that the Western order will outlast its primacy.

In No One’s World, Charles A. Kupchan boldly challenges this view, arguing that the world is headed for political and ideological diversity; emerging powers will neither defer to the West’s lead nor converge toward the Western way. The ascent of the West was the product of social and economic conditions unique to Europe and the United States. As other regions now rise, they are following their own paths to modernity and embracing their own conceptions of domestic and international order.

 (from Oxford University Press)

Why We Liked It:

Kupchan is one of our favorite authors, and this book is no different. He takes a new stance, asserting that the world, rather than moving towards Western democracy, is headed for a politically and ideologically diverse international order. While this isn’t your typical easy “beach read,” it’s certainly food for thought.

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The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power
by James Mann

 Find it on Amazon

About the Book:

When Barack Obama took office, he brought with him a new group of foreign policy advisers intent on carving out a new global role for America in the wake of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. Now the acclaimed author of Rise of the Vulcans offers a definitive, even-handed account of the messier realities they’ve faced in implementing their policies. In The Obamians, acclaimed author James Mann tells the compelling story of the administration’s struggle to enact a coherent and effective set of policies in a time of global turmoil. At the heart of this struggle are the generational conflicts between the Democratic establishment—including Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Biden—and Obama and his inner circle of largely unknown, remarkably youthful advisers, who came of age after the Cold War had ended.

(from Penguin Group)

Why we liked it:

 This book (and its predecessor, Rise of the Vulcans) gives tremendous insight into the people who are shaping our foreign policy today. Author James Mann recently visited Pittsburgh to speak at a Council luncheon and trust us, this is a book you’ll want to read!

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What the U.S. Can Learn from China:
An Open-Minded Guide to Treating Our Greatest Competitor As our Greatest Teacher
by Ann Lee

 Find it on Amazon

About the book:

While America is still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, a high unemployment rate, and a surge in government debt, China’s economy is the second largest in the world, and many predict it will surpass the United States’ by 2020. President Obama called China’s rise “a Sputnik moment”—will America seize this moment or continue to treat China as its scapegoat?

 Mainstream media and the U.S. government regularly target China as a threat. Rather than viewing China’s power, influence, and contributions to the global economy in a negative light, Ann Lee asks, What can America learn from its competition?

(from Berrett Koehler)

Why we liked it:

 A common trend today is to view China solely as a threat to the United States. Lee takes a somewhat controversial look at China’s strengths and suggests ways that U.S. might learn from this rising world power. The information presented offers a new perspective in the ongoing U.S. vs. China debate.

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

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