What to Read in 2013
Plotting your Kindle downloads for the coming year? From war memoirs to digital manifestos, here are 25 new books that will be hot off the presses in the months ahead.
1. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American War, by Fred Kaplan (January)
1. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American War, by Fred Kaplan (January)
Amid the scandal surrounding David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director this past fall, many have asked whether the general’s much-touted military reputation will hold up. In his new book, national security reporter Fred Kaplan, who writes Slate‘s “War Stories” column, examines the centerpiece of Petraeus’s pre-CIA record: leading a group of military minds to rescue U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq by promoting their “counterinsurgency” strategy. Drawing on dozens of interviews, documents, and e-mails, Kaplan explains how these COINdinistas made tactics like targeting insurgents in key villages and “nation-building” into U.S. policy. Although Kaplan has written an afterword on Petraeus’s affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, author Peter Bergen writes that this book (unlike Broadwell’s) is “devoid of cheerleading for the military or indeed any other kind of political bias.”
2. My Share of the Task: A Memoir, by Stanley McChrystal (January)
Speaking of controversial U.S. generals, the man Petraeus replaced in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, will release his memoir (after some delay) in the new year. The outspoken retired four-star general’s book traces his career back to his days at West Point and through to his time as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, promising to “frankly explore the major episodes and controversies of his eventful career.” Assuming that refers to McChrystal’s 2010 firing after the publication of a Rolling Stone article that portrayed him as contemptuous of President Obama, the book has the potential to make some news.
3-4. The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz and Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti, by Amy Wilentz (January)
Two promising books about Haiti — and the far from promising state it still finds itself in — are set to be released upon the three-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010. Jonathan Katz is a journalist who witnessed the earthquake and covered its fallout, including the often dysfunctional response from the international community; his reporting revealed, for instance, that U.N. peacekeepers were likely the source of a cholera epidemic that killed thousands of Haitians after the quake. His book investigates why some $16.3 billion in international pledges has amounted to so little progress in the country. Amy Wilentz, a Los Angeles-based writer who earned praise for The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier in 1989, offers a more impressionistic, hopeful look at the country in Farewell, Fred Voodoo. Mixing memoir, history, and current events, Wilentz weaves together a kind of profile writ large of the Haitian people, documenting the resilience with which they face what seems like endless hardship.
5. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett (January)
Former officials in the CIA, State Department, and National Security Council between the two of them, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have long called for the United States to engage with Iran. After heightened rhetoric from Israeli and U.S. politicians and commentators in 2012, the Mann Leverett duo’s sure to be controversial new book argues that concerns about Iran’s nuclear program have been overblown. The country is ready for a change, they say, calling for a bold overture from the United States akin to Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China.
6. Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, by Max Boot (January)
Guerrilla warfare isn’t a novelty in the post-9/11 era, says Max Boot, but instead has been a potent, persistent feature throughout military history. A senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has also advised commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney), Boot traces the trajectory of insurgent groups across history who stirred up trouble for figures as far back as Alexander the Great and today are a key obstacle in the fight against terrorism.
7. The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers, by Adam Lankford (January)
An assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, Adam Lankford decided to examine what motivates suicide bombers. Poring over interviews, case studies, suicide notes, and other sources, Lankford concludes, contrary to many psychologists and political scientists, that suicide bombers do not act simply in the name of a political or religious cause, but instead have a clinical suicidal impulse; their acts are attempts to escape depression, anxiety, and other personal hardships, Lankford finds (as he has also written in FP). His book, which has earned advanced praise from both government officials and psychologists (including Steven Pinker), feels especially timely amid the discussion surrounding mental health and mass shootings in the United States.
8. After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead, by Alan S. Blinder (January)
More than four years after the 2008 financial collapse and with the 2012 election behind us, Alan Blinder — the Princeton economist who served on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors and as vice president of the Federal Reserve in the 1990s — has a new book billed as among the most comprehensive looks at the economic downturn. Blinder argues that the global crisis can be traced to the “bond bubble” in the United States, where an under-regulated financial system collapsed and in turn infected the rest of the world. He details why he believes the results would have been much worse without government intervention, including from the Fed, though he believes there’s still “clean-up work” left to be done.
9. The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, by Kishore Mahbubani (February)
For all the talk of an ascendant China threatening the West, longtime Asia booster Kishore Mahbubani sees not a clash of civilizations but a “new global civilization” on the horizon. The former Singaporean diplomat, who now serves as dean of the National University of Singapore’s school of public policy, announced a “New Asian Hemisphere” in his previous book. With this one, he argues East and West now occupy “one world,” welcoming a convergence of worldwide values, perceptions, and standards of living. Still, Mahbubani also warns that the West must proportionately cede some of the spotlight on this shared global stage, for instance at the United Nations and the World Bank, to adapt to the new balance of powers.
10-12. China Goes Global: The Partial Power, by David Shambaugh (February); The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World, by Craig Simons (March); Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower, by Henry Paulson and Michael Carroll (September)
China’s rise is hardly news, but the rest of the world is in many ways still grappling with the consequences of this new global power — the focus of three books out beginning early next spring. David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, takes a broad view, charting China’s vast economic reach and growing but still limited military might, while arguing that the country still “punches way below its weight” when it comes to international diplomacy and cultural influence. Meanwhile, Craig Simons, a China-based environmental journalist, documents the ecological devastation, both at home and abroad, that has been the byproduct of China’s rise — from the Three Gorges Dam’s impact on wildlife and soil along the Yangtze River to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, where trees have been felled and land cleared to meet China’s vast demand for soybean oil and beef. In September, Henry Paulson will publish his take on China’s economic rise, drawing on his tenures as CEO of Goldman Sachs and U.S. Treasury secretary to plot out how Western companies can engage — and challenge — their greatest global competitor.
13. Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, by Rory Carroll (March)
As Hugo Chávez appears to fade, most recently delegating power to his vice president, Rory Carroll, a former Latin America bureau chief for the Guardian, is set to publish a timely biography of the Venezuelan president. Promising an “intimate piece of reportage” based on interviews with Chávez’s ministers, aides, and courtiers, as well as Venezuelan citizens, Comandante traces Chávez’s rise to, and increasing grip on, power over the years — from his seizure of the Venezuelan oil industry to his creation of a personality cult (including his longtime TV show ¡Alo Presidente!) to his growing suppression of political opponents.
14. Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, by Joshua Kurlantzick (March)
Two years after a wave of democratic uprisings swept the Arab World, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Joshua Kurlantzick takes a far more sober view of global political progress, arguing that a “spate of retreating democracies” are not outliers but a trend — democracy is in decline. Countries once considered emerging democracies, like Brazil and India, “have not only failed to step up as global advocates of democratization,” Kurlantzick says, “but have, in many cases, moved in the other direction, propping up some of the world’s most authoritarian governments — helping preserve the same kind of repressive regimes they themselves often had escaped, reinforcing divides, and often siding with autocrats against Western democracies.”
15. A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China, by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang (April)
Nearly one year after the dismissal of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, two Chinese writers are looking back at how the story unfolded — from the murder of a British businessman in November 2011 to the conviction of Bo’s wife this past August. Pin Ho, a New York-based publisher of Chinese-language books and magazines who has been critical of the Chinese government’s handling of the scandal, and Wenguang Huang, a writer and translator who recently published the memoir The Little Red Guard, promise a narrative based on “high-level sources and inside information,” as well as analysis of how Bo’s downfall and its aftermath could shape Chinese politics and economics at a crucial time of transition for the country.
16. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the End of the Earth, by Mark Mazzetti (April)
As the Obama administration has wound down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in favor of precision warfare, vastly ratcheting up its reliance on drones, the CIA has taken on a new identity, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti reports in his new book. Mazzetti draws on his reporting for the Times to chronicle the intelligence agency’s transformation into a “paramilitary organization” directly responsible for carrying out killings ordered by the White House, from Somalia to Pakistan to Yemen. The result is a kind of “military-intelligence complex,” Mazzetti says: “Where the soldiers can’t go, the United States sends drones, proxies, and guns for hire.”
17. Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed, by Ahdaf Soueif (April)
It was nearly two years ago that Egyptians first took to the streets to topple their longtime leader, and in her new book the writer Ahdaf Soueif looks back at the weeks she spent in Tahrir Square watching the city of her birth transform before her eyes. Soueif, whose novel The Map of Love was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1999 and who now regularly writes political commentary for the Guardian, is well-positioned to grapple with the complicated legacy of the Arab Spring in her still rapidly changing hometown, which today, for a variety of reasons, is a far cry from the peaceful city where she remembers growing up.
How to explain Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which often hovers somewhere between the bizarre and the fearsome? Greogry Feifer, a former NPR correspondent in Moscow and author of a well-received account of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, draws on eight years of reporting in Russia to try to explain, from the inside, how Russians view their leader and their sometimes puzzling place in the world. In Fragile Empire, Ben Judah, a former Reuters reporter based in Moscow, considers Putin’s standing as Russia asserts itself economically, particularly as an energy power, while mass opposition protests that began in December 2011 threaten the two-time president at home.
20. Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, by David Rohde (April)
Drawing on nearly a decade of reporting and analysis for the New York Times, Reuters, and the Atlantic, Pulitzer Prize winner David Rohde — who wrote an influential article on the “Obama doctrine” for FP in March — takes a sweeping look at U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since 9/11. He lambastes the United States for wasting lives and money in Afghanistan and Iraq and for failing to use nonmilitary weapons — consumerism, investment, and technology — to win over allies, namely moderate Muslims. Moderates in the Middle East long for American goods and education, Rohde says, arguing that they are also the only people ultimately capable of rooting out militancy in their midst.
21. Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century, by Christian Caryl (May)
Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in China. The Iranian Revolution. Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland. Margaret Thatcher’s election as British prime minister. It was by all accounts a historic year, and in his new book Christian Caryl, who runs FP’s Democracy Lab channel, connects the dots between the major geopolitical events of 1979: They were linked, he argues, “by the impulse of counterrevolution, whether against Soviet communism, social democracy, modernizing authoritarianism, or Maoism run amok” — and by the influence they would have on the global events of the next century as well.
22. Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, by Joseph S. Nye (May)
In the thick of the 2012 presidential election, it was sometimes easy to forget a crucial question lurking behind the daily campaign spats: Just what can the U.S. president do in the realm of foreign policy? Harvard University’s Joseph Nye takes a comparative, historical approach to this question, looking back at presidencies from Teddy Roosevelt to George H.W. Bush to examine how various commanders in chief have managed to shape America’s position on the world stage, for better or for worse.
23. The World Is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village, by Anna Badkhen (May)
War correspondent and FP contributor Anna Badkhen has been traveling to Afghanistan since 2001 to document the U.S. war’s toll on the Afghan people, most recently in her ebook Afghanistan by Donkey, set in remote hamlets and villages in the country’s north. Her latest book, The World Is a Carpet, chooses as its backdrop the small village of Oqa, where Badkhen chronicles the community’s creation of a carpet that over the course of the four seasons comes to embody and reflect the broader changes and challenges the village faces.
24. Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Connection, by Ethan Zuckerman (June)
Come summer, media guru Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, has a new book about why technology falls short when it comes to bringing people around the world together. Despite vast improvements in connectivity made possible by the Internet and social media, Zuckerman argues we’ve failed to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by globalization. But by “rewiring” tools already in place, he says, humans are fully capable of breaking down cultural, linguistic, and national boundaries.
25. My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind — And Doubt Freed My Soul, by Amir Ahmad Nasr (June)
From Iran’s Green Revolution to the Arab Spring, the world has watched the Internet spark and fuel uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa in recent years. Raised in Sudan and Qatar as a devout Muslim, Amir Ahmad Nasr was among those young Muslims who took to the web, first blogging anonymously in 2006 before revealing his identity in 2011, amid the year’s wave of Arab uprisings. Now, the cheeky voice behind “Sudanese Thinker” describes in his first book a personal journey that reflects a widespread trend with important political and cultural implications — how the Internet “opened [his] eyes and heart to a world beyond the conspiracy theories and religious fundamentalism of his early youth.”
Margaret Slattery is a former assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy.
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