This is the first in a series of blog posts we are calling "Required Reading." We're asking a number of thoughtful people to provide an annotated list of the books they think we should be reading at this important time in U.S. and world history.
The first Required Reading list is provided by Philip M. Phibbs. Dr. Phibbs was President of the University of Puget Sound 1973-1992. Before coming to Puget Sound he was Professor of International Relations and Executive Vice President at Wellesley College (where he was Hillary Clinton's advisor). Here is his list.
1. Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror by Benjamin Wittes (Penguin Press, 2008).
One of the most important and least acknowledged developments at the turn of the 21st Century is the change in the nature of warfare. Conflicts between nation-states with specific geographical boundaries and organized, uniformed armies have been replaced by engagements between a traditional nation-state and irregular groups. The latter represent entities without boundaries or uniformed troops, and their attacks are primarily directed, not against an opposing army, but against non-combatants.
Law, national and particularly international, is predicated upon the traditional, not the contemporary conflict. Wittes, a Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former editorial writer for the Washington Post has made the first serious, non-partisan, and non ideological attempt to confront this situation. His book is, in my opinion, the most important publication of the year.
2. Petrostate: Putin, Power, & the New Russia by Marshall Goldman (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Marshall is an economist who knows Russia as few others do—he has been studying the country for half a century and visiting it, even living and teaching there, for years. For some time, he has taken a particular interest in now Prime Minister Putin. Marshall has been a friend of mine for 47 years so this recommendation may be tainted, but if you wish to understand re-emerging Russia, I think you will find “Petrostate” both helpful and fascinating.
3. A Choice of Enemies; America Confronts the Middle East by Lawrence Freedman (PublicAffairs, 2008)
There are a multitude of new books on the Middle East. My favorite is “A Choice of Enemies.” Freedman writes clearly and beautifully; he is also an old fashioned scholar engaged in the search for the truth rather than in promoting an ideological or partisan position.
4. The Landmark Thucydides edited by Robert B. Strassler (new edition, The Free Press, 2008).
If you have not already read Thucydides, the Landmark edition provides a wonderful way to enjoy this remarkable account of the Peloponnesian War which is a classic in the curriculum of international politics. If you have already read Thucydides, you may wish to re-read him in this new edition. It is filled with wonderful maps and helpful footnotes that make the obscure geography and even more obscure characters and events clear and understandable.
5. Reappraisals; Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century by Tony Judt (Penguin Press, 2008).
Tony Judt is, in my opinion one of the best and most interesting historians writing today. He is also something of a public intellectual. This collection of essays displays a few of his great strengths—beautiful, clear writing, independent thinking, and provocative argument. The essays on Leszek Kolakowski and Edward Said, alone, are worth the cost of the book.
6. The mysteries of Frank Tallis (the most recent volume is Vienna Blood, Random House, 2008).
Every well educated person should read widely so I would like to introduce you to the work of Frank Tallis, a clinical psychologist in London. His mysteries are all set in turn of the century Vienna, my favorite period and place. Tallis laces his well written stories with lots of Viennese coffee and rich tortes. There are also cameo appearances by Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler and interludes of the beautiful music of Schubert and Beethoven. Engrossing tales in the perfect setting!