from The Water's Edge

What’s Worth Reading This Summer?

Mobile library by the beach in Tel Aviv

June 19, 2015

Mobile library by the beach in Tel Aviv
Blog Post

CFR.org editor Bob McMahon and I sat down yesterday to record the annual summer reading episode of CFR’s “The World Next Week” podcast. Our good friend and colleague, Janine Davidson, joined us for the conversation. The discussion was mostly, but not entirely, about books: what we have read, what we plan to read, and what we will take to the beach to read.

Janine has already posted her top three picks for books to read on her blog, Defense in Depth:

What She Has Read. The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, by Emma Sky.

 What She Plans to Read. Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, by P.W. Singer and August Cole.

 What She Will Take to the Beach to Read. The Glass Palaceby Amitav Ghosh. 

Janine ably summarizes all three books in her post, so I won’t repeat what she says. After hearing her recommendations, I need to get more bookshelves.

Bob’s three picks were:

What He Has Read. Colonel Rooseveltby Edmund Morris. In the third installment of his acclaimed trilogy on America’s twenty-sixth president, Morris traces what TR did after leaving the White House. Let’s just say, he did a lot.

What He Plans to Read. Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meatby Barry Estabrook. Industrial farming is big business. It’s also not a pleasant one. Estabrook explores the question of whether there is a better way.

What He Will Take to the Beach to Read. The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. McCullough use his great writing and historical talents to tell the tale of the two brothers whose risk-taking efforts at Kitty Hawk made it possible for us to get from Washington to London in a bit over seven hours.

Here were my picks:

What I Have Read. In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, by Norman Cantor. Cantor, one of the world’s leading experts on medieval history, explores how the Black Death killed one-third of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century and changed the course of history. Fun fact: It took England and Wales roughly four centuries to return to their pre-plague populations.

What I Plan to Read. The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, by Adam Tooze. Foreign Affairs, Kirkus, the Financial Times all give The Deluge a thumbs up, with the New York Times saying it is a “splendid interpretive history.” Tooze, a professor of history at Yale University, explores how and why the United States and other democracies missed their opportunity to create a stable global order after the end of World War I. Perhaps there are some lessons in the book for today.

What I Will Take to the Pool to Read. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. I love books like Bill Bryson’s, At Home, and Mark Kurlansky’s, Salt, that use simple topics as a jumping off point to explore history and make fascinating connections across time and space. Johnson promises a similar journey with his investigation of innovations in glass, cold, sound, cleanliness, time, and light. (Yes, How We Got to Now is also a PBS TV series, but I am too busy reading to watch TV. Plus the glare on my iPad at the beach hurts my eyes.)

Being thoroughly modern people, Bob, Janine, and I also had recommendations for what to listen to and watch. Bob recommended the Econtalk podcast with Russell Roberts. An economics professor by trade, Roberts interviews other economists, journalists, business figures, and a whole host of other opinion leaders on a variety of economic topics.

Janine recommended the documentary, Red Army directed and written by Gabe PolskyIt tells the story of the “most successful sports dynasty in history”: no, not the New York Yankees, the Soviet Red Army hockey team. Janine says it’s a great film even if you aren’t a hockey fan. I am, so I plan to watch it.

I had trouble deciding on a podcast to recommend so I ran through several of my favorites: the podcasts on Lawfareblog.com, Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium, and Sharyn Eastaugh’s History of the Crusades.

(Correction time: On the podcast I mistakenly said that the history podcasts were all completed. I should have said I have listened to all of the currently available episodes. While The History of Rome podcast has wrapped up, the others continue in production. I also mangled the pronunciation of Sharyn’s last name. My apologies.)

But if I had to pick one podcast to recommend, it would be The British History Podcast with Jamie Jeffers. It’s great fun to listen to a Welshman with an American accent explain Britain’s history with enthusiasm and humor—plus frequent references to hipster culture in Portland, Oregon.

Enough about our recommendations. What book, podcast, or film would you recommend? Let me know below.

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