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World Affairs
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NCWA Book Club 2022-2023 

Our 10th Season!

Chair: Bill Korstad

The NCWA book club meets via Zoom the first Tuesday of each month at noon.

All members are invited.

Stay tuned for NCWA Zoom book club meeting date and selection news. 


2022-2023 Season

April 4, 2023

War: How Conflict Shaped Us by Margaret MacMillan

The book explores ways in which war has influenced human society and how, in turn, changes in political organization, technology, or ideologies have affected how and why we fight. Drawing on lessons from wars throughout the past, from classical history to the present day, MacMillan reveals the many faces of war—the way it has determined our past, our future, our views of the world and our very conception of ourselves.

March 7, 2023

Military History for the Modern Strategist: America's Major Wars Since 1861 by Michael O'Hanlon 

An examination of America’s major conflicts since the mid-1800s: the Civil War, the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. How successful has the United States been when it waged these wars? Were the wars avoidable? Did America’s leaders know what they were getting into when they committed to war? And what lessons does history offer for future leaders contemplating war?

February 7, 2023

Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World by Tom Burgis

Kleptopia is the transnational alliance of corrupt power. To my mind kleptopia is the rule of corruption, when corruption stops being an aberration and starts being the primary mechanism for wielding power. The word comes from kleptocracy, corrupt politicians enriching themselves secretly outside the rule of law, through kickbacks, bribes, and special favors from lobbyists and corporations, or they simply direct state funds to themselves and their associates.

January 3, 2023

America's Great-Power Opportunity: Revitalizing U.S. Foreign Policy to Meet the Challenges of Strategic Competition by Ali Wyne

In this timely intervention, Ali Wyne offers the first detailed critique of great-power competition as a foreign policy framework, warning that it could render the United States defensive and reactive. He exhorts Washington to find a middle ground between complacency and consternation.

December 6, 2022

Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China by Michael Beckley and Hal Brands

China is at a perilous moment: strong enough to violently challenge the existing order, yet losing confidence that time is on its side. Rising powers become most aggressive when their fortunes fade, their difficulties multiply, and they realize they must achieve their ambitions now or miss the chance to do so forever. China has already started down this path. During the 2020s, the pace of Sino-American conflict will accelerate, and the prospect of war will be frighteningly real. America, Brands and Beckley argue, will still need a sustainable approach to winning a protracted global competition. But first, it needs a near-term strategy for navigating the danger zone ahead.

November 1, 2022

Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves

Reeves looks at the structural challenges that face boys and men and offers fresh and innovative solutions that turn the page on the corrosive narrative that plagues this issue. Of Boys and Men argues that helping the other half of society does not mean giving up on the ideal of gender equality.


2021-2022 Season

May 3, 2022

Oceans of Grain: How American Wheat Remade the World by Scott Reynolds Nelson

April 5, 2022

Future War and the Defence of Europe by John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

March 1, 2022

World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crisis of Global Order by John Ikenberry

February 1, 2022

Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order by Kathryn Stoner

January 4, 2022

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor 

December 7, 2021

The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace the American Orderly by Rush Doshi

November 2, 2021

What the West is Getting Wrong about the Middle East: Why Islam is not the Problem by Omar Taspinar

October 5, 2021

The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe's Refugees by Patrick Kingsley 

September 7, 2021

The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Precarious State by Declan Walsh

August 3, 2021

Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China's Rise by Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell 

July 6, 2021

No meeting in July due to weather.

June 1, 2021

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harira 


2020-2021 Season

October 6, 2020 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties 

by Christopher Caldwell

Caldwell describes the federal government's entitlement policies over the past 60 years - what worked, what didn't, and where to go from here. He provides context with which to evaluate entitlement proposals which will be put forth during the next four years.

November 3, 2020 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East 

by Kim Ghattas

Ghattas' insightful history of the Middle East since1979 is important background complementing our Nov 16th speaker Shuja Nawaz and her new book The Battle for Pakistan.

December 1, 2020 Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

China's Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia 

by Daniel Markey

China will likely be our most significant foreign policy challenge for the foreseeable future. The author is an NCWA featured speaker on December 7th. A doubleheader: read the book and listen to the author. 

January 5, 2021 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World

by H.R. McMaster

McMaster’s book is a groundbreaking reassessment of America's place in the world. It’s also a powerful call for Americans and citizens of the free world to transcend the vitriol of partisan political discourse, better educate themselves about the most significant challenges, and work together to secure peace & prosperity of future generations. 

February 2, 2021 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations 

by Daniel Yergin

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and global energy expert Daniel Yergin offers a revelatory new account of how energy revolutions, climate battles, and geopolitics are mapping our future. The book is a USA Today Best Book of 2020. Yergin was named Energy Writer of the Year by the American Energy Society for this book. 

March 2, 2021 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

FIVE SHORT ARTICLES  - Contact Bill Korstad for details

April 6, 2021 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

by Bill Gates

The book has generated a lot of discussion, both good and bad, and created a dozen or so study guides, workbooks, etc., for additional insight. I think it’s an important book to read on what the Administration and many others have said is an existential crisis. While not a climate scientist, Gates knows how business works and has revolutionized how humanitarian aid is approached. In other words, he knows how to get impossible things done on a grand scale. 

May 4, 2021 - Zoom, noon to 1:15 PM

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

NCWA Book Club Selections - 2019-2020 Season

NOVEMBER 4, 2019

Messing With the Enemy by Clinton Watts
A former FBI Special Agent, U.S. Army officer and leading cyber-security expert offers a devastating and essential look at the misinformation campaigns, fake news, and electronic espionage operations that have become the cutting edge of modern warfare—and how we can protect ourselves and our country against them.
In Messing with the Enemy, the counterterrorism, cybersecurity and homeland security expert introduces us to a frightening world in which terrorists and cyber criminals don’t hack your computer, they hack your mind. Watts reveals how these malefactors use your social media information and that of your family, friends and colleagues to map your social networks, identify your vulnerabilities, master your fears and harness your preferences.
Watts examines a range of social media platforms—from the first Internet forums to the current titans of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—and nefarious actors—from al Qaeda to the Islamic State to the Russian social media troll farm—to illuminate exactly how they use Western social media for their nefarious purposes.
Mr. Watts is our NCWA speaker on November, 4 2019, the same date as our book club meeting. Last year's speaker, Peter Singer covered some of the same territory. Singer's book, LIkeWar was available for sale after his talk and sold very well indicating strong interest in the subject. 

Amazon 4½ stars, 304 pages, published May 29. 2018 

Recommended by Mimi Gregory. He’s our NCWA speaker on November 4, 2019. Both Bob Kelly and I have read or reviewed the book.

DECEMBER 2, 2018

The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal by Bill Burns

Over the course of more than three decades as an American diplomat, William J. Burns played a central role in the most consequential diplomatic episodes of his time—from the bloodless end of the Cold War to the collapse of post–Cold War relations with Putin’s Russia, from post–9/11 tumult in the Middle East to the secret nuclear talks with Iran. Burns recounts, with novelistic detail and incisive analysis, some of the seminal moments of his career. Drawing on a trove of newly declassified cables and memos, he gives readers a rare inside look at American diplomacy in action. 

Burns sketches the contours of effective American leadership in a world that resembles neither the zero-sum Cold War contest of his early years as a diplomat nor the “unipolar moment” of American primacy that followed. Ultimately, The Back Channel is an eloquent, deeply informed, and timely story of a life spent in service of American interests abroad. It is also a powerful reminder, in a time of great turmoil, of the enduring importance of diplomacy. 

Amazon 4½ stars, 425 pages of text, published March 2019. Recommended by Bill Korstad. 

JANUARY 6, 2019

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, by Robert Kagan

Recent years have brought deeply disturbing developments around the globe. American sentiment seems to be leaning increasingly toward withdrawal in the face of such disarray. In this powerful, urgent essay, Robert Kagan elucidates the reasons why American withdrawal would be the worst possible response, based as it is on a fundamental and dangerous misreading of the world. Like a jungle that keeps growing back after being cut down, the world has always been full of dangerous actors who, left unchecked, possess the desire and ability to make things worse. Kagan makes clear how the "realist" impulse to recognize our limitations and focus on our failures misunderstands the essential role America has played for decades in keeping the world's worst instability in check. A true realism, he argues, is based on the understanding that the historical norm has always been toward chaos--that the jungle will grow back, if we let it. 

Amazon rated 4½ stars, 192 pages, Published September 18, 2018. Recommended by Bill Korstad, Susan Langer and Virginia McCullum, book club coordinator for the Santa Fe Council on World Affairs.

FEBRUARY 3, 2019

The Next America by Paul Taylor and Pew Research

America is in the throes of a demographic overhaul. Huge generation gaps have opened up in our political and social values, our economic well-being, our family structure, our racial and ethnic identity, our gender norms, our religious affiliation, and our technology use. Today's Millennials—well-educated, tech savvy, underemployed twenty-somethings—are at risk of becoming the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents. Meantime, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every single day, most of them not as well prepared financially as they'd hoped. This graying of our population has helped polarize our politics, put stresses on our social safety net, and presented our elected leaders with a daunting challenge: How to keep faith with the old without bankrupting the young and starving the future. Every aspect of our demography is being fundamentally transformed. By mid-century, the population of the United States will be majority non-white and our median age will edge above 40—both unprecedented milestones. But other rapidly-aging economic powers like China, Germany, and Japan will have populations that are much older. With our heavy immigration flows, the US is poised to remain relatively young. If we can get our spending priorities and generational equities in order, we can keep our economy second to none. But doing so means we have to rebalance the social compact that binds young and old. In tomorrow's world, yesterday's math will not add up. Drawing on Pew Research Center's extensive archive of public opinion surveys and demographic data, The Next America is a rich portrait of where we are as a nation and where we're headed—toward a future marked by the most striking social, racial, and economic shifts the country has seen in a century. For more information on the demographic aspects of the book, please a review of two books in the September|October issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine

Amazon 4 stars, 280 pages, published January 2016. Recommendation by the Financial Times

MARCH 2, 2019

The Myth of Capitalism - Monopolies and the Death of Competition by Jonathan Tepper with Denise Hearn

The Myth of Capitalism tells the story of how America has gone from an open, competitive marketplace to an economy where a few very powerful companies dominate key industries that affect our daily lives. Digital monopolies like Google, Facebook and Amazon act as gatekeepers to the digital world. Amazon is capturing almost all online shopping dollars. We have the illusion of choice, but for most critical decisions, we have only one or two companies, when it comes to high speed Internet, health insurance, medical care, mortgage title insurance, social networks, Internet searches, or even consumer goods like toothpaste. Every day, the average American transfers a little of their pay check to monopolists and oligopolists. The solution is vigorous anti-trust enforcement to return America to a period where competition created higher economic growth, more jobs, higher wages and a level playing field for all. The Myth of Capitalism is the story of industrial concentration, but it matters to everyone, because the stakes could not be higher. It tackles the big questions of: why is the US becoming a more unequal society, why is economic growth anemic despite trillions of dollars of federal debt and money printing, why the number of start-ups has declined, and why are workers losing out.

Amazon 4½ stars, 280 pages, published November, 2018. Recommended by Kishor Kulkarni


MARCH 30, 2019

In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's Deep State by David Rohde. 

A recent poll found that 74 percent of Americans believe that a group of unelected government and military officials is secretly manipulating or directing national policy. But does an American deep state really exist? This sweeping exploration of the intelligence community and FBI scandals of the past four decades―from Abscam to false intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to warrantless wiretapping of Americans―investigates growing fears of a deep state that cross party lines. President Trump and his supporters blame rogue elements in the FBI and CIA for the Trump-Russia investigation. Liberals worry about the “military- industrial complex”―a group of generals and contractors who, they say, push the US into endless wars. Based on dozens of interviews with career spymasters, covert CIA operatives, and FBI agents, In Deep answers the question of whether the FBI and CIA are the enemies, or protectors, of American democracy in the Trump era.

NOTE: Book to be release March 3rd. Speaker to lecture at NCWA on March 16th and the event will be his book launch.

No rating - not released until March 3, 2020. Recommended by Mimi Gregory


2018-2019 Season

OCTOBER 29, 2018

The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger

In 2015, Russian hackers tunneled deep into the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee, and the subsequent leaks of the emails they stole may have changed the course of American democracy. But to see the DNC hacks as Trump-centric is to miss the bigger, more important story: Within that same year, the Russians not only had broken into networks at the White House, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but had placed implants in American electrical and nuclear plants that could give them the power to switch off vast swaths of the country. This was the culmination of a decade of escalating digital sabotage among the world’s powers, in which Americans became the collateral damage as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia battled in cyberspace to undercut one another in daily just-short-of-war conflict. The Perfect Weapon is the startling inside story of how the rise of cyberweapons transformed geopolitics like nothing since the invention of the atomic bomb. Cheap to acquire, easy to deny, and usable for a variety of malicious purposes—from crippling infrastructure to sowing discord and doubt—cyber is now the weapon of choice for democracies, dictators, and terrorists. Two presidents—Bush and Obama—drew first blood with Operation Olympic Games, which used malicious code to blow up Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, and yet America proved remarkably unprepared when its own weapons were stolen from its arsenal and, during President Trump’s first year, turned back on the US and its allies. The government was often paralyzed, unable to threaten the use of cyberweapons because America was so vulnerable to crippling attacks on its own networks of banks, utilities, and government agencies.

Amazon 4½ stars; published June 19, 2018; 384 pages; recommended by Michael Finkel  

DECEMBER 3, 2018

The War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow

In an astonishing journey from the corridors of power in Washington, DC, to some of the most remote and dangerous places on earth_Afghanistan, Somalia, and North Korea among them_acclaimed investigative journalist Ronan Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history. His firsthand experience as a former State Department official affords a personal look at some of the last standard bearers of traditional statecraft, including Richard Holbrooke, who made peace in Bosnia and died while trying to do so in Afghanistan. Drawing on newly unearthed documents, and richly informed by rare interviews with warlords, whistle-blowers, and policymakers_including every living former secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton to Rex Tillerson_War on Peace makes a powerful case for an endangered profession. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined after decades of political cowardice, shortsightedness, and outright malice_but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.

Amazon not rated; 309 pages; recommended by Melinda Kimble, Judy Rubinstein and Kishor Kulkarni 

JANUARY 7, 2019

The Hundred Year Marathon by Michael Pillsbury

For more than forty years, the United States has played an indispensable role helping the Chinese government build a booming economy, develop its scientific and military capabilities, and take its place on the world stage, in the belief that China's rise will bring us cooperation, diplomacy, and free trade. But what if the "China Dream" is to replace us, just as America replaced the British Empire, without firing a shot? Based on interviews with Chinese defectors and newly declassified, previously undisclosed national security documents, The Hundred-Year Marathon reveals China's secret strategy to supplant the United States as the world's dominant power, and to do so by 2049, the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic. Michael Pillsbury, a fluent Mandarin speaker who has served in senior national security positions in the U.S. government since the days of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, draws on his decades of contact with the "hawks" in China's military and intelligence agencies and translates their documents, speeches, and books to show how the teachings of traditional Chinese statecraft underpin their actions. He offers an inside look at how the Chinese really view America and its leaders – as barbarians who will be the architects of their own demise. 

Amazon best seller; 4½ stars; 352 pages; published March 15, 2016, recommended by Bill Korstad

FEBRUARY 4, 2019

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall- In this New York Times bestseller, an award-winning journalist uses ten maps of crucial regions to explain the geo-political strategies of the world powers—“fans of geography, history, and politics (and maps) will be enthralled” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram). Maps have a mysterious hold over us. Whether ancient, crumbling parchments or generated by Google, maps tell us things we want to know, not only about our current location or where we are going but about the world in general. And yet, when it comes to geo-politics, much of what we are told is generated by analysts and other experts who have neglected to refer to a map of the place in question. All leaders of nations are constrained by geography. In “one of the best books about geopolitics” (The Evening Standard), now updated to include 2016 geopolitical developments, journalist Tim Marshall examines Russia, China, the US, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan, Korea, and Greenland and the Arctic—their weather, seas, mountains, rivers, deserts, and borders—to provide a context often missing from our political reportage: how the physical characteristics of these countries affect their strengths and vulnerabilities and the decisions made by their leaders. Offering “a fresh way of looking at maps” (The New York Times Book Review), Marshall explains the complex geo-political strategies that shape the globe. Why is Putin so obsessed with Crimea? Why was the US destined to become a global superpower? Why does China’s power base continue to expand? Why is Tibet destined to lose its autonomy? Why will Europe never be united? The answers are geographical. “In an ever more complex, chaotic, and interlinked world, Prisoners of Geography is a concise and useful primer on geopolitics” (Newsweek) and a critical guide to one of the major determining factors in world affairs.

Amazon 4 ½ stars, 420 pages  published October 11, 2016. Recommended by David Walker

MARCH 4, 2019

Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media by Peter W. Singer and Emerson T Brookings. Through the weaponization of social media, the internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, “Twitter wars” produce real‑world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. The result is that war, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battle-space that plays out on our smartphones. P. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking tackle the mind‑bending questions that arise when war goes online and the online world goes to war. They explore how ISIS copies the Instagram tactics of Taylor Swift, a former World of Warcraft addict foils war crimes thousands of miles away, internet trolls shape elections, and China uses a smartphone app to police the thoughts of 1.4 billion citizens. What can be kept secret in a world of networks? Does social media expose the truth or bury it? And what role do ordinary people now play in international conflicts? Delving into the web’s darkest corners, we meet the unexpected warriors of social media, such as the rapper turned jihadist PR czar and the Russian hipsters who wage unceasing infowars against the West. Finally, looking to the crucial years ahead, LikeWar outlines a radical new paradigm for understanding and defending against the unprecedented threats of our networked world. 

Amazon 4½ stars, 272 pages of text, published October 2, 2018, 


APRIL 1, 2019

Political Tribes by Amy Chua 

An engaging insight into humanity’s innate tribalism. Humans need to belong to groups and maintain fulfilling bonds with others. Tribalism is not only about inclusion in a group, it is also about exclusion to those outside of the group. Group identity in one’s tribe is not based on the country they live in, it is actually “ethnic, regional, religious, sectarian, or clan based.” The United States is as tribal as any other nation despite its melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. U.S. foreign policymakers over the decades have been totally blinded by its ideology, emphasis of capitalism and democracy, and derision of communism. Lessons were not learned and the same mistakes were made repeatedly in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Our foreign interventions turned swaths of the populations we were trying to help against us, empowering anti-American extremists in the process. The popularity of Donald Trump the politician can be attributed to group identity as America’s elites entirely discarded the tribal aspect of American politics and the “powerful anti-establishment identity forming within the working class that helped elect Donald Trump.” Chua calls the U.S. “a tribe of tribes” and a “super-group,” membership of which is open to anyone of any background. However, these individuals can maintain their subgroup identity (ethnicity, religion, culture). America is now witnessing the beginnings of ethnonationalism in many respects, propelled by a significant backlash against the establishment, followed by a reciprocal backlash from those elites against the masses, and “the transformation of democracy into an engine of zero-sum political tribalism.” 

Amazon 4 ½ stars; 304 pages; published February 20, 2018; recommended by Michael Finkel

Runner-ups not included in the books scheduled for this season 

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order by Bruno Macecs

'Brilliant, bold and beautifully told ... A profound piece of political thinking' Ben Judah, author of This Is London In this original and timely book, Bruno Maçães argues that the best word for the emerging global order is 'Eurasian', and shows why we need to begin thinking on a super-continental scale. While China and Russia have been quicker to recognise the increasing strategic significance of Eurasia, even Europeans are realizing that their political project is intimately linked to the rest of the supercontinent - and as Maçães shows, they will be stronger for it. Weaving together history, diplomacy and vivid reports from his six-month overland journey across Eurasia from Baku to Samarkand, Vladivostock to Beijing, Maçães provides a fascinating portrait of this shifting geopolitical landscape. As he demonstrates, we can already see the coming Eurasianism in China's bold infrastructure project reopening the historic Silk Road, in the success of cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, in Turkey's increasing global role and in the fact that, revealingly, the United States is redefining its place as between Europe and Asia. An insightful and clarifying book for our turbulent times, The Dawn of Eurasia argues that the artificial separation of the world's largest island cannot hold, and the sooner we realise it, the better.

Amazon not rated; 304 pages; published Feb 27, 2018; recommended by Bill Korstad; FT review 

Everything Under the Heavens by Howard French. I am reading and about half way through. Not too long and it is very interesting. He uses China’s history, starting from 4000 thousand years ago to explain the why of much of what we are observing of China today. Recommended by David Walker

The Soul of America: the Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham  

Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. 

Amazon Best Seller in Historical Study; 4½ stars, 416 pages; published May 8, 2018, recommended by Bill Korstad, NYTimes review

Facism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright

A Fascist, observes Madeleine Albright, “is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.” Fascism, as she shows, not only endured through the twentieth century but now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II.  The momentum toward democracy that swept the world when the Berlin Wall fell has gone into reverse.  The United States, which historically championed the free world, is led by a president who exacerbates division and heaps scorn on democratic institutions.  In many countries, economic, technological, and cultural factors are weakening the political center and empowering the extremes of right and left.  Contemporary leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are employing many of the tactics used by Fascists in the 1920s and 30s. NYTimes best seller; Amazon 4 ½ stars; 254 pages; published April 10, 2017

The Marshal Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil 

In the wake of World War II, with Britain’s empire collapsing and Stalin's on the rise, US officials under new secretary of state George C. Marshall set out to reconstruct western Europe as a bulwark against communist authoritarianism. Their massive, costly, and ambitious undertaking would confront Europeans and Americans alike with a vision at odds with their history and self-conceptions. In the process, they would drive the creation of NATO, the European Union, and a Western identity that continues to shape world events. Focusing on the critical years 1947 to 1949, Benn Steil’s thrilling account brings to life the seminal episodes marking the collapse of postwar US-Soviet relations—the Prague coup, the Berlin blockade, and the division of Germany. In each case, we see and understand like never before Stalin’s determination to crush the Marshall Plan and undermine American power in Europe.

Amazon 4½ stars; 405 pages; published February 13, 2018: Recommended by Bill Korstad; Review FT  


Killers of the Osage Moon by David Grann

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history. This is outside the type of books we usually read.

Amazon 4½ stars; 400 pages; published April 3, 2018; recommended by Michael Finkel

2017-2018 Season

NOVEMBER 13, 2017
China and the United States are headed towards a war neither wants.The reason is Thucydides’s Trap, a deadly pattern of structural stress that results when a rising power challenges a ruling one. This phenomenon is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them. Today, as an unstoppable China approaches an immovable America and both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries “great again,” the seventeenth case looks grim. Unless China is willing to scale back its ambitions or Washington can accept becoming number two in the Pacific, a trade conflict, cyberattack, or accident at sea could soon escalate into all-out war. In Destined for War, the eminent Harvard scholar Graham Allison explains why Thucydides’s Trap is the best lens for understanding U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century. Through uncanny historical parallels and war scenarios, he shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past — and what painful steps the United States and China must take to avoid disaster today. Amazon 4½ stars, 384 pages, published May 30, 2017.  Financial Times, NY Times Editor's Choice. Recommended by Bill Korstad

DECEMBER 11, 2017

IMPORTANT NOTE: UPDATED PAPERBACK EDITION  PUBLISHED JULY 7, 2017. Make sure it has the exact title shown above. 
The breakup of the Soviet Union was a time of optimism around the world, but Russia today is actively involved in subversive information warfare, manipulating the media to destabilize its enemies. How did a country that embraced freedom and market reform 25 years ago end up as an autocratic police state bent once again on confrontation with America? A winner of the Orwell Prize, The Invention of Russia reaches back to the darkest days of the cold war to tell the story of Russia's stealthy and largely unchronicled counter revolution. 

A highly regarded Moscow correspondent for the Economist, Arkady Ostrovsky comes to this story both as a participant and a foreign correspondent. His knowledge of many of the key players allows him to explain the phenomenon of Valdimir Putin - his rise and astonishing longevity, his use of hybrid warfare and the alarming crescendo of his military interventions. One of Putin's first acts was to reverse Gorbachev's decision to end media censorship and Ostrovsky argues that the Russian media has done more to shape the fate of the country than its politicians. Putin pioneered a new form of demagogic populism --oblivious to facts and aggressively nationalistic - that has now been embraced by Donald Trump. In his new paperback preface, Ostrovsky will explore how Putin influenced the US election, the Trump Putin access, and will consider how Putin's methods - weaponizing the media and serving up fake news - came to enter American politics.. Amazon 4½ stars, 400 pages, published July 7, 2017. Winner of the Orwell Prize, Winner of the Cornelious Award, Finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize, Financial Times Book of the Year. Recommended by David Walker.
JANUARY 8, 2018
Insightful and harrowing . . . lucidly expounds on the erosion of the West's middle classes, the dysfunction among its political and economic elites and the consequences for America and the world."―Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

In his widely acclaimed book Time to Start ThinkingFinancial Times chief US columnist and commentator Edward Luce charted the course of America's relative decline, proving to be a prescient voice on our current social and political turmoil. In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Luce makes a larger statement about the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy―of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a terrifying symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about by ignorance of what it took to build the West, arrogance towards society's economic losers, and complacency about our system's durability―attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We cannot move forward without a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. The West's faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different. Combining on-the-ground reporting with intelligent synthesis of the literature and economic analysis, Luce offers a detailed projection of the consequences of the Trump administration, the rise of European populism, and a forward-thinking analysis of what those who believe in enlightenment values must do to defend them from the multiple onslaughts they face in the coming years. Amazon 4½ stars, 226 pages, published June 6, 2017. Amazon Best History Book of the year so far. Recommended by Bill Korstad.

FEBRUARY 5, 2018 
From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country’s most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise—now more than thirty years old and with no end in sight. During the 1980s, Bacevich argues, a great transition occurred. As the Cold War wound down, the United States initiated a new conflict—a War for the Greater Middle East—that continues to the present day. The long twilight struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional and sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of everyday discourse. Connecting the dots in a way no other historian has done before, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of 1983, the Mogadishu firefight of 1993, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rise of ISIS in the present decade. Understanding what America’s costly military exertions have wrought requires seeing these seemingly discrete events as parts of a single war. It also requires identifying the errors of judgment made by political leaders in both parties and by senior military officers who share responsibility for what has become a monumental march to folly. This Bacevich unflinchingly does.  A twenty-year army veteran who served in Vietnam, Andrew J. Bacevich brings the full weight of his expertise to this vitally important subject. America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a bracing after-action report from the front lines of history. It will fundamentally change the way we view America’s engagement in the world’s most volatile region. Amazon 4 1/2 stars. recommended by Michael Finkel

FEBRUARY 5, 2018
MARCH 5, 2018
The first serious book to examine what happens when the ancient boundary between war and peace is erased. Once, war was a temporary state of affairs—a violent but brief interlude between times of peace. Today, America’s wars are everywhere and forever: our enemies change constantly and rarely wear uniforms, and virtually anything can become a weapon. As war expands, so does the role of the US military. Today, military personnel don’t just “kill people and break stuff.” Instead, they analyze computer code, train Afghan judges, build Ebola isolation wards, eavesdrop on electronic communications, develop soap operas, and patrol for pirates. You name it, the military does it. Rosa Brooks traces this seismic shift in how America wages war from an unconventional perspective—that of a former top Pentagon official who is the daughter of two anti-war protesters and a human rights activist married to an Army Green Beret. Her experiences lead her to an urgent warning: When the boundaries around war disappear, we risk destroying America’s founding values and the laws and institutions we’ve built—and undermining the international rules and organizations that keep our world from sliding towards chaos. If Russia and China have recently grown bolder in their foreign adventures, it’s no accident; US precedents have paved the way for the increasingly unconstrained use of military power by states around the globe. Meanwhile, we continue to pile new tasks onto the military, making it increasingly ill-prepared for the threats America will face in the years to come. By turns a memoir, a work of journalism, a scholarly exploration into history, anthropology and law, and a rallying cry, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything transforms the familiar into the alien, showing us that the culture we inhabit is reshaping us in ways we may suspect, but don’t really understand. It’s the kind of book that will leave you moved, astonished, and profoundly disturbed, for the world around us is quietly changing beyond recognition—and time is running out to make things right. Amazon 4 stars, 480 pages, published April 6, 2016. Long listed for the National Book Award. Recommended by Richard Newton. 
APRIL 2, 2018
How only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout world history. Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world. Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The "Four Horsemen" of leveling―mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues―have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future. An essential contribution to the debate about inequality, The Great Leveler provides important new insights about why inequality is so persistent―and why it is unlikely to decline anytime soon. Amazon 4 stars, 528 pages, published January 24, 2017. .Shortlisted for the 2017 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award. Recommended by Bill Korstad

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