Published in 2013

Interesting account of Nina Munk on Jeffrey Sach’s Millenium Development Villages project. It is fascination to read about Sach’s determination to get things done, his reaction to issues, and his interaction with leaders like Museveni in Uganda. And more than anything, it is engrossing to read about the problems encountered when trying to plant a less privileged village on the development ladder. It became clear to me that it definitely does not only take money to get this done. It is not easy to put this one down once you start reading.

Published in 1998

I decided on this book knowing that I would be traveling to Uganda in March this year. Moses Isegawa (born 10 August 1963), is a Ugandan author.

His novels set against the political turmoil of Uganda, which he left in 1990 for the Netherlands. He became a naturalized Dutch citizen, only to return to live in Uganda in 2006. His novel, Abyssinian Chronicles, which was first published in Amsterdam in 1998, sold more than 100,000 copies. It was very well reviewed when published in English in the United Kingdom and the US.

Published in 2002

This small book contains Bill Bryson’s account of his trip to Kenya. He was asked by CARE-International visit some of their project and to write a couple of words on their behalf. As of his preceding knowledge, it must have been quite an adventurous undertaking for him:

“… were it not for some scattered viewings of the 1952 classic Bwanda Devil and a trip on the jungle Safari ride at Disneyland in 1961, my knowledge of African life, I regret to say, would be entirely dependent on Jungle Jim movies.”

After a terrifying briefing on African dangers he might encounter, he got on a plane. Although he got himself into distress various times (seemingly to make us laugh), it did not take long for Bryson to realise that Kenya is a “terrific country”, and that CARE’s projects really make a difference to the local people.

Especially interesting I found the account of “Kibera” the biggest slum in Nairobi. It reminded me of the slums described by Mike Davis in his book Planet of Slums. Even though Kibera has at least 700.000 occupants, the government does not recognise Kibera, it does not officially exist, and it cannot be found on any map. This makes it difficult for humanitarian organisations – such as CARE – to make improvements. I not only recommend you to buy this book because it is an amusing read, but in Bill Bryson’s words:

“… in acquiring this slender volume you didn’t actually buy a book. You made a generous donation to a worthy cause and got a free book in return, which isn’t quite the same thing.”

Published in 1957

This book largely describes the writers’s experiences in and around Lijiang, among the Nakhi people. It is an especially interesting read for those fascinated by Chinese minorities – like myself. While visiting Lijiang, I experienced the city as a major tourist destination. As Peter Goullart had lived in Lijiang before the cultural revolution, I was very curious how he had experienced it. He described Lijiang as an unspoiled (though primitive) paradise – which is why this work is the ultimate “I was there before it was ruined” book. Back then, the locals were in fight against certain developments. For example, they were against constructing an improved road to Lijiang, which in their eyes would contribute to the ‘destruction’ of their peaceful town.

Apart from being a competent narrator, Peter Goullart seems quite the linguist, speaking fluent Russian, French, English, Mandarin Chinese and Naxi, in addition to smatterings of Shanghainese and Tibetan. After growing up in Moscow and Paris, Goullart left for Shanghai during the Bolshevik Revolutionin in 1924. It was here where he learned Chinese and worked as a tour guide. Following the complications between Japan and China in the 1930s, Goullart traveled westward to Chongqing and Sichuan before – through a complex chain of events – becoming named the chief of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives in Lijiang. He was charged with Read More →

Published in 1920

Beautiful account of Nora, who lived with a Chinese family in the beginning of the 20th century. I am just amazed by the fact that once only 13 tradesmen were allowed to trade with the West. They were apparently fully responsible for the behaviour of their Western trading partners.

Even though I had realised this when living in China, reading this book made me even more aware of the tremendous amount of superstitious beliefs.

A couple of weeks ago Saudi Arabian Raif Badawi suffered the first 50 of 1,000 lashes for the crime of starting a blogging site which called for open debate on the interpretations of the Islam. His unjust punishment has been reason for me to read bits and pieces of both religious scriptures and more skeptical literature. I have been feeling rather fortunate to have the right to read whatever I please on this topic. The basis of the more skeptical readings – which are slightly outdated but relevant – included the books of ‘The Four Horsemen” [Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet and Harris] on “new-atheism”:

“The end of Faith”(2004), by Sam Harris
“Breaking the Spell”(2006), by Daniel C. Dennett
“The God Delusion”(2006), by Richard Dawkins
“God is not great”(2007), by Christopher Hitchens

Read More →

Published in 2010

For a reading group session on ’emerging China’ – in the Guernsey Library –  I read Richard King’s two stories about China’s great leap forward.

When the great leap forward was launched in the late 1950s, China’s objective was to join military and industrial superpowers, however it resulted in a famine in which an estimated 40 million peasants were killed. The two stories in this book are short, and represent two contrasting experiences of two different people with different heroes. It gives a good representation of 1959 – the year in which villages became communal in preparation for the Great Leap Forward. Chinese mentality meant working together, and work hard in order to make the great leap forward possible. A mentality that can still be felt in China today. Furthermore, it shows the difficulties of the following years.

A couple of things that I would like to note after attending this reading group:
1) The readings on China in Western education are poorly chosen.
2) The media in the West does not necessarily show you a more truthful image of the world as the Chinese media.

Published February 2007

In this memoir, Ishmael Beah – an author and human rights activist from Sierra Leone – gives a personal account of his time as a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1990s).

On 23 March 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh† and backed by Charles Taylor, launched its first attack in villages in the diamond-rich Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. One of their attacks forced Ishmael to run away from his village at the age of 12. He was separated from his immediate family for good, and forced to join an army unit who brainwashed him into using guns and drugs. Four years after the rebels attacked his hometown, UNICEF removed him from the army and put him into a rehabilitation program. I found his account of rehabilitation quite distressing, and I praise the people working with UNICEF for never giving up on the children. They know and let the children know that it is not their fault. This book makes one realise how war tears apart families, how fearful the war-filled forests are, and what these children did and gave up for their survival. I admire Ishmael’s mental power, and his will to continue even when being  humiliated repeatedly.

in his recent work “The Bottom Billion” (2008) Paul Collier firstly mentions Sierra Leone in his paragraph about the causes of civil war, calling it “a poor and miserable country at the bottom of the Human Development Index” (p25). Collier explains that, Foday Sanhoy had turned down the post for vice president and had made clear that his goal was to be in charge of the part of the government that managed Sierra Leone’s lucrative diamond concessions. In order to do so, he recruited teenage drug addicts and terrorised the civilian population by for example hacking off hands and feet. When he continues about the costs of civil war, he mentions a study done by Jeremy Weinstein (p29). Weinstein concluded from his study in Mozambique and Sierra Leone that the initial motivations among a rebel group gradually erode. “In the presence of natural resources wealth – oil, diamonds, or perhaps drugs – there are credible prospects of riches, so that some of the young in the queue to join will be motivated by these prospects” (p30). He gets back to using Sierra Leone as an example in his bit about maintaining post-conflict peace,  praising the British intervention named “Operation Palliser”. According to him it serves as a “model for military intervention in the bottom billion: cheap, confident, and sustained” (p128).

In his book “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” (2008) Richard Dowden ended his chapter on Sierra Leone by saying that “More than any other people in Africa, Sierra Leoneans still look to Britain for friendship and support” (p320). However, he believes that only a handful of people in Britain could point to Sierra Leone on a map.

10245602Published April 26th 2011

Winner of the 2011 Financial Times/ Goldman Sachs Best Business Book of the Year Award.

Interesting read drawn on 15 years of research from various countries around the world, by Banerjee and Duflo. They manage to explain economics by sharing local observations and exploring the behavior of poor people in poor countries, without generalising about solutions of economic development. How do the poor cope with poverty? What do they want or not? What do they expect, or not? Why do they make the choices they make? What I find especially good is how they have explored the affect of aid or financial investment on their lives.

Published 2015 (1st ed. 1990)

Finally I got the 3rd revised edition in my hands! The Search for modern China is a readable, grand sweeping history of China in the modern era (i.e., post 1500 CE), covering economics, politics, military events, society and arts, backed by many useful maps, and selections of drawings, prints, and photographs. Some readers might be frustrated by the dozens of ‘pinyin’ names to keep track of. however, the patterns and trends that emerged from this book, as well as the sense of China’s journey as a nation is fascinating. Count me a fan of Spence’s level of detail. Reading this is helpful for understanding the backdrop for what you will find in China today – and what you won’t. It is amusing that Deng Xiaopeng, the founder of modern Chinese state capitalism, modestly hoped for a 2% growth rate until the year 2050, with the aim of making China a moderately developed nation.

This edition continues after the events of Tiananmen Square. A lot has happened since then. I cannot wait to read this last chapter!

Published February 200751Ia0IeFf2L

Dani Rodrik is an expert in international economics, globalisation, economic growth, development and political economy. Among other degrees, he has received a PhD. in Economics and he has broad experience as a professor of International Political Economy.

This book consists of a collection of some of Rodrik’s previous published essays written between 2000 and 2006 on various facets of development and globalisation. His aim – mentioned in the introduction – is to explore whether economic growth is the most powerful instrument for reducing poverty. This is backed by a considerable amount of economic analyses, history and policy studies of different nations. His analysis are to Read More →

Published May 2009

Galeano seeks to explain how the mechanisms of plunder operated from the beginning of the colonial era, through independence and into the twentieth century. He discusses in detail the way in which industrialisation of Europe and subsequently the USA was achieved at the expense of the impoverishment of Latin America, in terms of natural & human resources.

The Open Veins of Latin America is divided into 2 main sections. The first recounts the story of how Europeans first “discovered” Latin America and started to plunder the continent’s natural resources, from minerals they mined through to agricultural goods created using the labour of the indigenous population. These goods were exported from Latin American soil directly to Read More →

Published January 2007

Neoliberalism – the doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action – has become dominant in both thought and practice throughout much of the world since 1970 or so.

Its spread has depended upon a reconstitution of state powers such that privatisation, finance, and market processes are emphasised. State interventions in the economy are minimised, while the obligations of the state to provide for the welfare of its citizens are diminished. David Harvey, tells the political-economic story of where neoliberalisation came from and how Read More →

Published September 2007

Mike Davis is an American writer, political activist, urban theorist, and historian. He is a professor at the University of California and defines himself as a socialist and Marxist- environmentalist. His publications convey ideas on urban theory and developmental studies. Planet of Slums was originally a journal in 2004 which was converted into a book and published in 2006. In his book, Davis provides a refreshing angle on slums in favour of slum dwellers, and offers much in terms of empirical evidence and original arguments, which intrigues us to investigate how slums have evolved since the publication of the book. Read More →

Published October 2011k9564

In “Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World”, Escobar poses the question of how the industrialised Western countries came to be the unquestioned role models of economic development for less-developed nations. Escobar wants to ‘contribute to the development framework for the cultural critique of economics as a foundational structure of modernity, including the formulation of a culture-based political economy’. The book actively criticises development economics and the development agencies for having taken a “naïve” and “oversimplified” approach, as well as underestimating the requirements for development in these countries.  Read More →

large.jpg.htmlDr Alison J Ayers, is an associate professor in political science at SOAS, London. Her main interests include IPE, development and imperialism to name a few examples, with a specific focus on Africa. Ayers wrote this chapter – which is part of the book “Decolonizing International Relations” – to contribute to the recovery of African history by offering a non-imperialistic view of political systems and democracy in Ghana and Uganda. The aim is not necessarily to show evidence of advanced African political systems. Rather it defends, in an interesting and refreshing way, the idea that Africa has had their own types of political communities prior to colonisation. Read More →

41WEJP3eyXLThis book was written by Krasner in 1999. Stephen Krasner is a neorealist who believes in conflict prevention. One of Krasner’s most famous accomplishments in the realm of political science was defining “international regimes” as, “implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations,” in a special issue of the journal International Organisation in 1982. He has also written extensively about statehood and sovereignty.

Krasner defines 4 ways in which people refer to sovereignty in international relations:
1. Domestic sovereignty (actual control over a state by an authority within this state),
2. Interdependence Sovereignty (actual control of movement across state’s borders),
3. International Legal Sovereignty (formally recognising independent territories),
4. Westphalian Sovereignty (states may determine their own authority structures).

Read More →

1648The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations” was written by Dr Benno Teschke in 2003. Teschke is a German-British IR theorist who focuses on the creation and emergence of the contemporary state system. He earned his PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently a Reader in IR at the University of Sussex.

His book raises valid questions about a traditionally widely accepted view held by scholars of international relations, and creates long overdue debate around a key event in this field of study, which can be seen in the extensive response his book received following its publication. However, elements of his argument are simplistic and would benefit from more evidence.

Read More →

Today I read “Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth.” in “International Organisation” [2001, 55 – 2, p251-287]. It is written by Andreas Osiander, a prominent IR scholar, who studied international relations, history, and economics at Tübingen University, the Institut d ́Etudes Politiques of Paris and at Oxford University. He is currently a lecturer in international relations at Leipzig University, where his work is mainly focused on the study of the concept of the State. Although this text is limited, Osiander manages to point out that the concept of sovereignty is subject to change over time and that what was meant by sovereignty during the creation of the Westphalian treaties is not the same today, nor is it relevant in today’s global landscape.

Read More →

41dFFWW5m-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Charles Tilly – an Americans sociologist, political scientist, and historian – wrote a chapter called “War Making and State Making as Organised Crime” in “Bringing the State Back in” [Evans, P., Rueschemeyer, D., and Skocpol, T. (eds.)(1985)(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)]

In his chapter Tilly sets the actions of organised violence and the movements of War-making and State-making side by side, which maintains that government leaders are comparable to “self-seeking entrepreneurs” [p169]. He claims that, during the formation of European states, government leaders gained power through organising protection rackets and through the use of force within given territories.

A protection racket is a situation in which a criminal group demands money from a storeowner, company, etc. in exchange for agreeing not to harm them [Cambridge dictionary].

Read More →

Published in 2008

“The Bottom Billion” is an award-winning bestseller written by Paul Collier – a professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. In his book he shares his view on how to solve the poverty crisis facing the world.

He speaks about his book on TED.

12158480Published March 20th 2012

This book includes a study in the development of poverty and it gives an insight in the contribution of history, economics and politics to a society. While suffering from excessive repetition, this book addresses the issues of wealth and poverty in relation to politics and economics. I enjoyed reading about China’s power as a developing monster economy, and the comparison they make about the fates of North- and South Korea, and how their well-being became so different. It is obvious that the writers believe that it is not aid, but the economical and political structure and institutions that lead to a nations prosperity. Another writer who is famous for criticising aid is Dambisa Moyo. She wrote an influential book called “Dead Aid”.

book 26Published September 4th 2012

Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2001, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke to a world still reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11. Ladies and Gentlemen,” proclaimed Annan, we have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further—we will realise that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations, or regions.” Yet within only a few years the world was more divided than ever—polarised by the American invasion of Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the escalating civil wars in Africa, and the rising influence of China.

Interventions: A Life in War and Peace is the story of Annan’s remarkable time at the center of the world stage. After forty years of service at the United Nations, Annan shares here his unique experiences during the terrorist attacks of September 11; the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; the war between Israel, Hizbollah, and Lebanon; the brutal conflicts of Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia; and the geopolitical transformations following the end of the Cold War. With eloquence and unprecedented candor, Interventions finally reveals Annan’s unique role and unparalleled perspective on decades of global politics.

15798316Published April 2nd 2013

This book is about The Borgia family which became popular in the 15th century during the Renaissance in Italy. The family is originally from Borja, then in the kingdom of Aragon in Spain. Two Popes came from this family, and they were quite active in politics. Many family members got married to Italian royal families and up to today their descendants are to be found in European royal bloodlines. The family is remembered because of their corrupt way of ruling. It is said that they were the first criminal family and that they are the ones that started the Italian maffia. You can imagine  many stories were written about criminality, evil and immorality within this family. The recent TV series repeats all of the usual legends in which the family’s behavior is almost to be comical. The author kind of contradicts those legends, in particular Rodrigo, as he comes up with convincing arguments about Rodrigo being a decent guy, with a bad reputation. Apparently he was quite friendly, a capable diplomat and good administrator.

As with G.J. Meyer’s book on the Tudors, this book is well written and well researched. However, it is quite lengthy as it’s not only about the Borgias family, but also about the history of Rome, Italy and the papal system.

book 10Published September 18th 2012

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who has spent the last thirty years writing about Saudi Arabia—as diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor, and then publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Through observation, anecdote, extensive interviews, and analysis Karen Elliot House navigates the maze in which Saudi citizens find themselves trapped and reveals the mysterious nation that is the world’s largest exporter of oil, critical to global stability, and a source of Islamic terrorists.

In her probing and sharp-eyed portrait, we see Saudi Arabia, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, considered to be the final bulwark against revolution in the region, as threatened by multiple fissures and forces, its levers of power controlled by a handful of elderly Al Saud princes with an average age of 77 years and an extended family of some 7,000 princes. Yet at least 60 percent of the increasingly restive population they rule is under the age of 20. The author writes that oil-rich Saudi Arabia has become a rundown welfare state. The public pays no taxes; gets free education and health care; and receives subsidized water, electricity, and energy. House makes clear that the royal family also uses Islam’s requirement of obedience to Allah—and by extension to earthly rulers—to perpetuate Al Saud rule.

In House’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s future, she compares the country today to the Soviet Union before Mikhail Gorbachev arrived and she discusses what the next generation of royal princes might bring. A riveting book—informed, authoritative, illuminating—about a country that could well be on the brink, and an in-depth examination of what all this portends for Saudi Arabia’s future, and for our own.

book 17Published February 23rd 2010

An interesting and funny exposure of the dark side of China from an insider. The author is a brave man who can look at his own culture and say there is something different with it… I guess he said what many of us have been thinking, while too afraid to speak it out loud, except to other Westerners. Often he made me remind my time in Beijing and other parts of China, but if a Westerner had written this book, they might have been named a racist, or been accused of not understanding “the real China”.

I’ve read that, after this book was published, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies in East Asia. Anyone who plans to travel to China or  has spent time in China should read this 🙂

book 20Published November 11th 2003

As the presenter of a radio show in China, Xinran asked women to contact her and tell their stories. This book includes some of those stories. She tells for example the story of a girl who is being sexually abused by her father, and the story about a girl who is trapped in a building after an earthquake, and who eventually dies in her mothers arms. Furthermore, Xinran includes her own account on feminism and the mistreatment of women in China. The people described in this book did only one thing wrong to deserve living horrible lives: being born female. Although a tragic book, the fact that Xinran had to leave China to be able to publish this book, is reason enough to make this book worth reading.

Published February 23rd 20107054185

On a rainy day in Spain I started watching the Tudors. After watching the entire show it got me interested in reading some more about the background. The book covers the family from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, in which the author unfortunately talked a bit too much about bishops, monasteries and the pope in Rome. Henry VIII is portrayed quite scandalous as he robs the monasteries to fund wars and the building of palaces, destroying the schools and hospitals of the poor. This author provides a nicer view on Queen Mary and a harsher view of Elizabeth.

This was the first G.J. Meyer I read and I found it well written and well researched. A perfect read-up to the history they don’t cover in the TV series, without being school-bookish. However if you don’t like English history, it could be too lengthy.

book 18Published May 12th 2009

In 2012, I traveled overland from Thailand – Bangkok to northern China – Beijing to study Mandarin Chinese. I had no idea what China would be like, and no, “culture shock” doesn’t seem like a strong enough phrase. While Troost describes China and his interactions with the Chinese in an interesting way, his experiences did not always parallel my personal experiences in China. This might partly be because Troost limited himself to only writing about the famous locations like the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and the Forbidden City, and about the major cities like Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. These overcrowded locations do not necessarily give an accurate description of China as a whole, just like New York and the Niagara Falls wouldn’t for the United States. My favorite part of the book was probably Tibet, which I have not visited yet, and his comments on the Chinese cuisine of several provinces.

book 9Published May 1st 2012

Fanatics, terrorists, and appeasers have tried everything to silence Geert Wilders, Europe’s most controversial Member of Parliament—from putting him on trial to putting a price on his head. But as Wilders refuses to be silenced—he wrote this book.

For years, from his native Netherlands, Wilders has sounded the alarm about the relentless spread of Islam in the West. And he has paid a steep personal price, enduring countless death threats and being forced into a permanent state of hiding.

Now, for the first time, Wilders offers a full account of his long battle against the zealots who have already slaughtered his countryman Theo van Gogh—whose killer also threatened to murder Wilders himself.

book 31Published August 5th 2003

This is a story about women of three different generations; the author, her mother (a Maoist revolutionary), and her grandmother (foot-bound). It is a great piece which reads like a story while giving a view of communist China. While I had already read some books about China before going there in 2012, her perspectives on life and her stories where not told in the West until very recent. I could guess that many facts perhaps still haven’t seen daylight in parts of modern China. Interestingly, this book gives a Chinese view on why someone would adore Communism and a leader like Mao. However, after researching the political, economic and social aspects of the Mao period, it continues to be hard for me to understand this devotion.

book 29Published March 2012

If you feel like you have not payed any attention to Russia, you have heard just enough about Russia to figure that the situation is not so colorful, but you have not read enough to know how ugly the situation is, or how it got so ugly, then you will love this book. Masha Gessen lives in Moscow, where she has been working as a journalist, and as her career had just begun when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, she seems to know what she is writing about. This book is about Putin, about how he got the power and how he made it impossible for democracy to take over Russia. It is quite intense as, according to Gessen, many voices have been imprisoned, many have been murdered, and companies, parties and media have been silenced. The biggest surprise, after reading this book, is that Masha Gessen (Russian, a journalist, a Jew and a lesbian) is still able to walk the streets of Moscow unharmed.

book 11Published August 16th 2011

Latin America has been of vital importance to the United States almost since the birth of our nation, and the significance of this relationship has only increased in recent decades. But mutual understanding between these regions is lacking, even as Latin Americans are striving to promote the values of democracy in their native countries and beyond. Why has this process proved to be such a struggle, and what does the future of the region hold?

In “Redeemers,” acclaimed historian Enrique Krauze presents the major ideas that have formed the modern Latin American political mind during the late 19th and 20th centuries, from early postcolonial authoritarian regimes to 19th-century Liberalism and Conservatism, and then the impact of Socialism and Marxism as well as nationalism and indigenism and the movement toward liberal democracy of recent years. Krauze looks closely at how these ideas have been expressed in the lives of influential revolutionaries, thinkers, poets, and novelists–figures whose lives were marked by a passionate involvement in history, power, and, for some, revolution, as well as a personal commitment to love, friendship, and family. Krauze’s subjects come from across the continents. Here are the Cuban JosE MartI; the Argentines Che Guevara and Evita PerOn; the groundbreaking political thinkers JosE Vasconcelos of Mexico and Jose Carlos MariAtegui from Peru. Writers JosE Enrique RodO, Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, and Gabriel GarcIa MArquez reinforce the importance of imagination to inspire social change. “Redeemers” also highlights Mexico’s Samuel Ruiz and Subcomandante Marcos and Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, and their influence on contemporary Latin America. In this brilliant and deeply researched history, Enrique Krauze uses the range of these extraordinary lives to illuminate the struggle that has defined Latin American history: an ever-precarious balance between the ideal of democracy and the temptation of political messianism. Through this comprehensive collage of the distinct but interconnected experiences and views of these twelve fascinating cultural and political figures, we can better understand how this balance continues to affect Latin America today and how its nations will define themselves and relate to the larger world in the years ahead.

If you like this genre, you would most likely enjoy reading “The Open Veins of Latin America“, by Eduardo Galeano.

book 19Published April 27th 2004

A novel set mostly in Afghanistan. The introverted and insecure afghan narrator, Amir, grows up in Afghanistan in the closing years of the monarchy and the first years of the short-lived republic. His best and most faithful friend, Hassan, is the son of a servant. Amir feels he betrays Hassan by not coming to his aid when Hassan is set on by bullies and furthermore forces Hassan and his father Ali to leave his father´s service. Amir´s relatively privileged life in Kabul comes to an end when the communist regime comes to power and his extrovert father, Baba emigrates with him to the U.S. There Amir meets his future afghan wife and marries her. Amir´s father dies in the U.S. and Amir receives a letter from his father´s most trusted business partner and, for a time, Amir´s surrogate father, which makes Amir return, alone, to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan in search of the truth about himself and his family, and finally, a sort of redemption.

book 16Published April 4th 1995

The seminal work on foreign policy and the art of diplomacy Moving from a sweeping overview of history to blow-by-blow accounts of his negotiations with world leaders, Henry Kissinger describes how the art of diplomacy has created the world in which we live, and how America’s approach to foreign affairs has always differed vastly from that of other nations.

Brilliant, controversial, and profoundly incisive, Diplomacy stands as the culmination of a lifetime of diplomatic service and scholarship. It is vital reading for anyone concerned with the forces that have shaped our world today and will impact upon it tomorrow.

book 13Published October 2010

Americans call the Second World War “The Good War.” But before it even began, America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.

Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

Published September 2009

Thrilling, heartbreaking, and, at times, absurdly funny, The Last Resort is a remarkable true story about one family in a country under siege and a testament to the love, perseverance, and resilience of the human spirit.

Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Douglas Rogers is the son of white farmers living through that country’s long and tense transition from postcolonial rule. He escaped the dull future mapped out for him by his parents for one of adventure and excitement in Europe and the United States. But when Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe launched his violent program to reclaim white-owned land and Rogers’s parents were caught in the cross fire, everything changed. Lyn and Ros, the owners of Drifters–a famous game farm and backpacker lodge in the eastern mountains that was one of the most popular budget resorts in the country–found their home and resort under siege, their friends and neighbors expelled, and their lives in danger. But instead of leaving, as their son pleads with them to do, they haul out a shotgun and decide to stay.

On returning to the country of his birth, Rogers finds his once orderly and progressive home transformed into something resembling a Marx Brothers romp crossed with Heart of Darkness: pot has supplanted maize in the fields; hookers have replaced college kids as guests; and soldiers, spies, and teenage diamond dealers guzzle beer at the bar.

And yet, in spite of it all, Rogers’s parents–with the help of friends, farmworkers, lodge guests, and residents–among them black political dissidents and white refugee farmers–continue to hold on. But can they survive to the end?

In the midst of a nation stuck between its stubborn past and an impatient future, Rogers soon begins to see his parents in a new light: unbowed, with passions and purpose renewed, even heroic. And, in the process, he learns that the “big story” he had relentlessly pursued his entire adult life as a roving journalist and travel writer was actually happening in his own backyard.

Evoking elements of The Tender Bar and Absurdistan, The Last Resort is an inspiring, coming-of-age tale about home, love, hope, responsibility, and redemption. An edgy, roller-coaster adventure, it is also a deeply moving story about how to survive a corrupt Third World dictatorship with a little innovation, humor, bribery, and brothel management.

Published August 18th 199751oqzCfBLHL

Book description

From the author of The Last Tsar, the first full-scale life of Stalin to have what no previous biography has entirely gotten hold of: the facts. Granted privileged access to Russia’s secret archives, Edvard Radzinsky paints a picture of the Soviet strongman as more calculating, ruthless, and blood-crazed than has ever been described or imagined. Stalin was a man for whom power was all, terror a useful weapon, and deceit a constant companion.

As Radzinsky narrates the high drama of Stalin’s epic quest for domination-first within the Communist Party, then over the Soviet Union and the world-he uncovers the startling truth about this most enigmatic of historical figures. Only now, in the post-Soviet era, can what was suppressed be told: Stalin’s long-denied involvement with terrorism as a young revolutionary; the crucial importance of his misunderstood, behind-the-scenes role during the October Revolution; his often hostile relationship with Lenin; the details of his organization of terror, culminating in the infamous show trials of the 1930s; his secret dealings with Hitler, and how they backfired; and the horrifying plans he was making before his death to send the Soviet Union’s Jews to concentration camps-tantamount to a potential second Holocaust. Radzinsky also takes an intimate look at Stalin’s private life, marked by his turbulent relationship with his wife Nadezhda, and recreates the circumstances that led to her suicide.

As he did in The Last Tsar, Radzinsky thrillingly brings the past to life. The Kremlin intrigues, the ceaseless round of double-dealing and back-stabbing, the private worlds of the Soviet Empire’s ruling class-all become, in Radzinsky’s hands, as gripping and powerful as the great Russian sagas. And the riddle of that most cold-blooded of leaders, a man for whom nothing was sacred in his pursuit of absolute might–and perhaps the greatest mass murderer in Western history–is solved.

book 15Published August 2008

A thrilling, inspiring account of one of the greatest charm offensives in history–Nelson Mandela’s decade-long campaign to unite his country, beginning in his jail cell and ending with a rugby tournament.

In 1985, Nelson Mandela, then in prison for twenty-three years, set about winning over the fiercest proponents of apartheid, from his jailers to the head of South Africa’s military. First he earned his freedom and then he won the presidency in the nation’s first free election in 1994. But he knew that South Africa was still dangerously divided by almost fifty years of apartheid. If he couldn’t unite his country in a visceral, emotional way–and fast–it would collapse into chaos. He would need all the charisma and strategic acumen he had honed during half a century of activism, and he’d need a cause all South Africans could share. Mandela picked one of the more farfetched causes imaginable–the national rugby team, the Springboks, who would host the sport’s World Cup in 1995.

Against the giants of the sport, the Springboks’ chances of victory were remote. But their chances of capturing the hearts of most South Africans seemed remoter still, as they had long been the embodiment of white supremacist rule. During apartheid, the all-white Springboks and their fans had belted out racist fight songs, and blacks would come to Springbok matches to cheer for whatever team was playing against them. Yet Mandela believed that the Springboks could embody–and engage–the new South Africa. And the Springboks themselves embraced the scheme. Soon South African TV would carry images of the team singing “Nkosi Sikelele Afrika,” the longtime anthem of black resistance to apartheid.

As their surprising string of victories lengthened, their home-field advantage grew exponentially. South Africans of every color and political stripe found themselves falling for the team. When the Springboks took to the field for the championship match against New Zealand’s heavily favored squad, Mandela sat in his presidential box wearing a Springbok jersey while sixty-two-thousand fans, mostly white, chanted “Nelson! Nelson!” Millions more gathered around their TV sets, whether in dusty black townships or leafy white suburbs, to urge their team toward victory. The Springboks won a nail-biter that day, defying the oddsmakers and capping Mandela’s miraculous ten-year-long effort to bring forty-three million South Africans together in an enduring bond.

John Carlin, a former South Africa bureau chief for the London Independent, offers a singular portrait of the greatest statesman of our time in action, blending the volatile cocktail of race, sport, and politics to intoxicating effect. He draws on extensive interviews with Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and dozens of other South Africans caught up in Mandela’s momentous campaign, and the Springboks’ unlikely triumph. As he makes stirringly clear, their championship transcended the mere thrill of victory to erase ancient hatreds and make a nation whole.

book 8Published October 2008

George C. Herring uses an extensive account of United States’ foreign relations and diplomacy to tell the story of America’s rise from thirteen different colonies flocked along the Atlantic coast to the world’s greatest superpower. He does this by not only naming statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and Dean Acheson in playing key roles in America’s rise to world power. But also praises adventurers and explorers, sea captains, merchants, missionaries and diplomats for this outcome. This telling book, recounts themes such as the American Revolution, the 50-year struggle with communism, and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in a somewhat dramatic way. However, Herring describes successes, tragic failures, and highlights the importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation, and  its ongoing impact on the lives of today’s citizens.

Published January 1980

Probably my most favorite novel. It is a magnificent story that will take you back to the dawn of modern humans, where a natural disaster leaves a girl named Ayla wondering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman, named Iza, who is part of the Clan of the Cave Bear. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks unusual and ugly. However Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old “Mog-ur” of the Clan, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. The brutal and proud young Clan member who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl, which is only just the start of Ayla’s long and interesting journey in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world.

This novel was the first of a series of six (written between 1980 and 2011), all of which were incredibly well researched by Jean M. Auel, who sold more than 45 million copies worldwide. Worth having a look at is an interview with her, which was conducted by Meredith Allard – Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

book 32Published February 4th 2002

Book Description

As a new age dawns in England’s twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal. It is in this rich tapestry, where kings and queens are corrupt – and one majestic creation will bond them forever.


book 5Published August 2nd 2005

This seemed one of those books that you do not read, but you have on your shelve for consult. However, known for its lively prose as well as its scholarly research, I decided to read quite a bit of it. What makes it readable is the fact that it tells America’s story in the words of American women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers.

1001004004730003Published April 2007

When Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, was shot dead in November 1995, Egyptian opposition newspapers reacted jubilantly with headlines like ‘Rabin in Hell’ and ‘One More Dead Jew’. Joris Luyendijk’s Egyptian friends at the University of Cairo also spoke in terms of ‘a celebration’, ‘justice’ and ‘just punishment from Allah’. Luyendijk and a Western friend were shocked by these reactions but went against their better judgement by trying to sympathise. ‘We decided that if we had lost family members in a war with Israel, we might think that way too. What are you supposed to do? Find a complete new set of friends?’

After studying Arabic in Amsterdam, Joris Luyendijk went to Cairo for a year’s further studies. He wanted to investigate whether Islam and democracy were mutually exclusive and whether it was possible for a Westerner to integrate in an Islamic culture. He moved into a run-down flat in a working class neighbourhood and enrolled at the university. He soon found a place in a shilla, a circle of friends at the university. Although initially happy with the acceptance of Imad the Fundamentalist, Ali the Worrier, Muhammad the Feminist, Hazem the Liberal and the others, Luyendijk soon began to clash with his friends about their Islamic ideas, in particular their homophobia, their anti-Semitism and their views on the position of women. As the year advanced, he wrestled increasingly with the problem as to whether one can be friends with those whose ideas are objectionable.

The numerous sparkling dialogues between Luyendijk and his fellow students make Een goede man slaat soms zijn vrouw a magnificent, hilarious and honest book about the impossibility of integrating in an Islamic society.

Published October 2006

Evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins is not an atheist who sits quietly in the pews. The scientist Discover dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler” refuses to regard religion as mere harmless nonsense; he views it instead as one of humanity’s most pernicious creations. In The God Delusion he attacks arguments for the existence of God; accuses religions of fomenting divisiveness, war, and bigotry; and castigates believers in intelligent design.

book 12Published September 4th 2004

Book Description

Catch-22 is like no other novel. It is one of the funniest books ever written, a keystone work in American literature, and even added a new term to the dictionary.

At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn’t even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to some one dangerously sane—a masterpiece of our time.

Published on June 1st 20061001004002412120

Book Description

In “People Like Us”, which became a bestseller in Holland, Joris Luyendijk tells the story of his five years as a correspondent in the Middle East. Extremely young for a correspondent but fluent in Arabic, he spoke with stone throwers and terrorists, taxi drivers and professors, victims and aggressors, and community leaders and families. He chronicles first-hand experiences of dictatorship, occupation, terror, and war. His stories cast light on a number of major crises, from the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with less-reported issues such as underage orphan trash collectors in Cairo. The more he witnesses, the less he understands, and he becomes increasingly aware of the yawning gap between what he sees on the ground and what is later reported in the media. As a correspondent, he is privy to a multitude of narratives with conflicting implications, and he sees over and over again that the media favors the stories that will be sure to confirm the popularly held, oversimplified beliefs of westerners. In People Like Us, Luyendijk deploys powerful examples, leavened with humor, to demonstrate the ways in which the media gives us a filtered, altered, and manipulated image of reality in the Middle East.

book 3Published December 21st 2004

Book Description

On the 10th anniversary of when UN peacekeepers landed in Rwanda, Random House Canada proudly publishes the unforgettable 1st-hand account of the genocide by the leader of the mission. Digging deep into shattering memories, Dallaire has written a powerful story of betrayal, naïveté, racism & international politics. His message is simple, undeniable: Never again. When Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire was called to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in ’93, he thought he was heading off on a straightforward peacekeeping mission. Thirteen months later he flew home from Africa, broken, disillusioned & suicidal, having witnessed the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in 100 days. In Shake Hands with the Devil, he takes readers with him on a return voyage into hell, vividly recreating the events the international community turned its back on. This book is an unsparing eyewitness account of the failure by humanity to stop the genocide, despite timely warnings. Woven thru the story of this disastrous mission is his own journey from confident Cold Warrior, to devastated UN commander, to retired general engaged in a painful struggle to find a measure of peace, hope & reconciliation. This book is a personal account of his conversion from a man certain of his worth & secure in his assumptions to one conscious of his own weaknesses & failures & critical of the institutions he’d relied on. It might not sit easily with standard ideas of military leadership, but understanding what happened to him & his mission to Rwanda is crucial to understanding the moral minefields peacekeepers are forced to negotiate when we ask them to step into dirty wars.
Excerpt: My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes & villains, altho such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power…This book is the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth & fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.

book 24Published May 25th 2006

Book Description

Richard Dawkins’ brilliant reformulation of the theory of natural selection has the rare distinction of having provoked as much excitement and interest outside the scientific community as within it. His theories have helped change the whole nature of the study of social biology, and have forced thousands of readers to rethink their beliefs about life.
In his internationally bestselling, now classic volume, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
This 30th anniversary edition of Dawkins’ fascinating book retains all original material, including the two enlightening chapters added in the second edition. In a new Introduction the author presents his thoughts thirty years after the publication of his first and most famous book, while the inclusion of the two-page original Foreword by brilliant American scientist Robert Trivers shows the enthusiastic reaction of the scientific community at that time. This edition is a celebration of a remarkable exposition of evolutionary thought, a work that has been widely hailed for its stylistic brilliance and deep scientific insights, and that continues to stimulate whole new areas of research today.

book 1Published May 21st 2005

Book Description

Life isn’t fair–here’s why: Since 1500, Europeans have, for better & worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. In Guns, Germs & Steel, Jared Diamond explains the reasons why things worked out that way. It’s an elemental question. Diamond is certainly not the 1st to ask it. However, he performs a singular service by relying on scientific fact rather than specious theories of European genetic superiority. Diamond, a UCLA physiologist, suggests that the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals & the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government & communication, & increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China didn’t. (For example, the Europeans used the Chinese invention of gunpowder to create guns & subjugate the New World.) Diamond’s book is complex & a bit overwhelming. But the thesis he methodically puts forth–examining the “positive feedback loop” of farming, then domestication, then population density, then innovation etc.–makes sense. Written without bias, Guns, Germs & Steel is good global history.

book 4Published September 14th 2004

Book Description

In Bryson’s biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand — and, if possible, answer — the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining.

book 2Published May 1st 2003

Book Description

Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize For General Nonfiction National Book Critics Circle Award Winner In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power — a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy — asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow “never again” repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington’s top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in “A Problem from Hell” — a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.

book 27Published July 1st 1996

Book Description

Serge Levitsky presents a new revised version of Karl Marx’s masterpiece, Das Kapital, carefully retranslated for the modern reader and abridged to emphasize the political and philosophical core of Marx’s work, while trimming away much that is now unimportant.