By: Gigi Manukyan
Given that I majored in political science in college, it comes as no surprise that I’ve read A LOT of books on foreign policy, world affairs, etc. Now, I know the average person has not had the honor of combing through such comprehensive (and at times, boring) texts; however, becoming more informed on historical events is not as intimidating as it sounds. I thought it would be fun to share my favorite, most informative books I’ve read covering topics that are still relevant today.
Red Famine by Anne Applebaum
In an era of mass secrecy, only recently have a number of Soviet files been unearthed for the public consumption. By separating the carefully woven Soviet propaganda narrative from fact, journalist and Pullitzer prize-winning author of Gulag: A History and Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, Anne Applebaum breaks down what happened in Ukraine following the start of Communist rule, and how its enforced collectivization eventually became—arguably—the most disastrous and failed policy by the Stalin administration, resulting in the Holodomor. The book examines the rise of Ukrainian identity and the Russian response to it. Fueled by preconceived prejudices against Ukraine, Stalin’s cruel collectivization policies in Ukraine resulted in a famine. Given the historical tensions between Ukraine and Russia, it comes to know surprise that Russia is still trying to undermine any Ukrainian sphere of influence.
Shia Revival by Vali Nasr
Vali Nasr examines the sectarian conflicts within Islam is the most influential factor in shaping the future of the Middle East. Nasr looks at this issue dominantly from the Shia perspective, which has historically been treated as lesser than by its Sunni counterpart. Nasr examines the 1,400 year bitter rivalry between the two, a rivalry that is still the driving force behind foreign policy within the Middle East, focusing on Iran and Iraq. He does an excellent job at simplifying the complexities of sectarian divides and complicated history; thus, I highly recommend this book for those that are interested in learning more about the Arab world.
Balkan Babel by Sabrina P. Ramet
The dissolution of Yugoslavia, or one of the messiest and disastrous periods in the Balkans. The former Yugoslavia encompassed six countries and Kosovo, with staunch religious groups from all three monotheistic religions. There were many factors that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and subsequent rise of nationalism. Sabrina Ramet dedicates a chapter to each major influence, including ex Yugo rock music, rise of Slobodan Milosevic, and the Bosnian Genocide, to name a few.
Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky
One of the most compelling critiques of the mainstream media by none other than Noam Chomsky. Although this was published in 1988 and Chomsky has since released many more compelling books (Who Rules the World? and Requiem for the American Dream), Manufacturing Consent is one every aspiring journalist should read. Chomsky introduces his “propaganda model” for the manufacture of public consent, focusing on how the mainstream media distorts facts to fit the government’s agenda. This book will have you looking at media outlets in a completely different light.
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
Six years after the end of World War II, Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, chronicling the historical anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler. While this book is a more lengthy read than the other books on this list, Arendt’s penchant leaves the reader highly informed on anti-Semitism in Europe by the end. This book only goes to show that hateful, racist figures do not come into power overnight, but rise because of underlying societal prejudices.
A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power
While US presidents like to portray the country as the moral compass of the world, when it comes to genocides during the 20th century, the US has been notoriously inactive in responding. Power points out the discrepancies in the US response to genocide; despite politicians vocalizing against “mass atrocities” or other crimes against humanity, the term “genocide” is rarely provoked. In her analysis, she uses the Armenian Genocide, Rwandan Genocide, and Bosnian Genocide as examples of the lackluster US response. Power does an excellent job of discussing such a delicate subject, and arguing her positions fairly. If you want to better understand US foreign policy, especially during war-time, this is the book for you.
I know the subject matter is not the lightest, but it is important to be knowledgeable and aware of current events. Ignorance is not bliss, but a catalyst for atrocious individuals to come to power.