The List

Bloggers Read Books, Too

FP's bloggers pick their favorite books of 2010.

FP's bloggers are an interesting bunch -- from a Pulitzer Prize-winning nuclear historian to an international uber-consultant to an IR scholar with a thing for zombies. But one thing they all have in common is that they read, a lot. This year, we asked them what they especially liked reading in 2010 -- and the answers are unexpected, ranging from the best books about the financial crisis to advanced physics, from George W. Bush's memoirs (not really) to a little novel called Freedom.

Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University:

Here's my book list for the year -- not in order of importance or achievement.

1. William Pfaff, The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign PolicyA thoughtful, brooding reflection on the intellectual errors and arrogance that have undermined America's standing in the world, from one of our wisest commentators on foreign affairs.

2. Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con that is Breaking America. Back in the 1990s, Tom Friedman told us that the United States had perfected "DOScapital 6.0." As Taibbi shows with a biting, incisive wit, what we'd really perfected was a series of scams designed to enrich financiers and leave the rest of us poorer. If you read this and then watch Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, you'll want to burn down Wall Street and keep your money in a mattress.

3. S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the ComanchesA gripping history of the American Southwest by Texas journalist Gwynne, with some intriguing lessons for our counterinsurgency struggles today.

4. Ussama Makdisi, Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations. A passionate but fair-minded chronicle of the many missteps that have undermined America's once-positive image in the Arab world. Why do they hate us? Makdisi makes it clear that they have ample reason in this tragic tale of self-inflicted wounds.

5. John J. Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics. You might think that states would lie to each other all the time, but Mearsheimer argues that this rarely happens, for the simple reason that states don't trust each other and they know that lies will be scrutinized and exposed. But leaders lie to their own people all the time, and usually for the wrong reasons. Now you know why governments hate WikiLeaks.

6. George W. Bush, Decision Points. Written with the self-critical insight and elegant command of language that one expects from Dubya, this book is the perfect guide to What Not to Do Should You Ever Become President. Or the head of your local PTA. Or chairman of the holiday party committee at your workplace. Or any other leadership position whatsoever. Just ask yourself, "What would W. do?" -- and then do the opposite.

7. Bruce Cumings, The Korean War. Rather than a strict narrative history, Cumings's book is an intense and revelatory reflection on how the Korean War has been forgotten, misremembered, or fetishized in North Korea, South Korea, and the United States. The book also illustrates the pervasive American tendency to get deeply entangled in societies whose history we barely comprehend.

8. Stephen Kinzer, Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future. A bold yet compelling argument for moving away from America's current "special relationships" with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and moving toward better ties with Turkey and Iran. Some will disagree with Kinzer's prescriptions, but it is a thoughtful analysis that deserves to be read and pondered.

David Rothkopf, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and CEO of Garten Rothkopf:

Throughout 2010, I've been working on my next book, and so almost everything I have read in my scant spare time has had to do with it -- a look at the centuries-long struggle between public and private power and how it has and will define the shape of the world. So I have been immersed throughout in Locke, Hobbes, Smith, Marx, and Milton Friedman. (I don't want to talk about it except to say that Milton Friedman does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the other guys.) I also read a bunch of recent books on the relationship between markets and states, but I don't want to say anything about them because the authors are just the kind of people some book review editor is likely to have comment on my forthcoming book and so suffice to say, they were all brilliant.

So for me, the best books of 2010 were the few that I was able to escape into that took me far, far away from my writing and from a Washington that can have the same effect on its residents that a strong flush has on the Ty-D-Bol Man. Here are my favorites:

1. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design. I find books on physics to be very relaxing. I'll admit this could be due to lack of comprehension. But they provide a complete escape from the emotion, speculation, and hoo-ha-filled world of foreign policy into somewhere completely different -- a place where facts and hard rules and rigor apply. This book, which makes the case that a creator was unnecessary to produce the origins of the universe, does include some speculation and guesswork by virtue of its subject. But it makes its case clearly, and its description of the current state of physics, M-theory, and the 10 dimensions in which we live is enthralling. The fact that most of those dimensions are tiny and curl in on themselves even makes Washington sound like part of the natural universe.

2. Mark Twain, Autobiography of Mark Twain. This is a masterwork of editing, stitching together the many attempts of the greatest American author to sketch out his own perspective on his life. I read it in one great swoop, but it could just as easily be dipped into for bits and pieces of inspiration. (And humility -- no writer can read this without feeling hopelessly inferior.) Take Twain on biography: "What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and his words. His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, (which are but the mute articulation of his feelings,) not those other things, are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world.... Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man -- the biography of the man himself cannot be written." True, but it's a fault not shared by this autobiography.

3, 4. Jonathan Franzen, Freedom, and Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question. These are the two best novels I read this year. Both are exceptionally well-written, as rich and multilayered as any novel should be but also suffused with the humor and humanity that elevate storytelling. After we're all long gone, people will be pouring through Freedom to feel and understand what life in our times was like, and not just for the Berglund family, its Minnesotan protagonists, but for all of us.

Finkler could be the most revealing exploration of anti-Semitism I've ever read, both because it understands the subtlety of the disease and also because Jacobson is deftly comic. Anti-Semitism isn't funny. But people are. Life is. Especially in a universe of 10 dimensions in which we are only just barely conscious of three -- or four -- depending on how you are counting.

David Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dead Hand and a contributing editor to Foreign Policy:

1. Robert H. Carlson, Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life. Mankind is at the threshold of a new leap forward in our understanding of how life works, and this book shines a light on the path ahead by approaching the subject as a series of engineering and technology problems. The book is sophisticated, clear, and eye-opening in explaining the promise, and peril, of a profound revolution in genetics and molecular biology.

2. Brian Jones, Failing Intelligence: The True Story of How We Were Fooled Into Going to War in Iraq. The author is the former head of the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons division of British military intelligence, and this is one of the most clear and fascinating insider accounts yet of the Iraq debacle -- already released in Britain, due out in America in June.

3. B.R. Myers, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves -- and Why It Matters. This is a book that challenges what we know about North Korea's worldview and ideology. The author argues it is not Stalinism or Confucianism -- nor the oft-cited juche (self-reliance) thought that holds the place together -- but rather a kind of race-based nationalism that shapes North Korea's view of itself and the outside world. Should be read along with last year's excellent book on the North, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

Thomas Ricks, who covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 to 2008 and writes the Best Defense blog for

The novel I enjoyed most in 2010 was The Imperfectionists, a comedy about a failing newspaper in Italy by Tom Rachman, and the test of it was that after I finished it this summer, my wife read it and then my son and then his girlfriend. The most overrated book of 2010 was Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. I am a huge fan of Franzen's, but this book was not half as good as The Corrections. The writing that had the biggest impact on me in 2010 was hundreds of pages of interviews that Gen. George C. Marshall gave to Forrest Pogue, who was writing Marshall's biography.

Peter Bergen, author of the forthcoming book The Longest War and editor of's AfPak Channel:

1. Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone.

2. Anne Nelson, Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends who Resisted Hitler.

Both these books were published in 2009, but I only got around to reading them this year. They concern a subject of great moral interest: the men and women who resisted Hitler. Fallada was a novelist of some fame in Weimar Germany who continued to publish under the Nazis. His masterpiece was Every Man Dies Alone, which came out in Germany in 1947 and only in the past two years has become available in the English-speaking world. Fallada's novel traces the story of a very ordinary, working-class couple who lose their only son in one of Hitler's senseless campaigns, which launches them on a quixotic and eventually fatal effort of small-bore resistance to the Nazis.

In Red Orchestra, Nelson tells the true story of men and women from all walks of life in Berlin who led efforts both large and small to resist the Nazis. Those efforts invariably ended in failure and often those involved faced show trials and the most gruesome executions. But their examples remind us that some exceptional human spirits cannot be crushed even by the most vile of tyrannies.

Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy:

For me, 2010 has been year three of trying to come to grips with the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. If last year's crop of books was about the tick tock of what happened, this year's harvest was more about why it happened. For me, the three best, most accessible books on this subject were Michael Lewis's The Big Short, Raghuram Rajan's Fault Lines, and John Quiggin's Zombie Economics. By honing in on the few people who bet against the subprime mortgage boom, Lewis's book nicely demonstrates the myriad ways in which the bubble was allowed to inflate for so long. Rajan's Fault Lines looks at the combination of underlying domestic and international factors that contributed to the crisis, while Quiggin's book deconstructs the ways in which market-friendly ideas devolved from rigorous theory into caricature.

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The List

Elections to Watch in 2011

From the U.S. midterm "shellacking" to the sham vote in Belarus, elections provided some of the most memorable moments of 2010. And 2011 promises to be no different, with contentious polls coming up in ascendant Turkey, stagnant Egypt, fractious Sudan, and more.


Type: Referendum

Date: Jan. 9

What to watch: Citizens of semiautonomous Southern Sudan are preparing to vote on whether to remain a part of Sudan. The long-awaited referendum is a stipulation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 22-year-long civil war between the north and the south. If the majority of Southern Sudanese vote for independence, which they are expected to do, it would create the world's newest nation-state.

That's not to say that everything will go swimmingly. Some analysts predict that the referendum will lead to chaos --  a very real possibility considering the buildup of military forces from both sides near the border and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's recent suggestions that the upcoming vote might not be valid. The issue is complicated by the fact that most of Sudan's oil lies along the contested north-south border. Bashir has also suggested that if the primarily Christian and animist South does secede, Khartoum will adopt a much stricter form of sharia law.


Type: Presidential and legislative (runoff)

Date: Jan. 16

What to watch: Between the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed a quarter of a million people last January, an ongoing cholera epidemic, riots throughout the country, and a government defined by its total ineptitude, 2010 has been a crippling year for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti held the first round of legislative and presidential elections on Nov. 28, though these were marred by fraud and incompetence -- even Jude Celestin, the candidate endorsed by Haiti's president, found when he tried to vote that he wasn't on the list and was forced to vote by provisional ballot. Due to widespread allegations of fraud, the election was followed by rioting.

At this point, three candidates are still competing for the two runoff spots: Celestin, former first lady Mirlande Manigat, and popular singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly. The latter, who came in third place in the first round of voting, suggested recently that rather than holding a runoff, the whole country should just revote on the 19 candidates from the Nov. 28 election, with the largest vote-getter taking the presidency. But procedural matters are the least of Haiti's worries. Haiti has had 34 coups in its history, an average of one every six years, and dictatorship is still more the norm than democracy.


Type: Parliamentary

Date: January

What to watch: After months of denying that Ireland would need a bailout, Prime Minister Brian Cowen formally requested a $100 billion rescue package from the IMF and European Union on Nov. 21. Just two days later, Cowen's government fell apart after the Green Party, blaming Cowen's poor handling of the economy for the property bubble and banking crisis that left the country billions of euros in debt, pulled out of a coalition government with his centrist Fianna Fail party.

The Irish parliament eventually accepted the bailout, though opposition parties Sinn Fein, Fine Gael, and Labour voted against the package in hopes that they can capitalize on it during the election. Cowen's party is deeply unpopular due to its handling of the financial crisis and will likely be voted out of office in the upcoming elections. IMF officials have been publicly worried about whether a victory by Labour, which has been the party most critical of the bailout, will put the rescue plan in jeopardy.

Another factor to watch is the nationalist Sinn Fein party, formerly the political branch of the Irish Republican Army, which has traditionally concentrated its efforts in Northern Ireland but is hoping to find support in the republic for its populist, leftist message in the wake of Ireland's financial crisis.


Type: Presidential

Date: Jan 13 and April 9

What to watch: A year ago today, no one was quite sure who was in charge of Nigeria. The country's president, Umaru Yar'Adua, had left the country in November for Saudi Arabia, where he was receiving treatment for a heart and liver condition. When it became clear that the president was incapacitated, then-Vice President Goodluck Jonathan tried to take the reins -- but he found himself hampered by Yar'Adua's inner circle, hesitant to yield its influence. It took the president's death in May for the situation to resolve and for and Jonathan to finally, officially become president.

Now Jonathan, just half a year in office, will have to stand in a presidential election. And the hardest constituents to win over will be in his own political tent. The ruling People's Democratic Party, which has held office since the country became a democracy in the 1990s, has a gentlemen's agreement to rotate the top office by region -- two terms for a southerner, followed by two terms for a northerner. Yar'Adua was a northerner, but Jonathan is a southerner. And many in the north feel that the presidency is due to return to a northerner in the next election. As a result, some ruling party members in the north are backing Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, as their candidate.

A primary is slated for January 2011. This will be the real contest -- not the general election in April. Nigeria's opposition has never managed to muster more than a fraction of the votes in the country's heavily rigged elections. And despite Jonathan's promise to reform the electoral system before the poll, few expect a non-PDP candidate to surge to victory. That hasn't stopped one interesting opposition leader from putting his name into the hat, however. International favorite Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of the country's national anti-corruption commission, is making a run as underdog.


Type: Parliamentary

Date: May

What to watch: Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the majority of votes in Zimbabwe's 2008 presidential election. But President Robert Mugabe refused to give up power and was forced, after widespread demonstrations and international intervention, to accept Tsvangirai as his prime minister. Unsurprisingly, the partnership has been an uneasy one, with the two rivals disagreeing over everything from economic policy to political appointments to the jailing of Tsvangirai's political allies.

Now, Mugabe is pushing for new parliamentary elections by June 2011. The 86-year-old president hopes he can unseat his nemesis Tsvangirai as prime minister. The MDC opposes holding new elections, arguing that there's no way the country can hold a credible poll by 2011. Credible or not, an election in which Mugabe retains power has the potential to throw Zimbabwe back into chaos and violence.


Type: Parliamentary

Date: July

What to watch: Turkey's national elections will be largely seen as a referendum on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which after eight years in power remains popular thanks, at least in part, to a strong economy. Nonetheless, analysts anticipate that voters may be looking for a change and that AKP has less to show for its second term than it did after its first, particularly in terms of progress toward EU membership. It's quite probable that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party will see its grip on power weakened -- and might even be forced into a coalition government.

To stem the losses, the AKP plans to shake up its list of candidates and is dropping dozens of deputies considered unpopular or low-performing. The opposition Republican People's Party, the secularist party that dominated Turkish politics during the period of single-party rule, has been trying to shake up its image by bringing new blood into the party leadership. Erdogan, who was accused by U.S. diplomats in the WikiLeaks cables of having an "authoritarian streak," has said that 2011 may be his last run, but that could simply be code that he plans to run for the presidency later, succeeding his longtime ally Abdullah Gul.


Type: Presidential

Date: September

What to watch: President Hosni Mubarak has held power for almost three decades and, at age 82, shows no sign of letting go. Mubarak, who once promised to stay in office "until the last breath in my lungs and the last beat in my heart," is widely rumored to be in failing health, but most analysts still expect him to run for reelection in September. Mubarak has held power since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. In 2005, he was reelected in what were officially called the first multiparty elections of his presidency, but reports of fraud were widespread and the country's most popular opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was prohibited from fielding a candidate.

The most recent parliamentary elections in November were again marred by fraud and were boycotted by prominent opposition leaders including former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who has also urged a boycott of next year's presidential vote.

With little in the way of credible opposition, attention is mostly focused on the Mubarak family itself. A high-ranking member of Mubarak's party said in November that the president will run for reelection "unless he chooses otherwise." Meanwhile, his son Gamal, who is being groomed as a possible replacement, is running a popular street campaign -- with his father's blessing, of course. But if the elder Mubarak runs again and wins, the real question becomes who will take power should he die in office. The answer, at least so far, is unclear.


Type: Presidential

Date: October

What to watch: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sailed into office in 2007, succeeding her husband Néstor, who served only one term before stepping down with a high approval rating. It was widely expected that he would pick up where he left off after his wife's four-year stint. (The couple stated that one of them would run in 2011.) But that plan fell apart in October, when Néstor died of a heart attack.

Many believed that Néstor was the real power behind the power couple and that Cristina never really delegated responsibility to her cabinet because her husband was still largely managing the government. With the general election in October and primaries scheduled for August, it is unclear whether Cristina will run again or who her opponents might be. Argentina's economy has improved since the beginning of the Kirchner era, but Cristina never demonstrated much interest in economic issues and largely left those tasks to her husband. That's not to say that she's a mere figurehead -- she was an influential senator while her husband was still an obscure governor -- but if she chooses to run again she will have to demonstrate that voting Kirchner is still a worthwhile bet, even without the two-for-one deal.


Type: Parliamentary

Date: October

What to watch: This October's parliamentary election will be Poland's first since a plane crash in Russia in April killed President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of the county' s top political leaders. A special presidential election in June put the right-wing Civic Platform candidate Bronislaw Komorowski in office, and local elections in November reaffirmed the party's popularity. As Poland is the only country in Europe to avoid a recession in the last few years, the election in October will likely confirm the mandate of the current government.

The main competition faced by Civic Platform and Prime Minister Donald Tusk will likely come from former Prime Minister Jarslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of the late president. Kaczynski challenged Komorowski for his brother's old job in the special election in June and despite coming up short, said he viewed the defeat as a "great rehearsal" for the parliamentary contest.


Type: Parliamentary

Date: December

What to watch: With opposition parties largely restricted or marginalized, the only thing in question in Russia's parliamentary elections is the margin by which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party will win. (The party currently holds 75 percent of the seats in the Duma, and the rest are held by political allies.) United Russia seems to be a bit nervous, though, after the Putin-Medvedev duo's botched handling of the drought and subsequent wildfires that ravaged western Russia over the summer. In August, United Russia announced changes to the party's electoral strategy, favoring candidates with strong local connections rather than party loyalty.

A coalition of opposition parties calling itself For Russia Without Lawlessness and Corruption has formed in the hopes of contesting the election, but there's little reason to think that the group, composed almost entirely of longtime opposition figures, will have any more success this year than in the past.

It will be interesting to watch how active a role Putin will play in campaigning for United Russia, of which he is bizarrely chairman but not technically a member. And, of course, Russia observers will be watching closely to see whether Putin will use the parliamentary election platform to set himself up for a return to the presidency in 2012.

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