According to the New Yorker, Barack Obama boned up on international affairs to
prepare for the presidency by reading Thomas Friedman. For foreign-policy
cognoscenti, this is like reading John Grisham novels to study for the bar
exam. With most of the Republican 2012 wannabes, like Obama, having spent their
careers focused on domestic issues (or in the case of Donald Trump, the Miss
USA pageant), it seemed only fair for FP to help these international relations neophytes. So
we asked an array of seasoned foreign-policy professionals and general smart
folks to provide reading suggestions for our aspiring leaders. The one obvious
conclusion? All roads to understanding American foreign policy run through Joe Nye.
Joseph S. Nye Jr.
Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
• Thinking in Time, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May. Still the best primer on
the uses and abuses of history in policy.
• Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger. Chapter 2 on the lasting and contrasting influences
of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt is alone worth the price of the book.
• The Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. At the risk of seeming immodest, I believe
policymakers should understand the two great 21st-century power shifts -- the
recovery of Asia and cyberpower -- described here.
President, MacArthur Foundation; longtime U.S.
Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. A textured and subtle realist approach.
Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. A well-argued
explanation of how democracy has produced the lopsided distribution of wealth
that now characterizes America.
Book critic, New York Times
• Ali and Nino: A Love
Story, Kurban Said. Beautifully
contrasts Eastern and Western attitudes about progress and faith.
• The Desert and the
Sown, Gertrude Bell. A remarkably enduring portrait of
Middle Eastern character and pride.
• Hiroshima, John Hersey. Shocking eyewitness accounts that will help those who seek
the executive office to consider the awful responsibility of the power they
seek to wield.
Philip D. Zelikow
Former State Department counselor;
University of Virginia
• The Power of Place, Harm de Blij. Seeing the global and the local.
• The Shock of the
Global: The 1970s in Perspective, edited by Niall Ferguson, et al.
Interesting ruminations about how to comprehend today's crises.
• Thinking in Time, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May. Lux aeterna.
Cognitive psychologist, Harvard University
• Winning the War on
War, Joshua S. Goldstein. Believe it or not, war is in
decline, and we know some of the historical forces that drove it down.
• Overblown, John Mueller. The title refers to the threat of terrorism.
• Getting Better: Why
Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, Charles Kenny. Don't write off the developing world.
• Washington Rules:
America's Path to Permanent War, Andrew J. Bacevich. Every
candidate for the presidency should read books that strike cautionary notes
about how recent leaders miscalculated or allowed themselves to be led astray
by false beliefs.
• The Lost Peace:
Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953, Robert Dallek. At the risk of being self-serving.
• The Nuclear Delusion, George Kennan.
Former State Department advisor; professor, Tufts University
Future of Power, Joseph S. Nye Jr. A measured rebuttal to the "America is in decline"
• Monsoon, Robert D. Kaplan. Argues convincingly that the great game for global
power and domination in the 21st century will play out in the Indian Ocean.
• The Rise of Islamic Capitalism, Vali
Nasr. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and Osama bin Laden's death, it is
more important than ever that a new president looks at the Middle East through
a new lens.
Executive director, National Security Network
• The Best and the Brightest, David
Halberstam. Some of American foreign policy's greatest disasters have come when
a small group of very bright people became too sequestered.
Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex, James Ledbetter. Considers how the factors that gave rise to Ike's
concern still bedevil presidents trying to manage security spending today.
• China: Fragile
Superpower, Susan L. Shirk. A book-length
primer and a good place for amateurs -- or their campaign staffs -- to start.
Professor, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
"Three Blasts from the Past" that
every candidate should read:
• A Foreign Policy for
America, Charles A. Beard. The historical case for less
interventionism. Problematic in his time -- perfect for now.
• U.S. Foreign Policy:
Shield of the Republic, Walter Lippmann. A wartime view
of the world to come and of the need to balance commitments and capabilities.
• Solution in Asia, Owen Lattimore. A prescient analysis of the inevitable rise of China
and of how and why this could prove beneficial for the United States.
President, Pew Research Center
• Paris 1919: Six
Months That Changed the World, Margaret MacMillan. The peace
talks that turned out to be the scene-setter for the international tumult for
the rest of the 20th century.
• Ghost Wars, Steve Coll. The backdrop to what we inherited with the invasion of
• Soft Power: The
Means to Success in World Politics, Joseph S. Nye Jr. The
importance of attraction as a means of persuasion in international affairs.