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American Diplomacy

Books of Interest
Winter 2017

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Margaret Pearson is American Diplomacy's new Contributing Editor for Books and a former State Department Senior Foreign Service Officer. She is a strong advocate for the importance of public diplomacy in the conduct of foreign affairs. In her 27-year career with the Department of State she has held posts in Asia and Europe as well as Washington, D.C.

After two years of Chinese language training in Washington and Taibei Ms. Pearson became a Cultural Affairs Officer in Beijing in 1981 where she worked on the recently minted Fulbright Program, developed U.S. Film Festival in China, and worked with the U.S., Chinese, and foreign press. On her return to Washington she headed the China Desk at the United States Information Agency. Subsequently, she had two assignments at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, one in the US Mission to NATO's press office and the other seconded to the NATO International Staff as Deputy Director of NATO's Press and Cultural Service. In this position she chaired NATO's Public Affairs Council, managed the awarding of public affairs program grants among NATO member nations, and oversaw the NATO Press and Culture budget. Additional assignments included Public Affairs Advisor for the State Department's Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Bosnian War. Later she took assignments as Press Spokesperson and Director of Information at the US Embassy in Paris and Special Advisor for Eastern European Community Property Affairs (Holocaust and Post-WWII property provenance issues) which she managed from Turkey with frequent travel to Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Prior to her retirement, she was a Senior Examiner and head of the Final Review Panel at the State Department Board of Examiners, the office responsible for evaluating candidates for the US Foreign Service. Ms. Pearson holds a B.A. degree from Tulane University and an M.A. degree from California State University, San Diego.

 

 


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New Books Of Interest, December 2017

BookCover BookCover BookCover BookCover

The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
By Masha Gessen

Diversifying Diplomacy: My Journey from Roxbury to Dakar
by Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas with Jim Robison

The Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism.
By Ahmed Rashid

The Development Dilemma: Security, Prosperity, & A Return To History
By Robert H. Bates

BookCover BookCover BookCover BookCover

Iran, A Modern History
By Abbas Amanat

The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History b
By Cemil Aydin

The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey
By Soner Cagaptay

The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh

 

BookCoverThe Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
By Masha Gessen
Riverhead Books, October 2017
528 Pages
ISBN: 9780698406209 www.penguinrandomhouse.com


WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION

The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.

Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen's understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own—as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.

Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today's terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.

REVIEWS:

"Gessen weaves her characters' stories into a seamless, poignant whole. Her analysis of Putin's malevolent administration is just as effective… a harrowing, compassionate and important book."—San Francisco Chronicle

"By far Gessen's best book, a sweeping intellectual history of Russia over the past four decades, told through a Tolstoyan gallery of characters.… What makes the book so worthwhile… are its keen observations about Russia from the point of view of those experiencing its return to a heavy-handed state."—Washington Post

"One of Putin's most fearless and dogged critics tracks the devastating descent of post-Soviet Russia into authoritarianism and kleptocracy through the lives of four disillusioned citizens."—Esquire

"A brave and eloquent critic of the Putin regime… For anyone wondering how Russia ended up in the hands of Putin and his friends, and what it means for the rest of us, Gessen's book give an alarming and convincing picture."—The Times

"A devastating, timely, and necessary reminder of the fragility and preciousness of all institutions of freedom."—Booklist (starred)

"Necessary reading for anyone trying to understand the earthshaking events of our time: how in one country after another individual aspirations for wealth and power mutated into collective cravings for strongmen."—Pankaj Mishra, author of An End to Suffering and Age of Anger

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Masha Gessen is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of several books, among them The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. The recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship, Gessen teaches at Amherst College and lives in New York City.

 

BookCoverDiversifying Diplomacy: My Journey from Roxbury to Dakar
by Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas with Jim Robison
Potomac Books (University of Nebraska Press) December 2017.
248 pages
ISBN 9781612349503
www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/potomac/

Diversifying Diplomacy tells the story of Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas, a young black woman who beat the odds and challenged the status quo. Inspired by the strong women in her life, she followed in the footsteps of the few women who had gone before her in her effort to make the Foreign Service reflect the diverse faces of the United States. The youngest child of parents who left the segregated Old South to raise their family in Massachusetts, Elam-Thomas distinguished herself with a diplomatic career at a time when few colleagues looked like her.

Elam-Thomas's memoir is a firsthand account of her decades-long career in the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Service, recounting her experiences of making U.S. foreign policy, culture, and values understood abroad. Elam-Thomas served as a United States ambassador to Senegal (2000-2002) and retired with the rank of career minister after forty-two years as a diplomat. Diversifying Diplomacypresents the journey of this successful woman, who not only found herself confronted by some of the world's heftier problems but also helped ensure that new shepherds of honesty and authenticity would follow in her international footsteps for generations to come.

REVIEWS: "Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas's insights and inside stories from the State Department and her postings in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa make it clear that foreign relations is a tough, sensitive, and truly person-to-person undertaking, one that cannot be negotiated in a Twitter feed. This volume is essential for any student of America's international affairs over the past five decades."—Robert L. Dilenschneider, chairman and founder of the Dilenschneider Group, Inc., and author of Power and Influence and On Power (Robert L. Dilenschneider 2017-02-23)

"A prime resource for anyone seeking a better understanding of modern American diplomacy and its historical underpinnings. Rich with insights into the U.S. State Department, the Foreign Service in particular, and the government's foreign-policy apparatus, this memoir reads easily and compellingly. Readers will learn, through Harriet Elam-Thomas's eyes, how U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy evolved over the past four decades."—Gen. James L. Jones, USMC (Ret.), former national security advisor and former supreme Allied commander Europe and combatant commander USEUCOM (Gen. James L Jones, USMC (Ret.) 2017-02-23)

"Featuring lively portrayals of diverse people and places, this clearly written memoir describes success in meeting the challenges of race and gender during forty-two years in the Foreign Service. The importance of family support that nurtured sustaining personal beliefs is highlighted along with other significant human relationships and career experiences turned into positive opportunities to grow and learn."—Vivian R. Johnson, associate professor of education emerita at Boston University (Vivian R. Johnson 2017-02-23)

"Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas, always self-assured and humble, has made a definitive and tangible difference in the world. This thoroughly engaging read reveals how the convergence of empathy, compassion, persuasion, and 'diversifying diplomacy' can make us all contributors to our global story."—Carmen J. Smith, vice president of creative development and inclusive strategies at Walt Disney Imagineering (Carmen J. Smith 2017-02-23)

About the Author
Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas is a diplomat and professor who held numerous posts abroad over the course of her forty-two-year career, including positions in Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, France, Belgium, Mali, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. She retired in 2005 from the U.S. State Department as a senior foreign-service officer with the rank of career minister and currently directs the University of Central Florida Diplomacy Program. Jim Robison is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist, and editor and is the author of eleven books on Central Florida history, lore, and legends.

 


BookCoverThe Resurgence of Central Asia: Islam or Nationalism.
By Ahmed Rashid
New York Review of Books; Paperback edition: August 2017
304 pages
ISBN 9781681370880
www.nyrb.com

Reissued as a paperback in 2017, The Resurgence of Central Asia is Ahmed Rashid's seminal study of the states that emerged in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. All have Muslim majorities and ancient histories but are otherwise very different. Rashid's book, now with a new introduction by the author examining some of the crucial political developments since its first publication in 1994, provides entrée to this little-known but geopolitically important region. Rashid gives a history of each country, including its incorporation into Tsarist Russia, to the present day, provides basic socioeconomic information, and explains the diverse political situations. He focuses primarily on the underlying issues confronting these societies: the legacy of Soviet rule, ethnic tensions, the position of women, the future of Islam, the question of nuclear proliferation, and the fundamental choices over economic strategy, political system, and external orientation that lie ahead.

Reviews:

"As an introduction to the history and culture of the region, Ahmed Rashid's is as good as you will find." Times Literary Supplement

"Ahmed Rashid writes concisely, keeping up a rapid pace starting with the historical background of the region, looking in turn at its five republics and finally at their common interests and rivalries… Rashid's book is eminently dispassionate and unideological." The New York Times

"Ahmed Rashid is one of Pakistans' most gifted and astute political commentators. This account will be of interest to scholars and lay readers alike. What makes it especially valuable is that Rashid's priorities are very different from those of most Western observers." Tariq Ali

About the Author:
Ahmed Rashid is a journalist who has been covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia for more than twenty years. He is a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, Daily Telegraph, and The Nation, a leading newspaper in Pakistan.

 

BookCover The Development Dilemma: Security, Prosperity, & A Return To History
By Robert H. Bates
Kindle Edition 2017 from Princeton University Press
ISBN: 9781400888702 (EBook)
ISBN: 9780691167350 (Hardcover)
https://press.princeton.edu

Reassessing the developing world through the lens of Europe's past

Today's developing nations emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. Only a handful of these countries have subsequently attained a level of prosperity and security comparable to that of the advanced industrial world. The implication is clear: those who study the developing world in order to learn how development can be achieved lack the data to do so.

Bates argues that while the creation of a central hierarchy—a state—may be necessary to the achievement of development, it is not sufficient. What matters is how the power of the state is used. France and England teach us that in some settings the seizure and redistribution of wealth—not its safeguarding and fostering—is a winning political strategy. These countries also suggest the features that mark those settings—features that appear in nations throughout the developing world.

Returning to the present, Bates applies these insights to the world today. Drawing on fieldwork in Zambia and Kenya, and data from around the globe, he demonstrates how the past can help us to understand the performance of nations in today's developing world.

REVIEWS: "The Development Dilemma offers an elegant account of why some countries flourish when others do not. Familism, regionalism, colonialism, migration, institutions, and culture are important, but the resolute focus is on sources of political power. How key actors play the political game largely determines the consequent distribution of security, prosperity, and justice. Drawing on politics, economics, and world history, Robert Bates proves himself once again the doyen of development theory."—Margaret Levi, coauthor of In the Interest of Others

"This is a major contribution to debates on the political economy of development. Robert Bates examines the microfoundations of political decision making in early modern England and France to shed light on the terrain that shaped politics in modern Kenya and Zambia. He connects these case studies to an insightful, original argument on the political choices that foster or obstruct economic growth. A must-read for theorists and historians of economic development."—John Coatsworth, Columbia University

"In The Development Dilemma, Robert Bates turns to European history and Africa today to make a provocative argument: countries that throw different ethnic groups and regions together end up cutting deals that trade off growth to obtain stability. These kinds of historical comparisons are too rare and why this book is so important."—Chris Blattman, University of Chicago

"Robert Bates's singular achievement is knitting together his case studies into one grand analytical narrative. His work is the imaginative culmination of the most important research program in contemporary political science."—Mark Lichbach, University of Maryland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert H. Bates is the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. His books include Open-Economy Politics and Analytic Narratives (both Princeton).

 

BookCover Iran, A Modern History
By Abbas Amanat
Yale University Press, October 2017
1000 pages
ISBN 9780300112542
https://yalebooks.yale.edu/

A masterfully researched and compelling history of Iran from 1501 to 2009.

This history of modern Iran is not a survey in the conventional sense but an ambitious exploration of the story of a nation. It offers a revealing look at how events, people, and institutions are shaped by currents that sometimes reach back hundreds of years. The book covers the complex history of the diverse societies and economies of Iran against the background of dynastic changes, revolutions, civil wars, foreign occupation, and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Abbas Amanat combines chronological and thematic approaches, exploring events with lasting implications for modern Iran and the world. Drawing on diverse historical scholarship and emphasizing the twentieth century, he addresses debates about Iran's culture and politics. Political history is the driving narrative force, given impetus by Amanat's decades of research and study. He layers the book with discussions of literature, music, and the arts; ideology and religion; economy and society; and cultural identity and heritage.

REVIEWS:

"Amanat is a skillful narrator whose use of sources and anecdotes is illuminating. His book should be read by anyone who is curious about the history of political philosophy and ideas."—The Economist

"Lucid, readable, and erudite, Abbas Amanat's flowing narrative uses comparisons and connections with the surrounding world to reveal the dialogical and often defensive character of Iran's routes to modernity. Amanat highlights the heterogeneous groups and contending interests that shaped what he calls a 'Persianized version of modernity.' Balancing analysis of changes in political economy with the roles of public religion and the persistence of cultural traditions, this is a compelling and comprehensive conspectus of Iranian history with a magisterial command of detail."—Nile Green, University of California, Los Angeles

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Abbas Amanat is professor of history and international studies at Yale University and director of the Yale Program in Iranian Studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. He lives in North Haven, CT.

 

BookCover The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History
By Cemil Aydin
Harvard University Press, April 2017
304 Pages
ISBN: 9780674050372
www.hup.harvard.edu/

When President Barack Obama visited Cairo in 2009 to deliver an address to Muslims worldwide, he followed in the footsteps of countless politicians who have taken the existence of a unified global Muslim community for granted. But as Cemil Aydin explains in this provocative history, it is a misconception to think that the world's 1.5 billion Muslims constitute a single religio-political entity. How did this belief arise, and why is it so widespread? The Idea of the Muslim World searches for the intellectual origins of a mistaken notion and explains its enduring allure for non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

Conceived as the antithesis of Western Christian civilization, the idea of the Muslim world emerged in the late nineteenth century, when European empires ruled the majority of Muslims. It was inflected from the start by theories of white supremacy, but Muslims had a hand in shaping the idea as well. Aydin reveals the role of Muslim intellectuals in envisioning and essentializing an idealized pan-Islamic society that refuted claims of Muslims' racial and civilizational inferiority.

After playing a key role in the politics of the Ottoman Caliphate, the idea of the Muslim world survived decolonization and the Cold War, and took on new force in the late twentieth century. Standing at the center of both Islamophobic and pan-Islamic ideologies, the idea of the Muslim world continues to hold the global imagination in a grip that will need to be loosened in order to begin a more fruitful discussion about politics in Muslim societies today.

REVIEWS:

"Thoughtful and provocative… Aydin skillfully recounts the complex web of relationships that existed between and among European Christian and Muslim nations before the 19th century, in which religious affiliation played no predictable role as a unifying, rallying factor… This is a carefully argued book that will provoke specialists and nonspecialists alike to revisit commonly held assumptions about the nature of relations between 'Islam and the West' in the past, present, and future… The author's masterly historical survey drives home the point that, in the past, shared values and interests rather than shared religion typically allowed for the creation of alliances among people from varied backgrounds. Those are exactly the kinds of alliances that need to be forged today."—Asma Afsaruddin, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"[A] provocative new book. Aydin ranges over the centuries to show the relative novelty of the idea of a Muslim world and the relentless efforts to exploit that idea for political ends by Muslim and Western powers alike."—Marc Lynch, The Washington Post

"Aydin upends the common view that the West and Islam are unavoidably in conflict in this crisp history of modern Islamic international relations. He argues the notion of a unified, global Muslim community was not present until Western imperialism and racism forced a defensive posture from Muslims… This is a solid work for college classrooms and scholars on the history of global Muslim consciousness and our current world."—Publishers Weekly

"Aydin captures the formation and evolution of our reference to 'the Muslim world' and how this phrase came to prominence in everyday discourse. In eight superb chapters, he frames the Muslim world, and by implication Islam, as a cultural and civilizational tradition within a defined historical and political framework. A tour de force."—Ebrahim Moosa, author of What Is a Madrasa?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Cemil Aydin teaches international/global history courses at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Department of History. He studied at Bogazici University, Istanbul University, and the University of Tokyo before receiving his Ph.D. degree at Harvard University in 2002. He was an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton University's Department of Near Eastern Studies.

 

BookCoverThe New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey
By Soner Cagaptay
I.B. Tauris, June 2017
224 Pages
ISBN 9781784538262
www.ibtauris.com

The aborted July 2016 coup in Turkey fired up interest in a country that will play a critical geopolitical role in Middle East wars. The spotlight inevitably has fallen on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the powerful leader of the country, whose increasingly bizarre and authoritarian regime has increased tensions both within and outside the country. His crackdown has been brutal and consistent—thousands of journalists arrested, academics officially banned from leaving the country, university deans fired and three quarters of the highest ranking army officers arrested. Soner Cagaptay argues that the coup gave President Erdogan license to make good on his repeated promise to bring order and stability under a 'strongman'. Here, leading Turkish expert Soner Cagaptay places Erdogan in Turkish history, explains what he believes, how he has cemented his rule, and assesses the threats he faces—from iberal youth, the Gulen movement, the army plotters and the Kurdish minority.

REVIEWS:

This is a brave and balanced narrative of Turkey's mercurial President Erdogan. Soner Cagaptay explains how 'the new sultan' built a modern and prosperous Turkey, but how his 'autocratic, illiberal side' undermined these achievements and throttled democracy. Turkey is now at a crossroads, and Cagaptay provides a clear roadmap. Nobody tells Erdogan's story better or more honestly.
David Ignatius, columnist, Washington Post, 2017-03-30

"...the book sketches Erdogan's upbringing in the tough Istanbul district of Kasimpasa. [...] Cagaptay describes how Erdogan started out among nationalist Islamists in student politics. [...] ...it gives a sensitive background context to his life and political upbringing." William Armstrong, Times Literary Supplement, 2017-09-22

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. He has written extensively on U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkish domestic politics and Turkish nationalism, publishing in scholarly journals and major international print media, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Atlantic, New Republic, and Newsweek Türkiye. He has been a regular columnist for Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey's oldest and most influential English-language paper, and a contributor to CNN's Global Public Square blog. He appears regularly on Fox News, CNN, NPR, Voice of America, BBC, and CNN-Turk.

 

BookCoverThe Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh with a foreward by Robin Yassin-Kassab
Haymarket Books, September 2017
312 pages
ISBN: 9781849048668
https://www.haymarketbooks.org

The Impossible Revolution is a powerful, compelling critique of Syria's catastrophic war, which has profoundly reshaped the lives of millions of Syrians.

This first book in English by Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, the intellectual voice of the Syrian revolution, describes with precision and fervor the events that led to the Syrian uprising of 2011—the metamorphosis of the popular revolution into a regional war and the "three monsters" Saleh sees "treading on Syria's corpse": the Assad regime and its allies, ISIS and other jihadists, and the West. Where conventional wisdom has it that Assad's army is now battling against religious fanatics for control of the country, Saleh argues that the emancipatory, democratic mass movement that ignited the revolution still exists, though it is beset on all sides.

Saleh offers incisive critiques of the impact of the revolution and war on Syrian governance, identity, and society to produce a powerful and compelling response to the traumas that define the contemporary Syrian experience. All those concerned with the conflict should take note.

REVIEWS:
'Saleh's personal tragedy reveals him as an authentic voice trying to understand how the genuine, progressive revolt he supported went so horribly wrong.'—New York Review of Books

'Reading The Impossible Revolution, a Western audience has the opportunity to eavesdrop on the conversation that has been going on between Syrians since the beginning of the conflict… If Saleh had been read by Westerners at the time of his writing, for example, ISIS would not have come as such a surprise.'—Times Literary Supplement

'"Where is cool-headed, clear thinking to be found, in a world of al-Sada, jinn, and ghosts?"… One might say it is to be found in the pages of [Saleh's] book, where he examines the origins of the violence, delves into the ideology of the Ba'ath Party that has ruled the country since 1963, methodically dissects the phases of the revolution, and charts the lurch into sectarianism… [in] carefully modulated prose.' —The New York Review of Books"

Since the start of the Syrian uprising, Saleh's influence and his role as an incisive critic of extremism, dictatorship, and the effects of mass violence on Syrian society have offered powerful and compelling responses to the traumas that define the contemporary Syrian experience."—Steven Heydemann, author of Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Yassin al-Haj Saleh is widely regarded as Syria's foremost thinker and the intellectual authority of the Syrian uprising. Born in Raqqa, he spent sixteen years as a political prisoner in Syria (1980-1996) and has been living in exile in Turkey since 2013. He is the author of six books.

 

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