What Are You Reading? Carnegie Council Staff Picks

July 23, 2010

CREDIT: Lili Vieira de Carvalho (CC)

It's a long, hot summer here in New York City, a good time to catch up on some reading. These recommendations from our staff cover a lot of ground both emotionally and geographically, but they all involve some aspect of ethics and international affairs. They are listed in order of publication date. 

Please feel free to add your recommendations in the comments feature at the bottom of the page.

The only criterion is that the books should involve issues of ethics and of international affairs. 

Enjoy the summer and beyond with a good book! 



Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
Karl Marlantes2008

Marlantes eschews big melodrama in favor of a combination of day-to-day jungle misery; an unsettling portrayal of black-white tensions; frank admiration of Marines' skill, courage, and loyalty; and an equally frank portrayal of the Vietnam War as sickeningly pointless. Many ethical and existential issues are raised; how you define these depends on who you are as a reader. In the end, Marlantes shows how one young man finds meaning in a world that may be even more meaningless than he realizes. Rather than any big, contrived final horror, the ending provides a series of subtle but heartbreaking twists that bring the ethical and human issues together.
David Pratt, associate director, Development

Related Carnegie Council Resources

Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam
For Bundy, says Gordon Goldstein, the ultimate actor in Vietnam was not the military, the secretary of state or of defense, or the national security advisor. It was the president. What does this teach us about other American wars? (Public Affairs Program, 2009)

Senator Kerrey and the War That Still Haunts Us
The revelation that former senator Bob Kerrey murdered innocent women and children in Vietnam has exposed a sharp division in American public opinion over questions of military ethics. One of the sharpest divisions in American reactions is between generations. (Roundtable Forum, 2002)

The Warlord's Son
Dan Fesperman, 2005

This book is about a journalist and his Pushtun interpreter and their attempts to cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan for a newspaper story about what is going on in the tribal communities. When they do cross the border they find many betrayals—between the warlords, within the Pakistani government, and among the American corporate/political community. There is also the story of a brave young woman who is breaking off relations with her family over an arranged marriage. The novel's description of the warlords and their tribes explains quite well why Afghanistan has never fallen under the influence of any Western government. It also questions the ethical motivation of American involvement and that of the Pakistani government. Here is a Pushtun proverb quoted in the book: The eye of the dove is lovely, my son, but the sky is made for the hawk. So cover your dovelike eyes and grow claws.
Margaret Evans, receptionist

Related Carnegie Council Resources

Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban
Journalist and former Council Senior Fellow Jere Van Dyk tells of his decades-long involvement with Afghanistan, and gives a harrowing account of his 2008 kidnapping and imprisonment by the Taliban in the no-man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Public Affairs Program, 2010)

Life of Pi
Yann Martel, 2003

This novel is about the shipwrecked son of a zookeeper. Pi's family plans to migrate with their menagerie from their native Pondicherry, India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship. When the boat sinks, Pi continues alone with a cadre of animals on a lifeboat. Martel weaves beautiful relationships among humans and animals. The novel crystallizes humans' innate natures and their ability to both employ and restrain those natures. Through his protagonist Pi, the author also confronts weighty questions about the construction and maintenance of both religious faith and a moral code.
Julia Taylor Kennedy, content editor, Carnegie Ethics Studio

A Soldier of the Great War
Mark Helprin, 1991

A World War I veteran recounts his life story to a young man he meets by accident. Alessandro foresaw Italy's entry into the Great War and joined the navy rather than be drafted into the more dangerous infantry. However, this reasoned course of action has no place in a world gone mad, and Alessandro's fortunes take bizarre and often tragic turns. Still, he finds beauty. Nearing the end, Alessandro tells his companion, "And yet if you asked me what [the truth] was, I can't tell you. I can tell you only that it overwhelmed me, that all the hard and wonderful things of the world are nothing more than a frame for a spirit, like fire and light, that is the endless roiling of love and grace. I can tell you only that beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea, that it moves by its own law, that it is God's way of comforting His broken children."
William Vocke, senior fellow and program director

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
John le Carré, 1963

This classic thriller dives into the world of espionage during the Cold War. The main character, Alec Leamas, station head of the British Secret Intelligence Service in West Berlin, is put in precarious situations which test his trust and allegiance to his "allies." Alec is the embodiment of the political, religious, and moral tensions that evolved out of the Cold War. He strives for a balance between his intellect and emotions, and good and evil, but realizes his situation is not as black and white as it seems. As reviewer Tim Appelo puts it, "The political chessboard is black and white, but in human terms the vicinity of the Berlin Wall is a moral no-man's land, a gray abyss patrolled by pawns."
Stefanie Ambrosio, program assistant, Global Policy Innovations, U.S. Global Engagement, and Carnegie New Leaders

Related Carnegie Resources

Contending with God, Fidelity, and Freedom [PDF]
From our archives: W. C. McWilliams analyses le Carré's Smiley's People, and concludes that despite the novel's disenchantment with the West, it is still easy to choose sides. The Soviets "proceed on the assumption that there are no moral choices or real alternatives," while "[v]enial sinners all, Smiley's people are at least loyal to something beyond themselves." (WorldView magazine, 1980)



Factory Girls: From Village to City in Changing China
Leslie Chang, 2008

Leslie Chang, a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Beijing, offers a rare look into the everyday lives of young migrant workers pursing their dreams of independence, prosperity, and self-fulfillment in a new China. Full of fascinating details of life in a factory town, the book is testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity of young women in China as they navigate between the dangers and opportunities offered by new economic realities and carve out new roles for themselves in China’s society.
Zornitsa Stoyanova-Yerburgh, managing editor, Ethics & International Affairs Journal

Related Carnegie Council Resources

A Question of Values: Google in China, Chinese Products, and Civil Society
Alexandra Harney (author of "The China Price") and the Council's Devin Stewart discuss the human and environmental costs of China's cheap prices; Google in China; fake and dangerous Chinese products; U.S.-China relations; and the latest trends in Japan. (Global Policy Innovations interview, 2010)

Interview with Medea Benjamin
Benjamin discusses the role of NGOs in establishing a global code of company conduct from the global north to the global south, and from China to the U.S. "Consumer pressure is incredibly important," she says, "and has been the driving force behind a lot of the anti-sweatshop movement." (Human Rights Dialogue, 2000)

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir
Peter Godwin, 2007

Journalist Peter Godwin grew up in Zimbabwe. In this wrenching memoir he writes about his life; his attachment to Zimbawe; the end of white rule; and the rise of President Mugabe, the crocodile referred to in the title.
Joanne Myers, director, Public Affairs Program

Related Carnegie Council Resources

Diplomatically Quiet on Zimbabwe
Matthew Hennessey interviews Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, on post-election unrest in Zimbabwe and the displeasure of South Africans at their government's policy toward Mugabe. (Policy Innovations online magazine, 2008)

Promised Land in Zimbabwe and Venezuela
Land reform projects are designed to empower the poorest elements of society, but often go awry when implemented for political purposes, writes Alexandra Reihing. The negative impacts on agricultural output and soaring inflation in Zimbabwe and Venezuela highlight the difficulty of making such postcolonial repairs. (Policy Innovations online magazine, 2007)

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Adam Hochschild, 1999

As gripping as any novel, this terrific book tells the largely forgotten story of how King Leopold of Belgium colonized the Congo, launching a reign of terror that killed millions. These 19th century atrocities laid the groundwork for Congo's abysmal situation today. The book also tells of the rise of the world's first human rights movement, with such figures as black U.S. journalist George Washington Williams, who wrote the first indictment of Leopold's colonial regime, and Liverpool shipping agent Edmund Morel, who spent years building up an international Congo reform movement. Morel's supporters included Mark Twain and Irish patriot Roger Casement.
Madeleine Lynn, communications director

Related Carnegie Council Resources

Independence Day: Fifty Years after Lumumba Speech, DRC's Riches Still Not Benefiting her Children
DRC expert Thomas Turner examines Congo's rash of conflicts, its "resource curse," elections, and possible withdrawal of MONUC. The state survives, but is too weak to protect its people. (Carnegie Ethics Online, 2010)

Saving the Congo
The scale of Congo's resource curse, weak governance, and civil war calls for policy changes beyond anything typically contemplated by the international community, writes Seth Kaplan.(Policy Innovations online magazine, 2008)