Each year, I try to read a wide variety of books — both fiction and non-fiction, long and short, prose and poetry. From the list of books I have worked through, most suggested by colleagues, awards, or strong reviews, I try to sum up as the year ends with the best five that I have read. As a general proposition, they are books that have come out in the past year, but occasionally I reach back a few years or even a decade or more, to find a book that truly talks to the times.
Given my new job as dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy here at Tufts, I have been doing a great deal of reading in the international sphere, so this year’s collection is focused in that direction. While these books do not purport to completely explain a complicated and unruly world, they all certainly helped me as I wrestled with the big issues affecting the globe today.
I look forward to hearing from readers of this blog about YOUR top books of 2013 — by sharing our reading, we can all learn and integrate our ideas. No one of us is a smart as all of us reading together, so please add your top 5 to the comments section below.
“The Circle,” by Dave Eggers. One of the most original pure writers of our time, Dave Eggers has written movingly and brilliantly about a wild variety of topics, from child-rearing to globalization. In his haunting novel “The Circle,” he turns his imagination to a slightly dystopian near-future in which a commercial entity resembling a merge of Google/Facebook/Twitter/Amazon begins to slowly but surely enter every zone of our private lives. It is the world of Orwell’s 1984 with a much softer touch. Sound familiar? In terms of helping think about the implications of the collision of privacy, surveillance, commercial, and governmental cyber, this page-turning novel is superb.
“The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson. A beautifully realized novel about the life and times of a North Korean special operations soldier who understands the tragedy of his society and seeks in his own way to undermine it by living a fulfilled life. By turns tragic, brutal, hilarious, sentimental, and ultimately inspiring, this is an inside look into a regime that is destroying its people in ever more creative ways — and of the indomitable human spirit that will ultimately doom that totalitarian nightmare to failure. Watching real world events unfold in North Korea — from family executions to NBA basketball stars — it truly seems reality is stranger than fiction; but this is a good place to learn about the inside world of the dear young leader.
“The Revenge of Geography,” by Robert Kaplan. One of the top strategic analysts of today’s world, Robert Kaplan has helped explain the Balkans, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and many other confounding zones of the globe. In his new work of non-fiction he persuasively argues that geography is destiny for nations, despite all the changes wrought by *globalization.* This is a marvelous example of “applied history,” as Kaplan takes the lessons of history and geography and applies them to help predict the future.
At The Fletcher School we have chosen this book as our inaugural “#FletcherReads” session and will do a special presentation with the author in late January after providing copies to our students and faculty over the winter break. Here are more details on how you can participate in the Robert Kaplan event, which will be streaming online.
“The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt. In a lyrical novel that is very hard to categorize but easy to adore, Donna Tartt has written a masterwork with enormous verve, energy, and sentiment. It is by turns an education in adolescent coming of age, global crime rings, advanced drug use, furniture making, dealing in antiques, Manhattan high society, and the mysteries of the art world. Revolving around the life journey of a young boy whose mother is killed in a terrorist explosion which leaves him in possession of a priceless painting (the Goldfinch of the title), we follow him for a decade as his life unfolds in unexpected ways — always showing us that art matters deeply, and that the pain of life can at least be somewhat balanced by the beauty we can create and endlessly admire.
“Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know,” by Peter Singer and Allan Friedman. A very practical, readable, and workmanlike accounting of the unfolding giant issue of our time: the cyber world and how to deal with it. Much of the strum and drang of the international world this past year, of course, revolved around the Snowden disclosers and resultant fallout. If you think that was bad, I have two words for you after reading this book: buckle up. Everyone doing analysis in the international sphere should read this instant classic.
We’re thrilled to welcome Peter to The Fletcher School on April 14 for a discussion about cyber.
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.