After the raucous ride of 2016, there’s a lot to be said for hitting the books for some good reading.
Whether it’s history, policy, or religion that you find most interesting, here is an assortment of books that our friends from The Heritage Foundation recommend.
1) “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa” by Jason Stearns
“Dancing in the Glory of Monsters” is the authoritative account of the series of wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo that killed as many as 6 million people, more than any conflict since World War II. It is brilliantly researched, and makes the complexities of what is often referred to as “Africa’s World War” accessible. Now five years old, the book remains sadly relevant as Congo’s current president, Joseph Kabila, clings unconstitutionally to power, threatening to reignite wide-scale violence in the country.
–Joshua Meservey is a policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East within the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
2) “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown
“The Boys in the Boat” is the amazing story of the nine working-class guys on the U.S. Olympic crew team. The team competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and went head-to-head with the German team, which rowed for Hitler. The book is an extraordinary look at how this improbable team came together and eventually surprised the entire world. Written with incredible detail, “The Boys in the Boat” will have you literally on the edge of your seat, as Brown details every race in a way that has you cheering (even in your own thoughts) for the rowers. You can’t go wrong with this one!
–Melissa Quinn is a senior news reporter for The Daily Signal.
Daniel Brown’s inspiring true tale of the hardscrabble nine-man crew team from the University of Washington who valiantly persevered during the Great Depression and fought against all odds to win the gold medal in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics is hard to put down.
Told from the vantage point of one of the crewmen, Joe Rantz, Brown toggles brilliantly and effortlessly between the lives of the poor, tough-as-nails crewman and their battle to make the team, and the degree to which Hitler staged the Olympic Games to show the world the outward signs of supposed German perfection.
You don’t have to know anything about crew racing, or even like it, to be drawn to the sheer determination and strength of character, the emotional highs and lows of Joe and his teammates.
Brown delicately but pointedly draws the reader into this moment in time. His majestic piece includes romance, dejection, determination, and ultimately ends with the triumph of the American spirit over the dark clouds caused by Nazism and Hitler in the run up to World War II.
–Charles “Cully” Stimson is a leading expert in national security, homeland security, crime control, immigration, and drug policy at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the Center for National Defense.
3) “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character, and Conviction” by Lawrence W. Reed
An impactful collection of stories, “Real Heroes” has given me hope for the future, strengthened my motivation to fight for liberty, and moved me to tears. The book is packed with fascinating stories of incredible human beings, inspirational quotes, and takeaway lessons. This is not a book to necessarily read from beginning to end, but one to keep close to you for frequent inspiration of what humans with courage, character, and conviction can accomplish.
–Romina Boccia focuses on federal spending and the national debt as the deputy director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies and the Grover M. Hermann Fellow in federal budgetary affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
4) “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy” by Kliph Nesteroff
OK, the history of America’s funny men is not all that funny. On the other hand, it is engrossing and entertaining stuff. From vaudeville to “Saturday Night Live,” America’s entertainers hobnobbed with criminals, snorted cocaine, and stabbed each other in the back. They also entertained our troops on the front lines, made fortunes, and made us all laugh. This book is a great insight into how American pop culture and politics evolved from minstrels in blackface to Archie Bunker.
–James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is The Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defense policy studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.
5) “Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul” by Charles King
Istanbul’s Pera Palace Hotel is my favorite in the world because of its importance during such a pivotal time in history. When I recently saw this book for sale in the hotel’s lobby, I could not pass it up.
Charles King’s book is about the rise of the Republic of Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. He brilliantly uses the Pera Palace as the focal point to tell a story of an interwar Istanbul ripe with intrigue, violence, espionage, geopolitics, and just about every vice you can think of—all while the city was under foreign occupation in the aftermath of World War I. (The father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, even lived at the hotel temporarily. His room is now a mini-museum.)
King’s book is a tale of religious conservatism versus secularism. Antiquity versus modernity. The West versus the East. King is able to capture this pivotal moment in Turkey’s history in a way that is incredibly informative but still easily readable. I recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in modern Turkey read this book.
–Luke Coffey oversees research on nations stretching from South America to the Middle East as director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
6) “A Brief History of the Cold War” by Lee Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards Spalding
The half-century struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union is one of the most dramatic and consequential epochs in modern history, but to the present generation, it can seem as remote as the Punic Wars. In this highly readable account, the authors explain the essential events, persons, and ideas that shaped the Cold War, from Harry Truman’s strategy of containment to Ronald Reagan’s simple yet powerful philosophy of “We win, they lose.”
–David Azerrad is the director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics and AWC Family Foundation Fellow.
7) “A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century” by William F. Buckley Jr., edited by James Rosen
James Rosen (yes, that nice FOX News correspondent) has created a remarkable book, selecting—and writing his own wonderful intros for—obituaries written by William F. Buckley, as only Buckley could write them. From John F. Kennedy to John Lennon, from Winston Churchill to Ayn Rand, from Elvis Presley to Buckley’s own beloved family members, the result is masterful. You will smile, you will feel melancholy, and you will learn a bunch of really nifty stuff. Read this book.
–Karina Rollins is editor of research publications at The Heritage Foundation.
8) “A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn” by James Donovan
Maybe the authoritative work on this battle. Shows the dangers of an unprepared and unprofessional Army. Custer’s poor decision-making and the way he was let down by lackluster subordinates is a cautionary tale for anyone charged with leading a team. Significantly, the author goes out of his way to portray the Native American side of the conflict and battle.
–Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Spoehr, U.S. Army (retired), is director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation.
9) “Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience” by Melanie Kirkpatrick
For most people, Thanksgiving brings to mind family, food, and football—although not necessarily in that order. In “Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience,” Melanie Kirkpatrick examines the myths with which we are all so familiar and details the true reality of this historic time of which legend has been made. The most important celebratory day for the Pilgrims, in fact, has disappeared altogether, while the gathering a year after their initial landing has become folklore. Her engaging review of the 1621 record and the adaptations all along the way is an excellent opportunity for readers as we fast approach the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival in the New World.
–John Hilboldt is director of the Lectures and Seminars Program at The Heritage Foundation.
10) “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
If you read one book written in 2016, read “Hillbilly Elegy.” To be sure, you should read more than one book written in the past 12 months, but if one is all you have time for, J.D. Vance’s masterful look at the trials and tribulations of the Scots-Irish of Appalachia must be it. It will go a long way to explaining the political earthquake that saw Donald Trump get elected.
Vance, a first-time writer, uses his own family as the canvas on which to paint his tableau. They moved from the Kentucky hills to industrializing Ohio at mid-century to better their lives, and this they did in an economic sense.
Along with their belongings, however, Vance’s extended tribe took with them habits and manners which may have secured survival in Appalachia for centuries, but which hindered social progress in a different setting.
The nobility of solving problems by yourself, without recourse to the police or lawyers, was seen in another context as wanton violence; the authenticity of “not getting too big for one’s britches” became an obstacle to education and other forms of self-improvement.
These problems became exacerbated once regions like Ohio began to industrialize. Only one or two generations out of the hills, Vance’s sprawling relatives lacked the network—what social scientists call social capital—that back in Kentucky would have held things together. Family members fell prey to family breakup, drug addiction, and domestic violence, the author’s own mother falling victim to all three.
Vance does not throw his mother or his family under the bus; he writes caringly about them as only a dutiful son can. But though he explains the sources of their problems, he avoids at the same time becoming an enabler by excusing them.
He gives credit for his ability to not survive, but to end up thriving at the Marines, Ohio State University, and Yale Law School to his mother’s parents, whom he calls Mamaw and Papaw. They instilled in him the desire to study, but above all, never to feel the victim. Sure, he faced economic and cultural barriers to upward mobility, but that did not take away his agency, his ability to pull himself out. Fate may have made someone born into such a family socially disadvantaged, but the story doesn’t have to end there.
Not everyone has a Papaw and a Mamaw, and Vance does not get too deeply into what social policy to implement to deal with generational pathologies. But anyone going into this field of work for the incoming Trump administration could do worse than read this great work.
–Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is a widely experienced international correspondent, commentator, and editor who has reported from Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
Author J.D. Vance is about my age (32), so a memoir by a millennial may not be on the top of your “books to read for 2017.” However, you would be missing a Rust Belt sociological tour de force and the inspirational personal triumph of a “hillbilly” turned Silicon Valley investor. It isn’t just achieving the American dream that makes Vance’s story so appealing, it is the forgotten story of a segment of America that is largely responsible for electing the next president.
As Vance diagnoses through first-hand experience, the breakdown of the family takes a toll on all Americans, whatever their race. Yet, hope remains. Though Vance doesn’t fully articulate what that hope is (he has started to in other outlets—see his article on faith in The New York Times), he makes clear our hope is not in government or even the American dream. Hope starts when individuals begin to acknowledge there is a problem in our country and then start to fix it by serving their neighbors and local community around them.
–Jessica Newman is special assistant to the executive vice president at The Heritage Foundation.
11) “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror” by Gen. Michael Hayden
An insightful read into the workings and role of the U.S. intelligence community told as only could be by the former head of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. Playing to the edge provides the reader with a great view into important decisions made in a post-9/11 world to keep the U.S. safe.
Hayden’s clear storytelling is matched only by the fascinating details he provides of key programs and interactions with top officials and elected leaders. The book also provides a humanizing glimpse into a world that is by necessity secretive to show how security professionals and leaders strove to use every weapon in their arsenal to protect the U.S. while remaining in the bounds of constitution. In other words, they were playing to the edge.
–David Inserra specializes in cyber and homeland security policy, including protection of critical infrastructure, as policy analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy.
12) “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” by Thomas Sowell
This book can restore common sense on a wide variety of issues to anyone who has been fooled by the spin and deception of the mainstream media and academia. Chapters include: “Black Education: Achievements, Myths and Tragedies;” “The Real History of Slavery;” and “Black Rednecks and White Liberals.”
–Patrick Tyrrell is a research coordinator in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.
13) “Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley” by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Equal parts entrepreneurial guide, cultural study, and rock-and-roll style tell-all, “Chaos Monkeys” gives you an insider’s view of the modern tech startup revolution in Silicon Valley. Written by someone who survived through both startup disasters and corporate success (the author held a prominent position at both Facebook and Twitter), the book delves into the world of advertising technology and how it truly shapes our modern experiences. You don’t need any knowledge of the subjects going in. He also intersperses the explanations of “server-side caching” with humorous personal stories, such as flooding the Facebook campus with home-brewed beer!
–Seth Spaulding is a service desk specialist at The Heritage Foundation.
14) “Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children From Failed Educational Theories” by E.D. Hirsch Jr.
Scholar E.D. Hirsch Jr. is most famous for his 1987 work, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” His most recent book centers on the same theme, but has much wider implications. Hirsch argues—with copious evidence from the U.S., France, and many other nations—that there is no such thing as a general skill, be it reading, writing, or critical thinking. Schools need to teach common knowledge, to challenge children, and to avoid falling for trendy nonsense about individual learning styles, for the more they shirk this duty, the worse they perform for the underprivileged children who need them the most.
And more than that: Schools that teach knowledge play an indispensable role in making American citizens, a job they must not shirk. Hirsch believes that the way you learn things is actually by learning them, and that, if you believe you can get better and work hard, you genuinely can improve. That’s relevant to education, but it’s also relevant to our sense of our own possibilities as individuals, and to our ability to sustain our republic as citizens.
–Ted Bromund, Ph.D., is the Margaret Thatcher senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
15) “The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World” by Juliana Pilon
In her new book on the challenges of American public diplomacy, Juliana Pilon goes back to the principles of Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu and the strategies of America’s Founding Fathers, adding great depth and perspective to today’s frantic foreign policy debate.
–Helle C. Dale is the Heritage Foundation’s senior fellow in public diplomacy.
16) “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek
F.A. Hayek clearly wasn’t “Feeling the Bern” back in 1956 when he wrote this: “The century of socialism in this sense probably came to an end around 1948. Many of its illusions have been discarded even by its leaders, and elsewhere in the United States the very name has lost much of its attraction.” So, I imagine if you had told him 60 years later that an open, full-spectrum socialist would be a serious presidential primary candidate for one of our two major political parties, I’m sure he would have politely smiled in disbelief. In a “post-Bernie Sanders candidacy” but “pre-Elizabeth Warren candidacy” world, this timeless classic is again a must-read. In this work, Hayek clearly explains that, even if the goals of those who support centralized planning are noble, the truth is it “creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery.”
–William Wolfe is deputy director of policy initiatives and coalitions at Heritage Action for America.
17) “The Conservative Mind” by Russell Kirk
Russell Kirk made conservatism intellectually respectable with his seminal work, “The Conservative Mind,” and in fact gave the movement its name. Bradley Birzer has written the definitive biography of this eminent conservative with his beautifully written and award-winning book.
–Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics.
18) “The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America” by Richard John Neuhaus
The term “legislating morality” has become something of a political trope in our day. The term evokes scary images of witch hunts, of fundamentalists imposing their private beliefs on society at large using public law as the vehicle.
But what if “legislating morality” is actually a two-way street? What if public law is always, by necessity, an expression of some kind of morality? What if the question in any particular law is not whether morality is being legislated, but whose morality it is? Richard John Neuhaus, an early pioneer and intellectual leader of the Religious Right, took this central issue head-on in his classic 1984 book, “The Naked Public Square.”
The title of the book itself describes the secular aspiration for a politics that is value-neutral, something Neuhaus convincingly argues is impossible to achieve—and would in fact pose a threat to liberal democracy. Neuhaus shows that contrary to what many on the left preach, religion—and conservative religion at that—is an essential ingredient in American politics and a reliable preserver of liberal democracy. Those who want to appreciate the church-state conversation in America and the moral nature of public law should consider this book a must-read.
–Daniel Davis is the commentary editor of The Daily Signal.
19) “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
In a new take on the familiar World War II narrative, Anthony Doerr delivers a clear snapshot of the complex relationships between human nature and the divine, good and evil, love and duty, and wonder and utility. But more than that, we are taught what it feels like to have compassion for an enemy.
Impressively, Doerr communicates these complexities and delivers emotion without becoming overly sentimental or trite. Through complementary and intertwining story lines, we are shown the light we cannot see—humans too often miss possibilities that lie just outside of what is immediately apparent because we are too focused on what is visible.
–Megan Tubb is a congressional events coordinator and assistant at The Heritage Foundation.
20) “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?” by Kevin DeYoung
Kevin was a classmate of mine in the M.Div. program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, so I was naturally drawn to this work because of my personal connection to the author. But, more importantly, I recommend the book because it is an exhaustive, fair, and clear treatment of this subject. He interacts with theologians who don’t agree with his perspective, and does so with civility and grace. Both his positions (which are traditional) and his method (which is civil) fit with our mission at Heritage. So, I recommend it.
–Jeffrey Trimbath is senior adviser to the president for donor relations at The Heritage Foundation.
21) “How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” by Jordan Ellenberg
If you want to impress your friends, just tell them you’re reading a book about math—for fun. Ellenberg’s book covers topics from number theory to the Pythagoreans to the law of diminishing returns in a way that makes the theoretical relevant to everyday life. Combine that with a healthy sense of humor and even those who call themselves “arithmophobes” won’t be able to put it down. Summed up, this book helps the reader think more critically about the assumptions he or she is making and why. This helps the reader distinguish Ellenberg’s own political biases from the points he makes about inference, expectation, and linearity.
–Megan Tubb is a congressional events coordinator and assistant at The Heritage Foundation.