The following are primarily books which I think might be of interest to people who like to know a little bit about different places, or who like to travel, or who have some interest in globalization, internationalization, or the history of different areas of the world. They are added as I read them, and may or may not have references to other books on the list. In cases where I feel books nicely complement each other, I've tried to comment on this in both books' listings.
The Ends of the Earth. Robert D. Kaplan. This is a combination travelogue and history lesson, with social commentary thrown in. Mr. Kaplan details his travels through some of the poorest places on earth, including west africa, the balkan states, and asia, throwing in lots of facts, figures and history, and tries to establish what the current situation of a country is, and why it is that way. An interesting read. See The Great Game and The Prize for more historical details on some places he documents.
The Prize by Daniel Yergin. This book tells the entire history of oil. If you think that's not a huge subject full of crazy people and crazier stories, you probably don't know where the Middle East is. Lots of great people and incredible history are described. This book, I think, is key to understanding much of the middle east's current situation, and is damned interesting besides. This book offers background for both The Great Game and The Ends of the Earth.
The Great Game. Peter Hopkirk. This book tells of the political intrigues which went on during the 1800s for control of India. Although Russia never managed to sieze power in India, all through this period spies from both England and Russia played for control of the land and sea gateways to India, the jewel of England's collection, which Russia would have desperately loved to take from them. Stories of seriously crazy, or patriotic, individuals. This book offers insight into the Balkan situation in The Prize, Raj, and The Ends of the Earth, as well as today.
Raj. Lawrence James. An amazing amount of material is covered in this little (well, 700 page) book. Pretty much the entire history of the British Empire in India, from moving in to taking over to moving out. Lots of names, places, some analysis is biased, some is right on. I couldn't shake the feeling (and I don't know if this is true) that the author was British, and although he wanted to be evenhanded, just couldn't quite get past some of the ideas he had been raised with. Nevertheless, some fascinating characters and some interesting points are raised. Of course, this book ties nicely to The Great Game, since India was the prize the game was played for.
The Boxer Rebellion. Diana Preston. Overall an interesting read about the rebellion of 1900. The unfortunate part about the rebellion is that the story can only be told from the point of view of the besieged, who kept excellent diaries and somesuch. The author acknowledges this point, but still has difficulty keeping the tone of the book balanced. Too often the book felt very ethnocentric in its treatment of events. However, this weakness aside, the powers opposed to the Chinese are very well described, including the Japanese, who are not often well described in their post-Meiji pre-WWII era. It was also interesting to read the book while living in a small expat encampment, as it were, as very often the more mundane details of life detailed in the book sounded painfully familiar.
Dealers of Lightning: Xerox parc and the dawn of the computer age. Micheael A. Hiltzik. History of the Xerox PARC research lab, from whence sprang pretty much anything to do with computers. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both visited this place before going on to greatness. I hadn't heard of it, but it's a pretty amazing story of how smart people left alone can come up with neat toys, and how managers left alone can ignore lucrative products.
The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara Kingsolver. Fictitious description of the political situation in Zaire/Congo/.... A wonderful book. See fiction for a complete write up.
These are books sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to read them. I don't necessarily recommend them, but I do own them (for better or worse).
The Iranians. Sandra Mackey. Pretty clear title, I think.
In addition to history and politics, I have a penchant for fiction. These are currently kept on a separate page
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