Civil Society Education Resilience Women Youth
New Atlanticist August 5, 2021

Here’s what we’re reading this summer

By Andrew R. Marshall

Even in the depths of summer, our deeply thoughtful (and widely read) staff at the Atlantic Council keep their mental gears churning. 

So in place of the policy analyses we typically feature in New Atlanticist, below are some summer reading suggestions from us for the beach, mountains, or backyard. Given these uncertain times, some are thoughts about the future—scenarios, predictions, utopias, and dystopias. Others involve inspirations, big ideas about the world, and the nature of our world today and how we got here.  

The links are to the site, which offers you the possibility of supporting local bookstores in the United States or United Kingdom, even by shopping online. Many will also be available in bookstores internationally.

BIG IDEAS: Fuel for the mind

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I am fascinated by any discussion about how our world endures when faced with disorder and challenges, particularly systems that actually gain from disorder. (Arun Iyer) 

Anthro-Vision by Gillian Tett. This is such a cool book. Written by an anthropologist who started her career doing fieldwork in Central Asia—and who later became a journalist with the Financial Times—it will help you see the world in very new ways. (Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili) 

Extremism by J.M. Berger. A really great, easy read on what drives people to adopt (and act on) beliefs, whether religious, political, or otherwise, that the mainstream would view as extremist. (Jennifer Counter) 

Factfulness by Hans Rosling. This book is full of interesting facts that contradict our view of the world and allow us to see things more clearly. (Amjad Ahmad) 

The Delusions of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups by William J. Bernstein. Read this book to understand the craziness of our present predicament. A psychological assessment of end-times delusions from misinterpreted Biblical prophecies to financial contagions and their similarities. (Robert Manning) 

Think Again by Adam Grant. A book for everyone! “Discover the critical art of rethinking: how questioning your opinions can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.” (Defne Arslan) 

First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country by Thomas Ricks. The January 6 Capitol riot was eerily similar to the conspiracy that foreshadowed the fall of Rome. This book compelled us to understand the Greek and Roman principles that influenced the founders of the United States, as well as how renewing them can help us find our way through dark times. (The Cyber Statecraft Initiative team).  

The World America Made by Robert Kagan. This slim volume can be read in a single day at the beach—and it reportedly had a major effect on then US President Barack Obama’s thinking when it was first published in 2012. Kagan’s historical analysis and insights are as timely as ever. On balance, US global engagement has been a force for good in international affairs over the past seventy-five years. Washington must continue to lead on the world stage or else other hostile actors, such as Russia and China, will fill the power vacuum—with potentially disastrous consequences. (Matthew Kroenig) 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I recommend this one in audiobook form. Narrated by the author, whose voice is super soothing, it brings a different perspective to our relationship with nature and other human beings. (Adriana Lacerda) 

THE FUTURE IS HERE: What happens next?

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I loved this book because it envisions a future that changes our conception of what it means to be a human on Earth; because of its innate optimism about the power of science; and because it was just an awesome, breezy, and extremely interesting and enthralling read. (Barry Pavel)  

As I wait for seats on Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic rocket ships to be available for the masses, I read this (and everything else by Weir) because his science is mostly solid and his characters make me laugh. (Stefanie H. Ali) 

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. A family goes on a Hamptons vacation. One day, the rented house’s owners knock on the door and say there’s been a disaster in Manhattan and that they have to hunker down together. This book promises to be a window into how people survive in lockdowns and cling to ideas of normalcy—sound familiar? (Katherine Walla) 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock with Bryan Appleyard. Sweeping and far-seeing, I loved this book by the brilliant James Lovelock because it posits the end of the current Anthropocene era in which humans are the dominant actors on earth and suggests that the next era will be dominated by artificial intelligence… which will save the planet. (Barry Pavel) 

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. I truly believe Emezi is one of the most revolutionary writers of this decade: Through Pet, they imagine a world in which trans kids are given the care and respect they deserve, structural change has been made, and justice leads to true reconciliation. It reminds readers that if we don’t take time to remember, teach new generations, and make the consistent choice to be better, we won’t be able to keep moving forward. (Alyssa Harvie) 

Severance by Ling Ma. A young woman navigates a nearly apocalyptic world post-pandemic. Hilarious but also terrifying. It was an A+ read last summer, when COVID-19 seemed like a short-term thing. (Katherine Walla) 

The End of October by Lawrence Wright. I loved this book because it foretells what a global pandemic might do to the modern world if one befell us… before COVID-19 came on the scene. (Barry Pavel) 

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s both science-fiction—a scary projection of what the devastating effects of climate change could be—and a guide to policy—explaining ways mankind might be able to collaborate in order to avoid the worst-case scenario. (Sandy Vershbow) 

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. It’s a Chinese sci-fi masterpiece on how the world gets ready for an encounter of the third kind. (Ben Haddad) 

This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth. Nicole, one of the New York Times’s leads on cyber, writes about cyber leaks and attacks, and her book could not be better timed as our world is beset by malicious hacks and ransomware strikes seemingly every week. (Brian O’Toole) 

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino. Tolentino tackles the illusions and self-delusions we have constructed to continue existing in a social and political state that is as fundamentally backwards as it is mandatory. Her writing speaks to the fundamental conflicts present in our modernity and gives voice to the restlessness it can inspire. (Jared Holt, also recommended by Andrea Snyder) 

In Harm’s Way by John Cleveland and Peter Plastrik. “There are seven capacities that communities need to develop so they can undertake effective preparation for climate change,” the authors write. This book lays out those seven. (Andrea Snyder) 

INSPIRATION: Lives, words, and stories to give you uplift

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Katharine K. Wilkinson and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.  The collection of poems, art, and essays sets out to highlight a wide range of women’s voices in the environmental and climate movement. It is a contemporary representation, and it’s beyond the way we wonks think about climate. (Kathy Baughman McLeod) 

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris. I’ve chosen to read it because I love autobiographies and have long held a sneaking suspicion that she and I have many things in common and am reading to confirm my hunch! I find her personal and professional life interesting and want to learn how she ascended to her former role as US senator from California. (Clintandra Thompson) 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. This one was on my to-read list for a long time. It is a terrific book, very timely for the years we are living in. The author talks about anxiety and personal struggle with a raw truth to it, and yet it is still comical! Highly recommended. (Fernanda Meirelles) 

Here, Right Matters: An American Story by Alexander S. Vindman. As the child of a father who fled the Soviet Union in pursuit of a better life for his family, Vindman was raised with the values I believe make America special and resonate with so many of us, and I’m excited to read his tale of moral courage and determination in a unique moment in history. (Shelby Magid) 

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham. The gripping story of how a poor Alabama sharecropper’s son helped change America. (Stephen Grand) 

The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts. This is the most complete and informative book detailing the LGBTQI civil-rights movement during the second half of the twentieth century, with a specific focus on the life, career, and murder of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people elected to political office in the United States. (Zachary Strauss) 

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Just enlightening—after reading it, I became much more understanding, patient, and tolerant with people who have different points of view than my own. I consider this essential for those of us working on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. I think every person in the world should read this book. (That’s how much I liked it!) (Adriana Lacerda) 

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World. The editor, Zahra Hankir, also teamed up with MENASource to publish a photo essay capturing the explosion in Beirut. (Samantha Treiman) 

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Janet Mills and Don Miguel Ruiz. This continues to be a great code-of-conduct guide and is as relevant today as it was when first released. With all of life’s changes that we’ve been experiencing, this book has helped keep me grounded and focused on being impeccable with my own words, not take things personally, not make assumptions, and to always do my best. (Kadiatou Cesaire) 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I like her take on different issues, this time on being feminist. (Tigest “Tea” Frew) 

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Comic strip classic. Has there ever been a more inspiring couple? (Stephanie Wander) 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I picked up this book to learn how to write short stories. (Tigest “Tea” Frew) 

The Wild Muir by Lee Stetson. Twenty-two of famed conservationist John Muir’s greatest adventures. For the mountains of California. (Stephanie Wander

CLASSICS: Great works that have stood the test of time

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. One of those weird family stories, this book starts slow—and then you can’t put it down. It might be my favorite fiction book ever. (Adriana Lacerda)

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. All-around great fiction read. (Stephanie Wander)

David Copperfield, performed by Richard Armitage. He is really exceptional. (Richard LeBaron)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I first read this book five years ago—after randomly picking it up at a book hotel exchange—and it has remained one of my favorites ever since. It contains masterful storytelling that reads like poetry. (Jessica Dabrowski)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. One of the very best twentieth-century American novels. I think it’s Ellison’s greatest work. (John Herbst)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. A rare anti-war classic that manages to be both funny and serious, Vonnegut’s pseudo-science-fiction masterpiece tells a gripping story with equal helpings of knee-slapping comedy and deep moral statements. (The Cyber Statecraft Initiative team)


Bunny by Mona Awad. This book is funny—and horrifying. A graduate student encounters a clique of girls at her program who eerily call each other Bunny. They invite her to join the group, which turns out to be much more than a social gathering… (Katherine Walla)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. What can we say? Real life got too scary last summer—so this classic horror novel was an unexpected reprieve! (The Cyber Statecraft Initiative team)

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. His debut book was unbelievably good. I’m a huge fan of murder mysteries—not the stories where one can guess the murderer in the book’s first half. I’m excited to read the second book. (Fernanda Meirelles)

Perfidia by James Ellroy. When a violent murder on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor rouses the suspicion of the Los Angeles Police Department, detectives work their own angles to profit off the coming war, get back at their enemies, and influence the coming internment of Japanese-Americans and the hunt for “fifth column” traitors in LA. (Doug Klain)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This engrossing novel follows several generations of historians as they chase down the legend—and the truth—behind Vlad Dracula, from the monasteries of Hungary to the archives of Istanbul and the libraries of Oxford. We have never read another book that communicated so clearly how it feels to sink completely into another place and another time, as well as how stories, both fictional and real, can reach out and hold fast. (The Cyber Statecraft Initiative team)

High Treason: A Novel by Sean McFate. “McFate just might be the next Tom Clancy, only I think he’s even better,” said James Patterson (Sean McFate)

THE PAST AS PROLOGUE: What went before

Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch. This history of Martin Luther King, Jr. is so accessibly written that it can be read from a beach chair. (Stephanie Wander)

The Deviant’s War by Eric Cervini. This book details the often-ignored history of US government discrimination against LGBTQI people in federal employment, known more commonly as the “Lavender Scare”—an over-fifty-year, multimillion-dollar campaign to root out queer people from federal jobs and d silence those who resisted. (Zachary Strauss)

Nuclear Folly by Serhii Plokhi. This book adds scary granularity to the Cuban Missile Crisis with new documents from Ukrainian and Russian archives. It’s incredible how much we’ve already forgotten when it comes to lessons from the Cold War. (Robert Manning)

A Train of Powder by Rebecca West. An all-time favorite, this is something I turned to again last summer amid the racial justice protests—and is even more apt now given the ongoing rise of authoritarianism and anti-Semitism Her commentary on Nuremberg is stunning, as are her insights about the other trials she covers. (Chris Skaluba)

de Gaulle by Julian Jackson. A fantastic biography of the leader of the French Resistance. Very readable and a good introduction to modern French politics. (Ben Haddad)

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. This biography provides a glimpse at the other side of America’s moral arch. (Daniel Fried)

The Third Reich Trilogy by Richard J. Evans. This one is a bit odd to recommend, given the topic, but it’s a very readable account of what happened after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. (Iain Robertson)

Plunder by Menachem Kaiser. A wild non-fiction memoir by an American Jewish grandson of Polish Holocaust survivors as he looked to reclaim the house his family owned before the war. This book weaves hilarious tales of Kafkaesque bureaucracy, poignant reflections on intergenerational trauma, and includes an unexpected treasure hunt to boot. I read this book when visiting my wife’s family in Hungary—where my grandparents narrowly survived the Holocaust—and it was particularly moving for me to compare notes with the author vis-à-vis his family’s parallel experience of collecting the shards of memory across space and time. (Jonah Fisher)

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. It’s non-fiction written with the flair and pace of a novel. Keefe explores the Troubles and their tangled aftermath, the consequences of war, and how capturing history can still shape the present day. It’s a remarkable story that, as someone of Irish descent, I’m embarrassed I didn’t know more about. (Daniel Malloy)

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance by Rashid Khalidi. The recent events in occupied East Jerusalem neighborhoods reinforced the need for me to understand the historical context of the attempts to displace Palestinians from their homes. I found this sobering primer from a Palestinian-American academic a necessary addition to my summer reading list. (Tuqa Nusairat)

The Origin of Russian Communism by Nikolay Berdayaev. A superb, brief intellectual history of Russia. Still relevant, and relatively easy to read given the dense topic. (John Herbst)

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant, edited by John F. Marszalek. What a great book—Grant could easily have been an author. An honest, direct, and no-holds-barred account about his life from the Mexican War to the end of the Civil War, with some pretty pithy observations about the players and his mistakes and triumphs. (Ronald A. Marks III)

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. Couldn’t put it down. (Josh Lipsky)

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It follows people who were enslaved and their descendants as they took part in the Great Migration, an exodus of people from the American South to areas like California, Chicago, and the Northeast. A serious and emotional read, it is also an important one and provides context to discrimination and violence in the United States. (Katherine Walla)

THE PAST AS FICTION: How things might have been

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Now a major motion picture, A Normal Heart is a stunning piece of work that details the HIV/AIDS crisis as it unfolded in New York City during the first half of the 1980s. It also shines a light on the resilience of the LGBTQI community as it fought for its right to government aid and acknowledgement, medical treatment, their futures, and their lives. (Zachary Strauss)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Based on events at a twentieth-century reformatory, this 2020 Pulitzer winner gives voice to generations of young men discarded by society and brutally abused in a corrupt justice system. The story is of another era but resonates still today. Whitehead’s reputation as one of the finest writers of our time is well-deserved. (Alex Kisling)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I always have some fiction to read before bed, and the Vanishing Half got rave reviews for its writing and storytelling. I’m enjoying its take on what identity and family mean. (Rose Jackson)

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. This quirky novel builds a counter-narrative to the creation of the State of Israel—one in which the Jewish state was not established in what was then the British Mandate for Palestine, but carved from one of the other options at the time: Alaska. It’s interesting to wonder what certain segments of the Jewish community may have done to assert themselves under those unlikely circumstances. (Zachary Strauss)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Worth it for the three-minute chicken house scene! (Richard LeBaron)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. A tour de force, especially in the audiobook, which is read by over one hundred narrators. In a class by itself and easier to follow (for me, at least) than the written version. (Richard LeBaron)

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The entire concept of this book attracts me: historical fiction, the crazy 80s, Malibu celebrities, and family drama. What else could you want from summer reading? (Fernanda Meirelles)

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter, translated by Frank Wynne. A beautiful and recent novel about France’s reckoning with the legacy of the Algerian war through the three-generation story of a Harki family. (Ben Haddad)

The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen. If you miss Philip Roth, you’ll enjoy this funny and meaningful novel set in 1959 that describes what happens to a Jewish history professor when Benzion Netanyahu comes to his college in upstate New York to give a job talk, dragging his young family along for the visit. Amazingly, the novel was inspired by a real-life event when a young Harold Bloom hosted Bibi’s father at Cornell. (William Wechsler)

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres. Published in 2004, the novel portrays the events in a small Turkish village named Eskibahçe (a fictional setting based on Kayaköy) near the end of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Kemal Atatürk, and the outbreak of World War I. (Zeynep Wironen)

WHERE WE ARE NOW: Our world, good or ugly

The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger. This is a gripping sci-fi (though not so much) horror that had me quaking in my flip flops. (Jasper Gilardi)

Flights by Olga Tocarzcuk. translated by Jennifer Croft. After a year and a half being stuck at home, this brilliant read—by a Polish Nobel Prize-winner for literature—reminds us of why travel makes us human. (Ben Haddad)

An Ugly Truth by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. As we work to understand the impact of Big Tech on our world and society, this book is both about and part of the story. It’s written by two journalists who have spent a decade covering Facebook, and examines the big picture of why the often-maligned platform operates as it does. A must-read for anyone following tech policy and governance issues. (Rose Jackson)

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. Elizabeth Holmes was celebrated as the star founder of revolutionary biotech startup Theranos and became a billionaire—but it was all a scam. (Amjad Ahmad)

“Pieces of Britney” podcast by the BBC. One of the things that keeps me sane as I work on the Middle East is pop culture. I must confess that I idolized Britney Spears as a teenager in Tehran. With those two things in mind, this podcast is key to better understanding Britney’s backstory, how circumstances got to this point, and what the #FreeBritney movement is all about. (Holly Dagres)

Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. A true-life thriller of the fraud case around 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, involving a young Wharton graduate, political figures, and Hollywood stars. (Amjad Ahmad)

How the World Is Passed by Clint Smith. Aside from being a friend of mine, Clint is a brilliant writer and poet—so the read is smooth and fascinating, even while dwelling on a heavy topic. Clint spent years touring and researching landmarks and monuments, looking at how slavery has shaped our nation’s past and present as well as what that means for our collective narrative. It’s a timely contribution to my own effort to understand my place in our society amid an ongoing reckoning. (Rose Jackson)

Pivot by Vox. A good listen for a decent, occasionally amusing look into issues in (mostly) the tech industry. (Iain Robertson)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Now a major motion picture, The Hate U Give dives deep into the experience of a young African American high school student after she watches a police officer murder her best friend during a traffic stop. This enlightening and insightful novel portrays these issues from the perspective of a young adult living between two worlds: her home life in Garden Heights, which is a segregated low-income Black community, and her high school, which is located in an affluent and exclusively white area. (Zachary Strauss)

Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics by Nicholas Eftimiades. A very detailed analysis of how China conducts espionage operations, including methodologies, recruitment practices, and operational tradecraft. (Nicholas Eftimiades)

The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and The New Chinese State by Elizabeth Economy. An eminent China scholar looks at the transformative changes underway in China today. (Hans Hanley)

Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia by Joshua Yaffa. This new book provides complex, deep portraits of various figures that have lived through key moments in modern Russia, as well as how each has made their compromise with a harsh new reality in order to accomplish what they can. (Doug Klain)

The New Rules of War: How America Can Win—Against Russia, China, and Other Threats by Sean McFate. An Economist “Book of the Year” in 2019 and hailed as the “Freakonomics of war.” (Sean McFate)

Further reading

Image: A woman reads a book sitting on a bench in the Kislovodsk National Park, the biggest city park in Europe covering an area of 965,8 hectares. Photo by Yelena Afonina/TASS.