Ten Books That Will Explain Current Strife in the World
I write military counter-terrorism thrillers, which, by design, have to parse the world into neat shades of black and white, with perhaps a touch of gray thrown in. My protagonist, Pike Logan, has to have a clear antagonist and must solve the problem all wrapped up in a neat little bow before typing The End. The real world is not as clean and is, in fact, much more gray than the black and white the nightly news will give you. With continuous reports about drone warfare, ISIS, Al Qaida, Hezbollah, the Arab Spring, and a host of other things, it can appear confusing if not downright daunting. During my last military assignment as an assistant professor of military science, students would always ask me to recommend books for them to read on today’s current fight against terrorism, and now, as a writer, I get asked the same questions at book events around the country. Here, in no particular order, are the ones I most often suggest. They span the gamut, from granular examinations of terrorism to discussions of past foreign policy execution, and I chose them because of their “readability” and/or brevity. There aren’t any boring texts here.
- The Crisis of Islam. Bernard Lewis. A great little book on the dynamics of modern-day Islam, written by a true expert in the field. You could actually pick up any of his books, but I like this one.
- Ghost Wars. Steve Coll. Simply the best book written on our involvement in Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. If you want to understand why we’re in Afghanistan—both the good and the bad — it’s required reading, and it’s fascinating to see the same characters we dealt with then on the national news now. Oh, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize.
- Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare. Translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Might as well read the man who pretty much invented modern-day asymmetric warfare if you want to understand it.
- Inside Terrorism. Bruce Hoffman. I hesitated to put any terrorism-specific books on here because they are so widely divergent in subject matter and expertise. Everyone claims to be an expert nowadays. I picked this one because Bruce Hoffman really is an expert, and it’s probably the best “starter” book I’ve seen on the phenomenon. Not too long or too detailed.
- One Day in September.Simon Reeve. The story of the 1972 Munich massacre and the Israeli response using hit teams. A good primer on the Israeli/Palestinian problem as well as covert counterterrorist operations, both the risks and the rewards. Something the Israelis have learned in spades. Reads like a novel.
- From Beirut to Jerusalem. Thomas Friedman. An oldie but goody. Very insightful look at the regional conflicts of Israel and Lebanon told through vignettes. If you were only going to read one book about the Middle East, it should be this one.
- The Road to Fatima Gate. Michael J. Totten. Excellent insight from a journalist who lived through the Beirut Spring. An insider’s view of the politics of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Iran and a good primer on the ongoing Arab Spring.
- War of the Flea. Robert Taber. A classic study of guerrilla warfare, applicable in today’s asymmetric environment. A little over-the-top on the “power of the peasant,” but still a good read.
- Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. Peter Maass. Gripping account of the tragedy that was Bosnia. Written by a journalist, so it’s very easy to read. A good snapshot into the savagery humans are capable of, for no greater reason than a difference in religion, be that Christian vs. Muslim or Shia vs. Sunni.
- Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror. Mary Habeck. A precise dive into Jihadist thinking, it provides a clear analysis of the inner logic such groups co-opt to justify their barbaric actions.
Okay the task of listing ten books that will encompass a complex situation isn’t easy, but I promise, if you peruse this list even peripherally, you’ll have a leg up on any newscast you see and you’ll be able to parse the distinctions that are all too often glossed over.
Brad Taylor is the New York Times bestselling author of the Pike Logan series. His tenth novel, GHOSTS OF WAR, goes on sale June 28th. For more information, visit www.bradtaylorbooks.com.