What We’re Reading: Recommended Books and Reports for 2015

As the new year kicks off, here’s a list of notable books and reports published in 2014, recommended by staff at the International Peace Institute.

changesThis Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

A New York Times reviewer wrote that This Changes Everything is “a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable.”  The author’s thesis: that climate change cannot be addressed while “fundamentalist capitalism” is allowed to roll on unchecked. In light of years of stalled action on the issue, Klein presents a very compelling case for a collective, radical realigning of priorities. Recommended by Jill Stoddard, director of Web and Multimedia.

ironwallThe Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Updated and Expanded), by Avi Shlaim (Norton & Company, 2014)

Avi Shlaim has just released an updated and expanded version of his magnum opus The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Where the previous edition stopped at the end of 2000, this one continues to cover Israel’s policy toward the Arabs into the 21st century, during the Second Intifada and beyond. Shlaim is one of the original three so-called new Israeli historians, defined as such due to their challenge to the traditional narrative of Israeli history. In particular, Shlaim’s comprehensive long essay follows one specific idea through more than 60 years of history—the “iron wall principle”—that military intervention has consistently and persistently taken precedence over diplomacy in Israel’s interaction with the Palestinians and the broader Arab world. Recommended by Jose Vericat, adviser.

lonelywarThe Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran, by Nazila Fathi (Basic Books, 2014)

In this personal account of her adaptation to the revolution that came to her country in 1979 when she was a nine-year-old Tehran school girl, Ms. Fathi, the Iran-based correspondent for The New York Times for 10 years until her forced exile in 2009, tells of the revolution’s need to adapt to the profound changes in Iranian society and culture over three decades. She interweaves her own story with that of her country, showing how Iran is locked in an ongoing battle between hardliners and reformers at a time when a large new middle class, many of whose members are young, educated, and female, is pushing for more personal freedom, an end to international isolation, and a renewed relationship with the outside world. Recommended by Warren Hoge, senior adviser for External Relations.   

terrainThe New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights, by Karen J. Alter (Princeton University Press, 2014)

In the years since the end of the Cold War, international courts have proliferated. In 1989 there were six permanent international courts; today, there are at least 24 such bodies. This book documents the new judicial architecture, using 18 case studies to look beyond the usual suspects to examine how the new courts are affecting domestic and international politics across a diverse range of issue areas and regions. Recommended by Adam Lupel, director of Research and Publications.

pathA Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf, 2014)

The New York Times Op-Ed columnist and his wife, both winners of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of China and authors of three previous books on international affairs, assay the art and science of giving, identify successful local and global initiatives, and recount stories from the front lines of social progress. It is a book about innovators who are using research , evidence-based strategies and ideas of their own to prevent violence, improve health, boost education, and spread opportunity in outwardly unpromising places around the world. Recommended by Warren Hoge, senior adviser for External Relations.

Book Thumbnail-2The Procedure of the UN Security Council (Fourth Edition), by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws (Oxford University Press, 2014)

The Security Council is more active today than ever, yet the way it works remains poorly understood. The new fourth edition of this comprehensive tome is engaging in its narrative and practical in its approach. While bringing the history and politics of this complex international body to life, the authors document its innovations over the past two decades and explore possibilities for future reform. Recommended by Marie O’Reilly, editor and research fellow.

regionalRegional Organizations and Peacemaking: Challengers to the UN? Edited by Peter Wallensteen and Anders Bjurner (Routledge, 2014)

Regional organizations are increasingly playing an important role in international affairs of all types. Most recently, that has included issues of peace and security, whether it is the African Union (AU) partnering with the United Nations (UN) in Darfur, or the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, or the Arab League playing a key role during the early days of the crisis in Syria. This book asks: Are such organizations best seen as the UN’s competitors or partners? It looks at both the strengths and limits of regional organizations, and it analyzes how their relationship to the UN has evolved over the years, with special attention the Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. Recommended by Adam Lupel, director of Research and Publications.

reactTime to React: The Efficiency of International Organizations in Crisis Response, by Heidi Hardt (Oxford University Press, 2014)

In her first book, Professor Hardt tackles an issue that is far too often neglected in international relations studies: the role of informal norms and interpersonal relations in decision making. She explores this topic in the context of international crisis response, answering the question of why some regional organizations take longer than others to intervene in brewing conflict situations (i.e., by deploying peacekeepers). Her interviews with some 50 decision makers in the European Union, the African Union, and other regional organizations show how these institutions “really” work, revealing the surprising importance of things like institutional culture, friendship, and trust when it comes to quickly and efficiently making life-saving decisions. Recommended by Michael R. Snyder, research assistant, Center for Peace Operations.

undergroundgirlsThe Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, by Jenny Nordberg (Crown, 2014)

Drawing on five years of research on the practice of bacha posh, dressing a daughter as a son, Nordberg gives us a great description of what it is like to be a female in a country declared to be the world’s worst for women in 2011. In Afghanistan, the birth of a girl is mourned and considered a burden—girls are forced to live strict lives with limited options—whereas boys are seen as a blessing and given all freedoms. To produce a son is a married woman’s purpose in life. In desperation to have sons, turning girls into boys is not only a way to concede to this expectation, but also a way to defy these same expectations. By turning a daughter into a son, the daughter is given the freedoms of a boy. She can run out on the street to play, she can climb a tree, ride a bicycle or fly a kite, activities otherwise excluded for girls.

It is a powerful account of oppression, but also an inspiring book about circumventing it. Through a series of in-depth case studies, the book reads almost as a novel, where we learn how Afghan families and their daughters negotiate a space to live with more freedom, at least for a few years. Recommended by Mona Christophersen, senior adviser.

gaza2Failure in Gaza,” by Assaf Sharon, New York Review of Books, Sept. 25, 2014

Assaf Sharon’s article is a careful reconstruction of the events leading up to the Gaza war this summer and the political context around it. More broadly, it is an exposition of the way that violence is the default option and spins out of control in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It takes aim at the way that Israeli policymakers embarked on a military campaign with no clear sense of the political objectives lying behind it, and in this particular case resulting in one plainly unintended outcome: strengthening Hamas politically. Sharon’s article lays out next to each other the series of misleading and contradictory remarks by the Israeli political and military leadership which led to the death of 70 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians. Recommended by Jose Vericat, adviser.

genocideFramework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes: A Tool for Prevention,” United Nations (2014)

Nearly ten years after the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are still taking place at an alarming rate. In this new analytical framework, the UN puts forward a series of risk-assessment tools to better assess and respond to mass atrocity crimes. In addition to defining atrocity crimes and RtoP, the report highlights some of the risk factors and indicators that are part of the analytical framework. Recommended by Adam Lupel, director of Research and Publications.

securitycouncilSecurity Council Norms and Practice on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Analysis of Normative Developments in Security Council Resolutions 2009-2013,” UN OCHA (May 2014)

This report produced by OCHA describes the evolution of the Protection of Civilians (PoC) concept in the Security Council.  It also highlights how missions have been given more robust PoC mandates that require them to use all resources to protect civilians in armed conflict from imminent threat. Recommended by Lamii Moivi Kromah, research fellow, Center for Peace Operations.

controlTaking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work,” Global Commission on Drug Policy (September 2014)

The upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) in 2016 will be an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to review national and international drug control policies. In this new report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy lays out a series of recommendations for the UNGASS 2016. One of the main points made in the report is that the “drug war” has not been effective, and that new approaches that focus on decriminalization, health, and community safety should be emphasized instead. Recommended by Adam Lupel, director of Research and Publications.

protectWill They Protect Us for the Next 10 Years? Challenges Faced by the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan,” by Alison Giffen, Aditi Gorur, Jok Madut Jok, and Augustino Ting Mayai (November 2014)

This report details the civil conflict that has been raging over the past year in South Sudan and how the UN has responded. The authors describe the challenges faced by civilians caught between the violence and recommends ways for the UN to incorporate community voices in their protection strategy. Recommended by Lamii Moivi Kromah, research fellow, Center for Peace Operations.