What We’re Reading: Recommended Books in Peace and Security

Books on peace and security recommended by staff at the International Peace Institute:

Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism, by Larissa Fast (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)

In this new book, University of Notre Dame professor Larissa Fast tackles the important question of what leads to violence against humanitarian aid workers. Although authored by an academic, the book rests on an extensive database compiled by the author during her decades-long experience conducting research on humanitarian issues. Fast’s argument is that while most explanations of violence against humanitarians tend to look into factors external to aid workers—depicted as a special category of civilians—the answer is also to be looked for in their everyday decisions and human weaknesses as they deal with people in need on the ground. Suggested by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow for Humanitarian Affairs.


Climate Change, Ethics, and Human Security, Edited by Karen O’Brien, Asunción Lera St. Clair, and Berit Kristoffersen (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

A new book by three academics says action on climate change is stuck in part because it is seen as a purely environmental issue, which many in our society view as separate from daily life. According to the authors, changing that to view climate change through the lens of human security—how rising temperature, floods, droughts, sea rises, etc., will impact the survival, livelihood, and dignity of people around the world—can lead to a deeper understanding of what our ethical obligations are to current and future generations, and what changes need to be made, and by whom. Suggested by Jill Stoddard, Director of Web & Multimedia and Web Editor.


Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert M. Gates (Knopf, 2014)

In his memoir, former US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates provides a series of insights on decision-making related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that span both the Bush and Obama administrations. The book also delves into several other issues currently facing the US foreign policy establishment, including the base at Guantánamo Bay, the war in Syria, and the approach to Iran, in addition to the tensions and disconnects in long-term US military strategy and defense spending. Suggested by Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs.


Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, by Saskia Sassen (Belknap Press, 2014)

In this book, globalization theorist Saskia Sassen has developed a novel account of the global economy based on the concept of “expulsions.” It unites under one analytical frame the eviction of poor farmers and middle-class homeowners, the warehousing of people in refugee camps and high-security prisons, the wrecked lives of the long-term unemployed, and the irreversible destruction of the natural environment. Suggested by Adam Lupel, Director of Publications and Senior Fellow. 


Hard Choices, by Hillary R. Clinton (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

The book covers virtually every foreign policy issue that arose during Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State during Obama’s first term, ranging from the rise of China and the “Asia pivot” to Iran’s nuclear program, and from the Afghan war to the numerous challenges in the Middle East. This is a sobering account of an important moment in US foreign policy and the country’s approach to the rest of the world. A must. Suggested by John Hirsch, Senior Adviser. 


Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace, by Seyed Hossein Mousavian (Bloomsbury, 2014)

The relationship between Iran and the United States has been marked by deep distrust on both sides, resulting in a breakdown in relations that has lasted 35 years and intensified conflict in the Middle East and beyond. To help close that trust gap, Mousavian, a highly-placed Iranian diplomat for most of those years and confidant of the current leadership in Tehran, offers an insider account from an admittedly Iranian viewpoint of the post-1979 history of misunderstandings, miscalculations, and flawed attempts at rapprochement. He also posits a comprehensive plan involving all the major countries of the region to reduce the tensions between them and between Iran and the West. Suggested by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations.


The International Rule of Law Movement: A Crisis of Legitimacy and the Way Forward, Edited by David Marshall (Human Rights Program, Harvard Law, 2014)

A combination of theory and practice, this edited volume of nine chapters provides a comprehensive and refreshing assessment of the international rule of law assistance in fragile and post-conflict contexts. The book advocates for a paradigm shift in understanding, implementing and funding of the rule of law assistance, considering the limits of its results despite a growing scope, broader objectives, and conventional approaches. A useful tool than can enrich current discussions on the contribution of the rule of law to the post-2015 development agenda, the volume provides pointers to a more modest, focused, and effective international rule of law movement. Suggested by Mireille Affa’a-Mindzie, Senior Policy Analyst in the Africa Program.


The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, by Angela E. Stent (Princeton University Press, 2014)

Stent brings a professional lifetime as both practitioner and scholar to the subject of this volume—the difficulty that the US and Russia have encountered through multiple misunderstandings and resets in creating a productive post-war partnership. With Vladimir Putin reasserting Russian superpower ambitions, the book is particularly timely. It deals quite directly and anecdotally with the personalities and attitudes of the presidents on both sides, which the book argues are crucially important since the institutional basis of the Russian-US relationship is institutionally thin. Suggested by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations.


Peaceland, by Séverine Autesserre (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

What if the problems of peacebuilding have little to do with lack of funding and resources, and everything to do with the habits of the peacebuilders themselves? This is the bold question put forth by Columbia University Professor Séverine Autesserre, who interviewed hundreds of UN and NGO field workers in order to explore how outmoded and unhelpful practices, such as favoring international hires over local staff, persist despite these workers’ good intentions. The book concludes with policy recommendations on which habits need changing and why, even if it doesn’t explain how exactly to change them. Suggested by Michael Snyder, Research Assistant, Center for Peace Operations.


The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism, by Marwan Muasher (Yale University Press, 2014)

Scholar, statesman and diplomat Marwan Muasher asserts that the United States, Europe, Israel, and Arab governments were all deeply misguided in their thinking about Arab politics and society when the Arab uprisings occurred. The first Arab awakening in the mid-nineteenth century led to the overthrow of Ottoman rule but was betrayed by corrupt local autocrats. The second, he argues, will be a battle, not between religions and secularism, as it is so often framed, but between those who support pluralism and those who reject it. He calls on the West to rethink its approach to political Islam and underscores the importance of efforts to strengthen education and expand traditional definitions of Arab citizenship for the long-term process of democratic transition. Suggested by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser for External Relations.


Sectarian Politics in the Gulf: From the Iraq War to the Arab Uprisings (Columbia University Press, 2013)

In this seminal work, Wehrey explores the underpinnings of the Shi’a-Sunni divide in the Persian Gulf, particularly as it has played out in the politics of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. The author goes beyond a simplistic view of Shi’a-Sunni sectarianism and looks at how the regime-sanctioned exclusion of certain groups—from participation in government to obstructing access to economic capital—has fueled sectarian tensions rather than the Shi’a-Sunni divide itself. By explaining the roots of such divisions, Wehrey makes a case for how serious political, economic, and democratic reform could ease social tensions. Suggested by Margaret Williams, Middle East Research Assistant.


The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, by William Easterly (Basic Books, 2014)

Former World Bank economist William Easterly once again sharpens his ax in a blistering critique of the global development system. He argues development actors too often rely on technocratic solutions that favor authoritarian approaches over democratic ones and ignore the rights of the people. He argues this is unsustainable and ineffective as he marshals the history of development to make his case. Suggested by Adam Lupel, Director of Publications and Senior Fellow.