Saturday, December 12, 2009

good books

One of the nice things about being a professor is that I have a reason, even an obligation, to read a lot of books -- to "keep up in my field," to find newer and better readings to assign to students, and to keep stretching my mind.

I wanted to share my enthusiasm for two recent titles that I found particularly engaging and well-written. Kati Marton has written an exciting tale of discovery, "Enemies of the People," the story of her family in Hungary. She recounts her own childhood memories of the arrest of her journalist parents for political crimes, her father's prize-winning reporting of the 1956 uprising, and their subsequent move to the United States. Only much later, when she gains access to the secret police files on her parents, does she learn family secrets long hidden from her -- their Jewish ancestry, her father's activities in the resistance, and her parents' love affairs. The book is a chilling description of what it is like to live in a police state.

The other book is Nicholas Thompson's "Hawk and Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War." Drawing on abundant archival research as well as personal knowledge of his grandfather, Nitze, Thompson weaves the parallel lives of two of the most influential sub-presidential officials who shaped U.S. foreign policy in the early decades of the cold war. His family ties do not prevent him from criticizing Nitze, so the end result is a balanced, human story. With so much history focused on the White House, it is useful to see how lesser ranking officials can still be key players.

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