For what it’s worth here is a list of books almost all of which I’ve read fairly recently (last 20 mos. or so) that will be of assistance to anyone seeking to better understand the contemporary era. Obviously the titles chosen reflect my own proclivities– i.e., caveat emptor.
Henri Alleg, The Question
First hand account of torture originally published in the late 50s by a journalist who fell afoul of the French military during the Algerian Revolution.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
A very influential discussion of the nation concept.
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake.
A dystopian novel about civilizational collapse and genetic engineering.
Alain Badiou, Ethics: Understanding Evil
Written as an introduction to philosophy though quite provocative. Worth the effort required.
Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism
A splendid history of the current mode of production.
Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization
This study of Machine Age gender construction and imperialism possesses powerful resonances with the present.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence
From one of the major practitioners of Critical Theory.
JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
A slim, powerful novel which I’ve taught several times. I’ve given this book to 5 or 6 of my friends and family, which is, for me, the highest recommendation.
Jonathan Cook, Israel and the Clash of Civilizations
An insightful contemporary history of Israel and Empire by a young British journalist.
Hamid Dabashi, Iran: A People Interrupted
A hybrid text– part history, part theory, part memoir, part polemic. Very useful.
TsiTsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions.
A remarkable novel about coming of age and colonialism in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
John Dower, War Without Mercy
A history of the Japanese and American race concepts (and racism) during WWII.
Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror
A genealogy of terror from one of the best Anglophone critics out there.
Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization
Fisk is a powerful writer with a wealth of world experience.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story
A sharply detailed history of Afghanistan written by two very knowledgeable film-makers.
Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chomosome
A thought-provoking sci-fi novel/ medical mystery.
David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism
Not his most important book (that would likely be The Condition of Postmodernity) though certainly a tremendous asset to anyone seeking to understand the economic transformations of the last 30-odd years.
David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch
“Classic.”– Edward Said.
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes
No living historian comes close to Hobsbawm. This volume treats “the short 20th century.”
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Written over 40 years ago, the title essay of this book is– I’ll say it– indispensable.
Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire
A meticulous account of the militarization of the United States by a former CIA analyst.
Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm
Good, broad introduction to Pakistan’s recent history and political scene.
Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire
(Or The Iron Cage or Sowing Crisis). Despised by the neoconservative, neo-McCarthyite right, Khalidi has been quite productive in the last several years. Resurrecting Empire examines the recent past of US involvement in the Middle East.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
A wide-ranging and accessible survey of neoliberalism’s depredations.
Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, The Cold War, and the Roots of Terror
Alfred McCoy, The Question of Torture
A history of US torture.
Anne Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire
Examines the philosophical underpinnings of neoconservatism.
Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations
Touted as a “people’s history of the Third World,” this book is just the right antidote for an omphalocentric nation.
Ahmed Rashid, Taliban
How many people even know what “taliban” means?
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist
An exhaustive and compelliing “life and times” treatment of a man Slavoj Zizek calls “the political figure of the United States”.
Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire
A collection of pointed essays by this Booker prize winner. She’s esp. insightful on global media.
Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism
From Oxford’s “Very Short Introduction” series.
Edward Said, Orientalism
Arguably the founding text of Postcolonial studies, in this work Said deconstructs “the Orient”– something American policy makers and pundits have so far been unable to do.
Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army
Increasingly private corporations are taking on the responsibilities of the state. Blackwater– which received so much negative publicity for killing civilians that it was compelled to change its name (now Xe)– was only one company of many who cashed in on the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Annemarie Schimmel, Islam: An Introduction
A vivid, measured, historically grounded account of Islam.
William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
And Timon of Athens as well. Both of these tragedies are entirely relevant to our historical moment.
Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War
Hugely ambitious and staggeringly well informed.
Howard Winant, The World is a Ghetto
Winant’s global history of race and racism since WWII.
Robert J.C. Young, Postcolonialism
You couldn’t ask for a better introduction to postcoloniality.
Slavoj Zizek, Violence
Not his magnum opus, but a funny, mind-tweaking philosophical discussion of violence.