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Posted at 08:35 AM ET, 07/31/2012

What our correspondents are reading

Done reading that last book you started two weeks ago, and not quite sure what to pick up next?

We asked The Washington Post’s foreign correspondents what book they are reading or have read most recently. Here is a list of book recommendations by our correspondents:


Book: The Emperor

Author: Ryszard Kapuscinski

Recommended by: Sudarsan Raghavan, Africa bureau chief

It’s a wonderfully reported and written profile of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie’s last days, from the point of view of his servants, aides and others close to him. The book is considered one of the 20th century’s best works of nonfiction literary journalism. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand Africa.

***


Book: Syria: Neither Bread nor Freedom

Author: Alan George

Recommended by: Liz Sly, Beirut bureau chief

This is an invaluable and often overlooked account of the first years of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule whose dreary title and cover don’t do it credit. It is jam-packed with facts, details, anecdotes, historical background and prescient analysis of Assad’s failure to deliver on his early promises for reform in ways that uncannily foretell the 2011 uprising, even though it was written in 2003.

***


Book: In the Garden of Beasts

Author: Erik Larson

Recommended by: Andrew Higgins, China bureau chief

As a foreign correspondent and former student of classical Chinese who has spent many years trying to divine China’s future under authoritarian Communist Party rule, I was spellbound and shaken by this gripping novelistic history focused on William Dodd, a fuddy-duddy Chicago history professor appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt as U.S. ambassador to Berlin in 1933. Hitler had just come to power, pushing Germany and the world towards what, with the benefit of hindsight, now appears an obviously inevitable catastrophe. Dodd, a lover of German culture, was initially somewhat sympathetic to the Nazi Party, impressed by its repeated assurances of peaceful intent and efforts to revive a country crippled by economic ruin and past humiliation. But, appalled by the brutal reality around him in Berlin, Dodd grew to loathe Nazi dictatorship and struggled, mostly in vain, to get his frequently anti-Semitic State Department superiors in Washington to understand and share his dark foreboding.

***


Book: Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin

Author: Timothy Snyder

Recommended by: Michael Birnbaum, Berlin correspondent

It’s a new(ish) look at the huge swath of eastern Europe that passed between the hands of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, sometimes multiple times, during World War II, and at the terrible killing that ensued as territory passed from one side to another and the Holocaust was under way. That legacy is still shaping European dynamics.

***


Book: Escape from Camp 14

Author: Blaine Harden

Recommended by: Chico Harlan, Tokyo bureau chief

You can only accuse me of Washington Post homerism after you’ve read the book. The writing style is spare but the details about this escape from a North Korean prison camp will just about make your blood stop flowing. “Escape,” like Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy,” is on the extremely short list of books that truly change the discussion about North Korea.

***


Book: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Author: Katherine Boo

Recommended by: Chico Harlan

A narrative master writes about the slums of India. I read this because I was curious about whether it would work: How do you make poverty three-dimensional and more than just a sad tale?

Katherine Boo, is how.

***


Book: Young Men and Fire

Author: Norman Maclean

Recommended by: Kevin Sieff, Afghanistan bureau chief

Norman Maclean is obsessive in his quest to reconstruct the 1949 Montana wildfire that killed 15 airborne firefighters. His reporting is stunning and his writing is elegant. But what really sets “Young Men and Fire” apart is Maclean’s study of his own endeavor: his struggle to understand his charge as journalist and storyteller. The product is a compelling portrait of both a deadly conflagration and its chronicler.

***


Book: Pickles from Home: The Worlds of a Bilingual

Author: Sugata Srinivasraju

Recommended by: Rama Lakshmi, India correspondent

The collection of essays explores the cultural, creative and political tensions that exist among Indians today as they negotiate two worlds – between speaking their regional, “mother tongue” language and English; between living the local and aspiring to be global and cosmopolitan. Most Indians live in a constant mode of translation. But the problem of cultural loss arises, the author says, when Indians arrange the languages in a hierarchy – English first, mother-tongue second.

***


Book: Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India

Author: Craig Jeffrey

Recommended by: Rama Lakshmi, India correspondent

The book is a study about the culture and politics engendered by widespread unemployment among educated youth in small-town India. These are young men and women who have opted out of the farm work of their parents’ generation and educated themselves in universities. But they find themselves locked seemingly forever in the limbo land of aspiration and an unfulfilling waiting for secure urban jobs.

***


Book: Understanding Iran

Author: William R. Polk

Recommended by: Jason Rezaian, Tehran correspondent

Lots of books on Iran make bold promises, but this one really delivers on the mission of its title. Polk worked in the Kennedy administration, was a member of the Crisis Management Committee during the Cuban Missile Crisis and also spent extended time in Iran. What I appreciate about this book is that it gives a great historical context for why Iran is the way that it is, and really develops the continuity of this old country and its national narrative. Polk is also an engaging writer. I think it’s a great read for Iran novices or people who know the country well.

***


Book: Empire of the Summer Moon

Author: S.C. Gwynne

Recommended by: Nick Miroff, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean correspondent

This book tells the amazing story of the rise and fall of the powerful Comanche tribe, which held back the settlement of the American West for 40 years and terrorized northern Mexico for even longer. Gwynne’s excellent book makes for interesting reading in our age of ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels, because these Comanche horseman were the original Zetas of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

***


Book: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Author: Tom Gjelten

Recommended by: Nick Miroff

This book tells the story of modern Cuba through one of its most celebrated families and their famous rum brand. The Bacardi family fought against Spain for Cuban independence, built a global spirits empire and later supported the 1959 Cuban Revolution, only to become one of Fidel Castro’s biggest foes. Fascinating stuff.

***


Book: Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

Author: Peter Hessler

Recommended by: William Wan, China, Asia and US Foreign Policy correspondent

One of the most insightful books ever written about modern China. Account by the New Yorker’s former correspondent in China as he follows the winding Great Wall throughout the little-written-about rural villages of China forgotten in the economic boom of recent decades.

***


Book: Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

Author: Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Recommended by: William Booth, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean bureau chief

I am delightfully shocked to learn the sublime Mexico City taco as I know and love it — a shave of pork from twirling spit, made happy with onion and cilantro (y por favor señor! that chunk of pineapple) — only dates back to the 1950s. Of course, wrapping something in a tortilla is as old as tortillas, though they didn’t call them tacos.

***


Book: The Meadow

Authors: Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark

Recommended by: Simon Denyer, India bureau chief

This is a detailed and compelling account of the kidnapping of six Western backpackers, including two Americans, in Kashmir in 1995 by Pakistani-backed Islamist militants. Although one hostage escaped, another was beheaded and the remaining four never found again. The authors argue that the incident paved the way for the kind of terrorist tactics and kidnappings that have now become common from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Iraq.

More controversially, their meticulous investigation concludes that Indian security forces knew where the hostages were throughout the ordeal, but declined to rescue the — and even sabotaged negotiations for their release — to prolong the adverse international publicity for Pakistan. They also argue they were finally captured by an Indian-backed mercenary group, who executed them for the same reason.

***


Book: Red Plenty

Author: Francis Spufford

Recommended by: Will Englund, Moscow correspondent

This is a book by an author who acknowledges he speaks no Russian, but has somehow written a fascinating almost-novel about a brilliant but ultimately futile effort to derive a mathematical algorithm that would determine the real price of things in the late Soviet era. Really! One of the shortcomings of the Soviet economy was that no one knew what anything was worth, and we follow his characters as they dream of a computer-driven planned economy that would actually make sense. Woven all through is context that shows how hopeless that quest was. Okay, there’s a certain geekiness to it, but it’s background noise to the real drama.

***


Book: In From the Cold: The Rise of Russian Capitalism

Editor: Peter Westin

Recommended by: Kathy Lally, Moscow bureau chief

Capitalism found strange, sometimes treacherous, and always surprising terrain when it arrived in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This book is written by those who have seen it all. One of my favorite chapters is by Bernard Sucher, a banker and entrepreneur who brought the diner to Russia. He really did — had it built in Florida, complete with Formica tables, and shipped to Russia. I always thought it looked as if it had descended from outer space. Turns out I was right. He told me recently he had to have it lowered onto its foundations but a huge and very high crane. That was Moscow’s first Starlite Diner.

***


Book: Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City

Author: Guy DeLisle

Recommended by: Karin Brulliard, Jerusalem bureau chief

I picked this book to practice my mediocre French, the language the Canadian author wrote it in. But I ended up finding it a highly clever, illuminating counterpart to the memoirs, guidebooks and historical tomes I had been reading as a new correspondent covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

It also resonated. With deadpan illustration and dialogue, DeLisle chronicles his family’s one-year stay in an Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood and much that’s striking to a foreign newcomer: the maddening traffic, the checkpoints, the weapons checks, the total shutdown on the weekly Sabbath. And, of course, the ubiquitous and delicious hummus.

***


Book: London, The Biography

Author: Peter Ackroyd

Recommended by: Anthony Faiola, London bureau chief

With great love, Peter Ackroyd tells the epic story of London as a living, breathing protagonist, its foils ranging from fog and immigrants to fires and literary giants. Wholly biased (he adores the place) and insanely well researched, he presents London as the true “eternal city,” one that endures as grace under pressure through plagues, blitzes, the whims of monarchs and assorted riots. A celebration of accents and sewers, murderers and punks, 2,000 years of history is packed into a volume where the transient characters of the ages share the backdrop of what will always be one of the world’s greatest cities.

***


Book: Mud, Sweat and Tears: The Autobiography

Author: Bear Grylles

Recommended by: Anthony Faiola

Survivalist Bear Grylls was drinking water from elephant dung on camera before it was cool to be extreme. What pushes a man to adopt such a rugged persona, and how much of it is real?

***

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By  |  08:35 AM ET, 07/31/2012

Tags:  World

 
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