Your summer 2023 reading recommendations are here!
Are you assembling your reading list for the summer? I am, so I thought perhaps you’d be interested in some ideas.
If you are new to the national security arena, may I invite you to take a look at last year’s post? “Some summer reading recommendations (especially for those interested in national security!)”
I believe that list is still (mostly) current and I think (hope?) you’ll find books of interest (and, yes, there are novels on it!). It will also link you to earlier lists (e.g., here and here) that you may find helpful. BTW, my very first (and most comprehensive) list of recommendations (2006) is found here. (It also has my theory as to why reading is important, particularly for young military lawyers.)
Below are some new recommendations (though some books may have been published for a while). A caveat: these are books that I think are important to read, even though I may disagree with one or (many) more particulars in them.
Another caveat: when I say “read” I also mean “listen”. If it’s fiction, I almost always listen to the audio version of the book which I download to my phone. I listen to them typically while (what I am still calling!) jogging. This is one kind of ‘multitasking’ that I think actually works effectively!
I do listen to some non-fiction, but that does require more concentration. Once in a while, I’ll buy the book in both formats. I’ll listen to the first part while at the same time reading the second part the traditional way. This helps me get through longer books like Kissinger’s new one (discussed below) faster.
Anyway, here’s the list:
Nita Farahany’s Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology. The title says much, but what you will find hair raising about this book is how far neurotechnology has already gone in giving people access to your thinking. Farahany as a gift for taking a lot of complex science and making it accessible to everyone. It’s a disturbing book, but a very important one.
James M. Scott’s Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb. This is a fascinating history of the development of the B-29 Superfortress bomber, airpower strategy, the political exigencies of the closing months of World War II, and the moral costs of war.
I expect to write a full review for you as I have a few differences with the author and I also think the legal context of the bombing is important. Still, Scott’s spell-binding rendition of the brutal reality of modern war is a sobering reminder, even in an age when we are witnessing terrible suffering in Ukraine.
Paul Scharre’s Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. I think very highly of Scharre’s 2019 book, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, and I still recommend it. (In a way, it is a better entry-level book for those new to the AI discussion in the context of war).
Four Battlegrounds isn’t confined to the military aspect of AI, but speaks to how the AI revolution will impact everything. Scharre’s four battlegrounds are data, computing power, talent, and institutions, and he details what it will take to win the vital struggle for AI superiority.
Henry Kissinger’s Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy. It is hard to believe that Kissinger – who just turned 100 – is still turning out volumes of such quality. In this book he dissects the leadership of six people who he personally knew and who left their mark on the world. His summary chapter is truly a masterpiece.
Ben Lambeth’s, Airpower in the War against ISIS. This is another one that I hope to provide you with a fuller review at some point, but suffice to say Lambeth’s detailed analysis of conduct in the war against ISIS and the impact that incremental polices and restrictive rules of engagement had is a must-read before anyone start’s implementing the Pentagon’s new Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan.
Bruce Jentleson’s Sanctions: What Everyone Needs to Know®. This is an excellent, easy-to-read history of sanctions and reflection on their utility (or not). You’ve seen some of Dr. Jentleson’s ideas in the blogpost found here, so get the full picture in the book.
If you need more encouragement, take another look at the post found here where practitioners from major law firms discussed how helping clients comply with sanction regimes is a fast-growing aspect of their practices.
Some more that are in the ‘stack’!
Like what I would bet is the case with many Lawfire® readers, I have a (huge!) stack of books I want to read. (I have started several of these but I have a ways to go).
Geoff Corn, Ken Watkin, Jamie Williamson’s The Law in War: A Concise Overview. This is the second edition of a book by some authentic experts, and I want—and need—to know their perspectives. I’m finding it well-written and comprehensive, but it is a serious read. Both Geoff and Ken are Lawfire® contributors so I know they’ll have interesting takes on the issues.
Another perspective I want to know about is Yoram Dinstein’s. A highly-respected international lawyer, last November he published the 4th edition of his book, The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict. A blogpost where the author discusses his new 4th edition is found here.
Paul B. Stephan’s The World Crisis and International Law: The Knowledge Economy and the Battle for the Future. Paul is also a Lawfire® contributor (see here), and in this book he argues that the knowledge economy has operated to degrade international law. He explains why, and offers what might be done to pull it out of a steep dive.
George Lucas’s Law, Ethics and Emerging Military Technologies. This is a concise book (just 192 pages of text) by a top scholar who really knows his stuff. The topic could not be more timely topic, and this volume looks like a natural pairing with Andy Krepinevich’s book discussed below.
To me, reading about constitutional law is always worthwhile. Two new books written by friends that I want to get to are:
Jeff Powell’s The Practice of American Constitutional Law. Here’s a piece from Amazon’s description: “Powell describes how lawyers and judges identify constitutional problems by using a specifiable method of inquiry that enables them to agree on what the questions are, and thus what any plausible answer must address, even when disagreement over the most persuasive answers remains.” Jeff is a very thoughtful scholar who has a fresh take on constitutional law.
Steve Vladeck’s The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic. The provocative title seems to tell you what to expect from this much-anticipated book. It has already generated some interesting reviews (see e.g., here and here). I want to see for myself as Steve always has something interesting (and occasionally infuriating!) to say!
I’m a fan of all kinds of books on history and, for lawyers, especially, knowing the origins and context of issues we are addressing today is essential but too often under appreciated. Here are a couple I hope (need?) to finish before the summer is out.:
Michael O’Hanlon’s Military History for the Modern Strategist: America’s Major Wars Since 1861. Though I still have a ways to go, I’ve gotten into this book, and I’m very excited about it. Perfect for both the newcomer and the seasoned practitioner, it helps provide the all-important historical context for strategies. Really looks good!
Airpower Pioneers: From Billy Mitchell to Dave Deptula (John Andreas Olsen, ed.) Biographical sketches by an impressive group of writers of a dozen of the most important leaders in military aviation. The development of airpower doctrine can be traced in what looks to be a very well-written volume.
Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Though I don’t agree with everything the author presents, I’m finding this book to be absolutely fascinating.
Andrew Krepinevich’s The Origins of Victory: How Disruptive Military Innovation Determines the Fates of Great Powers. This is obviously a vitally important topic, and Dr. Krepinevich is the right person to write about it. There is lots to this one, and it seems like a case where if you read this book, you’ll be familiar with a lot of the hot issues.
Just for fun
You’ll may also want (and probably should want) to read some fiction just for fun. I very enjoy Sheldon Siegel’s legal thriller series featuring ex-priest Mike Daley and his ex-wife Rosie Fernandez who are, in my opinion, rightly called “two of the most compelling characters in contemporary crime fiction.” They are public defenders and Siegel has them dealing with cases whose plots are ‘ripped from the headlines.’
Double Jeopardy, published earlier this year, involves a homeless vet accused of murder, and also involves the fentanyl crisis. Just published is Dead Coin, and it concerns a homicide where a homeless addict is accused of killing a cryptocurrency executive.
You’ve heard of ‘police procedurals,’ right? This series of books might well be called ‘courtroom’ or ‘defense counsel’ procedurals – and I really do think they teach the reader some about legal procedure as well as courtroom strategies.
I am also a huge fan of Mark Greaney’s extremely fast paced thrillers in the Gray Man series, so I’ve read them all including his latest, Burner. I suppose you could learn a bit about aspects of fighting evildoers around the world, but – honestly – the ‘Gray Man’ books are mainly about high octane entertainment!
Last year Gallup made this troubling report:
Americans say they read an average of 12.6 books during the past year, a smaller number than Gallup has measured in any prior survey dating back to 1990. U.S. adults are reading roughly two or three fewer books per year than they did between 2001 and 2016. (Emphasis added.)
Additionally, it made this surprising finding:
The decline is greater among subgroups that tended to be more avid readers, particularly college graduates but also women and older Americans. College graduates read an average of about six fewer books in 2021 than they did between 2002 and 2016, 14.6 versus 21.1.
The reason(s) for these disturbing findings are beyond the scope of this post, but they do say something to me: I believe those that do read will enjoy an asymmetric advantage in their careers and, really, life.
In his new book (Leadership) Henry Kissinger observed that “Intense reading can help leaders cultivate the mental distance from external stimuli and personalities that sustains a sense of proportion.” It can also provide a “storehouse” of knowledge from which “leaders can reason analogically.” He then adds:
“More profoundly, books offer a reality that is reasonable, sequential and orderly—a reality that can be mastered, or at least managed, by reflection and planning. And, perhaps most importantly for leadership, reading creates a ‘skein of intergenerational conversation’, encouraging learning with a sense of perspective. Finally, reading is a source of inspiration. Books record the deeds of leaders who once dared greatly, as well as those who dared too much, as a warning.”
Reading is actually a lifelong project. General Jim Mattis puts it bluntly: