World Affairs Council Book Club
World Affairs Council Book Club
April 2015 Selection: From the New York Times-bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From and Everything Bad Is Good for You, a new look at the power and legacy of great ideas.In this illustrated history, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes--from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth--How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life.
In his trademark style, Johnson examines unexpected connections between seemingly unrelated fields: how the invention of air-conditioning enabled the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species--to cities such as Dubai or Phoenix, which would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable; how pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution; and how clean water made it possible to manufacture computer chips. Accompanied by a major six-part television series on PBS, How We Got to Now is the story of collaborative networks building the modern world, written in the provocative, informative, and engaging style that has earned Johnson fans around the globe.
March 2015 Selection: A James Beard Award-winning writer captures life under the Red socialist banner in this wildly inventive, tragicomic memoir of feasts, famines, and three generations
Born in 1963, in an era of bread shortages, Anya grew up in a communal Moscow apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen. She sang odes to Lenin, black-marketeered Juicy Fruit gum at school, watched her father brew moonshine, and, like most Soviet citizens, longed for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, naively joyous, and melancholy--and ultimately intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother, Larisa. When Anya was ten, she and Larisa fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.
Now Anya occupies two parallel food universes: one where she writes about four-star restaurants, the other where a taste of humble "kolbasa" transports her back to her scarlet-blazed socialist past. To bring that past to life, Anya and her mother decide to eat and cook their way through every decade of the Soviet experience. Through these meals, and through the tales of three generations of her family, Anya tells the intimate yet epic story of life in the USSR. Wildly inventive and slyly witty, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is that rare book that stirs our souls and our senses.
February 2015 Selection: In this groundbreaking collection, American Muslim women writers sweep aside stereotypes to share their real-life tales of flirting, dating, longing, and sex. Their stories show just how varied the search for love can be--from singles' events and college flirtations to arranged marriages, all with a uniquely Muslim twist.
These heartfelt tales are filled with passion and hope, loss and longing. One follows the quintessential single woman in the big city as she takes a chance on a Muslim speed-dating event. Another tells of a shy student from a liberal college town who falls in love online and must reveal her secret to her conservative family. A third recounts a Southern girl who surprises herself by agreeing to an arranged marriage, unexpectedly finding the love of her life.
These compelling stories of love and romance create an irresistible balance of heart-warming and tantalizing, always revealing and deeply relatable.
January 2015 Selection: An endlessly entertaining portrait of the city of Amsterdam and the ideas that make it unique, by the author of the acclaimed "Island at the Center of the World"
Tourists know Amsterdam as a picturesque city of low-slung brick houses lining tidy canals; student travelers know it for its legal brothels and hash bars; art lovers know it for Rembrandt's glorious portraits.
But the deeper history of Amsterdam, what makes it one of the most fascinating places on earth, is bound up in its unique geography-the constant battle of its citizens to keep the sea at bay and the democratic philosophy that this enduring struggle fostered. Amsterdam is the font of liberalism, in both its senses. Tolerance for free thinking and free love make it a place where, in the words of one of its mayors, "craziness is a value." But the city also fostered the deeper meaning of liberalism, one that profoundly influenced America: political and economic freedom. Amsterdam was home not only to religious dissidents and radical thinkers but to the world's first great global corporation.
In this effortlessly erudite account, Russell Shorto traces the idiosyncratic evolution of Amsterdam, showing how such disparate elements as herring anatomy, naked Anabaptists parading through the streets, and an intimate gathering in a sixteenth-century wine-tasting room had a profound effect on Dutch-and world-history. Weaving in his own experiences of his adopted home, Shorto provides an ever-surprising, intellectually engaging story of Amsterdam from the building of its first canals in the 1300s, through its brutal struggle for independence, its golden age as a vast empire, to its complex present in which its cherished ideals of liberalism are under siege.
December 2014 Selection: In a crumbling mansion in a gentrified former fishing village on the Turkish coast, the widow Fatma awaits the annual visit of her grandchildren: Faruk, a dissipated historian; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgun; and Metin, a high schooler drawn to the fast life of the nouveaux riche. Bedridden, Fatma is attended by her faithful servant Recep, a dwarf--and her late husband's illegitimate son. Mistress and servant share memories, and grievances, from the past. But the arrival of Recep's cousin, Hasan, a fervent right-wing nationalist, threatens to draw the family into the political cataclysm arising from Turkey's tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity. Written in the 1980s but never before published in English, this spellbinding novel is a stunning addition to the works of Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk.
October 2014 Selection: G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes.--Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and American Gods Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on.--Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients--dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups--from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif--the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state's electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fiance is the Hand of God, as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen. With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut--a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, technology, and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner. [A] Harry Potter-ish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . Improbably charming . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee.--Janet Maslin, The New York Times
September 2014 Selection: THE COMPANION BOOK TO THE PBS DOCUMENTARY SERIES
"Latino Americans" chronicles the rich and varied history of Latinos, who have helped shaped our nation and have become, with more than fifty million people, the largest minority in the United States. This companion to the landmark PBS miniseries vividly and candidly tells how the story of Latino Americans is the story of our country.
Author and acclaimed journalist Ray Suarez explores the lives of Latino American men and women over a five-hundred-year span, encompassing an epic range of experiences from the early European settlements to Manifest Destiny; the Wild West to the Cold War; the Great Depression to globalization; and the Spanish-American War to the civil rights movement.
"Latino Americans" shares the personal struggles and successes of immigrants, poets, soldiers, and many others--individuals who have made an impact on history, as well as those whose extraordinary lives shed light on the times in which they lived, and the legacy of this incredible American people.
August 2014 Selection: Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz's first book, "Drown," established him as a major new writer with "the dispassionate eye of a journalist and the tongue of a poet" ("Newsweek"). His first novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," was named #1 Fiction Book of the Year" by "Time" magazine and spent more than 100 weeks on the "New York Times" bestseller list, establishing itself - with more than a million copies in print - as a modern classic. In addition to the Pulitzer, Diaz has won a host of major awards and prizes, including the National Book Critic's Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the PEN/O. Henry Prize, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the Anisfield-Wolf Award. Now Diaz turns his remarkable talent to the haunting, impossible power of love - obsessive love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love. On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover's washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness--and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in the "New York Times"-Bestselling "This Is How You Lose Her" lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that "the half-life of love is forever."
July 2014 Selection: In Barcelona, an aging Brazilian prostitute trains her dog to weep at the grave she has chosen for herself. In Vienna, a woman parlays her gift for seeing the future into a fortunetelling position with a wealthy family. In Geneva, an ambulance driver and his wife take in the lonely, apparently dying ex-President of a Caribbean country, only to discover that his political ambition is very much intact.
In these twelve masterly stories about the lives of Latin Americans in Europe, Garcia Marquez conveys the peculiar amalgam of melancholy, tenacity, sorrow, and aspiration that is the emigre experience.
June 2014 Selection: Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother--a singer "stolen" to Pyongyang--and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy's loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself "a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world," Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress "so pure, she didn't know what starving people looked like."
Praise for "The Orphan Master's Son"
"An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart."--Pulitzer Prize citation
May 2014 Selection: Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother's death and their father's disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.
Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, "Cutting for Stone" is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles--and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.
April 2014 Selection: The Zapatista Army emerged from the jungle on New Year's Day, 1994, and provoked a national crisis in Mexico. At a demonstration in Mexico City, over 100,000 people marched together and shouted, First World, HA HA HA!--a defiant declaration of solidarity with the rebels, an insurgent army of indigenous campesinos who have challenged the direction of Mexico's future.
The Chiapas uprising was internationally hailed as a direct attack on the new world order. It was a milestone in the continuing history of indigenous resistance in the Americas, and an important development in the growing worldwide struggle against global policies of economic colonization.
In this collection, writers from Mexico and the United States provide the background and context for the Zapatista movement, and explore its impact, in Mexico and beyond.
March 2014 Selection: One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius--a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions. The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.
February 2014 Selection: Now includes "The Life Inc. Guide to Reclaiming the Value You Create"
In "Life Inc, " award-winning writer Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations went from being convenient legal fictions to being the dominant fact of contemporary life. The resulting ideology, corporatism, has infiltrated all aspects of civics, commerce, and culture--from the founding of the first chartered monopoly to the branding of the self, from the invention of central currency to the privatization of banking, from the Victorian Great Exhibition to the solipsism of Facebook. "Life Inc" explains why we see our homes as investments rather than places to live, our 401(k) plans as the ultimate measure of success, and the Internet as just another place to do business. Most important, Rushkoff""illuminates both how we've become disconnected from our world and how we can reconnect to our towns, to the value we can create, and, mostly, to one another. As the speculative economy collapses under its own weight, "Life Inc "shows us how to build a real and human-scaled society to take its place.
January 2014 Selection: 1984 has come and gone, but George Orwell's prophetic, nightmare vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. "1984" is still the great modern classic "negative Utopia" - a startling original and haunting novel that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny this novel's power, its hold on the imagination of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions - a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
December 2013 Selection: Named one of the best art books of 2008 by The New York Times and The Sunday Times [London]: "An indelible portrait of a peculiar society." -- Vogue The art market has been booming. Museum attendance is surging. More people than ever call themselves artists. Contemporary art has become a mass entertainment, a luxury good, a job description, and, for some, a kind of alternative religion. In a series of beautifully paced narratives, Sarah Thornton investigates the drama of a Christie's auction, the workings in Takashi Murakami's studios, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the competition behind an important art prize, life in a notorious art-school seminar, and the wonderland of the Venice Biennale. She reveals the new dynamics of creativity, taste, status, money, and the search for meaning in life. A judicious and juicy account of the institutions that have the power to shape art history, based on hundreds of interviews with high-profile players, Thornton's entertaining ethnography will change the way you look at contemporary culture. 8 illustrations
November 2013 Selection: To travel the Silk Road, the greatest land route on earth, is to trace the passage not only of trade and armies but also of ideas, religions, and inventions. Making his way by local bus, truck, car, donkey cart, and camel, Colin Thubron covered some seven thousand miles in eight months--out of the heart of China into the mountains of Central Asia, across northern Afghanistan and the plains of Iran into Kurdish Turkey--and explored an ancient world in modern ferment.
October 2013 Selection: Set in Romania at the height of Ceauescu's reign of terror, "The Land of Green Plums" tells the story of a group of young people who leave the impoverished province for the city in search of better prospects and camaraderie. But their hopes are ravaged, because the city, no less than the countryside, bears everywhere the mark of the dictatorship's corrosive touch. All the narrator's friends--teachers and students of vaguely dissident allegiance--betray her, do away with themselves, or both. As they do so, we see the way the totalitarian state comes to inhabit every human realm and how everyone, even the strongest, must either bend to the oppressors or resist them and thereby perish.
Herta Muller, herself a survivor of Ceausescu's police state, speaks from intimate experience. Scene by scene, in language at once harsh and poetic, she constructs a devastating picture of a society and a generation ruined by fear. In simple images of hieroglyphic power--policeman filling their pockets and mouths with green plums; girls sleeping with abattoir workers for bags of offal; a docile proletariat making things no one wants--"tin sheep and wooden watermelons"--Muller anatomizes a country and its citizens and the corruption that has rotted the core of both.
August 2013 Selection: First published more than thirty years ago, Paul Theroux's strange, unique, and hugely entertaining railway odyssey has become a modern classic of travel literature. Here Theroux recounts his early adventures on an unusual grand continental tour. Asia's fabled trains -- the Orient Express, the Khyber Pass Local, the Frontier Mail, the Golden Arrow to Kuala Lumpur, the Mandalay Express, the Trans-Siberian Express -- are the stars of a journey that takes him on a loop eastbound from London's Victoria Station to Tokyo Central, then back from Japan on the Trans-Siberian. Brimming with Theroux's signature humor and wry observations, this engrossing chronicle is essential reading for both the ardent adventurer and the armchair traveler.
July 2013 Selection: The six stories in Haruki Murakami's mesmerizing collection are set at the time of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake, when Japan became brutally aware of the fragility of its daily existence. But the upheavals that afflict Murakami's characters are even deeper and more mysterious, emanating from a place where the human meets the inhuman.
An electronics salesman who has been abruptly deserted by his wife agrees to deliver an enigmatic package--and is rewarded with a glimpse of his true nature. A man who has been raised to view himself as the son of God pursues a stranger who may or may not be his human father. A mild-mannered collection agent receives a visit from a giant talking frog who enlists his help in saving Tokyo from destruction. As haunting as dreams, as potent as oracles, the stories in""After the Quake are further proof that Murakami is one of the most visionary writers at work today.
June 2013 Selection: From one of the world's best-known development economists--an excoriating attack on the tragic hubris of the West's efforts to improve the lot of the so-called developing world In his previous book, "The Elusive Quest for Growth," William Easterly criticized the utter ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, and he was promptly fired by his then-employer, the World Bank. "The White Man's Burden" is his widely anticipated counterpunch--a brilliant and blistering indictment of the West's economic policies for the world's poor. Sometimes angry, sometimes irreverent, but always clear-eyed and rigorous, Easterly argues that we in the West need to face our own history of ineptitude and draw the proper conclusions, especially at a time when the question of our ability to transplant Western institutions has become one of the most pressing issues we face.
May 2013 Selection: Ever since Nelson Mandela dramatically walked out of prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years behind bars, South Africa has been undergoing a radical transformation. In one of the most miraculous events of the century, the oppressive system of apartheid was dismantled. Repressive laws mandating separation of the races were thrown out. The country, which had been carved into a crazy quilt that reserved the most prosperous areas for whites and the most desolate and backward for blacks, was reunited. The dreaded and dangerous security force, which for years had systematically tortured, spied upon, and harassed people of color and their white supporters, was dismantled. But how could this country--one of spectacular beauty and promise--come to terms with its ugly past? How could its people, whom the oppressive white government had pitted against one another, live side by side as friends and neighbors?
To begin the healing process, Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by the renowned cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Established in 1995, the commission faced the awesome task of hearing the testimony of the victims of apartheid as well as the oppressors. Amnesty was granted to those who offered a full confession of any crimes associated with apartheid. Since the commission began its work, it has been the central player in a drama that has riveted the country. In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who has covered the work of the commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Mandela to former South African president P. W. Botha's extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.
Country of My Skull captures the complexity of the Truth Commission's work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog's powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog's profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.
April 2013 Selection: In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gulag," acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In "Iron Curtain," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of "Iron Curtain."
February 2013 Selection: n the past three decades, China has risen from near collapse to a powerhouse -- upending nearly every convention on the world stage, whether policy or business. China is now the globe's second largest economy, second largest exporter, a manufacturing machine that has lifted 500 million of its citizens from poverty while producing more than one million US dollar millionaires. Then why do China's leaders describe the nation's economic model as unstable and unsustainable? Because it is. James McGregor has spent 25 years in China as a businessman, journalist and author. In this, his latest highly readable book, he offers extensive new research that pulls back the curtain on China's economic power. He describes the much-vaunted China Model as one of authoritarian capitalism, a unique system that, in its own way, is terminating itself. It is proving incompatible with global trade and business governance. It is threatening multinationals, which fear losing their business secrets and technology to China's mammoth state-owned enterprises. It is fielding those SOEs China's national champions -- into a global order angered by heavily subsidized state capitalism. And it is relying on an outdated investment and export model that's running out of steam. What has worked in the past, won't work in the future. The China Model must be radically overhauled if the country hopes to continue its march toward prosperity. The nation must consume more of what it makes. It must learn to innovate. It must unleash private enterprise. And the Communist Party bosses? They must cede their pervasive and smothering hold on economic power to foster the growth, and thus social stability, that they can't survive without. Government must step back, the state-owned economy must be brought to heel, and opportunity must be freed. During the Tang Dynasty, an official in the imperial court observed: No ancient wisdom, no followers. He was lamenting that regime was headed alone into dangerous and uncharted waters without any precedent for guidance. Again today as McGregor makes clear this is China's greatest challenge.