Books on US foreign policy
February 19, 2014 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend your favorite readable books on United States foreign policy. I'm open to a broad range - biography/autobiography of key figures, analysis around a specific event, focus on specific forms of diplomacy, focus on specific issues - but I want something that is engaging and not too dense. Imagine you could pull it out of your bag during your subway commute.

I just finished Joseph Nye's Soft Power and although it is not only about the United States, the examples and discussion generally focused around the US. It was relatively short and easy to read, but is often quoted in the opening paragraph of academic papers on soft power - so has substance too.

My interest in this topic is broad. I don't mind an expansive compendium or long book if it is is good reading, but am also interested in well-written niche topics.
posted by AnnaRat to Law & Government (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I hope it's not too off-topic to recommend The Strategy of Conflict by Nobel-winning economist Thomas Schelling? It's not specifically and entirely about US foreign policy but it's fundamental theoretical groundwork for it, especially for the Cold War era. It's also a super interesting book that you can apply to daily life!
posted by phoenixy at 1:04 AM on February 19, 2014

You might find the State Dept's suggested reading list (PDF) useful. Their suggestions under United States (culture, foreign policy, history, politics) are:

- Ambrose, Stephen E., and Douglas Brinkley. Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938. New York: Penguin, 2011. ISBN: 0142004944

- Davidson, J.W., et al. Nation of Nations: A Narrative History of the American Republic, 6th ed., Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. ISBN: 0073406848

- Feagin, J.R. and Feagin, C.B. Racial and Ethnic Relations. 9th ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2011. ISBN: 0205024995

- Goldstein, J.S. and Pevehouse, J.S. International Relations, 10th ed., New York: Pearson Longman, 2011. ISBN: 97205059577

- Hirsch E.D, Kett, J.F., and Trefil, J. The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. 3rd ed., Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2002. ISBN: 0618226478

- Jentleson, Bruce W. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. ISBN: 0393933571

- Morgan, William D., and Charles Stuart. Kennedy. American Diplomats: The Foreign Service at Work. New York: IUniverse, 2004. ISBN: 0595329748

- Norton, M.B., et al. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 9th ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. ISBN: 0495915256

- Paterson, Thomas G. American Foreign Relations : A History. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2009. ISBN: 0547225695

- Rosati, J. The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. 5th ed., Belmont, CA : Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2010. ISBN: 0495797241

- Woloch, N. Women and the American Experience, 5th ed., Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2011. ISBN: 0073385573

The Marine Corps suggest a number of books that cover foreign policy. A relevant one is:

- Gideon Rose. How Wars End: Why We Always Fight The Last Battle: A History Of American Intervention From World War I To Afghanistan
posted by MuffinMan at 1:29 AM on February 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Rise to Globalism, which is a history of American foreign policy since just before WW2. This will give a basic background history. I'm not sure what the current edition covers, given that Ambrose died in 2002, and this current edition was published in 2010. I suppose that post-9/11 US foreign policy can be a different book.
posted by chengjih at 1:30 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy is excellent. It is a prize-winning and relatively recent (2012) sweeping examination of the impact of religion on American foreign relations.
posted by ClaireBear at 2:06 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A more niche recommendation, but "Beneath the United States", by Lars Schoultz. I had to read this for my grad school Latin American History course and then I re-read it, and re-read it. It is SO good.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:53 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: Nthing Rise to Globalism. I also read Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies last semester in my MA program. It's a bit off-the-wall, but a light and fun read. (It's by a serious press - Princeton University - and despite its unusual premise it was very informative/interesting.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:41 AM on February 19, 2014

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll.

2005 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. Also, I believe President Obama has read it.
posted by bluecore at 6:10 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really liked A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which is by Samantha Power (current US Ambassador to the UN) and won the Pulitzer Prize. I think I saw it recommended on MeFi. As can be deciphered from the title, it's about 20th century genocides and America's lack of response to them.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:24 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: Niche topic, but In Our Image is an excellent book (won a Pulitzer) about the US in the Philippines and is strikingly relevant today.
posted by ropeladder at 6:31 AM on February 19, 2014

Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors

The Virtual American Empire

Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987
posted by spaltavian at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: Long time since I read it, but as an autobiography of a key figure how about Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, by Dean Acheson. As the Amazon blurb says, "Acheson (1893–1971) was not only present at the creation of the postwar world, he was one of its chief architects. He joined the Department of State in 1941 as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and, with brief intermissions, was continuously involved until 1953, when he left office as Secretary of State at the end of the Truman years".
Some of the best bits are the portraits of his contemporaries, such as President Truman, General George C Marshall (after whom the Marshall Plan was named), and the British foreign Secretary Ernie Bevin. (Acheson and Bevin were one of the most unlikely pairings of all time--Acheson was very much a Boston Brahmin, Bevin was an ex-docker. But they got on well together.)
posted by Logophiliac at 7:20 AM on February 19, 2014

Charlie Wilson's War by George Crille III was the basis for the movie by the same name. It illustrates how the Cold War lead to the current War on Terror, specifically due to US support of the Afghan rebels against Russia.
posted by soelo at 7:26 AM on February 19, 2014

I thought Robert D. Kaplan's book The Arabists was very interesting, but it's dated.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 8:10 AM on February 19, 2014

Best answer: I never thought I would find a book about global trade policy so engaging and funny: Misadventures of the Most Favored Nations: Clashing Egos, Inflated Ambitions, and the Great Shambles of the World Trade System by Paul Blustein
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:52 AM on February 19, 2014

If it suits your needs, you could subscribe to Foreign Policy magazine for $4.99 per month (and get print issues for free) in order to gain access to the past few years of articles (their available archives only go back to 2010, unfortunately). I am suggesting this as an "in addition to the books" that are being recommended, not "instead of".

If you did this for two or three months, you would likely have a decent supply of foreign policy topic articles available during your commute on a phone/tablet for less than the cost of many of the books you are considering. In addition, they state that you get access to their e-books (which I haven't looked into, so I don't know if they would be an added bonus or not).
posted by 1367 at 1:16 PM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for your suggestions, I have some great reading ahead! Almost all of them are being added to my reading list. I'll favorite those ones that are going to the top of the list.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:50 AM on February 23, 2014

Response by poster: Oops, I have to stop marking them as I was going to have to mark almost every answer! Thank you again!
posted by AnnaRat at 1:51 AM on February 23, 2014

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