Here’s a longer than usual list of books for holiday gift giving or your own personal pleasure. Most descriptions are drawn from Amazon. As you know, Cold War Studies is an Amazon Affiliate and we receive a small commission from each book you purchase using our links. Regardless, you never pay more by purchasing on Amazon from a link on our site.
For once, there are no spy novels on this list. If this is your genre, take a look at our recent post The Goats: 12 Iconic Spy Novelists.
Now for the works. They’re listed below in no particular order. If you have other recent favorites let us know in the comments.
Absolution by Alice McDermott
A riveting account of women’s lives on the margins of the Vietnam War, from the renowned winner of the National Book Award.
Enter Ghost by Isabella Hamad
A stunning rendering of present-day Palestine, Enter Ghost is a story of diaspora, displacement, and the connection to be found in family and shared resistance.
A History of Burning by Janika Oza
An intimate family saga of complicity and resistance, about the stories we share, the ones that remain unspoken, and the eternal search for home. Starting in 1898, the book includes events in 1972 when the entire family is forced to flee under Idi Amin’s military dictatorship.
The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut
Fiction (based on fact)
Named a Best Book of 2023 by The Washington Post, The New York Public Library, and Publishers Weekly.
Read the review in the New York Times here.
The book tells the story of John von Neumann who transformed every field he touched, inventing game theory and the first programmable computer, and pioneering AI. Through a chorus of family members, friends, colleagues, and rivals, Labatut shows us the evolution of an unmatched mind.
The Geometer Lobachevsky by Adrian Duncan
Set in the early 1950s, the story follows Soviet geometer (mathematician) Nikolai Lobachevsky who is surveying a bog in the Irish Midlands. On receiving an ominous summons to return home, he escapes to an island on the Shannon estuary, where he contemplates his status as an exile, plagued by a resolve to see his family’s faces once again.
Our Migrant Souls by Hector Tobar
Taking on the impacts of colonialism, public policy, immigration, media, and pop culture, this book decodes the meaning of “Latino” as a racial and ethnic identity in the modern United States. Tobar interweaves his own story, and that of his parents’ migration to the United States from Guatemala, providing insight into the meaning of “Latino” in the twenty-first century.
The Hungry Season by Lisa M. Hamilton
Traces one woman’s journey from the mist-covered mountains of Laos to the sunbaked flatlands of Fresno, California as she struggles to overcome the wounds inflicted by war and family alike.
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage
Non Fiction (Pulitzer Prize Winner)
A major new biography of J Edgar Hoover that draws from never-before-seen sources to create a groundbreaking portrait of a colossus who dominated half a century of American history and planted the seeds for much of today’s conservative political landscape.
Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans by Kenneth Womack
Malcolm Evans, the Beatles’ long-time roadie, personal assistant, and devoted friend, was an invaluable member of the band’s inner circle. Working with full access to Mal’s unpublished archives and having conducted hundreds of new interviews, the book affords readers a full telling of Mal’s unknown story at the heart of the Beatles’ legend. Lavishly illustrated with unseen photos and ephemera.
The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever by Prudence Peiffer
For just over a decade, from 1956 to 1967, a collection of dilapidated former sail-making warehouses clustered at the lower tip of Manhattan became the quiet epicenter of the art world. Coenties Slip was home to a circle of wildly talented and varied artists that included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Delphine Seyrig, Lenore Tawney, and Jack Youngerman. The works they made at the Slip would go on to change the course of American art.
The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA by Liza Mundy
Created in the aftermath of World War II, the Central Intelligence Agency relied on women even as it attempted to channel their talents and keep them down. Despite discrimination—even because of it—women who started as clerks, secretaries, or unpaid spouses rose to become some of the CIA’s shrewdest operatives.
What’s Cooking in the Kremlin: From Rasputin to Putin, How Russia Built an Empire with a Knife and Fork by Witold Szablowski (Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
Travels across Stalin’s Georgia, the war fronts of Afghanistan, and the nuclear wastelands of Chernobyl to show how Russia uses food as an instrument of war and feeds its people on propaganda.
Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives by Siddharth Kara
Cobalt is an essential component to every lithium-ion rechargeable battery made today, the batteries that power our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles. Roughly 75 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the Congo, often by peasants and children in sub-human conditions. This book is an unflinching investigation into the human rights abuses behind the Congo’s cobalt mining operation—and the moral implications that affect us all.
The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination by Stuart A. Reid
A spellbinding work of history that reads like a Cold War spy thriller—about the U.S.-sanctioned plot to assassinate the democratically elected leader of the newly independent Congo.
Judgment at Tokyo: World War II on Trial and the Making of Modern Asia by Gary J. Bass
A riveting story of wartime action, dramatic courtroom battles, and the epic formative years that set the stage for the Asian postwar era.
The Picnic: A Dream of Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain by Matthew Longo
In August 1989, a group of Hungarian activists organized a picnic on the border of Hungary and Austria, a militarized frontier known as the Iron Curtain. Labeled “The Pan-European Picnic,” the event set the stage for the greatest border breach in Cold War history: hundreds crossed from the Communist East to the longed-for freedom of the West.
A Kidnapped West: The Tragedy of Central Europe by Milan Kundera (Translated by Linda Asher)
A short collection of brilliant early essays that holds a mirror to much recent European history. It is also remarkably prescient with regard to Russia’s current aggression in Ukraine and its threat to the rest of Europe.
The Land of Hope and Fear: Israel’s Battle for Its Inner Soul
by Isabel Kershner
The book tells the story of Israelis: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Eastern and Western, liberals and zealots—plagued by perennial conflict and existential threats, citizens who remain deeply polarized politically, socially, and ideologically, even as they undergo generational change and redefine what it is to be an Israeli. Who are these people and to what do they aspire?
Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet
by Ben Goldfarb
An eye-opening account of the global ecological transformations wrought by roads in the United States and around the globe. A timely investigation into how humans have altered the natural world—and how we can create a better future for all living beings.
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A Xmas Shopper postcard. NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 822811