Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World, by Robert Kaplan
Learn why it matters that so many of our major river systems flow diagonally across the continent! Note: if you like geo-political analysis, read anything by Kaplan. As you can tell, I am a big fan!
Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure, by Langdon Gilkey
In 1943 the author, along with most other foreigners in northern China (including Beijing and Tianjin) were rounded up by the Japanese and sent to a prison camp in Shandong Province (Shantung). The guards, in essence, said to the prisoners: “we will manage the walls and gates, but you have to organize yourselves into a functioning society.” It should be required reading as a history textbook, and political science textbook, a sociology textbook, and anthropology text book, and a psychology textbook.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson
This book recounts the story of the migration of African-Americans from the south to the north between 1915 and 1970, as told from the perspective of 3 different families. How is it possible that this wasn’t taught in school? I hope it is now.
Thunder out of China, by Theadore White
Teddy White reports from China during the Civil War (1940’s), during the time the Communists and Nationalists had formed a tenuous alliance to fight off the Japanese. The first time I read this book I was living in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, so was particularly gripped by his vivid description of a famine that had taken place there in the 1940’s.
China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power, by Rob Gifford
NPR Correspondent Rob Gifford hitch-hiked across China from Shanghai to the border with Kazakhstan, talking to people along the way. The stories he tells reveal some serious social, economic, and political fault lines. Even though the book is now more than ten years old, the fault lines are all still present, and perhaps in even more danger of slipping. You can read my review of this book here.
Freedom at Midnight, by Larry Collins and Dominque Lapierre
In August of 1947, the Union Jack was lowered in British India. But rather than leave behind an independent India, a line was drawn on the map and two new independent nations were created: India (predominately Hindu) and Pakistan (predominately Muslim). As the day of independence approached Hindus and Muslims on the “wrong” side of the new border tried to get to there “right” side. The bloodshed was horrific.
Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie
This is the story of the last Romanov Czar of Russia and his family. Since we know how the story ends, it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck.
In Xanadu: A Quest, by Willam Dalrymple
Dalrymple hitch-hiked from Jerusalem to Xanadu, Kublai Khan’s ancient capital (near Duolun, Inner Mongolia) in the 1980’s. This book inspired my own quest to find the city. You can read about that here.
Imagine it is 1865 and you have been dropped off on the frozen coastline of the Kamchatka Peninsula on the east coast of Siberia. Your mission: find a route across Russia to string a telephone line. And you live to tell about it. One of my all time favorite books, hand’s down!