As we approach the end of the year, and a holiday break for many, we leave you with a few recommendations of things that ICRC staff in DC and Ottawa enjoyed reading, watching, or listening to over the past year. At the bottom you will also find a compilation of my favorite links to recommendations by others, including NPR’s new book concierge, TED’s annual reading list, Bill Gates and more. Enjoy!
Andrew Carswell, the ICRC’s Senior Delegate in Ottawa, Canada: Two films about space and time caught my eye in 2015. The first was Interstellar, a dystopian take on Earth's future, in which climate change (we may deduce) is causing a blight on agriculture and forcing mankind to consider its own survival beyond the planet. The movie plays on humanity's hubris, while highlighting the theory of relativity and its possible implications for the notion of time, with mind blowing consequences for the protagonist -- an astronaut who has travelled through a worm hole to another galaxy with a view to colonizing a new planet, and regrets the decision he made to leave his own rapidly aging (relative to him) children behind on Earth. The second film was The Theory of Everything, which depicts the life of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein, whose mind has continued to function at full capacity while his body has degenerated as a result of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). The combination of these two compelling films led me to make a third attempt at reading A Brief History of Time, Hawking's 1988 book in which he asks the supreme questions of the nature of time, space and the universe itself in a relatively user-friendly manner. I have to admit that I still have an extremely difficult time reconciling my limited understanding of the "macro" theories of physics (e.g. Newton's gravity, Einstein's relativity) with "micro" physics (quantum mechanics) -- deciphering international humanitarian law seems quite simple by comparison.
Chris Daniell, ICRC DC’s Detention Doctor: I enjoyed reading The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes… It came out in 2013 but in case you missed it, it’s a very amusing, beautifully written, and appropriately catholic selection of musings on kitchen art ranging from the Amorous Admiral to Oscar Wilde - sort of a cross between Elizabeth David and Jeffrey Steingarten.
Anna Nelson, ICRC DC’s Head of Communications and Public Affairs: I currently have two books on my bed stand, waiting to be read. The first is entitled, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter, who offers a pedestrian view of Paris through the eyes of literary legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. It's one of my father's favorite reads and he recently sent me a copy of my own. My Dad visited me often when I lived in Paris in the 90s and we have fond memories of discovering the city of lights together. I'm looking forward to reliving some of those memories through Baxter’s storytelling. The other book I'm planning to read is a NYT best-seller entitled, Made to stick - why some ideas survive and others die. It was recommended to me by someone at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and as a person who loves big initiatives, I'm really curious to read about why it's so fiendishly hard to transform the way people think and act. Finally, I loved the TED Radio Hour episode called “Just a Little Nicer” about compassion.
Martin Lacourt, ICRC DC’s Senior Armed Forces Delegate: I really enjoyed reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It’s an excellent book that tells America's story from the point of view of - and in the words of - America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. I also enjoy reading in Spanish and found 35 Muertos by the Colombian writer Sergio Alvarez Guarin to be a fascinating novel. It’s a book at the same time that it is a movie… where your imagination is the director and cast. Written with elements taken from historical fiction, adventure novel, self-fiction, thriller, and even romance serials, it tells the misfortunes of a man and the many characters that come across his path, recreating a vision of life in Colombia at the dusk of the 20th Century. It is a captivating journey through the heart of Colombia. Thirty five years of brutality are reconstructed by a narrator who always happens to be in the wrong place doing the wrong things.
Laura Burgess, Intercross Editor: Here are my favorite end-of-year reading lists:
NPR's Best Books of 2015 -NPR has built a wildly diverse list highlighting cookbooks, beach reads, children's books, military non-fiction, science and more. This is your one-stop shop if you needs gift ideas for anyone in your family that likes to read.
Bill Gates' The Best Books I read in 2015- I always enjoy his reading lists because they range from the intellectually charged to quirky ones such as Hyperbole and a Half. While his Beach Reading List is a bit more light and diverse, his favorite books of the year hold more of a "how stuff works" pattern.
TED’s 70+ Book Picks from TED Speakers and Attendees- This is a huge list of 70+ books that have been recommended and reviewed by 10 respected thought leaders in different areas. Each books is selected and thoughtfully reviewed by one of them, making it much easier to narrow down your choices when you are overwhelmed in the bookstore. Though this list came out in June, it will keep you busy well into 2017.
The Atlantic’s Best Books I Read This Year- In this list, the editors and writers of the magazine have highlighted their favorite reads of the year, many of which are lesser known and distinct from what you will see on other lists..
Lawfare's Book Reviews- For those wanting to keep up with international law and policy, the blog Lawfare posts reviews from its readers throughout the year that touch on a range on disciplines such as law, national security, counter terrorism and military strategy.