We asked Carnegie experts who joined the organization in 2022 to share the leisure reads they couldn’t put down this year. To see their favorite wonky reads, go here.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
By Gabrielle Zevin. Published by Knopf.
This is a book about world-building—the protagonists are game designers—and about the lure of “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” the temptation of the “infinite rebirth, infinite redemption” inherent in their job. It’s also about the romance of true creative partnership and the challenges of working with your friends. It’s intricate and smart and beautifully written—one of my 2022 favorites.
—Sophia Besch, Europe Program fellow
By Ilya Kaminsky. Published by Faber & Faber.
Nonfiction can take us far in our understanding of global events, but ultimately it is art and fiction that have the power to jolt us awake and compel us to look hard at the world around us. Deaf Republic, the 2019 poetry collection by Odesa native Ilya Kaminsky, does just that.
It’s structured as a short play in two acts and is set in an Eastern European town under military occupation. After a soldier shoots a deaf boy, the townspeople take to communicating in signs to resist the increasingly brutal occupation. Kaminsky’s brilliant storytelling and powerful metaphors bring the events of a faraway land closer and closer, forcing us to grapple with our own complacency amid the suffering of our fellow human beings, be they Ukrainians in Kherson, Iranians in Zahedan, or victims of police brutality in any average American city. You will not want to put this book down—nor will you forget it. “At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?”
—Eric Ciaramella, Russia and Eurasia Program senior fellow
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
By Michael Chabon. Published by HarperCollins.
After the Holocaust and the destruction of the state of Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the United States set aside the Sitka district of Alaska as a refuge for the Jews. But the Jews’ sixty-year lease is about to run out, and no is one quite sure what will happen after the territory reverts to Alaskan control.
This is the alternative history setting for Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a brilliant novel that I couldn’t put down this summer. I get no points for originality for recommending Chabon, a Pulitzer Prize winner (and DC native!), but this novel deserves to be as widely read as Chabon’s better-known masterpiece, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. The few nuggets of information Chabon gives on the wider world leave the reader wanting more: for example, Nazi Germany defeated the Soviet Union, World War II continued until the United States nuked Berlin in 1946, and JFK was never assassinated and married Marilyn Monroe.
Fortunately, the detective story at the heart of the plot would be enough to keep the reader hooked in any setting. Homicide detective Meyer Landsman gets a call about a dead body. You’ll never guess who it was, who did it, and why.
—Noah Gordon, Europe Program fellow
By Hernan Diaz. Published by Riverhead Books.
As it begins, Hernan Diaz’s Trust is the story of a wealthy New York financier and his high-society wife during the boom years of the 1920s and those following the 1929 market crash. But Trust becomes a book about illusion, perception, and the gaps in reality—the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves to the world.
Trust is divided into four parts, each an iteration of the same story told through the eyes of a different narrator. But rather than simply retelling the same events, each narrator’s account shatters the certainties of those that came before it, leaving the reader to piece together the shards that remain and giving Trust the feel of a detective novel, despite it not being one. The four parts of the book are woven together by common themes, each a mirror on the world today. First, the tension between perception and reality, between private and public, that pervades our lives on social media. Second, the obsession with money and wealth—who has it, how they got it, who needs it. Finally, the role and power of women. Largely absent from the first half of the book, it is ultimately their voices that readers hear last.
—Jennifer Kavanagh, American Statecraft Program senior fellow
The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times
By Michelle Obama. Published by Crown.
It’s not every day that you read a book that resonates deeply with your moment in life, but The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times was an inspirational and refreshing read coming just in the nick of time—three months into my transatlantic move from Kenya to DC, and an exciting time graced by uncertainties.
I got this book in both print and audio, and I have to say the audio version became my favorite. Listening to Obama candidly recount aspects of her life brought a deep sense of connection and the realization that we all go through similar moments. Bits of her stories resonated with me—such as her experience moving to DC, or what she terms as “a transfer from one life, one way of being to another.”
Obama is clear that she is not attempting to tell us how “to do life” but rather offers a glimpse into what she calls her toolbox—a set of activities, values, beliefs, and mindsets have helped her stay grounded. Some she was taught by her mother and those close to her, and others she learned in different times of her life as a mother, wife, and first lady.
The takeaway, at least for me, is a reminder that we all have tools that give us inner strength and help illuminate our paths and our communities, in time of uncertainties and in the various phases of life, no matter the geographical location. Knowing them and being keenly aware that using these tools provides the framework for the “light we carry” and provides a pathway for boldness and strength, to ourselves and to the communities we live in—be it Africa or DC.
—Jane Munga, Africa Program fellow
By Neal Stephenson. Published by HarperCollins.
For a fast-paced, globe-spanning, wildly entertaining novel set in our immediate dystopian future, you’d be hard pressed to surpass Termination Shock. As the world confronts global warming so extreme that people are forced to wear “Earth suits,” an enigmatic Texas billionaire takes matters into his own hands, launching a renegade solar geoengineering scheme involving a gigantic six-shooter buried in the ground capable of hurtling sulfur-laden projectiles into the stratosphere. He sets in motion a geopolitical crisis that comes to involve a cast of colorful friends and foes, including an Indian martial arts expert, a part-Comanche killer of feral pigs, a shadowy Chinese intelligence official, and the queen of the Netherlands. Will the billionaire and his band of accomplices get away with their scheme before global forces intercede? To find out, you’ll need to travel with the author to the glaciers of the Himalayas, a palazzo in Venice, a copper mine in West Papua, and a ranch on the Rio Grande Valley. Along the way, you’ll learn about how little it might take to reengineer the planet’s climate, why that prospect terrifies so many people, and why it might be in our future nonetheless.
—Stewart Patrick, Global Order and Institutions Program director
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