Library of a Realist- Books That Every Foreign Policy Fan Should Read

By Megan Waardenburg

Studying foreign policy and aiming to establish a basis of knowledge in the face of a rising group of talented workers is difficult, especially when knowing where to start looking for areas to specialize in. With an array of endless regions and topics to research, it’s easy to get lost in the endless directions that you can take your foreign relations career when it’s just beginning. The best way to connect with others who are interested in foreign relations, especially people who make great networks, is to be familiar with the major works dominating the field, and becoming well-acquainted with a variety of areas foreign policy covers can all help a student stand out to networks and grad schools.

Here are some books that I recommend to help strengthen your knowledge of foreign politics (and to perhaps even impress a future employer during an interview).

A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power

A Problem from Hell is one of the most widely-read books about foreign policy, given Power’s former position as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In her book, Power discusses the moral failure of the United States in terms of failing to deliver proper humanitarian aid to nations in need over the course of the late 1990s and early 2000s, noting instances of genocides abroad. Power’s analysis of the U.S. role in humanitarian aid as a leader that owes aid to the rest of the world due to their own power, as well as the moral obligation to intervene in crises not caused by the U.S. raises discussion about what the role of the U.S. should actually be to preserve national sovereignty abroad, but still enhance the quality of life for those outside our borders. Her book discusses the need to consider humanitarian aid in diplomatic missions and the effects it has on relations, as well as the efficacy of policies in achieving humanitarian goals. Having a basic understanding of Power’s position is essential to navigating the current discourse on humanitarian intervention and its importance in diplomacy.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel is relevant far beyond the scope of foreign relations, treading on the topics of sociology, human geography, and anthropology, but provides a key understanding of civilization’s growth and provides productive discourse on the reasons for modern problems such as slow human development, global wealth distribution, and other basic factors of understanding how nations have risen to their current statuses. While this account of civilizations and their evolution may not seem immediately relevant to foreign relations, Diamond’s book is fundamental to understanding reasons nations may be at odds or develop differently. The ideas of Guns, Germs, and Steel are timeless, and will help build a basic understanding of foreign relations that can back up complex analyses of current events, and contextualize these events into the greater timeline of a nation’s history.

World Order by Henry Kissinger

Kissinger’s World Order offers a historical analysis of how different regions of the world are likely to be involved in the creation of a new world order as a new era develops after a series of wars. His analysis of Western engagement in world problems warrants his claim that the strongest countries will likely be leading the new world order, such as the United States and China, as well as the role the West has played in setting the stage for the current world order through their leadership in the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. His consistent return to major figures of history who embody the spirit of modern realism ties his claims to history, making it engaging and consistently relevant. Kissinger’s book will offer new perspectives on Realist school of thought, and the role of the Western world. Reading his book will help contextualize the role of the West in the rise of the newest era of foreign politics, and build an understanding of the West’s domination of multilateralism and the United Nations, as well as the future of multilateral institutions.

East West Street by Phillipe Sands

East West Street offers a perspective on the origins of genocides and crimes against humanity in the wake of tragedies in Rwanda, Cambodia, and other regions of the world where genocides went unchecked. He provides a robust philosophical basis for the origins of these tragedies and their immorality. He then recounts his family history in the wake of the Second World War and the Nuremburg Trials, showing the effects genocides have on families. Sands’ analysis and captive storytelling illustrate the realities of crimes against humanity and the weight of these atrocities should matter to people intending to pursue a future in foreign policy in the context of a growing list of genocide watch regions and current crimes being committed against entire nation groups.

Staying up to date with foreign policy happenings is crucial to staying relevant in the field and gaining new opportunities, but having a background in specialized areas of international affairs can only reinforce an understanding of the modern international community.  Staying well read in relevant books is crucial to growing a mature view of global politics and having well-informed discussions with others interested in foreign policy.






One response to “Library of a Realist- Books That Every Foreign Policy Fan Should Read”

  1. […] Megan Waardenburg from the Realist Review inspired me to create a foreign policy list for classical liberals and libertarians. Finding books on international relations and foreign policy can be challenging for noninterventionists. While there are libertarian works on foreign policy, those books are written by economists or journalists. Although those books are not bad, from an international relations perspective, there appears to be an underappreciation of anarchy and the realpolitik that underly the international order. […]

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