The books of Robert Conquest: first and foremost his masterpiece, one of the most important books of the 20th century: The Great Terror: A Reassessment, but also Reflections on a Ravaged Century, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, The Dragons Of Expectation: Reality And Delusion In The Course Of History, Stalin and the Kirov Murder. Robert Conquest is one of my heroes. I have written a lot about him. Here’s the post I wrote when he died. Conquest was a very important part of my political education, along with other “apostates” like George Orwell, Rebecca West and Arthur Koestler. I have no political “ideology.” Not really. I distrust ideology. I distrust Orthodoxy. I distrust GROUPS. I’m great at parties! If I had a political “ideology” it would be something along the lines of the Hippocratic Oath, I guess. But the one constant in my sparse personal political system is that Man should never be trusted with power. Neither should Woman. Either. Neither should be trusted with power. Ever. I mean, that’s basically it. Let the chips fall where they may, and we will spend our lives making messes and then cleaning them up, but that’s the only place to start. Don’t trust ANYONE with the keys to the castle. No one is immune to corruptibility. And those who present as “incorruptible” are often the WORST. Keep your wits about you. Idolize no one. Distrust anyone who speaks of Utopias, especially political Utopias. Conquest is one of the ones who taught me that.
Zlatko Dizdarevic’s Sarajevo: A War Journal – one of the most harrowing first-hand accounts of war I have ever read. An absolute must-read.
By Michael Dobbs: One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War and Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. He’s a terrific writer. I particularly love the second book.
Jason Elliot’s gorgeous An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, a tender and vividly written travelogue of his years Afghanistan (pre-9/11.) He loved the country so much he went back again and again. The book came out a couple months before September 11th, and became a surprise bestseller due to world events. I’ve been meaning to re-read it. There’s also his book Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran, which I have not read yet. He’s such a beautiful writer.