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Kinsman: Last week, OpenCanada posted its summer reading list. What’s on yours?

By: /
25 July, 2012
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

OK, I’ll bite, if only possibly to help others make their choices easier.

Absolutely agree with you about Why Nations Fail which lends historical sweep and credibility in support of the hopeful arguments of my fellow democracy development activists. But it is also clear that creating the key to successful modernization, replacing extractive institutions by inclusive pluralism, takes generations which is why Russian democracy is a work whose progress is very staggered.

Speaking of which, among the Russia/Putin books out there, a few are terrific: Dmitri Trenin’s Post-Imperium captures the psychology of the post-USSR Russian search for identity. Daniel Treisman’s The Return:Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev tracks the ups and downs of the momentous period, including the West’s careless hubris and misplaced assumptions 20 years ago. Angus Roxburgh’s “The Strongman” does the same with strength and with plausible insight into what makes Putin tick, why Russians supported him, and why that support is dwindling as Russian civil society grows up. Investigative journalist Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face goes after Putin with venom but fails to convince completely.

On America in an election year, I relish a new volume (The Passage of Power) in Robert Caro’s masterful coverage of the career of LBJ, which has taken longer to research and write than Johnson spent doing it all. Somehow, looking back 50 years seems a positive antidote to institutional dysfunction and dishonesty today in politics. They weren’t innocents then, God knows, but were more plausibly human.

At night I read fiction. I admired and enjoyed William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise which inhabits Freud’s Vienna just before the First World War and becomes a thriller. Richard Ford’s Canada (which isn’t about Canada much) is a poetic look back at the 60s through the lens of today, one of several pitched to a 60s survivor’s nostalgic ear. If you can swallow a dose of time-travel, Stephen King’s 11.22.63 is top-of-the-line very researched entertainment. Kurt Anderson’s True Believers rivals King for its own tableau of the heady conflictual time and its popular culture as well as its culture and political wars which endure. But Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a truly unexpected treasure, bridging 60s Italy to venal Hollywood and comfortably progressive Pacific Northwest locales today, all channeled through Richard Burton (hard to explain).

To lift myself back in to our troubled world of today, I’m going now to download Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King for upcoming long-haul flights! Yeah, I trust the NYT’s word, most of the time, at least on books if never again on WMD.

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