Angelina Birkett
© Angelina Birkett

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Turned on the West

Catherine Belton, William Collins, RRP£25/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$35

An exhaustively researched and extremely readable account of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and his 20 years in power. Belton, a former FT correspondent in Moscow, is particularly good on the group of powerful Russians surrounding Putin, many linked to the former KGB. Her discussion of the mixture of corruption and anti-western ideology that defines Putin’s inner circle is compelling.

A Peacekeeper in Africa: Learning from UN Interventions in Other People’s Wars

Alan Doss, Lynne Rienner, RRP$55

Alan Doss led, or helped to lead, UN peacekeeping missions in Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. His on-the-ground experience means that his book is both a vivid personal memoir, and a deeply informed reflection on the international community’s role in ending deadly conflicts in Africa.

The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World

Barry Gewen, WW Norton, RRP$30

An intellectual biography of perhaps the most influential and controversial American diplomat of the last 50 years. The book argues that Kissinger’s approach is based on a pessimistic view of both democracy and history, and is rooted in a belief that absolute morality is impossible — and that peace is best maintained through the achievement of a balance of power.

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and The Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East

Kim Ghattas, Wildfire, RRP£20/Henry Holt and Co, RRP$30

An original and compelling account of the politics and culture of the Middle East that places Saudi-Iranian rivalry at the centre of what has gone wrong in the region. As well as portraying the broad religious and geopolitical forces at work, Ghattas tells the sometimes tragic stories of individuals caught up in the turmoil — such as Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Summer Books 2020

All this week, FT writers and critics choose their favourites. Some highlights:
Monday: Andrew Hill on business
Tuesday: Martin Wolf on economics
Thursday: Maria Crawford on fiction
Friday: John Thornhill on technology
Saturday: Critics’ picks

Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights

Helen Lewis, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99

Telling the story of feminism through the struggles of individual women, and the causes they championed, is a clever literary device and Lewis is a skilful storyteller. The women she portrays are “difficult” in two senses. They are willing to battle established power. But they also often hold views that modern feminists find hard to stomach. Erin Pizzey, champion of victims of domestic abuse, ended up arguing that feminism is a “lie”.

War for Eternity: The Return of Radical Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right

Benjamin Teitelbaum, Allen Lane, RRP£20

A study of the transnational far-right which seeks to trace the intellectual and personal links between influential thinkers — such as the Russian Alexander Dugin, the Brazilian Olavo de Carvalho, and Steve Bannon, President Trump’s one-time strategist. The book is intriguing, but over-reliant on interviews with Bannon.

The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st century

Thant Myint-U, Atlantic, RRP£18.99

To much of the outside world, the story of modern Burma is both a disappointment and a mystery. The hoped-for happy ending in which Aung San Suu Kyi, released from house arrest, would lead the country to peace and prosperity failed to materialise. Instead, there have been horrifying human-rights abuses inflicted on the Rohingya community. This superb account explains what happened and why, drawing out the wider lessons for the world.

What are your favourites from this list? And what books have we missed? Share your suggestions in the comments below

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