The best books on history & foreign policy

Who am I?

Foreign policy has been my passion since I was a child. My father was a civil servant and growing up in India, I always wanted to follow in his footsteps but instead of working on domestic issues, I wanted to work on international affairs. History was another passion of mine and I wanted to combine the two of them in such a way that I studied the past in order to explain the present and help the future. This passion led me to enroll in a PhD program in the United States and then work at a think tank. I have written three books, two of which focus exclusively on foreign policy. I hope you enjoy reading the books I have listed and read my book.  

I wrote...

From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India's Foreign Policy

By Aparna Pande,

Book cover of From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India's Foreign Policy

What is my book about?

Foreign policy doesn't exist in a cultural vacuum. It's shaped by national experience and a country’s view of itself. In the case of India, the foreign policy paradigm is as deeply informed by its civilizational heritage as it is by modern ideas about national interest. Even policies that appear to be new contain echoes of themes that recur in history. The two concepts that come and go most frequently in Indian engagement with the world from Chanakya in the third century BCE to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 are autonomy and independence in decision making. 

Aparna Pande’s From Chanakya to Modi explores the deeper civilizational roots of Indian foreign policy. It identifies the neural roots of India’s engagement with the world outside. An essential addition to every thinking person's library.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World

By Walter Russell Mead,

Book cover of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World

Why this book?

The book provides one of the best analyses of the various strands that have framed U.S. foreign policy over the decades. It is easy to read, provides in-depth material, and can be read by both practitioners and lay readers. I love reading this book and it inspired me to undertake something similar for India’s foreign policy in my book.

Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding

By Husain Haqqani,

Book cover of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding

Why this book?

The book takes the reader through seven decades of a tumultuous history of relations between the two countries. I love this book because it is an easy and fun read, the writing style is light, and there are lots of anecdotes. As a student of history and international relations, the book appealed to me at multiple levels. The book will appeal to practitioners, academics, and the average reader.

Choices: Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy

By Shivshankar Menon,

Book cover of Choices: Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy

Why this book?

This is a book by a former top diplomat of India that lays out in a clear and concise fashion India’s priorities, its interests, and its concerns. Real life examples are cited to explain the choices India made, or didn’t make, and the reasons behind those decisions. As someone who is passionate about foreign policy, and who loves archival research, I loved reading a book written by a practitioner in which he tells you about the challenges they face and the real-life choices they have to make.

The Lessons of History

By Will Durant, Ariel Durant,

Book cover of The Lessons of History

Why this book?

This classic, written by the authors of the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, is a must-read for those who want to understand everything, from history to economics, from foreign policy to politics. I have read and re-read this book multiple times as it is my go-to book for when I rethink issues and problems. This short collection of essays offers simple yet critical lessons on geography, biology, economics, religion, and government all of which help explain the foreign policies of empires and states.  

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

By Barbara Wertheim Tuchman,

Book cover of The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

Why this book?

This classic, from the 1980s, is a must-read for history buffs and those interested in international affairs. The author cites examples from ancient Greece to the 1970s, to demonstrate how empires and nations often make decisions that are detrimental to their long-term interests. I love this book for its writing style which is captivating, for the breath of its examples which range from ancient times to modern-day and for the recommendations this book gives not just for political leaders but those in business and other walks of life.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in international relations, philosophy, and Pakistan?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about international relations, philosophy, and Pakistan.

International Relations Explore 140 books about international relations
Philosophy Explore 327 books about philosophy
Pakistan Explore 26 books about Pakistan

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Collapse of Complex Societies, A Distant Mirror, and The Prince if you like this list.