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.
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The books I picked & why

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

Aparna Pande Why did I love 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.

By Walter Russell Mead,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Special Providence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America."--Otto von Bismarck

America's response to the September 11 attacks spotlighted many of the country's longstanding goals on the world stage: to protect liberty at home, to secure America's economic interests, to spread democracy in totalitarian regimes and to vanquish the enemy utterly.

One of America's leading foreign policy thinkers, Walter Russell Mead, argues that these diverse, conflicting impulses have in fact been the key to the U.S.'s success in the world. In a sweeping new synthesis, Mead uncovers four distinct historical patterns in foreign policy, each…


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

Aparna Pande Why did I love 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.

By Husain Haqqani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Magnificent Delusions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The relationship between America and Pakistan is based on mutual incomprehension and always has been. Pakistan,to American eyes,has gone from being a quirky irrelevance, to a stabilizing friend, to an essential military ally, to a seedbed of terror. America,to Pakistani eyes,has been a guarantee of security, a coldly distant scold, an enthusiastic military enabler, and is now a threat to national security and a source of humiliation.The countries are not merely at odds. Each believes it can play the other,with sometimes absurd, sometimes tragic, results. The conventional narrative about the war in Afghanistan, for instance, has revolved around the Soviet…


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

Aparna Pande Why did I love 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.

By Shivshankar Menon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Choices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A look behind the scenes of some of India's most critical foreign policy decisions by the country's former foreign secretary and national security adviser.

Every country must make choices about foreign policy and national security. Sometimes those choices turn out to have been the correct ones, other times not. In this insider's account, Shivshankar Menon describes some of the most crucial decisions India has faced during his long career in government - and how key personalities often had to make choices based on incomplete information under the pressure of fast-moving events.

Menon either participated directly, or was associated with, all…


Book cover of The Lessons of History

Aparna Pande Why did I love 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.  

By Will Durant, Ariel Durant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lessons of History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this illuminating and thoughtful book, Will and Ariel Durant have succeeded in distilling for the reader the accumulated store of knowledge and experience from their five decades of work on the eleven monumental volumes of The Story of Civilization. The result is a survey of human history, full of dazzling insights into the nature of human experience, the evolution of civilization, and the culture of man. With the completion of their life's work, they look back and ask what history has to say about the nature, the conduct and the prospects of man, seeking in the great lives, the…


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

Aparna Pande Why did I love 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.

By Barbara W. Tuchman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The March of Folly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Barbara W. Tuchman, author of the World War I masterpiece The Guns of August, grapples with her boldest subject: the pervasive presence, through the ages, of failure, mismanagement, and delusion in government.
 
Drawing on a comprehensive array of examples, from Montezuma’s senseless surrender of his empire in 1520 to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Barbara W. Tuchman defines folly as the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives. In brilliant detail, Tuchman illuminates four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly: the Trojan…


You might also like...

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

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