The best books on knowing your enemy

Zachary Shore Author Of A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind
By Zachary Shore

The Books I Picked & Why

Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

By Nicholas Epley

Book cover of Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

Why this book?

Epley, a behavioral scientist, provides an often-humorous take on our daily efforts to read the minds of others. He offers trenchant, real-life examples (in addition to scientific studies) of how we go horribly wrong – and why we sometimes get it right. In one clever experiment, people tapped out the tune of a song on a wooden desk while they hummed it in their heads. The tappers were wildly overconfident that others could identify the song – because it sounded so clear to themselves. Mindwise is a wonderful reminder to get out of our own heads and figure out the limits of what others can perceive.


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One Man's Justice

By Akira Yoshimura

Book cover of One Man's Justice

Why this book?

Set in the years immediately following Japan’s surrender in WWII, this less well-known novel offers insight into how some Japanese soldiers saw their behavior: not as war criminals, but as acting in retaliation for American bombing raids. The story should not be read as an exoneration of Japanese atrocities, but rather as a window into the much larger problem of understanding an enemy’s perspective. Warning: this perspective shift is sure to make you uncomfortable, forcing you to revisit some assumptions about the “Good War.” 


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The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

By Bảo Ninh

Book cover of The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

Why this book?

Much of America’s voluminous literature, scholarship, and films on the Vietnam War focus on the suffering of American G.I.s. This novel takes us into the heart of a North Vietnamese soldier struggling with PTSD. It is a gripping, wrenching tale of lives uprooted, futures destroyed, and dreams torn apart. It is a story that humanizes those seen as enemies: average people caught in the madness of war.


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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

By B.R. Myers

Book cover of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

Why this book?

Myers, a professor and North Korea watcher, draws on a careful reading of the “Hermit Kingdom’s” cultural products (its political speeches, novels, pamphlets, and more) to tease out a worldview that is too often opaque to outsiders. While escapee literature focuses on how average Koreans suffer under that brutal regime, this book affords us insight into how the regime sees itself – in ways that will surprise you.


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Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort

By Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, Otto Kirchheimer

Book cover of Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort

Why this book?

This is certainly the nerdiest of my selections. It is simply a collection of analytical assessments from the sharpest minds to study Nazi Germany during WWII. The authors of these reports, most of them Jewish intellectual academics who fled the Third Reich, joined America’s embryonic intelligence community before the CIA existed. The documents show how their deep knowledge of German social forces enabled them to counter the more superficial analysis of military and political officials about Germany’s likely course. As I wrote in my own book, if America had only had comparable experts on Afghanistan, the war there might not have ended as it did.


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