100 books like The Irony of American History

By Reinhold Niebuhr,

Here are 100 books that The Irony of American History fans have personally recommended if you like The Irony of American History. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs

Peter S. Henne Author Of Religious Appeals in Power Politics

From my list on religion’s messy impact on international relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a religious person, I’ve always believed religion is a force for good while being constantly reminded of the horrors it causes. This became a real-world concern with the 9/11 attacks (which happened my second week in college) and the faith-tinged US response. I spent ten years in Washington, DC working at the intersection of faith and counterterrorism, hopeful religion could solve our problems but worried it will only make things worse. I’ve continued that work as a Professor at the University of Vermont. This book reflects that tension and my desire to resolve it. 

Peter's book list on religion’s messy impact on international relations

Peter S. Henne Why did Peter love this book?

A mix of memoir and international relations analysis, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in religion and international relations.

Albright—Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration—discusses the secular biases that permeated US foreign policy and how they left us unprepared for the seeming resurgence of religion after the end of the Cold War. Her reflections range widely, from African politics to al-Qaeda.

She’s a bit more optimistic about the world than I am, but this is an essential starting point for any exploration of how states incorporate religion into their foreign policy. As I discuss in my book’s introduction, her work was one of the inspirations for my study.

By Madeleine Albright,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Does America, as George W. Bush has proclaimed, have a special mission, derived from God, to bring liberty and democracy to the world? How much influence does the Christian right have over US foreign policy? And how should America and the West deal with violent Islamist extremists? Traditionally, politicians have sought to downplay the impact of religious beliefs in international affairs. In this illuminating first-hand account, Madeleine Albright examines religion and foreign affairs through the lens of American history as well as her own personal experiences in public office, with a preface and opening chapters specially written for the UK…


Book cover of Religious Statecraft: The Politics of Islam in Iran

Peter S. Henne Author Of Religious Appeals in Power Politics

From my list on religion’s messy impact on international relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a religious person, I’ve always believed religion is a force for good while being constantly reminded of the horrors it causes. This became a real-world concern with the 9/11 attacks (which happened my second week in college) and the faith-tinged US response. I spent ten years in Washington, DC working at the intersection of faith and counterterrorism, hopeful religion could solve our problems but worried it will only make things worse. I’ve continued that work as a Professor at the University of Vermont. This book reflects that tension and my desire to resolve it. 

Peter's book list on religion’s messy impact on international relations

Peter S. Henne Why did Peter love this book?

This book focuses on Iran, but like the Niebuhr book has broader applications.

Tabaar is an expert on Iranian politics who conducted incredibly in-depth research on Islamic politics in the country before and after its revolution in 1979. He pushes back on the simplistic idea that religious ideas drove politics in Iran; instead, a “politics of Islam” dominated,” in which actors drew on Islamic symbols and practices to advance their political goals.

Tabaar’s book gives a compelling example of the way religion can both drive politics and be caught up in political actors’ strategic calculations, leading to unexpected effects. It provided a foundation for my book’s argument that religion is both an influence on and tool of foreign policy that rarely works out the way it was intended.

By Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since the 1979 revolution, scholars and policy makers alike have tended to see Iranian political actors as religiously driven-dedicated to overturning the international order in line with a theologically prescribed outlook. In Religious Statecraft, Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar argues that such views have the link between religious ideology and political order backwards. This provocative book examines the politics of Islam rather than political Islam-demonstrating that religious narratives can change rapidly, frequently, and dramatically in accordance with elites' threat perceptions. Tabaar traces half a century of shifting Islamist doctrines against the backdrop of Iran's factional and international politics. He argues that the…


Book cover of The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510-2010

Peter S. Henne Author Of Religious Appeals in Power Politics

From my list on religion’s messy impact on international relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a religious person, I’ve always believed religion is a force for good while being constantly reminded of the horrors it causes. This became a real-world concern with the 9/11 attacks (which happened my second week in college) and the faith-tinged US response. I spent ten years in Washington, DC working at the intersection of faith and counterterrorism, hopeful religion could solve our problems but worried it will only make things worse. I’ve continued that work as a Professor at the University of Vermont. This book reflects that tension and my desire to resolve it. 

Peter's book list on religion’s messy impact on international relations

Peter S. Henne Why did Peter love this book?

This is a “big picture” book, providing a grand sweep of international history to readers.

Owen argues world politics involves recurring ideological divides that lead states to forcefully intervene in others’ politics. He looks at Catholic-Protestant tensions in Europe, republican-monarchical conflicts in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the 20th century fight between democracy and totalitarianism.

He then argues the contemporary secular-Islamist division is another case of such a transnational divide, both highlighting the significance of this struggle and rejecting those who would argue there is something exceptionally disruptive about political Islam.

While my scope is much narrower—specific cases of states trying to use religion as a foreign policy tool—I drew on Owen to argue that this is most likely in the case of broad transnational ideological struggles. 

By John M. Owen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Clash of Ideas in World Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some blame the violence and unrest in the Muslim world on Islam itself, arguing that the religion and its history is inherently bloody. Others blame the United States, arguing that American attempts to spread democracy by force have destabilized the region, and that these efforts are somehow radical or unique. Challenging these views, "The Clash of Ideas in World Politics" reveals how the Muslim world is in the throes of an ideological struggle that extends far beyond the Middle East, and how struggles like it have been a recurring feature of international relations since the dawn of the modern European…


Book cover of Religion in International Relations Theory: Interactions and Possibilities

Peter S. Henne Author Of Religious Appeals in Power Politics

From my list on religion’s messy impact on international relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a religious person, I’ve always believed religion is a force for good while being constantly reminded of the horrors it causes. This became a real-world concern with the 9/11 attacks (which happened my second week in college) and the faith-tinged US response. I spent ten years in Washington, DC working at the intersection of faith and counterterrorism, hopeful religion could solve our problems but worried it will only make things worse. I’ve continued that work as a Professor at the University of Vermont. This book reflects that tension and my desire to resolve it. 

Peter's book list on religion’s messy impact on international relations

Peter S. Henne Why did Peter love this book?

In this book, Sandal and Fox directly connect religion to mainstream international relations.

They survey the “grand paradigms” of international relations theory and discuss the various ways religion can be integrated into each. This was a useful exercise as both skeptics and champions of religion’s role in international relations have argued it is wholly separate from existing theories.

To me, its most valuable contribution was their suggestion that religion can be a source of the power and resources states struggle over, in contrast to many scholars on religion and international relations who assume religion overcomes power politics.

They also discussed religious legitimacy as a potential tool for states. These provided a useful starting point for my exploration of religion as an often-disruptive force in foreign policy.      

By Nukhet Sandal, Jonathan Fox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Religion in International Relations Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is a growing realization among international relations scholars and practitioners that religion is a critical factor in global politics. The Iranian Revolution, the September 11 attacks, the ethno-religious conflicts such as the ones in the former Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka are among the many reasons for this increased focus on religion in international affairs. The rise of religious political parties across the world ranging from the Christian Democrats in Europe to Bharatiya Janata Party in India similarly illustrated religion's heightened international profile.

Despite all this attention, it is challenging to situate religion within a discipline which has been dominantly…


Book cover of The Nightingale's Song

Nicholas Warr Author Of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

From my list on the Vietnam War from a Marine infantry officer who fought there.

Why am I passionate about this?

I enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1966 and was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program. As a Marine officer, I served one 13-month combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam from November 1967 to December 1968. During my tour, I led Marines through some of the heaviest fighting in the war, including the historic Battle for Hue City during the Tet Offensive of 1968. I will never forget my Marines, who always, always rose and faced the enemy, risking their lives for their fellow Marines and the people of South Vietnam. I experienced first-hand the brutality of war and the loss of too many of my Marines, at the hands of our fierce enemy, the Viet Cong, and the NVA, and at the hands of our own leaders who valued historic real estate over the lives of the young Americans who served in “The ‘Nam.” I am extremely passionate about this topic and feel strongly that every American should study this war and learn the facts about what happened there – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to ensure we as a nation never again send our troops into harms’ way without our nation’s full support.

Nicholas' book list on the Vietnam War from a Marine infantry officer who fought there

Nicholas Warr Why did Nicholas love this book?

Robert Timberg weaves together the lives of Annapolis graduates John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, and John Poindexter, all of whom are key players in the drama of the Vietnam War, to reveal how the War continues to haunt America. Casting all five men as metaphors for a legion of well-meaning if ill-starred warriors, Timberg probes the fault line between those who fought the war and those who used money, wit, and connections to avoid battle. A riveting tale that illuminates the flip side of the fabled Vietnam generation -- those who went.

By Robert Timberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nightingale's Song as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Presents the story of five top graduates of Annapolis who served heroically in Vietnam and rose to national prominence during the Reagan years.


Book cover of Witness to History, 1929-1969

James A. W. Heffernan Author Of Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War II

From my list on the origin of World War II.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born on April 22, 1939, just over four months before the start of World War II, and the very first words I can remember reading were a big black headline in August 1945: The War is Over. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with that war, and about 75 years after it ended, I felt moved to write a book about how it began. Since I hold a PhD in English from Princeton, taught English at Dartmouth for nearly forty years, and I’ve been studying, teaching, and writing about literature for sixty years, I decided to make it a book about literature: the fiction, poetry, and drama inspired by World War II.

James' book list on the origin of World War II

James A. W. Heffernan Why did James love this book?

Here is the ultimate insider’s story of what led up to the deal that Hitler made with Stalin in late August of 1939. At 34, a dashing Harvard graduate named Charles “Chip” Bohlen had just become the senior Russian-language officer in charge of political reporting at the American Embassy. Though his chief job was to find out if the Soviets were making a deal with Hitler, Bohlen couldn’t get a word out of the Russians. So he turned to a young German diplomat named “Johnny” Herwarth who was secretly in touch with the German resistance. This book is the fascinating story of their covert communications on the eve of the “Non-Aggression Agreement” between Hitler and Stalin—the deal that led directly to their joint invasion of Poland in September.

By Charles E Bohlen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witness to History, 1929-1969 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“At the end of the 1920’s the Foreign Service of the United States... introduced a program of regional specialization. It was a fortunate innovation, for... it provided the Service with a group of well‐trained Russian‐language specialists just... when the United States was beginning its new and troubled association with the Soviet Union.

One of the first of these was Charles E. Bohlen, and for the next 40 years he was to be involved in every major development in Soviet American relations, serving under William C. Bullitt in the Moscow embassy in 1934, acting as interpreter and adviser at the wartime…


Book cover of The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Stephen Gowans Why did Stephen love this book?

Leffler’s book is about much more than North Korea, but it covers world events that are critical to understanding the communist Korean state, its birth, and its conflict with the United States. I drew heavily on Leffler’s work in my own book to place North Korea within the context of surrounding geopolitical developments.

By Melvyn P. Leffler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Examines the origins and history of the Cold War


Book cover of Unwanted Visionaries: The Soviet Failure in Asia at the End of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Author Of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

From my list on the end of the Cold War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by Russian history and American-Soviet relations since high school. Now at American University’s School of International Service, I teach courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations, the Cold War, as well as human rights and U.S. foreign policy. I have written two books on the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, including Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network and From Selma to Moscow: How U.S. Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy. When I’m not working, I love a good Cold War TV series (Deutschland 83 or The Americans).

Sarah's book list on the end of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Why did Sarah love this book?

In Unwanted Visionaries Radchenko reveals the very different ways the Cold War ended in Asia, not with the jubilant breaching of the Berlin Wall and largely peaceful transitions of power, but with the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Vietnamese departure from Cambodia. 

By Sergey Radchenko,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The European and American dimensions of Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign policy captured the imagination of contemporary observers and, later, historians. The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall were the grand events that marked the European finale of the Cold War. The Cold War ended differently in Asia, where there was no easy closure, no great fanfare, and little credit awarded for changing the world. Yet Gorbachev was fascinated
by Asia and in his early years in power, he addressed the subject of Asia's rise and the importance of Soviet engagement with the region. He…


Book cover of A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Vassily Klimentov Author Of A Slow Reckoning: The USSR, the Afghan Communists, and Islam

From my list on the modern Middle East and Afghanistan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of the Cold War and early post-Cold War period, focusing on Soviet/ Russian foreign policy in Afghanistan and in the Middle East in the 1970s and the 1980s. These are exciting topics on which an increasing number of new documents are released each year. I have a research project and lecture about these issues at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. But academia is my second career. Before my Ph.D., I worked as an aid worker, including for two years in the Middle East. I was in the region during the height of the Syrian crisis, notably running humanitarian multi-sector needs assessments.

Vassily's book list on the modern Middle East and Afghanistan

Vassily Klimentov Why did Vassily love this book?

I think that this is the best book about the politics of the Soviet-Afghan War. Artemy Kalinovsky writes in a vivid style and shows the intricate behind-the-scenes discussions between Soviets and Americans that led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

Many historical books are a dull read, but this book is not. I really like how Kalinovsky helps the reader feel as if they are at the center of the story.

By Artemy M. Kalinovsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The conflict in Afghanistan looms large in the collective consciousness of Americans. What has the United States achieved, and how will it withdraw without sacrificing those gains? The Soviet Union confronted these same questions in the 1980s, and Artemy Kalinovsky's history of the USSR's nine-year struggle to extricate itself from Afghanistan and bring its troops home provides a sobering perspective on exit options in the region.

What makes Kalinovsky's intense account both timely and important is its focus not on motives for initiating the conflict but on the factors that prevented the Soviet leadership from ending a demoralizing war. Why…


Book cover of A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

S. L. Smith Author Of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II

From my list on the life of Pope St. John Paul II.

Why am I passionate about this?

Scott L. Smith, Jr. is a Catholic author, attorney, and theologian. He is the author of Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II, the St. Joseph Consecration for Children and Families, along with Fr. Donald Calloway, a new translation of St. Louis de Montfort's Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. He contributes regularly to his blog, The Scott Smith Blog, and is the co-host of the Catholic Nerds podcast.

S. L.'s book list on the life of Pope St. John Paul II

S. L. Smith Why did S. L. love this book?

I love reading about how the strength of conviction, not strength of arms, defeated Communism. The work of these two leaders, John Paul II and President Reagan, was as consequential as that of Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. A lot of their story is known, but a lot remained unknown... until now. 

This is a fascinating portrait of two world leaders that survived assassination. It is a strange coincidence, don't you think? They did. They believed that they were spared by God as part of the "DP," as Reagan spoke of it: the "Divine Plan" to rid the world of Soviet Communism. It is a fight they have passed down to us, as well.  

By Paul Kengor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Pope and a President as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders. Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that. In this fascinating book, he reveals a singular bond-which included a spiritual connection between the Catholic pope and the Protestant president-that drove the two men to confront what they knew to be the great evil of the twentieth century: Soviet communism. Reagan and John Paul II almost didn't have the opportunity to forge this…


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