100 books like The Man Who Ran Washington

By Peter Baker, Susan Glasser,

Here are 100 books that The Man Who Ran Washington fans have personally recommended if you like The Man Who Ran Washington. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Circle in the Sand: The Bush Dynasty in Iraq

David J. Dunford Author Of From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East

From my list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion is fixing our diplomacy. Relatively late in my career, I found a new home working with and for some of the Foreign Service’s most talented people. My assignments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (during the 1990-91 Gulf War) led to my appointment as ambassador in Oman. After retirement I returned to Cairo to set up a regional multilateral development bank (we were unsuccessful) and later rebuild Iraq’s foreign ministry. I experienced the negative and frustrating impact of politicization and militarization on our foreign policy. Knowing we can and must do better motivated me to write From Sadat to Saddam and to commend to you the five books below.    

David's book list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy

David J. Dunford Why did David love this book?

Although Stephen Coll’s Ghost Wars and Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower deserved the attention they got, Circle in the Sand, in my opinion, did the best job of connecting the dots between our decision to deploy 500,000 troops in Saudi Arabia in 1990 and the 9/11 attack and our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Alfonsi highlights the misgivings of Chas Freeman, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and my boss from 1989-92, about our continued military presence and the growing Islamic opposition to the Saudi royal family. Our reporting from Riyadh attracted little interest in Washington. Chas Freeman was the last career professional to serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia until 2022. The influence of career professionals on U.S. policy toward the Middle East continued to diminish during the Clinton years.

By Christian Alfonsi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Circle in the Sand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An important, massively researched and revelation-filled work of history that uncovers how decisions made by the first Bush White House preordained the current administration’s decision to invade Iraq.

“Is this a one-time thing, or should we foreshadow more to come?”

This was the prophetic question posed by National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft in a secret April 1991 memorandum about the postwar management of Iraq, two months after the United States had defeated Iraqi forces in Operation Desert Storm—but left Saddam Hussein securely in power. Circle in the Sand challenges the widely held notion that Saddam’s survival was the result of…


Book cover of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon

David J. Dunford Author Of From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East

From my list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion is fixing our diplomacy. Relatively late in my career, I found a new home working with and for some of the Foreign Service’s most talented people. My assignments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (during the 1990-91 Gulf War) led to my appointment as ambassador in Oman. After retirement I returned to Cairo to set up a regional multilateral development bank (we were unsuccessful) and later rebuild Iraq’s foreign ministry. I experienced the negative and frustrating impact of politicization and militarization on our foreign policy. Knowing we can and must do better motivated me to write From Sadat to Saddam and to commend to you the five books below.    

David's book list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy

David J. Dunford Why did David love this book?

This book entertains while recounting the militarization of our foreign policy. Post-retirement, I worked briefly for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and later as a contractor helping to train military units headed for Iraq and Afghanistan. Our professional military is a superb fighting machine but the decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan inevitably resulted in challenges diplomats and development workers are best equipped to handle. The budget-slashing reinvention of government during the Clinton years meant there weren’t enough trained civilians to handle existing priorities much less a surge to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. As Rosa Brooks writes, from the perspective of both an insider and a superb reporter, the military became everything. The military had the money while civilian agencies like State and USAID were underfunded.

By Rosa Brooks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A dynamic work of reportage" (The New York Times) written "with clarity and...wit" (The New York Times Book Review) about what happens when the ancient boundary between war and peace is erased.

Once, war was a temporary state of affairs. Today, America's wars are everywhere and forever: our enemies change constantly and rarely wear uniforms, and virtually anything can become a weapon. As war expands, so does the role of the US military. Military personnel now analyze computer code, train Afghan judges, build Ebola isolation wards, eavesdrop on electronic communications, develop soap operas, and patrol for pirates. You name it,…


Book cover of The Ambassadors: America's Diplomats on the Front Lines

David J. Dunford Author Of From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East

From my list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion is fixing our diplomacy. Relatively late in my career, I found a new home working with and for some of the Foreign Service’s most talented people. My assignments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (during the 1990-91 Gulf War) led to my appointment as ambassador in Oman. After retirement I returned to Cairo to set up a regional multilateral development bank (we were unsuccessful) and later rebuild Iraq’s foreign ministry. I experienced the negative and frustrating impact of politicization and militarization on our foreign policy. Knowing we can and must do better motivated me to write From Sadat to Saddam and to commend to you the five books below.    

David's book list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy

David J. Dunford Why did David love this book?

Richter recounts the stories of four extraordinary professional diplomats who served post 9/11 and are role models for the diplomats of the future. Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador in Egypt and Pakistan, worked for me briefly in Washington and Riyadh. I crossed paths with Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador in Iraq and Afghanistan, many times in Washington, Baghdad, and elsewhere. I met Chris Stevens once before he became U.S. ambassador in Libya. The political exploitation of his death was outrageous. I didn’t know Robert Ford, who resigned in frustration over U.S. policy toward Syria. They were sent to dangerous and unstable places. Diplomacy can be risky. They had to work closely were their military counterparts. They experienced the frustration of advising Washington politicians who lack both understanding and a willingness to listen. 

By Paul Richter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Veteran diplomatic correspondent Paul Richter goes behind the battles and the headlines to show how American ambassadors are the unconventional warriors in the Muslim world-running local government, directing drone strikes, building nations, and risking their lives on the front lines.

The tale's heroes are a small circle of top career diplomats who have been an unheralded but crucial line of national defense in the past two decades of wars in the greater Middle East. In The Ambassadors, Paul Richter shares the astonishing, true-life stories of four expeditionary diplomats who "do the hardest things in the hardest places."

The book describes…


Book cover of The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal

David J. Dunford Author Of From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East

From my list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion is fixing our diplomacy. Relatively late in my career, I found a new home working with and for some of the Foreign Service’s most talented people. My assignments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (during the 1990-91 Gulf War) led to my appointment as ambassador in Oman. After retirement I returned to Cairo to set up a regional multilateral development bank (we were unsuccessful) and later rebuild Iraq’s foreign ministry. I experienced the negative and frustrating impact of politicization and militarization on our foreign policy. Knowing we can and must do better motivated me to write From Sadat to Saddam and to commend to you the five books below.    

David's book list on understanding how to fix U.S. diplomacy

David J. Dunford Why did David love this book?

As good as the professionals in Richter’s book were, Bill Burns might be the best role model. He served as U.S. ambassador in Moscow. He became Deputy Secretary of State and was instrumental in negotiating the Iran nuclear agreement. Now CIA Director, I suspect he orchestrated the release of intelligence on Russia’s plans which led to a unified NATO response to the invasion of Ukraine. I first met Bill, then a junior officer, in Amman, and knew he was headed for great things. Although he had misgivings about our policies toward Iraq, Russia, and Syria, sadly, his dissent was ignored. He wonders in The Back Channel whether he should have resigned. Happily, he is back in government where his ideas for renewing American diplomacy might get a better reception.  

By William J. Burns,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A masterful diplomatic memoir” (The Washington Post) from CIA director and career ambassador William J. Burns, from his service under five presidents to his personal encounters with Vladimir Putin and other world leaders—an impassioned argument for the enduring value of diplomacy in an increasingly volatile world.

Over the course of more than three decades as an American diplomat, William J. Burns played a central role in the most consequential diplomatic episodes of his time—from the bloodless end of the Cold War to the collapse of post–Cold War relations with Putin’s Russia, from post–9/11 tumult in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle…


Book cover of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin ranks among the top of Isaacson’s excellent biographies.

He provides thorough detail and background of Franklin’s life, examining him through the eyes of the quintessential American: an entrepreneur, a writer, a small businessman, a cosmopolitan, and a statesman (albeit lacking the higher offices). 

Isaacson briefly treats Franklin’s religious views and the reasons why Franklin moved away from the Puritan faith of his forebearers and embraced a creed more akin to deism. 

By Walter Isaacson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Benjamin Franklin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During his 84-year life Benjamin Franklin was America's best scientist, inventor, publisher, business strategist, diplomat, and writer. He was also one of its most practical political thinkers. America's first great publicist, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public and polished it for posterity. In this riveting new biography Walter Isaacson provides readers with a full portrait of Franklin's public and private life - his loyal but neglected wife, his bastard son with whom he broke over going to war with England, his endless replacement families and his many amorous, but probably unconsummated, liaisons. But this is not…


Book cover of No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel

Suzanna Eibuszyc Author Of Memory is Our Home

From my list on the trials and tribulations of the generation that came before us.

Why am I passionate about this?

Professor Elie Wiesel was instrumental in my translating and researching my mother’s journals. My awakening to the dark period in the chapter of the Jewish history happened between 1971-1974 at CCNY, when our paths crossed while I was taking his classes at the department of Jewish studies. It was in his classes that the things that bewildered me as a child growing up in communist Poland in the shadows of the Holocaust aftermath started to make sense. I asked my mother to commit to paper the painful memories, she buried deep inside her. She and the next generations have an obligation to bear witness, to be this history's keepers.

Suzanna's book list on the trials and tribulations of the generation that came before us

Suzanna Eibuszyc Why did Suzanna love this book?

When determination, vision, and the necessity to survive forced a small country, Israel, perform miracles. No matter the difficulties and challenges, from draining the swamps and turning the desert green, the vision for a better tomorrow, to be free and self-determined people made this country and her citizens rise above fear and embrace hope.     

By Shimon Peres,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Room for Small Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1934, eleven-year-old Shimon Peres emigrated to the land of Israel from his native Poland, leaving behind an extended family who would later be murdered in the Holocaust. Few back then would have predicted that this young man would eventually become one of the towering figures of the twentieth century. Peres would indeed go on to serve the new state as prime minister, president, foreign minister, and the head of several other ministries. He was central to the establishment of the Israeli Defense Forces and the defense industry that would provide the young state with a robust deterrent power. He…


Book cover of The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution

Joseph D'Agnese Author Of Signing Their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the United States Constitution

From my list on the creation of the U.S. Constitution.

Why am I passionate about this?

Joseph D’Agnese grew up in the Bicentennial-fueled excitement of the 1970s, and spent 1976 fake-playing a fife and sporting a tricorn hat in various school events. Besides teaching him how to get in and out of Revolutionary-period knickers, this experience awakened in him a love for the Founding Era of American history. He has since authored three history titles with his wife, The New York Times bestselling author Denise Kiernan. 

Joseph's book list on the creation of the U.S. Constitution

Joseph D'Agnese Why did Joseph love this book?

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence are universally referred to as “Signers.”

In family trees and genealogies, you’ll often find this word appended to their names as a badge of honor, delineating them from later and earlier relations who bore the same name. The men who signed the Constitution, however, or typically referred to as Framers or Founders; that’s the reason behind Fradin’s title.

This is a great book for kids, grades 4 to 7. The maps and etchings by illustrator Michael McCurdy are charming, and help set the scene and mood of each man’s story. I think it can be a helpful book for teachers and homeschoolers looking for short readings to help bring the Constitution to life in the classroom.

By Dennis Brindell Fradin, Michael McCurdy (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Founders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

The stories behind the Constitution are as powerful as the nation it created.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

After the American Revolution, the thirteen united states were joined, barely, by an almost powerless government. The federal army was too weak to defend the nation; there was no national currency; and there was no…


Book cover of To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

Alex Krieger Author Of City on a Hill: Urban Idealism in America from the Puritans to the Present

From my list on aspirations and unfulfilled promises in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in the topic of these books has grown across four decades of teaching about cities and urban planning at Harvard, and in active practice as an architect and urban designer. At any moment a city’s very physicality reflects both a culture’s aspirations and the limitations of that culture to achieve those aspirations. Cities are, in a way, compromises in time: among efforts to preserve a past, overcome the challenges of the present, and pursuit of plans for the future. My book focuses on the role of American ideals especially in city and community building, while the five I recommend offer crucial counterpoints about the difficulties and setbacks encountered in reaching for national ideals.  

Alex's book list on aspirations and unfulfilled promises in America

Alex Krieger Why did Alex love this book?

Enormous insight from one of the great scholars of America’s Revolutionary Era, especially as to the complex ruminations and motivations of the nation’s founders as they set out to invent a new society. At the core of their inspiration, ironically resulting from their very provincialism, being separated from European society by an ocean, was their ability to combine a deep sense of pragmatic realism with “a pervasive air of utopian idealism.” From this was formed a nation consistently looking to a better future. A sensibility perhaps best expressed by Thomas Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” 

By Bernard Bailyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Begin the World Anew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bernard Bailyn has distilled a lifetime of study into this brilliant illumination of the ideas and world of the Founding Fathers. In five succinct essays he reveals the origins, depth, and global impact of their extraordinary creativity.

The opening essay illuminates the central importance of America’s provincialism to the formation of a truly original political system. In the chapters following, he explores the ambiguities and achievements of Jefferson’s career, Benjamin Franklin’s changing image and supple diplomacy, the circumstances and impact of the Federalist Papers, and the continuing influence of American constitutional thought throughout the Atlantic…


Book cover of Alexander Hamilton

Jake S. Friedman Author Of The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation's Golden Age

From my list on American history that read like you’re binge-watching.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an expert in animation history, having written three books on it, dozens of articles, and appeared on TV documentaries about it. I've also been a college professor for about 13 years, so I know what a story needs to maintain interest. These books have that. They're about different chunks of American history, some political, some artistic, all cultural. But they're also focused on the people who made the history, and showing how they got to where they were, and why they matter. These books let me walk in the shoes of subjects, and whisk me back to their time and place. If a book passes the empathy/time-machine test, it has won me over.

Jake's book list on American history that read like you’re binge-watching

Jake S. Friedman Why did Jake love this book?

I learned that he was the only of America’s Founding Father to not come from a well-to-do family.

The book makes him into such a three-dimensional, yet exceptional portrait of a man, Even down to his extramarital affair, the first sex scandal in America. I felt like I could have a beer with this guy by the time the book was over. It breathes life into the exciting time that was colonial America before, during and immediately after the war for independence. It makes the events seem less like a bygone era, and more like a bunch of dudes threatening each other.

Most of all, it casts slavery into a realistic light, pulling no punches on how hypocritical many colonists considered each other for having slaves.

By Ron Chernow,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Alexander Hamilton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller, and the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton!

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

"Grand-scale biography at its best-thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written . . . A genuinely great book." -David McCullough

"A robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all." -Joseph Ellis


Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton.…


Book cover of Castlereagh: Enlightenment, War and Tyranny

Martin Hutchinson Author Of Britain's Greatest Prime Minister: Lord Liverpool

From my list on Regency politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

More than 40 years ago, I first started writing a book on great ‘Tory’ leaders throughout history, several of whom were inexorably tied to this Regency period. Having never lost interest in the topic I continued to study the period and its political life and found a way to parlay experience from my career in finance and international business into a biography of the most economically proficient Prime Minister Britain has ever had. Research for that biography as well as for future Industrial Revolution-related books on which I am currently working has resulted in a broad and fruitful list of books on the period's politics.

Martin's book list on Regency politics

Martin Hutchinson Why did Martin love this book?

John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee is superb, this biography of Castlereagh, “perhaps the greatest of all Britain’s foreign secretaries” (Andrew Roberts) is even better. Castlereagh is a Regency politician’s Regency politician; he fought a duel against the devious Canning and when informed he was popular, replied that unpopularity was “more convenient and gentlemanlike.” He also, with Liverpool’s help and support, designed a peace settlement that lasted in essentials for 100 years, based on principles of legitimacy and lack of vengefulness that his successors at the 1919 Congress of Versailles would have done well to follow. Bew writes beautifully; this is a great biography of a very great man.

By John Bew,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

No British statesman of the nineteenth century reached the same level of international fame as Lord Castlereagh, or won as much respect from the great powers of Europe or America. Yet no British statesman has been so maligned by his contemporaries or hated by the public. His career took him from the brutal suppression of a bloody rebellion in Ireland to the splendour of Vienna and Paris. He imprisoned his former friends, abolished the Irish parliament, created the biggest British army in history, and redrew the map of Europe. At a time when the West turns from idealism to realism…


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