The best international relations books

58 authors have picked their favorite books about international relations and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Thirteen Days in September

By Lawrence Wright,

Book cover of Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace

The Camp David Accords brought enduring peace between Israel and Egypt after 25 years of war. Wright’s taut narrative—later adapted as a play—conveys just how close the summit came to falling apart. Along with normalizing relations with China, obtaining ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties, and advancing a path-breaking human rights policy, Carter’s triumph at Camp David suggests he was a better foreign policy president than many critics acknowledged at the time.


Who am I?

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer and radio host. He has interviewed eight of the last nine American presidents and lectures widely about the presidency and public affairs.


I wrote...

His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

By Jonathan Alter,

Book cover of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

What is my book about?

I have long written about American presidents but for decades but I had little exposure to Jimmy Carter. Then, in 2015, my book group in New York was reading Thirteen Days in November by Lawrence Wright. Someone there knew Carter’s grandson, who brought the former president to our group to discuss the Camp David Accords. Afterward, I concluded that anyone who could pull off that virtuoso performance must be a more complicated figure than the easy shorthand: bad president/good ex-president. But my obsession with understanding Carter didn’t fully kick in until Donald Trump became president. For all of his flaws and political failures, Carter is the unTrump: honest, decent, accountable, far-sighted.

All Fall Down

By Gary Sick,

Book cover of All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter With Iran

Sick, Carter’s White House adviser on Iran, offers a cogent, deeply insightful account of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the seizure of American hostages in Tehran, and the Carter Administration’s inadequate response to the unfolding crisis. In a later book, The October Surprise, Sick falls just short of proving that the Reagan campaign conspired with the Iranian government to delay the release of the hostages until after the 1980 election. But he is convincing in his claim that the truth in this sordid affair has never fully come to light.


Who am I?

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer and radio host. He has interviewed eight of the last nine American presidents and lectures widely about the presidency and public affairs.


I wrote...

His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

By Jonathan Alter,

Book cover of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

What is my book about?

I have long written about American presidents but for decades but I had little exposure to Jimmy Carter. Then, in 2015, my book group in New York was reading Thirteen Days in November by Lawrence Wright. Someone there knew Carter’s grandson, who brought the former president to our group to discuss the Camp David Accords. Afterward, I concluded that anyone who could pull off that virtuoso performance must be a more complicated figure than the easy shorthand: bad president/good ex-president. But my obsession with understanding Carter didn’t fully kick in until Donald Trump became president. For all of his flaws and political failures, Carter is the unTrump: honest, decent, accountable, far-sighted.

The Fringes of Power

By John Colville,

Book cover of The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955

John “Jock” Colville, a 24-year-old Foreign Office staffer, was assigned to work at 10 Downing Street, Britain’s equivalent of the White House, at the outbreak of World War II. When Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister, Colville, who kept a detailed secret diary, chronicled the new leader’s every move as he rallied his countrymen to keep fighting Hitler’s Germany. His entries for this critical period offer a vivid behind-the-scenes portrait of Churchill, his inner circle—and his strenuous efforts to forge a close partnership with President Roosevelt, who had vowed to keep his country out of the war.


Who am I?

Award-winning journalist and historian Andrew Nagorski was born in Scotland to Polish parents, moved to the United States as an infant, and has rarely stopped moving since. During a long career at Newsweek, he served as the magazine's bureau chief in Hong Kong, Moscow, Rome, Bonn, Warsaw, and Berlin. In 1982, he gained international notoriety when the Kremlin, angered by his enterprising reporting, expelled him from the Soviet Union. Nagorski is the author of seven books, including The Nazi Hunters and Hitlerland.


I wrote...

1941: The Year Germany Lost the War

By Andrew Nagorski,

Book cover of 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War

What is my book about?

By the end of 1940, Nazi Germany ruled most of Europe, but by the end of 1941 Hitler had already squandered his chances for victory in World War II. He repeatedly gambled on escalation: by invading the Soviet Union, by making mass murder and terror his weapons of choice, and by driving Churchill and Roosevelt into a de facto alliance even before the United States formally entered the war. All of which set the stage for Germany’s ultimate defeat.

But, as Nagorski explains in his fast-paced chronicle about this pivotal year, there was nothing inevitable about this sequence of events.

Our Man in New York

By Henry Hemming,

Book cover of Our Man in New York: The British Plot to Bring America into the Second World War

I have a vivid memory of opening the file on Britain’s efforts to bring America into the war, declassified only recently, and being astonished at the things that had gone on. Hemming’s book tells this amazing story and raises the ethical question of whether Britain’s end – defeating Hitler – was justified by its means – spreading fake news in the US and even interfering in its politics.


Who am I?

Robert Hutton is the author of Agent Jack, the previously untold tale of the surprisingly large number of British people who tried to help Hitler win World War 2. He spent a decade and a half following British prime ministers around the world for Bloomberg and now writes parliamentary sketches for The Critic while researching intelligence history.


I wrote...

Agent Jack: The True Story of Mi5's Secret Nazi Hunter

By Robert Hutton,

Book cover of Agent Jack: The True Story of Mi5's Secret Nazi Hunter

What is my book about?

Agent Jack tells the incredible true story of Eric Roberts, a seemingly inconsequential bank clerk who, in the guise of "Jack King", helped uncover and neutralize the invisible threat of fascism on British shores. Gifted with an extraordinary ability to make people trust him, Eric Roberts penetrated the Communist Party and the British Union of Fascists before playing his greatest role for MI5: Hitler's man in London. Pretending to be an agent of the Gestapo, Roberts single-handedly built a network of hundreds of British Nazi sympathizers--factory workers, office clerks, shopkeepers --who shared their secrets with him. It was work so secret and so sensitive that it was kept out of the reports MI5 sent to Winston Churchill.

McCarthyism

By Joe McCarthy,

Book cover of McCarthyism: The Fight for America

The fairest way to begin to explore the conspiracy McCarthy and his backers feared is to hear it from the Cassandra himself. Joe lays out his case in this thin volume.


Who am I?

Larry Tye is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent book is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Before that, he was an award-winning reporter at The Boston Globe, where his primary beat was medicine. He also served as the Globe’s environmental reporter, roving national writer, investigative reporter, and sports writer. Tye, who graduated from Brown University, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1993-94. He taught journalism at Boston University, Northeastern, and Tufts.


I wrote...

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

By Larry Tye,

Book cover of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

What is my book about?

America’s first Red Scare happened in the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution when there was a widespread fear that anarchism, radicalism, and revolution were spreading here. The second Red Scare, which was more pandemic and lasted longer, occurred in the wake of World War II and coincided with the launch of the Cold War. The terror this time was that communists were infiltrating our government and stealing not just the formula for the atomic bomb but America’s very soul. The backlash – to believers, it was pinpointing the risk, to foes, it constituted unfounded fear-mongering – became an ism named for its loudest tribune, Senator Joe McCarthy.

Our increasingly polemical and ideological domestic divides, and building tensions with China and Russia, suggest we could be in for a Third Red Scare, and that readers might want to bone up on the defining one from seventy years ago. Here are some books they might not know about, but ought to.

Dereliction of Duty

By H R McMaster,

Book cover of Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam

This book started as a master’s Thesis by then Major McMaster, who was attending the U. S. Army War College, it became an extremely important history book that exposes the Johnson Administration’s early miscalculations and failures in this war. Specifically, it addresses “Johnson, McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. and the Lies that led to Vietnam”. Any American who has not studied the war will be shocked to realize what took place leading up to the combat phase of the war, and their actions and inactions that ensured the negative outcome of the war. Herbert Raymond McMaster (born July 24, 1962) is a retired United States Army Lieutenant General who served as the 26th United States National Security Advisor from 2017 to 2018. He is also known for his roles in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

By Nicholas Warr,

Book cover of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

What is my book about?

The bloody monthlong battle for the ancient Citadel Fortress in Hue pitted U.S. Marines against an entrenched North Vietnamese Army force. By official accounts it was a tactical and moral victory for the Marines and the United States. But here survivor Nicholas Warr describes with urgency and outrage the Marines' savage house-to-house fighting--ordered without air, naval, or artillery support by officers with no experience in that type of combat.

The Nightingale's Song

By Robert Timberg,

Book cover of The Nightingale's Song

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.


Who am I?

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.


I wrote...

Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

By Nicholas Warr,

Book cover of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

What is my book about?

The bloody monthlong battle for the ancient Citadel Fortress in Hue pitted U.S. Marines against an entrenched North Vietnamese Army force. By official accounts it was a tactical and moral victory for the Marines and the United States. But here survivor Nicholas Warr describes with urgency and outrage the Marines' savage house-to-house fighting--ordered without air, naval, or artillery support by officers with no experience in that type of combat.

Guilty Men

By Cato,

Book cover of Guilty Men

This is really a pamphlet rather than a book and can be read in less than an hour. But, as a denunciation of Appeasement, it’s foundational to Britain’s understanding of its history. Written anonymously by three journalists, including future Labour leader Michael Foot, it’s both brutal and wildly unfair. As all polemics should be.


Who am I?

Richard Toye is a Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. He has published 19 non-fiction books on historical topics and was the co-presenter of the 2018 Channel 4 documentary Churchill's Secret Affair. In 2007 he won the Times Higher Education Young Academic of the Year Award for his book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness


I wrote...

Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

By Richard Toye,

Book cover of Winston Churchill: A Life in the News

What is my book about?

Before Winston Churchill made history, he made news. To a great extent, the news made him too. If it was his own efforts that made him a hero, it was the media that made him a celebrity - and it has been considerably responsible for perpetuating his memory and shaping his reputation in the years since his death.

The story of Churchill and the news is, on one level, a tale of tight deadlines, off-the-record briefings, and smoke-filled newsrooms, of wartime summits that were turned into stage-managed global media events, and of often tense interactions with journalists and powerful press proprietors, such as Lords Northcliffe, Rothermere, and Beaverbrook. Uncovering the symbiotic relationship between Churchill's political life and his media life, and the ways in which these were connected to his personal life, I ask if there was a 'public Churchill' whose image was at odds with the behind-the-scenes reality, or whether, in fact, his private and public selves became seamlessly blended as he adjusted to living in the constant glare of the media spotlight.

The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951

By I.F. Stone,

Book cover of The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times

The Hidden History of the Korean War by I. F. Stone was originally published in 1952 during the Korean War and republished in 1970 at a time in which the US was engaging in the Vietnam War. This controversial book provides viewpoints that are not widely accepted historically. The author raises questions about the origin of the Korean War and makes the case that the United States government manipulated the United Nations and was critical that the U.S. military and South Korean governments extended the war by undermining the efforts to complete the peace talks.


Who am I?

James Neal Butcher is a professor emeritus of the Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota. At age 17, he enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. He served 2 years in a parachute infantry division (82nd Airborne). He volunteered for service in the Korean War and served one year as an infantry soldier in the 17th Infantry Regiment during the war including the battles for Jane Russell Hill in October 1952 and Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. In 2013 he published a memoir of his early life and his military experience Korea: Traces of a forgotten war. 


I wrote...

Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

By James N. Butcher,

Book cover of Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

What is my book about?

The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war. In his book, Professor James N. Butcher relives his experiences as an infantryman with Fox Company of the 17th Infantry Regiment, during the final year of the Korean War (1952-1953). In a graphic portrayal of living conditions on the front, Butcher describes combat actions that occurred in two major battles of this period the Battle for Jane Russell Hill (a part of Triangle Ridge) and the First Battle of Pork Chop Hill and makes a strong case for why we as Americans need to remember what happened there and why.

Interstate Relations in Classical Greece

By Polly Low,

Book cover of Interstate Relations in Classical Greece: Morality and Power

Anyone with any degree of acquaintance with ancient history knows that the Greeks were often at war with one another. This book explores the rules that governed their interactions. Was there any kind of international law? If so, was any of it actually written down, or did it exist at the level of “unwritten law” – a live issue even today? How was it enforced, and by whom? There was no United Nations in those days. Did it succeed in reducing belligerence among the Greeks? Or was the only principle that might is right, so that stronger cities had the right to subdue their weaker neighbours? These are all critically important questions for understanding the Greeks and the course of their history. Overall, the book argues that the Greeks were more moral and restrained in their dealings with one another than one might have guessed.


Who am I?

I’m a British scholar – a former university lecturer, many moons ago – now living in rural southern Greece. In fact, I have Greek as well as UK citizenship, which really pleases me because I’ve loved Greece and things Greek since boyhood. I started to learn ancient Greek at the age of ten! I’ve written over fifty books, mostly on ancient Greek history and philosophy, including many volumes of translations from ancient Greek. But I’ve also written children’s fiction in the form of gamebooks, a biography, a book on hypnosis, a retelling of the Greek myths (with my wife Kathryn) ... I’ll stop there!


I wrote...

Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

By Robin Waterfield,

Book cover of Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

What is my book about?

I had two main objectives in writing the book. In recent decades, there has been a great deal of movement in the various disciplines that fuel such a book – history, archaeology, art history, and so on – and it was time to catch the general reading public up with ancient Greece’s new look. So my book is, firstly, an accessible and up-to-date history of ancient Greece from about 750 BCE to 30 BCE. But, secondly, I raised the question: seeing that the Greeks recognized themselves as kin, as all Greeks together, why were they so often at war with one another? Why did it take them so long to achieve any degree of unity, and what factors brought it about? I’ve written the book as a chronological history, and the issues relating to these questions are a kind of golden thread throughout the book. 

Or, view all 130 books about international relations

New book lists related to international relations

All book lists related to international relations

Bookshelves related to international relations