Mother Jones: What nonfiction book do you foist on friends and relatives?
Andrew Bacevich: Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History. Published in 1952, it remains the most insightful book ever written about US foreign policy, as relevant today as it was when it first appeared. There’s a new paperback edition available from University of Chicago Press.
MJ: What’s the nonfiction you’ve reread the most—and what’s the allure?
AB: There’s probably no single title. But my colleague David Fromkin’s book on the origins of the modern Middle East, A Peace to End All Peace, is a book that I’ve returned to time and again. It provides readers a rich understanding of exactly where and how our problems with this region began and offers a powerful reminder regarding the folly to which statesmen are prone.
MJ: Can you think of a nonfiction book someone handed you as a kid that left a lasting impression?
AB: I honestly can’t. As a kid I was enamored with fiction, most of it utterly forgettable and long forgotten.
MJ: What book would makes perfect companion reading to your own The Limits of Power?
AB: This will come across as completely shameless, but I have a book coming out in August that I hope will serve as a complement to Limits. The title is Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.
MJ: Have you read anything recently that’s made you more optimistic about America’s future?
AB: Hope in a Scattering Time is a new biography of Christopher Lasch by Eric Miller. I don’t know that it makes me optimistic exactly, but I can find some consolation in the fact that this society can from time to time produce people of Lasch’s ruthless integrity. It’s wonderfully well-written.
MJ: Any other great nonfiction books, particularly recent ones, that we shouldn’t overlook?
AB: The Tragedy of American Diplomacy by William Appleman Williams first appeared in 1959, but W. W. Norton recently published a 50th anniversary edition. It remains a book well worth reading.