Sand in your laptop: The ECFR August reading list

Welcome to your August reading list

August has come round again and, true to our pan-European vocation, we at ECFR spend August sleeping on the beach hard at work creating a more coherent European foreign policy. Our experts have weighed in with what they are reading, watching, and listening to for the August break. Please check the recommendations below if you care about Europe, European foreign policy, or the future of humanity. Overall, ECFR’s recommendations reveal that saving European foreign policy these days involves reading less and watching more television than it used to. But we at ECFR are nothing if not adaptable and we expect our experts to return in September wiser, more rested, and with sand in their laptops.

Happy reading/watching!


We have been harmonised 
Kai Strittmatter
Recommended by: Mark Leonard

This book tells the story of China’s transformation into a big data dictatorship with the insight and urgency of a foreign reporter who has spent much time in the country.  

Years and Years
Recommended by: Alba Lamberti

This new series stars a terrific and truly terrifying Emma Thompson in the role of a populist prime minister in the United Kingdom in 2029. She is the leader of the Four Star Party – as in “I don’t give a ****” party.

Death in Danzig
Stefan Chwin
Recommended by: Joanna Hosa

A deeply touching, philosophical novel about life in Gdansk immediately after the end of the second world war. This book shows how a German professor at the Gdansk Medical Academy tries to adapt to the changed reality in the new Polish state. For those interested in Poland and Polish politics today, Death in Danzig will shed light on the politics of memory of the current Polish government, Polish-German relations, and the special role of Gdansk in this.

Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future
Louise I Shelley
Recommended by: Chris Raggett

In the past three decades, the most advanced forms of illicit trade have broken with all historical precedents and, as Dark Commerce shows, now operate as if on steroids, tied to computers and social media. In this new world of illicit commerce, which benefits states and diverse participants, trade is impersonal and anonymised, and vast profits are made in short periods with limited accountability to sellers, intermediaries, and purchasers.

Recommended by: Teresa Coratella

You know the story, but nonetheless this version will have you on the edge of your seat. Plus, a very appropriate message for our times: every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.

Big Little Lies
Recommended by: Teresa Coratella

If Meryl Streep and an all-star cast are not enough of a reason, then watch this because supporters of European solidarity should take inspiration from the five female protagonists.

The Spy who Loved
Clare Mulley
Recommended by: Jeremy Shapiro

The biography of the wife of a Polish diplomat who became a spy for the British special operations executive during the second world war; and became a bit of a hero. This book gives you some sense of how ordinary people might respond to extraordinary times.

Österreich gegen Hitler – 1933-1938: Europas erste Abwehrfront
Gottfried K Kindermann
Recommended by: Gustav Gressel

If there is one topic you can’t have a serious discussion about with an Austrian, it’s Austria’s history in the 1930s. Partisan divisions go deep, and both parties stick to the myths their respective camps have set up. Hence, there is hardly a serious book on this time, although this work by a German – biased to some extent – is still better than the purely polarised domestic literature.

Anglo Nostalgia: The Politics of Emotion in a Fractured West
Marta Dassu and Edoardo Campanella
Recommended by: Anna Kuchenbecker

While nostalgia sounds romantic, it is malaise that idealises the past while denigrating the present. This book goes beyond common analyses of rising populism and looks at the rapid spread of this global phenomenon of nostalgia before focusing on Brexit as a case study.

Time and Power
Christopher Clark
Recommended by: Jonathan Hackenbroich

Fascinating new account of what four German leaders – Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Prussia, Friedrich der Große, Otto von Bismarck, Adolf Hitler – thought about time and their place in history, and how their concept of history shaped their political narratives and policies

Recommended by: Ulrike Franke

German security and defence policy does not have to be boring! Every three weeks the Sicherheitshalber crew – a journalist, two academics, and yours truly – discuss what is happening in German foreign policy and defence. The topics we take seriously – ourselves not so much.

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth
Michio Kaku 
Recommended by: Ulrike Franke

This book taught me so much about our earth and solar system – and how we can leave both before their eventual demise. I particularly loved the can-do, pro-science attitude, which reminded me of my favourite line from The Martian: we’ll “have to science the shit out of this.”

Fille de révolutionnaires 
Laurence Debray
Recommended by: Ulrike Franke

A fascinating story about family, French communists, and the history of south American revolutions. Laurence Debray recounts how she learned about her parents’ role in Che Guevara’s and Fidel Castro’s revolutionary efforts, and provides insights into fascinating family dynamics. A unique and thoroughly enjoyable book.

Le suédois sans peine
Recommended by: Pawel Zerka

An intuitive method of studying foreign languages (developed in France almost a century ago) as a way to make sense of a long summer in Sweden.

Diego Maradona
Documentary / Asif Kapadia
Recommended by: Ana Ramic

Love him or hate him, Diego Maradona was god to many, and this new documentary from the creator of both Senna and Amy, follows the rising star, his years in Naples, and his connection to the Camorra. Is there anything better than sports documentaries?

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
John Carreyrou
Recommended by: Ana Ramic

This nonfiction book by journalist John Carreyrou covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes who faces trial next summer. The book has some surprise guest stars like George Shultz and Jim Mattis, but the real surprise  is just how much this company got away with, and for how long.

La Casa de Papel, Season Three
Recommended by: Susi Dennison

I could make up a reason related to our Unlock Europe’s majority work, like the interesting exploration of how public figures earn and retain the support of the people … themes that did run through seasons one and two of La Casa de Papel. But the real reason is that a) it is awesome and b) the lead character looks exactly like Jose Ignacio Torreblanca!

The Best and the Brightest
David Halberstam
Recommended by: Andrzej Mendel-Nykorowycz

Unputdownable bureaucratic history (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) of the Vietnam war and a cautionary tale of cognitive biases, intellectual inflexibility, mission creep, and misplaced commitments that lead bright people to make calamitous decisions. A classic with contemporary relevance.

The Perfect Irony That ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Film Was Also a Real-Life Scam
Zaron Burnett III for Mel Magazine
Recommended by: Andrzej Mendel-Nykorowycz

Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal brought down the semi-authoritarian government of Najib Razak, shook up the geopolitical balance in south-east Asia, funded ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, and landed Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar. A story of the sheer brazenness of scammers who committed $4.5 billion in fraud, of the willing gullibility of their European and American bankers, and of friendships with celebrities and double-crossing business partners.

Civil War
Peter Ackroyd
Recommended by: Adam Harrison

Parallels with today’s divided United Kingdom may be risky, but this tale of civil war feels uncomfortably familiar at times. The coming fractures are heralded by Scottish resistance to London policy. The troubles of the benighted King Charles I only grow with unrest in Ireland, deadlock in parliament, and widespread popular anger at suspected meddling from mainland Europe. One witness to those turbulent times asks himself how they the country could have slipped, bit by bit, into such deep and irreconcilable positions. Many voices today are asking exactly the same thing.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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