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Miriam's Picks


I am a New York Times addict. Every morning I hear the telltale thwack on my front porch that lets me know my daily tonnage (or thereabouts) of newsprint has arrived. But no matter how long or in-depth the article purports to be I am usually still left wondering. Keeping track of terminology, political positions, and the history of any one country can be difficult. I invariably turn to our collection of books for a deeper understanding. Most of the books I read in this category are written by journalists. I find their style and depth of writing focused on the reader like me – interested, but not learned.


Journalism about International Affairs

China Wakes China Wakes by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Written by two journalists in alternating chapters, this book preserves the individuality of each author's insights while presenting the reader a more diverse view of this country. It is a picture of a country undergoing a transformation process which seems out of control.

Two about Russia by David Remnick
Remnick looks at another country reinventing itself and seemingly out of control, Russia, in his book Lenin's Tomb. Like a Russian novel, this book is filled with characters larger than life, Resurrection struggles on an epic scale, and, of course, a coup and counter coup. Unlike a Russian novel, he also wrote a sequel, Resurrection. Thank God Remnick is there to help me keep my cast of characters straight. He is an adroit guide who steers us through this landscape, explaining the sights and history as it happens.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman
I recommend reading this book about once every five years. Check out what has changed and, more sadly, what has not in the Middle East.

The Road to Kosovo: A Balkan Diary by Greg Campbell
I am currently making my way through this one for the same reason that I picked up The Road to Kosovo Friedman's book ten years ago – I'm bewildered by the complexity of the situation and need to better understand the history of the region. Campbell has written a book that grabs you from its dedication and keeps you immersed in a story that is tragic and compelling.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
I urge everyone to read this book. The cover shows a picture of serenity, a scene from the beach of Lake Kivu in Rwanda. The landscape is devoid of human beings and an empty chair sits on the sand. The title in red stands out starkly from this backdrop. We Wish to Inform You... The juxtaposition of beauty and brutality is a perfect introduction to this volume. As Robert Stone says, "Like the greatest war reporters, he [Gourevitch] raises the human banner in hell's mouth, the insignia of common sense, of quiet moral authority, of blessed humor." The message from this book is amazingly hopeful. Having a rough day? Read this book and be reminded of the worst and best that humans do to each other.

The good news for us New York Times readers is that Kristof and WuDunn are correspondents for the Times in Japan and Friedman writes on foreign affairs. So when I hear that thwack on the porch, there's always the chance that I'll be reading something by these authors whom I consider fellow travelers on the road to understanding. And there is also the rush of adrenaline knowing that the latest daily puzzle has arrived. Where else do I get to exercise my command of obscure English and fit the word "etui" into four little spaces?

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