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Preparing for your studies: IDIG reading recommendations

3 August 2021

9 mins

Are you studying with the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance or due to begin you studies soon? We asked our IDIG academics, post -doctoral researchers and PhD students about what books about politics and international relations that students should read to broaden their understanding and support their learning. See what they suggested below.


Reading recommendations

Why Intelligence Fails: lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War” By Robert Jervis

This book can be regarded as a type of Haynes manual for understanding intelligence failures. It provides clearly written political and psychological case study analysis of two major intelligence failures. The failure to recognise the fragility of the Shah in Iran and the process failures leading to the assumption that Iraq had WMD’s. This book offers a good introduction to understanding the processes, pressures and pitfalls in formulating intelligence assessments. Despite being written in 2011 it is still relevant today. The section on Iraq can be used to cross reference with the UK SIS intelligence assessment and the CIA estimate of Saddam Hussein.   

Recommended by Sean Calvin (PhD student)

“The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914 – 1991” By Eric Hobsbawn

This is one of those required readings from a university course that stays with you for the rest of your life. Hobsbawm’s breath-taking (if not entirely perfect) review of the world from the start of the First World War to the end of the Cold War puts our current world into perspective by showing how much we have been shaped by that short, bloody but transformative century. It is the final book in a widely acclaimed series on world history since 1789. 

Recommended by Dr Tim Oliver, (Senior Lecturer within the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance)

“Homeland (A Novel)” by Fernando Aramburu

In the heart of Spain’s Basque Country, two friends, Miren and Bittori, find their worlds upended by violence. When Bittori’s husband runs afoul of the separatist organization ETA, a terrorist group of which Miren’s son, Joxe Mari, is a member, both women must choose between their friendship and their families. Moving back and forth in time and told through the eyes of a rich cast of characters from all walks of life, Fernando Aramburu’s dazzling novel probes the lasting legacy of conflict. A work of nearly unbearable suspense, Homeland is a searing examination of truth, reconciliation, and coming to terms with history. 

Recommended by Massimo D’Angelo (PhD student)

“Diplomacy” By Henry Kissinger

Republic of Moldova) you are taught to understand world affairs in the key of Realpolitik and the 1994 book Diplomacy written by Henry Kissinger, a former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, is your academic initiation. It walks you through a history of IR and the art of diplomacy of the 20th century showing the balance of power in Europe. Although today I no longer examine global affairs through the prism of the school of realism in international affairs, this book remains the departure point for Diplomatic Studies.

Recommended by Dr Dorina Baltag (Post-Doctoral Researcher)

“Heroic Leadership: the Case of Modern France” By Stanley Hoffmann, in Lewis J. Edinger (ed) “Political Leadership in Industrialised Societies: Studies in Comparative Analysis”.

Stanley Hoffmann has been an inspiration and a role model for me from the very start of my studies in international relations, and this is one of his most-cited pieces.  Hoffmann’s life experience taught him that boundaries and borders are arbitrary and permeable and he brought this to his scholarship, bringing whatever academic tools he could to the study of the realities and messes of world politics.  He made the marriage of theory and empirical research seem particularly effortless. He also had a soft spot for Charles de Gaulle and this piece on ‘heroic leadership’ is one I return to again and again when thinking and writing about diplomacy and leadership today. Oh, and he was nice and generous to other scholars and to his students.  That matters.  

Recommended by Professor Helen Drake (Director of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance)

“Claiming the International” By Arlene Tickner and David Blaney and “Thinking International Relations Differently”

I would recommend these complementary as two of the recent most rich and inspiring collections exemplifying the evolving movement and call to diversify and pluralise  the otherwise conventional Western-dominated disciplines of International Relations and Diplomacy. The volumes bring together alternative voices and “worldings” – i.e. ways of writing and theorising that open up to the world and bring the world in – through uncovering alternative histories. In so doing, authors from across the world explore alternative ways of thinking about “the international”, “security”, “sovereignty” and “politics”. Contributions range from indigenous women’s pluralising of sovereignty to Arab scholars’ take on globalisation; from a critique of reading the world in ways that absents Africa to Chinese IR theorising; from religion and the state in Southeast Asia, to how the world “looks” from Latin America.   

Recommended by Dr Tatevik Mnatsakanyan (Lecturer in the Institute Diplomacy and International Governance)

“Spouses of the World” By Linn Eleanor Zhang

This book will reflect with those who are interested in the everyday life of transnational workers, diplomats, and their families. It has been written by members of Diplomatic Spouse Club London with the mission to share on-the-ground diplomatic practitioners’ experience over Covid-19 pandemic time, all ups-and-downs of diplomats and their spouses/families during transitions and rotation. That might be of interest to those, who are seeking first-hand storytelling about the lives of diplomats the way it is. 

Recommended by Viktoriia Stratseva (PhD student)

“Thinking Fast and Slow” By Daniel Kahneman

This book on behavioural psychology and decision-making is by the Nobel-prize winner, Daniel Kahneman. It is an accessible text that summarises and further develops a series of important articles that Kahneman wrote together with Tversky in the 1970s and 1980s. The book analyses how humans make decisions – and incidentally how people make wrong judgements due to biases and heuristics. It argues that we have two systems of thinking – System 1 (thinking fast) and System 2 (thinking slow) – and that we use both systems to make sense of the world and to operate our choices. 

Recommended Dr Nicola Chelotti (Lecturer in the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance)

“The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon

It’s one of the most important books of the 20th century and is vital reading today. It explains how colonised people fight for freedom, and the political, social and psychological impact of colonisation. If you want to understand issues like BlackLivesMatter and contemporary racism then this is essential reading into structures of oppression and how they can be dismantled. 

Recommended by Professor Aidan McGarry (Reader in International Politics)

“Rethinking the New World” By Georg Sørensen

Few books have managed to  provide a clear understanding for the concept of the world order. This  is one of the recent attempts to theorise the world order through a wide of Western and non-Western perspectives. It is an important guide to understanding changes in the world order in the context of the rise of China. 

Recommended by Dr Cristian Nitoiu (Lecturer in the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance)

“Discourses on LGBT Asylum in the UK” By Thibaut Raboin

I came across this gem whilst searching for discursive social practices and discourses reflecting power asymmetries. I wanted to apply some context to my theoretical readings of discourse analysis outside of my immediate field of subject interest. This book offers asylum seeker discourses with many heart-breaking narratives based on their lived experiences. It provides a powerful platform for discussion of the rights of those who are not citizens, and reflects on the power of words such as ‘the citizen’ when used as a political tool. 

Recommended by Sean Calvin (PhD student)

“The Meaning of the 21st Century” By James Martin

Not only must we avoid the mistakes of the 20th Century, but – argues Martin – we must reckon with a series of challenges that will come to a head by the middle of the 21stCentury, if we are to make it through that ‘canyon’.  Some have already come, like challenge 10: a planet-wide pandemic (p230).  That means we must not only address these issues now, but we must be training the next generation of leaders in various sectors who will have to navigate us through the mid-century perfect storm.  Depending on how we do, Martin posits four ‘world scenarios’ for 2050 (chapter 18). 

Recommended by Professor Phil Buden (Visiting Professor)

“The New Public Diplomacy, Soft Power in International Relations” By Jan Melissen

The New Public Diplomacy can be mentioned amongst one of the most frequently cited titles on public diplomacy. The book was written and edited by well-known and widely respected academics in this subject area.  This book presents an extensive debate about public diplomacy and evaluates its role in foreign policy.   

Recommended by Alicja Prochniak (PhD student)

“Political Discourse and Conflict Resolution: Debating peace in Northern Ireland” By Katy Hayward and Catherine O’Donnell

This book explores the role of political discourse in conflict transformation, drawing specialist contributions from established scholars in the field of Northern Irish politics. It provides a unique and detailed insight into how political discourse shapes and influences political terrain in Northern Ireland. A must-read for those interested in gaining an understanding the importance of discourse in a region emerging from conflict, and how localized diplomacy plays a crucial role in securing an end to violence. 

Recommended by Ruairi Cousins (PhD student)

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century” By Yuval Harari

This book can be seen as a summary of Harari’s two previous books, one based on the distant past experience of humanity named Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011) and the one the author’s vision on the potential distant future, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016). In this book Harari looks at the current technological, political, social, and existential issues that the human race has to deal with to face its potential future threats. This piece of work will be useful for those interested in futuristic ideas in IR Theories and for those who aim to form their own holistic views on international relations from the lens of past, present, and future of humankind. 

Recommended by Viktoriia Stratseva (PhD student)


We would like to thank our Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance academics, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students for putting together this blog.

To find out more about the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance, please visit this web page.

If you would like to learn more about the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance from the Institute Director, Professor Helen Drake, please visit this blog.

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