Journalist and former Marine platoon commander Elliot Ackerman shares his favorite books about political unrest and conflict:
Man's Fate by André Malraux (Vintage, $17).
When the revolutionary impulse overtakes a society, what is the meaning of that impulse to the individual? Malraux's novel chronicles a failed 1930s Chinese socialist insurrection that presaged the rise of Maoism. The emotional contours Malraux charts read like today's front page.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown, $9).
I read it in high school and really didn't get it. I went to war, came back, and then I got it. Though often read as a tale of teenage angst, at its emotional core, Catcher is also a war novel. Salinger landed on Utah Beach in the first wave on D-Day. Here's the book's final line: "Don't tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." Salinger didn't tackle the war head-on in his writing; here, Holden Caulfield tells us why.
The Duel by Joseph Conrad (Melville House, $8).
Near the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, two French lieutenants fight an inconclusive duel — which, it is later revealed, was in part triggered by a misunderstanding. A series of subsequent duels occur over the next two decades. Conrad's allegorical tale, published in 1908, seems newly relevant as we once again enter a period of cyclical violence.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15).
Slouching Towards Bethlehem merits a revisit, not only for the evident parallels between the 1960s and America's current political turmoil, but also for Didion's unmatched ability to distill the essence of a time, a place, or a movement headed in directions unknown.
Embers by Sandor Marai (Vintage, $16).
This 1942 novel takes place during the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as two old, estranged military school friends reunite for a once customary dinner. The dinner turns into a trial of sorts, as well as an examination of friendship, love, fidelity, and the fallout from the dissolution of old orders.
Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Vintage, $15).
A fever dream of a book — probably the best title on this list — about the fall of Iran's last shah. Nobody writes quite like Kapuscinski, whose style reads like an improbable blend of magic realism and journalism.
— Elliot Ackerman, a former Marine platoon commander, is a journalist and the author of the 2015 novel Green on Blue. In Dark at the Crossing, his second novel, an Iraqi-American attempts to join Syrian rebels fighting to topple Bashar al-Assad.