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6 insightful books for understanding global politics

Foreign policy expert Richard Haass, who has served in the administrations of four presidents, shares the books that have shaped his worldview

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Bush. Below, he shares the books that have shaped his worldview:

The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics by Hedley Bull (Columbia, $36).

I came to know Hedley in the 1970s at Oxford. As the title of his 1977 book suggests, he argues that the state of the world can be understood as a balance between the forces of anarchy and social order. This book shaped my thinking more than any other.

A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace, 1812–22 by Henry Kissinger (Echo Point, $22).

Kissinger is the great scholar-practitioner of our age. His 1957 book, a history of the early 19th-century Congress of Vienna and its aftermath, began as his Harvard doctoral dissertation. It is filled with sharp character portraits as well as much general wisdom.

The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890–1914 by Barbara W. Tuchman (Random House, $18).

Tuchman is one of the 20th century's most popular historians. I chose her 1966 book, a collection of eight essays on Europe's political and cultural landscape on the eve of World War I, because it hooked me on reading history.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene (Penguin, $17).

First published in 1955, just after the fall of colonial rule in Southeast Asia, this novel was prescient in suggesting why and how the United States would fail in Vietnam. Through reading it, I learned that good fiction has as much to teach as nonfiction.

Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department by Dean Acheson (Norton, $38).

Acheson swore he'd never write about his time as Harry Truman's secretary of state, saying that it would inevitably turn into an exercise in self-justification. He broke his promise in 1969 with this excellent, Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir, which covers what is arguably the most creative period of modern American foreign policy.

Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May (Free Press, $20).

Written three decades ago by two of my former Harvard colleagues, this book draws lessons from America's successes and blunders on the world stage. It should be required reading for anyone thinking about or practicing foreign policy.

Richard Haass recently released his new book, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

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