Every Book I Read in 2020

Every year I post a list of  every book I read the year previous, with my ten favorites bolded. You can find my past entries here (2019)  here (2018), here (2017), here (2016), here (2015), here (2014), and here (2013). As in those posts, I list the books in the approximate order in which I finished them. Some of these books I read bit by bit over several months. Others I finished the week I started them. All include a url, but the ten best (according to nothing but my own subjective judgement) are bolded and given a link. I only count books that I finished for the first time this year as eligible for “ten best books of the year.” A more condensed list of books that I started but did not finish can be found at the bottom of the post.

 I read about 20 less books this year than in years previous. There are various causes for my lack of productivity, reflecting both personal events in my life and a more general pandemic inspired malaise. A great many of the books on the ‘not finished list’ were not finished because I was reading the mas part of an investigation over the decision to invade Iraq, and did not finish the rest of the Iraq (or Bush administration) story that follows. The very best book I read this year was part of this investigation. I did not bold it because I have read it before; in total I have read it three times over the last 15 months. The book in question is Michael Mazaar’s Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy. The foundation of the book are some 50 anonymous interviews with senior officials–including just about every cabinet official. To these interviews Mazaar adds a carefully constructed analytic framework that draws on cognitive psychology, organizational behavioral theory, and IR theory. It is one of the best blends of historical and social scientific methods I have seen, and what is more, one of the best pictures of how American policy making actually works (or fails to do so). Every “nat sec” professional should read the book as a matter of course. If you are on the hawkish side of the China debate, as I am, I will go further than this: we have a moral responsibility to read the book and carefully compare what he describes to our own motivations, goals, and reasons for action.

 Many of the posts I have written this year have been reviews of or reflections on these books. Those interested should click through my reviews of Plagues of Hate, Plagues of Love and of The Great State for the Examiner, my bullet review post covering six pandemic-related books, my reaction to Mary McaAuley’s arguments on Leninist leadership, Oswald Spengler’s cultural typologies, Ross Douthat’s picture of American stagnation, Dennis Ross’s prescriptions for good American statecraft, James McPherson’s understanding of antebellum organizational culture, Min Ye’s description of China’s pro-party businessmen, and Dexter Filkin’s portrait of Middle Eastern fratricide.


Brink Lindsay, Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture. (New York: Harpers Colins, 2007). https://amzn.to/3m0msr8

Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves. (Harper Collins, New York: 2010). https://amzn.to/3m9N1tU

Nadege Rolland, China’s Vision For a New World Order (Washington DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2020). https://www.nbr.org/publication/chinas-vision-for-a-new-world-order/

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (Berkeley, 2005) https://amzn.to/35j0c55

Nancy Bristow, American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). https://amzn.to/340sdx8

David Randall, Black Death at the Golden Gate (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2020) https://amzn.to/3dJzUwl

Lee Clarke, Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) https://amzn.to/39zlSdt

Timothy Brooks, Great State: China and the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2020). https://amzn.to/31ra7Et

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (New York: Penguin, 2005) https://amzn.to/2JwgIUZ

Nadege Rolland, China’s Vision For a New World Order (Washington DC: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2020). https://www.nbr.org/publication/chinas-vision-for-a-new-world-order/

Amanda Ripley, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes (New York: Crown Publishing, 2008) https://amzn.to/39wwVnM

William Joseph, ed. Politics in China, 2nd. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) https://amzn.to/2Tae6kv

June Dreyer, China’s Political System: Modernization and Tradition, 9th ed (New York: Pearson, 2012) https://amzn.to/3maD67J

Kenneth Lieberthal, Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform, 2nd ed (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004) https://amzn.to/35dPT2e

Peter Singer, Hegel: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), https://amzn.to/2IRly23

Peter Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction, 2nd ed, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), https://amzn.to/35mB0ed

Theodore L. Gatchel, At the Water’s Edge: Defending Against the Modern Amphibious Assault (Annapolis: USNI, 1997) https://amzn.to/3obaOvz

Emily Nagoski, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015). https://amzn.to/3jj8gHU

Ian Speller and Christopher Tuck, Amphibious Warfare: Strategy & Tactics from Gallipoli to Iraq (Amber Books, 2014) https://amzn.to/3oei1e6

Unpublished manuscript

Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006) https://amzn.to/2OKZmX5

Michael Haydn, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror (New York: Penguin Book, 2017) https://amzn.to/2ITMoGV

Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006). https://amzn.to/35dgH2E

Supreme Court case, Bostock v. Clayton County

Hal Brands, Making the Unipolar Moment: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Rise of the Post-Cold War Order (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 2016) https://amzn.to/3iaNquT

Dennis Ross, Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2007) https://amzn.to/3bBPBoJ

Michael Mazaar, Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (New York: Public Affairs: 2019). https://amzn.to/2sLIesD

James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking Press, 2004). https://amzn.to/2OCcGxN

Min Ye, The Belt Road and Beyond: State-Mobilized Globalization in China 1998–2018 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). https://amzn.to/2HoGbSe

William Meredith, Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems (Evanston, Il: Triquarterly Press, 1997).https://amzn.to/37y2H6a

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ancient Regime and the Revolution, trans. Gerald Bevan (New York: Penguin Books, 2008). https://amzn.to/2HajH85

Michael Mazaar, Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (New York: Public Affairs: 2019). https://amzn.to/2sLIesD

Samuel Cohn, Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS (Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 2018). https://amzn.to/3jQBpL9

Condoleeza Rice, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington. (New York: Broadway Books, 2011). https://amzn.to/37n1UVP

James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). https://amzn.to/3jhH2Sj

James Barnett, The “China Dream” and the African Reality: The Role of Ideology in PRC-Africa Relations https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.org/Barnett_The%20China%20Dream%20and%20the%20African%20Reality.pdf

Ross Douthat, The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020). https://amzn.to/31sAJoD

Isiah Berlin, Karl Marx, 5th ed, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013). https://amzn.to/391WX3L

James Schleifer, The Chicago Companion to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America https://amzn.to/2HkYEze

Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, abridged ed., trans. Charles Francis Adkinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). https://amzn.to/3nk6RUv

Derek de Solla Price, Science Since Babylon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978). https://amzn.to/38ZLMsD

Andrew Collier, Marx: A Beginner’s Guide (London: One World Publications, 2012). https://amzn.to/2L4eOzh

James Gregor, Marxism, Fascism, Totalitarianism: Chapters in the Intellectual History of Radicalism, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009). https://amzn.to/35aM0Mm

Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. (New York: WW Norton and Co., 1978). https://amzn.to/3hJ34hF

Robert C Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea (New York: WW Norton and Co, 1968). https://amzn.to/3b9Yjwi

Sebastian Strangio, Hun Sen’s Cambodia, ex. ed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020). https://amzn.to/3b9Yjwi

Michal Bougz and Jakub Jakobowski, The Chinese Communist Party and its State: Xi Jinping’s Conservative Turn (Warsaw: Center for Eastern Studies, 2020). https://www.osw.waw.pl/sites/default/files/REPORT_The-Chinese-Communist-Party_net.pdf

Leszek Kolakowski, Volume One: The Founders in Main Currents of Marxism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 5-345. https://amzn.to/3hGfYN8

Sebastian Strangio, In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century https://amzn.to/3ku1K2o

Mary Mcauley, Soviet Politics: 1917-1991 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). https://amzn.to/37rAmNz

William Freehling, Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). https://amzn.to/3jhI7tl

Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1977; or. pub. 1963). https://amzn.to/3pL9PCj

Vladimir Lenin, What Is to Be Done? in The Lenin Anthology, Robert Tucker, ed., (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1975), 12-115. https://amzn.to/3rVj3O4

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, trans Richard Pavear and Larissa Volonhkosy (New York: Vintage, 2008). https://amzn.to/393fixl

Books read in part, but not whole

Balzac, Lost Illusions, Jean Edward Smith, Bush; Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA; Bush, Decision Points, Baker, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, Nakamura, A Comparative History of Ideas; Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind;  Bender and Squier, The Sonnet: An Anthology; Ladany, The Communisty Party of China and Marxism, 1921-1985, Hunt, The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy; Schram, The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, Price, The American Commonwealth, Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Israel, The Expanding Blaze, Hackett, Albion’s Seed, Rice, Tough Love; van Norden, Classical Chinese For Everyone, Fuller, An Introduction to Chinese Poetry, Barnes, Chinese Through Poetry, Harding, Leninism, Walicki, Marxism and the Leap to Freedom, Rhodes, Making of the Atomic Bomb, Haas, War of Necessity, War of Choice, Heilman, China’s Political System; Xi, Governance of China, vol II and III.

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Thanks for the list! I gotta check out Black Death at the Golden Gate.

One of the links for The Ancient Regime and the Revolution leads to the Amazon page for Battle Cry of Freedom.

Great piece, as usual, Tanner. Stay with Balzac. The 2nd vol of Lost Illusions has one of the best descriptions of how journalism worked in France.

I loved reading Battle Cry of Freedom in 2020. I managed to get an illustrated version at the library and enjoyed having the maps; it felt like I was reading a Tolkein novel but about my own country. I peppered in Killer Angels by Michael Shaara right before the Gettysburg chapter.

I also dug back through some of your older posts as a result and snagged What Hath God Wrought which turned out to work as an excellent prequel.