By Walker D. Mills
The theme that ties this reading list together is the staff at Strife. We are writers, editors and managers who have chosen to highlight a few of the best books we read during 2020. It’s a reading list in the same vein as those from War on the Rocks, CIMSEC and others, that is united by a common group of contributors rather than a thematic focus.
Each contributor has written a brief description of the selections and why they choose it, and the selections are in no particular order. We hope that you can find something you’ll want to pick up and that you enjoy reading these books as much as we did.
James Brown, Copy Editor
The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners
By Seamus Milne (1994)
A brilliant expose of the British establishment’s attempt to destroy the labour movement during the miners’ strike of 1984-85. Which was the last of the great clashes between the trade union movement and the government, and the final time Britain saw a serious challenge to its neoliberal economic re-alignment.
Milne delivers an at times thrilling account of how the powerful forces of the State Security Service, police, press, and conservative government conspired to wage a secret war against the miners. The title is taken from a quote by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher describing the miners as an internal enemy, and “enemy within” and it remains one of the best accounts of how state power in a democracy can be manipulated to serve undemocratic ends.
Bryan Strawser, Managing Editor, Blog
The Violent Image: Insurgent Propaganda and the new Revolutionaries
By Neville Bolt (2012)
My research is broadly focused on how groups and intelligence agencies use propaganda, particularly social media, to sow discord and influence election outcomes. Dr. Bolt’s book from 2012 describes the world of fast-moving, viral ‘violent images’ that have changed how insurgent groups and revolutionaries disseminate their messages through the more dynamic technologies and mediums available today. In many cases, these violent images and other propaganda move far more quickly than governments can counter the messaging with facts.
Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump
By David Neiwert (2018)
In this book, journalist David Neiwert chronicles the resurgence of extremists on the right in American politics leading to the election of President Donald J. Trump in 2016. He covers the common ground found between right-wing media, the Tea Party, and other Republican activists – and how people like Stephen Bannon and Alex Jones become the new mainstream for far-right activists, the book helped me understand this intersection and how newer communication methods, such as social media (especially Twitter) and streaming video, enabled their rise.
Farley Sweatman, External Representative
By Philip Caputo (2005)
Historical fiction, Acts of Faith is about a group of aid workers and pilots flying aid material (and eventually arms) into Sudan during the height of the Second Sudanese Civil War in what would later become South Sudan. Along with being extremely well-written and entertaining, it provides a pretty apt account of the conflict and the ethno-religious divides within Sudan at the time.
No stranger to writing about violence, Philip Caputo is well-known for A Rumor of War, his “memoir” of his time serving as a US Marine in Vietnam, which is often credited with helping change the US public’s opinion of the Vietnam War.
Natasia Kalajdziovski, Senior Editor
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
by Patrick Radden Keefe (2019)
Say Nothing charts the interwoven stories of two women of Northern Ireland during “The Troubles.” Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten who was accused by the Provisional IRA of passing information to the security forces and was subsequently murdered in 1972, and Dolours Price, a notorious Provisional who later claimed to be part of McConville’s murder. McConville and Price are used as the anchor-point through which Keefe – who is, fundamentally, a terrific storyteller – weaves an intricate web of political violence and state action alongside secrets and whispers to form a narrative of the conflict that is incredibly accessible and engaging.
In a conflict so marred by its sectarian nature, there is no such thing as a perfect, or unbiased account of The Troubles and Say Nothing does not purport to be a full telling of that story. But what it does, unlike so many other works on the topic, is to recount the experiences of two women who chose two very different paths when violence engulfed their community and fit their stories into the broader narrative of the conflict. Taking its title from a Seamus Heaney poem, Say Nothing dares to ask its readers to contemplate how wars are fought first on the battlefield, and then for a second time in memory.
Anas Ismail, Production Manager, Strife Blog
By Natasha Howard, Egbert Sondorp, Annemarie ter Veen (2012)
Conflict and Health examines how health is impacted by different forms of conflict, and it has a range of case studies from different settings around the world. The authors provide knowledge of a variety of topics ranging from the nature of the conflicts to humanitarianism and health interventions in conflict settings with clear and concise prose in an easily digestible format.
Joe Jarnecki, Coordinating Editor, Strife Blog
From Righteousness to Far Right: An Anthropological Rethinking of Critical Security Studies
By Emma McCluskey (2019)
An original and thought-provoking text, McCluskey’s From Righteousness to Far Right follows nineteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Swedish village where, at the height of the so-called “migration crisis,” one hundred refugees were housed. Guiding the reader through day-to-day life in the village the author raises questions about critical security studies’ ability to examine the texture of everyday life within a society increasingly exposed to far-right and securitised politics. An incredibly enjoyable book rich not only for its content but also for its prose.
By Simone de Beauvoir (1984)
A classic of French existentialism, The Blood of Others remains one of the most compelling engagements with how to reconcile responsibility with the pursuit of personal happiness. Set in early 20th Century France, the story follows Jean Blomart and his journey from privileged bourgeois to resistance activist. While a novel may be rare to find on this list it is, I guarantee, a welcome respite.
Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer
By Peter Wright (1987)
Published originally in Australia in 1987, Spycatcher offers an insider account of MI5’s operations following the Second World War, recounting, with incredible honesty, the bugging of embassies across London, the MI5 plot to destabilise the government of Harold Wilson, and the counterspy operations against the Cambridge five. It is an intriguing read for any armchair intelligence historian, and for that matter, any that happen to be standing.
Walker Mills, Series Editor
By Phil Klay (2020)
Missionaries is Phil Klay’s second book, after his critically acclaimed collection of short stories Redeployment. A work of fiction, the book follows a group of characters in Colombia as they are sucked into Colombia’s long-running conflict just before the 2016 peace agreement.
Klay is a masterful storyteller and he brins his characters to life with intensive research. But Missionaries is also a statement about war and conflict itself. Violence is often the result of complex systems but the effects are real and unsanitized at the human level. Klay shows how individuals are often caught in systems of violence and they can’t escape.
Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a Limpieza
By Michael Taussig (2003)
Michael Taussig is an anthropologist in Colombia with years of fieldwork experience who has written several books about the country. In Law in a Lawless Land he recounts his experience of spending two weeks in a small town in Colombia’s Cauca Valley during a limpieza, or “cleaning,” when paramilitaries move into the town and kill teenage gang members and anyone else who they deem a problem.
The work is truly a diary – part a recounting of events and part reflection. Taussig is able to contextualize the violence while presenting an unvarnished look at paramilitary violence in Colombia. The book is a natural complement to Missionaries, which has several fictional accounts of extreme paramilitary violence.
Walker is a United States Marine infantry officer currently working as an instructor at the Colombian Naval Academy in Cartagena, Colombia. He is currently a non-resident master’s degree student at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center For Homeland Defense and Security and is a graduate of Brown University and the War Studies Department at King’s College London.
Walker is an Associate Editor at the Center For International Maritime Security and co-host of the Sea Control podcast. He has been published in War on the Rocks, Defense News, USNI Proceedings, the Marine Corps Gazette, West Point’s Modern War Institute, and many other publications. His writing focuses on emerging trends, technology, and tactics on land and at sea. You can follow him on Twitter @WDMills1992.