Top 10 Books: the International Affairs Christmas reading list 2019

Krisztina Csortea

International Affairs
International Affairs Blog
5 min readDec 12, 2019


Reading is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. If you are looking for a great book to give as a gift or to curl up with yourself, we have some wonderful suggestions. This selection is hand-picked from all the books we have reviewed in 2019. Below you will find some books that offer interesting discussions on artificial intelligence, British foreign policy, dissent in Turkey and much, much more.

1) AI super-powers: China, Silicon Valley and the new world order

Written by Kai-Fu Lee. Published in New York by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Give it to: the friend curious about our future robot overlords.

Krisztina says: ‘Anxiety over the advance of AI is rife’ observes Robyn Klingler-Vidra in her review of Kai-Fu Lee’s AI super-powers. Lee surveys developments in AI research in the US and China, and outlines the differences between Silicon Valley’s and China’s tech companies approaches to AI.

Read the full review here.

2) Cultural backlash: Trump, Brexit, and authoritarian populism

Written by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. Published in Cambridge by Cambridge University Press.

Give it to: whoever isn’t coming to Christmas dinner. This is not a conversation you want to start.

Krisztina says: This book is a fascinating discussion of the origins and implications of populist politics in western societies. Particularly interesting is that Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart see authoritarian populism as a cultural phenomenon.

Read the full review here.

3) Brazil: a biography

Written by Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling. Published in London by Allen Lane.

Give it to: the history buff and the traveller.

Krisztina says: This book is an incredibly accessible insight into the country’s history and all the different developments which created today’s Brazil. Written as if the protagonist is a person named Brazil, the book is miles ahead of most dry historiographies.

Read the full review here.

4) Contestation and constitution of norms in global international relations

Written by Antje Wiener. Published in Cambridge by Cambridge University Press.

Give it to: the friend who is fed up with hot takes.

Krisztina says: I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the deeper currents governing many of the global issues we discuss everyday. Antje Wiener examines the dynamics of norm contestation by local actors looking at the case of Kadi v. Commission (2008), the Torture Convention, and Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) which established the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

Read the full review here.

5) Polio: the odyssey of eradication

Written by Thomas Abraham. Published in London by Hurst.

Give it to: your anti-vaxxer relative.

Krisztina says: This book provides a clear argument for the importance of vaccination campaigns, as well as a success story. ‘It will appeal to anyone interested in eradication debates, the politics of scientific research and global health security’.

Read the full review here.

6) Disrupt and deny: spies, special forces, and the secret pursuit of British foreign policy

Written by Rory Cormac. Published in Oxford by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: the friend who can’t wait for the next James Bond.

Krisztina says: In Disrupt and deny, Rory Cormac looks at how the United Kingdom uses covert actions to maintain its place on the international stage. While Cormac does describe a ‘British way’ of conducting covert action, readers will see that it is not quite as portrayed by 007.

Read the full review here.

7) The struggle for modern Turkey: justice, activism and a revolutionary female journalist

Written by Sabiha Sertel. Published in London by I.B. Tauris.

Give it to: the friend who is looking for more complex accounts of leading women.

Krisztina says: Translated into English for the first time, this is the memoir of Turkey’s first female journalist. Sertel ran a major publishing house during the interwar period but finished her life in exile in the USSR.

Read the full review here.

8) War on peace: the end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence

Written by Ronan Farrow. Published in London by William Collins.

Give it to: not the person you are you are giving ‘Cultural backlash’ to. Their holiday cheer may never recover. It can also be combined with Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and kill.

Krisztina says: This is an excellent account of the laying to waste of the State Department under successive presidents and the shift in power to the White House and to the Pentagon.

Read the full review here.

9) Mexico’s human rights crisis

Edited by Alejandro Anaya-Muñoz and Barbara Frey. Published in Philadelphia by University of Pennsylvania Press.

Give it to: Your friend who is already dreading US election coverage. They can read about the other side of the border.

Krisztina says: In this book, Alejandro Anaya-Muñoz and Barbara Frey discuss one of the most pressing and complex internal conflicts of our time, the unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico.

Read the full review here.

10) Crashed: how a decade of financial crises changed the world.

Written by Adam Tooze. Published in New York by Allen Lane.

Give it to: The gen Z-er in your life.

Krisztina says: The 2008 financial crisis has cast a long shadow. Adam Tooze offers a fascinating account of the chain of events connecting the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the world of Brexit and President Trump.

Read the full review here.

Krisztina Csortea is Deputy Editor at International Affairs.

To read more from the International Affairs book reviews section, explore our latest issue here.

Read this year’s summer reading list here.



International Affairs
International Affairs Blog

Celebrating 100+ years as a leading journal of international relations. Follow for analysis on the latest global issues. Subscribe at