A Reading List for 2024
“Read More.” Two words that almost always find themselves on the list of “top New Year’s resolutions.” In fact, over the last decade only in August – during back-to-school shopping – do book retailers sell more books than they do in January.
2023 wrapped up with several events that should make all Greek Americans resolved to read more, especially ahead of several milestones in 2024. Here are just a few suggestions [NOTE: all of the recommendations below are English language titles with the hope that Greek Americans will not only be inspired to read them but give them as gifts to American friends who could stand to be educated on these topics].
The passing of Henry Kissinger and the upcoming 50th commemoration of Turkey’s 1974 invasion should remind us all of the shameful history of U.S. policy on Cyprus. Christopher Hitchen’s The Trial of Henry Kissinger is a concise read which still provides a thorough critique of Kissinger’s “statesmanship”/war crimes in Cyprus (as well as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh, Chile, East Timor, Iraq). Hitchens does a masterful job of emphasizing Kissinger’s amorality (which in almost every case morphed into immorality).
The shift in American foreign policy from the moral principles of Woodrow Wilson or the United Nations of FDR to the “There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus” of Kissinger is diplomatic history that all Americans should understand. What is actually true is that there is “no American reason” that — despite diplomatic high points like detente, shuttle diplomacy, or the opening to China — that Kissinger’s amoral and crass realpolitik should continue to have such adherents in American diplomatic circles. Understanding the full bill of indictment against Kissinger is a must for anyone who wishes for a foreign policy where American interests and values are aligned.
Two of the best books on Cyprus — Hitchens’ Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger and Claire Palley’s An International Relations Debacle: The UN Secretary-General’s Mission of Good Office in Cyprus 1999-2004 — are difficult to acquire but are required reading if one wants to understand how the people of Cyprus have been victimized by great power politics and diplomatic efforts to merely “unload” the Cyprus problem rather than to provide a lasting and viable solution.
THE GEOGRAPHIC SIGNIFICANCE OF GREECE
Since antiquity, the Hellenic world has often considered itself the omphalos (or center) of the world. Ironically it is today’s Greece — which is one of the smaller NATO and EU member states — that finds itself at the center of so many key developments in global politics.
Many other conflicts may dominate headlines, but it is the competition between the US and China that will define this century. In her book The World According to China Elizabeth Economy (formerly of the Hoover Institution and the Council of Foreign Relations; presently an advisor to the US Secretary of Commerce on China) examines how this competition embroiled Greece at the height of its economic crisis. Economy’s insights help her readers understand why the US government (both directly through the Development Finance Corporation and indirectly by encouraging corporate America to invest in Greece) has stepped up its efforts in Greece.
But Greece is significant for many more reasons than Sino-American competition. Looking at maps of the two major conflicts dominating the news — Ukraine and Gaza — and you see Greece virtually at the mid-point and holding down the strategic seam between Europe and the Middle East. Tim Marshall’s The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World is a must, as it tabs the map of Greece as one of those ten maps (and the map of Turkey as another).
With Greece entering the Three Seas Initiative and being part of the potential India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, there is no better time to review geopolitical literature and dust off some maps.
THE RETURN OF THE CLASSICS
In the decade prior to the pandemic, the number of undergraduate degrees in the Classics declined by nearly 40% and more than a dozen Classics majors or departments ceased to exist. Classics were drawn into national debates about race and diversity, and there was an attempt to move away from the traditional emphasis of Classical studies — Latin and Greek language, Roman and Hellenic history.
That is why Emily Wilson’s highly anticipated 2023 translation of The Iliad is so welcome. Wilson’s translation is not only accessible, she wrote it so it can be read out loud (you can pretend to be Homer when reading to your family). Much has been made of Wilson being the first woman to translate both The Iliad and The Odyssey into English (although Wilson herself does not see this fact as significant). In the last few years we have also had Madeline Miller’s acclaimed novels — The Song of Achilles and Circe — as well as other novels like A Thousand Ships, The Women of Troy, and Ithaca all based on the classics and authored by women.
This doesn’t mean that there is an emerging feminist or female centric version of Homer, but the diversity in the storytellers helps counter one of the more ridiculous critiques of the Classics, and also brings them to life in a way that might not have been imagined years ago.
There are certainly more excellent books on these topics, and several others interesting topics with their own corresponding literature. Whatever your interest and whichever book you decide to pick up first, there has never been a better time to adopt a “Read More” resolution.