After some months off during a surprisingly busier summer and start of the school year, I have found time and a rejuvenated aspiration to bring you another blog post. With the New Year just begun, I wanted to write about something new. I hope that this effort both helps me stay accountable and perhaps helps inspire others to follow suit.
A Surge in Reading
I’ve never been a strong reader. Part of this stems from my childhood, where I never read as much as I probably should have; this created a lower literacy in me, hampered somewhat by mild dyslexia and an average reading comprehension. Another side of this issue is that I never thought of reading as something that could bring enjoyment; it was always because I had to for one reason or another. This lack of reading was compounded in my undergraduate studies by added page volume, which was even more the case during my master’s program. I had to resort to merely skimming the books I read in order to find a sweet spot of efficiency.
Since I finished my master’s program in March 2020, I have read far more books than I ever did in all the years before. I’m not entirely sure what got me going, but I’m to the point now where I’m lining up books to read and planning on applying that information to the work I do. So what does all this have to do with ‘something new for the new year?’ A friend of mine who recently finished her master’s program did something pretty cool: she laid out all the books and printed articles she read for her degree and snapped a picture, using it as part of her celebratory social media post for completing her studies and achieving the goal which she set out to achieve. That’s what I’m aiming to do here, for the books I’ve read in the past 21 months since the pandemic started and I finished my own master’s program.
Now given that I didn’t set out with this goal in mind when I read all the books I did – and therefore didn’t list them out beforehand for the sake of accountability – this post will only partially address this endeavor. However, at the end of this post I will list out the books I aim to read in the coming year, and will then follow up with a post next December/January – and will therefore make the circle complete. And so, here is the picture of the books I’ve read since March 2020:
In an effort to not draw out this post longer than it needs to be, I will simply make note of a few books that really stuck out to me and have made an impact on me and the way I think about history one way or another. The first is The Politics of Our Time by John B. Judis, which is a 2021 publication that combines three books he wrote on populism, nationalism, and socialism between 2016-2020. I had actually read the second of the three books and used it for my Contemporary Europe class in the fall of 2020, then read the other two parts after purchasing the combined edition – finding it all very enlightening if not always agreeable. If you’re someone who wants to understand the overarching reasons why current political trends developed the way they have in the last 30+ years in both the US and Europe, this book offers some great insights into that phenomenon and also provides some commentary on future implications on both the national and global levels. I’ve never been one to get wrapped up in politics, especially in election years, but this read has proven relevant and helpful, and I’d recommend it to anyone hoping to find a similar understanding of our world today.
The second book that made an impact on me, even if to a lesser extent than the Judis book, was How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley, originally published in 2018. Having studied the Nazi Third Reich more extensively than the average individual, I have read my fair share of information and commentary relating to National Socialism and the ‘us versus them’ mentality that saturates fascist politics. Using that as my baseline of knowledge, listening to this audio book really aided in broadening my understanding of and appreciation for the nuances that characterize fascism both historically and in contemporary contexts. I think when people hear the word “fascism,” their minds immediately conjure up images of the Hitler salute and the Nazis’ nationalistic attempt to overpower their European neighbors in the name of cultural domination; by extension, thoughts of Mussolini giving fervent speeches from a balcony in central Rome may also be conjured. Either way, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as there are many other contexts in which fascism rears its ugly face. This book illustrates those contexts and the general structure and thinking of fascist politics down in a very understandable and relatable manner.
Some of the other books opened my eyes to the history of their subjects in a more general sense. The books Why Nationalism, Neo-Nationalism, Borderland, and The Twilight of Democracy all lent insight into the world of European nationalism – and even populism, in some parts of some books – that has defined the last 10+ years of European history and continues to inform the present decade. This also reinforces what I’ve already read and learned about contemporary Europe, as well as how I teach it at the college level. This Sovereign Isle and Britain and Europe in a Troubled World provided me with clarity and detail regarding the UK, Brexit, and the implications of the whole ordeal on the UK and Europe in political, economic, and even social terms. For anyone looking to better understand Brexit, why it happened, and what it means, these books would be my reads of choice.
Here are the books above put into list form:
Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah
The Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum
Borderland by Anna Reid (on Kindle)
This Sovereign Isle by Robert Tombs
Britain and Europe in a Troubled World by Vernon Bogdanor
Nations and Nationalism by Eric Hobsbawm
On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder
Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir
Neo-Nationalism by Eirikur Bergmann
How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley (on Audible)
Disputed Histories by Omer Bartov
Lessons of the Holocaust by Michael R. Marrus
The Politics of Our Time by John B. Judis
If any of you have read or plan to read any of these on the list, I’d love to connect and discuss your thoughts and reactions to the arguments included in what you read.
Reading List for 2022
Building off of much that I read in the list above, here is my list for 2022:
Nineteenth-Century Europe by Michael Rapport
The Bright Ages by Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry
The Enlightenment by Dorinda Outram
Lost Kingdom by Serhii Plokhy
The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray (on Audible)
Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick J. Deneen
The Idea of Europe by Shane Weller
The Future of the Holocaust: Between History and Memory by Berel Lang
In Defense of History by Richard J. Evans
Denying the Holocaust by Deborah Lipstadt
The Virtue of Nationalism by Yoram Hazony
The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder
The first four books are intended for use in future college classes that I’ll offer over the coming semesters (like Revolutionary Europe, Medieval Europe, and Early Modern Europe), but the rest of the list is comprised of books that interest me both personally and academically. My plan is to read through a class-related book alongside one of the others; this is my attempt to stay sharp mentally as I read but to also ensure that I work through all the books I can. Of course, things may come up through my jobs or personal life that will force me to alter my plans, but I at least have something concrete in place moving forward. In the short run, I look forward to learning more and further honing my reading skills and literacy rate; in the long run, I hope to build up my reading stamina, so to speak, in preparation for my PhD program.
That is all for now. I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to connecting with you again soon!