Read your way into your study

By Helena Reinders and various contributors

It is yet again that time of year. After a nice summer of Dutch rain and barely seeing any sun, classes are about to commence once more. Now what better way to prepare for this, than with the right set of books? That is why Sphaera will give you the latest book recommendations, this time specifically catered towards the start of the academic year and international studies. Without further ado, let’s begin!

The first four books in this list are recommended to you by Iris Raith, who is a member of the Sphaera writing team. 

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall (2015) 

All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to follow world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements – but if you don’t know geography, you will never have the full picture and the attempt to a holistic understanding. This book is especially interesting for people who want to know more about the shaping of geopolitics over the course of history (maps included!). A follow-up with new, currently geopolitically interesting regions just came out this year. 

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe (2018)

If you would like to be introduced to the complexities of the Troubles of Northern Ireland and everything surrounding them, this is a great book to start reading. It is very detailed yet it does not bombard you with plain facts. The book gives life to the conflict by including many personal life stories of people who were both directly and indirectly involved. In my view, it doesn’t take a stance on the matter, and thus the author allows for the reader to form their own opinions on the matters presented.

East West Street by Philippe Sands (2017)

The author takes us on a very personal journey which is strongly intertwined with World War II and its implications. The origins of the Nuremberg trial, and international law as we know it today, are described in a gripping way. Sands also met with children of high-ranking NS generals and their conversations are very interesting. These conversations are also the starting point of his newest book which is called The Ratline. Both books are highly recommendable. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)

This fictional story plays out in Afghanistan and you get a glimpse of what the country was like before, as well as during the wars. It is a heart-wrenching story which includes family relationships as well friendships that are tried over time. Beautifully written, the book encompasses many difficult topics and it will most definitely take you on an emotional ride.

The next two books are recommended by Helena Reinders, a member of the Sphaera writing team and a member of the current Sphaera Board. 

The Culture Map by Erin Meyer (2014)

Regardless of which study you choose, chances are you will need to be able to understand and work with people from a variety of different cultures. The Culture Map takes you on a journey through the different aspects which make up cultures, and their work-ethics. It does not only explain why and how cultures shape business-relations, but also describes how to handle these and avoid awkward encounters. Personally, I find this to be one of the best books out there which teaches its readers how to understand one another better. Definitely a must-read if you want to successfully finish academic projects with your peers. 

Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2017)

In this fictional story, which manages to come scarily close to what our future could look like, Rex is a good dog. A good dog who just so happens to have been bioengineered and used for war-crimes by his owner. So what happens when his owner has to stand trial for his crimes? This compelling book tackles real political and ethical questions in a manner which makes it incredibly difficult to lay the book down. Looking at the blurred lines between weapons and beings, orders and will, Tchaikovsky enables readers to see the several aspects of the story. 

The next two books are recommended to you by Chira Tudoran, who has fulfilled just about any possible position at Sphaera. 

Thieves of State by Sarah Chayes (2015)

This book, which holds the subtitle Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, is written by Sarah Chayes who is a former senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is also an award-winning reporter for National Public Radio, next to which also served as special advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this 2015 book she connects the Protestant Reformation to the Arab Spring and offers a new view on global extremism. 

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

This sci-fi classic is soon to be turned into a movie, with its release date set this September. The movie will feature well-known actors such as Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman. The book itself was first published in 1965 and tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. It is a true page-turner which addresses many interesting and politically sensitive topics. 

Next to these we also offer a recommendation by Federico Arcuri, a member of our Sphaera writing team.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (2017)

I believe that “Everybody Lies” can be an interesting read for anyone interested in our society. How is this book related to International studies? It is related to IS as it can help us to understand how politics, economics and culture are deeply interrelated and interdependent, through the unique perspective of Big Data as a multidisciplinary tool. The book explains how Big Data can function as a “truth serum”, as it uncovers the instinctive and subconscious (but also conscious) psychological factors and desires that determine our actions in our everyday life. This is due to the fact that we tend to lie continuously, not only to other people for the purpose of deceiving or accommodating, but also to ourselves, because we want to feel better about our qualities. However, we tend to search information on search engines like Google, according to our immediate instincts and necessities – thus uncovering the truth behind the lies that we tell ourselves. The book’s strength lies with the way in which it reminds its reader of the ethical issues behind Big Data: whereas social scientists and humanists may use it to advance our understanding of human nature, helping us to advance towards prosperity and equality, big tech firms and financial corporations might as well – as they already do – use this giant pool of data to maximize their profits, at the expense of consumers’ rights and individual freedoms. Definitely a must-read. 

Last, but most certainly not least, we have both a book and movie recommendation by Arin Doshi, a long time part of our writing team. 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)

I personally enjoyed reading this because, while at first the title really captured my attention and I feel that this book is highly relatable to many students, this book helps students understand that within life one should try and find meaning in the important aspects of their life. It tells its reader to be aware of what they can and cannot control in given circumstances. This book has taught me that in university life, sometimes it is really hard to control things, such as difficult assignments or even difficult teachers. We as students should not beat ourselves over such circumstances, rather we should try and do what we can within the present moment that is within our control. 

3 Idiots (movie, 2009)

This is a great movie about student life in general and also a splendid introduction into the Bollywood film industry. This Hindi film talks about three friends who study Engineering and about the joys and struggles that they overcome together while studying at an Indian university. One of the main lessons of the movie is that university is a formative time of our years where you build your friendship and also your career path, while also explaining that one should not succumb to the pressure of working hard and beating yourself up for obtaining grades. Fear is not good for your grades and you should not chase success alone but instead focus more on excellence, after which success will follow through. In fact this movie has greatly taught me that even if life is a race, you yourself should go about with life at your own pace and live it according to what you love and what you are passionate about. 

This final recommendation concludes this book list. Were you not able to find a fun read? Do not fret, for we have your back! You can find many more book and movie/tv-show recommendations in our quarantine book recommendations and in our holiday books, shows, and films recommendations. Enjoy!

Edited By Helena Reinders and Arianna Pearlstein, image composed by Helena Reinders.