Conflicts & Struggles

Staff Pick Badge
The Days of the French Revolution Cover Image
ISBN: 9780688169787
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - June 23rd, 1999

A great general introdution to the French Revolution that is easy to read and exciting at the same time. An enjoyable read for someone sipping Cognac and smoking a Gauloises cigarette in a cafe overlooking the Seine.

Staff Pick Badge
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679726104
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - March 17th, 1990

Simon Schama provides an insane amount of informatin, which some may find overwheling, but it is the closest thing to actually watching Louis XVI's head get chopped off by the guillotine.

A suprising fact: when the Bastile was stormed on July 14th, there were actually only seven prisoners currently incarcerated. It was more of a symbol of terror rather than an actual insturment of terror.

Staff Pick Badge
The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465097425
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Basic Books - October 4th, 2016

There are a lot of reasons why I loved this book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding more about the numerous conflicts occurring today in former Ottoman territories such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Palestine, Kurdistan and Syria. Eugen Rogan details the lead up to WWI brilliantly by explaining how the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and the First Balkan War of 1912-13 helped ignite World War One. Next instead of being stuck in No Man’s Land on the Western Front, Rogan provides an informative account of the Eastern Front focusing on the Gallipoli Campaign, the Arab Revolt and Lawrence of Arabia.

The most important and unfortunately repulsive section of this book is the Armenian Genocide, where Eugen Rogan expertly uses first-hand accounts of the massacres to capture the horrors. “They attacked these defenseless people, they killed, they abducted, they raped, they plundered, they selected those appealing to them and carried them off, subjecting those who resisted to horrific tortures, before picking up and leaving.”

The author makes no doubt that that the Genocide of Armenians was directly ordered by the Ottoman high command and was carried out enthusiastically by Turkish military and government officials who rounded up Armenians and then deported them to the countryside for mass execution. This was the first modern genocide where over one million Armenians were massacred in addition to hundreds of thousands of Assyrians.

The final part of this book describes a common theme in history where the wants and desires of White Christian Europeans always trumps the needs of the local non-White, non-Christian populations. After the War, Great Britain and France betrayed their promises of Arab Nationalism and instead divided up the territories of the former Ottoman states for themselves with no regard for what was best for the people that were living there. Ottoman states that were Christian like Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece were all allowed their Independence, yet Muslim ones were not allowed theirs.

This insane idea immediately led to revolts throughout Syria, Iraq, and Palestine where both the French and the British harshly suppressed any independence movement in these countries. This terrible decision has led to the death, displacement, suffering, and destruction to millions and millions of people who have lived in these nations for over a thousand years.

Staff Pick Badge
The History of the Peloponnesian War: Revised Edition Cover Image
By Thucydides, Rex Warner (Translated by), M. I. Finley (Introduction by), M. I. Finley (Notes by)
ISBN: 9780140440393
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Classics -

Despite being written over 2,400 years ago, Thucydides is fun to read because he adds dialogue to the people he writes about in his book. He simply doesn’t describe the main points each side made in a debate; he actually has the people taking part in the debate speak. This allows for the reader to have a much more engaging experience reading because one feels closer to the action.

The best example of this is the section on the Melian Dialogue, where a delegation from Athens have arrived on the island of Melos in order to convince the Melians to submit to Athens or face death. The Melians and the Athenians then have a conversation explaining their points of view and trying to convince each other about the ethics of their decision. One can feel the desperation in the voices of the Melians as their pleas to be left alone fall on the deaf ears of the Athenians, in the end the Melians are all killed. Don’t worry the women and children were just sold off into slavery.

The freaky part of this book is that there are so many connections to the modern world. The Cold War historian, John Lewis Gaddis, points to the similarities between the Athenian expedition to Sicily and the American intervention in Vietnam. These two events happened about two thousand years apart, yet both the Athenian Empire and the American Empire made the same mistakes. The Athenian Commander Nicias is speaking out against intervention in Sicily, “It is senseless to go against people who, even if conquered, could not be controlled, while failure would leave us much worse off than we were before we made the attempt.”

Sicily was very far away from Athens and provided no immediate threat to the Athenian Empire, and also similar to the Vietnamese, Sicilians had no interest in being governed by a foreign power who laid waste to their homes. The Sicilian expedition proved to be the beginning of the downfall of the Athenian Empire, and the American Empire’s humiliation in Vietnam was the first defeat it would have to face.

Hopefully, the American Empire can learn from the mistakes the Athenian Empire made and try to make friends instead of looking for new enemies.

Staff Pick Badge
The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia Cover Image
ISBN: 9781568360225
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Kodansha Globe - May 15th, 1994

It is confusing why the British and the Russians decided to fight on this piece of land thousands of miles away from their capitals, but let me quickly to sum it up. The British Empire’s most important colony and richest colony was India, and they were desperate to defend it at all costs. The British feared that if the Russians could cross over thousands of miles through Central Asia, then the gateway to India would be wide open. It isn’t clear how valid these fears were, but British Russophobes did their best to sway opinion by fearmongering and making this unlikely possibility seem like a certainty.

Therefore, the British needed to invade Central Asia in order to make a buffer state between British India and Russia.

The Russians did want India of course, but the realities of making the invasion possible were near unplausible. Instead, the Russians were more concerned with putting an end to Central Asian slave-trade where thousands of Russians were held enslaved and if they could expand their empire even more, all the better. Peter Hopkirk makes this story very breathtaking not by focusing on the competing empires, but by describing the individuals on both sides who make the story.

The Great Game was played out by spies who were more focused on map-making then they were on killing one another. There was a nice part of the story where a Russian and a British spy, acknowledging the similarities between one another, spent the night drinking together. The message that Peter Hopkirk makes it this book is scarily foreboding, “If this narrative tells us nothing else, it at least shows that not much has changed in the last hundred years. Indeed, the headlines of today are often indistinguishable from those of a century or more ago.”

The author wrote this book in 1990, after the Soviets had been defeated in Afghanistan, yet a little more than a decade later the Americans would make the same mistake. Finally, it appears that the Americans are withdrawing from Afghanistan, but I’m sure another empire will make the same mistake in the future.

Staff Pick Badge
The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-2011 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780142422564
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - September 25th, 2012

"Jeff, check it out, Serbian Rum. Rum that is banned there. Banned in Serbia." Jeff let that concept sink in. 

Those were the words of Chevy Chase’s character in the TV Show Community. That episode, Remedial Chaos Theory, which is possible the greatest episode in the history of television, first aired almost ten years ago, and the concept of something being banned in Serbia is still sinking in. Clearly this joke is a reference to war crimes committed by the Serbs in the 1990s, why I find this so funny is a question for my future therapist. But the more important question is what happened in the Balkans leading up to Serbian war crimes in the 1990s?

Misha Glenny does a phenomenal job answering this question. His detailed history of the region creates a clear image of how nationalism in the Balkans led to the outbreak of World War I. The Balkan peninsula in south-eastern Europe is made up of former Ottoman Empire territories, which were a combination of various nationalities and religions. In the 19th century, these people were demanding their independence from the Ottoman Empire and began to revolt.

The Great Powers in Europe, like France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia all had their own territorial ambitions and looked to take advantage of the situation to expand their empires, “Given the geographical diversity and complex demography of the Balkans, any division of the region into new states that neglected to take into account local antagonisms was bound to fail… Balkan leaders suspected, the great powers would encourage the expansion of nation states where and when it suited their interests to do so, and ignore overlapping national claims.”

Empires do not care about the people they rule over, they only care about the peoples’ desires when it suits their own best interests. France was unable to maneuver its way into the Balkans, so instead France turned its attention to Tunisia which sparked the scramble for Africa that created another global disaster. The Treaty of Berlin in 1878 was designed to put an end to the violence in the Balkans and create a peace that would last.

Clearly this did not work, just ask the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Staff Pick Badge
The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345476098
Availability: Backordered
Published: Presidio Press - August 3rd, 2004

This book is always talked about as being the “Citizen Kane” of history books, and I completely agree that this phenomenal work about the prelude to World War I has a rosebud feel to it.

After every page, I wanted more and was completely unable to put this book down. Reviews of this book describe Barbara Tuchman, the author, as having a Thucydidean ability to stay impartial throughout the story while being incredibly thorough in her research. Even though this book is written about sixty years ago, the lessons that Tuchman conveys make the story are applicable to the present.

There were a lot of interesting facts made in this wonderful book, but one I found very interesting was Germany’s obsession with Belgium’s violation of international law. Even though Germany broke international law by invading Belgium and violating Belgium’s neutrality, Germany became appalled by Belgium’s civilians resisting the occupation of their country. While Germany was occupying Belgium’s territory and executing civilians in firing squads, they expected the Belgian people to be complacent and willing hosts. This frustrated the German high command who were obsessed, “that Belgian resistance was illegal and that it was organized from above by the Belgian government.”

How dare Belgians have the audacity to protect their families from foreign invaders occupying their land?

In order to sufficiently punish the Belgians the German high command decided to burn down the Louvain Library. The Library was founded in 1426 and contained over 230,000 volumes and 750 medieval manuscripts; this was a priceless piece of history and culture, yet the Germans blamed Belgium for the fire. If only the Belgians had behaved properly towards the German soldiers destroying their country, then the library might have been saved.

I will never understand how an occupying force can legitimize the extreme levels of violence they commit by arguing that is self-defense. You have invaded someone’s land, killed their citizens, and you expect them to do nothing? I will never condone violence of any kind or argue that violence is justified, but I do see the difference between protecting oneself against an aggressive occupying force and attacking a less powerful opponent.

Staff Pick Badge
Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917-2017 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802127037
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - November 7th, 2017

This is an incredibly well-researched book, and a lot of credit should go to the author, Ian Black, for including a lot of detail without making the narrative too confusing or slow.

The author brings in views from multiple sides of the conflict, not simply just a pro-Israel and a pro-Palestine point of view. But includes testimonies of Jewish Israelis that are against the expansion of settlements, and Palestinians who have benefited from the status quo and are afraid of change.

The rapid expansion of settlements under the Netanyahu administration is one of the key elements to this conflict that is escalating the violence and making any chance of an equitable peace deal seem impossible. Israel’s settlement expansion is incredibly significant because it, “Effectively bisects the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, already carved up by settlements and checkpoints, and break up what had been contiguous Palestinian territory.” This settlement expansion has made it impossible for a Palestinian territory to exist that is contiguous and includes East Jerusalem.

The roads that connect Jewish settlements are known as “Sterile Roads” because they bypass Palestinian areas, and it is illegal for Palestinians to drive on these roads. Not even under the harshest levels of Jim Crow in America was it illegal for African Americans to use roads, yet some people are still afraid to label Israel as an occupying force.

The insanity of Israel’s occupation can be highlighted when Israel banned a shipment of macaroni entering Gaza because macaroni is classified as a luxury item. Luckily American pressure overturned the decision and allowed the macaroni to enter. Clearly the only thing Americans care about is having access to macaroni, especially when it is after midnight on a Tuesday, and you are drunk and the only thing in your Mom’s pantry is a box of Kraft mac ’n’ cheese and cheese.

Hopefully, America will begin caring about Palestinians as much as they care about mac ‘n’ cheese.

Staff Pick Badge
The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250787651
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - January 26th, 2021

It’s hard to find the right words to explain violence in Palestine and Israel. So I will let Rashid Khalidi’s phenomenal book do the speaking today.

Hopefully, these quotes can help you better understand how the Palestinians are feeling.  

“Nowhere in the subsequent twenty-eight article of the Mandate is there any reference to the Palestinians as a people with national or political rights. Indeed, as in the Balfour Declaration, the words “Arab” and “Palestinian” do “Their main effort was embodied in Hourani’s testimony, which offered a prescient description of the devastation and chaos that the creation of a Jewish state would wreak on Palestinian society and so throughout the Arab world.

He warned the committee that in the past few years responsible Zionists have talked seriously about the evacuation of the Arab population, or part of it, to other parts of the Arab world. The implementation of the Zionist program, he said, “Would involve a terrible injustice and could only be carried out at the expense of dreadful repressions and disorders, with the risk of bringing down in ruins the whole political structure of the Middle East.”The United States and USSR, which both voted in favor of the 1947 UN resolution, now clearly played the decisive role in sacrificing the Palestinians for a Jewish state to take their place and control over most of their country.

The resolution was another declaration of war, providing the international birth certificate for a Jewish state in most of what was still an Arab-majority land, a blatant violation of the principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter. The expulsion of enough Arabs to make possible a Jewish majority state necessarily and inevitable followed.“Despite their manifest weakness, the dispersed, defeated Palestinians, written out of history by the victors of 1948, largely ignored or muzzled by the Arab governments, and sacrificed on the altar of the great powers’ global ambitions, repeatedly managed to upset the regional status quo that was so unfavorable to them.”  not appear.

The only protections envisaged for the great majority of Palestine’s population involved personal and religious rights and preservation of the status quo at sacred sites. On the other hand, the Mandate laid out the key means for establishing and expanding the national home for the Jewish people.”

Staff Pick Badge
The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307744623
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - July 15th, 2014

Its hard to imagine that a genocide could be forgotten, but the Genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971 is never talked about. I had no idea it happened until I took a class on the history of the Indian subcontinent. Hopefully, you will acknowledge your ignorance and decide to inform yourself about a topic that has been pushed out of view.

While in previous genocides like the Holocaust or Rwandan Genocide, where American Presidents were reluctant to get involve, this Genocide was carried out by the West Pakistan administration with the help of the American President at the time, Richard Nixon. Nixon and his National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, were kind enough to supply Pakistan with weapons to help them slaughter Bengalis. I have no idea how Henry Kissinger, a Jewish man fortunate enough to survive the Holocaust, could help another country carry out a Genocide.

While reading this excellent book by Gary J. Bass, it becomes clear how racist the Nixon administration was towards India.

Not every American in this horrifying event should be blamed, the American Consul General to Bangladesh, Archer Blood, witnessed the mass murder of Bengalis taking place and was brave enough to send a telegram informing Nixon that America’s ally, Pakistan, is committing ethnic cleansing. Archer Blood took it upon himself to shelter Bengalis in his home during the slaughter, but what does he get for his heroics? He gets discredited, fired, and has his career ruined. The big question is why would America help Pakistan slaughter Bengalis?

Nixon and Kissinger’s main adjective was to open relations with China, “If China decided that the United States was trying to split off part of Pakistan in the name of self-determination, that would be an unacceptable precedent for Taiwan and Tibet in Peking’s eyes.” So, Nixon sacrificed millions of Bengalis just to show China that America would not involve itself in its ally’s internal conflicts. The ends never justify the means.

Staff Pick Badge
How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of Its Historic Liberal-Islamic Alliance Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802148209
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - April 21st, 2020

This book is full of hope. It makes the reader feel that there was a chance to prevent future violence if only the West wasn’t so greedy. I love Elizabeth Thompson for providing such a well-researched book on an important event that would set a precedent in the region for a century.

There are so many negative comments made about the Middle East. I don’t even like using the term, “The Middle East” because it unfortunately has too many negative connotations associated with it. I enjoyed this book because the author focused on the events that led to the destructive colonization of Southwest Asia.

One of the more interesting sections in this book was about the King-Crane Commission in 1919. Charles Crane and Henry King were appointed as the American delegates to go to Southwest Asia talk to the people and then advise President Woodrow Wilson and the American Government on the wishes of the Arab people. France and Great Britain were not happy that Americans were interfering with their future colonies by listening to Arabs and tried to set up as many roadblocks as possible for the commission.

On May 1st 1919, King and Crane sent a memo to President Wilson warning that the, “Selfish division of spoils and the imposition of mandates by force would spark violence, stain America’s reputation, and threaten the entire postwar order.” If only they knew how prophetic their memo would become.

One can imagine what could have been if only the West had heeded the warnings of King and Crane. Violence quickly erupted across the former Ottoman Empire; everyone fighting each other over what they believed was rightfully theirs. In the end, the common people were the ones who suffered the most and had the least say in their own future.

Staff Pick Badge
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307279286
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Anchor - February 25th, 2020

The book starts off describing the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a 38 year-old mother of ten living in Belfast. Immediately, the reader feels as if he/she has been transported to Belfast in 1972.

It doesn’t feel as if you are reading history, instead it feels more like these events are happening as you are reading them. This is the magic of Patrick Radden Keefe’s writing, the author is skilled at describing a scene and putting the reader in the middle of it.  

After getting the reader hooked, the author describes the events and people in Ireland during “The Troubles.” This book is a great example of how quickly violence can escalate when both sides are committing revenge killings, the speed at which the number of murders can increase from a couple a year to over a thousand a year is terrifying. I enjoyed reading about how the Irish were not only interested in creating a United Ireland, but also a United Ireland that was Socialist.

One of the Irish leaders, Eamonn McCann, was focused on trying to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants believing that both communities were actually on the same side they just didn’t know it. Both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland struggled with unemployment and lived in run-down neighborhoods, but were often to focused on hating one another to realize who the real enemies were. McCann said, “They (Protestants) are not our enemies in any sense, they are not exploiters dressed in thirty-guinea suits. They are the dupes of the system, the victims of the landed and industrialist unionists.” I find this quote can describe many conflicts, the exploiters are the real enemies and they try to divide the exploited based on religion, skin color, or ethnicity.

If only those who are exploited can see past these artificial divisions and come together, then real meaningful change can take place that will benefit all people.