Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family, and an Inexplicable Crime by Ben BlumIn 2006, Alex Blum, a recently qualified Army Ranger on leave, drove the getaway car for a quartet of bank robbers, one of whom was a veteran Ranger who ranked above Alex. His cousin, author Ben Blum, spent a year trying to find out why Alex participated in this serious crime. In Ranger Games, Blum reports on Alex's trial, the defense lawyer's theory that Alex believed the bank heist was a required Army training exercise, and Ranger culture. This riveting, thought-provoking book reveals some sobering information about military training, mind games, and moral corruption.
Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy HansenAfter winning a fellowship to fund a year abroad, journalist Suzy Hansen went to live in Istanbul, Turkey in 2007. Assuming, as she had been taught, that the rest of the world views the U.S. as generous and benevolent, she was shocked to learn otherwise. In Notes on a Foreign Country, Hansen relates her discovery that American self-perceptions are based on ignorance of history and international affairs. She recounts what she's learned about U.S. foreign policy during years spent in the eastern Mediterranean region and starkly illuminates the problems caused by American unawareness of the rest of the world.
Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption by Benjamin RachlinViewing the history of a wrongful conviction through the lens of the trial, verdict, and imprisonment of Willie James Grimes, author Benjamin Rachlin traces the specifics of this case as well as the beginnings of North Carolina's Innocence Inquiry Commission. While other convictions had been questioned after DNA evidence was introduced, the Grimes case was a key factor in passing a 2006 state law that enables systematic challenges to mishandled prosecutions. For another unsettling look at a questionable conviction (in 1950s Alabama), check out S. Jonathan Bass' He Calls Me by Lightning.
Russia: 100 years since the Revolution
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Aleksievich; translated by Bela ShayevichIf you want a closeup view of the end of the Soviet Union and the beginnings of the new Russia, check out this moving oral history collection that provides an eye-opening look at the Soviet and post-Soviet soul. Sharing the stories of a wide variety of people from across the vast country, 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksievich provides a thorough, fascinating look at war, freedom, family, and more, giving voice to those who've seen so much upheaval. For further reading on travels in contemporary Russia, pick up Anne Garrels' Putin Country.
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee MyersIn The New Tsar, former New York Times Moscow bureau chief Steven Myers recounts in great detail the career of Vladimir Putin, who emerged on the Russian political scene in the 1990s and succeeded Boris Yeltsin as President in 2000. Myers describes Putin's initial economic reforms, which transformed the Russian economy, but which he soon followed with oppressive authoritarian measures and military actions that created global angst. Offering a personal assessment and political analysis designed to help Westerners understand the Russian leader, Myers presents a "highly effective portrait of a frighteningly powerful autocrat" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag MontefioreFor three centuries, until 1918, the Romanov dynasty ruled a sixth of the world's surface. In this comprehensive and absorbing narrative, author Simon Sebag Montefiore details the unlikely birth of their power in 1613 and traces their rule until their downfall. Utilizing correspondence, diaries, and other primary materials, Montefiore draws compelling portraits of each of the rulers and their spouses, creating a history of Russian imperial leadership and illuminating the autocratic and violent character of their reigns. Current affairs buffs who are intrigued by the authoritarian methods of President Vladimir Putin will find this a thought-provoking examination of Russian political traditions.
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