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Lawrence Kaplan's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Lawrence Kaplan recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Lawrence Kaplan's favorite book recommendations of all time.

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century's promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father's glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede's beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede's adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a...
Recommended by Lawrence Kaplan, and 1 others.

Lawrence KaplanIt’s a beautifully written book and I would suggest it for anyone interested in why American foreign policy matters. (Source)

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Written on the front lines in Vietnam, Dispatches became an immediate classic of war reportage when it was published in 1977.

From its terrifying opening pages to its final eloquent words, Dispatches makes us see, in unforgettable and unflinching detail, the chaos and fervor of the war and the surreal insanity of life in that singular combat zone. Michael Herr’s unsparing, unorthodox retellings of the day-to-day events in Vietnam take on the force of poetry, rendering clarity from one of the most incomprehensible and nightmarish events of our time.
Recommended by Lawrence Kaplan, and 1 others.

Lawrence KaplanDispatches came out in 1977, soon after the fall of Saigon. It’s delivered in the voice of the New Journalism of the era. Herr takes us up close, on patrol with American troops. It’s so vivid that it reads like fiction. Herr’s book shows us the dark side of America’s foreign policy and the consequences of ideas hatched in air-conditioned conference rooms in Washington DC. (Source)

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Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs.

Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of  RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these...

Lawrence KaplanThe takeaway from reading this horror-filled book is that depredations on the scale of those that Browning describes can be perpetrated anywhere and by anyone. (Source)

Norman NaimarkThe essential lesson of Ordinary Men is that genocide is not the exclusive preserve of fanatics, racist thugs and homicidal maniacs. It is part of the human condition, especially of humans living in society. (Source)

Steven KatzThe reason this is such an important book is that when you study the Holocaust you ask almost immediately: How could people do this? How could men who had their own children, go out and murder other children? Or husbands take women and rip open their wombs and kill their infants and shoot them behind the ear? This book raised that question in a very, very strong and powerful way, based on... (Source)

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Recommended by Lawrence Kaplan, and 1 others.

Lawrence KaplanAs the title implies, it explores the two sides of American exceptionalism. The term American exceptionalism, I should elaborate, derives from the idea that America is not just any country. It is a special country with a special mission and, in purposefully biblical terms, that mission is to redeem an otherwise sinful world. (Source)

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When Strategies of Containment was first published, the Soviet Union was still a superpower, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, and the Berlin Wall was still standing. This updated edition of Gaddis' classic carries the history of containment through the end of the Cold War. Beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt's postwar plans, Gaddis provides a thorough critical analysis of George F. Kennan's original strategy of containment, NSC-68, The Eisenhower-Dulles "New Look," the Kennedy-Johnson "flexible response" strategy, the Nixon-Kissinger strategy of detente, and now a... more
Recommended by Charles Kupchan, Lawrence Kaplan, and 2 others.

Charles KupchanGaddis does a very good job of telling the story of the emergence of US efforts to contain the Soviet Union, and he packages the story in a conceptual way that has shaped public debate about American strategy ever since. (Source)

Lawrence KaplanStrategies of Containment is a survey of various tactics applied in the larger strategy of containment that we relied on during the Cold War. (Source)

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