“In July and August 1914, fewer than fifty individuals . . . made the decisions that took their countries to war”, Dominic Lieven writes in Towards the Flame: Empire, war and the end of Tsarist Russia (Penguin). Lieven sets these tragic decisions in their global context. His work in Russian diplomatic archives opens new perspectives on the devastating wars, revolutions and tyrannies of the twentieth century, and on dangers that now face the world in this new era of geopolitical competition. “Miscalculation and brinkmanship by key decision makers . . . remain great dangers to peace”, he warns at the end. Also in paperback this year is The Silk Roads: A new history of the world (Bloomsbury), in which Peter Frankopan sets out across a vast geopolitical landscape, looking for the ancient and modern crossroads of civilization. These magisterial works are both great reads, and reveal how much is at stake for world order in Ukraine and Syria.
ZINOVY ZINIK Alexander Etkind’s remarkable new book Warped Mourning: Stories of the undead in the land of the unburied, published originally in English by Stanford University Press, has finally appeared to great acclaim in Russia this year. Etkind argues that unresolved traumas of Stalinism produced a culture replete with spectres and uncanny monsters. In her monumental novel Appendix (NLO, Moscow), Alexandra Petrova, an émigré Russian poet and translator, who moved to Italy in 1998, has managed to exorcize the traumas of her Soviet past by mingling them lyrically with those of idiosyncratic characters on the outskirts of life in a contemporary Rome unknown to foreign visitors. Julia Kissina, a Kiev-born conceptual artist, who has been living in Berlin since 1990, has created a novelistic bestseller in Germany Elephantinas Moskauer Jahre (Suhrkamp) – a hilarious autobiographical tale of cavorting with Moscow conceptualist circles in the 1980s.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."