December 01, 2021

Best of 2021 from CNAS

With a nearly endless supply of content for people to consume, CNAS experts and staff reflect on the pieces of work that truly stood out as the best media we read, watched or listened to in 2021.

Richard Fontaine, CEO

Top Book: Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, by Ariel Sabar. Veritas combines archeology, academia, theology and badass detective work.

Top Article: Josh Sanburn, "How the FBI Discovered a Real-Life Indiana Jones in, of All Places, Rural Indiana." This article features a 90-year-old amateur archaeologist who claimed to have detonated the first atomic bomb.

Podcasts: Supernova in the East episodes in Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast; History of Japan podcast, and Wondery's podcast Bunga Bunga, hosted by Whitney Cummings.

Kate Kuzminski, Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program)

Top Book: The Inheritance, by Mara Karlin. Mara deftly captures the implications of the civil-military relationship on the development and implementation of strategy, and breaks down DoD processes and timelines in an accessible way.

Top Article: Zachary Tyson Brown and Kathleen McInnis, "The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968; The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade." While a lot of us in the national security space focus on strategy and big-ticket platforms, the real areas of tension tend to come down to organizational design and the management of people and processes. Zack and Kathleen composed an artful analysis of the root issues and a way ahead.

Podcast: Harvard Business Review's Women at Work podcast. Highlights up-to-date research on the constantly evolving nature of work in the professional sphere, and the impacts of those trends on professional women specifically.

Emily Kilcrease, Senior Fellow and Director, Economics, Energy, and Security Program

Top Book: Good Economics for Hard Times by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. They cut through the noise on trade and other tough policy issues to provide data and real-life explanations for why conventional wisdom is often wrong.

Top Article: Joseph S. Nye Jr., "With China, a 'Cold War' Analogy is Lazy and Dangerous." Competition with China is like playing 3D chess and it's unlike any challenge we've faced before. Nye explains why analogies to the Cold War fall short.

Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program

Top Book: Leadership: In Tumultuous Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Although published in 2018, this book took on even greater relevance in 2021, following the January 6th deadly riot at the US Capitol and the failure of Republican leadership to hold President Trump to account for his role in weakening the democratic institutions of America. Many of our nation's current leaders would do well by reading Goodwin's exploration of the development of leadership character and the exercise of leadership by four US presidents—Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and LBJ.

Top Article: Rory Stewart, "The Last Days of Intervention". Stewart argues that the US failed to find middle ground in its strategy toward Afghanistan, first over-reaching in its goals and pouring too many resources into the country, and then ultimately swinging toward a complete troop withdrawal. He argues that the US would have been better off relying on a light footprint or reduced counterterrorism presence as President Biden advocated when he was Vice President in 2009.

Chris Dougherty, Senior Fellow, Defense Program

Top Book: The Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs, Lincoln's General, Master Builder of the Union Army, by Robert O'Harrow. A fascinating story of a man who's responsible for some of DC's critical infrastructure and most famous buildings, as well as the logistical machine that enabled the victory of the U.S. army in the civil war.

Top Article: Robert O. Work, "A Slavish Devotion to Forward Presence Has Nearly Broken the U.S. Navy." Great piece by Bob Work that really put a point on the Navy's strategic failures.

Podcast: The Fall of Rome / Tides of History. I literally cannot recommend this podcast enough. The host has a PhD in late Roman history, so he brings an academic perspective and rigor to these topics, but he's got an informal style that makes some of these really complex issues and cutting-edge research accessible. I normally can't stand podcasts, because listening is a much slower information transfer method compared with reading. But this is a must-listen if you have any interest in Roman history, the history of the early modern world (Black Death through Battle of Lepanto), or the history of prehistoric humans.

Megan Lamberth, Associate Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

Top Book: Truman, by David McCullough. McCullough's Truman is one of my favorite biographies. His writing captures the complexity and humanity of Truman as a person, and is a wonderful telling of his extraordinary life.

Top Article: Jennifer Senior, "What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind." Jennifer Senior tells the story of a young man who lost his life on 9/11, Bobby McIlvaine, and the lasting impact of that day on his family and loved ones. Senior's piece is a beautiful and heart-wrenching piece of long-form journalism.

TV Show: Ted Lasso. I absolutely love this show. It's got everything_comedy, sports, romance, and a lot of heart. It leaves you wanting to try and be a better person.

Laura Brent, Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program

Top Book: The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World, by Sarah Stewart Johnson. This book is beautifully written—and such a joyful celebration of science and exploration.

Top Article: Jane Vaynman, "Better Monitoring and Better Spying: The Implications of Emerging Technology for Arms Control." This article does an excellent job linking political concerns and technical realities. It's an approachable and fascinating read with useful insights on how technology will continue to impact the political agreements we can reach.

Podcast: Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics. While this has nothing to do with technology or national security (unless you count a discussion of the Trojan War as strategy-informing), this podcast is a brilliant and hilarious delight for anyone who has even a passing interest in the classics.

Nathalie Grogan, Research Associate, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

Top Book: Sovietistan, by Erika Fatland. This is the rare nonfiction book that reads like a novel, with the characters of Central Asian authoritarian leaders being the wild historical figures you've never learned about. For those interested in a region of the world that gets too little attention in the media and literature, Sovietistian is a fascinating introduction.

Top Article: Melissa Fay Greene, "You Won't Remember the Pandemic the Way You Think You Will." This article has made me think longer and harder than any over "think piece" on the COVID-19 pandemic, as each person has their own experience of the pandemic and history is written is unique ways, often unrecognizable to individuals who lived it.

TV Show: Democracy Works. This show highlights the wide variety of issues and topics that make up our diverse and complicated democracy, spurring citizens to action.

Joshua Fitt, Associate Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

Top Book: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. Not only is this captivating story about the triumph of the Human Spirit a compelling narrative, the writing is frequently so beautiful and deeply charming that it caused me to pause (slackjawed) and soak it all in.

Top Article: Emily Badger, Josh Katz and Kevin Quealy, "What We Learned From 15 Million Guesses About a Neighborhood’s Politics." This was my favorite article of the year because of the way it incorporates imagery and interactive elements to challenge my assumptions. While working as a political campaign field organizer, I subconsciously prepared for the conversations I was about to have by absorbing as much information as I could about someone during the walk up their driveway to ring their doorbell. We do similar assessments like this all the time in the policy world by quickly sorting people into boxes based on certain opinions or beliefs. This article invites us to think critically about how well we understand our own country. Understanding America or Americans isn't quite as simple as boiling things down to one or two metrics of identity, ideology, or geography.

Anna Pederson, Digital Communications Officer

Top Book: The Ten Year War, Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage, by Jonathan Cohn. A true "how the sausage is made" look at how this one law came to be, and the political fallout that has been felt since then. Cohn's research is exhaustive, but the narrative is compelling and human.

Top Article: What is Glitter? by Caity Weaver. This article came out several years ago, but like its subject matter, it just doesn't go away. A delightful trip into the origins and industrial making of that sparkly stuff that's now everywhere. A long-form article about glitter is the perfect way to wrap up the holiday season.

Top TV Show: The Other Two on HBO. A totally binge-worthy comedy that follows the ups and downs of a family dealing with instant fame and the floundering feeling of finding your own path. It's hilarious, probably not everyone's taste, but it does have Molly Shannon.

Nick Lokker, Intern, Transatlantic Security Program

Top Book: The Last President of Europe, by William Drozdiak. An excellent look into Emmanuel Macron and his plans for revitalizing the European Union. It's especially relevant with the upcoming French presidency of the EU (starting in January 2022) and the French presidential elections in April 2022.

Top Article: Max Bergmann and Benjamin Haddad, "Europe Needs to Step up on Defense." I'm recommending this because it is a big step forward in the debate around European strategic autonomy (an area where TSP is doing lots of work at the moment), with concrete and bold ideas for how to make it a reality.

Iliana Jaime, Intern, Communications

Top Book: In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif. This autobiography stands out as one of the best pieces of writing on the lived experiences of Arab women during times of political turmoil in the Middle East – in this case, the Six Day War from a young Egyptian woman's perspective. In an unusual and beautiful way this book reads like a long poem; the protagonist's relationship to the world is manifest through carefully selected bits of poetry. More than anything I recommend this book because of the important reminder it serves that poetry can deepen and make more fruitful our encounter with geopolitics and the social world.

Top Article: Becca Wasser and Elisa Ewers, "Rightsizing in the Middle East." Given the Pentagon's current posture shift toward China and Russia, this article is an insightful and pragmatic contribution to the current debate regarding what the U.S.'s role should be in the Middle East. The U.S. need not pivot away from the region as long as it can modulate its strategy properly.