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Fiction, Nonfiction Explore Aftermath of 9/11

In the 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been no shortage of books exploring the effect the events had on our lives. There are books about the effect on our laws, politics and culture, but which ones best explore the post-9/11 world?

For an answer, we asked five experts: Richard K. Betts, Columbia University political science professor and director of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies; Michael Doyle, Columbia Law School foreign and security policy professor; Patrick Doherty, deputy director of the New America Foundation’s national security studies program; David Siddhartha Patel, Cornell University assistant professor of government; and Theodore Lowi, Cornell University professor of American institutions.

Their suggestions span from fact to fiction:

“The Future of Power”

by Joseph S. Nye Jr.

Nye is a respected Harvard University professor and has worked as a foreign policy adviser to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In his book, he addresses terrorism, global politics and the changing concept of power in foreign policy.

While not specifically about 9/11, Doyle said, “The Future of Power” provides a thorough examination of foreign policy since the attacks.

“Nye’s recent book is a deep and comprehensive rumination on how power has changed in the past decade,” Doyle said. “Reading it will help any serious citizen of the U.S. understand and cope with our confusing times where cyber war is as significant as terrorist armed conflict.”

“A National Strategic Narrative” 

by Mr. Y

Doherty suggested reading this memo released by the Woodrow Wilson Center and authored by Navy Capt. Wayne Porter and Marine Col. Mark Mykleby under the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” 

Porter and Mykleby, both special assistants to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, argue that relying solely on military force and focusing only on terrorism will not necessarily lead to the most secure future for the United States. 

“Ten years of focus on one corner of the spectrum of domestic and global challenges has been distracting, and it’s time to begin a national conversation around America’s grand strategy,” Doherty said. “While terrorism is important, it’s not existential.”

In many ways echoing the “soft power” concept coined by Nye, Porter and Mykleby envision a United States that places a greater emphasis on diplomacy and utilizes its education, energy and social policies as tools to engage with foreign entities.

“Law, Ethics, and the War on Terror”

by Matthew Evangelista

Our country’s legal response to 9/11 has changed or at least significantly challenged domestic and international law. This book, authored by a Cornell political science and history professor, looks at the controversial policies put in place in the name of the war on terror, including assassinations, detentions and torture.

“His book should be the bible of discourse on foreign policy thought, planning and action — combining ethics with analysis,” Lowi said.


“Islam and Muslims: A Guide to Diverse Experience in a Modern World”

by Mark Sedgwick

In the years after 9/11, Islam has reached a greater prominence in the national dialogue. Shariah law and mosques have grown commonplace in political lexicon. But the experts Roll Call spoke with said that, like any controversial topic, misinformation about Islam is all too common. As a remedy, Patel suggested reading Sedgwick’s book, which he described as “one of the best introductions to Islam.”

Sedgwick, a British historian, based much of this overview of Islam and modern Muslim society on his own experiences living in the Middle East. 

“Sedgwick provides appropriate detail on Islamic history and doctrine for a general reader while covering an enormous range of topics,” Patel said. “The discussion on what Shariah is, and what it is not, is particularly clear and relevant. Readers will also pick up basic facts, like the difference between Arabs and Muslims, and come to appreciate the diversity of Islamic practice today.”


by Eric Frank Russell

Even though it was published in 1957, Betts believes we can learn a lot about the reaction to the 9/11 attacks by reading this science fiction novel. It’s about “an agent in a future war who infiltrates an enemy planet, uses anonymous violent incidents, rumor-mongering and other guerrilla/terror/asymmetric tactics with ripple effects to wreak psychological havoc on the planet’s population,” Betts said. 

Betts even used a passage from the book as an epigraph for an article he wrote a few months after the 2001 attacks. In his epigraph, Betts cited lines from the novel such as, “In given conditions, action and reaction can be ridiculously out of proportion” and “One can obtain results monstrously in excess of the effort.”

Betts sees a parallel between the effect one relatively weak party had on a more powerful group and the effect al-Qaida had on the United States. 

“This seems to me to illustrate the comparative advantage of weak terrorists against a strong society,” he said.

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