Morenz Group Top Five Books for 2024

Morenz Group Book 2023

Those of you who follow my book recommendations blog know that there is frequently a consistent theme that, organically and surprisingly, ties the books together. That’s certainly the case this year with four of the books which offer insightful perspectives on how we, as a country, understand and engage in global affairs, considering current geopolitical tensions. The fifth book peels back the curtain in a more personal way to help us identify our own strengths and how we can continue to reinvent ourselves, even as we age.

In today’s complex, multipolar world, fraught with volatility both at home and abroad, it can be hard to discern how America should manage our global presence. How do we balance our strategic imperatives with our responsibilities to our allies? How do we navigate a divisive domestic landscape to promote American values abroad and maintain the core principles upon which our country was founded in our own backyards? Do we have the will to power? These first four books illuminate some of these challenges through incredible stories of service, bravery, violence, perseverance, resilience and, ultimately, faith and love.

In The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan, we meet the fictional Martels, one of many families of German descent who’ve lived and worked as farmers in Ukraine for more than a century, leading up to World War II. In late March 1944, Stalin and his forces are steadily invading Ukraine, and young Emil and Adeline Martel are faced with an impossible decision: wait for the Russians to come and risk being sent to Siberia; or follow the violent Nazi officers who’ve said they will protect “pure-blood” Germans?

This book vividly reminds us that the very foundation of geopolitics is geography, and that we are not charting new territory. Civilizations are built based on the availability of natural resources, trade corridors and waterways, protective features and the like.  These ingredients combine over time to shape the policies that cause both wars and alliances. The Martels experience the very personal consequences of these dramatic forces in a world at war.

Beyond the broader geopolitical context in this book, the inspiring story of the Martels shows us how individuals can survive horrific circumstances when they have strong foundations upon which to anchor themselves. No matter the atrocities they faced, their steadfast love for each other could not be diminished, and their unwavering commitment to their faith could not be shaken.

Another great book by Sullivan. Thanks Phillip!

In My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit, we get a timely and well-informed exploration of Israel by a current-day journalist who covers the Middle East. In his expansive review of the creation of the Israeli state, the history of Zionism, and Palestinian and other regional conflicts, Shavit reveals extraordinary historical events through the eyes and experiences of ordinary people. In so doing, he brings the scholarly account of Israel’s history face to face with people from all sides who were, and are to this day, affected.

Shavit brings unique texture to the idea that Israel has become one of the most dynamic countries in the world, against all odds. Unlike any other prosperous European nation state, he states “There will be no peace or quiet for Israel, but rather an ongoing adventure that defines it with an intensity of life on the edge. Israelis come from death, are constantly surrounded by death, but consistently and reverently put up a spectacular example of life.” That’s a powerful message.

On a personal note, I had the great privilege to visit Israel last year with my family. What I found remarkable is that despite the tension and the complexity of daily society, which is palpable, you see the drive and the commitment to faith that carries Israelis through. Despite the hardships, or perhaps because of them, the success of Israel as a country and as a people is truly inspirational. You walk the streets with a feeling of insecurity, but at the same time, feeling intensely alive and present and positive in ways that we don’t typically experience at home. Israelis and the Jewish diaspora share a deep connection to their history and faith bound together by the Promised Land. I look forward to my next visit.

Thank you for sharing your country with us, Simon!

Hand-Off, The Foreign Policy George W. Bush Passed to Barack Obama, edited by Stephen J. Hadley, Peter D. Feaver, William C. Inboden and Meghan L. O’Sullivan, offers a fascinating and detailed look at the Bush administration’s national security and foreign policy that was developed over eight years and transitioned to incoming President Obama. What makes this book so compelling is that its content is based on actual, classified Transition Memoranda prepared by experts from President Bush’s National Security Council. These newly declassified documents are the real deal, without revision, offering insight and an insider’s look at how foreign policy and national security was shaped and then transitioned from the outgoing Republican administration to the incoming Democrat administration.

What makes this book truly revealing, however, is that the very same experts who originally prepared the memos provide current-day commentary on them, in some cases criticizing policies based on their hindsight advantage. Interestingly, in many ways, the challenges and the challengers remain the same: the Middle East, China and Russia, as we engage in the Great Game. I recommend this book if you want to get a hands-on perspective of how the highest level of government functions and the inner workings of the transitions between presidential administrations. As we advance closer to the next presidential election, its content is relevant, and I hope, like me, you’ll find reading actual presidential memoranda a welcome relief to all of the unverified news and information we’re fed every day.

Thank you for passing on this great work and, importantly, for your contributions, Mr. Secretary!

In By All Means, author Michael Vickers provides a detailed account of his inspiring career in intelligence and special operations – something I find eminently fascinating, particularly when told from the first-person perspective. From the Cold War to the war on terror, we get a front-row seat as Vickers takes us through his years spent in Special Forces and his 1984 assignment to manage the CIA’s secret campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Vickers changed the trajectory of that campaign from a focus on imposing punitive sanctions against Russia to a focus squarely centered on helping Afghanistan prevail with lethal force. This shift in approach and priorities was a fundamental building block in ending the Cold War and a lesson on how to approach conflict.

Without a doubt, America’s Special Forces and our intelligence institutions are the best in the world and serve to project our Democratic freedoms. These entities shoulder the overwhelming burden of being the Global Super Power, and Vickers addresses the need to learn from both our success and failures. In that vein, he  shares his unique experiences and provides a well-informed and “lived” analysis of the challenges our country is facing.

What I loved about this book is that it transformed American geopolitical policies into actual, tactical realities, providing insightful perspective on how things work “on the ground.” It’s one thing for policymakers to decide at the highest levels of government our national security and foreign policy strategies. It’s quite another to actually execute on those strategies. The “ground-truth,” which is delivered in minute detail, can frequently affect the larger plan, and it’s the dichotomy of the two that is intriguing.

While this book offers many lessons on the global, geopolitical front, it also inspired in me many life lessons. Chief among them, as Boy Scouts Founder Sir Robert Baden-Powell promoted: always leave things better than you found them.

Appreciate you, Oz!

Finally, in From Strength to Strength, Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur Brooks, we have a much more intimate and personal reflection on what matters in life and how aging doesn’t have to diminish one’s life and can, in fact, greatly enhance it. The instant #1 New York Times bestseller from Brooks, a Harvard professor and author of a happiness column in The Atlantic, provides a field guide to aging well and, in the process, finding even greater purpose, contentment, happiness and even financial success.

Brooks pulls from his own experience, interviews with dozens of everyday people, and everything from philosophy to theology to Eastern-based wisdom to give us a wonderful perspective on how to achieve a second “curve” of success in the latter part of your life. This uplifting read is chock full of practical life lessons that seem obvious, yet still revealing. For me, some of the most powerful revelations include:

  • The work you do is the reward.
  • Language, vocabulary and connecting the dots gets better with age.
  • Life’s not a blank canvas to create something from, but rather a stone that needs to be chipped away until it reveals the heart.
  • Do the most interesting thing you can (interesting being the operative word)….find meaning in your work.
  • Ask why, not what.

Perhaps the most meaningful takeaway for me is this: Use things, love people, worship the divine. Things are to use, not to love. Love should be reserved for people, not things. If you take love up one level, you have worship.

Thanks for offering this inspiring challenge, Brent!

Thank you to each of you for the wonderful book recommendations. These books enrich our lives – as do you – and we look forward to continuing to share in this tradition. Wishing you all a blessed holiday season and a Merry Christmas!