James' century-old essay The Moral Equivalent of War is, even today, the clearest examination of the major American political and cultural challenge of the coming years: how to evoke the wartime virtues of shared commitment and a willingness to accept long-term effort, without actually going to war. This is worth reading for its relevance to twenty-first-century America.
For a part of the world I do not know firsthand, Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace provides a mental road map of the tensions left over from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, many of which are still unresolved. For a part of the world I know better, Peck's Two Kinds of Time, a brilliantly written (and illustrated, with the author's drawings) saga of travels through pre-communist China, puts into perspective how much has changed in China, and how much has not. Pomfret's Chinese Lessons and Clissold's Mr. China are the two next books people should read to assess the pluses and minuses of China's rise, followed by Confessions by Kang. Long after I read it, I still think of Mishima's The Sea of Fertility, a quartet of novels, when I think about Japan and its prospects. Americans need a richer understanding of how international relations look to those who feel powerless. José's great Rosales series of novels about the Philippines provides that, plus great humor.