Students occasionally ask me to recommend books and videos on political negotiations. While talks among government officials do have their own special dynamics, they can also offer valuable insights for any student of negotiation. Here is a brief set of reviews of books and videos that are fascinating, illuminating, and enjoyable. Most are available on Amazon. ^^
Lyndon Johnson & The American Dream, by Kearns-Goodwin. Includes a fascinating, if disturbing, account of the negotiating techniques of one of the most Machiavellian figures in American political history.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Kearns-Goodwin. Even more fascinating account of the effects of Lincoln’s negotiating and mediating skills. The account doesn’t always make it entirely clear how Lincoln achieved his success, but the broad outline of his skill makes for remarkable reading.
Environment & Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making, by Barrett. Timely and useful examination of a key question: what assures us that nations will live up to the promises politicians make each other diplomatically.
Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World, by Macmillan. A fairly good account of the key players and their actions, though the actual negotiations are not extensively described. Also, the author’s conclusion that the treaty did not contribute to the rise of Hitler seems more conclusory than proven.
“A Model for Negotiation and Mediation,” by Colosi, a version of which may be available in On and Off the Record: Colosi on Negotiation. Colosi is excellent at discussing the dynamics of internal-external bargaining within organizations, including governments.
War & Peace, by Tolstoy. Of particular relevance are the sections where Prince Andrew witnesses the tragic power plays within the Russian war council. One Prussian strategist presents his impossibly complex war plan in such a way that success seems inevitable and any failure must only be due to the incompetence of others- a classic bureaucratic strategy for covering one’s rear. The futility of the internal wrangling drives Prince Andrew to quit the military staff and fight in the front lines. Tolstoy’s conclusions: no one man causes a war, all men collectively do. Yet what causes men to get out of their beds and go kill distant strangers en masse is knowable only by God.
Breakthrough International Negotiation: How Great Negotiators Transformed the World’s Toughest Post-Cold War Conflicts, by Watkins. I gather this is a good one, though it may be a bit dated now.
Talking Peace, by Jimmy Carter. Contains a good account of his work at Camp David.
The Power Game, by Hedrick Smith. Also a bit dated now, perhaps, but it offers a very well-written look at how decisions unfold in Washington, or at least how they used to during the Reagan era. He argues that personal popularity and immense trappings of power do not mean the President is actually influential; he highlights the role of the ‘iron triangle’ of bureaucrats, congress, and the press as at least as important.
Presidential Power, by Neustadt. Classic account of what it takes for the President to actually get something done. The basic point- it takes a lot of persuasion, not ordering.
The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Remarkable edited and annotated transcript of taped meetings during the crisis. I’ve only skimmed this one but reviews and glimpses suggest its excellent.
Taking Charge, The Johnson White House Tapes 1963-1964, by Beschloss. A remarkable edited and annotated transcript of LBJ’s phone conversations during his first year in office. Another I’ve only skimmed.
The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945. An excellent inside look at the internal fighting and negotiating within FDR’s cabinet over how to deal with Germany after WWII ended.
Fog of War (Video) Outstanding documentary of Robert MacNamara, which includes stunning accounts of several key moments in the Cold War, including Tommy Thompson’s critical advice to Kennedy during the Cuban Missile crisis about how to respond to Khrushchev’s two conflicting messages. Also stunning is MacNamara’s account of the visit he made to Vietnam in 1993. Incredibly, he and the former Defense Minister of North Vietnam discovered that each side had utterly misunderstood the other’s intentions in the war. MacNamara also notes there several books he’s written that detail key aspects of Cold War negotiations.)
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, and Mao, both by Jung Chang. Wild Swans includes brief, gripping accounts of the political intrigue in Chairman Mao’s court. The book, which I’ve only dipped into, chronicles Mao’s political maneuvers at length.
Waco: The Inside Story(Video) A Frontline video. My students perennially find it fascinating, since it chronicles how government officials from the FBI negotiated with each other and the Branch Davidians in tragic ways. It may still be available on VHS. Check www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/waco/.