Michael Ignatieff
Stanford Humanities Center

Selected Annotated Bibliography
of Michael Ignatieff’s Books

Book cover: True Patriot Love
Book cover: American Exceptionalism and Human Rights
Book cover: The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror

True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada, Viking, 2009.

The Grant family — the other half of Michael Ignatieff’s family album — is not Russian, but multi-generational Canadians.  In this book, Ignatieff returns to the theme of his own roots by looking at his mother’s accomplished and public-minded family. 

American Exceptionalism and Human Rights. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Edited by Michael Ignatieff.

Ignatieff exposes the issue of America’s dominant position in the world and its refusal to abide by the very rules that it helps to create and to enforce on others.  This “American exceptionalism” has both long historical roots and important implications for the world’s human rights regime.  This collection of essays, in which other thinkers respond to Ignatieff’s thesis, came out of a year-long lecture series sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University when Ignatieff was its director.  The contributors are: Stanley Hoffmann, Paul Kahn, Harold Koh, Frank Michelman, Andrew Moravcsik, John Ruggie, Frederick Schauer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Carol Steiker, and Cass Sunstein.

The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2004.

How far can a constitutional democracy go in defending itself against terrorism without risking its own destruction through violation of its founding principles?  In this precise and thought-provoking pair of essays, Ignatieff successfully melds political theory with insights he gained during his decade of intense fieldwork in war zones.  He argues that the goal of terrorist attacks against the liberal West is not to defeat liberalism militarily, but to unmask the coercion and brutality that the terrorists see at its core.  The challenge for liberalism is to show that the rule of law, not uncontrolled violence, forms the heart of liberal society.


Book cover: Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan
Book cover: Charlie Johnson in the Flames
Book cover: Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry

Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. London: Minerva, 2003.

Ignatieff starts from the premise that imperial power—currently in the form of American air power—can bring some potentially devastating conflicts under control before they escalate.  Ending overt conflict, however, does not bring about effect governance.  Again relying on his experience on the ground in conflict zones, Ignatieff looks at the confluence of international organizations, American military might, and European countries with humanitarian goals to suggest new paths for extending the benefits of effective state power to places in the world ravaged by war.  State-building, Ignatieff insists, is vital.  Human rights can be only be nourished and protected by a system of functioning nation-states.  Thus, the set of international actors he identifies must find better ways to work together to bring effective governance to areas of the world in which state-power has collapsed.  

Charlie Johnson in the Flames. London: Chatto & Windus, 2003.

After a decade devoted to covering war and thinking about strategies for curbing nationalism and ethnic conflict, Ignatieff returned to fiction to capture some of the contradictions and unresolved tensions apparent in his series of books on the topic.  This novel tells the story of a hardened war correspondent who, suddenly, in a moment of intense contact with a victim of irrational violence, breaks down and loses all personal distance from the savagery that he had covered dispassionately for years. 

Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2001.

“We need to stop thinking of human rights as trumps and begin thinking of them as a language that creates the basis for deliberation.”  With this provocative claim—particularly provocative for the then Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University—Ignatieff plants the idea that human rights are a universal good to the extent that they allow different peoples and cultures to treat each other as having something to say.  Human rights are not, and should not be treated as, the universal credo of a global society nor as a secular religion. To the extent that they allow us to talk, as equals, they are of great value even if they are not, in and of themselves, sacred. 

Book cover: Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
Book cover: Isaiah Berlin: a life
Book cover: The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience

Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.

Here considering the impersonal forms of military Intervention used by the West to bring the conflict in Kosovo under control—precision bombing and drone attacks—Ignatieff investigates the effects of this new type of warfare.  While finding that the intervening nations were able to accomplish their goal to cease hostilities without combat losses, Ignatieff also reports on the unseen costs to those on the ground.  He asks us to consider if this new mode of intervention can serve as a model for limiting conflict humanely in the future.

Isaiah Berlin: a Life. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998.

In this tender and incisive biography of his friend and philosophical progenitor, Ignatieff meets Berlin on his own turf—in conversation.  He shows us a Russian-speaking, Latvian Jew who loved Russia, hated the USSR, and rose to the pinnacles of English intellectual life as much through lectures and discussions with friends and adversaries as through his published work.  If you have been intrigued by Berlin, this brilliant, empathetic book shows Berlin to be at the forefront of thinkers who continue to speak to the contemporary challenges of liberalism.  

The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998.

Relying, again, on his own firsthand reporting from areas of the world experiencing intense ethnic and religious conflict, Ignatieff examines participants in ethnic conflict and political violence as well as members of the international community attempting to bring it under control.  In doing so, he asks us to consider what the liberal world can do (with the power which fell to it in the post-Cold War era) to limit this ever-escalating risk to the well-being of populations subject to it and, ultimately, the larger world order.  

Book cover: Scar Tissue
Book cover: Bloood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism
Book cover: Scar Tissue

Scar Tissue. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.

Short-listed for the Booker Prize, this searing novel shows how a mother’s slow decline into dementia   throws several generations of a family into turmoil.  Her husband suffers a deep and confusing sense of loss.  Her sons are pushed apart by resentment as their personal lives are disrupted and ultimately torn apart by the difficult choices imposed by their mother’s dementia.  Ignatieff unrelentingly forces his reader to confront the fundamental moral conflict presented by a loved one’s knowing decline into dementia: which do we value more, individual self-consciousness or maintaining the life of the body?

Bloood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1993.

Sharing its name and origins with the award-winning BBC TV series, this work inquires into the resurgence of nationalism that followed the end of the Cold War.  Ignatieff chooses to focus our attention on places that he knows best.  Among them: the ex-Yugoslavia (where he lived for a period as a child of the Canadian ambassador); the Ukraine (his ancestral homeland); and Quebec, in his native Canada.  Blending personal stories within a rigorous historical and analytic structure that is rare in journalism, Ignatieff shows that even where people share many cultural bonds – language for Serbs and Croats and a deep, passionate love of hockey for Canadians – the goal of creating a nation-state of one’s own often overrides those shared ties and any competing sense of civic nationalism.

Asya.  London: Chatto & Windus, 1991.

This compelling novel traces the travails of a young White Russian woman who escapes the Red Army by ship at the close of the Russian Civil War, and then the Nazis by crossing into Spain during the invasion of France.  However, she ultimately escapes neither: her husband leaves her to fight for the USSR in the Great Patriotic War; her doomed son, captivated by White Russian exiles in Paris, joins the Nazi invasion of Russia.  In the heroine’s life after World War II, we see the long tentacles of Stalinist violence and the fear and unease it inspired in Russian exiles in the West.  Her return to Russia and the family’s mansion-turned-school are echoed in Ingnatieff’s own travels to Ukraine.

Book cover: The Russian Album
Book cover: The Needs of Strangers
Book cover: Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

The Russian Album. New York: Viking, 1987.

In this beautiful, intimate book (winner of the Heinemann Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction), Ignatieff examines his own Russian heritage and the lives of his grandparents, Count Paul Ignatieff and Princess Natasha Mestchersky.  He addresses the problem of belonging that he identified in The Needs of Strangers by looking within himself and by turning to the personal, the familial, and making it public.

The Needs of Strangers. London: Chatto & Windus, 1984.

Ignatieff, writing within the framework of standard philosophical discourse, confronts the atomization of modern liberal society and the resulting absence of a sense of belonging that would inform much of his subsequent work.  It does so by examining the lives and ideas of political thinkers.  He finds paths toward a renewed sense of community in art and literature. 

Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment. (Co-edited with István Hont.) Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Balancing historical inquiry with moral and political philosophy, this work focuses on the contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment to the development of modern liberalism.  Going beyond Smith and Hume, the pieces gathered here paint a vivid picture of the remarkable intellectual ferment and social evolution in eighteenth century Scotland.   

Book cover: Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850
A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

The published form of Ignatieff’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard, this is a work with surprising contemporary resonance.  By raising public awareness of deplorable prison conditions, prison reformers in the United Kingdom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought increased standards of hygiene, diet, and security to penitentiaries over a period of 100 years.  By focusing on prisons, Ignatieff shows us industrialization and modernization through the lens of coercion and the rule of law as enforced by the liberal state.  The prison reformers also championed the first modern practice of solitary confinement which they understood to be a humane means to reform criminals by allowing them time to reflect on their guilt.   In our current decade, solitary confinement has come under renewed scrutiny, this book suggests that, no matter how well-intentioned, this form of punishment has been known for two centuries to produce devastating psychological consequences in inmates subjected to it. 

Annotations by Matthew Marostica, Curator for Political Science and Economics,
Stanford University Libraries ©2012


Top of Page || Home Page || Stanford University Libraries || Stanford University