Reading for academic purposes and for pleasure

Welcome to What We Read!

Reading for academic purposes and for pleasure

Welcome to What We Read!

Webster Vienna Faculty Recommendations

We asked our faculty members what books they have read recently and what they would recommend to students - or anyone who wants to read something for pleasure.

Suggestions range from classics to science fiction to oral histories - there's something for everyone.


“Thinking, Fast and Slow” (2011), by Daniel Kahneman

Review by Dr. Martin Altenburger, Assistant Professor of Accounting; Business & Management Department


The author, Daniel Kahneman, is a professor of psychology and public affairs emeritus, who received the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

In his book, Kahneman clusters human thinking into two different modes: "System 1" is a fast, automatic and emotional thinking process, whereas "System 2" is a slow, effortful and logical thinking process. He shows that although we believe that we make decisions mostly by using our System 2, the reality is often very different. For example, people’s judgments are frequently influenced by showing them random numbers before they make their judgments; so-called anchoring.

This anchoring process led to different age estimates of Ghandi by people who were asked beforehand whether Ghandi lived more than 114 years, and those who were asked beforehand whether he lived more than 34 years. The book also shows numerous other findings from studies in the field of behavioral economics over the last decades. While more graphical illustrations might have made the book more attractive for “non-scientists,” it is a must-read for anybody who is interested in human (economic) decision-making.

The Sex Lives of African Women: Self-Discovery, Freedom, and Healing

"The Sex Lives of African Women: Self-Discovery, Freedom, and Healing" (2022)

Review by Dr. Eva Zedlacher, Assistant Professor - Management

The members of the Webster Ghana Book club currently read the bestseller "The Sex Lives of African Women" by Ghanaian writer Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah – so I joined in. The book entails experiences of over 30 women stemming from different African countries and cultural/educational backgrounds – and many of them having moved to other countries or continents.

Many experiences are about suppression of sexuality and the search for liberation. While the interview stories are not of high literary value, the book is nevertheless an interesting read.


"Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges" (2018), by Steven M. Southwick, Dennis S. Charney

Review by Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir, Lecturer Psychology Department and Manager of the student counseling services 

As we are all going through difficult and crazy times, I found this book very interesting to read. It does not go under the self-help category as it is a well-documented scientific exploration on the topic resilience.  

This book identifies 10 key ways to weather and bounce back from difficulties, stress and trauma. It incorporates latest research both done by the authors themselves and others. Including dozens of interviews with trauma survivors, giving the book a storytelling feel to it.

It looks at post-traumatic stress and provides practical advice on how to build emotional, mental and physical resilience. I found the focus on the concept behind community resilience very timely and to give hope for the current world situation.


"Before the West: The Rise and Fall of Eastern World Orders" (2022), by Ayşe Zarakol

Review by Dr. Anatoly Reshetnikov, Assistant Professor, International Relations

How would the history of international relations in "the East" be written if we did not always read the ending – the Rise of the West and the decline of the East – into the past? With this nontrivial question, the Cambridge-based International Relations scholar, Ayşe Zarakol, starts her inquiry into the grand political narratives of historical (Eur)Asia, the region connected through both norms and political institutions, which still bear trace of the once super-mighty Mongol Empire.

Both the inverted commas around "the East" and the critique of the Rise of the West, frequently presented as the only meaningful factor in the political history of the modern world, are essential here. In her book, Zarakol tries to break free from the elusive, yet still suffocating, nets of proverbial and all-pervasive Eurocentrism, which dominates most of the existing historical accounts of international relations. Admittedly, she does so with flying colors.

For those interested in how the relations between different (Eur)Asian polities were managed during the time of the Chinggisids, the Timurid, and the Ming, as well as how those world orders affected the polities which emerged in that region later (e.g. the Ottoman Empire and Muscovy), this book is a must-read. Yet, even those, for whom the above royal dynasties and polities ring no bells, will find Zarakol’s book easy-to-read and delightful, as well as refreshingly different from all the Eurocentric analyses. And hey, it would also be a great chance to learn the meaning of some important, but undeservingly neglected non-Western political concepts, such as ‘Cihannüma’.

A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

"A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy" (2019), by Russell Muirhead and  Nancy L. Rosenblum

Review by Dr. Bradley E. Wiggins, Associate Professor and Head of Strategic Communication Department

Perhaps coinciding with the Trump presidency or the apparent rise in conspiracy theorizing in online spaces, this book offers a critical perspective on conspiracism. One of the highlights of the book is how the authors contextualize conspiracism. One version, what the authors call old conspiracism, actually has some merit. Consider informal conversations about 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, or the Apollo moon landing … a perspective in old conspiracism basically means that those historic events attract questions and scrutiny and that’s really normal because it is a kind of start to a scientific process, i.e., posing questions, discussing them, looking for answers, etc. The authors don’t claim that believing that the Apollo moon landing was fake as scientific, but having a dialogue about it or questions regarding the vaccine for COVID, etc. are all indications of a reasonably healthy society able to question events and occurrences as time goes by. 

By stark contrast, new conspiracism is defined by bold innuendo, bald-face claims and conjecture. Any attempt to discuss it signifies an outsider challenging a marginalized view held by people who’ve increasingly retreated from any discernible public sphere. Simply claiming something as fake news is sufficient in new conspiracism. Its tautology suggests that the mere anointment of something as fake is proof enough, especially when made by a credible figure in new conspiracism, such as former President Trump. 

Yuval Noah Harari: “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" (2011), by Yuval Noah Harari

Review by Dr. Maria Madlberger, Head of Department and Full Professor; Area Coordinator for Marketing

The historian and Professor Yuval Noah Harari has written a book that would contradict any advice students are usually given: it is addressing the really big picture. With “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, the author offers nothing less than the invitation to a fascinating journey of mankind, from its very beginning two million years ago to an outlook on our future. The book shows how cognition and knowledge, collaboration, and economy have emerged over the millennia and how they shaped human lives and the way we are living together then and now. It reveals how the interplay of science, capitalism, and politics resulted in a drastic intellectual and technological progress and formed the world as we know it nowadays. And it does not forget to take a critical view at multiple destructive and cruel impacts this progression has brought – for humans, animals, and the planet.  

A huge challenge such as telling the history of mankind can only work well if the author has an extensive, multidisciplinary knowledge in order to identify the most significant developments and understand their relationships. Harari succeeds in this respect by presenting a broad array of scientific evidence in the form of expressive anecdotes and striking comparisons which are not only exceedingly interesting, but also humorous and entertaining. His unorthodox view on many issues – for example a direct comparison between the Code of Hammurabi and the United States Declaration of Independence – opens new viewpoints and evokes unanticipated questions.

Reality taught me a special lesson from the book. I finished reading it few days before February 24, 2022. This day made some optimistic outlooks on a more peaceful future obsolete in a painful way. It has reminded in a brutal manner of one of the book’s core messages, namely that mankind has the future in its hands. In times that are so uncertain, confusing, and ambiguous, the book’s insight that threatening periods have accompanied us at all times can give some sort of orientation by helping to ask important questions, especially the last one raised in the book: Where do we want to go?

Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War (2010), by Peter H. Wilson

"Europe's Tragedy: A New History of the Thirty Years War" (2010), by Peter H. Wilson

Review by Univ. Prof. Dr. Johannes Pollak, Rector, Webster Vienna Private University

The frontispiece of this book (paperback) could not be more telling: a massive tree in the middle of an army camp with scores of corpses hanging from its branches.

What seems to be a bizarre choice for a book cover turns out to be an apt symbol for the unspeakable barbarity taking place between 1618-48. It was a mixture of battles, sieges, long years of starvation and utter devastation that was set off by the so-called ‘Defenestrations of Prague’. In 1555 the Peace of Augsburg settled the religious disputes in the Holy Roman Empire by allowing a King to determine the religion of his subjects.

Alas, the tesnions simmered on. What started as a conflict between Catholics and Protestants soon turned into the bloody contractions of the European system of nation states. 2018 marked the 400 anniversary of the beginning of the 30 Years War, i.e. there is not shortage on new books on the subject. Wilson’s book from 2009 still stands out in seeing religion as but one element in the war. Excellently written, we learn about the role of the Swedish King Adolph, the industrious Wallenstein, and the notorious Cardinal Richelieu.

We also learn, once again, about the incredible folly of the ruling class who could not care less for ordinary people. My recommendation would be to read it alongside the diaries of Peter Hagendorf, a mercenary for 23 years in this war in order to better understand Europe’s formative years.

Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (2014), by David Bosco

"Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics" (2014), by David Bosco 

Review by, Marco Bocchese, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Webster Vienna Private University

David Bosco’s Rough Justice is the best account so far of the trajectory of the ICC from its optimistic origins to the more constrained court of today. Through extensive interviews with court officials, diplomats, and activists, the book examines the reciprocal relationship between international prosecutors and powerful states. In so doing, it makes a number of important contributions to our understanding of the relationship between global justice and international politics and to the explanatory power of realist and norm-based theories of compliance with international law. Written in an engaging and accessible style, the book should be of interest to the nonspecialist as well.

The primary focus of the book is the relationship between the United States and the ICC. U.S. opposition to the court had its origins in the decision at Rome to create a court whose institutional design limited direct control through the Security Council. As a result, the Clinton administration voted against the Rome Statute and the Bush administration pursued a strategy of active marginalization. The response of the ICC’s first chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was strategic and conciliatory, seeking to reassure the United States regarding the court’s agenda. Bosco makes a strong circumstantial case that Moreno- Ocampo backed this up by also acting pragmatically, declining to open formal investigations of alleged British war crimes in Iraq and in other situations that would have clashed with U.S. interests (for example, Gaza, Colombia, and Afghanistan). This pattern is also evident vis-à-vis other great powers, as suggested by the fact that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has not moved from a preliminary examination to a formal investigation of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. As a consequence of this pragmatism, all of the ICC’s investigations have taken place in Africa, within what Bosco refers to as a “major-power comfort zone” (p. 173). 

Review by Kenneth A. Rodman

About the Author: David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.


"European Solidarity in Action and the Future of Europe" (2022), by Michael Kaeding, Johannes Pollak and Paul Schmidt

This book sheds light on how member states and EU neighbours reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of European solidarity, what they expect from the EU and other member states, and how they are ready to contribute to common action.

European Solidarity in Action and the Future of Europe (2022) by Michael Kaeding, Johannes Pollak and Paul Schmidt

The volume reveals how European countries experience and perceive solidarity from the EU and toward the EU in different policy dimensions, such as intra-EU mobility, healthcare and financial and economic aspects of Europe’s recovery. The book offers national perspectives and perceptions of solidarity and concrete aspects in different policy areas. It includes a Foreword by the Vice Presidents of the European Parliament, Katarina Barley and Othmar Karas.

About the editors

Dr. ​Michael Kaeding is Jean Monnet Professor for European Integration and European Union Politics at the Institute of Political Science of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. He is visiting fellow of the European Institute of Public Administration in Maastricht and member of the flying faculties of the College of Europe, Bruges, and the Turkish-German University in Istanbul. Between 2016 - 2019 he was the chairman of the Trans European Policy Studies Association.

Dr. Johannes Pollak is Professor of International Relations and rector of Webster Vienna Private University, Austria. Prior to this position, he headed the Department for Political Science at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna (on leave). In summer 2019, he was elected chairperson of the Board of the Institute of European Politics in Berlin. 

Paul Schmidt is the Secretary General of the Austrian Society for European Politics, which promotes and supports analysis and communication on European affairs. Prior to that he has worked at the Oesterreichische Nationalbank, both in Vienna and at their Representative Office in Brussels at the Permanent Representation of Austria to the European Union.


"Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean" (2014), by Lisa-Ann Gershwin

Review by Univ. Prof. Dr. Johannes Pollak, Rector, Webster Vienna Private University

Having family living by the ocean in the US, this book about jellyfish seemed like an appropriate literature for vacation. Those almost ephemeral creatures are beautiful, light, and elegant as long as you only encounter them in an aquarium. That they are so much more, an indicator of the precarious state of our oceans, their amazing adaptability, that they possess enormous power is what this book is about.

We learn various stories about those powers and abilities: how box jellyfish – the only one with eyes - nearly made the triathlon events impossible at the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000; how in 2009 gigantic jellfyfish that weighed over 450 pounds each capsized a fish trawler or how they brought down a US Navy nuclear power ship and nearly caused a catastrophe; how 150 tons of jellyfish have to be removed daily from the cooling system of a single Japanese nuclear power station; how they can “de-grow” if they fall on hard times. It is a book by one of the foremost experts on this remarkable, astonishing creatures – and a book that leaves you with the feeling that, in the authors’ words, ‘we humans have pushed the oceans beyond the tipping point’.

What Happend

"What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing" (2021), by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey

Review by Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir, Lecturer Psychology Department and Manager of the student counseling services 

This book is very accessible for all audience, it explains the function of how the brain processes memories and how attachment and trauma affects the development and mental health. It combines the scientific knowledge with personal emotional stories. The duo conversational style also provides a personal touch to the book. 

It is full of personal stories and case studies that makes the book a very easy read and engaging. 

However, there is very little information on examples or actionable suggestions on how to heal after a trauma. 

Through deeply personal conversations, Oprah Winfrey and renowned brain and trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry offer a groundbreaking and profound shift from asking What;s wrong with you? to What happened to you? Our earliest experiences shape our lives far down the road, and What Happened to You? provides powerful scientific and emotional insights into the behavioral patterns so many of us struggle to understand.

Here, Winfrey shares stories from her own past, understanding through experience the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma and adversity at a young age. Joining forces with Dr. Perry, one of the world’s leading experts on childhood and brain development, Winfrey and Dr. Perry marry the power of storytelling with science to better understand and overcome the effects of our pasts.
In conversation throughout the book, the two focus on understanding people, behavior, and ourselves. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.


“Noise - A Flaw in Human Judgment” (2021), by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, & Cass R. Sunstein

Review by Dr. Marc Mehu, Associate Professor of Psychology

In "Noise," Daniel Kahneman, Cass R. Sunstein, and Olivier Sibony show how noise contributes significantly to errors in all fields, including medicine, law, economic forecasting, police behavior, food safety, bail, security checks at airports, strategy, and personnel selection. And although noise can be found wherever people make judgments and decisions, individuals and organizations alike are commonly oblivious to the role of chance in their judgments and in their actions. Drawing on the latest findings in psychology and behavioral economics, and the same kind of diligent, insightful research that made Thinking, Fast and Slow and Nudge groundbreaking New York Times bestsellers, Noise explains how and why humans are so susceptible to noise in judgment — and what we can do about it.
My personal judgment is that this book is a good introductory popular science contribution to the subject of decision making. It is easily accessible (if a bit boring for a purely academic audience) and explains the problem of how random fluctuations can affect judgment in all sorts of fields, such as justice, medicine, and education.
The systematic (machine-like) application of simple rules, while not completely eliminating this randomness, can reduce it somewhat.
Of course, the goal of psychology is to find ways to understand and reduce the sources of noise, and research will eventually succeed in explaining much of it (i.e., converting the noise into understandable biases).

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jashar Awan

"Americanah" (2013), by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Review by Dr. Eva Zedlacher, Assistant Professor - Management

Well Nigeria is not Ghana, but since I plan to travel to Lagos during my stay, I am re-reading one of my favourite books: Americanah – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – a love story between two Nigerian students settled in Lagos in the 1990ies. It is also a book about Nigerian history, immigration to the US and identity search.

What I love about this book are the very thorough descriptions of all “shades of grey” when it comes to racism and colonialism. The author has opened my eyes in many ways– for example, the way we/Westerns think about what Standard English is as well as the “danger of a single story” about the African continent and its people.

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