When CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward was pregnant with her son nearly six years ago, she began writing a letter to him in an effort to explain some of the amazing events she’s covered as a field reporter for FOX News, ABC News, CBS News, and, later, CNN.
Ward, 43, has spent time in the Middle East and Russia, covering some of the world’s largest stories, including the Syrian uprising, the Ukrainian revolution, and much more. That initial letter to her son expanded into a memoir, On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist, published in April.
“I wanted to give him a sense of who I am other than his mother…It’s also a love letter to journalism, and a reminder of why we do it and why it’s so important,” she says.
Ward’s path to conflict reporter, she says, started during her senior year at college, after 9/11 happened. “I became very interested in this idea that there was a terrible communication problem in the world between cultures and a hatred that came out of that. I had always loved traveling and telling stories, but I became fixated on the idea of being a communicator between different cultures.” Below, Ward, who’s currently based in London for CNN, recommends five books by journalists that have helped inform her and make her a better conflict reporter.
1. FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN
“Friedman does a spectacular job of painting vivid characters, introducing complex geopolitical themes, and explaining religious divides. It’s also a page turner. It’s a vivid portrait of a region that’s become extremely dear to my heart. The book isn’t overly complicated and fussy, but it’s not simplistic, either. It’s accessible, and does justice to the conflict.”
2. SELECTED LETTERS OF MARTHA GELLHORN BY CAROLINE MOOREHEAD
“Because these are letters, they’re personal. I’ve always believed that personal stories of covering war [as 20th-century war correspondent Caroline Moorehead did], are a very compelling way to tell the broader story of war. You need a guide and a translator who can take you there and show you how it looks, how it feels, and how it smells. There’s a juxtaposition between violence and loss of life and moments of levity and humor. When I knew I wanted to be a journalist, my dad gave me a book of her letters. It was so riveting.”
3. GHOST WARS BY STEVE COLL
“This is a very different book that explores Afghanistan. It’s all about when the CIA started to support the mujahideen and bin Laden in Afghanistan. It’s an extraordinary work, partly because of the research that went into it, but also because it’s so well-written. It’s a way for people to see behind the veil of the CIA and the mujahideen living in the hinterland of Afghanistan. In my career, there’s always been a strong desire to get places where most people can’t get to.”
4. THE LIVES OF LEE MILLER BY ANTONY PENROSE
“[Lee Miller] was both an incredibly beautiful and glamorous supermodel, and an amazing war correspondent. There’s a photograph of her in Hitler’s bathtub. Her ability to cover World War II was incredible. I have such respect for women who were blazing this trail before I was even a dot on the horizon. Now we see so many more women do it, which is encouraging, and has added texture and depth to the way we cover war. I can’t help but be enamored by books about women blazing the trail.”
5. LENIN’S TOMB BY DAVID REMNICK
“What From Beirut to Jerusalem is for the Middle East, this is for Russia. Remnick describes and paints such a vivid portrait of the misery of the 1990s. He has such respect for Russian culture, and there’s a grit and depth of characters, too. It shows the incredibly brave people who lived there at the time.”