Favorites: Bruce Hoffman

Terror Expert Kicks Back With Whisky and Sushi

By: Garrett M. Graff

For Bruce Hoffman, the headlines out of the Middle East are all too familiar.

A terrorism expert at the Rand Corporation, he spends a lot of time in the world’s hot spots, including trips to Iraq and a stint with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

His 1999 book, Inside Terrorism—considered one of the best primers on the subject—has been reissued and updated as America prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

In a coup for Georgetown University, Hoffman—a graduate of Connecticut College and Oxford—begins teaching this month at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

What’s your favorite spot in Washington? The view of the Potomac River from Chain Bridge in the morning. Looking both north and south, it’s difficult to believe that you’re not crossing a bridge in some wilderness area.

Favorite pastime?
Reading the Economist on Saturday afternoons while sprawled on a couch; also going to see the Nationals play at RFK.

Favorite movie?
The Third Man. Graham Greene is among my favorite writers, and the story of friendship and betrayal, racketeering and Great Power politics set in postwar Vienna, starring both Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, is peerless.

Favorite author? Gerald Seymour. Most novels about terrorists and terrorism are tripe. Seymour, a former journalist who covered the Northern Ireland “troubles,” is one of the few who get it exactly right.

What’s on your bookshelf now?
As I am on the hook to develop a new course next year at Georgetown University on insurgency and counterinsurgency, Che Guevera’s Guerrilla Warfare; Mao Tse-tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare; Michael Collins’s A Path to Freedom; and Winston Churchill’s The Story of the Malakand Field Force.

Best book to read on terrorism? There is no better analysis of the threat al Qaeda poses than Michael Scheuer’s Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America. Its essential companion is Holy War, Inc., the biography of bin Laden, written by Peter Bergen.

Writer you follow most closely on the subject? James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly and Christopher Dickey, the veteran Newsweek correspondent.

Favorite food?
Sushi. There is still something exotic about eating sushi.

Favorite drink? Piquant, cask-strength Port Ellen single-malt whisky.

Best meal ever? Twentieth-anniversary dinner at 1789.

All-time favorite restaurant? Angelo’s Pizzeria on Johnson Avenue and 235th Street in the Bronx during the 1960s: the neighborhood of my childhood.

Favorite everyday restaurant? Leopold’s Kafe in Georgetown. The best schnitzel, pils, coffee, and pastries around.

Favorite vacation spot?
The White Mountains above Suda Bay in Crete. The panorama of snowcapped mountains, terraced vineyards, and sparkling Mediterranean Sea through the haze of summer heat is, for me, paradise.

Your favorite place to travel that you wish was safer? Kashmir is at once the most beautiful and most dangerous place I have ever been. The contrast between the towering grandeur of the Himalaya and Pir Panjal mountains and placid Dal Lake in the middle of winter is stunning.

Historical figure you’d most like to meet? David Galula. The French Army officer whose long-forgotten books from the 1960s speak presciently and eloquently to America’s travails in Iraq today.

Favorite object that you own? The wristwatch that my grandfather bought for himself in 1946 and handed down to me, his first grandchild.

Thing that others would be surprised to know or learn about you? My favorite band is the Grateful Dead.

What makes Washington special? The diversity of its architecture. You can literally walk through history given the variety of styles and structures.