A Prehistory of South America: Ancient Cultural Diversity on the Least Known Continent
By Jerry D. Moore

I picked up this book as part of a broader endeavor to better understand South America’s role in the geopolitical system and its inner workings as a region. The current consensus is that South America lies on the periphery of the global system and therefore has limited interaction with other parts of the world. This may be true today, but not so long ago, South America played a vital role in Europe’s colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Since then, there have been some select moments where the region has helped shape world events. We can learn more about why and when it becomes involved in such events by looking at how it behaved prior to colonization.

I selected this book because of its broad approach to the region. Whereas most scholars tend to focus only on one area, Jerry Moore covers the great Incan Empire, large civilizations in Brazil and in the southern cone, and smaller tribes scattered throughout Colombia. One drawback, though, is that while Moore’s approach does provide a region-wide overview of ancient cultures and civilizations, it does so at the expense of depth. This is also in part a consequence of the timespan covered by the book. It begins with the first signs of civilization several thousand years B.C. and extends into the period of colonization. Condensing thousands of years of history into one book requires selectivity and limits the depth with which events can be detailed. There is simply not a lot of information related to early civilizations in this region.

To be fair, the author notes from the outset that the book is intended for an academic audience (namely, archeologists), not students of geopolitics. I’m not an expert in archeology, so the book may very well follow the standard approach and presentation expected by those familiar with the field. I did gain some knowledge about the history of the region, but the book failed to address some key geopolitical issues, including power dynamics and influences from external forces. Hopefully, I’ll have more luck with my next book selection.

Allison Fedirka, analyst

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters
By Gregory Zuckerman

“The Frackers” is about the latest American revolution in the energy industry. It doesn’t focus on the industry itself but rather the people leading the revolution. There’s little detail on geology and engineering in this book, but there’s a lot of detail on the men (and they are all men) who believed that fracking would be a success story even while the U.S. was facing a financial crisis.

The author profiles American entrepreneurs investing in the idea of extracting gas from shale. While Gregory Zuckerman focuses on the entrepreneurs’ personal stories, you also get an understanding of the American business environment, of what it takes to be successful and the hurdles entrepreneurs must jump through to be successful. I live in Europe, so this book also gave me an opportunity to consider the differences between the American and European business environments.

Having lived and worked in Romania and the U.S. for more than a decade, I was already familiar with the cultural differences that shape the way both regions perceive their realities and their geopolitical positions. But this book focused on the individual. Being a journalist, the author relied heavily on interviews, and his writing therefore took on a more personal tone than it would have if it were written by, say, an academic. The book reveals what it takes to be an entrepreneur no matter what environment you live in: a mixture of courage and knowledge, passion and trust.

The making of an individual into an entrepreneur is influenced by geography: one’s upbringing, education, values and how they perceive themselves all relate back to location. All the men Zuckerman talks about in his book share a sense of patriotism and a feeling that “everything is possible,” a reflection of the way they grew up. The book also explains how private business endeavors can help technological progress and industry development – something that big governments and big corporations have trouble doing – especially in environments where businesses can be creative and agile.

While Zuckerman mentions the environmental problems the fracking business faces, he doesn’t focus on them. Instead, he concentrates on the personalities of business leaders and how their business ideas created a revolution in the American energy sector, transforming the U.S. into an energy exporter. From a geopolitical perspective, that’s all that matters – but it’s interesting to see how that happened and learn about the people who made it happen.

Antonia Colibasanu, analyst