Below you will find a list of books (and films) that members of the Geopolitical Futures team are currently reading or watching. It highlights insightful and relevant books from around the globe and the reasons we chose them.
David Boddiger: De Botton has a theory: There is a “long Western tradition of preoccupation with the remnants of collapsing civilizations, which can be traced at least as far back as the eighteenth century,” when legions of “ruin-gazers” found solace from once great things now “covered in weeds and sheltering wolves and wild dogs.” This is just a single observation from a writer who has developed an acute adeptness for arresting time to extract its DNA and convert complex human and mechanical processes and interactions in a globalized world into essentially poetry. With a watchmaker’s eye to detect and understand the minutia driving society, and a philosopher’s patience and inquisitiveness, de Botton travels the world to find out how things work, how airplanes are bought and sold and where they end up to die, how art is made, how fish are caught and shipped across the globe, and how this small bag of snacks I bought at a convenience store made its way into my hands. This book made me realize how unaware I am about most things that happen around me every day. It’s not so much about why people do what they do, but rather what they do that goes unexplored.
Cheyenne Ligon: As French elections draw nearer and Geopolitical Futures dives deeper into the question of French identity, I wanted to rewatch one of my favorite French movies, “La Haine” (“The Hate”). The film is about identity, belonging and, most importantly, the growing divide between poor immigrants and those who consider themselves “ethnically” French. While the latter are, on average, more educated, wealthier and urban, immigrants and their descendants often find themselves marginalized by mainstream French society, pushed to the “banlieues” –poor suburban housing projects – outside Paris and other major cities. The film is set in 1995, when austerity measures, strikes and outbreaks of violent bombings and shootings swept the country.
It follows a day in the life of three friends – an Arab immigrant, an Afro-Caribbean man and an Eastern European Jew – who are unemployed, bored and angry with the police in their banlieue. One of them finds a gun, and the group contemplates using it against police if their friend, Abdel, dies from injuries sustained after police questioning. “La Haine” explores police brutality, urban riots, media biases and the changing concept of French identity, as new immigrants and those who are “ethnically” French clash. Despite being over 20 years old, “La Haine” is still a relevant portrait of evolving French identity, crucial to understanding the current political climate.
Chloe Stern: Sometimes, when I have a lot going on, I take comfort in a tried-and-true favorite. I also need something light and funny, while still thoughtful. This is when I reach for David Sedaris. I have to admit, I own but haven’t yet read his two latest books. But I can come back to his 1997 memoir, “Naked,” which I think is the one that put his name on the map, over and over. With a mixture of stories about his childhood family life and struggling in his early 20s, this book might be his most relatable. I’ve always appreciated dry wit and absurdist humor, but I admire his ability to artfully marry snark and sentimentality. I especially love “A Plague of Tics,” which chronicles his obsessive compulsions as a child, and “Dix Hill,” in which Sedaris’ sister becomes a candy striper at a local hospital, so he decides to volunteer at the state mental hospital. His slightly twisted humor combines with an adult narrator’s point of view on the formative incidents of his childhood and adolescence to form a surprising and unique autobiography.