Below you will find a list of books that members of the Geopolitical Futures team are currently reading. It highlights insightful and relevant books from around the globe and the reasons we chose them.
Meredith Friedman: This book is a great read for a better understanding of the history of five important empires – the Ottoman, the Habsburg, the Russian and the Soviet, the British and the French. Traditionally, people think of empires as ruling over multiple cultures and ethnic groups, in contrast to a nation-state that is more homogeneous. What can a study of empires teach us today about the problems of multinational and multicultural societies? Kumar points out the differences between the land empires (Russian, Ottoman and Habsburg) and the overseas empires (British and French). It’s never that simple of course because the Habsburgs linked the Austrian (land) and Spanish (overseas) empires as well. While all of these empires are different, they had to deal with many of the same problems and could follow or learn from the historical example of previous empires. I can’t help but feel a discussion of empires is relevant today in America where people perceive the term negatively. Certainly, no one advocates imperialism. But as we grapple with the global power America has become, we may find that it’s less about intentions or advocacy than the geopolitical realities of vast natural wealth and geographic opportunities. No matter your views on America as an empire, Kumar’s study of these great empires (plus Rome, which he includes as the parent of empire) will give you much to talk about if you need a topic at your next boring cocktail party or family reunion.
Allison Fedirka: In 2011, the Mexican Foreign Ministry published a seven-volume series of the country’s foreign relations history. The detailed account provides a uniquely Mexican view of history and interpretation of world events. It also inspired one of our latest Deep Dives. The volumes are divided by geographic region with the first three (and longest) being North America, the Caribbean and South America – which I found telling in terms of how Mexico relates to the world. Readers have said they like our country perspective maps, and in many ways, this series is like a perspective map in prose form. Geopolitics strives to explain and understand the big picture. However, understanding individual players’ viewpoints and needs is a vital component of this – the problem arises when an analyst cannot see the forest for the trees. This volume, as I assume is the case with the others, provides the reader with a viewpoint only Mexico can have and offers insights on how the country sees its relations and place in the Western Hemisphere. Regarding South America, we see that Mexico has similar characteristics on paper but faces a fundamentally different reality. Therefore, it is often unable to rely on South American countries for support given their diverging interests.
Jacob L. Shapiro: I needed a break from my non-fiction regiment, so I am bringing back one of my favorite novels. I read “Death Comes for the Archbishop” many years ago, and it became one of my favorites. It tells the story of two characters based on historical figures who leave their native France and travel to New Mexico to spend their lives serving as Roman Catholic clergy. A great deal in this book is geopolitical. The nature of faith and the commitment of those who have it. The relationship between a local population and a colonizing ideology. A picture of a period in U.S. history that was not so long ago and yet has faded from most people’s active memory (although any who have spent time in New Mexico also know that the state retains some of that nostalgic feeling in a way that many other places in the U.S. do not). This book is also excellent for the quality of its writing – I initially read it as part of a reading group for editors who were trying to hone their skills. The group’s leader picked this as an example of writing all writers might learn from, if not aspire to. But ultimately, this book is not about geopolitics or good writing, though it has much to say about both. It is about friendship, and the benefit and price of the loyalty that comes with it. This might be why it has become one of my favorite novels: There is no quality I admire more and am more curious about than what makes men loyal to each other, to their families, to their countries, and to their ideas and beliefs.
Valentina Jovanovski: In 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote a now-famous essay titled “The End of History?” He predicted that the conflict between East and West would end with the victory of Western liberal democracy, which would be spread globally and bring peace to the world. “The Return of History” is a response to Fukuyama’s thesis, taking into account recent developments such as the rise in economic inequality in developed nations, the massive increase in migrants and the return of a standoff between the West and Russia. Welsh argues that these events are not merely temporary delays in the path toward liberal democracy’s dominance but serious challenges that put into question how leaders have dealt with these tests. Because this book was published in 2016, it touches on many recent events that we at Geopolitical Futures have written about, such as the impact of Brexit and the failure of the Arab Spring to spread democratic change throughout the Middle East. It also highlights the valuable lesson that regardless of how extraordinary the times seem, history has a way of repeating itself – albeit with a twist, as Welsh calls it.