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.
Jacob L. Shapiro: As Catalonia has captured headlines in recent weeks, Spain captured my reading time. This book is a collection of essays by some of the best and most respected historians of Spain. It’s not the type of book that you sit down and read cover to cover – besides the topic, there’s not really a unified sense of style or voice in the writing. But there is a unified sense of the complexity of Spanish history and how, through the millennia, geography has shaped Spain and will continue do so in the future.
The book was published in 2000 – before 9/11, before the 2008 financial crisis, before the European Union began to sink slowly into its political quagmire – and so reflects those heady and optimistic times. Even as the content of each essay shows the internal divisions of Spain, the introduction ends by saying that Spain, which is usually thought of as different than Europe, has now emerged as a “full functioning democracy as any other.” Ironically, if you read each essay closely, you’ll see that Spain is not simply a nation-state like any other. But then, no nation-state is really like any other nation-state, and thinking in such terms isn’t useful. What I can say is that if you read these essays, the fact that Catalonia or some other region of Spain would defy the central government in Madrid is not a surprise.
Kamran Bokhari: Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud founded the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and from 1901 to 1932 he built a government, and a legacy, that would be passed on to his sons. But now his sons are all but gone, and the fate of the country, and indeed King Abdulaziz’s legacy, are in the hands of a third generation of Saudi princes. The most powerful of them, Mohammed bin Salman, is now radically altering the system his grandfather built in order to preserve it. Not only is he at war with members of his family, but he is taking on the clerical elite that have held sway in Saudi Arabia since the 1700s. In the intervening years, various versions of the Saudi state have failed, and though the current incarnation has proved resilient, the unprecedented power struggles underway cast a shadow of uncertainty on its future. To understand its future, you need to read about its origin. To understand its origin, you need to read about King Abdulaziz. The most detailed account of his life and time is found in this book.
Matthew Massee: Financial calamity follows a familiar pattern. First, there is mania, a time when everyone gets excited about a new way to get rich. Then, there is panic, when investors begin to realize that the market cannot climb forever. Last, there is the crash, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s not entirely a novel concept, but what sets this book apart from others about financial history is its focus on speculative bubbles and its rejection of the efficient market hypothesis, according to which stocks are sold always at their fair value.
A major theme in this book is how financial crises in one country can spread to others. To help quarantine the contagion, the authors suggest the world needs a lender of last resort, a role taken up by major central banks in the past decade. The problem with this solution, they acknowledge, is moral hazard. Feeling emboldened that the financial system will always be bailed out, banks and other investors will continue to engage in risky behavior. Without adequate fear of consequences, this lender of last resort can create a feedback loop whereby bad behavior is rewarded with public assistance. At the same time, without a lender of last resort, a global financial collapse is a reality too frightening to contemplate.