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.

The OSS in Burma: Jungle War against the Japanese
By Troy J. Sacquety

Phillip Orchard: The story of OSS Detachment 101 in Japanese-occupied Burma is one about both an oft-overlooked theater in World War II and the development of modern U.S. special operations forces. The Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, a forerunner of the CIA, was established in 1942 to coordinate covert operations and support native resistance movements behind enemy lines. Southeast Asia was its crucible. Japan’s invasion of modern-day Myanmar earlier that year had severed the Burma Road, a key link between British India and Allied-backed fighters in southern China, forcing the Allies to fly hazardous resupply missions over the Himalayas. It also positioned the Japanese for a potential invasion of India itself. In response, Detachment 101 was tasked with executing a wide-ranging espionage and sabotage campaign aimed at aiding the resupply effort and tying down the Japanese in the unforgiving Burmese jungles. Perhaps its biggest task was raising a guerrilla army from among the myriad ethnic minority groups native to the rugged regions bordering China — the same groups that, to varying degrees, have been resisting subjugation by Myanmar’s central government ever since.

The 101 started with just around 20 people. For most of the war, it was underfunded and poorly equipped; it was expected to operate largely without day-to-day guidance and support from Washington. Early on, in fact, Detachment 101’s leaders deemed it necessary to take on high-risk operations, many of them disasters, just to get sufficient attention (and thus resources) from their distant Allied commanders. Nonetheless, the 101 was ultimately quite effective, laying the groundwork for a multinational Allied force involving thousands of fighters who would expel the Japanese. It did this by turning the unforgiving climate and terrain of northern Burma to its advantage, waging a savvy propaganda campaign, and gaining a decisive intelligence edge — in the process creating a blueprint for future U.S. covert operations.

Political Islam in the Age of Democratization
By Kamran Bokhari and Farid Senzai

Xander Snyder: One of the great pleasures of working at GPF is the opportunity to collaborate with experts such as Kamran Bokhari. This book’s goal, which I believe it accomplishes, is to present a new framework through which to interpret the motivations and methods of different Islamist groups. Bokhari and Senzai begin with the observation that the tendency in the West following 9/11 was to lump truly disparate groups with divergent aims into the single category of “Islamists” or “jihadists,” which only further obfuscated the already complex and varied landscape of modern Islamism. To rectify this, they propose new terminology that categorizes groups based on both their desired outcomes and their preferred methods of achieving those outcomes. As this book’s title implies, this terminology is categorized in part by a group’s willingness and ability to interact with democratization efforts.

After introducing this new framework, the authors apply it to what seems like every important Islamist entity in the Middle East and North Africa, revealing insights into why certain groups act the way they do. Experts and non-experts alike who seek a deeper understanding of the defining characteristics of different types of political Islam would benefit greatly from reading this book.

The Aviator
By Evgenii Vodolazkin

Antonia Colibasanu: As I was searching for a book on contemporary Russia, I found the latest novel by Evgenii Vodolazkin, a much-acclaimed contemporary author in Russia and Europe. The main character, Innokenti Platonov, wakes up in the early 2000s with amnesia. He tries to understand the world in which he lives while also rediscovering his early life, his memories extending into the early 20th century. The book thus covers a long period of Russian history that includes the Russian Revolution, Bolshevism, neo-Bolshevism, the Gulag, war and anarchy. The author explores Russian history through the journals of three people – Innokenti, his doctor and his lover – who represent three generations within the 20th century. The book poses philosophical questions that relate not only to Russian society and culture but also to universal topics such as love and death. Throughout the book, the author uses the memoirs of the characters to create a detailed picture of Russia and its people. The journals of the three characters are linked to one another through common feelings they share. From a geopolitical standpoint, this book provides insight into the way Russians perceive their history.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond
By Sonia Shah

Ekaterina Zolotova: With economic and social systems between countries and continents linked now more than ever, diseases are more easily spread. Trade and travel by sea and air help spread pathogens; expanding food markets allow microbial pathogens to seep into all corners of our food supply; and urbanization and overpopulation can create the foundations for a new pandemic that can affect millions of people and cause a global economic downturn.

This book is a scientific look at pathogens, but it also digs deeper into the history and politics of diseases, which makes the book more understandable for most readers. The author, scientific journalist Sonia Shah, draws parallels between one of the most dangerous and terrible pathogens in the world – cholera – and new diseases that humanity has faced in this century. The book covers a variety of topics including viruses, pathogens that can cause a pandemic, some well-covered examples of epidemics and how deadly viruses have been spread in the past. It also examines examples of when commercial interests and the image of a country were more important than the health of the population.