The Man in the High Castle
By Philip K. Dick

It’s difficult to overstate how profound World War II affected the course of human history. In many ways, we still live in the world it wrought. But what if it had gone the other way? What if the Allies had lost and the Axis powers had won? How would the world be different now, and what would a world led by Nazi Germany look like?

These questions are the premise behind “The Man in the High Castle,” a book by acclaimed science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It’s set in 1962, nearly two decades after the United States, weakened by a prolonged depression after the assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt, surrendered to Germany and Japan. Germany now occupies the East Coast of the U.S. while Japan occupies the West Coast, where much of the story takes place. Needless to say, the United States looks radically different in Dick’s world than it did the real 1960s: Slavery is legal; the few remaining Jews are forced to go into hiding; an ancient Chinese oracle called the I Ching is consulted to make important decisions. Elsewhere in the world, Africa has been virtually obliterated. Japan and Germany compete for control over the remaining neutral buffer states.

In revealing this alternate reality, the book follows several characters as they confront critical ethical dilemmas. One of the main characters is Frank Frink, a craftsman living in Japan-controlled territory who changed his name to hide his Jewish roots. His estranged wife Juliana starts a relationship with an Italian truck driver named Joe Cinnadella. The thread that ties many of these characters together is a new book called “The Grasshopper That Lies Heavy,” which has been banned by the Nazis but seems increasingly popular. The book offers its own alternate reality, one in which Roosevelt wasn’t assassinated, the Allies defeated the Germans and a global New Deal helped elevate the status of some of the world’s poorest regions.

It’s hard to review “The Man in the High Castle” without giving away too much of the ending, but suffice it to say that it’s a lesson in the power of illusions. It blurs the line between fiction and reality and cleverly proves that not everything is as it seems.

Valentina Jovanovski, editor

The Great Courses: A History of India
By Prof. Michael H. Fisher

History, it seems, is relative. For those of us who live in younger countries like the United States, what may seem ancient is, for others, comparatively recent. The first Great Courses lecture series I watched was on the Ottoman Empire, the story for which originates 1,000 years ago during the reign of the Seljuk Turks.

Nothing, though, quite compares to India. Providing a high-level overview of Indian history, as this course attempts to do, requires starting much further back: to when human beings first left the African continent about 70,000 years ago. The fertile land of the Indian subcontinent made it so easy for crops to grow that it was one of the first places that Homo sapiens settled after their prehistoric emigration.

A long history indeed, and one shaped heavily by the sorts of things that we like to focus on in geopolitics – namely, geography and its attendant climate. The fertile land found in many low-lying regions of India would have been a lot less fertile, after all, if the Himalayas, which separate the subcontinent from the rest of Asia, were not situated in such a way as to contribute to the formation of annual monsoons. Monsoons contributed to the ease of human settlement, and much later their predictability actually eased travel and trade across the Indian Ocean. (These trade routes would be one of the primary avenues by which Islam came to the subcontinent.)

Michael H. Fisher’s course covers more than just history. It explains the importance of epic literature such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, essential texts in the Hindu religion, and how many of these stories, such as the Vedic verses, which were transferred through generations by Brahman oral tradition before initially being committed to writing over 2,000 years ago, still play an important role in contemporary Indian culture.

It’s difficult to capture so much history in an 18-hour course, and even more difficult to summarize it in a 400-word review. But for anyone interested in how the Mauryans came to power after Alexander, how Islam spread to South Asia, how the British dominated such a large population with a minuscule deployment of British forces, how Indians ultimately rejected foreign rule, or wish to learn more about the lesser-known genocide of Bengalis that took place in 1971, this course is worth checking out.

Xander Snyder, analyst

Valentina Jovanovski
Valentina Jovanovski is an editor at Geopolitical Futures. She works with analysts to hone their writing and handles daily digital publishing and communication of analytical content to subscribers. Ms. Jovanovski was previously an analyst at a research firm focusing on corporate social responsibility before moving to London, England, to earn a diploma in journalism. She worked in Budapest for two years as a freelance journalist, writing for several international publications. She was also an associate editor for an English-language Hungarian news portal. She has an honors bachelor’s degree in political science and geography from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in political science from Carleton University in Ottawa.
Xander Snyder
Xander Snyder is an analyst at Geopolitical Futures. He has a diverse theoretical and practical background in economics, finance and entrepreneurship. As an investment banker, Mr. Snyder worked in corporate debt origination and later in a consumer-retail industry group at Guggenheim Securities, participating in transactions ranging from mergers and acquisitions, equity and debt capital raises, spin-offs and split-offs to principal investing and fairness opinions. He has worked on more than $4 billion worth of transactions. He subsequently co-founded and served as CFO for Persistent Efficiency, an energy efficiency company that used cutting-edge technology to create a new type of electricity sensor for circuit breakers and related data services. In his role, he was responsible for raising more than $1.5 million in seed capital and presented to some 70 venture capital and angel investors in the process. He also signed four Fortune 500 companies as customers, managed all aspects of company accounting, budgeting and cash flow, investor relations, and supply chain and inventory management. In addition to setting corporate strategy, he helped grow the company from two people to a 12-person team. As an independent financial consultant, Mr. Snyder wrote an economics publication for a financial firm that went out to more than 10,000 individuals and assisted in deal sourcing for a real estate private equity fund. He is an active real estate investor and an occasional angel investor. Mr. Snyder received his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in economics and classical music composition from Cornell University.