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: This is my first foray into Schlesinger Jr., one of the most prolific and well-respected American political historians. He won two Pulitzers for books on presidents Andrew Jackson and John F. Kennedy. I chose to start with “The Crisis of the Old Order” because American liberalism is at a crisis point, and geopolitically – as GPF founder George Friedman has pointed out – the world looks somewhat like it did before World War II. Schlesinger Jr. is one of those writers, like Robert Caro, who portrays history both to describe the facts and to tell a story. The narrative is as important as the particulars, and the two weave back and forth to create something greater than the sum of the parts.
Schlesinger Jr., a fluid and compelling writer, loves to find a good quote that adds color to the narrative, but at times it leaves me wanting more. For example, after Calvin Coolidge won his first presidential term in 1924, William Howard Taft says that the United States “is no country for radicalism. I think it is really the most conservative country in the world.” Or “melodious” William Jennings Bryan attempts to quell an internal fight in the Democratic Party in 1924 by saying, “It requires more courage to fight the Republican Party than it does to fight the Ku Klux Klan.” (In 1924, the Democrats could not agree on a motion to denounce the KKK.)
There was a period in American politics that seemed to end in the late 1970s and early ’80s when the complete eradication of poverty was a very real political goal. Even President Herbert Hoover, who is often thought to have represented business interests, campaigned in 1928 on destroying poverty. U.S. politicians don’t talk about a war on poverty anymore, being much more concerned with other wars, and this shift in rhetoric and the purpose of government is just beginning. One particularly striking quote Schlesinger Jr. puts to good use comes from a book review written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1925, in which Roosevelt writes of his “breathless” fears for America’s political future and asks, “Hamiltons we have today, [but] is there a Jefferson on the horizon?” We, too, often forget that each generation sees itself as the one that is truly falling apart. Realism requires discipline.
David Boddiger: I came across this work by Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, first because it was on former President Barack Obama’s list of recommended books. Second, I wanted to read something that would explain the 21st century narrative of race in America better than the unhelpful arguing on TV news any time another black youth is gunned down by police. “Between the World and Me” is an open letter to Coates’ teenage son about being raised in West Baltimore, confronting the historical struggle of being black in America, growing intellectually and as a writer, and ultimately, finding the joys (and facing the fears) of being a father. It is one of the most honest, emotionally challenging books I’ve read in a while. Coates’ narrative flows seamlessly, and there is something worth digesting in almost every paragraph. It’s an intimate book, as any letter from father to son would be, but its moral conclusions and logic are nothing short of a ray of intellectual light in what is still – despite our accomplishments – a society filled with darkness and despair for so many Americans. If you’re having trouble figuring out why Black Lives Matter, or if you’ve grown complacent with the country’s divisiveness on issues of equality, this book is for you.
Kamran Bokhari: Military establishments in most modern Muslim nation-states have been the drivers of nation-building. They have had a leading role in shaping the political economies in their respective countries. Most prominent among them have been the armed forces of Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt and Algeria. The author of this recently published book offers a great comparison and contrast of these four polities’ experiences. Anyone interested in the imbalance in civil-military relations in Muslim countries should read it.
Allison Fedirka: With NAFTA being a huge buzzword again I picked up this book copyrighted in 2000. Most of the text deals with history and is still relevant. The chapters’ final thoughts and impressions of what lies ahead serve as interesting comparisons to how people spoke about this bilateral relationship, how they saw it evolving and where we are today. What struck me most was that this book reads like an economic-intensive, mild political history of Mexico in the 20th century. The title and the close link between Mexican history and the United States were also striking. Conversely, one can discuss major events in U.S. history in the 20th century with comparatively little emphasis on Mexico. This marks a stark contrast to the 19th century bilateral relationship during which ties to Mexico heavily impacted the U.S.; wars were fought and national borders were shaped. It makes me wonder how this current century will play out. I’m inclined to believe that while military conflict may not necessarily be on the horizon, U.S.-Mexico relations in the 21st century will play a much more integral role for both nations, making these links more comparable to the 19th century than the 20th.