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.
George Friedman: World War II turned the United States into the dominant naval power. To do this it had to overcome two navies. One was the Royal Navy, which the United States simply supplanted as the pre-eminent power in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The other was the Imperial Japanese Navy, which had to be crushed. This book is about the latter, telling the story of the United States and its systematic destruction of the Imperial Navy. This is important for two reasons. First, it gave the U.S. Navy control of the Pacific, which may now be challenged by the Chinese. Second, it described how the Americans fight successful wars. The goal in the Pacific was to seize key islands that could sustain large air fleets and were properly angled into the prevailing wind. To do that, the Americans had to land and destroy the Japanese navy, still a formidable force. Thus, the war had to be fought in U.S. shipyards and factories. Between 1942 and 1944 the U.S. produced 24 fleet carriers, eight battleships, exactly 100 smaller escort carriers, 293 destroyers and more than 67,000 landing craft. The Japanese output was a tiny fraction of this.
In 1944, these forces gathered in the Western Pacific, destroyed Japan’s striking capability and seized islands like Tinian, from which many of the thousands of B-29s struck at Japan. In reading this book, you see war meticulously planned and executed from the factory floor to the Tokyo firebombing and the atom bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When we look at the wars since World War II, in which the United States did not do nearly as well, the total commitment of the industrial base is striking. The goal of the war was the destruction of Japan’s military and its will to resist. There are smaller wars with more modest goals, but the United States isn’t very good at them. This book should be read to understand what a successful American war looks like and the fact that this method can’t be adapted to lesser wars. The logic from there is obvious. Read this for a fascinating history and for an understanding of the nature of American power.
Kamran Bokhari: A lot has happened in Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. The army took direct control of governance and organized parliamentary and presidential elections. The country’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement won both sets of polls in 2012. The military-led establishment disrupted the democratic process in mid-2013 after the Muslim Brotherhood tried to sideline both its secularist and Islamist rivals. Since mid-2013 former military chief and current president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been trying to stabilize the country’s political economy but it is facing serious challenges. Hellyer, a British-Egyptian academic and think-tanker who has lived in Egypt throughout this tumultuous period, captures the massive changes that the world’s largest Arab state continues to endure in this new book published in the U.K. last month and available soon to the American market. The author also skillfully uses his first-hand experiences to give the reader a sense of where Egypt is headed.
Allison Fedirka: DaMatta is one of Brazil’s most renowned contemporary anthropologists, who also has experience living abroad, which offers him a unique perspective for explaining the country’s social behavior. Though published over 30 years ago, the book remains relevant today. This short book succinctly and clearly discusses seven fundamental elements that lay the foundation for the behavior of Brazilian society – from work to race to Carnival. I found it extremely insightful in that it explained behaviors I regularly observed, in a framework I would have never constructed as a non-Brazilian. It finally brought together all the different elements I had seen in the culture but could not neatly organize without the proper understanding of the cultural roots. Geopolitics is based on systems of constraints and imperatives, and cultural and social behaviors feed into this system, albeit perhaps not as overtly as mountain ranges or military capabilities. Collective identities, memories and behaviors can influence how issues are prioritized as well as solved; in some instances, these social and cultural factors can even transcend into actual imperatives and constraints that a country must reconcile.
Brendan O’Reilly: This is perhaps the best autobiographical account of the Cultural Revolution that unleashed chaos throughout China in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Liang Heng was born in 1954 in Changsha, a medium-sized provincial city near Mao’s hometown. Although his parents were loyal communists, their relatively high status made them targets as the entire political order descended into paranoia, self-criticism and efforts to prove their revolutionary furor. Mao’s gambit to hold on to his monopoly of authority by empowering teenage “Red Guards” to smash all relics of the old social and cultural order harmed the innocent and the loyal, as well as any elements that questioned his disastrous economic policies. Liang’s teenage years are spent in a time of fear, with radical Red Guards effectively paralyzing his hometown as they make pilgrimages to Mao’s hometown. Red Guard factions focus their zealous violence internally, as their ideological battle to prove their purity descends into pitched warfare on the streets of Changsha. Liang recounts the harrowing personal experiences during this time with a strong sense of narrative, sympathy and even at times a counterintuitive humor. “Son of the Revolution” can help readers understand the chaos and suffering that still shape the minds of hundreds of millions of people living in China today. It also offers a broader lesson about political radicalism and the dangers of ideology divorced from reality.
Jacob L. Shapiro: Churchill hardly needs much introduction. I’ve studied Churchill’s life with some depth because, though he was wrong about a great many things in his life, as no doubt we all are, he saw Nazi Germany very clearly for what it was, and saw from the beginning in the 1930s that war was coming to Europe, no matter how hard people wished it wasn’t. I can only hope that had GPF existed in 1930 we would have seen the future with a similar level of clarity and foresight. Our company’s work often minimizes the role that individuals play in geopolitics. Churchill is an example of this, but also shows that individuals can have a lasting effect. Churchill had no control over when and how he became prime minister or what the world looked like when he did. But there also can be no doubt that his leadership of Britain changed, if not the outcome, then certainly the progression of the 20th century’s defining conflict. A hundred pages into his history of Britain’s birth, I am struck and yet not surprised at how Churchill emphasizes the role of the exceptional (and sometimes splendidly dismal) political leader in the history of the development of mature political life on his island home.