Below you will find a list of books the Geopolitical Futures’ team is currently reading. It highlights insightful and relevant books from around the globe and the reasons we chose them.
With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain
By Michael Korda
George Friedman: A History of the Battle of Britain – a subject that would seem beaten to death. But Korda causes me to see something I’ve always missed, the role of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. He was the commander of the fighters engaged in the battle of Britain. More important, he created the system that defeated the Luftwaffe. This system included the radar stations, connected with wiring buried in concrete to underground command centers, thousands of civilian aircraft spotters, and the entire method of battle management. He was opposed in most of these things by his superiors. What’s most important about Dowding was that he was seen by the people around him, including Winston Churchill, not as a visionary but as an obstructionist. His absolute commitment to his mission, defending Britain from air attack, made it appear that he simply had to have his own way. In fact, he was not only right in the rigorous requirements that were necessary for Britain to win the air battle, but also absolutely correct when he argued that air defense (not air offense or the navy) would determine the fate of Britain. It is amazing how perfectionism and clarity of foresight can be seen as mere stubbornness, even by brilliant people such as Churchill. Dowding won the Battle of Britain and then was relieved. Even after his victory, he was seen as the problem and not the solution. He saved Britain and was regarded as a jerk. Maybe he was, but compared to what he gave his country, what did that matter? Of course there are a lot more jerks than geniuses who appear to be jerks, so it is always a tough call. Some things, like national survival, demand that you get it right.
Antonia Colibasanu: Set in Vienna between the two World Wars, this book tells the story of the Trotta family. It is a continuation of Roth’s masterpiece “The Radetzky March” and a tale about successive disintegrations of an empire, of a civilization and its rules, and of a family. Joseph Trotta, the grandnephew of the first novel’s hero, is captured in World War I and kept prisoner in Siberia. The Vienna he comes back to is much changed. Trotta’s personal life events, depicted in short chapters that sometimes end abruptly, paint a puzzling modern world in which friends talk politics in bars, while worrying news makes one feel like “Death stretches his bony fingers” over the city. The narration sets the gloomy atmosphere, underlining the fear and alienation of the time. The novel is a reminder of the societal features that point to a crisis. The challenging changes, the idea of limited rules and protection, the image of an era where borrowed finery becomes the norm – all tint this portrait of transition. Early indicators of conflict or societal crisis can be found both in the energy of bustling coffee shops and in loneliness. Besides revealing how a civilization can turn to dust and how European political transformations, rather than peaceful constancy, are the norm, “The Emperor’s Tomb” also gives the reader a bleak awareness of the passing moment: “Our experience is fleeting, our forgetting rapid” – a key lesson in geopolitics.
Cheyenne Ligon: One of the most important and well-known figures in Japanese history, Yukichi Fukuzawa was a liberal thinker, adventurer, ambassador and teacher who helped usher in the revolutionary period of “civilization and enlightenment” – known as bunmei kaika. In this period during the late 19th century, Japan embraced Western values, culture and institutions. Perceptive and ambitious, Fukuzawa strove to understand the West and encouraged Japan to emulate it, which he believed was the only way to escape Western imperialism. Fukuzawa’s autobiography is not only a glimpse into the life of a fascinating man, but also a history of Japan’s transition from a closed, feudal state to a modern, competitive world power with global ambitions.
Chloe Stern: As a fan of classic sci-fi like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, I love living in a world that is now actually applying Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. An article I read last week about self-driving Ubers in downtown Pittsburgh set me looking for some new good sci-fi. My father reads more books than anyone I know, and he had recommended Harkaway’s debut novel “The Gone-Away World” to me a while ago. He said that there’s a point in the book that turns your entire reality inside out, so of course I had to see for myself. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world, with the main character recounting his past and the wars that led to the current wasteland as he and his troupe of ex-soldier/firefighter/haz-mat-disposal buddies rush to save the world from imminent disaster. It’s truly hard to do the intricate plot justice in such a short blurb. The prose can get discursive at times, but it always seems to end up right where it should be. Harkaway is John le Carré’s son, which is perhaps why this book seems to me a natural extension of the Cold War era doomsday sci-fi-turned-reality.