For some reason, the Pacific Realist has never been a fan of the old mantra, “when it rains, it pours.” Something about the combination of its overuse and lack of insight has always just annoyed me.
However, one area where its wisdom does seem to hold true is in the book publishing world. Specifically, in my mind at least there is a clear never-ending cycle of countless high quality and exciting new books being released in a short period of time, followed by a drought of new books that I look forward to reading. This is necessarily speculative — obviously what books one wants to read differs greatly from person to person — but for me at least, this cycle seems to hold true.
Without question, this fall is one of those periods where a bunch of exciting must-read new books are being released in rapid succession. In fact, there are far too many of them for me to list them all but I felt it was worth saying a few words about a few of them (disclaimer: To avoid any thorny issues, I have left off anything written by Diplomat columnists like Aaron Friedberg’s Aldephi series book on Air-Sea Battle and Kerry Brown’s recent book on China’s Princelings.)
Also, to be clear, I haven’t read any of these books in full yet, and many of them aren’t even on bookshelves yet. I’m currently reading the first one, and I have read parts of an earlier draft of the fourth. Still, I have no doubt all will be well worth your time based on the authors’ previous books and the summaries and/or book reviews I’ve read of these new ones.
1. Henry Kissinger: World Order.
This should be obvious given that this is the Pacific Realist’s book list. It has also already been discussed by many, including fellow Diplomat writers.
2. Francis Fukuyama: Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy.
This is the second and final part of Fukuyama’s project to trace the development of governance (particularly with a focus on developing institutions) across the globe and throughout all of human history. This is obviously a Jared Diamond-esque undertaking in its ambition, but thankfully Fukuyama is one of the few living scholars who has the chops to pull it off.
It’s worth noting that though this book, much like Kissinger’s, may be mostly about the history of centuries ago, it could hardly be more timely for as diverse set of actors. Given the U.S. and Western policy world’s continued desire to actively try to shape the political development of most of the rest of the world — even as their own political institutions fall apart — one would hope some of those in power in Washington and Brussels would give Fukuyama’s book a close read. Meanwhile, much of the non-Western world — and particularly the most important non-Western countries — are undertaking herculean reforms to their own systems. They too owe Fukuyama a great deal of gratitude for these two books.
Finally, I’d just note that it’s somewhat fitting that Fukuyama has come to focus so heavily on institutions as that was one of the two main themes running through his mentor’s entire body of work. That mentor of course was Samuel Huntington, whom Fukuyama still constantly (and rightly) praises even though they were the leading members of two starkly different camps in the most important debate in U.S. foreign policy between the end of the Cold War and 9/11.
3. Ian Morris: War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots.
The thesis of this book is an argument that has been made ad nauseam. Still, it’s still largely unappreciated outside of academia, as well as important enough that another book on it can be justified. And Ian Morris’ bibliography is reason enough to read just about anything he publishes.
4. Dale C. Copeland: Economic Interdependence and War.
I’ve previously written about Copeland’s first book, The Origins of Major War, and continue to believe it is one of the most important and underappreciated international relations theories in existence. While one constantly hears Robert Gilpin’s War and Change referenced in discussing the rise and fall of great powers — and for good reason given all the insights in his work — Origins of Major War discredited one of Gilpin’s main contentions in the book: namely, that in hegemonic wars it was the rising power who sued for war against the declining power. First through logic and then through empirical analysis, Copeland demonstrates that it is the declining power who provokes the war in a desperate attempt to stave off its decline. The rising power, Copeland convincingly noted, has every incentive to delay war since it is becoming more and more powerful with every passing day.
We’ve had to wait quite a while for Copeland’s follow up to Origins of Major War (one suspects the herculean task of getting tenured might be partly to blame for this), but his sophomore effort will not disappoint. This book seeks to finally solve the ongoing debate about whether economic interdependence strongly deters two states from going to war, doesn’t really have much of an impact, or actually makes them more likely to go to war.
It’s long been obvious that the answer to this question has to be: it depends. There are clear cases of economic interdependence causing a war, and other clear cases of trade making war unthinkable among states. Copeland’s achievement is finally answering the obvious follow up question: what does it depend on?
Random sidenotes: As he himself points out, Copeland is taking a page out of Gilpin’s book in integrating political economy with security studies. Also, Copeland’s first book was published as part of the Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, which I have always considered to be hands-down the best series for strategic and security studies books of any university press. This new book is published as part of the Princeton Studies in International History and Politics and I have to say — if one only considers their releases from the past five years or so, I’d say Princeton Studies in International History and Politics has got CSSA beat by a long shot. Seems to me that a hegemonic transition is brewing.
5. William C. Martel: Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice: The Need for an Effective American Foreign Policy.
Fletcher Professor and Friend of The Diplomat William Martel has been leading a one-man campaign to force U.S. foreign policymakers to adopt a clear and overtly stated grand strategy. The ambitiousness of such a mission is only topped by its importance. The foreign policy community long ago seemingly came to an internal consensus it will use the absurd notion that “the world today is too complicated for a grand strategy” as an excuse to avoid the difficulties of devising one. And it’s no coincidence that the foreign policy community has long produced one strategic failure after another despite the enormous resources the American people and geography have put at its disposal.
6. Karen Armstrong: Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.
The Pacific Realist has never been very religious personally or even very much interested in religion. I find these to be excellent qualifications for me to say that I think Karen Armstrong is the best scholar on religion, at least for a general audience. I don’t believe that simply because she can make her subject matter interesting to someone like myself who isn’t all that knowledgeable or interested in it. It’s more that her books are just oozing with interesting insight after interesting insight — a trait most great authors, from Jared Diamond to Jon Krakauer to Mark Twain, share.