My top picks from the past year for books relevant to diplomacy and international affairs:
The Professor and the President: Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House by Stephen Hess. Serious debates between a president and his policy advisor–and former UN ambassador. This great book was written by Moynihan’s deputy, now a notable political scientist.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. This is the “it” book of the year and one that is still shaping the debate. As Tyler Cohen writes in Foreign Affairs, “Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them. Thomas Piketty’s tome will put capitalist wealth back at the center of public debate, resurrect interest in the subject of wealth distribution, and revolutionize how people view the history of income inequality.”
How Asia Works by Joe Studwell comes with recommendations from leading economists and Bill Gates alike (don’t miss his Lego stop motion short). It addresses the high economic growth of the Asian Tigers and tries to be a “how to” guide based on the past 50 years of economic and political history.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. A reminder that nobody knows where China is heading–but that listening to the voices of Chinese people can at least give us useful insights into what the country is.
The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird tells the story of the spy who was “All Things Middle East” and embodied the highest tradecraft skills and public service ideal while spending his career focused on a tumultuous region. Well-written and carefully crafted by Bird, we are well-served with this treatment.
Global Crisis: War, Catastrophe, and Climate Change in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker, called “a magesterial work” by Lisa Jardine in FT, lays out the case in more than 900 pages for linkages between a period of intense temperature changes (up to 2 degrees) in the 1600s and political, social, and economic upheaval. The thesis has been in play since the 1970s but Parker returns with more analysis, sources, and arguments to make his case. An important book to at least consider how climate and society could be linked–especially as we may be living through a similar era. (See Parker’s short article in the Chronicle.)
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama is a powerful sequal book and deep explanation of how political institutes develop form a notable political philosopher.
The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor by William Easterly brings back one of my favorite development thinkers taking on dominant paradigms of field with arguments on behalf of the people for whom development should work. This book isn’t as ground shaking as his earlier one (The White Man’s Burden) but it advances his thinking with clear, insightful writing and adds to our understanding of how development ought to work.
Gandhi Before India by Ramachandra Guha covers Gandhi’s early years in India, England and South Africa. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald in what was supposed to be the must-read book of the year. The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest Is Good for the West by Charles Kenny is an optimistic development read that has a few points to quibble with but makes an interesting (and important) point against zero-sum thinking.