Tag Archives: booklist

Booklist | Scorecard Diplomacy

Can a top 20 list (or bottom 10?) be a tool to make countries behave? A new book by Judith G. Kelley of Duke University makes sense of the value that comes from doing rankings and grading in an effort to change state behavior.

Scorecard Diplomacy by Judith Kelley shows that public grades can evoke countries’ concerns about their reputations and motivate them to address thorny problems

If you aren’t familiar with Kelly’s work, take a look.

Kelley’s work focuses on how states, international organizations and NGOs can promote domestic political reforms in problem states, and how international norms, laws and other governance tools influence state behavior. Her work addresses human rights and democracy, international election observation, and human trafficking. Her Project on International Election Monitoring led to a book, Monitoring Democracy: When International Election Observation Works and Why It Often Fails (Princeton 2012), which was “One of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013” and also received the Chadwick F. Alger Prize, which recognizes the “best book published in the previous calendar year on the subject of international organization and multilateralism.” The work behind Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence Their Reputation and Behavior was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and another from the Smith Richardson Foundation.


Source: Scorecard Diplomacy

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Booklist | The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner

Gaining and using power is an old subject–and at the core of politics diplomacy, and leadership. So this new book by Dacher Keltner upends the traditional Machiavellian interpretation by arguing that you become more powerful through “empathy, collaboration, open mindedness, fairness, and generosity.” That’s the good news.

The bad news? Obtaining power sows the seeds for our downfall.

This is the “paradox” of Keltner’s title: it is true that being nice is the best path to power, but achieving power reliably turns people nasty. “The seductions of power,” as he puts it, “induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place.” Research demonstrates that people who feel powerful are more likely to act impulsively: to have affairs; to drive inconsiderately; to lie; to argue that it is justifiable for them to break rules others should follow; and, in one entertaining study by Keltner and his colleagues, to steal sweets from children. Rich people even shoplift more than the poor. All in all, accumulating power seems to trigger a tendency to self-absorption: in experiments, when people are asked to draw the letter E on their own foreheads so that others can read it, powerful people are more likely to draw it the right way round to themselves, and backwards to onlookers. In a literal sense, they no longer see the world from other people’s perspective.

Source: The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner review – how success triggers self-absorption | Books | The Guardian


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Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2015

Add these 2105 books that focus on the history, practice, and key issues in diplomacy to your reading list:


Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy by David Milne – the most important rethinking of American foreign policy, dividing key thinkers between artistic and scientific approaches

Realpolitik: A History by John Bew – unraveling a German contribution and distinguishing it from the realist school of thought

The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire by Susan Pedersen – explores the first grand attempt at international governance and a failed attempt to outlaw war

The Deluge, by Adam Tooze – an original take on the interwar period as power gravitated from Europe to the US

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger – the must-read book to understand the Middle East disruptor

King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant by Stephen Church – commemorating the 800th anniversary of a foundational doc

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson – making the case that he cannot be ignored as a major diplomatic strategist, an effort to “revise the revisionists

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman by Greg Grandin – on his institutionalizing failures, using intuition over facts, and forming the foundation for neoconservative missteps

Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko – avoiding groupthink by thinking like the other side

The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft by Hal Brands (Editor), Jeremi Suri (Editor) – what can policymakers really learn from history?

Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century by Alistair Horne – a longtime writer of military history isolates a key factor

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turtle – how technology makes it harder for us to be together, diminishing empathy

The New York Review Abroad edited by Robert B Silvers with introductory updates by Ian Buruma – around the world in 27 essays


Global Economics

Inequality: What Can be Done? by Anthony Atkinson – to follow up on Piketty’s big idea last year, how about a solution?

The Looting Machine: Warlords, Oligarchs, Corporations, Smugglers, and the Theft of Africa’s Wealth by Tom Burgis – revealing how Africa sits at the bottom on of the global industrial chain

Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin by Nathaniel Popper – from a global joke to a movement and new currency

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik – taking on the dismal science in the form of a defense


Country Focus


Global Rules: America, Britain, and a Disordered World by James E. Cronin

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, by Dan Ephron – a murder that didn’t make peace inevitable or settle the big Israeli debate

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov

Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People
by Sudhir Hazareesingh

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Arkady Ostrovsky

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business by Alex de Waal


Finally, take a look and James Lindsay’s complication of ten American foreign policy influencers who died in 2015. Happy New Year!

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Booklist | Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ 

Vytautas The Great War Museum Kaunas, Lithuania

Could the Great War have been avoided? Ian Kershaw’s new book offers an explanation:

Kershaw argues that World War I could have been forestalled if Vienna had acted with speed to punish Serbia for its complicity in the murder of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it had the Kaiser’s reckless blank check for punishment, but as Kershaw puts it, the Austrian Empire “knew only two speeds, slow and dead stop.” By the time Vienna sent its ultimatum to Belgrade, three weeks after the assassination, Russia, with France in tow, had encouraged the Serbs to be more bloody-minded. More bloody-minded, in my own judgment, than justified.

Kershaw identifies a second missed opportunity to avert mass slaughter. He writes that even as Russia started to mobilize in the summer of 1914 — much before Germany — “a firm British declaration of neutrality . . . might even at a late hour have prevented general war. But Grey’s disastrous hesitation meant that the room for diplomatic initiatives vanished.” Pretty well every history nods to the poetic prescience of Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, in the foreboding he expressed on Aug. 3. Standing by his big window overlooking Horse Guards Parade, he watched the gas lights being lit in the street below and said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” They were, though Grey lived to see Europe, with the lights on, begin to fumble its irresolute way to World War II.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story

Source: Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’ – The New York Times

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Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

A new book by Nial Ferguson makes that case that Kissinger was an “idealist”, of sorts. Is his book, Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist, credible?

As Kissinger observed, there was something unforgivable about the way the “protest movements [had] made heroes of leaders in repressive new countries,” oblivious to “the absurdity of founding a claim for freedom on protagonists of the totalitarian state—such as Guevara or Ho or Mao.” The student radicals failed to see that they were living through a fundamental transformation of the postwar international order. “The age of the superpowers,” Kissinger announced, “is drawing to an end.”

Source: Kissinger the Freedom Fighter – WSJ

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Booklist | Best Diplomacy Books of 2014

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.

Honorable Mentions

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.


Booklist | Henry Kissinger, ‘World Order

Kissinger inveighs on statesmanship, ‘the craft of “attending” to [global] problems’ in his forthcoming book.  He has been attacked by liberals such as Christopher Hitchens, Gary J. Bass and Seymour Hersh as well as from conservatives. Even as it sounds a lot like my class lecture last week–I’m still looking forward to the massive tome:

The premise is that we live in a world of disorder: “While ‘the international community’ is invoked perhaps more insistently now than in any other era, it presents no clear or agreed set of goals, methods or limits. . . . Chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence.” Hence the need to build an order — one able to balance the competing desires of nations, both the established Western powers that wrote the existing international “rules” (principally the United States), and the emerging ones that do not accept them, principally China, but also Russia and the Islamic world.

This will be hard because there never has been a true world order. Instead, different civilizations have come up with their own versions. The Islamic and Chinese ones were almost entirely self-­centered: If you were not within the umma of believers or blessed with the emperor’s masterly rule, you were an infidel or a barbarian. Balance did not come into it. America’s version, though more recent and more nuanced, is also somewhat self-centered — a moral order where everything will be fine once the world comes to its senses and thinks like America (which annoyingly it never quite does). So the best starting point remains Europe’s “Westphalian” balance of power.

via Henry Kissinger’s ‘World Order’ – NYTimes.com.

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Summer Reading Book Pick: Futuristic International Relations

Looking for something beach-worthy with a diplomatic twist? How about reading Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds?

Why you’d want to give this to a teen: In this futurist game of Diplomacy, Africa wins. A (mostly utopian) vision of Earth in the future.

Excerpt: “For all that Eunice’s death hit the family hard, it wasn’t long before she was shunted from the headlines. A simmering sex/vote-rigging scandal in the Pan-African Parliament, a dispute between the East African Federation and the African Union about cost overruns on a groundwater bioremediation programme in former Uganda, a stand-off between Chinese tecto-engineers and Turkish government mandarins concerning the precise scheduling of a stress-management earthquake along the North Anatolian fault. On the global scale, continued tensions between the United Surface Nations and the United Aquatic Nations regarding extradition rules and the extent of aug access rights and inter-regional Mechanism jurisdiction. Talk of expanding the scope of the Mandatory Enhancements. A murder attempt in Finland. Threat of industrial action at the Pontianak space elevator in western Borneo. Someone in Tasmania dying of a very rare type of cancer, something of a heroic achievement these days. Only at the household, only in this part of the East African Federation, had the clocks stopped.”

via TED Ideas


Booklist | The Myth of the Strong Leader’ by Archie Brown

Do strong leaders exist?  An Oxford don argues against the proposition–and does so quite skillfully:

It is a pleasure to find a book on political leadership that imposes no theories or models but studies actual political leaders, dozens of them from many countries, in a historical survey from the beginning of the 20th century.

In “The Myth of the Strong Leader,” Archie Brown, an emeritus professor of politics at Oxford, provides a guided tour through the great, the famous and the merely recognizable names among those figures who deserve to be held up as examples, good or bad, of leadership. The professor enjoys making summary judgments, which he does with the dispatch if not the wit of an Oxford don.

Mr. Brown is, however, burdened with a thesis. He argues that the strong leader is a myth—that true strength is not what it appears to be. Adolf Hitler, to cite an obvious case, might strike one as a strong leader, but, according to Mr. Brown, his “greatness, other than in a capacity to whip up evil, was an illusion.” He was strong in the sense of having a vigor that led to “ruinous adventures” but he came to a terrible end in despair and suicide. The strong leader, we may surmise, is defeated by his hubris, and his greatness, such as it may have been, is erased, his overreaching punished with rejection and execration.

via Book Review: ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’ by Archie Brown – WSJ.com.


Booklist | ‘The Tyranny of Experts’ by William Easterly

History gets forgotten. Experts ruin everything.  Racism and colonialism were the frame. And the poor are global losers in the “war on poverty” being waged by big institutions, states, and “donor communities.”  Welcome back, William Easterly–whose latest book makes the case for bottom-up governance, openness and democracy.

The author’s persistent emphasis on liberty, and his touting of the “Invisible Hand” might tempt some readers to write him off as a doctrinaire conservative, an inclination that might be encouraged by Easterly’s frequent citation of intellectual favorites of the right like Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. It’s the odd conservative, however, who would read history like Easterly, who blames much of the failure of development as a Western movement, and a great deal of misery in Africa specifically on the twin legacies of imperialism and racism. He brandishes this claim of racism liberally but not gratuitously; his point being that paternalism and a belief in the incapacity of others is an unexamined foundation of development ideology. “Locating the formative years of development between 1919 and 1949 highlights a critical point,” Easterly writes: “Development ideas took shape before there was even the most minimal respect in the West for the rights of individuals in the Rest.” Western racism, he asserts, spared no one, but in Africa it was at the very heart of the concept of development.

via ‘The Tyranny of Experts,’ by William Easterly – NYTimes.com.