Your humble blogger is busy
enjoying the fruits of last year's Twitter Fight Club run with day-job activities this Tuesday, so only a quick blog post. A belated congratulations to Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else for winning the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book in internatonal relations last year. As the head of the Gelber jury noted, "Plutocrats took the prize for its immediacy and authority about the future -- the world that we must comprehend and hope to manage in radically new circumstances."
Having been on the Gelber Prize jury this year, I think there was a strong consensus among the panel that Freeland managed two tricky feats in Plutocrats. She wrote a book that was interesting to experts but very accessible to the layman, and she managed to describe the global one percent in a way that did not overly symapthize but still demonstrated some reportorial empathy. That's no easy feat, and well done!
It's a particularly noteworthy accomplishment when one looks at the shortlist of the top five books. Freeland bucked the trend last year, which was that a lot of the best IR books seemed to be about empire. Anne Applebaum's extraordinary Iron Curtain, Kwasi Kwarteng's excellent Ghosts of Empire, and Pankaj Mishra's revelatory From the Ruins of Empire all looked at how great powers tried to create imperial domains in their own image, with devastating consequences to both the imperialists and the subjugated nations. Indeed, the next time someone says that maybe Niall Ferguson had half a point about the virtues of the British empire, tell that person to read Applebaum, Kwarteng, and Mishra (as well as Mishra's devastating takedown of Ferguson in the London Review of Books).
Perhaps most important, each of these authors, using their own styles, nevertheless wrote exceptionally clear and engaging books. I'd encourage all aspiring intellectuals to read Mishra's book as a template, but I doubt most could copy it. I would, however, definitely encourage all Ph.D. students struggling with their dissertations to read Applebaum's book -- it's an exemplar for clear exposition.
Congratulations to Chrystia, and I encourage all readers to peruse all of these excellent books at their earliest convenience.
I know I said I would post by book choices for aspiring senators/presidential candidates yesterday, but current events forced a slight delay. So, you know the contest: "if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?" You now know (and are less than thrilled with) the readers' selections. Below are my choices.
My selections were based on three fundamental premises. The first is that politicians do not lack in self-confidence. This is an important leadership trait, but when it comes to foreign policy, some awareness of The Things That Can Go Wrong is really important. So my choices try to stress the pitfalls of bad decision-making.
The second assumption is that trying to force-feed social science principles onto a politico is a futile enterprise -- any decent advisor should provide that role. What's more important is exposing politicians to the different schools of thought that they will encounter in foreign policy debates. As with the zombie book, the idea is that by familiarizing individuals to the different theoretical approaches, they can recognize a realist or neoconservative argument when they hear it. They should then be able to recall how well or how badly these approaches have done in the past, and think about the logical conclusions to each approach.
Finally, these are American politicians, which means that they are genuinely interested in Americana and American history. Books that can connect current foreign policy debates to past ones will resonate better.
So, with that set-up, my three choices:
1) Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence. An excellent introduction to the myriad strains of thought that have permeated American foreign policy over the past two and a half centuries. International relations theorists might quibble with Mead's different intellectual traditions, but I suspect politicians will immediately "get" them.
2) David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (for Democrats); James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans (for Republicans). Americans have a long and bipartisan history of Mongolian clusterf**ks in foreign policy. Each side should read about their greatest foreign policy mistake of the past century to appreciate that even the best and smartest advisors in the world will not necessarily translate into wise foreign policies.
3) Richard Neustadt and Earnest May, Thinking in Time. Politicians like to claim that they don't cotton to abstract academic theories of the world, that they rely on things like "common sense" and "folk wisdom." This is a horses**t answer that's code for, "if I encounter a new situation, I'll think about a historical parallel and use that to guide my thinking." Neustadt and May's book does an excellent job of delineating the various ways that the history can be abused in presidential decision-making.
Obviously, I'd want politicians to read more books after these three -- but as a first set of foreign policy primers, I'm comfortable with these choices.
If you want to hear more about this, go and listen to my bloggingheads exchange with NSN's Heather Hurlburt on this very question.
To recall the assignment:
[I]f a newly-minted U.S. Senator did want to seriously bone up on foreign affairs, what books should he or she read?....
[I]f you're educating a politician from scratch, you need something relatively pithy, accessible, relevant to current events, and America-centric....
I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions -- if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?
Before I get to the reader suggestions, I heartily encourage the rich variety of responses in the foreign policy blogosphere: see Stephanie Carvin, Brian Rathbun, Andrew Exum, Rob Farley, Justin Logan, Will Winecoff, Phil Arena, and Steve Saideman, for starters.
A few of them challenge some of the underlying premises of my question. Arena asks, in essence, "does it really matter?" If IR scholars believe that structural, impersonal factors are what guide American foreign policy, then a reading list won't make a difference. Rathbun implicitly endorses this point in observing that us IR folk basically write books saying that the first image of leadership doesn't matter all that much.
There is an theoretical and empirical response to this. The theoretical response is that even the most ardent structuralist would acknowledge that there is a stochastic element to any political model -- indeed, in most tests, random chance explains more than the non-random model. What books leaders read falls into the stochastic category (we never know ex ante), so any attempt to influence on that factor is not trivial.
The empirical is that we have at least anecdotal evidence that books occasionally do affect the thinking of American foreign policy decisionmakers. Bill Clinton was famously reluctant to intervene in Bosnia after reading Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts. I'd argue that Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm was the most important book-length contribution to the 2003 debate about going to war in Iraq -- because it provided intellectual cover for Democrats supporting the Bush administration. Bush himself touted Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy as a book that influenced his thinking on the Middle East.
Exum also asks a fair quesion -- why books?
A lot of the reading material I digest comes from blogs as well as newspaper and magazine articles. A lot of it comes from scholarly and policy journals as well.... I generally find articles in International Security, Survival, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy, though, to be both accessible and thought-provoking. And asking a senator to read a few articles in Foreign Affairs each month en route back to his or her constituency actually sounds like a reasonable request. So I am not sure I would actually recommend a junior senator read a book so much as I would ask him or her to read a few carefully selected articles or scan through ForeignPolicy.com every other day.
This is a fair point -- if we could get our junior Senator/aspiring presidential candidate to read up on foreign affairs every day. I'm pessimistic about that happening, however, for the reasons I gave in the prevous post.
Also, here's the thing -- oddly enough, politicians want to tell everyone how many Very Important Books they read. Consider Condoleezza Rice's New York Times Magazine interview, in which she stresses that, "[George W. Bush] read five books for every one I read. He read something like 12 biographies of Lincoln in office." Bush is not someone who seemed worried that he wasn't egghead-y enough, and yet even he and his acolytes feel compelled to point out what's on his bookshelf. We might living in a Twitter age, but books still possess some totemic value of intellectual gravitas.
Picayune disagreements aside, I do encourage readers to click through each of the above links to see their book recommendations.
Below, however, is the aggregate list produced by my readers. At least three different commenters recommended or endorsed all thrirteen books below. [And what do you think of the list?--ed. I'm a big fan of many of these books, I confess I haven't read several of them, and there are a few that I think are mind-boggingly stupid. I suspect that would be the same response of any other IR scholar to the list below -- though which ones are "mid-boggingly stupid" would be a furious subject for debate.]
In alphabetical order:
THE TOP THIRTEEN FOREIGN AFFAIRS BOOKS EVERY ASPIRING POLITICIAN SHOULD READ
(As selected by readers of Foreign Policy)
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War
Steve Coll, Ghost Wars
Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon
Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
Parag Khanna, How to Run the World
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence
John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics
Joseph Nye, The Future of Power
Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos
Stephen Walt, Taming American Power
Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World
Your humble blogger will be posting his book selections on Monday.
Let the fight/snark in the comment thread.... begin!!
I confess to being fascinated by academic or literary downfalls, so I've been spending the past few days catching up on the imbroglio over Greg Mortenson, his Central Asia Institute (CAI), and his bestsellers Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
To sum up: through his books and CAI, Mortenson has popularized his mission to build schools and educate children (particularly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a way of reducing extremism in that region. Investigative reports by 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer strongly suggest the following:
1) Mortenson either fudged or flat-out lied about some of the more gripping anecdotes in both books.
2) Mortenson used CAI as a vehicle to promote his books and subsidize his income. CAI covered his travel expenses for book tours and purchased books in such a way to boost royalties for Mortenson. According to financial statenments, CAI devoted more of its budget to Mortenson's promotional tours than actually building schools in Central Asia. Mortenson rebuffed efforts by other CAI employees to impose financial controls on his expenditures.
3) CAI/Mortenson exaggerated the number of schools that were built, and in many cases even if the schools were built, they have been left unused due to a variety of logistical and organizational failures.
Mortenson and CAI have responded with a plethora of media interviews, direct responses and open missives to supporters. Most of these seem pretty feeble to me. When Mortenson says that, "It is important to know that Balti people have a completely different notion about time," you kinda wonder if Mortenson isn't talking about himself.) Official investigations are now under way, publishers are belatedly fact-checking, and some prize committees are very busy wiping egg off of their face.
So, what are the takeaway lessons from all this? Five thoughts:
1) Reading through Krakauer's story, the striking thing is not the extent of Mortenson's deception but rather the fact that it took so long for this to come to light. Mortenson has been a celebrity since Parade profiled him in April 2003. The fact that Mortenson was able to write two best-sellers and enjoy the lecture circuit for eight years despite the surprising number of people who knew there were issues with Mortenson's narrative. The moral of the story is that , even in a transparent Web 2.0 era, myths can trump reality for a looooong time.
2) Even Mortenson's detractors make it clear that they think he's done much good in Central Asia, so this realy isn't a Bernie Madoff-style scam. It does suggest, however, that political analysts who think of NGOs and celebrity activists as pursuing humane policy ends only for altruistic purposes are living in Fantasyland. It's a world of complex and overlapping motives, and no influential actor in international relations is a saint.
3) What's interesting to me about the inaccuracies/fabrications in Three Cups of Tea is that, by and large, they are irrelevant to the larger policy question of whether schools can help reduce violent extremism. Whether Greg Mortenson was kidnapped by the Taliban or not, whether he wandered into a village or not don't really matter from a policy perspective. Based on the amount of
ink pixels being spilled used on these questions, however, it's quite clear that these narrative elements really do matter. As Laura Miller has pointed out in Salon, however, greater attention is being paid to those details than the NGO mismanagement.
This suggests, in many ways, the power that creation or origin narratives have in developing politically alluring policies. CAI ain't lying when they say that, "Greg’s speeches, books and public appearances are the primary means of educating the American people on behalf of the Institute." Coming up with a compelling policy is not always enough to generate action -- narratives matter one whole hell of a lot.
4) Does Mortenson's myths and mismanagement undercut the policy message? To tell the truth, I'm not blown away by Mortenson's policy message -- indeed, it's pretty weak. As Alanna Shaikh points out in FP:
Its focus was on building schools -- and that's it. Not a thought was spared for education quality, access, or sustainability. But building schools has never been the answer to improving education. If it were, then the millions of dollars poured into international education over the last half-century would have already solved Afghanistan's -- and the rest of the world's -- education deficit by now.
Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren't what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really.
Spencer Ackerman has a detailed, link-rich post at Wired detailing the ways in which U.S. military's COINistas have drunk way too deeply from Mortenson's magical teacup.
In the best defense of Mortenson I've seen, Daniel Glick blogs the following:
But here’s the crux for me. As somebody who has worked in a Muslim country (I was a Knight International Press Fellow working in Algeria in 2006), I know that Americans need a lot of bridge building in the Islamic world. Mortenson has gone where few others have gone, and has put in incredible time and energy to raise awareness, seed schools, and give girls opportunities for education that would not be theirs otherwise. I have no doubt he has done orders of magnitude more good than harm. The same cannot be said for a lot of NGOs doing development work around the world, much less our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hmmm.... maybe. At a minimum, I'd like to see the costs and the benefits of Mortenson's activities weighed very carefully right now.
5) I, for one, look forward to the day when 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer start looking into the living dead. I will hereby defend every fact, every citation in Theories of International Politics and Zombies to the end of my days, or the end of days, whichever comes first.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger has crossed all the t's, dotted all the i's, and sent in the page proofs for Theories of International Politics and Zombies. It's now
done perfect, so no one e-mail me about some new zombie discovery, cause I can't change a thing about it now [Did the zombie ants get in? -- ed. Just by the skin of their brrrraaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiinnns, yes.].
The most important thing I did over the past month was to draft the index. I suspect that many of this blog's readers are aspiring book-writers -- so here is the most useful tip I can provide on indexing a work of non-fiction: For academics, the index is the third-most important part of your book. Assuming you want the great, the good, and everyone else to read your magnum opus, learn this fact well. Scholarly readers will usually flip quickly through a book's introduction, acknowledgments, index and bibliography to determine if it's worth buying.
Why are they flipping through the index? Well, it's usually for one of the following reasons: A) they want to see if their name appears; B) they want to see if their rivals' names appear; C) they are only interested in a particular part of the book, and the index is a more useful guide than the table of contents.
You might think of the index as a chore that just needs to be outsourced to a
lackey illegal immigrant research assistant or professional indexer. If so, then you risk not being responsible for a part of the book that will be thumbed through the most.
In light of this fact, try to be moderately throrough in your index. If you mention a name in the text, put it in the index. Do the same with conceptual ideas. The more inclusive the index, the more interest the book will garner. Consult The Chicago Manual of Style and do it yourself. It's a draining exercise, but for your first book, well worth the effort.
As an example of what not to do, here is a small sample of what's in the index to Theories of International Politics and Zombies:
anarchy, 33-34, 47. See also post-apocalypse.
balancing, 34, 39-40
bioterrorism, 4-5, 18, 27, 89
cannibals, 11, 67, 125n14
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, 54n
Chucky doll, lameness of, 6
college students, 5; similarity between zombies and, 75-6
constructivism, 67-76, 110-11
Coulton, Jonathan, 50-51
Dawn of the Dead, 25, 28, 36, 52, 69-70, 82, 83, 90, 93, 99, 105
deadites. See zombies.
Dead Alive, 24, 25, 82
differently animated. See zombies.
disasters, 1, 18, 38, 57, 71-72, 112
feedback loop. See paradox.
Hirschman, Albert, 113-14
human lobby, realist warnings about, 45n
Murray, Bill, 74
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 23n, 61
pandemics, 1, 18, 37-38, 50, 55-6, 59, 100
paradox. See feedback loop.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies, 58
Resident Evil, 2, 23, 25, 83, 93. See also Umbrella Corporation.
Shaun of the Dead, 51-2, 73, 74, 78, 99
Sun Tzu, 13
Thriller, evil of, 25-26
Thucydides, 13, 38
Tragedy of the Commons, 48-9
Tragedy of the Zombies, 51-2
Ugly Americans, 3
vampires: 6-9, 13, 120n19; suckiness of, 9
World War Z, 25, 28, 29, 38, 39, 41, 55, 57, 65, 73, 91-5
zombie-industrial complex, 83-4
Zombie Strippers, 23n, 83
[Apologies to loyal readers sick of zombie posts: This will be my very last zombie post about this for the few months... right up until the book comes out, when I will put the rest of this country's media whores to shame, I will be prostituting this book so much.]
two of you who were curious what the cover of Theories of International Politics and Zombies will look like, well, your curiosity is about to be sated:
I can also promise some awesome illustrations in the text.
In a desperate, last-ditch effort to keep up with the President's pace of summer vacations, your humble blogger will be at an undisclosed locale and blogging at a more leisurely pace than normal (though I do hope to get to the Goldberg essay on Israel/US/Iran soon).
I confess to being not much of a fiction reader in general, and I've already read my novel for the summer. But I am looking forward to my non-fiction reading on this trip - it‘s a balanced mix of something old, something new, and a few things to think about in the wake of my Israel trip:
1) Harold James, The End of Globalization: Lessons From the Great Depression. As the economy starts heading into its second dip since the fall of 2008, it's worth contemplating whether the globalized economy we've taken for granted the past thirty years could really disintegrate. It's certainly true that, to date, the Great Recession has not really upended the open rules of the global game. A few more dips, however, and anything is possible. James wrote this short book about a decade ago, using prior historical eras in which globalization has collapsed to ask whether it could happen again. This, plus another look at Barry Eichengreen's Golden Fetters when I get back, should serve me well for the next month or so.
2) Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews. To put it bluntly, why are the Jews so damn good at commerce? How have philosophers explained this stereotype-that-contains-some-element-of-truth? Why have some Jews rebelled against the market? This interconnected collection of essays proffers some tentative answers to these questions.
3) Albert Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy. If this summer's political to-dos have been about anything, they've been about how conservatives reactionaries have skillfully and not-so-skillfully used their rhetoric to push the public discourse in a direction that favors their arguments. In this kind of environment, Hirschman's book seems especially trenchant. Besides, in my humble opinion, every social scientist should read or re-read one of Albert Hirschman's books every year. Hmmm.... question to readers: which author do you think social scientists should read at least once a year?
4) Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. While I was in Israel, everyone and their Jewish mother kept telling me to read this book, which proffers to explain why Israel has transformed itself from socialist basketcase to entrepreneurial exemplar. So, I'll take a look. I've heard Singer's spiel on this, which among other things argues that Israeli entrepreneurs have a comparative advantage because of their esprit de corps that builds from their army experience. This echoes some of Avner Greif's work about the Maghrebi traders. That said, Greif's hypothesis is now open to question, and I'm not completely convinced about Senor and Singer's argument.
5) Peter Andreas and Kelly Greenhill, eds., Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict. Having worked a bit on money laundering, I'm keenly aware of the ways in which bulls**t statistics become accepted as fact. If some authoritative figure pulls a number out of thin air, the media will often repeat it to the point where it becomes gospel. Andreas and Greenhill's edited volume takes a hard look at how some of these figures affect public policy debates. Slate's Jack Shafer has already penned a paean to the book that I could never match, so just check out his praiseworthy review.
Readers are encouraged to proffer their own nonfiction book recommendations in the comments.
Your humble blogger will be blogging a bit less frequently over the next few days, as he heads off with his family to an undosclosed location thay may or may not involve beaches, lawn chairs, and drinks with fruit and umbrellas in them. Please don't start a trade war while I'm gone.
[Say, what do geek IPE bloggers bring to read on their vacations?--ed.] Why, I'm glad you asked! Here's my light and not-so-light reading for the trip, in no particular order:
1) Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.
2) Z.A. Recht, Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Saga.
5) Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life.
6) Christopher Golden, ed., The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology.
Readers are warmly encouraged to let me know the order in which I should read these books -- as well as the ones I'm missing on my must-read list.
America could use a truly Whiggish book right about now. More than a year into the Great Recession, it has become much harder to believe in the idea of inexorable progress. The moment is ripe for a counterintuitive, optimistic perspective that shows, despite appearances to the contrary, that the world is getting better and better every day, in every way. Gregg Easterbrook tries hard to satiate our inner optimist with “Sonic Boom.”
You'll have to read the rest of the review to gauge how well Easterbrook did at this task. Here's a small hint, however -- I'd really like to read a persuasive book that advances this argument, because I think it can be done.
Free books are both a major perk and a major inequity of being a senior professor. Academic publishers send loads of free books to me and my senior colleagues in the hopes that we assign them in class, mention them on the blog, etc. This is a tragic inequality of the academic system, since as a full professor I should, in theory, be able to buy these books Meanwhile, debt-ridden graduate students have to pay for these things.
Yesterday, however, was a real treat, because I got several books in the mail that were written by my friends (at least that's what my Facebook page tells me):
I am not feeling very optimistic about the book's reception. I just don't sense any buzz. Maybe that's because I'm living in Indiana under a foot and a half of snow, but it does haunt me. Far more than passing kidney stones, I feel like waiting on a book release is like a woman waiting for labor--mostly it's dread and regret and the inability to get a decent night's sleep.
I know that's being self-absorbed, but--again--that's why it's like heading toward labor: there is this all-consuming sense of an onrush of something either very good or very bad and you have a hard time sensing the possibility of anything in between those two extremes.
As someone who is also waiting on a book to come out, I sympathize with Barnett's pain. I suspect, however, that his agita is actually worse than a garden-variety book author.
This has to do with the nature of book publishing and the state of the world. When publishing a book, all international relations authors not named Bob Woodward must endure a 3-12 month window during which the book is copyedited, typeset, and then published. During this period, an author can make limited changes to the text -- but nothing significant.
This gap doesn't matter all that much -- unless, of course, one is writing about world politics in a time of flux. In that case, authors feel like a hostage to current events. And because of the financial crisis, I've read an awful lot of first chapters recently that seemed out of date the moment they were published.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.