This page will feature an expanding list of the best mind-expanding spurs to creative thinking that the authors and readers of this blog can come up with over the course of the coming year. By design, I will almost always refuse to include anything on a typical “recommended reading list” of a newspaper, magazine, or Service Chief. Thus the fact that Joe Nye and Tom Friedman don’t appear here doesn’t mean they have nothing good to say. It just means they’re already firmly hammered onto the Plaque of Established Greatness on the wall. Here, we are aiming for new artists. Mostly.
From Loyal Reader Matt, two outstanding nominations.
Bobbitt, Shield of Achilles. Matt writes, “a view on the kind of contingent evolution of existing systems that may take place under those pressures we now recognize – more enduring thoughts than the more recent Terror and Consent.” I’d add, a fascinating reflection on what states are becoming–from social contract/social democracy focused to opportunity-based free market havens. His concept of the “market state” isn’t as well defined as it could be, but this book will keep you thinking for months.
“A very long historical view on this question,” Matt writes, “perhaps useful context for some of the more breathless trend-spotting going on today.” The reviews on the Amazon page alone are enough to make any other author red with envy (one example: “The greatest nonfiction book written in modern times”): http://www.amazon.com/Why-West-Rules—Now-Patterns/dp/0312611692/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1327717047&sr=1-1
Randall Schweller, “Ennui Becomes Us,” The National Interest, January-February 2010.
Schweller has been one of the most thoughtful IR scholars writing for the last 15 years–he’s poked just the right holes in notions like neorealism and breathed life into historially important themes such as “revisionist states.” He trains a careful eye on notions of rationality and choice. But this essay is a tour de force, a brilliant survey of the psycho-social character of our age and its geopolitical implications.
So let me violate that rule with the first suggestion: Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, Release 2.0. For a single book with 63% of all the necessary strategic realities of the emerging globe in one place, this is the place to begin. Plus the man has a largely sterling track record–he saw, for example, the spate of “illiberal democracies” emerging years before the fact. Smoothly written, toggling easily between political, economic, and cultural insights, a superb primer for the strategic context of our era.
A second volume I’ll highlight is much less known—Jean-Marie Guehenno’s End of the Nation-State, from the distant mists of the mid-1990s. (You can pick up used ones for a bright penny, plus S&H.) It’s partly about that hoary subject of the title, but really so much more—an amazing philosophical rumination that foretold, in some ways, the rise of al Qaeda, the global financial crisis, the emergence of the “network of networks” craze, and much more. As much about psychology as global politics, culture as economics, this is one of the most brilliant short essays on world affairs of the last three decades. You can take Fukuyama and Huntington—I’ll take Guehenno.
A third initial entry is the work of two Chinese army colonels from 1999—the monograph Unrestricted Warfare. There’s a direct FBIS translation and something selling on Amazon that has been sub-titled “China’s master plan to destroy America” or some such drivel. The core narrative here is essentially a Clausewitz for the non-military tools of statecraft that are coming to dominate the 21st century; and if some passages are dense to the point of incomprehensibility, many contain gems of strategic wisdom.
Making strategy is as much about good judgment as it is about “strategy” per se. And good judgment is a product of cognitive self-awareness. Hence an obvious candidate for required reading is Daniel Kahneman’s new book on decision making and judgment. Not short, but not a hard read—he has worked diligently to produce accessible prose. And succeeded. A necessary reminder of the limited cognitive process we’re all working with, and the errors to which we are prone.
And more to come … with your advice. What belongs on this list? Don’t suggest Gladwell, or Black Swan, or all the things we know about. What things aren’t people reading that they should be?