global-politics-books-20230302

Global Politics Unveiled: 23 Highly-Recommended Books for Understanding Today’s Complex World

The global political landscape in our rapidly changing world is constantly evolving. We are seeing shifting power dynamics among nations, geopolitical tensions, wars, conflicts, economic crises, and environmental challenges. Staying informed about these developments and trends is more important than ever. Reading up on the latest books about current global politics and world economy can be an excellent way to deepen your understanding of these complex issues and gain new insights into the forces that shape our world.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the most compelling and thought-provoking books on global politics that will give you a diverse range of perspectives on the key issues that we are facing today.

Why Governments Get It Wrong: And How They Can Get It Right

By Dennis C. Grube

Barely a week goes by without another government U-turn and with the cost of living crisis and rising mortgage rates we really need those in charge to get it right. In this timely book Cambridge Professor Dennis C. Grube explores the pitfalls, failures and successes of those in power around the world.

We live in an era when we really need governments to be effective – the economy, our health and the future of the planet are at stake – but so often they can seem clueless, and their decisions leave us confused. With insight and wit, Grube explains how governments can improve their decision-making and by examining fascinating case studies he highlights the key factors that make for effective government. With the stakes higher than ever before, this original and important book is an essential read for any concerned citizen who wants to understand why governments make the wrong decisions and, crucially, what can be done about it.

Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin’s War Against Ukraine

By Owen Matthews

The Russo-Ukrainian War is the most serious geopolitical crisis since the Second World War – and yet at the heart of the conflict is a mystery. Vladimir Putin apparently lurched from a calculating, subtle master of opportunity to a reckless gambler, putting his regime – and Russia itself – at risk of destruction. Why?

Drawing on over 25 years’ experience as a correspondent in Moscow, as well as his own family ties to Russia and Ukraine, journalist Owen Matthews takes us through the poisoned historical roots of the conflict, into the Covid bubble where Putin conceived his invasion plans in a fog of paranoia about Western threats, and finally into the inner circle around Ukrainian president and unexpected war hero Volodimir Zelensky.

Using the accounts of current and former insiders from the Kremlin and its propaganda machine, the testimony of captured Russian soldiers and on-the-ground reporting from Russia and Ukraine, Overreach tells the story not only of the war’s causes but how the first six months unfolded.

With its panoramic view, Overreach is an authoritative, unmissable record of a conflict that shocked Europe to its core.

When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden Influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm

By Walt Bogdanich &  Michael Forsythe

McKinsey earns billions advising almost every major corporation as well as countless governments, including Britain’s, the USA’s and China’s. It boasts of its ability to maximise efficiency while making the world a better place. Its millionaire partners and network of alumni go on to top jobs in the world’s most powerful organisations. And yet, shielded by non-disclosure agreements, its work remains largely secret – until now.

In this propulsive investigation, two prize-winning journalists reveal the reality. McKinsey’s work includes ruthless cost-cutting in the NHS, incentivising the prescription of opioids and executing Trump’s immigration policies (the ones that put children in cages). Meanwhile its vast profits derive from a client roster that has included the coal and tobacco industries, as well as some of the world’s most unsavoury despots.

McKinsey proudly insists it is a values-led organisation. When McKinsey Comes to Town is a parable of values betrayed: a devastating portrait of a firm whose work has often made the world more unequal, more corrupt and more dangerous.

The War on the West

By Douglas Murray

In The War on the West, international bestselling author Douglas Murray asks: if the history of humankind is one of slavery, conquest, prejudice, genocide and exploitation, why are only Western nations taking the blame for it?

It’s become perfectly acceptable to celebrate the contributions of non-Western cultures, but discussing their flaws and crimes is called hate speech. What’s more it has become acceptable to discuss the flaws and crimes of Western culture, but celebrating their contributions is also called hate speech. Some of this is a much-needed reckoning; however, some is part of a larger international attack on reason, democracy, science, progress and the citizens of the West by dishonest scholars, hatemongers, hostile nations and human-rights abusers hoping to distract from their ongoing villainy.

In The War on the West, Douglas Murray shows the ways in which many well-meaning people have been lured into polarisation by lies, and shows how far the world’s most crucial political debates have been hijacked across Europe and America. Propelled by an incisive deconstruction of inconsistent arguments and hypocritical activism, The War on the West is an essential and urgent polemic that cements Murray’s status as one of the world’s foremost political writers.

The Age of The Strongman: How the Cult of the Leader Threatens Democracy around the World

By Gideon Rachman

We are in a new era.

Since the beginning of the millennium, when Vladimir Putin took power in Russia, authoritarian leaders have come to dominate global politics. Self-styled strongmen have risen to power in Moscow, Beijing, Delhi, Brasilia, Budapest, Ankara, Riyadh and Washington.

How and why did this new style of strongman leadership arrive? How likely is it to lead to war or economic collapse? And what forces are in place not only to keep these strongmen in check but to reverse the trend?

Everywhere they go, these leaders encourage a cult of personality. They are nationalists and social conservatives, with little tolerance for minorities, dissent or the interests of foreigners. At home, they claim to stand up for ordinary people against globalist elites; abroad, they posture as the embodiments of their nations. And they are not just operating in authoritarian political systems but have begun to emerge in the heartlands of liberal democracy.

From Putin, Trump and Bolsonaro to Erdogan, Xi and ModiThe Age of the Strongman provides the first truly global treatment of the new nationalism and offers a bold new paradigm for understanding our world.

How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them

By Barbara F. Walter

Civil wars are the biggest danger to world peace today – this book shows us why they happen, and how to avoid them.

Most of us don’t know it, but we are living in the world’s greatest era of civil wars. While violence has declined worldwide, civil wars have increased. This is a new phenomenon. With the exception of a handful of cases – the American and English civil wars, the French Revolution – historically it has been rare for people to organise and fight their governments.

This has changed. Since 1946, over 250 armed conflicts have broken out around the world, a number that continues to rise. Major civil wars are now being fought in countries including Iraq, Syria and Libya. Smaller civil wars are being fought in Ukraine, India, and Malaysia. Even countries we thought could never experience another civil war – such as the USA, Sweden and Ireland – are showing signs of unrest.

In How Civil Wars Start, acclaimed expert Barbara F. Walter, who has advised on political violence everywhere from the CIA to the U.S. Senate to the United Nations, explains the rise of civil war and the conditions that create it. As democracies across the world backslide and citizens become more polarised, civil wars will become even more widespread and last longer than they have in the past. This urgent and important book shows us a path back toward peace.

*** Shortlisted for the Moore Prize for Human Rights Writing 2022 ***

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics

By Tim Marshall

THE INTERNATIONAL AND SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER; All leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. Yes, to understand world events you need to understand people, ideas and movements…but if you don’t know geography, you’ll never have the full picture.; To understand Putin’s actions, for example, it is essential to consider that, to be a world power, Russia must have a navy. And if its ports freeze for six months each year then it must have access to a warm water port – hence, the annexation of Crimea was the only option for Putin. To understand the Middle East, it is crucial to know that geography is the reason why countries have logically been shaped as they are – and this is why invented countries (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya) will not survive as nation states.; Spread over ten chapters (covering Russia; China; the USA; Latin America; the Middle East; Africa; India and Pakistan; Europe; Japan and Korea; and Greenland and the Arctic), using maps, essays and occasionally the personal experiences of the widely travelled author, Prisoners of Geography looks at the past, present and future to offer an essential guide to one of the major determining factors in world history.

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

By Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy’s international bestseller is a sweeping account of five hundred years of fluctuating economic muscle and military might.

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Kennedy’s masterwork begins in the year 1500, at a time of various great centres of power including Minh China, the Ottomans, the rising Mughal state, the nations of Europe. But it was the latter which, through competition, economic growth and better military organisation, came to dominate the globe – until challenged later by Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Now China, boosted by its own economic prowess, rises to the fore. Throughout this brilliant work, Kennedy persuasively demonstrates the interdependence of economic and military power, showing how an imbalance between the two has historically led to spectacular political disaster.

Erudite and brilliantly original, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the politics of power.

Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy

By Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger analyses how six extraordinary leaders he has known have shaped their countries and the world

‘Leaders,’ writes Henry Kissinger in this compelling book, ‘think and act at the intersection of two axes: the first, between the past and the future; the second between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead. They must balance what they know, which is necessarily drawn from the past, with what they intuit about the future, which is inherently conjectural and uncertain. It is this intuitive grasp of direction that enables leaders to set objectives and lay down a strategy.’

In Leadership, Kissinger analyses the lives of six extraordinary leaders through the distinctive strategies of statecraft which he believes they embodied. After the Second World War, Konrad Adenauer brought defeated and morally bankrupt Germany back into the community of nations by what Kissinger calls ‘the strategy of humility’. Charles de Gaulle set France beside the victorious Allies and renewed its historic grandeur by ‘the strategy of will’. During the Cold War, Richard Nixon gave geostrategic advantage to the United States by ‘the strategy of equilibrium’. After twenty-five years of conflict, Anwar Sadat brought a vision of peace to the Middle East by a ‘strategy of transcendence’. Against the odds, Lee Kwan Yew created a powerhouse city-state, Singapore, by ‘the strategy of excellence’. Although when she came to power Britain was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’, Margaret Thatcher renewed her country’s morale and international position by ‘the strategy of conviction’.

To each of these studies, Kissinger brings historical perception, public experience and – because he knew each of their subjects, and participated in many of the events he describes – personal knowledge. The book is enriched by insights and judgements such as only he could make, and concludes with his reflections on world order and the indispensability of leadership today.

Liberalism and Its Discontents

By Francis Fukuyama

Liberalism – the comparatively mild-mannered sibling to the more ardent camps of nationalism and socialism – has never been so divisive as today. From Putin’s populism, the Trump administration and autocratic rulers in democracies the world over, it has both thrived and failed under identity politics, authoritarianism, social media and a weakened free press the world over.

Since its inception following the post-Reformation wars, liberalism has come under attack from conservatives and progressives alike, and today is dismissed by many as an ‘obsolete doctrine’. In this brilliant and concise exposition, Francis Fukuyama sets out the cases for and against its classical premises: observing the rule of law, independence of judges, means over ends, and most of all, tolerance. Pithy, to the point, and ever pertinent, this is political dissection at its very best.

Butler to the World: The Book The Oligarchs Don’t Want You To Read – How Britain Became The Servant Of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats & Criminals

By Oliver Bullough

How did Britain become the servant of the world’s most powerful and corrupt men?

From accepting multi-million pound tips from Russian oligarchs, to enabling Gibraltar to become an offshore gambling haven, meet Butler Britain…

The Suez Crisis of 1956 was Britain’s twentieth-century nadir, the moment when the once superpower was bullied into retreat. In the immortal words of former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, ‘Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role.’ But the funny thing was, Britain had already found a role. It even had the costume. The leaders of the world just hadn’t noticed it yet. Butler to the World reveals how the UK took up its position at the elbow of the worst people on Earth: the oligarchs, kleptocrats and gangsters. We pride ourselves on values of fair play and the rule of law, but few countries do more to frustrate global anti-corruption efforts. We are now a nation of Jeeveses, snobbish enablers for rich halfwits of considerably less charm than Bertie Wooster. It doesn’t have to be that way.

After the Virus: Lessons from the Past for a Better Future

By Hilary Cooper & Simon Szreter

Why was the UK so unprepared for the pandemic, suffering one of the highest death rates and worst economic contractions of the major world economies in 2020? Hilary Cooper and Simon Szreter reveal the deep roots of our vulnerability and set out a powerful manifesto for change post-Covid-19. They argue that our commitment to a flawed neoliberal model and the associated disinvestment in our social fabric left the UK dangerously exposed and unable to mount an effective response. This is not at all what made Britain great. The long history of the highly innovative universal welfare system established by Elizabeth I facilitated both the industrial revolution and, when revived after 1945, the postwar Golden Age of rising prosperity. Only by learning from that past can we create the fairer, nurturing and empowering society necessary to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead – climate change, biodiversity collapse and global inequality.

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

By John J. Mearsheimer

The updated edition of this classic treatise on the behavior of great powers takes a penetrating look at the question likely to dominate international relations in the twenty-first century: Can China rise peacefully? In clear, eloquent prose, John Mearsheimer explains why the answer is no: a rising China will seek to dominate Asia, while the United States, determined to remain the world’s sole regional hegemon, will go to great lengths to prevent that from happening. The tragedy of great power politics is inescapable.

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

By Amy Chua

Humans are tribal.  We need to belong to groups.  In many parts of the world, the group identities that matter most – the ones that people will kill and die for – are ethnic, religious, sectarian, or clan-based.  But because America tends to see the world in terms of nation-states engaged in great ideological battles – Capitalism vs. Communism, Democracy vs. Authoritarianism, the “Free World” vs. the “Axis of Evil” – we are often spectacularly blind to the power of tribal politics.  Time and again this blindness has undermined American foreign policy. 

In Political Tribes, Amy Chua argues that we must rediscover an identity that transcends the tribalism we see in politics today. Enough false slogans of unity, which are just another form of divisiveness. When people are defined by their differences to each other, extremism becomes the common ground. It is time for a more difficult unity that acknowledges the reality of our group differences and fights the deep rifts that divide us.

Popular Dictatorships: Crises, Mass Opinion, and the Rise of Electoral Authoritarianism

By Aleksandar Matovski

Electoral autocracies – regimes that adopt democratic institutions but subvert them to rule as dictatorships – have become the most widespread, resilient and malignant non-democracies today. They have consistently ruled over a third of the countries in the world, including geopolitically significant states like Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. Challenging conventional wisdom, Popular Dictators shows that the success of electoral authoritarianism is not due to these regimes’ superior capacity to repress, bribe, brainwash and manipulate their societies into submission, but is actually a product of their genuine popular appeal in countries experiencing deep political, economic and security crises. Promising efficient, strong-armed rule tempered by popular accountability, elected strongmen attract mass support in societies traumatized by turmoil, dysfunction and injustice, allowing them to rule through the ballot box. Popular Dictators argues that this crisis legitimation strategy makes electoral authoritarianism the most significant threat to global peace and democracy.

China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia

By Daniel S. Markey

Under the ambitious leadership of President Xi Jinping, China is zealously transforming its wealth and economic power into potent tools of global political influence. But China’s foreign policy initiatives, even the vaunted “Belt and Road,” will be shaped and redefined as they confront the ground realities of local and regional politics outside China. In China’s Western Horizon, Daniel S. Markey, a scholar of international relations and former member of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff, previews how China’s efforts are likely to play out in its own “backyard:” the swath of Eurasia that includes South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Drawing from his extensive interviews, travels, and historical research, Markey describes how perceptions of China vary widely within states like Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran.

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The region’s powerful and privileged groups often expect to profit from their connections to China, while others fear commercial and political losses. Similarly, statesmen across Eurasia are scrambling to harness China’s energy purchases, arms sales, and infrastructure investments as a means to outdo their strategic competitors, like India and Saudi Arabia, while negotiating relations with Russia and America. On balance, Markey anticipates that China’s deepening involvement will play to the advantage of regional strongmen and exacerbate the political tensions within and among Eurasian states. To make the most of America’s limited influence in China’s backyard (and elsewhere), he argues that U.S. policymakers should pursue a selective and localized strategy to serve America’s aims in Eurasia and to better compete with China over the long run.

Citizenship in Hard Times: How Ordinary People Respond to Democratic Threat

By Sara Wallace Goodman

What do citizens do in response to threats to democracy? This book examines the mass politics of civic obligation in the US, UK, and Germany. Exploring threats like foreign interference in elections and polarization, Sara Wallace Goodman shows that citizens respond to threats to democracy as partisans, interpreting civic obligation through a partisan lens that is shaped by their country’s political institutions. This divided, partisan citizenship makes democratic problems worse by eroding the national unity required for democratic stability. Employing novel survey experiments in a cross-national research design, Citizenship in Hard Times presents the first comprehensive and comparative analysis of citizenship norms in the face of democratic threat. In showing partisan citizens are not a reliable bulwark against democratic backsliding, Goodman identifies a key vulnerability in the mass politics of democratic order. In times of democratic crisis, defenders of democracy must work to fortify the shared foundations of democratic citizenship.

The Shortest History of Democracy

By John Keane

The roots of democracy stretch back beyond Athens to Syria- Mesopotamia and the Indian subcontinent, where citizens’ assemblies held privilege and power to account over 3,000 years before the French Revolution. In this timely and illuminating new global history, John Keane gets to the heart of a complex, ever-evolving ideal.

Today, American-style democracy may appear to be in decline, but Keane shows that this isn’t the whole story. In many places, such as Taiwan and Senegal, India and South Africa, distinctly local varieties are coming into being. Yet it’s impossible to ignore the proliferation of populist strongmen on every continent: the Putins and the Bolsonaros, the Trumps and Lukashenkos. Is democracy past its sell-by date, as they would have us believe? Or is it time to embrace the true, radical potential of an ancient idea?

A Political Science Manifesto for the Age of Populism: Challenging Growth, Markets, Inequality and Resentment

By David M. Ricci

Populism and authoritarian-populist parties have surged in the 21st century. In the United States, Donald Trump appears to have become the poster president for the surge. David M. Ricci, in this call to arms, thinks Trump is symptomatic of the changes that have caused a crisis among Americans – namely, mass economic and creative destruction: automation, outsourcing, deindustrialization, globalization, privatization, financialization, digitalization, and the rise of temporary jobs – all breeding resentment. Rather than dwelling on symptoms, Ricci focuses on the root of our nation’s problems. Thus, creative destruction, aiming at perpetual economic growth, encouraged by neoliberalism, creates the economic inequality that fuels resentment and leads to increased populism.

Ricci urges political scientists to highlight this destruction meaningfully and substantively, to use empirical realism to put human beings back into politics. Ricci’s sensible argument conveys a sense of political urgency, grappling with real-world problems and working to transform abstract speculations into tangible, useful tools. The result is a passionate book, important not only to political scientists, but to anyone who cares about public life. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.

Revolutionary World: Global Upheaval in the Modern Age

By David Motadel

Throughout the modern age, revolutions have spread across state borders, engulfing entire regions, continents, and, at times, the globe. Revolutionary World examines the spread of upheavals during the major revolutionary moments in modern history: the Atlantic Revolutions, Europe’s 1848 revolts, the commune movement of the 1870s, the 1905-15 upheavals in Asia, the communist revolutions around 1917, the ‘Wilsonian’ uprisings of 1919, the ‘Third World’ revolutions, the global Islamic revolt of 1978-79, the events of 1989, and the rise and fall of the ‘Arab Spring’. The chapters explore the nature of these revolutionary waves, tracing the exchange of radical ideas and the movements of revolutionaries around the world. Bringing together a group of distinguished historians, Revolutionary World shows that the major revolutions of the modern age, which have so often been studied as isolated national or imperial events, were almost never contained within state borders and were usually part of broader revolutionary moments.

Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis

By Andreas Bieler & Adam David Morton

This book assesses the forces of social struggle shaping the past and present of the global political economy from the perspective of historical materialism. Based on the philosophy of internal relations, the character of capital is understood in such a way that the ties between the relations of production, state-civil society, and conditions of class struggle can be realised. By conceiving the internal relationship of global capitalism, global war, global crisis as a struggle-driven process, the book provides a novel intervention on debates within theories of ‘the international’.

Through a set of conceptual reflections, on agency, structure and the role of discourses embedded in the economy, class struggle is established as our point of departure. This involves analysing historical and contemporary themes on the expansion of capitalism through uneven and combined development, the role of the state and geopolitics, and conditions of exploitation and resistance. These conceptual reflections and thematic considerations are then extended in a series of empirical interventions, including a focus on the ‘rising powers’ of the BRICS, conditions of the ‘new imperialism’, and the ongoing financial crisis. The book delivers a radically open-ended dialectical consideration of ruptures of resistance within the global political economy.

Citizens without Nations: Urban Citizenship in Europe and the World, c.1000-1789

By Maarten Prak

Citizenship is at the heart of our contemporary world but it is a particular vision of national citizenship forged in the French Revolution. In Citizens without Nations, Maarten Prak recovers the much longer tradition of urban citizenship across the medieval and early modern world. Ranging from Europe and the American colonies to China and the Middle East, he reveals how the role of ‘ordinary people’ in urban politics has been systematically underestimated and how civic institutions such as neighbourhood associations, craft guilds, confraternities and civic militias helped shape local and state politics. By destroying this local form of citizenship, the French Revolution initially made Europe less, rather than more democratic. Understanding citizenship’s longer-term history allows us to change the way we conceive of its future, rethink what it is that makes some societies more successful than others, and whether there are fundamental differences between European and non-European societies.

A Concise History of Revolution

By Mehran Kamrava

Presenting a new framework for the study of revolutions, this innovative exploration of French, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, Iranian, South African, and more recent Arab revolutions, provides a theoretically grounded and empirically comprehensive demonstration of how revolutions mean more than mere state collapse and rebuilding. Through the examination of multiple historical case studies, and use of extensive historical examples to explore a range of revolutions, Mehran Kamrava reveals the range and depth of human emotion and motivations that are so prevalent and consequential in revolutions, from personal commitment to sacrifice, determination, leadership ability, charisma, opportunism, and avarice.


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