One of the best parts about summer is sitting outside and reading a good book. At Stratfor, our analysts can tell you that from experience. If you want to get inside their heads and see how they interpret the world, a great place to start is to check out what they're reading. For this list, they've curated some awesome books that examine or embrace geopolitical concepts in a variety of interesting ways. Though they're bound to keep you glued to the page, these aren't your average beach reads!
Whether you're spending vacation time poolside with a pina colada in one hand and a book in the other or setting up a staycation in the comfort of your own air-conditioned home (it gets hot here in Texas!), the list below will provide you with enough reading material to keep you engaged and enlightened through the summer months.
The Last Days of Night
Graham Moore, Random House 2016, 384 pages
The Last Days of Night is a fictionalized account of the true battle that changed the world: Edison v. Westinghouse. As the world sat on the cusp of electrification, a simple patent tied up several great scientific and engineering minds in an epic clash. And the winner would be the person who determined the future of the world's power. This account, though dramatized, provides a wonderful example of how regulation, legislation and intellectual property rights can shape the path of competing disruptive technologies.
Bride and Groom
Alisa Ganieva, trans. Carol Apollonio, Deep Vellum Publishing 2018, 239 pages
"I am not a Chechen," notes Patya, the titular bride, in the first chapter of Bride and Groom. It's a clarification that Patya, and author Alisa Ganieva herself, doubtless has made before and will have to make again — before the chapter's end, in fact. Like so many of her characters, Ganieva is from Dagestan, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus (previously known in Russian literature mainly for the Mikhail Lermontov poem "The Dream"). And like neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim region with a long history of strife under Russian and Soviet rule and a growing jihadist problem. Bride and Groom, Ganieva's second novel, explores the complexities of life in contemporary Dagestan — all while weaving a love story you won't soon forget.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann, Vintage 2017, 354 pages
Money does not necessarily buy you power, nor does it buy security. In the 1920s, despite being among the wealthiest groups in America due to oil production, several members of the Osage tribe in northeast Oklahoma died suspicious and early deaths. Corruption and racism in 1920s Oklahoma made it impossible to serve justice on a local level, which provided an opportunity for J. Edgar Hoover's new Federal Bureau of Investigation to highlight its worth. While the FBI's involvement led to high-level prosecutions, it did not stop the threat altogether. This book is a good look at the motivations behind targeted attacks against high-net-worth individuals, with astounding insights into how far executive protection has come over the past century.
Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity
Condoleezza Rice and Amy B. Zegart, Hachette Books, 2018, 321 pages
The world is changing fast. Political risk — the probability that a political action could significantly impact a company's business — is affecting more businesses in more ways than ever before. A generation ago, political risk mostly involved a handful of industries dealing with governments in a few frontier markets. Today, political risk stems from a growing array of actors, including Twitter users, local officials, activists, terrorists and hackers. The very institutions and laws that were supposed to reduce business uncertainty and risk are often having the opposite effect. This book provides excellent insight into how, in today's globalized world, there are no "safe" bets.
War of a Thousand Deserts
Brian DeLay, Yale University Press 2009, 496 pages
Full of seedy, heroic, larger than life characters, this book will flip the way you see the geopolitics of the early American West on its head. It covers a period in the first half of the 19th century when the Comanche and allied tribal groups dominated a chunk of territory straddling the modern states of Texas, New Mexico, Utah and Oklahoma, building a level of economic and military clout that brought northern Mexico to its knees and led, in part, to the U.S. success in the Mexican War and annexation of over 50 percent of Mexico's territory. DeLay calls this period of near-apocalyptic violence the "War of a Thousand Deserts," because tribal raiding groups ventured deep into Mexico turning broad swaths of countryside into desert. These motley non-state actors, with their fluid power structures and ties to the illicit economy, provide an interesting parallel to the numerous modern ethnic insurgencies, cartels and insurgent groups that stir up geopolitical crises worldwide. If you think of the expansion of the United States into the Great American Desert as a contest between Washington and Mexico City, this book will show you that more than anything, this time was defined by a third powerful geopolitical, military and economic force, which itself changed the course of history in the Americas.
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters
Tom Nichols, Oxford University Press 2017, 252 pages
We have access to more information than ever before. Yet rather than ushering in a new era of enlightenment, the information age has helped drive a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism, which has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything: After only a quick trip through WebMD or Wikipedia, average citizens believe themselves to be on equal footing with doctors and diplomats. This book examines how all voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and how any claim to the contrary ends up being dismissed as undemocratic elitism.
Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age
Stephen Platt, Knopf 2018, 592 pages
In this book, Platt takes a fresh look at the beginning of modern China's trading relationships with the West in the infamous First Opium War of 1839-42. As recently as the 1990s, the First Opium War was rarely discussed in the West outside academic circles. As China's economy has boomed across the past quarter-century, though, awareness of the conflict's importance has grown. Platt's book focuses not on the war itself but on its background, and particularly on the personalities who turned a trade war into a shooting war. Many of the attitudes in the 1830s — both Chinese and Western — foreshadow those on display in recent years, and at almost every turn, the 19th century actors provide striking lessons in how not to run a trade negotiation.
Energy: A Human History
Richard Rhodes, Simon and Schuster 2018, 480 pages
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes walks readers through the history of energy, from steam to coal to oil to now. Rhodes explains the logical constraints and drivers that pushed populations toward — and away — from different fuels for the sake of economic growth. With an uncanny ability to bring history to live, Rhodes immerses readers in a comprehensive history of the geopolitics of energy. And if you've got a bit more time on your hands this summer, Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb provides a similarly engaging history of the advent of the nuclear age.
On Grand Strategy
John Lewis Gaddis, The Penguin Press 2018, 340 pages
In an age of a re-emerging great power competition, one can only hope that world leaders, from the colorfully unorthodox to the impeccably groomed, understand the criticality of grand strategy in shaping foreign policy. Highly acclaimed historian John Lewis Gaddis takes us into his Yale classroom to reflect on the best and worst practitioners of grand strategy in history and literature. In a book that will resonate deeply with any geopolitical analyst or enthusiast, he centers his argument on philosopher Isaiah Berlin's distinction between the proverbial hedgehog, who will defy constraints in pursuit of a grand vision, and the fox, who will obsess over the details that shape its environment. A successful leader and visionary, Gaddis implies, will combine the hedgehog's strategic sense of direction and the fox's tactical sensitivity to surroundings to shape a grand strategy mindful of constraints.