Stratfor's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

9 MINS READDec 18, 2018 | 19:18 GMT
A sparkly book display for Stratfor's winter reading recommendations
(SERGEY NIVENS/Shutterstock)
Editor's Note

This holiday season, our Stratfor analysts, researchers, writers and thinkers have put together a list of books that any geopolitical hobbyist or professional would be thrilled to have on their shelves. These books will help you cross a few things off your holiday to-do list — but we also wouldn't blame you if they prompted some personal shopping too. After all, everyone deserves to give a few gifts to themselves, and the chilly winter season is the perfect time to catch up on reading.

Based on feedback from previous recommendations lists we've added purchase links for the works mentioned. Please note that as an Amazon Associate, Stratfor earns fees from qualifying purchases of these books on Amazon.

Beirut Rules

Author:  Fred Burton 
Publishing Date: 2018

"In these pages, Fred Burton and Samuel Katz ably describe the selfless service and ultimate sacrifice of CIA's William F. Buckley, murdered brutally while held as a hostage in Lebanon. Beirut Rules can't bring this quiet hero back to life. But it will show a new generation the value of a life well lived in service of country." — President George H. W. Bush


The Last Palace

Author: Norman Eisen
Publishing Date: 2018

So much of the history of 20th century Europe is told from the perspective of the larger powers: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia; the Last Palace is unique in that it tells that same history by focusing on a palace in Prague. As its title suggests, the book centers around the last true palace ever built in Europe, which is now the U.S. Embassy in the Czech Republic. While working in the space, Eisen became fascinated by the building and intensely researched its origins, tracking history and geopolitical forces through the experiences of the five vastly different families that lived in the palace at various points during the 20th century. From pre-war opulence, through the Nazi regime, into the Soviet sphere and up to today, the palace has epitomized the shifting politics of Europe for generations. This book allows the reader to examine grand, world-changing forces but on an intimate human scale, grounding history in humanity.

Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Avis Lang
Publishing Date: 2018

In this book, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and historian Avis Lang explore the tension within the reality that geopolitical conflict and the quest for military dominance has been a driver for scientific exploration. The centurieslong quest to understand space and develop scientific methods of mapping and exploring the universe has prompted discoveries that not only further the realm of scientific understanding, but also further the abilities of states to dominate each other militarily.

Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in 20th Century Europe

Author: Jan-Werner Müller
Publishing Date: 2012

There are some ideas that it seems the West will never be able to shake; fascism and communism haunt the world to this day. And while geopolitics defines the problems and challenges, ideology often shapes how leaders try to solve these problems. This book tracks the history of the big political ideas that defined the thinking of great masses of mankind through what Isaiah Berlin called "the most terrible century in Western history." Müller chronicles the unfolding of the ideologies that sought to solve (and more often fueled) unprecedented economic, cultural and political crises in Europe from 1918 to 1989. From the "princes of the trenches" emerging with new ideas tempered by World War I to the triumphalists of liberal democracy at the "end of history," this book paints the whole panorama of fascists, Stalinists, liberals and all the flavors and thinkers and gadflies in between and beyond. It is only by understanding these titanic struggles on their own terms that we can begin to understand what the future might hold.

The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers Since 1975

Author: John D. Ciorciari
Publishing Date: 2010

In the rising U.S.-China great power competition, the alignment of "the rest" has come into sharp focus. The Belt and Road Initiative, the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and the security of vital sea lanes — the fate of all of these key setpieces hinges on middle and smaller powers. In this, there will perhaps be no more critical region than Southeast Asia, which sits at the intersection between the Pacific and Indian Ocean basins. Stratfor has watched this great power competition play out across the subregion — in the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and elsewhere. In contrast to the oft-repeated dictum that "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must," this book argues that small powers are not simple pawns. Through close examination of the past four decades of Southeast Asian foreign policy, Ciorciari lays out how, time and again, these small powers have dodged the zero-sum "us vs. them" choices to nimbly navigate great power conflict — even during the titanic struggles of the Cold War. Understanding this neglected history is critical to understanding the future multipolar world, with lessons for Central Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and beyond.

China's Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans and the End of the Chinese Miracle

Author: Dinny McMahon
Publishing Date: 2018

Don't let the title fool you. McMahon is not simply another prophet predicting China's doom. And his book is not simply about China's massive debts. Instead, this book is a primer on the economic challenges that China's leaders must overcome if they hope to sustain the momentum of the country's breathtaking ascent. McMahon lays out the hidden costs of Chinese growth, why many "vested interests" oppose critical restructuring and the price China will have to pay for reform. Written in an approachable, engaging manner drawing on both concrete economic data and anecdotes from McMahon's time as a financial reporter in Beijing, this book gives a fair assessment of just what China will need to do to unwind itself from its current predicament — and why it may not be able to.

Transition in Power: Technological "Warfare" and the Shift from British to American Hegemony Since 1919

Author: Peter J. Hugill
Publishing Date: 2018

This was the winner of the 2018 Stratfor/Mackinder Forum Best Book on Geopolitics. Although clearly written for academics, Transition in Power emphasizes the role of technology in geopolitics and the way different places shape the direction and adoption of technologies. Hugill focuses on three areas of then-emerging international competition identified by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Conference in 1919: international transportation (maritime trade and aviation), international communications (telecommunications and broadcast media) and petroleum. The book moves between the broad strategic and the narrow tactical and technical, emphasizing the need for both in shaping understanding. In showcasing the differences in the ways technologies were developed, adopted and adapted to national characteristics, Hugill provides a useful frame of reference for considering the technological competition today between the United States and China.

The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire

Author: A. Wess Mitchell
Publishing Date: 2018

"States develop a grand strategy not because they are wise but because without one they will die." This is even more true for interstitial powers like the Habsburg Empire, Mitchell argues in his Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire. How did a state, comprised of numerous polities, squeezed between larger powers (and at times not even geographically contiguous) manage to not only merely survive but also retain influence and independence of action? This is the question the book pursues, from a classical geopolitical perspective, and one of the answers that emerges early on is the intense awareness and use of maps and geography to formulate and evolve strategy. Mitchell concludes with a series of lessons learned from the Habsburg experience, and in doing so provides a lesson in "adaptive statecraft" and the need to know strategic reality and recognize — and respond to — changing circumstances.

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

Author: Stephen Platt
Publishing Date: 2012

This book tells the story of China's 1850-1864 Taiping Rebellion, a civil war that saw tens of millions die and heralded the opening of a century of instability that would see the Qing dynasty fall, a republic rise and the country consumed by the bloody tumult of Japanese imperial expansion. Out of these apocalyptically violent 100 years, today's People's Republic emerged. Although the Taiping rebellion's roots were at times quixotic and its scope vast, the revolution not only echoed the empire's long history of uprisings and upheavals but also marked a struggle over titanic questions of whether and how China would adapt to the changing system of colonial powers and capitalist expansion. "The politics of China resemble the zoology of Australia, and exhibit an inversion of all ordinary rules" mused a London Times editorial amid the violence as colonial powers worked to capitalize as best they could. Understanding this oft-forgotten juncture in China's history is one way to understand the nature of China today.

The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities

Author: John J. Mearsheimer
Publishing Date:

The author outlines how the United States has pursued a policy of liberal hegemony since the end of the Cold War consisting of spreading liberal democracy, protecting human rights and countering authoritarian leaders. He argues that this policy has destabilized key regions of the world and attributes many challenges the United States now faces — such as a resurgent Russia and Middle Eastern insurgencies — to an ill-guided policy on behalf of the United States that aimed for regime change, but, according to Mearsheimer, is doomed to fail by not taking into account the strong force of nationalism. The author recommends a more restrained foreign policy based on U.S. national interests and a balance of power that takes into account the realities of great power politics.

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