It's the holiday season, and for many Stratfor employees and readers, that means a break from the everyday rigors of life and more leisure time at home with the family. But because the passion for geopolitics does not rest, we have compiled a list of the books, films and games that our team has appreciated this year. Some address heavy geopolitical topics that are presented in a particularly elucidating way; others are light-hearted fun that can be enjoyed by the whole family. We've included purchase links should you want to treat the more geopolitically minded person in your life, or simply want to experience for yourself what our diverse team recommends this winter.
The Rover (Film)
David Michod, 2014, 1hr 42min
Australia is a geopolitical outlier, a former European settler society on the edge of the Pacific. Its history is defined by its remoteness and vast, punishing terrain. Australia's national consciousness is plagued by fears of abandonment, dependence and decline. Starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, this dystopian crime thriller depicts what would happen if the worst of those fears were realized: If, isolated on the edge of the Asia-Pacific, Australia were to again become a colony dependent on more dynamic powers.
In the film — which is Part Mad Max, part Don Quixote — vagabond Eric (Pearce) drifts by Cambodian honkytonks, gaping strip mines and endless trains full of China-bound ore guarded by hulking mercenaries. It is a vivid dramatization of the brutal exertion of geography and change, showing just how futile the best human efforts can be against the strength of nature. If you want to make an Australian trilogy of it, we suggest pairing it with Werner Herzog's "Where the Green Ants Dream" and outlaw epic "The Proposition," written by singer-songwriter Nick Cave. Available for purchase or streaming on Amazon.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (TV Show)
Amy Sherman-Palladino, Amazon, 2017
In the hourlong episodes of this dramedy, recently single, Jewish housewife Mrs. Maisel pursues an unlikely career in stand-up comedy in late-1950s Manhattan. Though at first glance the show's premise seems unrelated to geopolitics, one of the central themes explored is one that Stratfor is closely tracking: demographics and the role of women in the workforce. After Miriam "Midge" Maisel's husband leaves her for another woman, Midge deals with what it means to be a single mother in a society still very much based on male-led two-parent households.
Midge's experience reflects that of many women, who began entering the workforce in higher numbers in the 1950s, and raises questions that many countries are grappling with today. What are the political ramifications of decades of increased female participation in the workforce? With demographic crises looming over much of the developed world, what role can women play in averting those crises, and what role do governments play in supporting those women? They are heavy questions, addressed with humor and relatability in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Available for streaming on Amazon.
Pandemic (Board Game)
Z-Man Games, 2007, avg. play time 45 minutes
This interactive board game will have a special appeal for millennials. It is a fun romp through the not-so-fun implications of widespread disease. The game is based on the premise that four diseases have broken out in the world, each threatening to wipe out a region.
It's up to the players to contain and eradicate the diseases before they overwhelm the map. Perfect for intimate parties that aren't afraid to lightly approach the prospect of a global pandemic that could wipe out all of humanity, this game is macabre humor at its best. Available from Z-Man Games.
Metropolis (Children's Book)
Benoit Tardif, 2016, 72 pages
This illustrated children's book features two-page spreads on major monuments, prominent buildings and everyday life in major cities around the world. Unlike most picture books for kids, Metropolis doesn't include a storyline.
However, the colorful and dynamic illustrations are enough to inspire parents and kids to talk about the world, come up with their own stories, or help decide their next vacation destination.
For those wanting to establish an early interest in geography and culture in their offspring, this is a fun way to explore the world. Available for purchase from Amazon.
The Quantum Spy (Novel)
David Ignatius, 2017, 336 pages
This spy thriller covering Chinese espionage and the methods used to steal intellectual property from U.S. companies is the most realistic that Stratfor's security experts have read. The accuracy is probably due to Ignatius' long journalism career covering global security issues: He literally wrote the book on CIA tradecraft — Agents of Innocence.
In The Quantum Spy, Ignatius' depictions of the power struggles waged between the various Chinese intelligence services and the battles waged between the CIA and the FBI on operational matters are particularly fascinating, providing a glimpse into the quotidian bureaucracy of espionage and counter-espionage efforts. Available for purchase from Amazon.
Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State (Non-Fiction Book)
David B. Roberts, 2017, 356 pages
The timing of this book is almost eerie, published just as Qatar stole global headlines when the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries banded together to enact a blockade against it. The rich historical context that Roberts provides on Qatar, also a GCC member, helps explain why the bloc is facing so much inner turmoil now. Yet the GCC, composed of countries with similar yet different-enough cultures, will not fade from headlines anytime soon. And against the GCC's estimations, Qatar has weathered the blockade and is steadily working to undermine Saudi Arabia's position as chief member of the bloc — a task Saudi Arabia itself has unwittingly supported with some of its recent actions. It's a complicated picture, but one made more understandable by Roberts' lucid guide on Qatar, the country at the center of the conflict. Available for purchase from Amazon.
A Most Enterprising Country, North Korea in the Global Economy (Non-Fiction Book)
Justin V. Hastings, 2016, 240 pages
As sanctions mount on North Korea, it's important to understand precisely how the pariah state's economy has survived the decades since the end of the Cold War. Pyongyang has gone its way without reforming and opening, as other Cold War communist states such as China and Vietnam have. Instead, North Korea's economy shows a cockroach-like ability to survive, unglobalized, in a globalizing world. Perhaps it's down to the heady and complex mix of state-sector enterprises, organized crime and private markets. This book shows how weathering the devastating 1994-1998 Arduous March famine indelibly changed North Korea — and why the country will likely once again face a barrage of sanctions in 2018. Available for purchase from Amazon.
The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa (Non-Fiction Book)
Irene Yuan Sun, 2017, 224 pages
China is pushing outward. At Stratfor, we watched as the country built railroads through the jungles of Southeast Asia, began the process of studding ports along the edge of the Indian Ocean and this year built its first overseas naval base at Djibouti. This is geopolitical strategy writ large. But individual Chinese people are also changing the way that the world works, flooding the market with millions of entrepreneurs. Drawing the connection between China's own industrialization and factories springing up in parts of Africa, Irene Yuan Sun details how this change might unfold. This book pairs nicely with Howard French's 2014 China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa. Available for purchase from Amazon.