If you’re like us, then you revel in summer lulls that award you the opportunity to put down the International Relations books you’ve been obligated to read over the past year, and pick up… new, elective IR reading! It’s an exercise of power that makes all the difference.
Thankfully there are plenty of good reads for you to relish in this summer from international reportage to pointed critiques on world leaders. In this edition of our annual summer reads list, we bring you our pick of 10 stimulating reads from 2015.
1. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story. By Hyeonseo Lee
At seven years old, Lee witnessed her first public execution. “I thought my life in North Korea was normal,” she said in a TED talk. It wasn’t until her aunt wrote to her family saying they were dying of hunger did Lee realize that something was wrong in her country.
Ten years later, at the age of 17, Lee escaped to China and began her life as a refugee, living under constant fear of being exposed as she reinvented her identity. Her story chronicles her life under a brutal Communist regime, her escape, and her long and difficult journey to rescue her family.
2. Superpower. By Ian Bremmer
Iam Bremmer argues that America hasn’t had a foreign policy strategy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s about time for one to be developed, which is exactly what this book calls for. Superpower is predicated on the uncomfortable underlying question Bremmer poses to Americans: “What do we stand for? Who are we in the world?”
Superpower presents three options for the direction of U.S. foreign policy: “Indispensable America,” wherein the U.S. embraces its role as the world police; “Moneyball America” looks at running the country like a company; and “Independent America” in which the U.S. focuses inwards, projecting American values through leading by example. He details these options to critically examine what America’s future in global affairs may look like.
3. Coal Wars. By Richard Martin
The technologically saturated society we now live in can be greatly attributed to benefits brought by coal-generated power. It also happens to be the very thing that will destroy our ability to continue living in this type of society, argues author Richard Martin. It should then go without saying that phasing out coal won’t happen easily, or quietly. Martin recognizes these issues in Coal Wars, presenting a holistic narrative of stories from the many people affected by coal’s decline.
Through interviews from across the globe and research into the science, technology and economics of the industry, Coal Wars presents the story of coal’s decline.
4. Australia and Canada in Afghanistan: Perspectives on a Mission. Edited by Jack Cunningham & William Malley
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has been heavily scrutinized by scholars, media publishers and pundits. But the enduring legacy of other countries embroiled in the conflict tends to receive less international attention and thus less understanding of their roles and consequences of involvement. Cunningham and Malley strive to shape this understanding by comparing the efforts of Canada and Australia in Afghanistan.
Their curation of essays from experts and policy-makers analyses these countries’ contributions to the war and the dynamic of their relationship with the U.S.
5. Inequality: What can be done? By Anthony Atkinson
When Thomas Piketty wrote Capital in the Twenty-First Century he was hailed as the contemporary Marx for bringing into question modern economic policy and its relation to global inequality. But before him, there was Anthony Atkinson, who was in fact Piketty’s mentor. “Inequality is quieter, shorter and more direct,” said The Economist’sreview of the book. “Sir Anthony’s is a crunchy book that analyses policy discussions in detail but avoids dullness, thanks to its unapologetic support for aggressive government intervention.” If Piketty’s ideas seemed radical to some economists, Atkinson’s may come off downright heretical: tough taxation of the rich, strong government involvement in market developments, employment controls and guaranteed income are among the recommendations he outlines in the book to remedy current uneven distribution of wealth.
6. Stephen Harper. By John Ibbitson
Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson has accessed the archives of one of Canada’s most enigmatic and divisive prime ministers to better understand the politician and man that makes up Stephen Harper. As the next federal election approaches, the Prime Minister has been an inscrutable figure since taking office in 2006. The exploration of Harper’s past — his childhood, his family, and yes, even his cats — attempts to reveal a greater understanding of a man whose persona and government is so often painted as cold and robotic by pundits.
As publisher Random House describes, “Ibbitson explains how this shy, closed, introverted loner united a fractured conservative movement, defeated a Liberal hegemony, and set out to reshape the nation.”
7. Unmanned: Drones, Data and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare. By William M. Arkin
The practical and ethical implications of drone deployment has inspired a simmering debate as the use of drones has proliferated under certain foreign policy strategies (and through recreational use). The security repercussions add another dimension to that debate. As Arkin says, “wars officially end, but the Data Machine lives on forever.” Unmanned explores seemingly unending wars (think Iraq and Afghanistan) despite the mass amounts of spying and data collected on the enemy, operating under the belief that there is no such thing as too much information (tones of NSA, anyone?) And yet these very efforts serve to undermine security, Arkin argues. While human lives may be saved with the use of drone operators, other threats to personal security prevail as a result. Data collection has quietly become a ubiquitous part of modern life, and the need to critically analyse its role in global warfare is a growing necessity.
8. The Future of the Euro. Edited by Matthias Matthijs & Mark Blyth
The unfolding debt crisis in Greece has brought the efficacy of the Euro into serious speculation. How will the Eurozone emerge from this ongoing financial and political crisis? This book looks into the enduring legacy of the overarching crisis in its entirety. Some of the world’s top political economists examine the most pressing questions on the past, present and future of the Euro, looking at how countries have changed since its adoption, and determining whether the currency will work in long term. It argues for the necessity to address the pressing economic issues by looking at the foundation that the Euro was created on. As the two editors write, “there are no sustainable technocratic solutions to the Euro problem, which is an inherently political one, and will need political solutions.”
9. Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World. By Christina Lamb
Christina Lamb has been a war reporter in and around Afghanistan for more than two decades. As a journalist, she has produced some of the foremost pieces of reportage on the realities of enduring conflict in the country and the surrounding region. In Farewell Kabul, she writes a personal account of her experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan woven into the countries’ histories.
In his review for The Guardian, George Arney said, “Lamb's graphic description of being caught up in a two-hour firefight alongside British squaddies almost makes the reader's own heart beat faster.”
10. Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age. By Taylor Owen
Last but certainly not least, OpenCanada’s very own Editor-in-Chief Taylor Owen presents a critical response to The New Digital Age (Schmidt & Cohen, 2013) in his analysis of the future world dominated by technology. Encompassing and thorough, Owen still manages to focus on the shifting power dynamics that are resulting from the rise of digitization. Traditional power structures are changing as decentralized international systems rise in prominence and reach. There are a growing number of examples — the Arab Spring, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden to name but a few — that validate the importance and timeliness of Owen’s writing. Described as “[a] cutting edge analysis of the fast-changing relationship between the declining state and increasingly powerful non-state actors, Disruptive Power is the essential road map for navigating a networked world.” Not to be missed.