I’ve written a lot about my opinions regarding American politics and international relations. To be honest, though, most of my views are shaped by people far smarter than I. Therefore, I’ve decided to make a post about some of the books I’ve read over the past year which have informed the way I think about the world. If you’ve found any of our posts interesting, consider checking out some of the books below. They are sure to make you think!
The Origins of Political Order (by Francis Fukuyama): Honestly, I’m a bit late to the party on this one. Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order was published a few years ago, and the sequel – Political Order and Political Decay – actually came out before I even read the first book. Nevertheless, better late than never. Fukuyama undertakes a task of epic proportions in his two-part magnum opus, tracking the development of human political systems from the dawn of civilization to the present. As someone who thinks writing twenty-page papers is a chore, Fukuyama’s massive treatise is utterly awe inspiring. Fukuyama’s primary contribution to the field of political development is tracing political decay. In particular, Fukuyama argues that nepotism inevitably undermines even the best organized political systems. Rulers put their relatives in power, eroding the talent base of the political order. Ultimately, this collapses once effective political system. If you are interested in history, politics, or organizational theory, this is the book for you. It’s a bit long, but it’s certainly worth your time.
Theory of Unipolar Politics (by Nuno Monteiro): Monteiro contributes substantially to the IR literature base in his treatise on the durability and stability of unipolar systems. IR has long been trapped in a seemingly never-ending debate between primacists who argue that America’s position as a global hegemon is both secure and peace inducing and declinists who contend that the unequal distribution of power will inevitably result in balancing coalitions and the decline of the United States’ global position. Monteiro adds to this debate by combining system level theorizing with foreign policy. In particular, he argues that the type of foreign policy America pursues will influence the durability and stability of its hegemonic dominance. While I think Monteiro has some major flaws in his argument (for example, he fails to consider economic variables’ impact on the security realm), this book is certainly worth a read if you are interested in the global balance of power or American foreign policy. Best of all, it is not even all that long!
Economic Interdependence and War (by Dale Copeland): This is a truly fantastic book. Not only does it introduce a novel approach to thinking about interdependent dyads, but it also provides an incredibly rich and fascinating list of historical case studies. The real contribution of Copeland’s book is merging liberalism and realism by arguing that trade is peace inducing when states have positive expectations towards future trade, but war inducing when states adopt a pessimistic outlook on future trade. The complete theory is too complex for me to explain in this brief blurb, but suffice it so say that it has generated major shockwaves in the IR community. If you are interested in how trade has influenced wars, be sure to check this book out. It’s equally rewarding for history nerds and political scientists alike.
Dictators at War and Peace (by Jessica Weeks): This book really changed the way I think about regime type and foreign policy. For many years, political scientists have known that democracies are far less war-prone than autocratic states. However, Weeks adds nuance to the so-called democratic peace theory by revealing that different types of autocratic regimes have very different foreign policies. In particular, she argues that autocratic regimes that face audience costs are less likely to engage in reckless wars than personalist regimes which don’t have to answer to anyone. Moreover, she finds that military regimes are uniquely war-prone, with militarist personalist regimes being the most likely to start and lose wars. Her book is worth reading if you are an academic, a policymaker, or just an informed voter. Definitely check it out.
The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (by Caitlin Talmadge): This is another great book analyzing regime types. Talmadge focuses on how autocratic regimes organize their militaries. Her central thesis is that regimes which face a high risk of coups tend to have less effective forces because they intentionally weaken their militaries in a process known as “coup proofing.” In short, leaders try to lower the chance of a successful coup by appointing incompetent, loyal commanders and undermining training regimens. Talmadge argues that when states face severe external pressure from rival states, however, they will shift to more conventional military doctrines in order to more effectively deter and, if necessary, defeat hostile neighbors. This is an important contribution to the scholarly literature because it helps predict when countries are paper tigers (Iraq), thus aiding in U.S. strategic planning. Another book definitely worth reading if you are interested in military organizations or international relations.