“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,And all the sweet serenity of books.”~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Image: FLICKR/MARTY HADDING
By Realist Review Staff
It is that time of the year again, and as everyone heads into their holidays looking for a good book to read or buy for a loved one, the Realist Review Staff has focused a diverse list of our favorite or most impactful books that have shaped the way we view the world.
As the year concludes, we want to thank you, readers, for your support and engagement. We hope you will continue to look to us for distinct commentary and analysis of global affairs. Wishing you a wonderful holiday, and we hope you enjoy our recommendations!
The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, Brian Eyler– This wonderfully written book is about the alluring Mekong Delta, its history, and how China’s upstream damming and commodification of it have caused irreversible damage to the river and the vulnerable communities who rely on it for sustenance. This book has something for everyone: ecology, history, travelogue, economics, and geopolitics. The story is a journey on the Mekong from the headwater in China to the mouth in Vietnam, detailing the history, politics, and culture that has evolved around the river over thousands of years. Eyler paints a depressing picture of the degradation of the stunning waterway and how it has fallen victim to those looking to harness its hydro-power and potential as a modern-day tourist attraction. He also depicts the failures of the institutions such as the China lead Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and the Mekong River Commission to establish a solution, leaving the reader with little hope for a solution. The book is lyrical in its prose and haunting in its message.
Inheriting the Bomb: The Collapse of the USSR and the Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine, Mariana Budjeryn– As the Russo-Ukrainian war enters the frigid months of winter, policymakers, as well as analysts, will most certainly look at things such as the degree of losses on both sides and examine the status of cities as more campaigns are conducted. Due to this, it is ever more challenging to find an unbiased context for the impetus of this present conflict. This book is essential reading to do so as it covers the background of the nonproliferation negotiations conducted in the 1990s as a result of the desire of Ukraine to have Russia respect its borders. I would especially recommend the book to younger IR professionals like myself to impart the importance of nonproliferation. We have been fortunate to grow up after the Cold War and thus have not worried to the same extent as previous generations over nuclear weapons. Reading this book will provide insight into the thoughts and actions of policymakers whose lives were shaped by a constant fear of a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the USSR.
From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas L. Friedman- This book is both a fascinating memoir and a thoughtful analysis of Friedman’s experience as a news correspondent in the Middle East. In the book’s first half, Friedman recalls how his news career started in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. He reflects on the lessons he learned and the misconceptions that many people hold about the war. In the second half of the book, Friedman writes about his move from Beirut to Jerusalem during the first year of the Intifada. His unique professional and personal experiences give readers valuable insight into the complicated political and social forces that have plagued the region. He masterfully writes about the conflicts of those years, making for a very thought-provoking and absorbing book that every person interested in the Middle East should read.
Tokyo Ueno Station, Yu Miri– This short read is less than 150 pages but well worth it. The main protagonist, Kazu, is a formerly homeless man, now a ghost, who haunts the Tokyo Ueno train station in Japan. Kazu recounts a life of poverty, tragedy, and misfortune as he is shuffled from homeless camp to homeless camp. This book offers plenty of social commentary on class, religion, climate, infrastructure, wealth, and government response to social crises such as homelessness.
Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela, William Neuman– This book is an excellent read for anyone interested in the dysfunctions within Venezuelan politics and its economy, from Hugo Chávez to Maduro. Following Venezuela’s descent into the tremendous inflation we see today, William Neuman lends the reader insight into the ways in which corruption infects an entire nation, leaving everyone culpable. This book is an especially good read for those interested in the lived experience of Venezuelans, placed inside the context of the political atmosphere of the time. Coming in at 352 pages, it is just as engaging as it is informative.
The Ugly American: Eugene Burdick and William Lederer– Many who have interacted with embassy officials and ambassadors abroad cite incompetence and ignorance as cornerstones of American diplomatic efforts. The Ugly American, by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, introduces us to the fictional country of Sarkhan, a country in Southeast Asia that closely resembles the likeliness of Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam. American diplomat’s inability—and unwillingness—to understand the Sarkhanese values, traditions, and cultures challenges their efforts to win the hearts of the Sarkhanese people. A highly influential piece written at the height of the Cold War, Burdick and Lederer’s book serves as a scathing indictment of American diplomacy. It shows just how badly McCarthyism blurred the visions of diplomats and politicians in fear of Communism. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in improving the diplomatic system and American status in the international system.
This collection of book recommendations was put together by some of the Realist Review writing and editing staff.