School’s summer reading: a few quick reviews

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about It.
Collier, Paul.
Oxford, 2007
My favorite of the summer readings, and the only one I would go out of my way to suggest to anyone wanting a quick glimpse at the world of poverty. Collier clearly lays out how countries fall into four main traps (resource curse, landlocked, bad governance, conflict) that create a perfect political and economic environment for poverty to persist. Informative, great examples, well thought out: this was the first book I read for graduate school and it could only go downhill from there. It was like eating dessert first and then told I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my cold, soggy peas.
The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All
Evans, Gareth.
Brookings, 2008.
I read it so you wouldn’t have to. Gareth Evans worked on a paper/policy idea termed “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P, basically stating that all nations have the responsibility to protect their citizens from horrible things, and should a nation fail, the onus falls to the international community to step in. Great on paper, really hard to make a global policy. I just saved you hours of your life that could be better spent attempting to implement this idea than reading about one man’s frustration.
A World of Nations: The International Order since 1945.
Keylor, William R.
Oxford, 2nd Edition. June 2008

This is a textbook. Handy if you want a quick description of any political conflict after WWII, not so much fun to read from cover to cover. I tried. I did. I kept falling asleep just after the Korean War. Keep it on your desk to reference when writing papers, but take a modern history course if you really want a knowledge base.

The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New World Order.
Khanna, Parag.
T Random House 2008

I’m pretty sure I liked this better than most of my classmates. Perhaps not as informative, and definitely more subjective than some of the other reading, but the “second world” countries are often overlooked in “pop” writing favor of the “third world.” Unless you are an emerging economy or have a headline-making war/crazy leader/weather issues, the non-LDCs/non-OECDs are easy to miss. How often does one think, “I wonder how Kyrgyzstan is doing these days?” (The fact that Google Chrome just thought that Kyrgyzstan wasn’t a word may be further proof). This book goes region by region, country by country updating the reader and pointing out what failures, opportunities and successes he thinks contributed to the current state of each.

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.
Kilkullen, David.
Oxford 2009

Great argument for counter-insurgency instead of counter-terrorism. Kilcullen takes a common sensical approach to modern warfare and how worse the situation becomes when the population of an invaded country isn’t taken into account. They aren’t fighting us because they want to destroy our country, they are fighting us because we are invading theirs. COIN ideas have been getting a lot more press now, so some of his writing may seem a bit obvious to those who have been paying attention. A quick guide to COIN is Kilcullen’s “Twenty-Eight Articles” (click here to download the 11-page pdf). If you want more, his book is a good read that really fleshes out his ideas.
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