Thursday, May 29, 2008
Monica Crowley's jet black pot
[F]or someone who was once the president's confidante, someone he knew and trusted, someone who gave him the opportunity of a lifetime, to write a tell-all while that history is still being made, is not cool. There will be plenty of memoirs coming out of the Bush administration. Most will be cover-your-tushy affairs, as memoirs often are. Some will paint a glossy picture. Some will be critical. But their timing is crucial.Crowley, of course, made her name by
All this makes for some fascinating, if gossipy, reading. It also makes the reader question Ms. Crowley's assertion that ''through our conversations, Nixon was insuring that his message and his vision would live on after he was gone.''As near as I can figure, Crowley thinks it's OK to publish tell-alls once the person you have served has left the scene, or if you say only laudatory things about this person (since can't find Crowley berating Ari Fleischer for publishing his memoirs before Bush left office).
I'm just going to file thus under the "distinction without a difference" category and move on.
UPDATE: Can't resist one historical correction to Crowley's post. She writes, "George Stephanopoulos was the first high-ranking White House official to publish a tell-all while his president was still in office."
Actually, no. David Stockman's The Triumph of Politics beat Stephanopolous' All Too Human to it by more than a decade.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Your book review of the day
Robert Farley reads Strobe Talbott's The Great Experiment so you don't have to:
To sum up, if you have trouble sleeping but can't get another prescription, check out The Great Experiment. If not, avoid it like the plague.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
March (and February... um, January too) books of the month
So far, 2008 has been a slow year for book club posts -- a fact that has not gone unnoticed in your humble blogger's mailbag. I, for one, blame this on a combination of heavier-than-usual travel and severe a bitter infighting within the blog staff [F$%& you!!--ed. No, f%$# you!.]
In an effort to make up for lost time, however, here are three IR books and three general interest books:
1) John Bolton, Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations. You might find this a surprising choice, as I've blown hot and cold about Bolton on this blog. However, his memoir is a wonderful read. This is not because Bolton is terribly incisive or insightful. Rather, Bolton's massive inferiority-complex-masking-as-aggression is plastered across every page than one cannot read this book without becoming fascinated about the psyche that produced it.General Interest:
1) Dana Milbank, Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government. This book basically consists of the choicest anecdotes concerning recent DC episodes of bad behavior. Milbank has a sadistic streak that I occasionally find unsettling. That said, this is an excellent paper collection of stuff you've read about in the blogosphere for the past few years. Plus, the index is priceless.Go check them all out!!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
December's Books of the Month
For this holiday month, why limit the recommendations to just two books? Here are the selections I'm eager to read over the holiday season:
Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium, by Ronald Findlay and Kevin H. O'Rourke. It's been a very good year for reading economic history -- John Nye's War, Wine, and Taxes, Gregory Clark's A Farewell To Alms -- and this is the last course. Eight years ago, O'Rourke co-authored the very interesting Globalization and History about the 19th century Atlantic economy -- and this is an even grander discussion.
Growing Apart?: America and Europe in the 21st Century, edited by Jeffrey Kopstein and Sven Steinmo. It contains several insightful essays examining the frayed state of transatlantic relations -- particularly Steven Pfaff's comparison of the market for religion in the U.S. and Europe. Full disclosure: I make a contribution as well.
The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, by Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler. The book is essentially a tick-tock of Rice's various diplomatic forays as Secretary of State, in which she tries and not quite succeeds in digging herself out of the hole created during her time as National Security Advisor. The details are priceless and disturbing. My favorite is State Department counselor Philip Zelikow requesting a sidearm during a trip to Baghdad. The scariest is the notion that Rice failed to comprehend the "responsible stakeholder" language that Bob Zoellick crafted as a way to move the Sino-American relationship forward. I've argued elsewhere that this was a pretty deft formulation, but Rice apparently just though it was "odd."
For more on The Confidante, check out my bloggingheads with Kessler on the fancy new Bloggingheads website..
Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich. I've noticed an interesting trend with Reich's books -- I find myself agreeing more with the arguments in each passing book more and more. I'm not saying I agree with everything the man says, but Reich has traveled a long way since his industrial policy days with Ira Magaziner.
International Institutions and National Policies, by Xinyuan Dai. Why do weak international governmental organizations -- like, say, the Helsinki Accords -- occasionally have powerful effects on nation-states? Dai argues that even weak organizations can empower and mobilize NGOs and domestic actors to act as monitors and enforcers. This argument differs somewhat from my own work -- which means it needs to be read.
Speaking of my own work....
Inspired by Andrew Sullivan, here's your last chance in 2007 to buy someone a copy of All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, written by your humble blogger.
Don't take my word on whether it's good -- just look at the reviews:
" This important book asks two questions about the governance of the world economy: Who sets the rules, and what explains the diverse ways in which the world economy is regulated?.... His main contribution... is to explode a popular notion of globalization and thereby to set an agenda for the study of global regulatory politics." G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs.I mean, when Review of International Organizations likes your work, you can just write your own meal ticket.
Friday, November 16, 2007
November's Books of the Month
This month's international relations book is Dani Rodrik's One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth. After having read an ever-increasing number of economic development treatises, Rodrik's book is one of the best and describing the current state of play. Of course, this earns him tons of flak -- as he says on his own blog, "[my work] is perfectly calibrated to annoy both the adherents and opponents of the standard way of doing economics."
The general interest book is Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. Mead's objective in the book is to explain how and why Great Britain and the United States have defined the global order, for good or for ill. This is an engaging, fun and provocative book. Mead does an outstanding job of burrowing deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the Anglo-American psyche without forgetting the big picture. It's a little heavy on the Friedmanesque metaphors, but it's a small price to pay for an interesting read.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
October's (very, very belated) Books of the Month
I'm juuuust a wee bit late on this month's book club selections. So, to be quick about it:
The international relations book is Michael Tomz's Reputation and International Cooperation: Sovereign Debt across Three Centuries. In recent years, some of the most interesting work in international relations theory has been about the significance of reputation effects in world politics. Tomz argues for a dynamic theory of reputation, in which actors can update their beliefs over time about whether governments will honor their commitments. He marshalls considerable empirical evidence to make this case by looking at the behavior of sovereign borrowers and lenders over the past few centuries.
The general interest book is Cass Sunstein's Republic.com 2.0. This is one of those arguments -- the Internet will foster cyberbalkanization -- that I pooh-poohed when the original book came out. That said, trends in the blogosphere suggest that his argument has held up better than I would have predicted a few years ago.
Naturally, by waiting until very late in the month to make this book recommendation, Sunstein has gone and published yet another book. So I promise to be more punctual next month.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
September's books of the month
Today is the fifth anniversary of this blog. I'll have more to say about that in the next post, but it informs my book choices for this month. In celebration of five years, I'm shamelessly picking books written by close friends.
This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. The book examines the intelligence failures that preceded September 11 -- and why the CIA and FBI did not adapt to post-Cold War threats. To do this, she examines the innumerable reform and panel proposals made prior to 9/11 -- and why they were not carried out.
No one really likes Spying Blind -- oh, except for a chair of the 9/11 Commission, a chair of the Hart-Rudman commission, the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and three of the leading scholars on organizational behavior. Oh, and Lee Hamilton.
Zegart has been this blog's Official Advisor on All Matters Pertaining to Foreign Policy Bureaucracies since its inception. Any smart presidential candidate should put Zegart on their speed dial before they say anything about intelligence or homeland security reform.
The general interest book is Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration. Jack really doesn't need the blog endorsement, as his book has apparently caught some people's eye.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Some very quick August book recommendations
So, um, I'm a little late on the August book recommentations.
Look, I've been busy. It's not easy defending a nation with ever-expanding borders. Plus, the rash of celebrity scandals have been keeping me occupied. And, of course, guilting Laura McKenna is a time consuming task.
So, this month's book recommendations are designed to be short -- i.e., you can finish them before September 1st. In the interest of wasting no more time, the recommendations will be short as well.
The international relations book is Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. An enlightening and provocative guide to the growth of global economic inequality over the past two centuries. I'm not completely persuaded by it -- the data in the first part of the book seems a bit dodgy at times. But it's arguments cannot be easily dismissed, either.
[How brief is it?--ed.] The first fifteen pages provide the most concise summary of global economic history you will ever read.
The general interest book is Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. I can't really describe this novel, except to say that it describes the wedding night of a very repressed English couple circa 1962. And the ending surprised me -- and, I suspect, will surprise readers familiar with McEwan's past work.
[How brief is it?--ed. This book can be read, languidly, in an afternoon.]
Go check them out! Quickly!
Monday, July 2, 2007
July's Books of the Month
This month's international relations book is John Nye's War, Wine, and Taxes: The Political Economy of Anglo-French Trade, 1689-1900. Nye takes on the standard narrative about trade liberalization in the 19th century, which asserts that everyting started with Great Britain's repeal of the Corn Laws. Instead, he points out that France was in many (though not all) ways a more economy until 1890. If this sounds like an arcane dispute, it's not to those who study the global political economy. The events of the 19th century form the basis of hegemonic stability theory (HST). HST is to the global political economy as the Keynesian IS-LM model is to macroeconomics -- everyone knows that the theory is at best incomplete and at worst internally inconsistent, but it's usually the first model out of the toolbox to explain change.
Nye then goes on to examine the history of British commercial policy up to the Corn Laws repeal, explaining why Great Britain practiced a form of targeted mercantilism in wine and spirits for centuries. Along the way, he challenges the conventional poli sci (North and Weingast 1989) read of events like the Glorious Revolution. In so doing, he demonstrates conditions under which protectionism and trade liberalization can actually build on each other.
Nye does a good job of challenging the old school international political economy (Gilpin and Krasner), though he seems unaware of more recent work on this era that gives France its proper due in the liberalization of the 19th century (Art Stein and David Lazer, for examples). Nevertheless, I concur with Tyler Cowen -- this is a very important work of economic history.
The general interest book covers a topic near and dear to my heart -- Joyce Antler's You Never Call! You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother. For a taste of the book, check out Slate's slide show summary of Antler's argument. As Emily Bazelon observes:
The Jewish mother's greatest act of sacrifice, perhaps, is to be the gift that keeps on giving: first to generations of male writers like [Philip] Roth, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, and then to female ones like Wendy Wasserstein and Sarah Silverman.If you don't buy this book, it's OK. I'm sure your mother would understand... while she sits alone in her kitchen.... thinking of nothing but your happiness.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
June's books of the month
The book selections for June had to pass a very stringent set of criterion. Namely: which books would actually manage to engage me when I was in a distant Caribbean isle, lounging on the beach, with naptime beckoning?
The general interest book is Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures. Cowen's book considers the various arguments about globalization leading to a withering of cultural diversity. Cowen takes these arguments seriously, but points out the hidden ways in which globalization can enhance cultural diversity within and across nations (one obvious effect -- globalization widens the diversity of material and ideational imputs for artists). He also performs a public service in debunking Mohandas K. Gandhi's theory of swadeshi.
Creative Destruction was a particularly fun book to read on vacation in the Caribbean, as one could literally see Cowen's arguments at work.
The international relations book is Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation. The book is a history of American foreign policy from the colonial era to the Spanish-American War. Kagan's thesis is clear: contrary to perceptions that the United States pursued isolationism until the 20th century, the U.S. was actually an active, aggressive player in world politics. Furthermore, its foreign policy was not based on realpolitik but rather infused with liberal idealism (with a tragic dollop of pro-slavery policies). In essence, Kagan is arguing that neoconservatism is not some 21st century creation, but rather deeply rooted in American history. Kagan is particularly sharp when he places major foreign policy addresses (Washington's farewell address, John Quincy Adams' July 4th speech, the Monroe Doctrine) into their sociopolitical context.
Kagan's thesis will lead to more than a few readers squirming in their seat. As David Kennedy pointed out in his Washington Post review of Dangerous Nation, "Europeans and others wary of America's motives and influence may find that it confirms their deepest dreads; some neoconservatives may wonder if Kagan has decamped to the Chomskyite, America-bashing left." I'm not entirely convinced of Kagan's thesis -- the role of ideas waxes and wanes throughout American history, and the isolationist impulse is not quite as small as Kagan believes -- but this book is lively and well-researched.
Go check them out!
Friday, May 18, 2007
May's books of the month
With the end of the semester, I can now proceed with this month's book selections.
The international relations book of the month is The Silence of the Rational Center, by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke. Halper and Clarke offer up an attack against The Big Idea in foreign policy. They argue that the media marketplace tends to generate ideas that are provocative but wrong. Furthermore, the demand for 24/7 content reduces Big Ideas to empty slogans. In crisis moments, these forces overwhelm the "rational center" of experts that are capable of generating sound policy advice. Everyone comes in for attack -- cable news networks, think tanks, and academia. In many ways, this book is the bitter chaser to Jeffry Legro's Remaking the World.
Not all of Halper and Clarke's book is convincing. Indeed, in their fusillades aaginst the idea entrepreneurs, they engage in some of the simplifying, disingenuous tactics that they claim to abhor. That said, as rants go, it's an interesting rant.
The general interest book is Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity, by William Baumol, Robert Litan, and Carl Schramm. The authors are interested in the holiest of economic holies -- the sources of innovation and growth. They are interested in determining the optimal mixture of firms, policies, and government institutions that can foster radical path-breaking innovations. Their conclusion? A mixture of small and established firms, small barriers to entry, flexible labor markets, and -- wait for it -- free trade.
Go check them out!
Sunday, April 1, 2007
It's been six months -- let's revive the Book Club!!
I received a comment a few days ago pointing out that I needed to refresh my book suggestions. And, indeed, it's been a few months since my last selections. This has mostly been due to two factors: 1) the rigors of new course preps; and 2) I was paralyzed by a series of astonishingly interesting books.
Seriously, over the span of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, I got hit with advance copies or gifts of Scott Page's The Difference, John Lukacs' George Kennan: A Study of Character, A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, and Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman's A Perfect Mess. I'll admit it -- the range of choice was dazzling enough to paralyze me for a few months.
I've regained my equilibrium, however. So, without further ado, my international relations book of the month is.... wait for it.... hey, what do you know, it's All Politics Is Global!!!!
[Um... the readers might be getting sick of the repeated plugs; is the book any good?--ed.] Hey, if it wasn't good, I wouldn't be hawking it so shamelessly on this high-quality blog! This book slices, it dices, and it can explain both the regulation of Internet pornography and the European Union's foreign economic strategy. It's a book that puts the lie to Carl Schmitt's claim that disputes about trade and regulation really weren't political. And it's the only book I will publish in 2007.
Besides, have you seen the cover?:
I mean, there are globes and everything.
The general interest book is the definitive edition of F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, edited by Bruce Caldwell. The definitive edition means, among other things, that Caldwell has cleaned up Hayek's footnotes, gathered all the introductions to the myriad editions, and included some popular writings of the period to put Hayek's work in context. Virginia Postrel has more on this point.
The best part, however, is that Caldwell included the two reader reports -- by Frank Knight and Jacob Marschak -- to the University of Chicago Press on whether the publish The Road to Serfdom. You'll have to buy the book to read the whole thing, but here's the concluding paragraph of Knight's report:
In sum, the book is an able piece of work, but limited in scope and somewhat one-sided in treatment. I doubt whether it will have a very wide market in this country, or would change the position of many readers.Even if you own a previous copy, go buy this one.
UPDATE: A bad news/good news/best news situation with All Politics Is Global:
1) The bad news is that Amazon.com is now saying it takes 3-4 weeks for delivery.Don't let Amazon.com stop you from ordering the book!
Friday, March 16, 2007
The fairest review I will ever receive
It's a busy day at the Drezner household -- I have to decide which of my children to ship to the Economist in gratitude for their review of my book All Politics Is Global (now available at Amazon.com and other fine online retailers!!!). It's subscription only, but here's the good parts version:
Daniel Drezner's “All Politics is Global” is too nuanced and academic for easy reading—but ultimately much more rewarding. Mr Drezner, an associate professor of international politics at Tufts University, focuses on the international institutions and accords that regulate trade. Such regulation, though seemingly arcane at first, in fact determines “how to treat workers, how much to pollute, what can go into our food, what can be accessed on the internet,” and “how much medicine will cost”.Hmmmm.... the boy is toilet-trained but the girl has dimples. It's gonna be tough to figure out which one to give away.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Move over, Oprah
“Russian Thinkers,” a 1978 collection of essays on 19th-century Russian intellectuals by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, has virtually disappeared from bookstores across the city, including Barnes & Noble, Labyrinth Books and Shakespeare & Company. The Internet is not much help either: the book is sold out on bn.com, and though it can be ordered from Amazon, the order won’t be shipped for two or three weeks.
Monday, October 30, 2006
The good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read recently
Longtime readers of danieldrezner.com have made their displeasure known to me about my lack of monthly book recommendations. When we last left off, I had posted my summer book recommendations -- and let's face it, we're pretty much past indian summer as well as the real thing. For this, I offer my profuse apologies and no good explanation, beyond the fact that I've been traveling a lot.
However, sitting around in airports waiting for planes has allowed me to read a fair number of books in recent weeks. So, without further ado, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly books I have read over the past six weeks:
THE GOOD:That should tide you all over for the month.
Friday, September 1, 2006
Thinking about The J Curve
I have a review of Ian Bremmer's The J Curve in today's Wall Street Journal (alas, subscriber only):
Ian Bremmer has a big idea, and the title of his book literally spells it out. He argues in “The J Curve” that the relationship between “stability” and “political and economic openness to the outside world” resembles nothing so much as the letter “J.”You'll have to read the review to see why I was not convinced. Or, click here to view an excerpt from the book and draw your own conclusions.
Full disclosure: Ian was a few years ahead of me in the Stanford Ph.D. program in political science -- and he was nice enough to put me on The J Curve's blogroll.
Sunday, August 6, 2006
Your DVD selections for the summer
Now is normally the time of the month when the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com has sifted through the mountain of book submissions, and -- after debating the finer points of international relations theory in a manner that would have done Bloomsbury or the Algonquin Round Table proud -- selects the much-sought-after prize of being a Book of the Month club selection.
Well, it's August, and it's been really friggin' hot in Boston for the past week or two. This got the staff thinking -- maybe for August, entertainments should be selected that do not tax the mind in such a laborious fashion. Maybe August is the time of lighter fare.
So, without further ado, here are two DVD selections for the dog days of August.
First, for those Buffy fans in the audience, let me recommend what others have urged me to do for several years -- go out and buy the first season of Veronica Mars. The parallels between Veronica and Buffy are quite strong -- formerly-popular-and-now-mostly-alone-but-very-comely girl going to high school in a California town, battling the forces of corruption and evil.
However, Veronica is both less and more scary than Buffy. Less scary in that there are no supernatural demons in the fictional town of Neptune, and there is more than one competent and good-hearted adult in this world. More scary in that the murders, frame-ups, and other evildoings in Veronica Mars all emanate from the hearts of men and not demons -- and as such, exact a greater psychic toll on our heroine. Buffy was better at bringing the funny, but Veronica Mars nails the petty and grand cruelties of high school better than any show I've seen in quite a while.
Don't take my word for it, though. Ask Veronica Mars' biggest fanboy -- Joss Whedon:
Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season....Season two is coming out soon -- check them out so you're all caught up for season three.
If spunky heroines are not your kettle of fish, well, then let me recommend going out and buying a DVD of one of the cheesiest eighties movies you'll ever see -- yes, I speak of Road House.
Terms of Endearment. On Golden Pond. Children of a Lesser God. All these acclaimed films came out in the 1980s, but if you had to pick the one movie that best sums up the entire decade, it would be about a bouncer with a goofy name and goofier hair, notorious for spouting such oxymorons as ''pain don't hurt.'' It would be Road House. This Patrick Swayze curiosity symbolizes the excess of the '80s in pretty much every way imaginable, with some of the most awesomely ridiculous barroom-brawl scenes of all time, numerous naked bimbos, and plenty of classic bad-guy taunting (''I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that's missing is your ass!'').Ross misses two things. The first is the hair. Swayze's hair in this move is actually more feathered than co-star Kelly Lynch. Second, he missed the most blatantly homoerotic moment in an action movie -- you'll have to see the move to understand what I mean.
The latest DVD features a commentary track from fellow Road House fan Kevin Smith. Go check it out -- and feel your brain cells wither and die.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
So you want to be a critic....
Within every blogger (and commentor) lurks someone who yearns to be a paid critic. There are perils to this profession, however -- though the peril depends on the subject matter of the criticism.
[I]f "nice reviewing" has attracted few explicit defenders, a number of today's critics nonetheless seem to share a tacit understanding that it is somehow indecorous--what used to be called bad form--to come out and say that a book is bad. Peck's critics generally lambasted him not for the substance of his judgments, but for his unwillingness to play by what they determined to be the rules. "If you're going to be in it for the big run, you have to act responsibly," intoned Sven Birkerts, whom [Dale] Peck had criticized precisely for his tendency to be overly generous in his criticism. (Birkerts did not elaborate on what he meant by this, but presumably, if you're "in it for the big run," whatever that means, you will inevitably run into some of your subjects at cocktail parties--or, worse, they will someday review your books.) John Leonard, in a scalding review of Hatchet Jobs, Peck's collected essays, in The New York Times Book Review, laid out his own idea of literary etiquette in these guidelines for "responsible reviewing": "First ... do no harm. Second, never stoop to score a point or bite an ankle. Third, always understand that in this symbiosis, you are the parasite."On the other hand, if book critics fear being too harsh in their assessments, A.O. Scott points out in today's New York Times that there is a bigger fear for movie critics -- being irrelevant:
“Dead Man’s Chest” [is] a fascinating sequel — not to “Curse of the Black Pearl,” which inaugurated the franchise three years ago, but to “The Da Vinci Code.” Way back in the early days of the Hollywood summer — the third week in May, to be precise — America’s finest critics trooped into screening rooms in Cannes, Los Angeles, New York and points between, saw Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s best seller, and emerged in a fit of collective grouchiness. The movie promptly pocketed some of the biggest opening-weekend grosses in the history of its studio, Sony.UPDATE: Of course, there are worse killjoys than being a critic -- try the academy for that.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Your summer books for 2006!!
Astute and frequent readers of danieldrezner.com -- all six of you -- might have noticed that I did not post any books of the month for this June. Astute as you all are, no doubt you suspected this was because of my preoccupation with moving and its attendant minor disasters.
You would be correct.
However, with summer now upon us, I hope to make up for this by posting my reading recommendations for the entire summer at once. Rather than break this down into international relations and general interest, however, there are three categories:
A) Work books -- a.k.a., international relations. These are the books I really need to read becaue of my research, or my need to stay current in what's going on in my field:
1) Stephen G. Brooks, Producing Security: Multinational Corporations, Globalization, and the Changing Calculus of Conflict. Does the globalization of production lead to peace? Librals say yes and realists say no, but the real answer is likely to be a wee bit more complex than that. Brooks looks at the phenomenon the right way by examining just how production has been globalized and how that affects different conflict situations. He concludes that globalization reduces violent conflicts between great powers but exacerbates it among developing economies.B) Work and play books. This is a category of books that I probably don't need to read to further my immediate research or teaching needs, but I find the topic or the author sufficiently intriguing that I can't resist. Down the road, these books often wind up jumpstarting research ideas.
For the record, these are the kind of books I bring on my vacations
In order to have time to actually read them rather than write about them , I'm cribbing from the salient parts of their self-descriptions :
1) Suzanne Berger et al, How We Compete : What Companies Around the World Are Doing to Make it in Today's Global Economy: "Based on a five-year study by the MIT Industrial Performance Center, How We Compete goes into the trenches of over 500 international companies to discover which practices are succeeding in today’s global economy, which are failing –and why.... What emerged was far more complicated than the black-and-white picture presented by promoters and opponents of globalization. Contrary to popular belief, cheap labor is not the answer, and the world is not flat, as Thomas Friedman would have it. How We Compete shows that there are many different ways to win in the global economy, and that the avenues open to American companies are much wider than we ever imagined."C) Pure play books. Books that have no relationship whatsoever with my work other than to make my brain very happy:
1) Seth Mnookin, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top. What looks like excellent bookend to the spate of literature, beginning with Steve Kettman's One Day At Fenway, about the renaissance of the Boston Red Sox under the new management structure of John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner, and Theo Epstein. Mnookin has posted snippets of his book at his blog, as well as Vanity Fair.That should be enough of a list to qualify for summer vertigo.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Guy lit summarized
Here, then, is a summary of guy-lit novels:From Michael Kimmel's scathing review of the genre in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Thursday, May 4, 2006
May's Books of the Month
What with all the hubbub about U.S. relations with particular Middle Eastern countries, I thought it would be appropriate this month to focus on a book that details the bilateral relationship between the United States and one of its oldest allies in the region -- Saudi Arabia.
Sooooo....... this month's international relations book is Rachel Bronson's Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia. Bonson documents the bilateral relationship from the start of Saudi rule to the present day. Her basic argument is that the bilateral relationship is built on more than oil for security. During the Cold War, the extent to which both the U.S. government and the house of Saud viewed Wahabbist religion as a powerful, positive bulwark against communism is striking. Bronson also ably documents how the Saudi regime with Wahabiism has waxed and waned over the years.
The book is an excellent piece of scholarship -- I particularly liked this rave at Amazon.com:
I don't want to repeat what was already said about this remarkable overview of the U.S - Saudi relationship, so let me just steer readers to the footnotes. They are amazing! I rarely read footnotes, but these are so revealing and easy to access that I spent almost as much time with the footnotes as I did with the text. Hats off to the author here! I cannot fathom how she got so many juicy quotes and so much factual material from such a diverse array of people in the know, people who were actually at the meetings she describes. I felt like I was the fly on the wall as policy was debated and decisions made that affected most of the major political issues of the last sixty years. Wow!In contrast to much that has been written of late about U.S. policy in the Middle East, this is first-rate, well-researched scholarship -- from someone who has deftly knocked down conspiracy theories in the past.
The general interest book is Kwame Anthony Appiah's Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The book has been excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, among other places, and represents Appiah's efforts to carve out a commonality for most of mankind that does not rest on nation, clan, or kin.
I'm not sure how much I buy Appiah's argument yet -- all I know is that Appiah sold me on the book when he provided the following characterization of the term "globalization":
a term that once referred to a marketing strategy, and then came to designate a macroeconomic thesis, and now can seem to encompass everything and nothing.Now that's the kind of writing that is worth reading.
Go check them out.
Saturday, April 8, 2006
April's Books on the Month
This month's international relations book is Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu's Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. Here's the Publisher's Weekly summary:
Is the Internet truly "flattening" the modern world? Will national boundaries crumble beneath the ever-increasing volume of Internet traffic? Goldsmith and Wu, both professors of law (Goldsmith at Harvard, Wu at Columbia), think not, and they present an impressive array of evidence in their favor. The authors argue national governments will continue to maintain their sovereignty in the age of the Internet, largely because of economics: e-businesses-even giants such as Yahoo, Google and eBay-need governmental support in order to function. When Yahoo, an American company, was tried in French court for facilitating the auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia in violation of French law, the company was eventually forced to comply with local laws or risk losing the ability to operate in France. As eBay grew into an Internet powerhouse, its "feedback" system could not keep up with cunning con artists, so it hired hundreds of fraud prevention specialists (known as "eBay cops"). Goldsmith and Wu begin with an overview of the Internet's early days, replete with anecdotes and key historical chapters that will be unknown to many readers, but their book quickly introduces its main contention: that existing international law has the power to control the Internet, a conclusion web pundits, cyberlaw specialists and courts across the globe will inevitably challenge. Wu's and Goldsmith's account of the power struggle between the Utopian roots of the Internet and the hegemony of national governments is a timely chronicle of a history still very much in the works.I think Goldsmith and Wu have written an informative, engaging and provocative book that will undoubtedly challenge most people's preconceptions of the Internet. This is the most important book about the politics of the Internet since Lawrence Lessig's Code.... at least, that's what I said on the back cover. So go check it out.
If you need further convincing, check out Wu and Goldsmith's exchange in Slate with Glenn Reynolds from last week.
For a change of pace, the general interest book is a novel: Allegra Goodman's Intuition. I've been a big fan of Goodman's for quite some time, but this is her best novel by far, because this time around Goodman marries her impeccable narration to a great plot. It's about a struggling cancer lab, a post-doc that stumbles into an apparent breakthrough, the ways in which that breakthrough disrupts the dense network of friendships that allows the lab to function, and what happens when the breakthough is called into question. With Intuition, Goodman managed to pull off the double-coup of earning rave reviews from the Economist and Entertainment Weekly.
Here are three reasons why Intuition is so good (there are many more than three). First, Goodman nails both the quotidian and the big picture aspcts of what it is like to do research for a living. Joy, despair, jealousy, competition, curiosity -- she gets it. Second, and more important, Goodman has created characters with motivations that are simple and yet not so simple. One can try to come up one-sentence explanations for why the protagonists do what they do, and fail -- because real people don't operate like that most of the time. Third, Goodman manages to convey the horrors of what happens to everyone involved when accusations of scientific malfeasance become public knowledge. For anyone who's held a research position, that section of the book will be a gripping read.
Go check them out!
Sunday, March 26, 2006
A belated book review
Ten days ago I reviewed William Easterly's The White Man's Burden for the Wall Street Journal. I would have linked to it, but the subscription firewall proved fierce.
Luckily, the University of Chicago likes it when their professors write in the public domain. [All the time?--ed. Well, there are no current links to the London Review of Books, if that's what you're asking.] So here's a link to the review. The key paragraphs:
The foreign-aid community, according to Mr. Easterly, is mostly composed of Planners. They think of development as a technical engineering problem and generate ambitious plans to eliminate the causes of poverty in a multi-pronged intervention. But Planners are embedded in and beholden to rich donors -- large institutions in the West. Thus they lack real-life, on-the-ground feedback, and they lack accountability, both of which would allow them to improve their policies over time. Mr. Easterly prefers what he calls Searchers -- those who learn through trial and error in the field. They can't achieve the ambitious goals set out by Planners, but they can deliver at least some results.Be sure to check out Virginia Postrel's review of Easterly from last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Virginia had a few more hundred words to play with than I did -- and she used them very wisely.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
March's Books of the Month
The theme of this month's books is that they're both about how the policy hangover left by the Bush administration.
The international relations book is Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. This short book provides a nice summary of Fukuyama's take on neoconservatism, why he parted ways with other neocons on the war with Iraq, and where to go from here. I've only gotten through the first chapter so far, but the book does an excellent job of providing an intellectual history of neoconservative thought. Like Matt Yglesias, I'm not exactly sure how Fukuyama's "realistic Wilsonianism" is different from "just regular old liberal internationalism," but I haven't finished the book yet, so give me time. UPDATE: Well, now I've finished it, and it turns out Fukuyama thinks the same thing on p. 215: "What I have labeled realistic Wilsonianism could be alternatively described as a hard-headed liberal internationalism."
The general interest book for this month is Bruce Bartlett's Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Publisher's Weekly has a concise symmary:
Bartlett's attack boils down to one key premise: Bush is a shallow opportunist who has cast aside the principles of the "Reagan Revolution" for short-term political gains that may wind up hurting the American economy as badly as, if not worse than, Nixon's did. As part of a simple, point-by-point critique of Bush's "finger-in-the-wind" approach to economic leadership, Bartlett singles out the Medicare prescription drug bill of 2003— "the worst piece of legislation ever enacted"—as a particularly egregious example of the increases in government spending that will, he says, make tax hikes inevitable. Bush has further weakened the Republican Party by failing to establish a successor who can run in the next election, Bartlett says. If the Reaganites want to restore the party's tradition of fiscal conservatism and small government, he worries, let alone keep the Democrats out of the White House, they will have their work cut out for them.How damning is the book? The Bush administration could not send anyone rebut Bartlett at a Cato forum on Bartlett's thesis.
Impostor really should be read with Hacker and Pierson's Off Center, because the two make for a very interesting comparison. Hacker and Pierson don't like Bush because they think he and his Congressional allies have shifted policy in a dramatically rightward direction. Bartlett doesn't like Bush because he thinks Bush and his allies have shifted policy in a dramatically Nixonian direction. The chapters in both books on Bush and regulation make for very interesting reading. [SIDE NOTE: Hacker and Pierson have written a response to my Forum book review. University types can access it here. I may respond to their response if I find the time.]
Go check them out!!
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
February's Books of the Month
The international relations book for February is Jeffry Frieden's Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.
About five years ago W.W. Norton started publishing a series of books on international relations theory, written by senior scholars in the field, with the stated purpose of appealing beyond a scholarly audience. Frieden's book is part of this project, and Global Capitalism should makethe Norton people happy. It's a concise, accessible history of international economic relations during the twentieth century -- a period that began with one era of globalization, suffered a thirty year spasm of instability and closure, sought a Keynesian compromise, and then embraced globalization again.
As policymakers and publics deal with the aftertaste of the current era, Frieden's book does a great job of setting the historical table of how we got to the present day. Go check it out.
The general interest book is Marjorie Williams' The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, And Fate. Williams was a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post, and published political profiles for Vanity Fair. She died of liver cancer in 2005. This book, edited by her husband (Slate's Tim Noah), is a compendium of her published writing, plus some previously unpublished work on her family and her experiences of living and dying from cancer.
Jack Shafer had a lovely elegy for Williams in Slate when she died last year, and I kept meaning to buy the book when it was released in November, but didn't get around to it until a few days ago. And now, even though I have a daunting pile of reading and writing to finish, I can't go a few hours without stealing into her book and soaking up one of the essays.
There are two things about The Woman at the Washington Zoo that stand out. The first thing is Williams' sharp observations about the role that individuals play in politics, and the role that positions of power play in shaping the individual. She has just the right tone -- realistic without being cynical, observational without suggesting that she was above it all, rendering judgments without smacking of partisanship.
The second thing is more humbling -- Williams could write like a song, regardless of the length or topic. Her essay on her mother is the written equivalent of thirty-year old tawny port, exceptionally smooth while still leaving one a bit buzzed afterwards.
So be warned -- read this book only if you have no illusions about being a great writer. As political scientists go, I'm pretty decent at cobbling sentences together in a jargon-free way. After reading Williams, I now know my true place in the literary cosmos -- academic hack.
Monday, January 30, 2006
The conservative take on Off Center
The editors of The Forum -- Berkeley Electronic Press' online-only journal of applied research in contemporary politics -- had an interesting idea for how to review Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson's Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. They asked the few Republican political scientists they knew what they thought of the book, with the idea that Hacker and Pierson would reply.
While a nice idea, I suspect many people -- including Hacker and Pierson -- got too busy to participate. [UPDATE: Pierson writes in to say that their reply is coming soon!!] Still, you can read my review. And you can read John J. Pitney's as well. They actually complement each other quite nicely.
Here's the key paragraph of my review -- which picks up on a point that Henry Farrell made about the book last fall:
Hacker and Pierson are attempting something unusual and even laudatory in political science (and I say this as a Republican). They are trying to use the tools and data of political science to make an explicitly political argument. This is refreshing, for the dirty little secret of our profession is that there is not a whole lot of politics in the academic study of political science. Most scholarship is written with the attitude of the detached observer; concepts like “blame” or “responsibility” – or even “good” and “bad” – rarely appear in our professional discourse. By injecting normative factors back into their analysis of the body politic, Hacker and Pierson have written a polemic that is light years better than anything Michael Moore or Sean Hannity could ever dream of publishing. This does not mean that their analysis is correct – indeed, Off Center suffers the flaws of most polemics, topped off with a few even bigger flaws. But this is a book that cannot and should not be ignored by either political scientists or pundits.
Sunday, January 8, 2006
Talk about reviewer whiplash
So do I go buy Ana Marie Cox's novel Dog Days? The dearly departed Wonkette has already cost me a great deal of money when I made the mistake of letting her order the menu at the dinner after our APSA blog panel from 2004. Should I plunk down an additional $17.00?
In "Dog Days," Cox's brisk, smart, smutty, knowing and very well-written first novel, the 28-year-old protagonist Melanie Thorton, a Democratic presidential campaign staffer, diverts media attention from her candidate's political troubles - and her own romantic ones - by creating a fictitious blog supposedly written by a local libertine calling herself Capitolette. (Yes, rhymes with toilette.)Sounds promising.
Washington's pretensions, blown so large in skins so thin, should produce bursts of hilarity when poked with the dullest of tools, and Dog Days is that....Well, this is a quandry. Furthermore, if you read both reviews, you'll find many positive nuggets contained within O'Rourke's pan and quite a few backhand compliments contained in Buckley's thumbs-up.
In the end, I suspect I'll grab a copy, because a) The excerpts I've seen do match Cox's spicy wit; and b) The last political novel I recall O'Rourke panning was Primary Colors -- which wasn't a great work of literature but is an extraordinary read and remains, in my opinion, the piece of writing that best captures Bill Clinton (and this includes his memoirs). So, I'm going to judge Buckley's acumen as slightly more on target than O'Rourke.
That said, P.J. does have a paragraph that goes a good way towards explaining why there are so few good novels set inside the beltway:
The problem is that fiction, especially comic fiction, concerns why people do what they do. The more unlikely or bizarre the reasons the heart has, the better. Why people do what they do in Washington is so obvious that a beginner novelist would be advised to take up a subject that involves more complex motivations. Breathing, for example.This might answer the question Chrisopher Lehmann raised a few months ago in The Washington Monthly about the state of American political fiction.
Lehmann, of course, is Ana Marie Cox's husband.
Ah, now the circle is complete.
Saturday, January 7, 2006
January's Books of the Month
This month's general interest book is by my colleague Eric Oliver -- Fat Politics: the Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic. The real story, according to Oliver, is that there is no such thing as an obesity epidemic -- rather, this appears to be a whopping case of medical experts confusing correlation with causation.
This write-up in the U of C Chronicle does a fair job of providing a precis:
Oliver contends there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people who are currently classified as “overweight” and even most Americans who qualify as “obese” are under any direct threat from their body weight.Read the whole thing -- Oliver's deconstruction of the body mass index (BMI) as the basic metric for determining obesity is particularly useful. The one mystery that remains for me is why powerful economic sectors -- like processed food services and restaurant owners -- haven't fought harder against the obesity myth.
Oh, yes, in case you were wondering, Eric didn't write this as a massive justification for his own body tpe -- he's quite svelte.
The international relations book is Michael Mandelbaum's The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century. There's a book excerpt in the January/February 2006 issue of Foreign Policy in which Mandelbaum spells out his basic hypothesis:
The gap between what the world says about American power and what it fails to do about it is the single most striking feature of 21st-century international relations. The explanation for this gap is twofold. First, the charges most frequently leveled at America are false. The United States does not endanger other countries, nor does it invariably act without regard to the interests and wishes of others. Second, far from menacing the rest of the world, the United States plays a uniquely positive global role. The governments of most other countries understand that, although they have powerful reasons not to say so explicitly....Mandelbaum's thesis is, in many ways, an updating an old warhorse in international relations scholarship, hegemonic stability theory (HST).
The funny thing about HST is that almost no one in the discipline would claim to buy the whole argument. Realists don't buy it because the theory posits that a hegemonic actor provides global public goods even though it knows that other states, by free riding off those goods, will catch up in terms of relative power. Liberals don't buy it because the evidence that international regimes collapse when a hegemon is in decline turns out to be pretty meager. Constructivists don't buy it because the root of the theory is a state's material power and not its power over norms is what drives the model. Rationalists don't buy the hegemon's motivations -- why provide public goods and tolerate free riding when an actor can coerce others into chipping in?
That said, the model is still around when academics talk about policy, because at some level there's a ring of truth to it. It's the difference between pure theory and policy-relevant scholarship -- which is a topic too big for this blog post.
Friday, December 9, 2005
Books worth buying
The hard working staff here at danieldrezner.com has noticed a trend in recent e-mails, along the lines of, "Say, Dan, what books would you recommend for the holidays?"
Well, I can't help much with the holiday-themed books. What I can do is recommend the books I've been reading recently:
Ian Urbina, Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore. Back in March I blogged about one of Urbina's New York Times stories about the small rebellions against petty annoyances. Urbina's story must have struck a nerve -- six months later he's got a short book chronicling more examples. Do check out his website at www.lifeslittleannoyances.comThat's all for now -- read those and report back while I wend my way to Hong Kong.
Friday, November 4, 2005
November's Books of the Month
The international relations book this mo--- [Hold it!! Didn't you forget October's book selections?--ed. Um.. look, a lot happened in October. Cut me some slack? Just this once. You get denied tenure again, though, and I'm walking--ed.]
Er... where was I? Oh, yes, the book recommendations.
This month's books both deal with international relations. In fact, both deal with the use of language and rhetoric in IR and foreign policy. Both of them also have interesting things to say about the Bush administration's foreign policy. However, it's safe to say that they take veeeeerrrrry different approaches to the problem.
The first book is Anne Sartori's Deterrence by Diplomacy. The book's precis:
Sartori's thesis is interesting for theoretical reasons because it recasts the literature on extended deterrence. Deterrence theory usually boils down to questions of how leaders can demonstrate a reputation for "resolve." Saartori suggests that the reputation that matters is one of honesty. In making this switch, Sartori also challenges game theorists who argue that diplomacy is "cheap talk" because there are no costs to words (as opposed to action). If an honest reporation matters at the global level, then diplomacy is not cheap talk -- lying is costly.
Sartori's arguments apply in interesting ways to the Bush administration's diplomatic style. On the one hand, it suggests that the administration has overemphasized the importance of demonstrating resolve as a means of advancing its interests. On the other hand, this approach also suggests that the administration's bluntness has greater value than mainstream foreign policy analysts have previously suggested.
The other book of interest is Jeff Legro's Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Legro asks a different question than Sartori: when do great powers engage in radical rethinks of their grand strategies? Why are such rethinks so rare in world politics? A summary of Legro's answer:
Rethinking the World helps to explain the administration's grand strategy remains the status quo, despite limited success in Iraq and declining public support for the big neoconservative ideas. For there to be shifts in grand strategy, it can't just be the case that the current strategy is failing. There must also be a viable alternative around which others can rally -- one that can generate immediately attractive solutions to current problems.
At present, both realism and liberal internationalism have their champions. However, my suspicion is that the realists have the upper hand because their recommendations for Iraq (as graceful a withdrawal as possible) seem more compelling than liberal internationalism. Still, Legro's framework helps to explain why it remains an open question whether there will be a radical shift away from the current grand strategy.
Go check them out!!
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
September's anti-Book of the Month
The topic of Slate's Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich's efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in "media/public relations work." Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked.
Let's see how the reviewrs went for it. Hmmmm.... Tyler Cowen didn't like it very much:
Well, one would have expected Cowen, a free market economist, to dislike Ehrenreich. Surely Alan Wolfe, the other reviewer, who believes that capitalism, "cause[s] needless suffering to far too many innocent people," has a more positive take?
Do not read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Kieran Healy weighs in on Ehrenreich and suggests an intriguing alternative read.
Thursday, September 1, 2005
September's Books of the Month
This month's general interest book is in response to the question I get asked on occasion -- "So what's the University of Chicago really like?" The work that I've seen best capture the spirit of the place is actually a play -- Proof, by David Auburn. The drama won a Pulitzer and some Tonys, and has been made into a movie that will be released this month (click here to see the trailer).
The movie's director, John Madden, was smart enough to shoot the film on location on campus and in Hyde Park, and even in the trailer you get a strong sense of place. Ordinarily I'd say more about it, but I'd rather not give away important plot details (as an aside, kudos to Madden and Miramax for not revealing these details in the trailer).
Proof is quite short, so I'll counterbalance by recommending a mammoth of an international relations book -- S.E. Finer's three-volume The History of Government. Finer -- an Oxford Professor of Government -- decided to write about the development of government from Sumeria to modern times as his retirement project. After surviving a massive heart attack, he devoted the next six years to the project and managed to almost finish it (34 out of 36 chapters). Some polishing by his colleagues and former students led to three volumes that the Economist raved as the best political science book ever when it came out in 1997.
[So you've read it then?--ed. Er, no. But this year I've agreed to join a small book club (only one other member) devoted to tackling this tome over the rest of the academic year. With September upon us, I look forward to cracking the spine -- especially since I just finished Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steeland I'm intrigued about whether Finer will buttress or refute some of Finer's assessments about the ancient world. So, you just finished a 1998 book and are now tackling a 1997 book. You are so cutting edge.--ed.]
Monday, August 15, 2005
The Darkness Before Sunset
This piece by the fine Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Katherine Skiba was one I really didn't want to read.
As Dan mentioned in introducing me, I did some work in the Senate years ago. William Proxmire was the senior colleague of my boss, Republican Bob Kasten (R-WI). Prox was an revered figure in Wisconsin politics at that time, known for never soliciting campaign contributions and for running to and from the office every day. He was also a very good colleague to have, in the sense that he didn't have much interest in claiming credit for appropriations and grants coming into the state or even in attending to constituent mail.
These things he mostly left to Kasten's office, which as our boss approached his reelection campaign we found very convenient. It was also a little unusual, of course, but Prox was unusual in many ways. He had his causes over the years, some of them very good ones -- we largely have him to thank for the fact that the United States never wasted billions on a supersonic transport program -- that he pursued with the aid of a talented but small staff. I figured at the time that Prox felt so secure politically that he didn't need to worry about reelection and liked doing his annual press release announcing how much of his clerk hire allowance he was returning to the Treasury. It occurred to me later that with his forceful but somewhat distant personality and, perhaps, the early stages of his illness he might just have found a small staff made up of familiar faces easier to deal with.
Prox was reliably liberal on a lot of issues, but having fought battles early in his political career against Joe McCarthy never felt he had to prove his loyalty to liberal causes, or to the Democratic Party either. I wonder what he would have thought of today's interest group-driven Senators campaigning and fundraising throughout their six-year terms like so many Congressmen. His would be a good voice to hear about politics today.
We won't hear it, sadly. Like Ronald Reagan, Proxmire suffers the curse of a strong constitution, able to withstand any injury or illness except the one he has. It's a terrible thing to contemplate.
Thursday, August 4, 2005
August's Books of the Month
The general interest book is -- [um, like, it's August. Could you please suggest something that's less.... non-fictiony?--ed.] I'll do that suggestion one better -- I'm not going to recommend a book. Instead, I'm strongly recommending that you go out and purchase Firefly -- the Complete Series -- a DVD of Joss Whedon's sci fi series from 2002. I confess that I missed the show when it first came out, but thanks to Tyler Cowen's suggestion I checked it out and am now completely hooked. There are many, many, many paeans to Firefly in the blogosphere if you're interested in them. Anyone who likes Battlestar Galactica needs to watch this show in order to understand the debt, both in terms of themes and visual style, that Galactica owes to Firefly (this is not meant to diss Galactica, which is a fine show, but rather point to its influences). At its core, Firefly is Whedon doing what Whedon does best -- making his watchers forget the multiple layers of irony they are used to in popular culture and care very deeply about what happens to the little world he has created. Be sure to check out Whedon's commentary tracks for some of the episodes as well -- you'll see that he cares even more about the characters than you do.
[So why now, why not save this until the fall?--ed.] Because Whedon has also accomplished something extrardinary -- he managed to convince a major movie studio to commit a fair amount of money and let him make a movie, called Serenity, based on the show. Here's the synopsis:
You can watch the Serenity trailer here. I suspect it will be an entertaining film regardless of whether you have seen Firefly -- Whedon also wrote the screenplays for Speed and Toy Story -- but I bet it will be an even better viewing experience if you have seen all 14 episodes of the show (the Sci Fi channel is also airing them).
[How in the hell did Whedon convince a studio to convert a failed TV show into a movie?--ed.] The best answer I've seen is in this Weekly Standard article by M.E. Russell. Besides the most succinct description of the show I've seen yet, ("Think of it as Star Wars, if Han Solo were the main character, and he still shot Greedo first."), Russell explains why Universal thinks this is worth doing:
Of course, by blogging about this, I've become an unwitting pawn to the whole viral marketing approach.
Mmmm.... unwitting pawns....
Join the Browncoats, and go buy the goram DVD.
This month's international relations book is one that's been killing me for the past few weeks as I've been working on my APSA paper -- Susan Sell's Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights.
Sell's book is about the role that software, pharmaceutical, and entertainment firms played in having the United States lobby for the creation of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property system (TRIPS) within the World Trade Organization -- and then the counter-lobbying by developing countries and transnational activist networks that led to the November 2001 Doha Declaration, which explicitly carved out an exception to TRIPS "to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all."
It's the second part of the story that drives me crazy -- because if Sell's narrative is correct, it falsifies the argument I make in my own book on globalization and global governance. When the regulatory status quo is embraced by the two largest trading powers (the US and EU) and by powerful economic sectors embedded in those economies, there is no way that weaker countries and NGOs should be able to budge the status quo. And yet, if Sell's account is correct, that's exactly what happened (Any USTR folks who know otherwise, kindly e-mail me).
It's because Sell's account is so compelling that I'm in the middle of doing something that should happen more often in political science -- examining the cases that cut against my own hypothesis. Either this case is emblematic of a larger problem or it suggests a minor anomaly that I didn't account for in the original model, or the significance of the case is overblown. Reading through, I think it's a combination of the latter two, but it's a credit to Sell's book that she's making me sweat this case. Go check it out.
Monday, August 1, 2005
Richard Posner's forthcoming book
Eleven months ago, Richard Posner's review of the 9-11 Commission Report appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. And lo and behold, Posner spun that review into a book of his own on homeland security, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11.
I bring this up because Judge Posner has another lead review in the NYT Book Review. So in case anyone was curious about the topic of Posner's new book, it appears to be about the political economy of the media.
Go read it all -- there's a healthy number of paragraphs about blogs and the media that Glenn Reynolds discusses as well. I'll post an update once I've semi-digested Posner's analysis.
UPDATE: Well, I'm still cogitating -- but Laura McKenna has posted her thoughts on the matter. Be sure to check out her typology of how experts interpret the rise of the blogosphere.
Meanwhile, Jack Shafer rips Posner's essay apart in Slate. Some of it is carping, but this paragraph raises an alarm bell that also went off in my head when I first read it:
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
July's Books of the Month
This month's international relations book is David Rothkopf's Running The World: the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. Rothkopf's history of the NSC starts with the National Security Act of 1947 and continues to the present Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's arguments in the past (click here as well) and I'm very sympathetic to his arguments about the flaws in the NSC process.
A former Clinton administration official, Rothkopf was still able to interview a number of Bush foreign policy principals, including Condoleezza Rice. Go check it out.
The general interest book comes from a U of C book group that I'm participating in on Carl Schmitt's Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. However, the book I would recommend first is Schmitt's The Concept of the Political. That book contains perhaps the most accessible and thought-provoking critique of the Western liberal tradition. Alan Wolfe, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year, provides a decent summary of Schmitt's argument (link via Ted Barlow):
Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:
In this section, Wolfe succumbs to the very friend-enemy trope that Schmitt embraces. However, a conservative political operative of some reknown recently embraced this dialectic as well:
I believe that Schmitt's understanding of the classical liberal tradition to be deeply flawed -- indeed, Wolfe himself would have a hard time reconciling that paragraph from his Chonicle of Higher Education essay with his recent New York Time Book Review essay on Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America.
However, Schmitt remains a useful guidepost. Indeed, Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction will likely be the best way to view the brewing fight over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement (see Ann Althouse for more on this).
Go check them out.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
A fun book meme
Here are my five -- two of which might surprise Cole:
Saturday, June 4, 2005
June's Books of the Month
If last month's selection theme was books written by U of C faculty, this month's theme is threefold:
The international relations book for this month is my colleague Robert Pape's Dying to Win : The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Pape has collected data on all events of suicide terrorism over the past three decades and distills from that data several interesting hypotheses and policy recommendations. [Why not go into more depth?--ed. Because I've blogged about Pape's work on this subject before -- click here, here, and here for my thoughts about Pape's argument, methodology, and policy pronouncements.]
The general interest book for the month is... on the same topic -- it's Mia Bloom's Dying To Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror. In contrast to Pape, Bloom conducted field research in conflict zones where suicide terrorism took place -- including Israel and Sri Lanka. The assessment from Publisher's Weekly:
Combined, Bloom and Pape offer a lovely refutation to claims that the academic study of international relations does not care about policy relevant research.
Go check them out.
Friday, May 6, 2005
May's Books of the Month
For the merry month of May, I decided to go in-house -- that is to say, the recommended books were written by people affiliated with the University of Chicago.
The international relations book is The Limits of International Law by Jack L. Goldsmith (formerly of the U of C and now at Harvard) and Eric A. Posner. This is a bit unusual; most international relations theorists look down their nose at international law books, because the lawyers tend to assume that the law has a powerful independent effect on behavior. IR theorists tend to be skeptical of this assertion -- the thing is, so are Goldsmith and Posner. They look at customary international law, treaty law, and the use of morality in international legal discourse. They conclude that:
Not terribly shocking for IR theorists, this is most definitely a shocking thesis for international lawyers. The Limits of International Law is also, I might add, shockingly inexpensive for an IL book.
The general interest book is co-authored by another U of C professor, economist Steven Levitt. Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (co-written with Stephen J. Dubner) is essentially a collection of Levitt's efforts to apply economic and econometric techniques to explain what at first glance appear to be non-economic phenomena -- why the crime rate has declined, how one's name affects one's earning power, etc.
The Freakonomics web site states that, "if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work." Oddly enough, then, this book is of a piece with the Goldsmith and Posner book. They both represent arguments about the severe limits of morality as a guide to explaining how the world actually works when compared to power and economic incentives.
Levitt and Dubner also have a blog devoted to Freakonomics, and in typical U of C fashion they have a post entitled "Does Freakonomics Suck?" that links to the few less-than-stellar reviews the book has received.
Go check them both out. They're great books -- which, of course, just depresses the living hell out of me. When people like Posner and Levitt are one's peers, there's a pretty high bar for making an impression.
Now I gotta go and revise my own book.....
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Regarding The End of Poverty
Loyal readers of danieldrezner.com may recall that I blogged about Jeffrey Sachs and his book The End of Poverty last month. Well, I should confess that one reason for my interest in the book was because I was reviewing it for the New York Times Book Review.
The review is now available online. Go check it out.
[No excerpt?--ed. Not with this review. Besides, I'm busy prepping for the inevitable reply from Professor Sachs. What makes you think there will be a reply?--ed. Well, let's see:
Saturday, April 9, 2005
April's Books of the Month
The international relations book for April [It's a bit late--ed. Look, I've been on the road a little bit.] addresses two issues that plague the study of the global political economy: how to explain the independent effect of economic ideas and ideology, and the overestimation of Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation as a guide to understanding political economy.
Various IR scholars have tried to put forward arguments for how ideas -- distinct from material interests or pre-existing institutions -- influence outcomes. As someone who generally assigns a lot of causal weight to interests and institutions, I've neverheless wanted to see a serious exploration of the role ideas can play in the world. And, at the very least, I'm in the middle of reading a good-faith effort to do this very thing: Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Blyth. Great Transformations looks at how the United States and Sweden have reacted to economic crises by changing their ideas about how to run an economy. To explain the role of ideas, Blyth goes back to a very old but still useful typology that economist Frank Knight made between risk and uncertainty (though this distinction remains a subject of debate among economists). Risk is a situation in which there are a number of possible outcomes, and it is possible to estimate the probability of each of those outcomes taking place. Uncertainty, in contrast, is a situation in which all of the possible outcomes aren't necessarily known, and it is impossible to estimate the probabilities of future events. It is under conditions of uncertainty -- i.e., when an economic crisis causes policymakers to lose faiths in previously accepted truisms about the economy -- when ideas can have causal potency.
Also, I like any book that opens with the sentence: "While Polanyi's description of the economic disorder caused by the self-regulating market still has great resonance, his prediction of that same market's denouement seems precipitous, at least with the benefit of hindsight."
The general interest book is Brian C. Anderson's South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Anderson's book is an expansion of a City Journal essay he wrote in autumn of 2003 (about which I blogged here) -- in which he argued that the rise of cable news and satire, blogs, and conservative publishing houses was leading to a level playing field in the media. South Park Conservatives also has chapters on talk radio and campus conservatives. Here's the closing paragraph:
The one coda I would attach to this is that the rise of a conservative media elite can lead to the same kinds of arrogance and sumgness perpetrated by the old liberal media elite. Eric Boehlert makes this point in Salon in his autopsy of the Schiavo memo meme. For more on this incident, see Jack Shafer's essay in Slate about the comparative advantage of bloggers vs. journalists.
Go check them out!
Tuesday, March 1, 2005
March's Books of the Month
The international relations book is partially inspired by this Brad DeLong post. The highlights:
There's a fair amount to quibble with in this post -- Brad's statements about what diplomats want from trade is pure straw man; neither international relations scholars nor the foreign policy community is blind to the rise of China and India. Nevertheless, the point about U.S. economic openness yielding long-term policy dividends from rising great powers is spot-on.
So, this month's IR book is The United States and the World Economy: Foreign Economic Policy for the Next Decade, edited by C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics. The book's precis:
Of particular interest was the chapter by Scott C. Bradford, Paul L. E. Grieco, and Gary Clyde Hufbauer on "The Payoff from Global Integration," in which the authors put a dollar value on the return from past and future trade expansion. Using different methods of estimation, they estimate that the cumulative payoff from trade liberalization since the end of the Second World War ranges between $800 billion to $1.45 trillion dollars per year in added output. This translates into an added per capita benefit of between $2,800 and $5,000â€”or, more concretely, an addition of somewhere between $7,100 and $12,900 per American household. As for the future, the gains from future trade expansion have been estimated to range between an additional $450 billion and $1.3 trillion per year in additional national incomeâ€”which would increase per capita income between $1,500 and $2,000 on an annual basis. The fact is, there are few policies in the U.S. governmentâ€™s tool kit that consistently yield rewards of this magnitude. [What about the costs in terms of jobs lost, etc.?--ed. Estimated as well -- a bit less than $60 billion per year. So there are costs, but they're much, much smaller than the benefits.]
The general interest book [WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE AHEAD] comes courtesy of Kieran Healy:
Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit. The first paragraph alone is priceless:
[Why buy the book when the whole text is online?--ed. Well, this is just me, but I love small books that can fit in one's pocket. More importantly, however, is that I'm traveling tomorrow and I'm already looking forward to reading the book on the plane just to see the reactions to the title. A printout just doesn't have the same punch.]
Friday, February 4, 2005
February's books of the month
This month's international relations book is an easy call -- Stephen D. Krasner's Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Since Krasner was appointed to be the State Department's Director of Policy Planning this week, it seems fitting for people to take a look at his most recent sole-authored book.
This would be particularly useful because if there is one thing the DC press corps sucks eggs at, it's parsing out the policy implications of academic writings. For exhibit A, consider Al Kamen's column from a few weeks ago which tried to uncover Krasner's thoughts about foreign policy from his latest article in Foreign Policy. Key paragraph:
Well, the last thing I would want in a director of policy planning is to have someone who.... plans out contingencies for future world-historical events.
Now, before I anounce my general interest book, would everyone under the age of 18 please go click over somewhere else right now. Go ahead, I'll wait....
OK, adults only? Here's the thing -- I had a general interest book all picked out -- and then I checked my mail today and saw a very thick envelope. In it was a copy of Paul Joannides' The Guide to Getting It On!.
The accompanying note reads as follows:
This is how my life has changed since starting a blog -- in the same week, I can go from appearing on C-SPAN to receiving gratis copies of sex manuals.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have a small, deeply disturbed following.
[Say, maybe you could put that "blog that's long enough to gag a UN hooker" among your praiseworthy reviews!!--ed. No, no I really couldn't.]
Tuesday, January 4, 2005
January's Books of the Month
The general interest book for January comes from the pen of my colleague Charles Lipson: Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success. This is really two books in one. The second part of the book is a quick guide to citation ctyles across the myriad disciplines. This section is more accessible than the Chicago Manual of Style, which makes it great for undergraduates.
[Yes, but this is the general interest book, not the "specifically for undegraduates" book!!-ed] Ah, yes, but the first part of the book is devoted to the Three Principles of Academic Honesty, which are laid out on the first page of the book:
Lipson's book is intended for undergraduates, but in light of the rash of plagiarism that exists among professors -- particularly at the Harvard Law School for some reason -- these maxims should not only be imbibed by undergraduates [What about outside academia?--ed. An excellent question for the commenters -- are these rules appropriate for non-academic forms of employment that require research and writing? My gut says yes, but I'm curious to hear counterarguments.]
The international relations book for January is Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. While I started this book last October, I only finished it over the break.
Foer doesn't really provide a theory of globalization -- God knows there are enough of those already. Foer does something better -- he uses soccer as a lens to discuss the ways in which nationalism coexists, conflicts, and occasionally compliments the economic interdependence underlying globalization. The book consists of a series of national vignettes, some of which are fascinating (why Brazilian soccer retained its corrupt practices despite the best efforts of foreign direct investors) and some of which are counterintuitive (Berlusconi's soccer club mirrors his presidential style -- and this is a good thing for both Italian soccer and Italian democracy). Given recent developments, the chapters on Ukraine and Iran are also worth checking out.
Oh, and if by any chance you happen to be a Catalan nationalist, buy the book -- the effusive praise Foer heaps upon his favorite team FC Barcelona, is a veritable paean to the wonders of the Catalan people's ability to express their identity without any of the uglier downsides of nationalism (see the chapter on Bosnia for that outcome).
Sunday, January 2, 2005
I have a small, deeply disturbed following
So I was checking out my Amazon Associates report on what was purchased at Amazon.com via danieldrezner.com. And now I'm haunted.
Unfortunately, most of the time I fret about what I posted to trigger this purchase.
The horror, the horror.
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Name the book you're most embarrassed not to have read
In Paris, safe and sound. Panels have been lively and informative.
This Virginia Postrel post reminds me of an old parlor game among academics -- confessing the most important book in your field that you have never read.
I'll confess mine when I return to America.
UPDATE: Je suis revenu Ã l'AmÃ©rique! I'll post about Paris in a bit.
I know at least one New Year's resolution....
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Good dirt on the World Bank
Back in October, I recommended Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker -- an intertwined history of the evolution of development policy and a biography of the Bank's current president, James Wolfensohn -- as an excellent read.
Today, I make the case at greater length in the New York Times Book Review. The closing paragraph sums it up:
For the last time -- I really liked this book. I liked it so much it made it an extremely difficult book to review. Reviewing books one finds fault with is easy -- writing an interesting review that contains only praise is a much more difficult task.
The World's Banker comes out at an interesting time -- Wolfensohn has served as president of the Bank for two terms, and the word on the street is that he's angling for a third term. Will he get it? My sources say no -- this is a plum patronage apointment for Bush (the Bank President is by custom an American, just as the IMF president is by custom a European). I've heard three names bandied about for Wolfensohn's replacement, in decreasing order of likelihood:
Here's a link to McPherson's vita, which suggests two things: a) McPherson has the substantive background to do the job; and, b) He's part of the Ford White House mafia -- i.e., Rumsfeld/Cheney.
Friday, December 3, 2004
December's books of the month
I initially feared that the general interest book for December may not necessarily of general interest, since it's Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. However, then I remembered that this would be the pefect stocking stuffer for anyone who hates the Yankees, which accesses a broad spectrum of Americans. Publisher's Weekly says that, "Of all the books that will examine the Boston Red Sox's stunning come-from-behind 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees and subsequent World Series victory, none will have this book's warmth, personality or depth." That's good enough for me! Well, that plus the awesome cover photo.
The international relations book this time around is an oldie but a goodie -- Kenneth Waltz's Man, The State, and War. In my Classics of International Relations Theory class this year, this book easily sparked the most animated discussion. The reason is that this text -- in combination with Thomas Schelling's The Strategy of Conflict -- transformed the way people (or at least Americans) studied international relations.
Prior to Waltz, the great books in international relations either had a strong teleology embedded in their theory (Kant, Lenin) or came at the problem of international relations from a normative cast that colored their positive analysis (Hobbes, Angell, even Morgenthau).
After Man, The State, and War, the discipline underwent two changes -- first, it took on a much more positivist cast. The question of how to stop war was supplanted by the analysis of determining the causes of war. Although there is a normative explanation for this -- it is foolhardy to try and prevent war without understanding the causes of the phenomenon -- it has led to the discipline as a whole to shrink away from making policy prescriptions. Second, the field of study slowly shifted its explanations away from individual or even domestic-level approaches. Instead, the "system of states" -- i.e., the implications of anarchy at the global level -- became the overriding concern.
[Why not recommend Waltz's even-more-influential Theory of International Politics?--ed. As Henry Farrell points out, the price gouging on that book is pretty appalling.]
Another reason for recommending Waltz is this October address by Mitchell Reiss, the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. The speech tries to place the Bush administration's foreign policy within the context of Waltz's Man, The State and War. It's certainly an interesting intellectual exercise -- though Reiss diplomatically elides Waltz's attack on assertive Wilsonianism -- the neoconservatism of its day.
Monday, November 8, 2004
November's books of the month
The international relations book is Cowboy Capitalism: European Myths about the American Reality by Olaf Gersemann, the Washington correspondent for Wirtschaftswoche, a German economics and business weekly. In the book, Gersemann runs through the litany of European stereotypes about inner workings of the American economy ("Americans work three jobs just to make ends meet;" "Unemployment is low only because so many people are in jail") and sees if the data matches up with the stereotype. Nine times out of ten it doesn't -- and even on the tenth time, there's no evidence that the American variety of capitalism is the proximate or underlying cause for the observed outcome. Go check it out.
The general interest book is The Best American Political Writing 2004, edited by Royce Flippin. The title is a bit deceptive -- it's really the best political writing from June 2003 to June 2004. [Cough!--ed.] However, post-election, it's a useful primer on the rhetorical state of play during the primary and general election seasons. [Cough! Cough!--ed.] In terms of ideological diversity, the forty-eight selections range from Pat Buchanan to Katha Pollitt.
[Ahem -- I said, COUGH, dammit!!!!--ed.] Oh, yes, -- by some error in someone's judgment, this TNR Online essay of mine from April 2004 made the cut. Even more surprisingly, it holds up pretty well post-election.
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
October's Books of the Month
I'll be at a conference in Milan for the next few days (yes, I know, I lead a rough life), so blogging may or may not take place. However, here are some belated October book recommendations.
The international relations book of the month is Sebastian Mallaby's The World's Banker, which avoids the common flaw of most books about the international financial institutions (IFIs) -- a dearth of amusing goat anecdotes.
To elaborate: tomes about the International Monetary Fund or World Bank tend to be drenched in a dull earnestness about the best ways to promote global development. The exceptions are the books slathered with righteous indignation about the alleged injustices committed by either institution towards the environment, local cultures, women or the poor in general. Either way, readers are frequently forced to wade through pages of exposition written with all the prose style of the phone book. The debate about the IFIs has a wide-ranging impact on global policy, but with the current state of the literature, even the eyes of interested readers start to glaze over.
How well-researched is this book? Mallaby's description of Wolfensohn's first trip to Africa as World Bank president has a lot of eye-grabbing detail, including one graf that describes how Wolfemsohn looks at an airplane tarmac. The description was a bit thick, and I was ready to chide Mallaby for inserting colorful details that neither he nor anyone else could have remembered -- until I checked the footnotes. Mallaby had recreated the scene using a World Bank video recording. It sounds like a small thing, but is indicative of the excellent sourcing in The World's Banker.
Finally, you won't finish the book without having an indelible impression of Wolfensohn. I never thought anyone could write a book about the IFIs that merited a movie treatment, but after reading Mallaby's book, I can see an HBO film of Wolfensohn -- Michael Douglas would be perfect for the role.
As it's October, the general interest book is Steve Kettmann's One Day at Fenway. The book is a tick-tock account of an August 30, 2003 game between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park through the eyes of twenty-five different people -- ballplayers, managers, executives, staff, fans, and the scoreboard operator behind the Green Monster. The subtitle of the book is A Day in The Life of Baseball in America, and that's pretty much accurate. The pointillist account would be fascinating on any terms, but the fact that it was a good game makes it all the more engaging. Kettmann had multiple eporters, writers and research assistants follow around each of these people for the entire day until the end of the game. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power shadowed Red Sox GM Theo Epstein for the whole day -- giving this blogger just one more reason to be unbelievably jealous of Ms. Power.
In the epilogue, Kettman reaches the following hopeful conclusion:
I hope he's right, but as a loyal Sox fan I am obligated to fear that he's wrong. Which leads to another side-effect of being in Milan -- I won't be able to watch any of the games.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
September's books of the month
Give the anti-globalization protestors their due. After the Battle in Seattle, most of the claims of most of the protestors were dismissed by the commetariat within the space of a single op-ed column. Five years later, they've managed to convince a fair fraction of the globe of the correctness ofd their ideas.
The result has been a raft of books devoted to debunking the myriad claims of the anti-globalization and alternative globalization crowds, some of which I've discussed here. However, September's international relations book of the month blows the other books in this category out of the water. Martin Wolf's Why Globalization Works is the best single book I've read to date that comprehensively addresses all of the claims and counter-claims with regard to economic globalization. It's the kind of book I wish I'd written. Go buy it. Now.
In light of recent events, today's general interest book is Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon. As one who's had to read a fair number of toddler books over the past years, I'll always have a soft spot for this one. Brown's The Runaway Bunny
However, opinions vary on this. So readers are invited to submit their favorite children's book for the under-five set.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Hi, my name is Dan....
Will Baude has an amusing post up about addiction over at Crescat Sententia. The good part:
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
August's books of the month
Well, given that I've linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank's critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following:
One has to assume that Rumsfeld is referring to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress -- which, given Chalabi's track record since, is not exactly the most effective endorsement of Feith.
The general interest book is James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The fact that I make this recommendation even though I can't stand ridiculously long subtitles is a further testament to how much I'm enjoying the book.
Surowiecki's argument is simple -- when left to their own devices, large numbers of people who have diverse talents and perspectives will be consistently better than all individuals at problem-solving, decision-making, and future predictions. The key, to Suroweicki, is how information is gathered nd processed from the crowd. On p. 78, he makes this point with regard to the very topical question of ntelligence reform:
A side note on the intelligence reform question -- Mark Kleiman and Amy Zegart raise some disturbing questions about whether Bush's proposals for a National Intelligence Director would have sufficient authority to improve our intelligence capabilities. Zegart's speculation is particularly troublesome: "my warning bells go off whenever I hear the word "coordinate" so much in one press conference."
I'm cautiously optimistic, for two reasons. First, I suspect Bush is trying to mimic the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1986 -- and if memory serves, the JCS is neither in the operational chain of command nor does it possess budgetary authority. Bush explicitly compared the two in the press conference.
Second, Surowiecki's argument is that although coordination at the higher levels matters less than methods to ensure that the information is properly aggregated. In that sense, the reforms at the top matter less than ensuring the transmission of information.
I'm not sure I completely buy Surowiecki's arguments about how crowds facilitate cooperation, but it's still a stimulating argument.
There's a final reason to recommend this book -- it's clear that Surowiecki doesn't just admire cowds in the abstract, he likes to participate as well -- if one defines the blogosphere as a crowd. He's commented on at least two blogs I'm aware of: Crooked Timber and Brad DeLong -- and hey, he just posted here. The blogosphere violate one of Surowiecki's underlying assumptions, which is that one member of the crowd can't influence other members. Still, while many prominent readers of blogs never deign to post a comment, Surowiecki has no problems doing so.
Go check them both out.
UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias thinks I'm misinterpreting Goldwater-Nichols, and has some links to offer up. The thing is, all of the JCS tasks listed in Yglesias' are "advisory." Replace "advisory" with "coordinating role" and it's not clear whether Bush's admittedly vague proposal is all that different.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Reading up on Goldwater-Nichols some more, it's clear that the JCS lies outside of the operational chain of command -- the regional commander-in-chiefs (CINCs) report directly to the Secretary of Defense. However, Matt might be correct that the JCS has a larger budgetary role than I originally thought.
Beyond that, the key elements of Goldwater-Nichols was to endow the chairman of the JCS more authority vis-a-vis the service chiefs -- by giving the chair control over the Joint Staff and designating him/her as the principal military advisor to the president. Bush's proposed NID would have similar capacities.
More intruigingly, the Act also empowered the regional CINCs relative to the service chiefs, thus increasing local coordination among the various services. I haven't seen anyone discuss whether something like this would be advisable or appropriate in the case of intelligence -- well, except for those ubiquitous TNT previews for "The Grid."
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
July's books of the month
If the United States can transfer sovereignty to Iraq a few days ahead of schedule, then I can recommend July's books in June. Both books this month fall under the nebulous category of comparative political economy -- but they were really interesting to me.
The first book is The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability by William W. Lewis. Lewis was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute, and the book largely consists of what Lewis learned in analyzing the performance of various sectors in key economies of the world. You can read a brief precis of what he found by clicking here. A few excerpts stand out in particular:
Virginia Postrel is curently reading Power of Productivity and is also a big fan -- which counts as a big endorsement to me.
The Power of Productivity suffers from some of the same flaws endemic to management consultants (Kenichi Ohmae, Daniel Yergin, etc.) when they write big books. A lot of points are repeated and repeated and repeated yet again. And what's the deal with management consultants and their abhorrence of footnotes? Lewis also fails to appreciate the lagged effect of technological innovations, so I strongly suspect he's underestimating the long-term effect of the information revolution.
This is small beer, however. Lewis gets the big picture of what causes economic prosperity by painting a pointillist picture of why different sectors in different economies have such variable levels of productivity, and how policy decisions can affect these levels. After reading this book, I have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the retail sector as a driver of affluence. To get a sense of the impact that improved productivity in the retail sector has on the aggregate economy, click here for the McKinsey Global Institute paper that forms the basis of Lewis' conclusions. His key point is worth repeating:
The general interest book looks more closely at the one significant economy that Lewis did not analyze -- China. Elizabeth Economy's The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future examines the environmental externalities of China's current economic growth. She cites one figure estimating that the environmental side effects of China's factories exact a toll equal to 8-12% of China's GDP. Just as interesting is Economy' portrayal of the political lay of the land in China. First, China's central government has much less control over provincial and local leaders than is commonly believed. Second, because of its weakness, the Chinese government is counting on Chinese civil society to assist in the ratcheting up of environmental protection. This sounds very odd, as Economy correctly observes that the environmental movement was a harbinger of democratization in other post-Communist societies. The Really Big Question over the next two decades is whether China's leaders can effectively control the behavior of Chinese environmental NGOs -- or vice versa.
Go check both of them out.
[Er, doesn't the second book suggest that the first book's emphasis on how to make countries rich overlook environmental costs?--ed. Au contraire, my good editor. Lewis is concerned with increasing productivity, which comes from increasing outputs relative to inputs. Furthermore, most of the improvements in productivity can be garnered in services, which generate much less pollution than manufacturing.]
Thursday, June 3, 2004
June's books of the month
The general interest book for June is David Brooks' latest work of comic sociology On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. [Hey, didn't Michael Kinsley pan it in the New York Times Book Review?--ed. It's true, every conservative's favorite liberal panned the book penned by every liberal's favorite conservative. However, much of this was due to Kinsley's overreliance on Sasha Issenberg's critique of Brooks in Philadelphia magazine. Noam Scheiber effectively deconstructed Issenberg's essay a few weeks ago:
Plus, Brooks takes great pains in On Paradise Drive to stress his reliance on the University of Michigan's prestigious Institute for Social Research for much of his data.]
The book is chock full of observations regarding the shopping, working, traveling, and child-rearing habits of affluent Americans. However, the key theme in On Paradise Drive is that Frederick Jackson Turner's famous thesis that the closing of the American frontier was a signal moment in American history is a load of bollocks. The reason is that for Americans, the frontier is the future. America is a unique country because Americans live in the future -- while many in the world are rooted in the past. Brooks gets at this through his usual mix of trenchant observation and witty verbiage. The best compliment I can pay the book is the following -- after spending the past few years wading through tome after tome trying to get at America's unique place in the world, On Paradise Drive actually gets it.
The international relations book is inspired by Greg Djerejian's complaint about the dearth of big ideas. The demand for theories to explain post-9/11 state of world politics is high -- so it might be a good idea to look at the man behind the successful Cold War strategy of containment. That would be George Kennan's American Diplomacy: 1900-1950. This collection of Kennan lectures includes his famous Foreign Affairs essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which where containment was first articulated as a doctrine.*
What's striking in looking over Kennan again is that much of his analysis was predicated on what we in the IR biz refer to as a "second image" theory. That is to say, Kennan's theory of Soviet behavior was rooted in a explanation of Soviet domestic politics rather than an analysis of the international distribution of power. Kennan had it easy, however -- all he had to do was explain the domestic politics of one country. Whoever comes up with the big idea this time around may need to explain the domestic politics of an entire region -- the Middle East.
Go check both of them out.
*OK, Kennan's 1946 Long Telegram was the first articulation -- but "Sources" was the public version of the Long Telegram.
Saturday, May 1, 2004
May's Books of the Month
As I've suggested recently, over the past six months America has been inundated with a spate of tomes, memoirs, and policy dissections of the current administration's foreign policy/grand strategy. Almost all of them have been critical. Some of them have their merits, and some of them are so God-awful that I'm upset I wasted my time reading them.
I'm not the only one who thinks that a lot of these books are problematic. As the New York Times reported last week:
Readers of danieldrezner.com are busy people -- if you had to pick one book on the Bush administration's foreign policy, which one would it be?
This leads me to May's recommended international relations book: Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey's America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Of all of these books -- and I've read too many of them -- America Unbound has three merits that almost all of the other books do not. First, their prose is detached and analytical. There is some strenuous mental effort here, and it doesn't suffer from the tunnel vision that infuses Richard Clarke or Paul O'Neill/Ron Susskind's books. It does this without sacrificing much in terms of color or detail. Which leads to the second strength of the book -- it's exceptionally well-researched. Reading it, and perusing the footnotes, I was stunned at how much detail Daalder and Lindsey were able to collect from public sources. Third, the book's thesis is both counterintuitive but well-supported -- that despite what people say about neocon or Straussian conspiracies, the person who's clearly in charge of American foreign policy is George W. Bush. America Unbound is hardly uncritical of the administration; Daalder and Lindsey both did tours of duty as NSC staffers in Clinton administration. I didn't agree with all of it -- but I can't dismiss it.
The general interest book is Tom Perrotta's Little Children, a delicious look at the ecosystem of suburban parents and toddlers. Perrotta -- who also wrote the novel Election, upon which one of my favorite movies was based -- opens the book with this paragraph:
Hyde Park is not a boring suburb, but the playground politics discussed in the book have the clang of familiarity that made it a fun read for me. Go check it out.
Thursday, April 1, 2004
April's Books of the Month
This month's international relations book is Amy Zegart's Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC [FULL DISCLOSURE: The very talented Ms. Zegart and I went to graduate school together]. This recommendation comes in the wake of important questions about how to reform America's intelligence-gathering apparatus for the war on terror. Zegart demonstrates the bureaucratic hurdles to either reforming or creating efficient foreign policy institutions are considerable.
The general interest book is Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Here's a precis of Pinker's argument:
Plus, as far as I'm concerned, this book has now acquired totemic status.