Post-Western World’s Books of the Year (2015)


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Of the 28 books reviewed on Post-Western World in 2015, the following ten are my favorites:

1. "Power, Order and Change in World Politics" by G. John Ikenberry (ed.)

"Are the cycles of rise and decline of power and international order set to continue?", G. John Ikenberry and a series of leading scholars ask in this remarkable collection of essays about global order, in which a group of thinkers based in the Anglosphere reflect on Robert Gilpin's famous book War and Change in World Politics, published in 1981.

2. "Russia’s postcolonial identity: a subaltern empire in a eurocentric world" by Viatcheslav Morozov

Viatcheslav Morozov has written an important and thought-provoking book about Russia’s place in the world. Russia, he writes, must be viewed as a subaltern empire, and the focus should lie not on its imperial characteristic, but its subaltern nature, and as an object of external colonization that was integrated into the capitalist world-system on unequal terms.

3. "The Origins of Nuclear Cooperation. A Critical Oral History between Argentina and Brazil" by Rodrigo Mallea, Matias Spektor and Nicholas J. Wheeler (eds.)

Despite occasional cooperation, Argentine-Brazilian rivalry was, for most of the 19th and 20th century, the dominant regional dynamic in South America. This only changed in the 1980s, when secret diplomatic negotiations and trust-building measures led to an agreement to renounce peaceful nuclear explosions and develop a safeguards framework, an achievement that set the stage for close cooperation on many levels today.

4. "The System Worked. How the World Stopped another Great Depression" by Daniel Drezner

Drezner argues that global structures were up to speed and succeeded in avoiding another global depression. Despite an initial shock worse than that of the Great Depression, the global economy managed to bounce back after the 2008 crisis. This was, he writes, in no small part because global economic governance functioned properly to maintain economic openness and build resiliency into the international system.

5. "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China" by Evan Osnos

The main narrative in Osnos's book is the transformation from collectivism to individualism in Chinese society. The swiftness of this change is dizzying and has made China, in many ways, far more individualistic and materialistic than many Western societies. Personal ambition is more explicit, and Osnos compares today's China to late 19th century America, when robber barons ruled an increasingly unequal and exploitative economy.

6. "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower" by Michael Pillsbury

The Hundred-Year Marathon describes how Chinese hawks -- who, Pillsbury believes, now control the way decision-makers in China think and behave -- seek to turn the country into the world's leading power by 2049, a century after Mao declared the Chinese Republic. Hopes that China will liberalize are delusional and based on a false Western-centric expectation that once countries become rich, they become liberal democracies.

7. "World Order" by Henry Kissinger

World Order, despite its flaws and a disturbing unwillingness to recognize the United States' nefarious role in the Middle East over the past decade, is a rewarding read. Considering that the author is 92 years old, the clarity with which Kissinger assesses the impact of modern technology on politics and humanity more broadly is remarkable.

8. "International Orders in the Early Modern World. Before the Rise of the West" by Shogo Suzuki, Yongjin Zhang, Joel Quirk (eds.)

In a welcome attempt to offer an alternative perspective to Western-centric narratives, Suzuki, Zhang and Quirk have organized a book collecting a number of great essays that examine the historical interactions of the West and the non-Western world prior to the rise of what is today commonly called "Western order". The analyses emphasize the central role of non-European agency in shaping global history, and stand in stark contrast to conventional narratives revolving around the ‘Rise of the West’, which tend to be based upon a stylized contrast between a dynamic ‘West’ and a passive and static ‘East’.

9. "Sinicization and the Rise of China: Civilizational Processes Beyond East and West" by Peter Katzenstein (ed.)

In the edited volume Sinicization and the Rise of China: Civilizational Processes Beyond East and West, Peter Katzenstein and the other authors complicate popular conceptions of civilizational interaction by focusing instead upon hybridity and plurality. "We need to move beyond the sharp distinction between East and West", Katzenstein writes.

10. "Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China" by Jung Chang

The Manchu Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) is generally thought of as a conservative figure in Chinese history, incapable of defending China's interests in the second half of the 19th century, when China lost its position as the world's largest economy. Against this broad consensus, Jung Chang has written a lively biography that depicts Cixi (pronounced "Tseshi") as quite the opposite. Chang argues that Cixi, the most important woman in Chinese history, "brought a medieval empire into the modern age." Under Cixi's rule, China built the first railroads (the Beijing-Canton railroad remains a key artery in today's economy), installed telegraphs, introduced electricity, steam boats, modern mining, newspapers, established the state bank and promoted freedom of religion.

Read also: 

Post-Western World’s Books of the Year (2014)

Post-Western World’s Books of the Year (2013)

Book review: “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny” by Amartya Sen