With snow piling up quickly, it makes sense to find worthy books and prepare for the coming months. Here are some books worth reading before the start of the new year.
Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed, John Philips and Martin Evans (Yale University Press) offers perhaps one of the most up to date and artful looks into recent Algerian history and politics in English. It rivals the work of Hugh Roberts and William Quandt in its level of in-depth understanding and empathy with various segments of the Algerian political scene. Unlike John Entelis’s work on the Boumediene and Chadli periods (Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized, 1986), and the Ottaway’s earlier work on the immediate post-independence period (Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist Revolution, 1970), Philips and Martin write their political history from the bottom up, rather than top down, integrating on the ground observations and interviews — from bumper stickers to protest songs to political humor — with more standard political science methodology.. In this, it is similar to Michael WiIlis’s The Islamist Challenge in Algeria, though its narrative and anylitical style lead it to do less of the reading history backwards one encounters with Willis. It combines a journalistic pace with scholarly depth to produce one of the most critical accounts published on Algeria for the American context. 1988, the year of Black October and bread riots that shook the base of the Algerian political hierarchy, is the locus of its narrative. Its critique of American policy towards Bouteflika after 9/11 is for the most part sensical but the role of the US posture is overplayed and given too much credit. Though many reviewers have read the book with Iraq in mind, drawing parallels between the countries’ history of colonization, dictatorship, socialism, and Islamism, there is quite little to be learned about Iraq in Algeria, and Phillips and Evans have written one of the few books addressing Algeria’s troubles on Algerian terms, and for this they deserve praise.
To Lead the World: American Strategy after the Bush Doctrine, Eds. Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro (Oxford University Press) summaries the various foreign policy debates swirling around in the wake of the Bush presidency. It features essays from leading foreign policy voices in every corner of the ring, from realists to neoconservatives to liberal internationalists to trade hawks. It is valuable for students and practitioners, and is a solid survey of American foreign policy thinking at this moment in history — especially as Inauguration Day approaches.
The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, Parag Khanna (Random House) is one of the most interesting books published in 2008, and one of the best written. Khanna offers snapshots of his travels to several tens of countries across the “Second World” — the middle powers and up and coming state in upper reaches of the development process — and assess their rise in the world power system. Three entities will define the coming years, the United States, the EU and China, and his narrative analyzes the development of today’s middle powers in the context of these “empires'” competition for influence in the world of today and tomorrow. Luke Brezinsky, Kissinger and others, argues that the center of geopolitical and economic gravity is and will continue to shift dramatically to the East over the course of the next century. He finds special potential in Turkey, Brazil, Kazakhstan, the leading ASEAN states, and a few others. His section on the Maghreb is lagging, lacking the evident depth of understanding found in other section of Second World, and he is too pessimistic with respect to India’s internal “chaos” and leaves South Africa floating, critical errors of underestimation. But he accurately describes the pity that is the Russian predicament, though he under-appreciates that country’s sense of entitlement at times. He offers sound advise on how Americans should restructure themselves for the early part of this century, and Second World proceeds in a readable, enjoyable and clear fashion that makes it especially accessible young and old alike.
Anthology of Islamic Literature, From the Rise of Islam to Modern Times, John Ashberry (The New American Library) is full of beautifully translated poems, short stories and historical source material. Published in 1966 by the renowned British orientalist, Anthology of Islamic Literature renders some of the greatest works of Mutanabbi, al-Jahiz, the Arab historians of the Crusades and beyond, often in colorful and rhymed verse, whilst preserving the true sense of the authors’ works. Assiduously metered and rhymed with lyrical grace, the early and medieval poetry in Anthology of Islamic Literature shames more recent attempts at similar goals in style and finesse.
Arab on Radar, Angele Ellis (Six Gallery Press) is a slim collection of poems by an Arab American poetess. Written in a mixture of prose and well rhymed verse, these poems tackle Arab American identity from the Lebanese perspective. It hops from North America to Lebanon, from cities to villages, from wartime to downtime, ably capturing the emotional ups and downs associated with being of a suspicious heritage.