The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts needs a breather from reading and writing about President Trump. Seriously, it’s exhausting. Just as I started to type these words, two bombshell stories about Trump came out. I simply do not have the energy to address them.
There has to be something else worth reading. And there are, in fact, many more things worth reading! So here are four nonfiction books that I’ll be perusing as the weather starts to warm up:
1. Judith Kelley, “Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence their Reputation and Behavior” (Cambridge University Press). The United States rates other countries through a series of ranking exercises and reports ranging from human trafficking to counternarcotics to religious freedom. Plenty of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations do the same on a welter of topics. But do these reports and rankings have any effect? Kelley takes a deep dive into the State Department’s human trafficking report with some meticulous case studies and concludes that they do indeed matter. It’s an extraordinary documenting of how influence can be achieved in world politics without coercion (cc: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).
2. Pankaj Mishra, “Age of Anger: A History of the Present” (Farrar Straus Giroux). Of the books on this list, this is the one I have made the furthest progress on. I was quite taken with his previous book, “From the Ruins of Empire.” Full disclosure: at this point, I have alternated between nodding and shaking my head furiously at Mishra’s intellectual narrative. Mishra chronicles the intellectuals who rebelled against the Enlightenment, beginning with Rousseau. Even when I disagree with Mishra, he is such a clear writer that the disagreements are illuminating.
3. Margaret Peters, “Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization” (Princeton University Press). Why have developed countries become more resistant to migration, despite their obvious need for a demographic shot in the arm? The reasons are myriad, but Peters homes in on a heretofore unexplored one: Over time, the most powerful lobby in support of open borders has become more indifferent to the question. Large corporations used to need to import cheap labor. Over time, however, the combination of automation and offshoring have created substitutes for accepting significant inward flows of immigrants. Peters’s thesis certainly helps to explain how U.S.-based multinational corporations can live with the Trump administration’s immigration policies and rhetoric.
4. Thomas Wright, “All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the Twenty-First Century and the Future of American Power” (Yale University Press). Clearly, the liberal international order is facing some challenges at the moment. How will the great powers compete with one another in a world of nuclear weapons and economic interdependence? Wright offers some interesting thoughts on this question. The title of the book suggests that an actual great power war is unlikely, but Russia, China and the United States will ramp up other measures designed to pressure one another. Wright was just promoted to a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in no small part because of this book. You will enjoy it as well.