The books we were reading in 2019

Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking 

Matthew Syed, 2019

Many institutions are still male, pale, and stale, yet until recently, we unquestionably put our confidence in these people.  In this insightful book, Syed offers a radical new approach to success and a route map to how we can tackle our most complex challenges, such as obesity, terrorism and climate change.

Rebel Ideas draws upon cutting-edge research in psychology, economics and anthropology, and takes lessons from a broad range of case studies, including the catastrophic intelligence failings of the CIA before 9/11.  This book will leave you wondering – did 9/11 happen because the CIA was too white?

This book can be used as a blueprint for any tech-start up or institution that wants to harness cognitive diversity to be innovative, relevant, and successful.

Education of an Idealist

Samantha Power, 2019

Samantha Power was an immigrant who fled Ireland as a child, along with her mother and brother, to make a new life in the US and escape from her alcoholic father.  Succeeding in school, she eventually attended Yale before becoming a war correspondent in Yugoslavia.  

Witnessing atrocities, including the Srebrenica massacre, shaped the way Power viewed the Americian role in foreign policy and when they ought to respond to genocide.  

On a personal level, the book is an interesting story in resilience, starting as an outsider, but moving from strength to strength.  However, the book lacked a little on her the thought processes that shaped her career. An interesting read about a person who shaped American foreign policy under Obama, but sheds little light on what drives her.

Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed By Tech

Jamie Susskind, 2018

We are only twenty years into the 21st century, but it is already widely accepted that technology will define it.  Technology has not only changed the way we live, but it has changed our politics. It has caused uprisings, movements, and changed the way citizens connect with the state.  It is increasingly affecting every chance we are given – from whether we are offered a job to whether we are granted a mortgage – these decisions are now all taken by computers. 

In this ambitious book, Susskind teases out a whole range of issues and attempts to answer a question: to what extent should our lives be directed and controlled by powerful digital systems – and on what terms?

British Foreign Policy After Brexit

David Owen and David Ludlow, 2017

Anyone who claims to know what will happen in British politics over the next few years is delusional.  In a time not kind to predictions, Ludlow and Owen write an approach on how the UK ought to posture itself to ensure it is considered a global player.  The book is ambitious and offers a thorough, but concise history of British foreign policy.

Although the writers were on different sides of the fence during the Brexit referendum, both argue that a clear foreign and defence policy can enhance British influence in the international sphere.   However, the book does not interrogate the already diminishing influence the UK holds. Britain has had to cope with a slow descent as an international power since the second World War.  An optimistic strategy cannot eliminate our geography, history and limited resources. Britain will need to get more realistic. 

The Uninhabitable Earth

David Wallace-Wells, 2019

There is only one other foreign policy problem that is in the news as much as Brexit: the climate.  The climate emergency has loomed over the public and yet still somehow does not feel urgent. It is easy to accept the increase in floods, wildfires, and hurricanes as merely natural disasters.

This book will stop that thinking. Although quite a short read, the books covers drought, floods, wildfires, economic crises, political instability, the collapse of the myth of progress – it all makes for alarming reading. 

Wallace-Wells points out that the narrative surrounding climate change focus on the denial of the issue.  Instead, he points out, we should be pushing for something to happen.  Whilst many acknowledge the issue, few change their habits or truly acknowledge the extent of the problem.   Whilst we continue to ignore the elephant in the room, we will continue on a collision course to extinction. A must read.

Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics

Cynthia Enloe, 1989

In 1989, Enloe penned a compelling case on how the personal is international, whilst challenging common assumptions about what constitutes ‘international politics.’  A lot has changed in the thirty years and the role of women in politics has become more prominent.  

The book shines a light on a number of issues at the time.  Reading it in 2019, it is interesting to see how much has changed and how the issues have developed.  Many of the arguments Enloe puts forward feel just as relevant. For example, Enloe discusses the British diplomatic service, and how the contributions of women as ‘ambassador’s wives’ are often ignored, and how few senior female diplomats there are. 

For instance, whilst there are certainly more female diplomats in 2019 than in the time in which Enloe was writing, there are still major issues with women securing top positions.  In 2017, only 30% of Heads of Mission, Posts, and Governors were women in the British Foreign and Commonwealth.  BAME employees also find difficulties in breaking into the senior positions.   

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