Top 10 Books: the International Affairs Christmas reading list 2020

Editorial Team

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After the year we’ve had we want nothing better than to curl up with a book. Here are our picks of the top 10 books reviewed in International Affairs in 2020 hand-picked by the editorial team. Below you will find books that offer interesting discussions on Indian foreign policy, environmental destruction, gendered theorizations of the state and much more besides.

1) Worldmaking after empire: the rise and fall of self-determination

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Written by Adom Getachew. Published in 2019 by Princeton University Press.

Give it to: The friend who’s interested in historical what-ifs.

Joe says: I picked this because of the fascinating way Getachew charts a history of anti-colonial nationalisms and their visions for re-making the existing international order. The book’s sustained engagement with post-independence black anti-colonial political thought and diligently researched account of the practicalities of historic attempts to challenge international coloniality make it a must read.

Read the full review here.

2) Comparative grand strategy: a framework and cases

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Edited by Thierry Balzaq, Peter Dombrowski and Simon Reich. Published in 2019 by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: Anyone who’s done with hot takes on US foreign policy.

Andrew says: As an ambitious and wide reaching intervention in the study of grand strategy, Comparative grand strategy is impossible to ignore. Responding to US centric and systemically focused accounts of grand strategy, this collection of work articulates a new research program for the study of grand strategy that foregrounds context and the linkages between international and domestic politics.

Read the full review here.

3) Race and the undeserving poor: from abolition to Brexit

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Written by Robbie Shilliam. Published in 2018 by Columbia University Press.

Give it to: Anyone interested in a broader perspective on British politics.

Leah says: I may be predisposed to liking this book as I reviewed it, but I think it is worthy of another mention. Shilliam skillfully identifies the imperial genealogy of the concept of the white working class and provides a vital critique of contemporary approaches that racialize the ‘deserving poor’ as white. The analysis of the Grenfell Tower disaster, an absolute highlight of the book, is put into even starker context of this year’s Black Lives Matter movement. Shilliam thus provides essential reading for anyone looking to understand British politics overall and how British history has always been moulded by understandings of race and exclusion.

Read the full review here.

4) Representation, recognition and respect in world politics: the case of US–Iran relations

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Written by Constance Duncombe. Published in 2019 by Manchester University Press.

Give it to: Any Biden voters hoping for a revitalized US–Iran deal.

Ben says: I picked this book because I’ve long been a fan of Duncombe’s work at the intersection of representation, visual politics, digital communications and diplomacy. With the possibility of a renewed effort by the incoming Biden administration to repair the Iran Nuclear Deal, this account of the role that identity and recognition has played in the history of Iran–US relations is essential reading.

Read the full review here.

5) Fateful triangle: how China shaped US–India relations during the Cold War

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Written by Tanvi Madan. Published in 2020 by Brookings Institution Press.

Give it to: Your favourite history prof annoyed with analyses of great power relations that ignore the past.

Krisztina says: As academics increasingly focus on trilateral relations between the US, China and India, Tanvi Madan presents a well researched account of the history of these relationships demonstrating the profound impact of China on US–India relations. Moving beyond simply accounting for US-India relations in terms of balancing against the threat of China, Madan engagingly presents the key political, ideological and economic features of the relationship in a way that provides important context for contemporary debates on the future of trilateral relations.

Read the full review here.

6) Savage ecology: war and geopolitics at the end of the world

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Writen by Jairus Grove. Published in 2019 by Duke University Press.

Give it to: Anyone who isn’t sufficiently worried about the way things are going…

Ben says: Savage Ecology brings a vital critical perspective to conventional understandings of security and geopolitics. Grove grapples with the terrifying implications of the man-made destruction of habitats and societies which has characterized the ‘Eurocene’ epoch. It’s a terrifying but hugely stimulating read for anyone interested in re-thinking the existing political order.

Read the full review here.

7) Revisiting gendered states: feminist imaginings of the state in international relations

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Edited by Swati Parashar, J. Ann Tickner and Jacqui True. Published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: The grouchy relative who ‘doesn’t get’ feminism.

Leah says: Revisiting gendered states is a fascinating collection of critical and postcolonial feminist work on the state in international relations. Its contributors trace the workings of gender in international politics across a range of political contexts in ways that transcend theoretical boundaries and provoke fundamental questions for those interested in conceptualizing the state in international politics. It reminds us of the often anti-feminist actions of states, but also of examples of the state being used to pursue feminist objectives.

Read the review here.

8) North Korea-US relations: from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un 2nd edition

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Written by Ramon Pacheco Pardo, published in 2019 by Routledge.

Give it to: Your nuclear apocalypse-obsessed uncle.

Krisztina says: Ramon Pacheco Pardo does an absolutely brilliant job of outlining the north Korean perspective on its changing relationship with the US. Pardo draws on discussions with US, Chinese North Korean and South Korean policymakers to demystify the North’s Strategy adding important detail to cursory accounts of the country as a rouge state.

Read the full review here.

9) Unravelling liberal interventionism: local critiques of statebuilding in Kosovo

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Edited by Gëzim Visoka and Vjosa Musliu. Published in 2020 by Routledge.

Give it to: Anyone interested in liberal interventionism.

Joe says: This book presents a vital critique of liberal statebuilding in Kosovo and is an important contribution to attempts to decolonize methodologies in International Relations. With its range of critiques from local scholars on everything from international economic policy in Kosovo to the politics of acceptable resistance, this volume is great for anyone interested Kosovo and the politics of statebuilding.

Read the full review here.

10) Modi and the reinvention of Indian foreign policy

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Written by Ian Hall. Published in 2019 by Bristol University Press.

Give it to: Anyone who wants to understand Modi’s foreign policy.

Andrew says: This volume looks to examine foreign policy under Modi’s controversial leadership. It considers both the international and domestic dimensions and how these play out in the role India now plays on the world stage. As such, this timely book will be invaluable for those looking to understand the immediate context for India’s contemporary foreign policy and the factors influencing it.

Read the full review here.

This list was compiled by the International Affairs editorial team: Krisztina Csortea, Andrew Dorman, Leah de Haan, Joe Hills and Ben Horton.

To read more from the International Affairs book reviews section, explore our latest issue here.

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A leading journal of international relations, edited at Chatham House. Subscribe at http://cht.hm/2iztRyb. Follow for analysis on the latest global issues.

International Affairs Blog

The official blog of International Affairs, the peer-reviewed journal of Chatham House.

International Affairs

Written by

A leading journal of international relations, edited at Chatham House. Subscribe at http://cht.hm/2iztRyb. Follow for analysis on the latest global issues.

International Affairs Blog

The official blog of International Affairs, the peer-reviewed journal of Chatham House.

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