Capsule Reviews

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Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
John Waterbury

Al-Ali, whose father was a former Iraqi diplomat who fled into exile, returned to Iraq as a legal adviser to the United Nations during the U.S. occupation. All his attempts to reform the post-Saddam state failed; this book is his lament. He inveighs against the returned Iraqi exiles who now wield power in Iraq, such as Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, criticizing them, along with Paul Bremer, who served as the head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003–4, for needlessly leading Iraq into sectarianism and regionalism. Much of al-Ali’s analysis is useful but not original.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
John Waterbury

These books present two very different takes on the most dynamic part of the Arab world. Cooke explores tribalism in the hypermodern Gulf; Wehrey examines the causes of the region’s Shiite-Sunni divide.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

Conventional wisdom has long held that the Maoist system of totalitarianism differed from its Soviet and Eastern European counterparts by relying solely on the mobilized masses to very publicly dispense terror, rather than on a system of covert informants. That turns out to be wrong. Schoenhals discovered piles of documents in flea markets and used bookshops that reveal an extensive citizen-agent apparatus at work in urban areas under the direction of the Ministry of Public Security.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

Corruption in China is hard work. Osburg, an American anthropologist, spent time with and observed successful Chinese businessmen in Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu. These men seem to devote most of their time to cultivating relationships with government officials and gang bosses in teahouses, karaoke parlors, and banqueting clubs. They enact rituals of male bonding that require the conspicuous consumption of expensive cars, exotic food and drink, and sexual services.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

Multilateral regimes are increasingly important in regulating how states relate to one another, but India’s engagement has been hampered by its focus on its immediate regional security problems, its continuing commitment to “strategic autonomy,” its complex and inward-looking domestic politics, and even a shortage of diplomatic personnel.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Martin K. Whyte

For more than three decades, the combination of the dismantling of socialist economic institutions and rapid growth has fundamentally transformed the lives of China’s citizens.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

A major critical and popular success in Belgium, this sweeping history of Congo begins during the precolonial era and brings readers all the way up to the current era of warlords and civil war. Van Reybrouck’s carefully researched and elegantly written book takes in the reader with compelling portraits of ordinary people that enrich what would otherwise be a fairly conventional historical narrative. The book’s best chapters focus on Belgian colonialism and the decolonization process.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

Both of these books refute simplistic conventional portraits of the relationship between Africa and the rest of the word, which tend to suggest that the region was exposed to outside influences only as a result of European colonialism. Desai’s book relates the rich history of the relationship between South Asia and East Africa, which began with commercial links that stretch back as far as the Middle Ages.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Philip Brenner

Based on interviews with dozens of Cuban small-business proprietors and aided by a sophisticated reading of demographic data, Feinberg’s findings in this monograph discredit the tiresome narrative that there has been little real change in Cuba in recent years. Feinberg reports that “Cuba today is very much host to large and growing middle classes” thanks to new laws and regulations that encourage productive ownership and work not guided by the state.

Capsule Review,
May/June
2014
Robert Levgold

Figes argues that the Russian Revolution lasted until the Soviet Union’s end in 1991. He begins with the famine of the early 1890s, which he sees as creating the pathway to the revolution in 1917, and then divides the century that followed into three generational phases. The first belongs to the “Old Bolsheviks,” the architects of Vladimir Lenin’s revolution, who were born in the 1870s and 1880s.

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