Capsule Reviews

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Capsule Review,
2014
G. John Ikenberry

Scholars have offered a variety of explanations for the rise and triumph of the nation-state. Reus-Smit argues that most accounts fail to explain why people wanted independent statehood in the first place. His answer is human rights. The book looks closely at the three great waves of state expansion: in Europe in the seventeenth century, in Latin America in the nineteenth century, and in the worldwide decolonization movements that took place after World War II.

Capsule Review,
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

Academics no longer need lament the absence of a good textbook on African politics for undergraduates. Englebert and Dunn have produced what will no doubt become the standard text for years to come: a sharply written, well-informed, and completely up-to-date book that should find a wide audience beyond the classroom, as well. Exceptional scholars in their own right, Englebert and Dunn introduce the reader to a wide variety of debates about the region, which they examine evenhandedly and with a minimum of jargon. The discussions of civil conflict and security issues are particularly good.

Capsule Review,
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

Schmidt’s history of military intervention in the region during the last half century breaks no new empirical or theoretical ground, but it does provide a good introduction to the Africa policies of outside powers. She starts with the interventions that accompanied the decolonization of the parts of the continent long dominated by Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom (with a particularly good chapter on the Congo crisis in the early 1960s), then examines the conflicts surrounding the later decolonization of Portuguese-speaking Africa and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Capsule Review,
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

Two very different books, both fascinating, attest to the socioeconomic and political progress Ethiopia has made during the last two decades -- and to the enormous challenges still facing this country, whose more than 90 million people belong to 75 distinct ethnolinguistic groups and whose recent history includes civil war and several massive famines.

Capsule Review,
2014
Nicolas van de Walle

This measured book summarizes the extent of what is known about the recent evolution of the commercial market for land in sub-Saharan Africa -- which is to say, very little. Urbanization and population growth, combined with the global boom in commodity and food prices, have increased the value of land on the world’s least densely populated continent. The ambiguity of land titles and the weakness of property rights in the region provide openings for corrupt governments and avaricious local chiefs to wheel and deal with local and international investors.

Capsule Review,
2014
Daniel Lynch

Bush’s masterful assessment of Chinese-Taiwanese relations predicts that “the momentum of cooperation on stabilization that began when [Taiwanese President] Ma [Ying-jeou] took office in 2008 will decelerate and most likely stall.” This was a prescient claim, as that is exactly what began to happen last summer, months after Bush’s book was published, after the Taiwanese legislature balked at passing a cross-strait agreement on liberalizing trade in services.

Capsule Review,
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

These websites offer unique insight into the North Korean enigma. Curated by the veteran diplomat and analyst Joel Wit and the North Korea scholar Jenny Town, 38 North posts vigorous short essays by accomplished North Korea watchers on the regime’s internal political struggles, foreign policies, and weapons activities and the daily lives of the North Korean people. Contributors ponder strains in Beijing’s relations with Pyongyang and offer suggestions for U.S. policy. The site also reviews books and debunks media myths.

Capsule Review,
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

Three generations of Ronnings have been involved with China, beginning with Topping’s grandparents, Halvor and Hannah Ronning, who worked as missionaries in Hubei Province, in China’s deep interior, from 1891 to 1908. Their letters, diaries, and family photos allow Topping to tell their stories in moving detail. She shifts skillfully back and forth from the intimate canvas of family love stories and tragedies, to the complex dynamics of rural Chinese society, to the wide frame of Chinese politics during the Boxer Rebellion.

Capsule Review,
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

Economic and technological changes are shrinking the Asian maritime commons. Cole reports that most of the littoral countries are building up their navies and coast guards. Lesser powers have acquired submarines and advanced tactical aircraft, although they seldom have clear strategies for using such technologies. Meanwhile, the region’s big powers must confront strategic dilemmas, including an increasing risk of accidents and clashes. The United States might not be able to maintain its dominance of Asian waters if it also insists on keeping up its deployments elsewhere.

Capsule Review,
2014
Andrew J. Nathan

This book rings alarm bells about technology theft on a scale that the authors say is unprecedented in history and that they believe has strategic implications. They claim that the U.S. government (for which two of the authors work) has underestimated the severity of the threat from China, prompting them to go public with a brief based entirely on open sources. Traditional espionage and hacking are only the most sensational techniques the Chinese authorities use to obtain proprietary information and technology.

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