Capsule Reviews

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Capsule Review,
Peter Tomsen

Carlotta Gall, a reporter for The New York Times, spent 13 years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a lifelong connection to the region: her father, Sandy Gall, is a well-known British journalist who himself spent a good portion of his career covering Afghanistan. Her deep knowledge of the region lends authority to the basic argument her book makes about the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, which might sound reductive if it came from a less well-informed source: “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.” 

Capsule Review,
John Osburg

On the surface, the prediction that Chinese economic and political reform would go hand in hand seems not to have panned out. In truth, however, the story is more complicated. As Evan Osnos suggests in Age of Ambition, the optimistic view of China’s evolution wasn’t entirely wrong; it merely relied on a conception of politics too narrow to capture a number of subtle but profound shifts that have changed China in ways that are not always immediately visible.

Capsule Review,
Tyler Cowen

Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them. Thomas Piketty’s tome will put capitalist wealth back at the center of public debate, resurrect interest in the subject of wealth distribution, and revolutionize how people view the history of income inequality. On top of that, although the book’s prose (translated from the original French) might not qualify as scintillating, any educated person will be able to understand it -- which sets the book apart from the vast majority of works by high-level economic theorists.

Capsule Review,
Richard Feinberg

LeoGrande and Kornbluh’s exhaustive and masterful diplomatic history will stand as the most authoritative account of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations during the five decades of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s rule -- at least until scholars gain better access to Cuban archives and officials. Skillfully interpreting reams of declassified memorandums, unpublished memoirs, and in-depth interviews with key U.S.

Capsule Review,
John Waterbury

Wehrey dispassionately chronicles sectarianism in the three Gulf countries where Shiite-Sunni tensions are arguably most significant: Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. He details how regional developments, above all the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Hezbollah’s confrontation with Israel in 2006, all fanned the embers of sectarian animosity.

Capsule Review,
Andrew J. Nathan

Hayton, a journalist based in the United Kingdom, argues that even with China’s military buildup, China’s navy is technologically 20 years behind its U.S. counterpart, that Washington’s solid relationships with many Asian countries give the United States a distinct advantage over China, and that the tough talk of Chinese military hawks is merely tactical bluffing. But his masterful history of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea supports concerns that China is pursuing a so-called salami-slicing strategy to gain dominance of that body of water.

Capsule Review,
Jan/Feb
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

Boraine, an influential white antiapartheid activist, has written a scathing critique of the African National Congress, the black-dominated party that has ruled South Africa for the past two decades. Boraine’s account of the party’s corruption breaks no new ground; nor does his argument that the ANC’s intolerance of criticism results from the antidemocratic internal culture the party forged during its long struggle for power.

Capsule Review,
Jan/Feb
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

This book’s title is drawn from a comment that a close ally of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made after South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, as he bid good riddance to a region that had been like a “poisonous thorn” in Khartoum’s heart. But Copnall shows that the cultural, political, and economic links between the countries remain dense and complicated and argues that the two sides need to forge a productive relationship if either is to thrive.

Capsule Review,
Jan/Feb
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

Despite the title of this book, the heroes of Edwards’ entertaining account of Tanzania’s development in the 1980s and 1990s are the international donors who imposed reforms on the country’s socialist government after President Julius Nyerere’s policies had ruined the economy. In the immediate postindependence era, international aid had provided support to those same counterproductive policies—hence the toxicity referred to in the title.

Capsule Review,
Jan/Feb
2015
Minxin Pei

One of the most vexing questions for scholars of China is whether Chinese political culture inherently supports authoritarian rule. Solid answers to that question have eluded political scientists for decades. This book by the late China scholar Shi represents an audacious and creative attempt to solve the puzzle. Through a sophisticated statistical analysis of survey data collected between 1993 and 2008 in mainland China and Taiwan, Shi reaches several surprising—and undoubtedly provocative—conclusions.

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