Capsule Reviews

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Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Greg Mills

Frequent predictions of the demise of President Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe’s collapse have underestimated Mugabe’s political abilities and staying power and the support he enjoys among Zimbabweans. In his transformation from liberator to tyrant, Mugabe has managed to ride out even the worst self-inflicted economic storms, including hyperinflation.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

Many observers have noted that diaspora communities often provide manpower, funding, and logistical support to radical or violent groups in low-income, war-torn countries. This collection of essays focuses on the interaction of diaspora groups and the countries of the Horn of Africa and paints a more nuanced picture. Decades of conflict in the region have driven significant populations of Eritreans, Ethiopians, and Somalis to Europe, the Gulf states, and North America.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

Heilbrunn’s well-informed book disputes the conventional wisdom that oil wealth represents a “resource curse” for countries in Africa. To be sure, his detailed reports of corruption, messy politics, and incompetent leadership in the continent’s dozen or so oil-producing states suggest that oil has not always aided the cause of political and social development—to put it mildly. But Heilbrunn argues that colonialism left these countries extremely vulnerable to the negative effects of oil wealth.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

More than 20 years have elapsed since Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president of South Africa ushered in the postapartheid era. At the time, few observers predicted an easy path for a country with such a violent history and such enormous inequalities. Over the next decade, however, a relatively smooth transition to democracy and Mandela’s enormous personal appeal heightened expectations both inside and outside South Africa. It was almost inevitable that the government led by Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, would fail to meet those hopes.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Nicolas van de Walle

Why is sub-Saharan Africa the poorest region of the world? In this collection, a group of eminent economic historians investigates the most plausible answers to that question. Generally erudite and authoritative, the volume is essential reading for anyone interested in African development or in growth theory more generally. The essays consider the geographic constraints undermining Africa; the institutional, political, and cultural obstacles to economic growth in the region; and the devastating impacts of colonialism and the slave trade.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Andrew J. Nathan

The emergence of a large middle class in China has produced a demand for more citizen participation. The government has responded with a set of practices that it labels “consultative democracy” but that Teets more accurately describes as “consultative authoritarianism.” Volunteer organizations are allowed to work in areas such as public health, environmental protection, education reform, and disaster relief, but they must focus on service delivery rather than policy advocacy.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Andrew J. Nathan

The power shift between the United States and China is often misunderstood as a two-player drama. This book draws attention to the 20 or so “middle powers”—countries such as Australia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey—that have as much to gain or lose as the two main actors. The contributors argue that instead of bandwagoning with a rising power, middle powers have historically tried to mediate conflicts, promote multipolarity, and strengthen the role of international norms and institutions.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Walter Russell Mead

It has long been understood that the Anglo-American “special relationship” played a decisive role in the development of a liberal world order in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Cronin follows the story of that relationship into the next era with a deeply researched and lucid history of the period between the Vietnam War and the present day. Cronin argues that the United Kingdom and the United States worked together to stabilize the world order after the dislocations of the 1970s and then to establish the foundations of a new order after the end of the Cold War.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
Richard N. Cooper

This compendium reports the results of a major EU-backed project to investigate changes in inequality and relative poverty in 25 European countries plus Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the United States over the three decades following 1980. The researchers examined inequality in income, wealth, debt, and education and delved into the social, political, and cultural impacts of inequality and the effects of policies meant to mitigate it. They used a common template and standardized metrics for all the countries, allowing them to make comparisons over time and across countries.

Capsule Review,
Mar/Apr
2015
G. John Ikenberry

In the early twentieth century, theories of geopolitics—which takes geography to be a central factor in international politics—entered a golden age. But in later decades, political theorists began to focus more on economic growth, technology, and ideology. In this intriguing book, Zeihan makes the case that geography still matters. His main claim is that geography has shaped the power of states by facilitating or impeding their economic growth, and he argues that no country has benefited more from its geographic features than the United States.

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