The best books we reviewed this year, selected by Foreign Affairs editors and book reviewers.
by Patrick Radden Keefe
Keefe’s fine, searching book shows that the political agreement formally resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland marked only the beginning of a long, agonizing, and fitful process of reconciliation.
by Shoshana Zuboff
Zuboff’s book is a brilliant, arresting analysis of the digital economy and a plea for a social awakening about the enormity of the changes that technology is imposing on political and social life.
by James Verini
Verini spent months embedded with Iraqi forces and writes beautifully about the toll of war on Iraqi society. His book is a marvelously reported, first-person account of the recapture of Mosul from the Islamic State (or ISIS).
Political and Legal
by Adam Gopnik
Gopnik paints a sweeping portrait of modern liberalism’s founding principles and accomplishments. He eloquently makes the case for the theory’s continued relevance in today’s struggle to build decent and inclusive societies.
by Simon Reid-Henry
In this massive, kaleidoscopic history, Reid-Henry finds the roots of the crisis of modern liberal democracy in the early 1970s, in the subtle changes that conspired to erode the consensus-oriented model of democracy that had emerged after World War II.
by James Traub
As liberals grapple with rising populism and authoritarianism, Traub turns to history and theory to reclaim liberalism’s principles. His book mounts one of the best efforts of this kind yet.
Economic | Social | Environmental
by Paul A. Volcker with Christine Harper
This frugal and charming autobiography is filled with illuminating stories from Volcker’s seven decades of public service, from abandoning the last vestiges of the gold standard to dealing with the 2008 financial crisis.
by Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner, and Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
This collaboration by the three officials who led the fight in the United States against the financial crisis of 2008 presents a mature and revealing assessment of the meltdown and the U.S. government’s efforts to halt it.
by Kimberly Clausing
Amid a growing backlash against international economic interdependence, Clausing makes a strong case in favor of foreign trade in goods and services, the cross-border movement of capital, and immigration.
Military | Scientific | Technological
by Stephen G. Hyslop
More than 100 new maps illuminate many of the most important battles and campaigns of World War II. The stars of the book are the reproductions of maps first produced as part of the war effort.
by Audrey Kurth Cronin
In this meticulously researched book, Cronin argues that governments must develop countermeasures to preempt militant groups from co-opting technological innovations to catastrophic effect.
The United States
by Allen C. Guelzo
Guelzo offers a concise, clear, and temperate account of the failure of Reconstruction. Never losing sight of the cause of newly freed slaves, he underscores southern governments’ weakness and the collapse of political will in the North.
by Hal Brands and Charles Edel
Brands and Edel argue that U.S. foreign policy should be less about building utopia than about preventing disaster. Unless met with resolute American power, countries such as China, Iran, and Russia will return the world to an age of catastrophic war.
edited by James M. Banner, Jr.
The book is a fascinating glimpse into misconduct by every administration from George Washington’s through Barack Obama’s—and a look at the disappointing weaknesses of the remedies available to deter or punish presidential malfeasance.
by Luuk van Middelaar
Part insider memoir and part commentary, van Middelaar’s is probably the best analysis yet to appear of how the European Union managed its recent crises over refugees, Ukraine, and the euro.
by Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman
Globalization affects an ever-widening range of regulatory matters. Farrell and Newman examine recent disputes between the United States and its European partners over transnational flows of information, showing how complex and fraught such negotiations tend to be.
by Sophia Besch, Ian Bond, and Camino Mortera-Martinez
The authors explain how sober Brexit negotiations with the EU could preserve most current forms of cooperation under another name—but that the changes that must occur will generally disadvantage the United Kingdom.
by Valeria Luiselli
In this novel, Luiselli combines literary brilliance, empathetic politics, and a dazzling imagination. She envisions the American Southwest as desolate and haunted by genocide, a xenophobic wasteland occupied by a brutal border patrol.
by Eduardo Engel, Delia Ferreira Rubio, Daniel Kaufmann, Armando Lara Yaffar, Jorge Londoño Saldarriaga, Beth Simone Noveck, Mark Pieth, and Susan Rose-Ackerman
This all-star team of eight governance and anticorruption experts has produced a powerful indictment of Latin American institutions. The authors condemn both public and private elites for undermining good policymaking and entrenching impunity.
Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics
by Ofer Fridman
The modern concept of war fought by multiple means, on and off the battlefield, originated with the U.S. military. The current, more expansive Russian version reflects what its Russian authors believe were the West’s own methods of waging the Cold War, which they now see being used against Russia once again.
by Ethan Pollock
Pollock has produced a rarity: a work of solid scholarship that is also an elegant page-turner. It traces the history of the Russian steam bath all the way back to the Middle Ages, exploring how its image and function have shifted over time.
by Owen Matthews
Matthews’s book is a spy thriller that doubles as an enthralling history of revolutionary Germany in the 1920s, Tokyo during the country’s prewar militarization, and Moscow in the 1930s.
by Kenneth M. Pollack
Arab militaries have always performed poorly. Pollack, who has studied them for nearly two decades, exhaustively explores four explanations for their ineffectiveness: their reliance on Soviet military doctrine, the politicization of the officer corps, economic underdevelopment, and Arab culture.
by Rory McCarthy
McCarthy travels to Tunisia’s heartland to understand the mindset of devotees of the country’s major Islamic movement, al Nahda, which abandoned its mission of religious transformation in 2016 to become an exclusively political party.
by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi
Morris and Ze’evi tie together the three waves of killing that swept across the Christian population of Anatolia (in modern-day Turkey) from 1894 to 1924. Their book is a gut-wrenching chronicle of human depravity that shows how ordinary people can become barbarians.
Asia and Pacific
by Ming-Sho Ho
This penetrating, theoretically informed study analyzes the large protest movements that erupted in Taiwan and Hong Kong in 2014. Ho suggests that similar resistance may emerge elsewhere if China pushes too hard.
by Anna Fifield
Kim Jong Un was an unlikely heir to the North Korean throne, but from the regime’s perspective, he turned out to be a brilliant choice. If he survives to hand power to a fourth generation, “the most Machiavellian figure of our time” will have achieved a remarkable feat.
by Richard J. Samuels
This engrossing history of Japanese intelligence demonstrates how recent reforms have made Japan a better security partner for the United States while preparing the country to stand on its own if the U.S. security guarantee loses its credibility.
by Mick Moore, Wilson Prichard, and Odd-Helge Fjeldstad
Taxation in Africa remains poorly understood. The authors of this concise and masterly introduction to the topic go some way toward filling that gap. They explain why African tax systems are highly regressive, with poorer citizens paying much higher rates than richer ones.
by Laura Fair
This superb social history of cinema in Tanzania is rich with keen insights into urban life in East Africa throughout the twentieth century. Fair is equally at ease discussing midcentury international film distribution networks as she is explaining the local appeal of obscure Indian movies.
by Nanjala Nyabola
This survey develops some keen insights into the social and political effects of the Internet in Kenya. Nyabola’s conclusions are far from optimistic, exploring how social media may come to undermine Kenyan democracy.