Like many people, I’ve been trying to catch up on some recreational reading before the summer ends.
I’ve been reading a lot on East Asia, especially China recently. I’m almost done with Deborah Brautigam’s (2009) “The Dragon’s Gift: the Real Story of China in Africa”, which I skimmed through in 2011 for school essays. Brautigam’s main thesis is that China’s engagement with Africa, aimed at mutually beneficial partnerships, is inspired by its experience with Western and Japanese donors during its process of development. I recently started Martin Jacques’ (2009) “When China Rules the World: the End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order”, I picked the book after……watching his TED Talk. It really isn’t as triumphalist as it sounds.
A good counter-point is Joseph S. Nye’s riposte of sorts, “Is the American Century Over?” published this year in which he counters the narrative that China and the ‘Rest’ will eclipse the U.S. His main argument is that though America will decline relatively as the Rest rise, its large population, military power, projection of soft power (Hollywood, media etc) among other factors will enable it maintain its global dominance. I haven’t read it.
Still on the conveyor belt is Joe Studwell’s (2013) “How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region” which was highly recommended by Bill Gates in a blog post last December, but also the biography of General Park Chung Hee and his transformation of South Korea (2013). My interest in East Asia’s transformation stems from the focus of my own doctoral research on the politics of structural economic transformation in Nigeria, because I co-run the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN), but generally because the ‘rise’ of the East is one of the most game-changing phenomena of our generation with immense economic, social and geopolitical implications.
I just finished Tom Burgis’ (2015) “Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth”. I’ll be reviewing it for the OUCAN blog soon.
Other books on my radar include, Morten Jerven’s provocative “Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong” following his tour de force, (2013) “Poor Numbers: How We are Misled By African Development Statistics and What to Do about It”. I got a gist of the book’s thesis after reading a couple of reviews and attending the book launch in Paris several days ago; its partly a polemic directed at development institutions and mainstream economists like Professor Paul Collier. Speaking of which, I am also reading Paul Collier’s (2013) “Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century”. Despite several scathing reviews, I personally think the book is incredibly relevant to understanding policy responses to the politically explosive issue of migration in Europe as Sir Collier is an influential adviser to the British and several other European governments.
For more recent publications, this list by the Financial Times’ Summer Books list has a good coverage especially the economics and politics sections. The magazine, Foreign Affairs, also has a good range, in its May/June capsule reviews. The book by John Siko “Inside South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Africa from Smuts to Mbeki” seems very promising.
My taste in fiction is rather er… unconventional (or maybe too conventional!). I’m currently bingeing on Stephen King’s (2014) “Revival” and will soon move to (2014) “Doctor Sleep”, the sequel to the critically acclaimed “The Shining”. King is a fine writer, the scope of his imagination is unparalleled, and his characters have a certain depth to them, not to mention his ability to combine a vivid portrayal of the daily grind in small-town America with the supernatural. My idea of fiction is purely for the entertainment value, that distracts me from reality as I deal with complex socio-political, economic and global themes on a daily basis in my research. So, I generally go for exciting plots for the temporary high, and tend to avoid deep, emotional, dramatic types. Occasionally I do stray, which is why I just got a copy of the Kenyan author, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s “Dust”. I’m also hoping to finally read Harper Lee’s (1960) “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
What are you reading?