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Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 04:34 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 04:34 | SYDNEY

Lowy Institute's books of the year, part 6


20 December 2013 09:00

Nothwithstanding Sam Roggeveen's claim yesterday that this feature was closed for another year, below are further late entries from eminences associated with the Lowy Institute.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark. Selected by Allan Gyngell, former Lowy Institute Executive Director.

The international relations meme-of-the-year among think tankers and academics has been the rising-power/established-power framing of competition between China and the US. Op-ed pages are awash with warnings that the world is teetering on the brink of World War I.

In these circumstances the Australian-born Cambridge historian Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 has been my book of 2013.

Drawing on prodigious archival research across Europe, Clark offers a compelling account of just what went so catastrophically wrong a century ago. There’s no smoking gun in this story, or, rather, as Clark writes, ‘there is one in the hands of every major character.’ From Belgrade to Berlin, from London to Moscow, the account Clark draws together so masterfully is, in his own words, ‘saturated with agency’. For contemporary policy makers that’s a source of encouragement as well as warning.

Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants by Sunil S Amrith. Selected by regular Interpreter contributor Andrew Selth.

There is always the risk, when focusing one’s research on a single country (in my case Burma), of becoming like the proverbial frog in the well, who only sees the patch of sky directly above.

While it still touches on Burma, I was given a wider perspective this year by Sunil Amrith’s fascinating study of the ebb and flow of populations, cultures, trade and politics around and across the Bay of Bengal. He not only narrates the historical background to these developments but relates them to a range of problems currently being faced by several states in South and Southeast Asia. 

For an informed and balanced look at Burma itself, illustrated by some stunning photographs, I would also recommend Nic Dunlop’s Brave New Burma.

Strategy: A History, by Lawrence Freedman. Selected by regular Interpreter contributor Robert Ayson.

Is it a conflict of interest to name your PhD supervisor’s latest opus as your book of the year? Not when it is Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History, which in my opinion is a once-in-a-generation publication.

I say that not because of the insights King’s College London’s leading public intellectual proffers on Clausewitz and the classical connection between strategy and war. But because as the premier political sociologist of his subject, Freedman also weaves in the strategies of political underdogs and of business pioneers as the second and third legs of a fascinating triangle in the history of strategic ideas. And because, despite the horrors of the last 100 years including two world wars, Hiroshima and the Holocaust, Freedman encapsulates strategy with the moving and hopeful claim that 'all we can do is act as if we can influence events. To do otherwise is to succumb to fatalism.'

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