Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Favorite Recent-ish Poli Sci Books

I have been thinking of listing a bunch of my favorite 2000s+ Political Science books, and a variety of circumstances has inspired me to write the list today.  These books make my list because they made me see the world differently.  Most persuaded me of their core arguments, but all made me think and even ask questions I had never asked before.  My reading is fairly random as my interests are fairly wide (I read and research in IR and comparative, in ethnic conflict and civil-military relations).  I read some of these books because I was asked to review the book or the person while some were for courses I was teaching.  And some I just bumped into and then read.

In no particular order:
  • Erin Jenne, Ethnic Bargaining: The Paradox of Minority Empowerment.  The book essentially argues that the more power minority groups have, the more they demand, and then the more likely it is that violence breaks out.  This challenged much of my thinking on ethnic conflict, since I tended to see the denial of access to be a key factor but she finds in some ways that empowering can be just as provocative if not more so.  Erin and I have co-authored since I read the book's ms.
  • Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works.  They find that non-violence is far more effective than violent resistance.  The book is incredibly thorough and persuasive.  Perhaps one of the most important pieces of political science during my career as it has incredibly important ramifications for political change. 
  • Stacie Goddard, Uncommon Ground: Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy.  The book addresses the question of whether a hunk of territory is indivisible or not, which matters greatly since if the territory cannot be divided, conflict becomes zero-sum.  Using the hard cases of Ireland and Jerusalem, Goddard persuades me that indivisibility can vary over time--that it is not fixed but shaped by politics.  
  • Kelly Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy.  One of the most fun and mind-blowing books I have read.  Greenhill explains how and why countries may impose significant costs upon democratic countries by threatening or causing massive waves of migration.  I now see the world differently thanks to this book.
  • Monica Duffy Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence.  Toft takes a variety of data and case studies to argue why territory shapes the likelihood of ethnic violence.  She does one of the best jobs of making the case for the role for group concentration, which is so much more important for ethnic conflict than ethnic fractionalization (my biggest pet peeve in the business).
  • Page Fortna, Does Peacekeeping Work?  It is all in the title.  Using a heap of evidence, Fortna changes my mind about the efficacy of peacekeeping.  Another book with important policy implications.
  • Judith Kelley, Ethnic Politics in Europe: The Power of Norms and Incentives.  I didn't need to construct strawmen for my second book--I had to deal with a pretty power and convincing existing target. Having to deal with this book, made the Steve and Bill book on the joys of xenophobia a better book.  Or at least, I hope so, as Kelley makes some mighty persuasive arguments.
  • Milada Vachudova, Europe Undivided: Democracy, Leverage and Integration After Communism.  See what I said about Kelley.  Just a very good book that made me work harder.
  • Sarah Kreps, Coalitions of Convenience: US Military Interventions After the Cold War.  As I got into the alliance/coalition business, the book helped me dodge the question of why the US chooses to engage in multilateralism or not and could focus on other alliance/coalition questions.  A fun and interesting book that does an excellent job of looking at recent US choices to figure out when the US seeks to use formal alliances or not as it wars.
  • Patricia Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions and Institutions of Interstate Violence.  Weitsman and Kreps cover some similar terrain, but there are some fun nuances in each argument that lead in somewhat different directions.  Weitsman's book is slightly more recent so more of Afghanistan as well as Libya are covered.
So, that's ten terrific books in one decade.  I might have included this if I had been further along in my diaspora project as I would be engaged in more non-state actor stuff or this if I was caught up on my elections and ethnic conflict stuff since it addresses the international politics of elections.  There are obviously other great books that have come out the past thirteen years or so, but these are the ones that come to my mind first.

Sure, more than a few of these folks are now my friends, but I would say that for most, the causal relationship was: "hey, this is a cool book, I should meet them" -> I meet them --> friendship rather than me just listing the books of my friends.  But, as always, my readers should take all of my opinions with whatever grain of salt they find handy. 

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