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4 Books to Get You Started on Contemporary International Politics

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Celine Low

Staff Writer

A dabbler in everything from painting to astronomy, Celine Low graduated from the National University of Singapore with an honours degree in English Literature, surprised that she’d managed to pass at all after failing all those Einstein courses. She decided that if she couldn’t calculate the wonders of the earth she could at least write about their incalculable incomprehensibility, so now she spends most of her time in her glass house of books, where she writes, makes coffee, reads, makes coffee, and tutors English using her giant mirror as a whiteboard. Her fiction works have been published by The Bride of Chaos and Marshall Cavendish, and her illustrated poem “Wild” won second place in the 2014 Eye Level Children’s Literature Awards. If you look for her but don’t find her, she’s probably floating around somewhere lost in the world, soaking and working out its magic through song and silence (and, of course, coffee). Until then, she hopes that the Northern Lights look as good as they do in Google wallpapers. Twitter: @celine_low_ Blog:

Sometimes Hollywood and Netflix makes the U.S. seem like the whole world. Especially if, like me, you have the tendency to click on things in your recommended list. We can really get caught up in a bubble when Netflix or Amazon recommends stuff to us that they know we’ll like, based on our previous purchases. Then the media we’re exposed to doesn’t so much open our minds as reinforce our pre-existing values or beliefs. With Western democracy being increasingly cast in doubt, reading beyond one’s political ideology is now more important than ever (if you’re not convinced, here’re 5 reasons why you should). And that includes broadening our horizons to look at contemporary politics from a global view. So, because I believe in being a well-informed voter, I took a stroll down the Politics section of the library and—boy was it overwhelming! For someone whose only exposure to contemporary international politics was House of Cards, I had to read a truckload to understand just the basics of what’s going on in a few major countries of the world. To save you the trouble of getting lost in a whole labyrinth of political ideology, here’s a list of books about contemporary international politics to get you started.

Conscience of a conservative: A Rejection of destructive politics and a return to principle by jeff flake

A scathing critique of Trump that both Democrats and Republicans can appreciate. I found this a more genuine account of what goes on inside the White House than, say, the New York Times Bestseller Fire and Fury, which reads more like tabloid journalism (that one definitely wins in entertainment value, though—I laughed when I learnt how much Trump hates reading). Some may accuse Senator Flake of hypocrisy, but the book itself takes a well-informed look at the current state of American politics, and makes a compelling call to return to bipartisanship and civility.

How democracies die: What history reveals about our future by steven levitsky and daniel ziblatt

Democracies die when individuals are given power through democratic means and then subvert the system’s rules or principles. In this book, Harvard scholars Levitsky and Ziblatt examine the collapse of modern democracies such as Germany and Italy, laying out the warning signs of authoritarianism that are flashing all too brightly now in Trump-led U.S.

intro to comparative politicsIntroduction to Comparative Politics: The State and Its Challenges By Robert Hislope and Anthony Mughan

Recommended to me by a Pol. Science friend. Quite beginner-friendly. Hislope and Mughan provide an adequate number of case studies, comparing the authoritarian regimes of Myanmar, Kuwait and Paraguay with various systems of democracy. I found the chapter on organised crime most fascinating. It’s rare in a textbook to get such a detailed study of the impact of crime on politics.

The East asian challenge for Democracy: political meritocracy in comparative perspective edited by daniel A. Bell and chenyang li

Here we leave behind the traditional dichotomy of democracy and authoritarianism. Writers of this essay compilation met in Singapore, the only officially meritocratic country that doesn’t reject democracy, to exchange ideas. Comparing the political meritocracy of Singapore and China with its philosophy, history, and practice in the U.S. and UK, this book is a wellspring of political wisdom. As scholars openly weigh the strengths and weaknesses of both democracy and meritocracy, they prompt us to consider how democratic processes of selection can best be integrated with the Confucian ideal of “merit”—be it intelligence or virtue—in public leadership, without falling prey to the corruptive influence of power. Some critics call Singapore an autocracy, but as this writer puts it, at least the escalators work.

What books do you recommend about contemporary international politics?