Summer Reading for IR Hobbyists

PM posted at Duck of Minerva 15 Must-Read books for Poli Sci Students.  The overlap between his list and my list is, well, mighty thin: Hendrik Spruyt’s The Sovereign State and Its Competitors and Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.   I like Michael Ross’s other work but have not read his Oil Curse book.
If the premise is to give students a hint of what academic Poli Sci really is and also to get them into “the systematic study of politics,” I would have a somewhat different list focused more on Comparative Politics and IR (since I deftly avoided American Politics at all levels until I had to teach it).   So, what are my top books to get people into Poli Sci, either as undergrads starting out or for summer reading for those who are unlikely to go to grad school (especially if they listen to us).

  1. Mansur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action.  It is fundamental–why do large groups lose and small groups win?  Why do we fail to cooperate or under-provide?
  2. Alexrod’s Evolution of Cooperation which is a fun read and gets to a key distinction in IR between repeated PD where trust/cooperation can emerge .
  3. Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in Intl Politics. The book that should teach us humility.  That the world is a confusing place, one that we have to perceive and not just process as we get conflicting signals all the time.  The perceptions we make may be systematically biased.  The book also shows how we can profit by stealing from other social sciences.
  4. Robert Gilpin, War and Change.  Simply a fun, fun book that takes Realism and applies it in a most Marxist kind of way.  I wish this was the Realist that got the biggest play beyond the 1980s besides Waltz.
  5. Deborah Avant, Political Institutions and Military Change.  Combines civil-military relations with principal agency theory to compare and contrast the US and the UK in their cold war wars in Southeast Asia.  Sure, this means that we have two books by folks with whom I went to grad school (Hendrik being the other), but Debbi wrote a fun book that affected my thinking and also showed to the UCSD-haters that the school could produce some sharp work in International Security.
  6. Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Rebellion.  Just an amazing book on the dynamics of civil wars, showing how to do lit reviews in ways that are not boring, how to build an argument and test it in different ways, to present a series of case studies that both interest the reader and make a convincing case.  That one of my students targeted it for her dissertation is just more evidence that this book gets heaps of respect.
  7. Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Politics.  Changed the way I think about reputation and where it comes from.  Definitely builds from Jervis so this might seem like duplication, but Jervis presents a series of cognitive biases, while Mercer shows how you can take one bit of social psych to develop predictions in a most interesting way.
  8. Kelly Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration. This book just thrilled me and continues to have much relevance with Libya and Syria.  She argues that weak countries have a potential weapon against stronger ones–the ability to force some of their citizens to flee, producing refugee crises in the recipient states.  This book convinced me to look at the world and key dynamics in ways that I had not considered.
  9. Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire.  Snyder might not consider himself to be a Liberal, but this seemed like a very Liberal theory of international conflict: that states are more likely to go to war when an elite cartel is in power.  You may or may not buy the historical accounts, but the argument itself is provocative and interesting.  If I didn’t recommend this book, I would have recommended Ideology of the Offensive as Snyder is the most interesting of the security scholars revisiting old wars.
  10. Dan Drezner, Theory of International Politics and Zombies.  This is, indeed, summer reading.  And it gets anyone who is curious about IR Theory at all to see how it can be extended.  Yes, to a fictional war, but once we move into the fictional world, we can then see how the various theories can be extended to other realities–alternative pasts and potential futures.  One of the hardest things to get folks to do is to think theoretically–how do we take this theory from context A and move it to context B?  Does the theory help in explaining the different context?  By making it fun, Drezner makes it deceptively easier to think theoretically.
  11. Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  I guess I am a sucker for applying social psych to politics, but this book is an exhaustive effort to understand ethnic conflict.  One can just read pieces and find heaps and heaps of testable hypotheses.
  12. Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches and Bases, as the feminist approach to IR that most shook my brain and intrigued me.*

    * Speaking of feminism, I tried to find an earlier blog post where I came up with a list of a heap of my favorite books by female IR scholars, but I could not find it.  Maybe the old boys network nuked that post?

    There is no critical IR here, as, well, the point of this list is to interest undergrads and engage hobbyists.  I am not a fan of critical IR as it is, to me, hardly ever interesting/readable and rarely really useful for understanding the world today.  Sorry, but them’s my biases and it is my list 😉

I have more current stuff on my shelves that I need to read so take this list with a big grain of salt, but I do think that each of these have and will continue to have enduring relevance.

PM also lists two movies.  For the IR scholar, I would recommend Classic Star Trek which had a heap of episodes that have un-subtle applications, Battlestar Galatica for its Civil-Military Relations, and, as afar as movies go, I would recommend three to start: Wag the Dog, Doctor Strangelove, and  No Man’s Land (about Bosnia and the lameness of the UN).  But I could (and probably have) spend endless posts on movies and television that are fun for political science fans.

Steve Saideman


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