The 2024 Geopolitical Reading List – Encyclopedia Geopolitica – Encyclopedia Geopolitica

2023 has seen another year of shocking events, continuing what seems to be an accelerating trend of global instability. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has now been joined by renewed war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Israel and Palestine, and a series of coups across Africa. All of these have had dramatic consequences across the globe against a backdrop of energy and economic crises, which creates negative feedback loops of instability (as we have explored recently in Egypt’s case). 2024 looks to be no calmer, with BRICS attempting to expand in an attempted challenge to US hegemony, and a looming US election presenting the world with a close-run choice between Atlanticist rules-based order and zero-sum deal-making diplomacy. The outcome of this election will loom over everything next year, acting as a shaping force on global politics, which now sits at a clear split in the road.

In this annual piece – which supplements our regular geopolitical book reviews – we recommend the best books for analysts, students, and global affairs-watchers to better understand what drives geopolitical developments, and what their future consequences could be. We offer two sets of books; team favourites, as well as thematic reading lists. These include favourites from previous years, as well as the best works from this year.

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Team Favourites

Lewis Sage-Passant – Founder and Editor-in-Chief

Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West – Calder Walton – 2023

As an Intelligence scholar, Walton’s truly epic work on the century-long covert struggle between Russia and the Western allies was one of my most eagerly-awaited books of this year. In it, Walton takes the reader through a history of espionage, hostile electoral influence, propaganda, and covert action, to understand the very real war taking place behind the curtains of the Cold War. This underlines a theme that has emerged in recent geopolitical analysis; that the West is once again in a war with hostile powers that it hasn’t fully realised it is fighting. With the resurgent conflict with Russia in Ukraine, and the new Cold War with China an ever-present factor in geopolitics, the lessons provided in “Spies” are of value to international relations scholars and analysts of any level.

Decision Advantage: Intelligence in International Politics from the Spanish Armada to Cyberwar – Jennifer E. Sims – 2022

Continuing with the theme of intelligence books with lessons for geopolitics, Sims outstanding work discusses the competitive advantages that intelligence provides to governments and decision-makers. Sims argues that having better intelligence than your adversary allows you to “out-decide” them; you can make key decisions more quickly and with a better foundation for your judgements. As recent events have demonstrated, intelligence remains a crucial and deciding factor in geopolitics, and this is unlikely to change in the coming year. In fact, with a growing number of complex international events demanding the attention of policy-makers, understanding how they remain informed will be critical for understanding the decisions that they make. Sims’ work is complex, yet accessible, and is appropriate for intermediate-level readers and geopolitics watchers.

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations – Ronen Bergman – 2019

Although ostensibly a history of Israel’s targeted assassination programme, “Rise and Kill First” is also a fantastic book for orienting the reader in the history of conflict surrounding the state of Israel, and for better contextualising Israel’s turbulent relationship with its neighbours. Ronen Bergman combines rigorous research with an accessible writing style to walk the reader through Israel’s covert warfare programme from its origins in insurgent warfare against the British Palestinian Mandate, through to its modern form. With the dramatic and tragic return of conflict to the region this year, understanding how Israel wages war, both openly and in the shadows, will be utterly crucial for understanding the region’s trajectory in 2024. This book is engaging and accessible, and is suitable for readers at all levels.

The Weaponisation of Everything – Mark Galeotti – 2022

One of the foremost Kremlinologists and experts on Russia in general, Mark Galeotti examines how conflict is changing to incorporate more non-military means, such as disinformation, criminality, law, and culture. Galeotti argues that this change has come about as global interdependence, cost, and a lower tolerance for casualties have reduced the acceptability of traditional military conflict. At the same time, he argues, the pressures that drive states to attack one another remain. As such, states have turned to novel solutions within the domain of hybrid warfare, and these new “weapons” are challenging the ability of traditional security systems to keep pace. As with all of his works, Galeotti’s style is entertaining, informative, and accessible, and this book is appropriate for all levels of geopolitical reader. In particular, however, Russia-watchers, and those with an interest in hybrid warfare will find this book useful.

Bloc by Bloc – Steven Weber – 2019

In my role as a geopolitical advisor to international corporations, I have found myself constantly recommending this particular book over the past year. In it, Weber examines the challenges globalisation faces, and argues that rather than returning to nationalistic isolationism, we are entering a new type of global economy. In it, he argues, regional geopolitical-economic power blocs will be the shaping force. With rising protectionism, a return to great power competition and state-level industrial policy, this theory appears as a likely outcome. Organisations ranging from multinational corporations through to humanitarian operations, Weber argues, will need to completely reshape themselves to successfully operate in this new environment, with the centralised global organisation seeming less viable every year. “Bloc by Bloc” is a deep dive into organisational geopolitical strategy, and as such is mostly appropriate for advanced readers with a specific interest in global economics and corporate geopolitics.

The Shield of Achilles – Philip Bobbitt – 2003

One of the most impactful books on my way of viewing the world that I have ever read, the Shield of Achilles was previously included in our 2021 reading list. Given the events of this year, I have included the book again, as it seems to be one of the most important theses on the nature of the state and its ability to provide security to its citizens. In it, Bobbitt redefines and redraws recent history into an epic struggle between the forces of communism, fascism and parliamentarianism through the 1914-1990 “Long War” between the three competing systems. Bobbitt uses this lens to re-craft our view of states through their evolution into nation-states, and onwards into a post-Long War next stage: the Market State. Written in the days prior to 9/11, but published shortly afterwards, Bobbitt argued that nation-states would struggle to sufficiently protect citizens against the modern market of threats, and that a leaner, more privatised, less governed Market State would be more survivable in this environment. Bobbitt doesn’t necessarily argue in favour of the Market State, but instead views it as a grim reality facing 21st Century society. Through the lens provided by this book, geopolitical analysts are likely to better understand events such as Brexit, Trump, the wars in Ukraine and Israel, and various other challenges around the world, and how they potentially represent the swan-song of the nation-state. A challenging read, the Shield of Achilles is nonetheless essential reading for advanced geopolitical analysts.

Precision: A history of American warfare – James Patton Rogers – 2023

Although Dr Rogers is far too modest to include his own work in our reading list, as a member of the Encyclopedia Geopolitica family, we couldn’t possibly omit his new book from this list. An expert on drone warfare (which you can listen to us discuss with James in our “How to Conduct a Drone Strike” episode of the “How to get on a Watchlist” podcast), James argues that America’s quest to achieve precision in war began in 1917, and that precision has been a significant, if not always achievable, feature of American strategic thought for more than a hundred years. The book takes readers on a journey through the twentieth century, highlighting the innovative thinkers of the First World War, the experimental technologies of the Second World War and the surprising Cold War nuclear strategies that made precision the dominant feature it is today. From Russia’s offensive war in Ukraine to Libya, Ethiopia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the conflicts of the twenty-first-century are being fought with precision weapons. We recommend this book for all military strategy and conflict analyst readers.

Simon Schofield – Editor

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry That Unravelled the Middle East – Kim Ghattas – 2020

2023 will now – in large part – be defined by the horrifying events of the 7th October, also coming to be known as the Black Sabbath, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, butchering as many as 1,400 civilians, including children and the elderly in their homes, and teenagers at a music festival. This event will be looked back on as an inflection point that forever alters the dynamics of the Middle East. Whilst a smoking gun has not yet been found, accusations have been directed towards the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps, which, having traditionally sought to strike Israel, had a broader goal in mind: derailing the peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This atrocity is the latest chapter in a rivalry that has dictated the fate of the region since 1979, and it cannot be understood without first looking at how and why Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fighting this decades-long shadow war. Kim Ghattas has written a beautifully eloquent chronicle of this bitter contest, and laid the foundations for a better understanding of the bigger picture that drove the currents of history to the events of 7th October.

A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism – Daniel Byman – 2013

If October 7th is among those events which define 2023, 2024 is likely to be defined, at least in part, by the Israeli response to the attacks. It has been made clear that their plans are to lay siege to Hamas in Gaza, with the ultimate goal of destroying it as an organisation and establishing a security buffer between Israel and Gaza, aiming to ensure such an attack cannot ever again take place. Israel has a long history of counterterrorism operations against Hamas and its ideological forebears, and has won stunning successes, as well as suffered devastating losses. Georgetown Professor Daniel Byman delivers an authoritative account of these campaigns, charting the peaks, troughs, and evolving strategy of Israeli counterterrorism efforts since 1948 up to 2013.

Aleksandra Szylkiewicz – Deputy Editor

The Age of AI – Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher – 2022

With Chat GPT and other generative AI technologies fully entering the global arena in the past couple of years, “The Age of AI” brings together three intellectuals to help us think about this tremendously important topic that can no longer be ignored and will deeply impact our societies and to how we interact and live. By exploring where it all began and where it’s headed, Kissinger, Schmidt and Huttenlocher cover a vast array of areas that will be transformed by AI, including security and the world order. An essential for geopolitics aficionados and anyone trying to make sense of the present and future.

Super-forecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction – Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner – 2015

While originally published in 2015, “Super-forecasting” remains a timely read and hence undeniably deserves a spot on everyone’s 2024 reading list. Combining truly insightful knowledge with a fresh twist of humour, Tetlock and Gardner offer a manual to navigate a world of geopolitical shifts, changing alliances and increasing uncertainties. While based on hard data from The Good Judgment Project, which Tetlock co-created in 2011 and which analyses “the wisdom of the crowd to forecast world events”, “Super-forecasting” is an easy and entertaining read to help us overcome our cognitive biases when thinking about the present and future. Plus: The “Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters” featured in the annex are a solid reference point to repeatedly go back to and constantly improve our analytical and forecasting skills. This one does not go out of style.

Edwin Tran – Levant Region Analyst and “How to get on a Watchlist” Producer

Erdoğan’s War: A Strongman’s Struggle at Home and in Syria – Gönül Tol – 2023

On May 14, 2023, Turkey underwent presidential elections. Most narratives focused on the fight between Islamism and secularism. Scenes leading up to the election showed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reciting the Quran in the Hagia Sophia, while his opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, paid homage to the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. These portrayals failed to examine the deeper nuances, and especially the context behind Erdoğan’s rise. Rather than just identifying Erdoğan as an Islamist, Gönül Tol expertly dissects the different components that amount to the figure of Erdoğan. From his days promoting the European Union, to his rising populist sentiments, to his military forays into Syria, Erdoğan’s War is a fantastic work that shines a deeper light into the modern figure of Turkey’s current president. This book is recommended for Levant and Europe-watchers, to understand one of the most important nations in the region.

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict – Walter Laqueur and Dan Schueftan – 2016

The eruption of war between Israel and Hamas has led to a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though this conflict never ended, many had assumed it would simmer away, and other states were ready to look in other directions. However, the actions of Hamas on October 7 and Israel’s military reprisals have led many to look back at this conflict and consider why it is still ongoing. The Israel-Arab Reader is a seminal work in that it examines the primary sources directly involved in creating the modern conflict. From the Balfour Declaration to the Camp David Accords, this work cuts no corners and shows you the sources as they are. This book is essential reading for those trying to understand the current conflict, and its impact on the wider Levant.

Note from Lewis: Edwin is far too humble to self-promote, but I want to let readers know that in addition to producing the “How to get on a Watchlist” podcast for us, he also has his own podcast called “Nomads and Empires“, which discusses the history of the Eurasian Steppe. If you’re a history buff, I strongly recommend checking it out! It’s also very relaxing listening to put in the background of a game of Civ!

John Fee – Northern Europe Security Analyst

The Future of Geography – Tim Marshall – 2023

In a world where geopolitical tensions are as volatile as ever, the boundaries of its consequences are no longer confined to the Earth’s surface. Tim Marshall’s ‘The Future of Geography’ explores the intriguing and often neglected realm of “astropolitics”, where the importance of space is growing for states both militarily and economically, leading to increasing competition beyond our skies. The looming competition for space supremacy is vividly depicted, as Marshall aptly points out that states are investing heavily in the sector, given the potential consequences of not keeping pace. The author’s analysis of the ongoing competition draws a compelling parallel to the historical exploration and exploitation of the New World—underscoring how the discovery and colonisation of the Americas shaped the last 500 years of history and gave rise to American hegemony. There is every reason to believe the limitless possibilities of outer space hold a similar potential for the victors of this new frontier. Because of this, the great powers of the Pale Blue Dot are locked in arms to ensure no single entity can attain supremacy. For those who want an accessible and engaging exploration of astropolitics and its potential implications, look no further.

The Russo-Ukrainian War – Serhii Plokhy – 2023

Amid the turbulent backdrop of European warfare, Serhii Plokhy’s “The Russo-Ukrainian War” provides a timely and insightful account of the roots of the conflict that has shaken the world order—delving into the centuries-old entanglement of Russia and Ukraine to unveil the shared heritage and diverging paths which have led to the current conflict. Starting with the long view, the author discusses the historical myths surrounding the region, notably wielded by Russian President Vladimir Putin to assert Russia’s role in contemporary Ukrainian affairs. Such historical myths have arguably been instrumental in shaping Russian foreign policy to legitimise territorial expansion and political control of Ukraine. The author traces the collapse of the Russian empire, the rise and fall of the USSR, and the democracy movement that culminated in the defeat of the Kremlin’s interests during Euromaidan and Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas in 2014—before chronicling Russia’s escalation of the conflict on February 24, 2022. Plokhy’s work will be of interest to those seeking to understand the deeper causes of the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Archie Hicox – Military Analysis Expert

The Russian Way of War – Dr Lester W Grau – 2016

While the conflict in the Middle East has split much of the world’s focus, the war in Ukraine grinds on and continues to have a large impact on global affairs. Understanding how Russia fights is therefore crucial. The Russian Way of War provides an accessible but incredibly detailed summary of how Russia’s military fights; everything from their lack of NCO corps to their use of tactical nuclear weapons. Understanding Russian tactics in Ukraine becomes much easier with this book, helping the analyst to use factual knowledge rather than the doctrinal chaos of their invasion. This book is of particular use for military watchers and those examining the functioning of post-Soviet forces.

Eamon Driscoll – Russia and Former Soviet Spaces Analyst

I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country – Elena Kostyuchenko – 2023

The author of this book takes the view that Russia is a beautiful country with a rich culture and a horrible government. This book is less about geopolitics as it is about the lives of ordinary Russian citizens and their struggles to cope with the challenges of living under that government. They face inequality, injustice, and indifference from the authorities who are making the best of their connections. For those who ask why Russians don’t overthrow the government, why they don’t act in the fact of obvious malevolence, this is the book to view the situation on the ground in the Russian Federation. In the West, we have not endured the chaos of the 1990s following the collapse of the USSR and the timid, tentative steps towards representative government. This kind of honest reporting is unlikely to come back again soon due to strict censorship laws and penalties for those who speak out against the regime and recognise the “special military operation” for what actually is. This book is recommended for watchers of Russian domestic politics, and how that impacts its broader geopolitical engagements.

How to Slay a Dragon: Building a New Russia After Putin – Mikhail Khodorkovsky – 2023

Sometimes tipped as a potential future Russian leader, Khodorkovsky here sets out his vision of what Russia could be. Throughout its history, Russia has gone back and forth between revolution and autocracy but never found its footing as a stable democratic state. Through his own experience as an oligarch, a political prisoner, and living in self-imposed exile, and through his perspective on Russian history, Khodorkovsky lays out his path towards a truly open society that lives in peace with its neighbours and represents a force for good in the world, as a partner of nations, not an adversary. The aspirational trajectory of this book parallels what many observers of Russia, as well as many of those in the above-mentioned “I Love Russia”, may hope for – a Russian Federation free of the crippling stranglehold of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. This book is also recommended for watchers of domestic Russian politics.

Russia’s War Against Ukraine: The Whole Story – Dr Mark Edele – 2023

For centuries, Russia and Ukraine operated in tandem as brother Slavic nations. But the geopolitical cataclysm that was the 1991 collapse of the USSR set these siblings on their own trajectory for the first time. Though both were troubled by corruption, Russia returned to an autocratic regime paranoid about NATO expansion and wary of the colour revolutions in its former SSRs. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution was one of those, and while Ukraine’s trajectory was one of chaotic youthful democratic bickering (fist fights in the Verkhovna Rada make for great YouTube clips), its identity as a unified country in its own right never truly coalesced until the Russian invasion. For those who want to understand how these two nations found themselves deep in the largest European war since 1945, Edele’s book will help provide the illumination.

Cormac McGarry – Maritime Security and Global Geopolitics Expert

The Defender’s Dilemma: Identifying and Deterring Gray-Zone Aggression – Elisabeth Braw  – 2022

Your reviewer, who works primarily in the maritime security space, has shifted much of his focus in helping ship and cargo owners from “traditional” maritime security issues, such as piracy, to grand geopolitical risk, including whether one’s ship will get harassed or mined by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or if one’s subsea cables may be cut by ominous looking “research” vessels. Elisabeth Braw has been covering such incidents of gray-zone aggression for some years with numerous articles in Politico, Financial Times, The Washington Post, the American Enterprise Institute and elsewhere, reacting to acts of such aggression that have seemingly become so common. With her book, rather than reacting, Braw is categorising how and why this gray-zone aggression is playing out and what exactly states can do about it. If she is right, the gray-zone will be a key geopolitical battleground in 2024 as she aptly forecasts that the concept is not temporary, rather its drivers are accelerating, and that the West is behind the game. This book is therefore critical reading for analysts looking to expand their understanding of liminal warfare.

The Education of an Idealist – Samantha Power – 2019

Samantha Power’s autobiography chronicles her career up to entering and exiting her role as US Ambassador to the UN under the Obama administration. Her story gives a step-by-step account of what happens when a pragmatic, highly critical war correspondent devoted to preventing genocide gets to the policy table. She captures the minutia of American diplomacy, from the odd adversarial friendship shared with her Russian counterpart while making hundreds of ambassadorial phone calls to get one word (“gay”) even mentioned in the UN, to suddenly preventing genocide in South Sudan. Power closes the book with a lens on the panic and uncertainty in the UN preceding the incoming Trump administration in 2017: a dash by Power’s team to ensure hard fought diplomatic allies need not falter, that promises of US support underpinning the bets and compromises they made in the UN and domestically would not be reneged; the incumbent diplomatic corps watching adversaries circle around America’s uncertain foreign policy future. A repeat of that uncertainty may well play out again in late 2024, and as such, this book is recommended for geopolitical analysts of all levels, but especially those seeking to understand the functioning of international organisations such as the UN.

The State of Africa – Martin Meredith – 2005

The 21 st Century is still young and many an African – as well as watchers from afar – still forecast it to be the African century. Africa is arguably the most geopolitically complicated of the continents, to simply forecast the century as Africa’s is to pay no attention to the highly complex web of nation-states, many of whose borders continue to be shaped and regularly challenged by internal strife and belligerent neighbours. Africa cannot be understood as a single continental entity, as one block, no more or less so than Europe or South America. Nor can any single African state be truly understood without the broad concept of what Africa is. Meredith does the best one can to address both sides of this coin, by capturing pan-African concepts and digging into individual countries, their post-colonial births and revolutionary periods up to contemporary successes and failures. What Meredith does not do is chronicle colonial or pre-colonial Africa, an omission that many a non-African author has been criticised for. But this is not Meredith’s mission. Indeed, getting one’s head around any African nation, or any country generally, is not advised without at least some delving into pre-20th Century history. But in attempting to capture what happened across the continent in the 20th century and how its modern shapes came to be, Meredith does well in the State of Africa – a vital handbook to start framing one’s mind as to where Africa may be headed in 2024 and beyond.

Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic – Michael Axworthy – 2013 (2023 paperback edition)

The Middle East will once again be a core focus of global geopolitical tension in 2024, with Iran front of stage. Axworthy’s Revolutionary Iran is the starting point for anyone wanting to understand the domestic politics and foreign policy of The Islamic Republic. The late Axworthy, head of the British Foreign Office’s Iran section in the late 1990’s, was both diplomat and academic with the studies and face-to-face experience combined with an eloquent writing style to imbue the reader with a rich context of where current Iranian political culture comes from. This is a history book that wants to challenge the bias and ignorance so often adopted by western thinkers on Iran – precisely the audience Axworthy seems to be aiming for. He offers a clinical yet empathetic story telling of Shia Islam and Zoroastrianism, a riveting account of Iran under the Shah, the miscalculations of both London and DC in the decades before the 1979 revolution and since. Crucially, through this history, he offers the perspective of the revolutionaries and a glimpse into the heart of the political system they created. Axworthy’s explanation of the Iran-Iraq war is perhaps this books’ greatest achievement and, although written in 2013, the outcome of this book is to ensure that readers don’t think of Iran in contemporary isolation. One cannot forecast or understand the Islamic Republic’s role in 2024 without the historical perspectives so well captured by Michael Axworthy. As such, this book is truly critical reading for Middle East and Iran watchers for the coming year.

Colin Reed – International Security Analyst

Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela – William Neuman – 2022

Looking back at the early 2010s origins of Venezuela’s slide into ignominy from the vantage point of the middle 2020s, one is struck by the Hemingway-esque manner in which its own particular collapse of governance took place “gradually, and then all at once.” In a decade that would come to witness governance collapses everywhere around the globe, Venezuela’s descent into chaos was an early indicator of the global “permacrisis” environment we now inhabit. William Neuman’s “man on the street” approach to rapportage from the inside as the slow-moving disaster unfolded is a time capsule to a time when people simply didn’t believe things could get as bad as they did. As both a primer of the Venezuelan crisis and an exemplar of modern political rapportage, “Things Are Never so Bad” is a compelling account that paints a vivid picture of the suffering endured by the Venezuelan people while shedding light on the political and economic factors that led to this tragic collapse. It’s also something of a masterclass in how to tackle complex political subjects in our attention-span-sapped age – through the drip feed of stories, the readers’ overall understanding of how catastrophe unfolds comes gradually, gradually, and then all at once. 

The Origins of Victory: How Disruptive Military Innovation Determines the Fates of Great Powers – Andrew F. Krepinevich – 2023

In the land of U.S. defence policy wonks, a man named Andrew Marshall was once king. Marshall, who was, until his death in 2019 at age 97, also known in the extraordinarily wonky circles of defence planning as “the Pentagon’s Yoda,” for decades ran the Office of Net Assessment for the United States Department of Defense. As such, Marshall for many decades dominated the brain of the largest military bureaucracy on earth. But if Marshall was Yoda, Andrew F. Krepinevich was something like his Padawan learner. Krepinevich, while working under Marshall at the Office of Net Assessment, became in many ways the founder of modern US military doctrine when he wrote a paper in 1992 called “The Military-Technical Revolution: A Preliminary Assessment,” an influential document in the development of thinking about the “Revolution in Military Affairs.” This work contributed substantially to thinking which sought to evaluate US successes during the Gulf War and which led subsequently to the development of the US military’s highly network-centric version of precision warfare. All of this is to say that when Andy Krepenvich publishes a book about conceptualizing military innovations, the entire defence world tends to sit up and take notice. Combining historical details with contemporary analysis, Krepenevich does not disappoint in  “Origins,” presenting a compelling argument about the crucial role that innovation has played throughout military history. Moving from ancient examples to more modern concepts, he skilfully weaves together historical narratives and insightful analysis, providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of how disruptive military innovation has altered the course of nations. One of the standout features of this book is Krepinevich’s ability, legendary in the defence policy sphere, to distil complex ideas into an accessible format. Still, some less motivated by examinations of military manuals and theories of victory may find the work a bit dense; beach reading this is not, and a notebook and pen are more likely reading companions than a cold adult beverage. Additionally, the book’s focus on great powers and their strategic outlook do not fully address the dynamics of asymmetric warfare or the experiences of smaller nations, making this a book by the U.S. defence establishment for the U.S. defence establishment as the great power seeks to maximize its advantages in the 21st Century. Still, at a time of rapid technological change, many look to Krepenevich to carry the torch as the Pentagon’s new “Yoda.” Though it may not be a light read, its depth and breadth make it a cornerstone in the study of military innovation and its impact on global affairs.

Special Duty: A History of the Japanese Intelligence Community – Richard J. Samuels – 2019

Now a few years old, I came to Samuel’s history of Japan’s intelligence community this year in an effort to explore how legacy bureaucratic conditions are impacting current reforms to Japan’s maligned intelligence community as it seeks to confront rising threats from China. Samuel’s legacy as a chronicler of Japanese history means this work is deeply researched, and its 384 page run is a shockingly brief stay for what could in other hands have become a tomb to rival Christopher Andrew. Indeed, my biggest issue with this work is in its speedy approach to decades of history; the entirety of Japanese intelligence in the Second World War receives a single chapter, as does the entire Cold War period. In its brevity and speed, this becomes far less a “history” than a “summary.” Perhaps some space could have been reclaimed for deeper examination if Samuels had avoided a lengthy conceptual first chapter devoted to reinventing a system for interrogating intelligence organizations and their successes and failures; Samuels seems unaware that an entire field of intelligence studies exists from which he could have drawn a more successful model of analysis, instead choosing to invent his own version to carry out his study. Still, despite these shortcomings, this is an informative work for analysts following current day efforts to reform and improve Japanese intelligence, one which pulls out a number of lingering bureaucratic conditions which persist in modern Japanese intelligence cultures. Whether those cultures can successfully shake off these legacy pathologies will be one of the defining questions of the Asia-Pacific security landscape in the coming years, and for filling a yawning gap in the literature, Samuel’s effort is a fine initial read. 

Alex Smith – Asia Pacific and China Military Affairs Analyst

Invisible China – Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell – 2022

If I told you that the world could be plunged into a global recession because grandmothers in rural China believe intestinal worms are necessary to digest food, you would probably think me an idiot. This, of course, is not an argument that Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell make in their 2020 work Invisible China – at least not directly – but it is a possible (if tenuous) scenario if warnings raised by the book are not heeded. Invisible China is not a book about security or geopolitics, it isn’t really even a book about economics, but rather about early child development in rural China. Far from the bright lights and skyscrapers that many associate with the Chinese economic miracle, Rozelle and Hell look to the poor, rural interior that provides the cheap, unskilled labour that has fuelled the country’s economic boom, where a chronic underinvestment in human capital for 64% of the population has left the Chinese workforce of the future insufficiently educated to avoid the middle income trap. The authors expose these issues based on extensive research and highlight a number of factors stunting the development of rural children, from undiagnosed anaemia, poor eyesight, well-intentioned but outdated parenting methods… and intestinal worms. Structural issues such as China’s pervasive hukou system, decentralised education funding and the sheer speed of China’s growth are also examined, along with recommendations for tackling the problems from the most basic, local level up to major policy changes. Overall Invisible China is a punchy, forcefully argued and compassionate exposition of a dangerously overlooked factor affecting China’s economy which, should its worst predictions come true, could have a devastating impact on the Chinese and therefore global economies. While the subject matter is not standard fayre for security analysts, Invisible China is a valuable read to understand the dynamics shaping the China of today and potentially the world of tomorrow.

Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology – Chris Miller – 2022

Chip War by Chris Miller follows the semiconductor, or microchip, from its invention in the late 1940s in a lab in the US to the incredibly complex supply chains and manufacturing processes of today. Accessible rather than overly technical, Chip War will give you a new appreciation for the mind-boggling feats of engineering that are needed for modern chip production, the incredibly complex global supply chains, and the central importance the technology has for modern military and geopolitical competition. It also explains how and why so few companies have come to dominate the sector and drives a tank through naïve theories that X or Y country can magic up a leading, domestic chip industry with some financial investment and a can-do attitude. If you have any interest in the history of computing, Silicon Valley, supply chains, Cold War history, or current geopolitics, you need to read Chip War.

End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration – Peter Turchin – 2023

What causes societies to collapse into revolution and war? Peter Turchin seeks to explain and form models to predict such events through the use of Cliodynamics; the controversial practice which aims to bring scientific method to social science. In End Times Turchin lays out structural drivers of political instability, drawing on historical examples ranging from mediaeval France and the Taiping Rebellion to the Arab Spring to illustrate his theory. While much of the contemporary analysis is focussed on the US, there is much to interest those seeking to understand the world today. As well as an interestingly different take on world events Turchin seeks to use data and mathematics to predict – and also prevent – societal instability, and while historians may take issue with the field of cliodynamics, if Turchin is correct, our own age of instability is only just beginning. 

Charlie Song – Global Security Affairs Analyst

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race – Nicole Perlroth – 2021

Nicole Perlroth, a former cybersecurity reporter for the New York Times, does a spectacular job in tracing the history of cyberweapons and how it has become an arms race. Her writing style makes what could have been a dry, technical affair into a fast-paced Tom Clancy-esque read that covers the practice of the NSA scanning typewriters, to buying exploits for hundreds of dollars, to the current state of governments using private firms as cut-outs to buy cyber exploitation tools. The backdrop against this history is how the unregulated use of cyberweapons could lead to massive societal collapse once reserved for nuclear weapons. Perlroth details how the current state of cyberwarfare and its offense orientation and focus on the acquisition and use of exploits has made it a ‘soccer game where the score is 462-452 twenty minutes into the game.’ The prominence of cyber threats has become more of a concern but if Nicole Perlroth’s book is only half accurate, the cyber realm is an unrestricted battlefield where the risk of collateral damage is all but guaranteed.

More book suggestions, sorted thematically, can be found below!

Geopolitical Context

World events continue to tilt away from stability; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has evolved into a grinding war of attrition, and has been joined by wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Israel and Hamas. Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo continue to simmer, threatening to break out into another European war.

Economies have been strained to breaking point in many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. This has been felt keenly in Lebanon, which is still struggling to recover from the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, which devastated the nation’s grain supplies. Lebanon is still home to 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and with the price of bread skyrocketing as the Lira continues to devalue, they have been plunged into greater hardship. The eruption of war on its southern border has lead to widespread fears that Hezbollah will pull Lebanon into a conflict it can ill afford. Egypt also faces grim economic prospects, and the war on its northeastern border threatens an influx of refugees it too can ill afford. Inflation has reached double digits across much of the world, driving a vicious feedback loop of instability, conflict, and economic hardship. Africa has this year developed a “coup belt”, running across the Sahel, following the shocking events in Niger. France has begun withdrawing from the region, prompting fears of a security vacuum that could facilitate a resurgence of Islamist militancy and uncontrolled migration. Dramatic storms in Libya add to the region’s pressures. In the Caribbean, Haiti finds itself devoid of elected governance and overrun by armed gangs. Changes to the content moderation approaches of certain social media platforms has thrown fuel on the fire of global unrest, allowing disinformation to flourish to levels not seen since 2016. While our prediction last year that we would see an “Everywhere Spring” seems to have been premature, pressures continue to mount and populations seem increasingly restive.

As anticipated last year, a new geopolitics of energy has emerged as major producers of oil and gas vie to fill the vacuum caused by sanctions on Russian exports, and technological centres scramble to develop new innovations to reduce and avoid fossil fuel use. Those who can forge new energy chains, and those who can break free of the carbon shackles altogether, will stand greatly to benefit. This winter will likely be less fraught for Europe, with LNG supplies from the US, Qatar, and Australia now a firmly established as an alternative to Russian pipelines. That said, the twin threat of infrastructure sabotage and crisis in the Middle East threatens to wreak havoc on already-fragile markets. Add Australian LNG terminal strikes, and Europe’s recent pro-nuclear power moves seem more logical.

In Europe, political challenges continue as the continent braces for a possible second Trump presidency next year, amidst a war on its periphery. France continues to push for Macron’s vision of European strategic autonomy, however the implementation of this plan remains hotly contested. That said, the EU’s cohesion has in many ways improved. The Meloni government in Italy has remained surprisingly transatlanticist and aligned with the EU on geopolitical matters. The ouster of PiS in Poland and establishment of a governing coalition under former European Council president Donald Tusk will help draw Poland back into alignment, while simultaneously further isolating Hungary’s Viktor Orban. The UK has also significantly moderated its approach to EU relations, seemingly recognising the realities of economic gravity. With an election in 2024 that looks extremely likely to bring the centrist Keir Starmer to 10 Downing Street, the Truss-era frictions are likely to recede further.

As we predicted last year, globalisation has continued its march towards fragmentation in 2023, with foreign direct investment flows now broadly tracking along geopolitical lines (as evidenced by a comparison of UN voting trends and FDI flows). We expect the future international economy to be set up into camps around major players such the USA and China. This has been intensified by great power industrial policy’s return in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, and an intensification of similar measures by the EU and China. The expansion of BRICS, as fraught with problems as it is, demonstrates a desire in much of the world to challenge existing structures.

We anticipate that 2024 will continue to witness major geopolitical shifts. With the US elections in November looming, a stark choice between Atlanticist rules-based order and zero-sum deal-making diplomacy beckons. This will hang over every aspect of geopolitics through the year, hamstringing global decision-making and introducing major uncertainty. In addition to the team favourites listed above, we therefore recommend the following thematic reading:

Purchases made using the links in this article earn referral payments for Encyclopedia Geopolitica. As an independent publication, our writers are volunteers from within the professional geopolitical intelligence community, and referrals like this support our ability to create future content by funding server time and domain fees. As such, we strongly encourage to liberally indulge in your book-buying urges through our links! You can also support Encyclopedia Geopolitica on Patreon, where you can get access to special perks while helping to contribute to the running costs of the site!

Thematic Reading List


Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World (2023) Bethany Allen

The China Record: An Assessment of the People’s Republic (2023) Fei-Ling Wang

Spies and Lies: How China’s Greatest Covert Operations Fooled the World (2022) Alex Joske

Cold Rivals: The New Era of US-China Strategic Competition (2023) Evan S Madeiros et al.

Great Power Clashes along the Maritime Silk Road (2023) Grant Frederick Rhode

1947-1957, India: the Birth of a Republic (2023) Chandrachur Ghose

South vs North: India’s Great Divide (2023) Nilakantan RS

India before Europe (2022) Catherine B Asher

The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India” (2021) Vijay Gokhale

Japan’s Quiet Leadership (2023) Mireya Solis

Judgement at Tokyo: World War II on Trial and the Making of Modern Asia (2023) Gary J Bass

Europe, Russia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (2013) Thomas de Waal

Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War (Photography collection) (2022) Carol Guzy et al

Rebuilding Ukraine: Principles and Policies (2022) CEPR

Fixing France: How to Repair a Broken Republic (2023) Nabila Ramdani

Can Ireland Be One? (2022) Malachi O’Doherty

We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958 (2021) Fintan O’Toole

Britain Alone: The Path from Suez to Brexit (2021) Philip Stephens

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia” (2015) Peter Pomerantsev

Splitting Europe: The EU, Russia, and the West (2022) Jens Stilhoff Sörensen

Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany (2023) Katja Hoyer

Iron and Blood: A Military History of the German-Speaking Peoples since 1500 (2023) Peter H. Wilson

Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World (2023) Christopher Clark

Middle East

Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Rivalry that Unravelled the Middle East (2021) Kim Ghattas

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2001) Michael Oren

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (2009) David Fromkin

Hezbollah: A Short History (2018) Augustus Richard Norton

Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement (2010) Beverley Milton-Edwards & Stephen Farrell

Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth (2022) Noa Tishby

Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power (2021) Bradley Hope & Justin Scheck

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East (2011) James Barr

Security Politics in the Gulf Monarchies: Continuity Amid Change (2023) David B. Roberts

Qatar and the Gulf Crisis (2020) Kristian Coates Ulrichsen

The Political History of Modern Iran (2023) Ali Rahnema

Women, Life, Freedom: Our Fight for Human Rights and Equality in Iran (2023) Nasrin Sotoudeh


White Malice: The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa (2021) Susan Williams

The Lumumba Plot: The Secret History of the CIA and a Cold War Assassination (2023) Stuart Reid

Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa (2018) Scott MacEachern

The Islamic State in Africa: The Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront (2022) Jason Warner Et Al

Red Africa: Reclaiming Revolutionary Black Politics (2023) Kevin Ochieng Okoth


Drug Wars and Covert Netherworlds: The Transformations of Mexico’s Narco Cartels (2021) James Creechan

American Breakdown (2023) Gerard Baker

The Ecology of Nations: American Democracy in a Fragile World Order (2023) John M. Owen IV

Profiles in Ignorance: How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber (2023) Andy Borowitz

Informational Warfare

How to Lose the Information War (2020) Nina Jankowicz

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media (2019) P. W. Singer

This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (2019) Peter Pomerantsev


Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology (2022) Chris Miller

The Age of AI: And Our Human Future (2021) Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher

Climate Change and Energy

International Relations in the Anthropocene: New Agendas, New Agencies and New Approaches (2021) David Chandler, Franziska Miller, and Delf Rothe (Eds)

Democracy in a Hotter Time: Climate Change and Democratic Transformation (2023) David W. Orr (Ed)

The Ministry for the Future: A Novel (2020) Kim Stanley Robinson

Communicating Global Crises: Media, War, Climate, and Politics (2023) Yahya Kamalipour & John Pavlik (Eds)

General Geopolitics and Warfare

Precision: A history of American warfare (2023) James Patton Rogers

Understanding Urban Warfare (2022) Liam Collins and John Spencer

The Politics of Command (2022) Sir Lawrence Freedman

White Sun War (2023) Maj Gen Mick Ryan

Border Wars: The conflicts of tomorrow (2022) Klaus Dodds

Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags (2017) Tim Marshall

The Small States Club: How Small Smart Powers Can Save the World (2023) Armen Sarkissian

The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict (2022) Yoram Dinstein

Books That Will Make You A Better Analyst

How Spies Think (2020) Sir David Omand

Why Spy? (2020) Brian Stewart & Samantha Newbery

Spies, Lies, and Algorithms (2022) Amy Zegart

How To Stage A Coup: And Ten Other Lessons from the World of Secret Statecraft (2022) Rory Cormac

The Third Option (2022) Loch K. Johnson

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think (2020) Hans Rosling

The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA (2023) Liza Mundy

Purchases made using the links in this article earn referral payments for Encyclopedia Geopolitica. As an independent publication, our writers are volunteers from within the professional geopolitical intelligence community, and referrals like this support our ability to create future content by funding server time and domain fees. As such, we strongly encourage to liberally indulge in your book-buying urges through our links! You can also support Encyclopedia Geopolitica on Patreon, where you can get access to special perks while helping to contribute to the running costs of the site!


Encyclopedia Geopolitica celebrated its 7th birthday last month amid another year full of big geopolitical shifts. We couldn’t have made it this far without our loyal and engaging readers, who have discussed our work on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. The site’s found and editor, Lewis Sage-Passant, would also like to extend a special thanks to the hardworking team of analysts, without whom the project could not continue. As a volunteer organisation, their contribution has been as critical as ever to this rather ambitious project!

This year was also a big year for us, as Encyclopedia Geopolitica also launched the second season of its podcast, “How to get on a Watchlist“, in which we interview experts on dangerous activities and how states and organisations can counter them. We’ve been blown away by the success of the podcast (which now has a TV deal in the works!), and want to take a moment to thank all of our listeners for their support!

We suspect that 2024 will bring more geopolitical shocks as the international tectonic plates continue to shift. We plan to keep bringing you insightful and informative articles on those niche and under-examined geopolitical developments that we have tried to accurately capture this year, and hope that these books will help you to understand the world’s challenges a little better.

Encyclopedia Geopolitica is a collaborative effort to bring you thoughtful insights on world affairs. Our contributors include Military officers, Geopolitical Intelligence analysts, Corporate Security professionals, Government officials, Academics and Journalists from around the globe. Topics cover diplomatic and foreign affairs, military developments, international relations, terrorism, armed conflict, intelligence, espionage and the broader elements of statecraft.

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