Top 10 Books: the International Affairs Christmas reading list 2021

Krisztina Csortea

International Affairs
Dec 15 · 7 min read

The Holidays are the perfect time to enjoy a good book, particularly after the year we’ve all had! Here are our top 10 books reviewed in International Affairs in 2021 hand-picked by book reviews editor Krisztina Csortea. Below you will find books that offer interesting discussions on the climate crisis, US failures in Afghanistan, killer robots and much more besides.

1) I, warbot: the dawn of artificially intelligent conflict

Written by Kenneth Payne, Published in London by Hurst.

Give it to: Anyone interested in killer robots.

Though far from the most festive of topics I, warbot remains a fascinating intervention into debates on the use of AI, in armed conflict. Weaving together influences as disparate as science fiction, military theory and ethics, Kenneth Payne offers a compelling look into how robots might impact the future of warfare. In a field dominated by technical studies, Payne’s use of historical analysis particularly stands out in providing a more well-rounded investigation into the subject-matter than is often available.

Read the full review here.

2) The ironic state: British comedy and the everyday politics of globalization

Written by James Brassett. Published in Bristol by Bristol University Press

Give it to: That family member still making Brexit jokes in 2021.

Though reading a book-length academic dissection of British political comedy might sound a potentially torturous endeavour, it is to the author’s immense credit that The ironic state not only offers perceptive insight into contemporary British political life but is thoroughly readable. Moving beyond a narrow focus on Westminster and pure political satire, Brassett delivers an expansive history of the politics of British comedy itself from the rise of alternative comedy to Brexit-era conspiracy theories about a pro-remain ‘comedy establishment’.

Read the full review here.

3) The American war in Afghanistan: a history

Written by Carter Malkasian. Published in Oxford by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: Those looking to understand US failures in Afghanistan.

As the world is left reeling by NATO collapse in Afghanistan, Carter Malkasian provides a fascinating insight into failures in US statebuilding. The American war in Afghanistan successfully balances a forensic approach to understanding where policy-makers went wrong, with a commitment to engaging with numerous Afghan perspectives on the conflict. Overall, The American war in Afghanistan is a thoughtful and well researched contribution to a debate that is far from over.

Read the full review here.

4) Women’s international thought: a new history

Edited by Patricia Owens and Katharina Rietzler. Published in Cambridge by Cambridge University Press.

Give it to: Anyone tired of hearing the same story about the origins of International Relations.

Amongst recent attempts to foreground voices writing on international relations that have been marginalized within conventional narratives of the discipline, Women’s international thought stands out for the sheer range of contributions it includes and the work they illuminate. Engaging productively with histories of gendered and racialized exclusions in the discipline, contributors to the edited volume delve into the work and lives of women often effaced from the founding myths of IR. As a volume Women’s international thought is a truly outstanding contribution.

Read the full review here.

5) The uncounted: politics of data in global health

Written by Sara L.M. Davis. Published in Cambridge by Cambridge University Press.

Give it to: Anyone who wants to understand how health policy gets made and who it leaves behind.

The uncounted continues to offer a grimly relevant window into the politics of global health. Taking as its subject the role of data in global health policy, Sara Davis highlights how profound inequities persisted through responses to HIV/AIDS. Davis compellingly argues that structural inequalities often prevent data-based approaches from registering the impact of pandemics on minoritized groups. In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are few more relevant books for those looking to understand global health policy.

Read the full review here.

6) The new climate war: the fight to take back our planet

Written by Michael E. Mann. Published in Melbourne and London by Scribe.

Give it to: That friend who is ‘phasing down’ their hope for a solution to the climate crisis.

For anyone looking for the middle ground between climate hopelessness and seeing climate change as a problem with simple technical fixes, Michael Mann’s The new climate war provides a vital and pragmatic assessment. Drawing on the author’s own experiences as a climate scientist and activist, The new climate war challenges both polluters and environmental activists alike in advancing its approach to political climate inertia. Though not uncontroversial, this timely intervention is not to be missed.

Read the full review here.

7) The justification of war and international order

Edited by Lothar Brock and Hendrick Simon. Published in Oxford by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: That person who loves a Christmas argument.

The justification for war and international order provides a fascinating survey of the ways in which was has been justified throughout history into the present. Directly linking justifications for war to their contemporary political contexts, this edited volume manages the rare feat of retaining a genuine pluralism in the views of its contributors without sacrificing focus or readability. Tackling conflicts as varied as the First World War and Spanish conquest in early colonial Peru, The justification for war is an ambitious and fascinating volume.

Read the full review here.

8) Latin America in global international relations

Edited by Amitav Acharya, Melisa Deciancio and Diana Tussie. Published in Abingdon by Routledge.

Give it to: Those still acting like IR is an exclusively north-Atlantic discipline.

In the midst of wide calls to address persistent Eurocentrism in international relations, Latin America in global International Relations stands out as a sustained attempt at foregrounding Latin American political thought. Drawing on work on everything from dependency theory to radical catholic action and Latin American feminisms, this edited volume is genuinely boundary pushing in the range of though it engages with. Taken as whole, readers will struggle to find a more compelling example of the merits of decentreing the discipline.

Read the full review here.

9) The middle way: how three presidents shaped America’s role in the world

Written in By Derek Chollet. Published in Oxford by Oxford University Press.

Give it to: Anyone obsessed with American politics.

Combining Chollet’s perspective as an Obama administration insider with rigorous scholarly inquiry, The middle way is a fascinating case-study of the achievements of moderate US presidents. Drawing on analyses of the Eisenhower, H.W. Bush and Obama administrations, Chollet charts the overlaps between the main foreign policy challenges faced by all three and makes the case for the cautious, incremental approaches they adopted. As such, the The middle way is valuable both as a commentary on US presidential politics and as a self-aware and nuanced defence of approaching foreign policy pragmatically.

Read the full review here.

10) Planet palm: how palm oil ended up in everything — and endangered the world

Written by Jocelyn C. Zuckerman. Published in London by Hurst.

Give it to: That friend who enjoys a jaw-dropping journalistic expose.

Planet palm is the kind of book that will reaffirm your faith in well-honed journalistic inquiry. Drawing on years of reporting, Jocelyn C. Zuckerman analyses the labyrinthine palm oil industry in a book that moves from contemporary environmental devastation and colonial land-grabbing to shell companies and the often-opaque relationships between palm oil companies and national governments.

Read the full review here.

Krisztina Csortea is the book reviews editor of International Affairs.

This blog features her picks from the book reviews section of International Affairs published in 2021. To read the reviews in full, click here.

To find more suggestions from the IA Bookshelf series, click here.

If you are interested in reviewing a book for the journal or registering as a book reviewer with International Affairs you can find our book review application form here.

All views expressed are individual not institutional.