Principles Of International Politics, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
As someone who enjoys reading about matters of international relations , this is the sort of book I would likely enjoy more than many people. I was not surprised that this book took a datacentric approach, nor was I surprised about the sorts of issues it discussed. One thing that did surprise me, though, was the extent to which the author showed a perhaps unintentional degree of humor by including himself as one of his most important authorities. This was something I noted somewhat anecdotally while reading the book and then decided to investigate by looking at the bibliography and saw that the author included a page of his own sources and citations in the bibliography. If that degree of self-referential respect amuses you as much as it amuses me, and you are as interested in the interaction and relationship between domestic politics and geopolitics, this is a worthwhile book to read, although it is a far longer read than most books are and will likely require a great deal of time and attention before someone is able to get out of it all that can be understood.
The contents of this book take more than 400 pages to cover, but for those who want to take the time and enjoy the material, the book is worth the time commitment it requires. The author opens the book with an introductory chapter that discusses the schools of thought in International Relations. The author then discusses the strategic perspective, when foreign policy collides with domestic politics, tools for analyzing international affairs (mostly mathematically based), introduces the reader to game theory, discusses two structural theories of war, give strategic theories of war, discuss the domestic origins of war as a way of exploring the implications of the democratic peace, discussing terrorism as a rational choice, discussing the relationship between military intervention and nation building, gives some of the problems of financial aid, discusses the international political economy of trade, and then talks about international organizations and international law. The book also has two appendices that are well worth reading, on modern political economic history and international politics and a discussion of how the reader should evaluate arguments about international politics using a highly empirical approach. Those who are already familiar with international relations will still find much to enjoy even where much of the information here will be a review of what one is already familiar with.
Given that this book is clearly highly technical, it was enjoyable in a way that many books of this kind are not. Part of that, as has been mentioned, is the way that the author refers to himself as an authority in an offhand way, not seeming to think anything unusual about it. There are other aspects, though, to the high enjoyment value of this book. One is the way that the author has such a fun way of looking at how people twist data and define matters differently, and another is in the way that author shows a willingness to take striking and unusual approaches to problems, such as the difference between reluctant terrorists and true believers. Looking at that analysis, I was struck by the fact that as someone for whom being a doormat is less appealing than fighting back in some fashion, I would qualify as a “reluctant terrorist” in a repressive regime. Given my experiences in some of my international travels, this makes an alarming amount of sense, and is the cause for a great deal of reflection and pondering, and even soul-searching. The fact that this book is able to strike out distinctive ground by focusing on data and strategic analysis rather than cliche and repeating talking points makes this an immensely worthwhile book, which is also in evidence when the author mentions that foreign aid does exactly what people want it to, which is why so little of it is given, and much of that is targeted at corrupt political elites, exactly as designed. It is rare when I read a book that is as cynical as I am, and that is something to appreciate.
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