Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Week's Book + I Bought Some More Books

This week, I read Coalitions of Convenience by Sarah Kreps, a political science ("government" as it were) professor at Cornell University. You can check it out here or read below.

For those not in the mood to click on the link above, a couple minor explanations should be in order: Ease of Reading and Educational Content are ratings from 1 to 10. The higher the former, the easier the book is to read; the higher the latter, the more educational it is. Neither rating has any bearing over how good I think a book is, or how much an interested reader will enjoy it. Expect ratings all over the place. 

NOTE: My commentaries aren't meant to be, or take the place of, real criticism or analysis. They're meant to give an interested reader an idea of what to expect from the book, as well as to prove I've actually read it.

March 25-31: Coalitions of Convenience by Sarah Kreps

Politics (2011 - 167 pp.) 

In Coalitions of Convenience, Sarah Kreps takes on the daunting yet focused question of what terms like "unipolarity", "unilateralism" and "multilateralism" mean in the context of American overseas military interventions in the post-Cold War period. The book takes the frameworks or minilateralism (a term I hadn't before!) versus formal multilateralism versus full multilateralism, and then applies them to all ten of the United States's conflicts between 1990 and 2010. 

The book flows well, which is nice compared to a lot of the more theoretical international relations texts. Rather than jump around haphazardly, Kreps takes the reader through a chronological account of each intervention, revealing circumstances and motivation we either did not know or simply forgot. The similarities and differences between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq invasion become readily apparent (did you think of the roles of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey? She did), as do the unexpected similarities between the 1994 Haiti invasion and the 2001 Afghanistan invasion. Present too are discussions of when American leaders considered regime change viable, as opposed to mere muzzling. This is especially interesting in light of consistency across administrations. 

Kreps's thesis is a realist notion of multilateralism being undertaken only as it advantages the actor (in this case the United States), even when norms state otherwise. The United States has certainly heeded the United Nations in certain cases, yet Kreps points to this occurring only when there is a material advantage to waiting for organizational approval. It is a thesis that is readily available in the wake of the Iraq conflict, if not even earlier. The immediate contrast of the UN-led '90s and the brasher America of the '00s disappears when seen through Kreps's lens, and it is a perspective grounded in a considerable amount of research that verges on the historical. 

If the terms above look a little foreign, Kreps explains them well. This book was not a particularly difficult read, which was pleasant considering how difficult some scholarship can be to engage. The subject matter is current and fresh, yet just old enough that the academic community can start to make sense of it. 

Ease of Reading: 5 
Educational Value: 9

As an added bonus, I bought some books recently that should be of interest to anyone who's been enjoying my Book a Week so far. Expect entries on them soon!

Island of Vice by Richard Zacks

It's about Teddy Roosevelt's year and a half-long stint as New York City Police Commissioner, and his attempt to clean up the city. From what I can tell from the back, it seems to be very much in the vein of Devil in the White City, which I thought was done very well. These vaguely historical human interest journalism tomes benefit from being more attuned to the ground-level aspects of our predecessors' lives than academic treatments tend to be, which should work well for this sequence of events.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

This should be a really fun read. Along the lines of Thinking, Fast and Slow (one of my earlier entries in Book a Week, at that), it's a psychologist's tale of how we keep turning off our brains and making decisions that would make economists squirm.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Okay, I rented this one. I heard good things about it nine years ago, right around when the movie (which I have not seen) came out. Then, recently, someone I met told me it was her favourite book. I'm also pitifully short on fiction in Book a Week, which was not originally the idea but has just sort of happened. It's about time I read this story of a girl's varied experiences in foster homes.

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