IRC Book Club
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About the Book Club
The IRC Book Club gives participants the opportunity to discuss foreign affairs, global topics, authors' perspectives, historical events, and their current local relevance in a respectful, engaging setting. Convened by seasoned Great Decisions leader Jack McLaren, the group meets every six to eight weeks to dig into a different author's work.

Next Meeting
Tuesday, January 28, 2020 – 6:30-8 p.m. Kauffman Foundation Conference Center (4801 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110). This is a free program that is open to the public, though reservations are requested to help with planning. For those who would like to continue the discussion after 8:00, the group may move to some place like the Brooksider.

Register here

Currently Reading

Tuesday, January 28, 2020
From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia
by Michael McFaul – 535 pages

Available for purchase (hardback, paperback, or e-reader): Amazon »
We encourage you to visit local booksellers: Rainy Day Books »
Used books: BookFinder »
Local libraries have limited copies of the book and audiobook available.

Description: In 2008, when Michael McFaul was asked to leave his perch at Stanford and join an unlikely presidential campaign, he had no idea that he would find himself at the beating heart of one of today’s most contentious and consequential international relationships. As President Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, McFaul helped craft the United States’ policy known as “reset” that fostered new and unprecedented collaboration between the two countries. And then, as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, he had a front-row seat when this fleeting, hopeful moment crumbled with Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. This riveting inside account combines history and memoir to tell the full story of U.S.-Russia relations from the fall of the Soviet Union to the new rise of the hostile, paranoid Russian president. From the first days of McFaul’s ambassadorship, the Kremlin actively sought to discredit and undermine him, hassling him with tactics that included dispatching protesters to his front gates, slandering him on state media, and tightly surveilling him, his staff, and his family.


Previous Selections

The Health Gap by Michael Marmot

November 11, 2019
The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World
by Michael Marmot – 292 pages

Available for purchase (hardback, paperback, or e-reader): Amazon »
We encourage you to visit local booksellers: Rainy Day Books »
Used books: BookFinder »
Local libraries have limited copies of the book and audiobook available.

Description: In Baltimore's inner-city neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights, a man's life expectancy is sixty-three; not far away, in the Greater Roland Park/Poplar neighborhood, life expectancy is eighty-three. The same twenty-year avoidable disparity exists in the Calton and Lenzie neighborhoods of Glasgow, and in other cities around the world.

In Sierra Leone, one in 21 fifteen-year-old women will die in her fertile years of a maternal-related cause; in Italy, the figure is one in 17,100; but in the United States, which spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, it is one in 1,800 (and now, with the new administration chipping away at Obamacare, the statistics stand to grow even more devastating). Why?

Dramatic differences in health are not a simple matter of rich and poor; poverty alone doesn't drive ill health, but inequality does. Indeed, suicide, heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes, for example, are all linked to social disadvantage. In every country, people at relative social disadvantage suffer health disadvantage and shorter lives. Within countries, the higher the social status of individuals, the better their health. These health inequalities defy the usual explanations. Conventional approaches to improving health have emphasized access to technical solutions and changes in the behavior of individuals, but these methods only go so far. What really makes a difference is creating the conditions for people to have control over their lives, to have the power to live as they want. Empowerment is the key to reducing health inequality and thereby improving the health of everyone. Marmot emphasizes that the rate of illness of a society as a whole determines how well it functions; the greater the health inequity, the greater the dysfunction.

Marmot underscores that we have the tools and resources materially to improve levels of health for individuals and societies around the world, and that to not do so would be a form of injustice. Citing powerful examples and startling statistics (“young men in the U.S. have less chance of surviving to sixty than young men in forty-nine other countries”), The Health Gap presents compelling evidence for a radical change in the way we think about health and indeed society, and inspires us to address the societal imbalances in power, money, and resources that work against health equity.

October 7, 2019
Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy
By Dani Rodrik, 336 pages

Description: Not so long ago the nation-state seemed to be on its deathbed, condemned to irrelevance by the forces of globalization and technology. Now it is back with a vengeance, propelled by a groundswell of populists around the world. In Straight Talk on Trade, Dani Rodrik, an early and outspoken critic of economic globalization taken too far, goes beyond the populist backlash and offers a more reasoned explanation for why our elites’ and technocrats’ obsession with hyper-globalization made it more difficult for nations to achieve legitimate economic and social objectives at home: economic prosperity, financial stability, and equity.

Rodrik takes globalization’s cheerleaders to task, not for emphasizing economics over other values, but for practicing bad economics and ignoring the discipline’s own nuances that should have called for caution. He makes a case for a pluralist world economy where nation-states retain sufficient autonomy to fashion their own social contracts and develop economic strategies tailored to their needs. Rather than calling for closed borders or defending protectionists, Rodrik shows how we can restore a sensible balance between national and global governance. Ranging over the recent experiences of advanced countries, the eurozone, and developing nations, Rodrik charts a way forward with new ideas about how to reconcile today’s inequitable economic and technological trends with liberal democracy and social inclusion.

Deftly navigating the tensions among globalization, national sovereignty, and democracy, Straight Talk on Trade presents an indispensable commentary on today’s world economy and its dilemmas, and offers a visionary framework at a critical time when we need it most.


August 7, 2019
Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space
By James Clay Moltz, 240 pages

Description: Space has become increasingly crowded since the end of the Cold War, with new countries, companies, and even private citizens operating satellites and becoming spacefarers. This book offers general readers a valuable primer on space policy from an international perspective. It examines the competing themes of space competition and cooperation while providing readers with an understanding of the basics of space technology, diplomacy, commerce, science, and military applications. 

The recent expansion of human space activity poses new challenges to existing treaties and other governance tools for space, increasing the likelihood of conflict over a diminishing pool of beneficial locations and resources close to Earth. Drawing on more than twenty years of experience in international space policy debates, James Clay Moltz examines possible avenues for cooperation among the growing pool of space actors, considering their shared interests in space traffic management, orbital debris control, division of the radio frequency spectrum, and the prevention of military conflict. Moltz concludes with policy recommendations for enhanced international collaboration in space situational awareness, scientific exploration, and restraining harmful military activities.

 

June 11, 2019
Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media
by P.W. Singer– 416 pages

Description: Through the weaponization of social media, the internet is changing war and politics, just as war and politics are changing the internet. Terrorists livestream their attacks, “Twitter wars” produce real‑world casualties, and viral misinformation alters not just the result of battles, but the very fate of nations. War, tech, and politics have blurred into a new kind of battle space that plays out on our smartphones.

P. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking tackle the mind‑bending questions that arise when war goes online and the online world goes to war. 

Delving into the web’s darkest corners, LikeWar outlines a radical new paradigm for understanding and defending against the unprecedented threats of our networked world. 

 

January 22, 2019
We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative
by George Borjas– 240 pages 

Description: We are a nation of immigrants, with a long and complicated relationship with immigration. As early as 1645, the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to prohibit the entry of “paupers.” Today, however, the notion that immigration is universally beneficial has become ubiquitous. To many modern economists, immigrants are a trove of much-needed workers who can fill predetermined slots along the proverbial assembly line.

But this view of immigration’s impact is overly simplified, explains George J. Borjas, a Cuban-American, Harvard labor economist. Read this book to learn about Borjas’ unique perspective and research into this perplex topic.

 

October 2, 2018
War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence  
by Ronan Farrow – 432 pages

Description: A thought-provoking exploration of the transformation in America’s place in the world by Pulitzer prize-winning author Ronan Farrow. In an astonishing journey from the corridors of power in Washington, DC, to some of the most remote and dangerous places on earth―Afghanistan, Somalia, and North Korea among them―Farrow illuminates one of the most consequential and poorly understood changes in American history. Drawing on newly unearthed documents, and richly informed by rare interviews with warlords, whistle-blowers, and policymakers―including every living former secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton to Rex Tillerson―War on Peace makes a powerful case for an endangered profession. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.

August 15, 2018
Forgotten Continent: A History of the New Latin America
by Michael Reid – 440 pages

Description: Ten years after its first publication, Michael Reid’s best-selling survey of the state of contemporary Latin America has been wholly updated to reflect the new realities of the “Forgotten Continent.” The former Americas editor for the Economist, Reid suggests that much of Central and South America, though less poor, less unequal, and better educated than before, faces harder economic times now that the commodities boom of the 2000s is over. His revised, in-depth account of the region reveals dynamic societies more concerned about corruption and climate change, the uncertainties of a Donald Trump-led United States, and a political cycle that, in many cases, is turning from left-wing populism to center-right governments. This essential new edition provides important insights into the sweeping changes that have occurred in Latin America in recent years and indicates priorities for the future.

June 21, 2018
The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force
by Eliot A. Cohen – 304 pages

Description: "Speak softly and carry a big stick" Theodore Roosevelt famously said in 1901, when the United States was emerging as a great power. It was the right sentiment, perhaps, in an age of imperial rivalry but today many Americans doubt the utility of their global military presence, thinking it outdated, unnecessary or even dangerous. In The Big Stick, Eliot A. Cohen – a scholar and practitioner of international relations – disagrees. He argues that hard power remains essential for American foreign policy. While acknowledging that the US must be careful about why, when, and how it uses force, he insists that its international role is as critical as ever, and armed force is vital to that role.


Cohen explains that American leaders must learn to use hard power in new ways and for new circumstances. The rise of a well-armed China, Russia's conquest of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and the spread of radical Islamist movements like ISIS are some of the key threats to global peace. If the United States relinquishes its position as a strong but prudent military power, and fails to accept its role as the guardian of a stable world order we run the risk of unleashing disorder, violence and tyranny on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The US is still, as Madeleine Albright once dubbed it, "the indispensable nation."

January 16, 2018
Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know
by P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman – 320 pages

Description: A generation ago, "cyberspace" was just a term from science fiction, used to describe the nascent network of computers linking a few university labs. Today, our entire modern way of life, from communication to commerce to conflict, fundamentally depends on the Internet. And the cybersecurity issues that result challenge literally everyone: politicians wrestling with everything from cybercrime to online freedom; generals protecting the nation from new forms of attack, while planning new cyberwars; business executives defending firms from once unimaginable threats, and looking to make money off of them; lawyers and ethicists building new frameworks for right and wrong. Most of all, cybersecurity issues affect us as individuals. We face new questions in everything from our rights and responsibilities as citizens of both the online and real world to simply how to protect ourselves and our families from a new type of danger. And yet, there is perhaps no issue that has grown so important, so quickly, and that touches so many, that remains so poorly understood. 

In Cybersecurity and CyberWar: What Everyone Needs to Know®, New York Times best-selling author P. W. Singer and noted cyber expert Allan Friedman team up to provide the kind of easy-to-read, yet deeply informative resource book that has been missing on this crucial issue of 21st century life. Written in a lively, accessible style, filled with engaging stories and illustrative anecdotes, the book is structured around the key question areas of cyberspace and its security: how it all works, why it all matters, and what can we do? Along the way, they take readers on a tour of the important (and entertaining) issues and characters of cybersecurity, from the "Anonymous" hacker group and the Stuxnet computer virus to the new cyber units of the Chinese and U.S. militaries. Cybersecurity and CyberWar: What Everyone Needs to Know® is the definitive account on the subject for us all, which comes not a moment too soon.


November 1, 2017
China's Future
by David Shambaugh – 244 pages

Description: China's future is arguably the most consequential question in global affairs. Having enjoyed unprecedented levels of growth, China is at a critical juncture in the development of its economy, society, polity, national security, and international relations. The direction the nation takes at this turning point will determine whether it stalls or continues to develop and prosper. Will China be successful in implementing a new wave of transformational reforms that could last decades and make it the world's leading superpower? Or will its leaders shy away from the drastic changes required because the regime's power is at risk? If so, will that lead to prolonged stagnation or even regime collapse? Might China move down a more liberal or even democratic path? Or will China instead emerge as a hard, authoritarian and aggressive superstate? In this new book, David Shambaugh argues that these potential pathways are all possibilities - but they depend on key decisions yet to be made by China's leaders, different pressures from within Chinese society, as well as actions taken by other nations. Assessing these scenarios and their implications, he offers a thoughtful and clear study of China's future for all those seeking to understand the country's likely trajectory over the coming decade and beyond.

September 12, 2017
The Retreat of Western Liberalism
by Edward Luce – 232 pages

Description: In his widely acclaimed book Time to Start Thinking, Financial Times chief US columnist and commentator Edward Luce charted the course of America's relative decline, proving to be a prescient voice on our current social and political turmoil. In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Luce makes a larger statement about the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy―of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a terrifying symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about by ignorance of what it took to build the West, arrogance towards society's economic losers, and complacency about our system's durability―attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We cannot move forward without a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong. Unless the West can rekindle an economy that produces gains for the majority of its people, its political liberties may be doomed. The West's faith in history teaches us to take democracy for granted. Reality tells us something troublingly different. Combining on-the-ground reporting with intelligent synthesis of the literature and economic analysis, Luce offers a detailed projection of the consequences of the Trump administration, the rise of European populism, and a forward-thinking analysis of what those who believe in enlightenment values must do to defend them from the multiple onslaughts they face in the coming years.

July 26, 2017
Megachange: Economic Disruption, Political Upheaval, and Social Strife in the 21st Century
by Darrell M. West – 224 pages

Description: Big, unexpected changes are here to stay. Slow, incremental change has become a relic of the past. Today's shifts come fast and big, what Darrell West calls megachanges, in which dramatic disruptions in trends and policies occur on a regular basis. Domestically, we see megachange at work in the new attitudes and policies toward same-sex marriage, health care, smoking, and the widespread legalization of marijuana use. Globally, we have seen the extraordinary rise and then collapse of the Arab Spring, the emergence of religious zealotry, the growing influence of nonstate actors, the spread of ISIS-fomented terrorism, the rise of new economic and political powers in Asia, and the fracturing of once-stable international alliances. With megachange becoming the new normal, our domestic and global institutions must develop the ability to tackle the massive economic, political, and social shifts that we face.