Best Books of 2021: Politics

There’s nothing for you here: Finding opportunities in the 21st century
by Fiona Hill, Mariner Books $ 30

As senior director of Russia in Trump’s White House, the author worked closely with the president. Her memoirs are filled with surprising and disturbing insights into how Trump handled foreign leaders and his “autocratic envy.” Hill’s book is also a compelling memoir about her journey from a working class background in the north of England to the corridors of power in Washington. Her background gives her a special insight into the social and economic forces that are driving the rise of populism in the United States, Britain, and Russia.

Beef, bible and balls: Brazil in the Bolsonaros Age
by Richard Lapper, Manchester University Press £ 20

Jair Bolsonaro is the most controversial leader who has come to power in Brazil since the end of military rule in the 1980s. With the Brazilian president re-elected in 2022, Lapper, a former FT Latin America editor, provides a lively and comprehensive guide to Bolsonaro’s life and times – explaining his ideology and the social basis for his support: the beef, the bible and bullet points in the title . This book is an important guide to what could become one of the political stories of the coming years.

The long game: China’s major strategy to displace American order
by Rush Doshi, Oxford University Press £ 21.99

As the United States and China slide toward a new Cold War, Doshi argues that Beijing is pursuing a long-term plan to displace the United States as the world’s most powerful nation. The verdict may sound sensational, but it is carefully argued and backed by deep research and primary sources. The fact that Doshi is now advising on China in the Biden White House means that this book is also valuable as a guide to the current American mindset of its growing rivalry with China.

Move: The forces that uproot us
by Parag Khanna, Simon & Schuster $ 30 /Weidenfeld & Nicolson £ 20

The crisis on the southern border of the United States and the influx of refugees into Europe underscore the extent to which mass migration is now one of the main forces shaping global politics and the economy. Despite calls in parts of the West to halt the flow of people, Khanna sees mass migration as both inevitable and welcome. But his work also contains gloomy predictions about how much migration will be driven by the changing climate.

Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?
by Jan Matti Dollbaum, Morvan Lallouet and Ben Noble, Hurst £ 20

Alexei Navalny, who was jailed earlier this year, is the most dangerous political opponent to take on Vladimir Putin during the Russian leader’s more than 20 years in power. Despite his extraordinary courage, Navalny has attracted his share of critics – from both the liberal left and the nationalist right. This book is a fair and comprehensive guide for a man who may yet play a major role in Russia’s future.

Go Big: How to fix our world
by Ed Miliband, Bodley Head £ 18.99

The former Labor party leader has used his election defeat in 2015 to reconsider his approach to politics, arguing that people are now hungry for “big” solutions to what look like overwhelming problems. In a successful series of podcasts – and now a book – he engages with thinkers who often work at the local level and who propose radical solutions to a range of problems, from climate change to affordable housing.

Modis India: Hindu nationalism and the emergence of ethnic democracy
by Christophe Jaffrelot, Princeton University Press £ 30

The most comprehensive study of Modis India to date gives a gloomy and gentle picture of the direction of the country. Jaffrelot, a professor at King’s College London, claims that India has become an “ethnic democracy” in which Muslims and Christians are in fact second-class citizens. Modi’s Hindu nationalist project has, in his view, effectively eroded institutions that could have controlled the prime minister’s power – including the Supreme Court, the media and the electoral commission. The conclusion is that the world’s largest democracy is heading towards authoritarianism.

Books of the Year 2021

Throughout this week, FT writers and critics are sharing their favorites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business of Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Wednesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Thursday: Fiction of Laura Battle
Friday: History of Tony Barber
Saturday: Critics’ choice

Eagle Down: The last special forces fighting the eternal war
by Jessica Donati, Public Affairs £ 20

In the year in which the United States finally and disgracefully withdrew from Afghanistan – allowing the Taliban to regain power – Donati’s book has a special resonance. Her carefully reported history of US special forces operations in Afghanistan captures much of the chaos and tragedy of the conflict and the human cost.

The war of words: A globalization glossary
by Harold James, Yale £ 21.95

In contemporary political debate, words like “neoliberalism”, “geopolitics” and “globalization” are thrown around – but their actual meanings are often controversial and unclear. James, a Princeton professor, dives into the often surprising intellectual origins of key concepts in the arguments about globalization – and illuminates the debate in the process.

Aftershock: Pandemic politics and the end of the old international order
by Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright, St Martin’s Press $ 29.99 / £ 23.99

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed millions of people and been a major shock to the global economy. This book, based on original reporting as well as analysis, convincingly argues that the pandemic has also reshaped global politics – accelerating the movement toward confrontation between China and the United States and highlighting the collapse of international cooperation.

Red Roulette: An insider’s story of wealth, power, corruption and revenge in today’s China
by Desmond Shum, Simon & Schuster £ 20

The long economic boom in China has created many huge fortunes. But Chinese billionaires are also vulnerable to sudden changes in political wealth and abrupt falls from grace. The author tells the story of his rise to wealth and the sudden arrest of his ex-wife and business partner. Thus, he draws a veil back for the crossroads between power and wealth in China. The book reads like a thriller and has become a bestseller.

Tell us what you think

What are your favorites from this list – and which books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Empire: How imperialism has shaped modern Britain
by Sathnam Sanghera, Viking £ 18.99

At a time when Britain’s imperial heritage is once again the subject of public controversy, this immensely readable book is very topical. The story of Sanghera, a former FT writer, is both personal and scientific. It addresses many of the issues that are now pressing issues in the public debate – such as Britain’s role in the slave trade and the links between empire and multiculturalism.

Do not disturb: The story of a political assassination and a bad African regime
by Michela Wrong, Fourth Estate £ 20 / Public Affairs $ 18.99

A deeply researched and highly critical biography of one of Africa’s most acclaimed leaders – Paul Kagame from Rwanda. It accuses the Rwandan leader of orchestrating the assassination of opponents of exile – and questions his economic record and his role in the events leading up to the Rwandan genocide. FT praised the book as “remarkable, scary and long awaited”

Danger
by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Simon & Schuster £ 20 / $ 30

The United States and the wider world are still assimilating the extraordinary events of January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. capital in an attempt to overturn the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. This is a first draft of the story, following the usual Woodward method of carefully recreating events through testimonies from insiders. It provides compulsive and disturbing reading.

Born in blackness: Africa, Africans and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to World War II
by Howard W French, Liveright £ 25 / $ 35

A reworking of the history of the modern world that places Africa and Africans at the center of history. French claims that the West’s rise to global dominance was made possible by the exploration and exploitation of Africa – and above all by the slave trade. He talks about the destruction of complex African societies and the extent and brutality of slavery. At the time of Black Lives Matter, this is an intense political message. But French’s book is not a propaganda work and has been hailed as a “masterpiece” by Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford.

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