Stalin’s last gesture is telling: a threat from above called down on everyone at once, even, perhaps, on himself. The gesture’s power derives from its inscrutable willfulness: No one could predict where Stalin’s doom might land. Stalin’s effect on Soviet society was omnipresent and chilling.
Best Foreign Affairs Books in 2013
In June 2012, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood won a tightly contested election to become the first freely elected president of post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt. His ascent marked a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of the Islamist movement. For decades, the Brotherhood had engaged in politics with clearly understood limits on its power and under the constant threat of repression. Morsi, like most other top leaders in the organization, had recently spent time in prison for his political activities. No roadmap existed for predicting what he might do with his new-found presidential power.
Winter in Cairo – democracyjournal.org
When turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for “a new Bretton Woods” to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century’s second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil’s epic account.
The Battle of Bretton Woods – Council On Foreign Relations
Life is nothing but a circus. Such is the message of Yan Lianke’s absurdist “Lenin’s Kisses,” a tale of political lunacy and greed set in modern-day China. In this sprawling novel, an ambitious county official forms a traveling freak-show of the disabled. His aim is to raise enough money to buy Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed corpse from Russia to display in China.
Absurdist China – Read Here – Wall Street Journal
In late 1959, Chinese officials in the provinces began to investigate wild rumors that people were eating one another. Most of the officials must have already known that Mao Zedong’s call for a “Great Leap Forward,” a planned modernization meant to catapult the country into global economic leadership, had gone horribly wrong.
Totalitarianism, Famine and Us – Read Here – The Nation
It is difficult to look dispassionately at some 45 million dead. It was not war that produced this shocking number, nor natural disaster. It was a man. It was politics and one man’s vanity. The cause was famine and violence across rural China, a result of Mao Zedong’s unchecked drive to turn his country rapidly into a communist utopia and a leading industrial nation.
In Blind Oracles, his study of the role of intellectuals in formulating and implementing U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, historian Bruce Kuklick equated these scholars with the “primitive shaman” who performs “feats of ventriloquy.”
The first history we write is a history of races. Our tribe’s myth is here, yours is over there, our race is called “the people” and blessed by the gods, and yours, well, not so blessed. Next comes the history of faces: history as the epic acts of bosses and chiefs, pharaohs and emirs, kings and Popes and sultans in conflict, where the past is essentially the chronicle of who wears the crown first and who wears it next.