Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 21:49 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 21:49 | SYDNEY

My books of the year


Rory Medcalf


19 December 2008 09:32

I found Bill Emmott’s Rivals and Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World  a good set of primers on the emerging world of great power competition and potential co-operation: Emmott’s book was the gloomier, more dramatic read, and Zakaria’s a tad buoyant and rosy, both in style and in its prognostications for the future of American influence. So they balance each other nicely.

For some less conventional glimpses of Asia’s future, William Overholt’s Asia, America and the Transformation of Geopolitics is well worth some time. You may not agree with his judgments – he is gentler on China’s prospective strategic behaviour and harsher on India’s than the common international wisdom would have us believe – but that is the point.

Sometimes fiction can illuminate truths more brightly than can scholarly tomes – at least that’s my professional excuse for finding time for the odd novel. Like Allan Gyngell, I recommend this year’s Booker-prize winner The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. If you liked The Butcher Boy and Vernon God Little, chances are you’ll enjoy (if that's the word) this autobiography of a murderer. While somehow maintaining a grim humour, it shines a light on the underside of India’s economic rise, and in atmosphere and cultural detail it is chillingly and entertainingly true to life.

Of course the best books are rarely new ones. For unsettling history lessons on possible implications of the financial crisis, I’ve been dipping into Piers Brendon’s highly readable The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s.

Moving to a micro level, Iceland’s renewed vulnerability to financial illusionists and contending great powers has peculiar resonance with the classic novels of Haldor Laxness. His masterpiece is Independent People, but this year I picked up The Atom Station, as weird and contemporary now as it was in 1948.