Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 20:47 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 20:47 | SYDNEY

My books of the year


Rory Medcalf


12 December 2011 14:30

I am wary of strategic analysts and commentators who never change their minds. So I'm always on the lookout for a book on grand geopolitics that will help me see the world anew. Maybe I missed something, but for me nothing has really filled that void in the past year or so, and certainly not Robert Kaplan's wandering Indian Ocean voyage Monsoon — with lots of thunder but patchy rain — or Aaron Friedberg's brand new US-China rivalry-fest, A Contest for Supremacy

My most educational read this year was Richard McGregor's The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers. No non-specialist should write another word on Chinese external policy until they have read it.

My biggest reading indulgence was finally discovering the historical spy fiction of Alan Furst. The melancholic beauty and double-dealing statecraft of 1930s Europe was never so compelling. I have a lot of catching up to do.

A great surprise package was the memoir of Bangladeshi-born Sydney psychiatrist and columnist Tanveer Ahmed. The Exotic Rissole is a funny, sharp-eyed and just occasionally confronting book about many things, but most especially the challenges of growing up in an Australia coming to terms with its impressively unplanned multiculturalism.

Finally, two books on India. Aravind Adiga's new novel Last Man in Tower may not hit quite the same heights of darkly comic egalitarian ferocity as his first book The White Tiger. But it's still a powerful moral tale about the underside of the new India.

I finally found time to read Indian Summer by Alex von Tunzelmann. This book is a few years old now, but remains unsurpassed for its account of how a handful of individuals had such an impact on the stormy events shaping the birth of India and Pakistan. Drawing on much previously unreleased material, it is at one level a surprising, speculative and tragic love story about Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. It is part biography, part epic history, and stunningly written, mixing political insight and poignancy with the good grace and humour of its protagonists.