Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 21:25 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 21:25 | SYDNEY

My books of the year


Rory Medcalf


20 December 2010 16:37

First, a sermon: any international affairs analyst who does not read fiction is weakening their ability to consider discontinuities and, most of all, to understand the sometimes critical role of idiosyncratic human agency in world events. It is not all big structural forces; leaders' (and yes, sometimes citizens') choices matter too.

Anyhow, my favourite novel of the year by far was Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, the great American family saga for the first decade of the 21st century. What's it about' Well, at the risk of sounding anti-libertarian for the second time in recent days: sometimes there is such a thing as too much freedom.

Okay, that is ridiculously simplistic; just read it. Everything from the compromises of environmentalism to the stultifying consensus of real-life 'Stuff White People Like' to the corruption of private security companies in Iraq gets a satisfying look-in, though the deeper story is about people, decisions, love, regret, and a just maybe a few surprising spots of wisdom.

Second, India. Australians are increasingly well-served by homegrown books on the baffling complexities of this rising power. Hamish McDonald's Mahabharata in Polyster lifts the lid on India's richest family, the Ambanis. Feuds, politics, violence and dazzling wealth come into play, and some of the hidden threads of influence within India's power elite are laid bare. The Indian edition has a few wee redactions, so make sure you get the Australian one. This is a much updated edition of The Polyester Prince, originally banned in (mostly democratic) India.

As the Indian private sector rises on the world stage and in relations with Australia, this book should become essential reading for Australian diplomats, journalists and business people. The allusions to Hindu mythology are clever too.

Finally, on international security, and still on India, Arming without Aiming: India's Military Modernisation, by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, is by far the best objective analysis of Asia's other rising military power, and the often self-made hurdles it faces.