Another year, another barrage of surprising and interesting events, continuing the recent pattern of rapid change over stability, for better and for worse. Events have been dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has had dramatic consequences across the globe against a backdrop of energy and food crises, which we believe will drive widespread instability. Despite the catastrophic blowback, Sri Lanka, not Russia, was the first middle-income country to default on its debts, as the country plunged deeper into economic calamity. Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup with a glaring spotlight on the questionable practices of its government. Iran finally went too far in its repression and has triggered protests not seen since the Green Movement demonstrations after the 2009 presidential election, in which the Revolutionary Guard opened fire on unarmed protesters with live ammunition.
This year was also a big year for us, as Encyclopedia Geopolitica also launched its new podcast, How to get on a Watchlist, in which we interview experts on dangerous activities and how states and organisations can counter them. We’ve been blown away by the success of the podcast, and want to take a moment to thank all of our listeners for their support!
In this annual piece – which supplements our regular geopolitical book reviews – we recommend the best books for students and analysts alike to better understand what drives geopolitical developments, and what their future consequences could be. The list includes favourites from previous years, as well as the best works from this year.
Disclosure: Purchases made using the links in this article earn referral payments for Encyclopedia Geopolitica. As an independent publication, our writers are volunteers from within the professional geopolitical intelligence community, and referrals like this support our ability to create future content by funding server time and domain fees.
As this list contains a large effective way to get through the reading list. Encyclopedia Geopolitica readers have access to a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited, allowing them to sample over 1 million ebooks and thousands of audiobooks.
Lewis Sage-Passant – Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Spies, Lies, and Algorithms – Amy Zegart – 2022
Professor Amy Zegart is an expert in international security and intelligence affairs, and in her new book, explores the past, present, and future of intelligence operations. Zegart introduces us to a shifting landscape of digitising intelligence, wherein anyone with a smartphone can now compete (in some domains) with the world’s most sophisticated intelligence agencies. With Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent open-source intelligence boon that followed, this book could not have been more timely. That said, open-source intelligence remains a disputed field, with many in government and academia dismissing it as the inferior form of intelligence. Zegart rebuts this with an exploration of the non-secret efforts in highly secretive areas such as nuclear weapons tracking. Finally, and most importantly, Zegart explores how “fake spies are ruining real intelligence”, wherein media representations of the intelligence world are misleading policy makers and the public on the abilities, activities, and needs of the field. 2023 promises to be a year wrapped in as much intrigue as 2022, and for that reason, I thoroughly recommend Professor Zegart’s work to students and experienced practitioners of intelligence alike.
How to Stage a Coup – Rory Cormac – 2022
Professor Rory Cormac is a renowned expert in covert action and deniable warfare, and in “How to Stage a Coup” he examines historical and contemporary activities in this domain. Cormac explores liminal warfare techniques (often known as “hybrid” or “deniable” warfare) such as assassinations, propaganda, electoral interference, coups, sabotage, and cyberattacks. 2022 was a year marked by many of these types of activities, and their success will likely prompt subsequent operations in the coming year. Most importantly, Cormac explores how societies and governments can defend against the “dark arts” of hostile foreign interference; an element of national security that is almost certain to grow in importance in the coming years. As such, this book is a must-read for anyone in the international security space. For those who would like a further teaser of Professor Cormac’s thoughts on this matter, Encyclopedia Geopolitica recently hosted him on our “How to get on a Watchlist” podcast to discuss the world of covert warfare.
How Civil Wars Start – Barbara Walter – 2022
In a very timely work, Professor Barbara F Walter explores the concept of “anocracy”; a form of democracy that has been subverted to introduce authoritarian characteristics and is eroding, and how countries in this state are more likely to fall into civil war than both full dictatorships and healthy democracies. Walter examines historical examples of civil wars and how they began, comparing them to the contemporary United States of America, and other nations such as the United Kingdom. Her most startling finding is that both of these states are sliding further into the “anocracy zone”, and that, if this trend continues, civil war is a possibility. Walter also explores other factors in civil war risks, such as factionalism, and the loss of status among formerly dominant groups. Walter paints a disturbing picture of what a civil war would look like in a developed nation, and offers advice on how to arrest the trends making this outcome more likely. Given the political divisions gripping much of the modern world, and the anocratic trends that appear to be rising, this book should be considered essential reading for anyone in the political science space.
The Third Option – Loch Johnson – 2022
Professor Loch K Johnson is a prominent name in the field of intelligence studies, and in “The Third Option”, he explores the US government’s relationship with covert action. While perhaps a slightly more daunting companion piece to Professor Rory Cormac’s “How to Stage a Coup”, this book provides an excellent overview of the forms, history, legislative grounding, and ethics of covert action from the perspective of the United States and its security agencies. Given the renewed environment of great power rivalry in which the US finds itself, and the need to avoid uncontrolled escalation in its engagements with the war in Ukraine, an unpredictable Gulf region, and contest for influence over the Asia-Pacific region, US covert action is a topic of tremendous relevance for the coming year. This book is a crucial work for more advanced students of international relations, intelligence, and global security.
Simon Schofield – Editor
Urban Warfare in the Twenty-First Century (2021) – Anthony King
After decades of counterinsurgency warfare, chasing phantasmal terrorists and guerrillas in the suburban and rural milieus of places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, many thought that urban warfare was a secondary issue. Stalingrad and Grozny were interesting case studies, but they were considered academic and intellectual exercises. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urban warfare, and even sieges are back at the forefront of discussion. Anthony King’s examination of the history of urban warfare takes an interdisciplinary approach, showcasing the aspects that have remained largely unchanged, and also charting the developments that have left us with a distinctly contemporary modern urban warfare, unique to this moment in history. It is a tour de force that looks at the urban battlespace in three dimensions, exploring subterranean warfare beneath cities; fighting at street level, and the complex logistics taking place in the skies over besieged centres. This is a must-read for all interested in how modern conflicts are fought.
The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War (2022) – Mark Galeotti
In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some question whether Western analytical emphasis on what has been termed hybrid warfare, non-linear warfare, and liminal warfare, among others, has been overenthusiastic. However, behind the scenes of missile strikes, tank columns, and intense street battles, there continues to be a much wider understanding of war in Moscow than the narrow intellectual corridors in Washington DC and London. The Kremlin is reaching for whatever levers it can to tilt the table in its favour, from restricting food exports, to exploiting political fragmentation, to weaponising the energy markets in order to exert influence beyond its evidently over-estimated military capability. Mark Galeotti is an avid Kremlinologist, and his book is a fascinating insight into the Russian playbook, which includes tactics and viewpoints likely to be adopted further afield, despite, and perhaps even especially because, of the setbacks they have suffered on the battlefield.
Secret History of the Five Eyes (2022) – Richard Kerbaj
The Five Eyes intelligence alliance is arguably the single most powerful intelligence-sharing arrangement in history. The Governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have long collaborated on security and intelligence issues, with much of the alliance’s history shrouded in secret. Richard Kerbaj shines a light on this increasingly important and influential organisation, not from a desk, but from the corridors of power, using interviews with key politicians and intelligence officials that have been pivotal in the development and the operation of the Five Eyes. This impressive level of access has allowed Kerbaj to tell fascinating stories of intelligence successes as well as bungling failures, using these anecdotes to show the culture of the alliance, its reach, and the victories it has helped win from the shadows.
Eamon Driscoll – Russia and Former Soviet Spaces Analyst
Volodymyr Zelensky Biography: All Relevant Information Regarding Volodymyr Zelensky’s Early Life, Political Career And Servant Of The People (2022) – Jeffrey Williams
Until February 2022, Volodymyr Zelensky was most notable for playing a president on TV, even when he was the actual president. Coming to power on the basis of change, the anti-corruption actor offered something new to Ukraine, but through three years of his presidency, opinion polls were dropping and his star was fading. Until, of course, that day. Then he was the man who stayed in the capital while lesser presidents would have fled in the face of Russian invasion. Then he was the man who winked to the internet and promised victory. For those who want to know exactly who this Servant of the People is, Williams provides the answer.
Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia (2021) – Timothy Frye
There are a few quotes that encapsulate the public’s confusion over Russia. The most famous is that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, one of Churchill’s notable quotables. But the confusion is justified. Russia appears strong, hosting military parades in honor of its glorious past and developing cutting-edge hypersonic missiles as a representation of its power, present and future. And yet, nine months after the invasion began, Russia is slowly losing ground, as is its leader. Vladimir Putin gives the impression of being in control of everything. But just like Russian military might, so too is Putin’s iron grip a façade. In Weak Strongman, Frye introduces his readers to the true Russia behind the curtain, and addresses those areas where Putin may seem like the all-powerful Enemy Number One, but in reality is desperately trying to hold on to his own relevance.
Putin’s War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism, and Crime (2017) – Taras Kuzio
Though books about the 2022 invasion have already been written, the story itself is still unfinished. Rather than suggesting a book which might not stand up to the test of time, Kuzio’s 2017 offering comes from a time when Ukraine and the Russian-occupied territories were not grabbing the attention of the world media, and in fact from a time when President Zelensky was merely Comedian Zelensky. This read is essential to understanding the conflict before the current invasion was in full swing. It addresses the Kremlin’s perspective that national identity is determined by imperialism, and provides cutting insights into the situation on the ground in the Donbas in the years leading up to Putin’s decision to start the invasion and remake the “Russian World”.
The Dictator’s Dilemma at the Ballot Box: Electoral Manipulation, Economic Maneuvering, and Political Order in Autocracies (2022) – Masaaki Higashijima
2022 was more than just the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Around the world, there is a tide turning against democratic government as technology becomes more effective, providing an opening for long-lasting despotic states based on tools of coercion and surveillance that the KGB and Stasi would have merely dreamt of. Using the examples of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Higashijima paints the portrait of how dictators maintain their hold on the people, especially considering that maintaining that hold takes constant effort above and beyond pointing weapons at civilians. Even given the sense that democracy may be retreating globally, the line that tyrants walk to remain in power requires them to hint at being responsible to the people by sham elections, if only to give the veneer of legitimacy to an otherwise oppressive regime.
Alexander Stafford – Asia-Pacific Analyst
Xi: A Study in Power (2022) – Kerry Brown
Whatever you think of him, Xi Jinping is proving to be the most consequential Chinese leader since Deng, and possibly even Mao. With a decade in power behind him and probably at least another decade ahead, even non-China hands could benefit from at least a broad understanding of the man at the helm of the world’s second largest power. Xi: A Study in Power is Prof. Kerry Brown’s most recent book on the man, and couldn’t have come at a better time. Succinct and punchy it is not a weighty and daunting political biography, but rather it serves as a primer on a man whose life is sometimes opaque and often mythologized, giving an insight into his thinking and how he sees China, its history and its place in the world. A key point of Brown’s is that Xi cannot be dismissed as some creaking old Soviet leader atop a creaking old system, but a driven man with a vision, leader of the world’s largest country and its second largest economy. And therein lies the challenge.
Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11 (2019) – Simon Akam
There are plenty of books out there examining the War on Terror and how the West effectively lost in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While most post-mortems look at strategy (or its lack), civil-military relations or tinker with counterinsurgency theory and its application, Akam takes a deep dive into the culture of the British army and its traditions, attitudes and shortcomings. In this lengthy tome, Akam takes us from the overweight, hard-drinking and rigid army of the post-Cold War Germany to the very different counterinsurgency force of the 2010s. This is certainly not a hagiography, but a warts-and-all account of equipment deficiencies, under resourcing, muddled leadership and hubris as the British army struggled to change both operationally and culturally. Akam doesn’t just look to the battlefield for this but also to the training ground, the bereaved families and the “six month tour books” which proliferated during the period. It tells a story of the intransigence of The Establishment and the lack of accountability for commanders, whose tendency to fail upwards towards promotions and knighthoods often jars hard with the treatment of the lower ranks. Compellingly written and fascinating, Changing of the Guard should be read by anyone with an interest in the British armed forces or even armed forces in general, whether historians, veterans or potential recruits. Most of all it should be read by our politicians and senior officers, although alas it probably won’t be.
Edwin Tran – Levant Analyst
The Essence of Security (1968) – Robert Macnamara
Understanding the present often requires an assessment of the past, and it is here in the recollections of Robert McNamara where we find some striking parallels to the modern day. From talking about the security of Taiwan, to highlighting disillusionment with NATO, the points raised by the former Secretary of Defense feel prescient and prophetic. It is an insightful read that illuminates the geopolitical realities of the 1960s, and how that era became more muddled, multifaceted, and multipolar.
Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire (2007) – Caroline Finkel
Although perhaps an odd choice from a political perspective, the work of Caroline Finkel is actually quite fascinating. While the work is a masterful piece of history, that dives into the nuances of the Ottoman Empire, Finkel also highlights the many factors that go into political decisions. From concerns over trade access to issues of political legitimacy to the personal ambitions of individual actors, Finkel offers a varying perspective into the contours of politics. In the current world, ever-inching toward great power politics and muddled waters, the experiences of the Ottoman Empire from its inception to its end can shine a light for the states of the present day.
Colin Reed – International Security Analyst
Termination Shock (2021) – Neal Stephenson
Stephenson probably needs no introduction as a legendary fictionalist with a knack for catching out future trends that end up defining our lives in curious ways. Probably most known for Snow Crash (1992), a defining novel which either predicted or inspired modern-day Silicon Valley efforts to achieve the “metaverse,” Stephenson’s bibliography is mostly comprised of similar works which weave together human society, history, cryptography, puzzles, solutions, politics, and essentially everything that defines us as a species into fast-paced novels that feel like they should be sold with complimentary buckets of movie-theater popcorn. Given this knack for putting a finger on the pulse of modern society, Termination Shock’s take on the emerging geopolitics of climate change is must-read territory, particularly as it tackles concepts like atmospheric seeding, Twitch-stream-style geopolitical maneuvering in contested Himalayan passes, India’s ascendency as a climate actor, and the rise of neolibertarian titans of industry who may decide to take the future of humanity into their own hands. Managing to be at once high-minded in its concepts and yet low-budget in its characters, action, and pacing, Termination Shock feels like the geopolitics of 2040 as told by a circa 2000 action flick. If 2020’s Ministry for the Future (Kim Stanley Robinson) is the stuffy academic Star Trek interpretation of our climate and geopolitics future, Termination Shock is firmly the Star Wars – and I found it to be more believable, relatable, and entertaining as a result.
There is no Antimemetics Division (2022) – qntm
This is a very challenging novella with a deeply rewarding hook for those who can tolerate labyrinthine twists and being left in the dark much of the time by a “show, don’t tell” approach to storytelling. Published originally as a web serial in the “SCP” genre of spooky fiction, internet author “qntm” now has an Amazon-edition novella compiling their work in exploring the concept of “anti-memes;” that is, ideas and concepts which are so baffling as to be uncontainable by human brains. The concept here is that, if memes are ideas which are popular and contagious in how they spread among humans, anti-memes would be the opposite – so unpopular and indeed, incomprehensible, that people might forget them as soon as they learn them, be unable to explain them to one another, or even remember that they exist. It’s probably relevant that the author chooses to go by “qntm,” because the quantum-uncertainty angles of the concepts here are worn on the sleeves of this work; the idea that things can both be and not-be simultaneously is key to working your way through this book. Quantum perspectives also inform the narrative hook of the work – that if matter and antimatter destroy one another, so, too, would memes and anti-memes cancel out, making anti-memes a massive threat to the ability of humankind to continue to comprehend the world we live in. It shapes up to be a rollicking X-Files adventure with a devilishly challenging hook, and for patient and studious readers the concepts here will continue to tickle your brain about the future of human informational societies for months to come.
Ananay Agarwal – South Asia Analyst
The Progressive Maharaja: Sir Madhava Rao’s Hints on the Art and Science of Government (2022) – Rahul Sagar
Madhava Rao, regarded as the greatest statesman of 19th-century India, held the position of Dewan (or Prime Minister) in the Princely states of Travancore, Indore, and Baroda. It was under his direction, that Travancore and Baroda developed into “model states,” whose success showed that Indians too were capable of sound governance. This book contains the lectures that he delivered to Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, the young Maharaja of Baroda, on what qualities and virtues a just and good Maharaja should have in 19th Century British India. The lectures are in essence, a plea stressing the positive aspects of a Constitutional Monarchy, and the many negatives arising from trying to be an Absolutist (albeit Enlightened) Monarch. This makes Hints a particularly seminal text because it demonstrates how Indians, though living under the British Raj, actively and ingeniously sought to update and adapt ideals outside the boundaries of British India.
Anna Lamaga – Asia-Pacific Analyst
China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy (2022) – Peter Martin
COVID-19 put the spotlight on some of the practices of Chinese diplomats, including controversial tweets by some Chinese ambassies and their ambassadors, seemingly shooting from the hip at their host countries. But as Peter Martin skillfully argues, the harder edge in Chinese diplomats’ handling of foreign affairs echoes a key narrative dating back to the creation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rather than having been solely triggered by the pandemic and growing tensions on the global geopolitical chess board. As the China-US relationship enters a new stage, with ripple effects across the world, Peter Martin seeks to enlighten his readers on the reasons for and possible strategies behind such diplomatic practices, providing a historical perspective and what the so-called ‘wolf warrior approach’ will mean for the future, making it an important read for 2023. Peter Martin’s work will be of interest to both novice and senior China watchers, full of fascinating details and context while being marvelously accessible to those new to the topic.
The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order (2021) – Rush Doshi
Few countries approach geopolitics with a vision as focussed on the long-term as China. Drawing on primary sources and a skillful analytical reading, Rush Doshi – China Director on the National Security Council – provides a fascinating decryption of China’s grand strategy since the end of the Cold War to influence the world order in its favour. In addition to guiding the reader through the history of China’s foreign policy ambitions and employed means to achieve these, Rush Doshi provides lots of food for thought and some suggestions on how the US should meet the outlined challenges. In times of growing tensions in the US-China relationship, impacting countries across the world, this is a book for everyone and anyone interested in better understanding that relationship’s impact on global geopolitical interplay and the challenges that may come with it.
World events continue to tilt away from stability. The world’s eyes have primarily focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which struggled to make significant gains. Ukraine exhibited surprising levels of resistance, supported by Western weaponry, and the tide is turning against Russia, with Kherson, Moscow’s most significant gain, now back in Ukrainian hands. Over six million have fled Ukraine, triggering another wave of refugees into Europe, and an even greater number remain displaced within the war-torn country. Ripples are being felt across the globe, straining supply chains and fuelling a surge in inflation. Ukraine’s importance as a producer of crucial materials has clearly been underestimated and Putin’s decision to invade has put pressure on supplies of helium, lithium, neon, and palladium. These are vital for laser eye surgery, routine soil surveys, dental treatment, as well as producing steel and electronic chips.
Food supplies have been strained to breaking point in many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East. This has been felt keenly in Lebanon, which was still struggling to recover from the almighty explosion in August 2020, which devastated the nation’s grain supplies and destroying Beirut’s port. Lebanon is still home to 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and with the price of bread skyrocketing as the Lira continues to devalue, they have been plunged into greater hardship. Somalia, already facing the worst famine for four decades, is similarly suffering against a backdrop of rising insurgency and terrorism that was proving troublesome even before the first Russian tanks rolled onto Ukrainian soil.
Whilst the Middle East and Africa scramble for food to feed their populations, Europe is scrambling to replace energy supplies lost. The UK has reopened its first coal mine for 30 years. France is, for the first time ever, sending natural gas to Germany in exchange for electricity. The energy industry has warned that the crisis could ‘linger for years’, despite a relatively mild winter so far. A new geopolitics of energy is emerging, as major producers of oil and gas vie to fill the vacuum caused by sanctions on Russian exports, and technological centres scramble to develop new innovations to reduce and avoid fossil fuel use. Those who can forge new energy chains, and those who can break free of the carbon shackles altogether, will stand greatly to benefit.
Significant unrest has led to numerous changes of power. Pro-democracy protests took the scalp of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after the army violently suppressed demonstrations, setting any hopes of a genuine democratic transition back into the realms of the purely theoretical. Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency after fuel protesters seized the Almaty airport, forcing the resignation of the Government, these tensions continue to simmer as the power grid struggles to heat the nation in -30c temperatures. Burkina Faso experienced not one, but two coups d’état (forcing analysts to look up the plural), leaving a country ridden with jihadist insurgents and institutional corruption with a precarious government and acute food shortages. Question marks hang over the very future of Burkina Faso as a state amid warnings that this will not be the last coup, that the timeline for a transfer to civilian rule will not be adhered to, and that the country could very well come apart at the seams and plunge into civil war. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been removed from his role, and a further process has begun to remove him as leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party due to “false statements” and an “incorrect declaration”. His coalition allies in Parliament abandoned him, allowing a no confidence vote to topple him. This was compounded by his losing support of the military, the most powerful branch of the Government, over senior appointments and policy disagreements. Pakistan’s political disfunction is deep rooted, with no Prime Minister managing to serve a full five-year time. Khan’s is the 9th democratic premiership cut short since the end of military rule under General Zia in 1988. Newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif must now grapple with deepening economic woes, a consolidated Taliban across the border in Afghanistan, a recalcitrant Khan who is not giving up power without a fight, and even defamatory accusations at the hands of the British Daily Mail. The shocking news of a 22-year old woman beaten death at the hands of Guidance Patrol officers for improperly wearing a hijab has triggered widespread and angry protests yet again in Iran, as young people in particular rankle at the increasingly repressive policies of hardline President Raisi. Executions of two 23-year old men who took part in the protests has only inflamed opposition further and 2023 will likely see the regime resort to even harsher measures to suppress them.
Europe, meanwhile, has also seen its fair share of political drama. Questionable execution of economic policy led to British Prime Minister Liz Truss being ousted after 45 days in office, making her premiership shorter than the lifespan of a supermarket lettuce. She has been replaced by the runner up in the leadership contest and former Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), Rishi Sunak, who now has to contend with a difficult economic situation at least part of his own making. Elections in Italy replaced the national unity government established to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic with a right-of-centre coalition led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. She wasted no time in aligning herself with Europe’s far right, including France’s National Rally party, Hungary’s Fidesz, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party, signalling a new centre of gravity within the European Union, yet remaining surprisingly transatlanticist as part of her push to moderate her image.
Globalisation appears to be fragmenting ever further, and the future international economy is likely one to be set up into camps around major players such the USA and China. Russia’s partial expulsion from the Swift banking system has seen both Moscow and Beijing pressing hard to convince other countries to sign up to their alternative systems. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has launched, creating the world’s largest free trade area, including China, Japan, and South Korea. China has also met with the IMF to help reach a resolution for Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, as the country defaulted on its debts, surprisingly even before Russia, making it the first Asia-Pacific country to do so in decades. China is seeking to broaden its influence internationally, whilst simultaneously battling internal disorder, as protests against the ‘zero Covid’ policies continue to mount.
Great power rivalry and state-on-state warfare is very much back with a vengeance, but that does not mean there are no new developments in the field of terrorism. Islamic State has lost two leaders this year, one killed in February in an American raid and his successor killed by Free Syrian Army rebels in November. Nevertheless, an IS resurgence ought to remain on your geopolitical bingo card for 2023, as they rebuild power in Syria and continue to wreak havoc in Afghanistan. A 42-year old man, radicalised by a group with links to IS opened fire on a bar that catered to the LGBT+ community in June, killing two a wounding 21 before he was apprehended by police with the assistance of bystanders. A Shi’a extremist attacked controversial author and speaker Salman Rushdie in New York, stabbing him in the neck and abdomen and leaving him with life-changing injuries. In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, a twin car bombing orchestrated by al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab killed over 100 people, as their operations ramp up to test the newly-installed government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Whilst resources are being reprioritised towards peer and near-peer threats, it is vital not to ignore the threats these groups are still able to pose.
2022 in many ways has also felt like the end of a global era, based on the deaths it has witnessed. Queen Elizabeth II passed away, bringing Britons in their millions out to mourn her and city centres across the country to a standstill. The remarkable monarch was the second-longest reigning in history, second only to the Sun King himself, Louis XIV of France. Shinzo Abe, arguably the most influential and recognisable Japanese leader in modern history, was assassinated by an unemployed former naval officer with a home-made gun and a religious grudge. Jiang Zemin, who led China from 1989 to 2002, died of complications from leukaemia, but was noteworthy for coining the term ‘socialist market economy’, and pushing for the opening up of China to the world. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Premier who oversaw the end of the Cold War, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, and the attempted modernisation of Russia through Glasnost and Perestroika, died at the age of 91 after a severe and prolonged illness, having been under the constant supervision of doctors for over two years. Each of these characters ushered in new eras in their respective countries and has left indelible marks on the pages of history.
“Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order” (2021) Colin Kahl & Thomas Wright
“The End of Epidemics” (2018) Dr Jonathan D. Quick
“Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” (2013) David Quammen
“The Great Covid Panic: What Happened, Why, and What To Do Next” (2021) Gigi Foster, Paul Frijters, and Michael Baker
“Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19” (2021) Alina Chan and Matt Ridley
“The Vaccine: Inside the Race to Conquer the COVID-19 Pandemic” (2021) Joe Miller, Ugur Sahin, and Ozlem Tureci
“Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus” (2021) Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green
“The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion from the Spanish Flu to Covid-19” (2020) Mark Honigsbaum
COVID-19 in Southeast Asia: Insights for a Post-Pandemic World” (2022) Hyung Ban Shin, Murray McKenzie, and Do Young Oh (Eds)
Faith, Unity, Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan (2016) Hein Kiessling
Getting China Wrong (2022) Aaron Friedberg
Himalaya: A Human History (2021) Ed Douglas
Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and al Qaeda (2017) Douglas Laux and Ralph Pezzullo
Losing Afghanistan: The Fall of Kabul and the End of Western Intervention (2022) Brian Brivati (ed)
The American War in Afghanistan: A History (2021) Carter Malkasian
Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China (2022) Michael Beckley and Hal Brands
The Invention of China (2022) Bill Hayton
Smokeless War (2021) Manoj Kewalramani
“Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century” (2021) Rogin Josh Rogin
“The Great Decoupling: China, America and the Struggle for Technological Supremacy” (2020) Nigel Inkster
“The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics” (2020) Andrew Small
“China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia” (2021) Daniel Markey
“Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World” (2020) Graham Allison
“Destined for War: can America and China escape Thucydides’ Trap?” (2018) Graham Allison
“The World According to China” (2021) Elizabeth Economy
“The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia” (2019) Ian Easton
“The War on Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims” (2021) Sean R. Roberts
“Understanding Afghanistan: History, Politics and the Economy” (2021) Abdul Qayyam Khan
“Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India” (2021) Suchitra Vijayan
“The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India” (2021) Vijay Gokhale
Europe (Including Russia)
(Published April 2023 in USA, November 2022 in UK) Overreach: The Inside Story of Putin and Russia’s War Against Ukraine (2022) Owen Matthews
Volodymyr Zelensky in His Own Words (2022) Lisa Rogak and Daisy Gibbons
Europe’s Coming of Age (2022) Loukas Tsoukalis
The Foreign Policy of the European Union (2022) Stephan Keukeleire and Tom Delreux
Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine (2022) Mark Galeotti
Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight For Survival (2022) Luke Harding
Russian Politics Today: Stability and Fragility (2022) Susan A Wengle
British Naval Intelligence Throughout the Twenty-First Century (2020) Andrew Boyd
Spying and the Crown: The Secret Relationship Between British Intelligence and the Royals (2022) Rory Cormac and Richard J Aldrich
“Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Took on the West” (2021) Catherine Belton
“Shadow State” (2020) Luke Harding
“Russians: The People Behind the Power” (2014) Gregory Feifer
“The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” (2016) Steven Lee Myers
“Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia” (2015) Peter Pomerantsev
Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Rivalry that Unravelled the Middle East (2021) Kim Ghattas
The Making of the Modern Middle East: A Personal History (2022) Jeremy Bowen
Photographic Warfare: ISIS, Egypt, and the Online Battle for Sinai (2022) Kareem El Damanhoury
“From Sheikhs to Sultanism: Statecraft and Authority in Saudi Arabia and the UAE” (2021) Christopher Davidson
“Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria” (2020) Sam Dagher
“World War in Syria: Global Conflict on Middle Eastern Battlefields” (2021) A B Abrams
“The Spymaster of Baghdad: The Untold Story of the Elite Intelligence Cell that Turned the Tide against ISIS” (2021) Margaret Coker
“Blood and Oil: Mohammed bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power” (2020) Bradley Hope & Justin Scheck
Inside Al-Shabaab: The Secret History of al Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally (2018) Dan Joseph and Harun Maruf
“Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World” (2021) Howard W French
“King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa” (2019) Adam Hochschild and Barbara Kingsolver
“A Pretoria Boy” (2021) Peter Hain
“Ethiopia’s Transition and the Tigray Conflict” (2021) Lauren Ploch Blanchard
“Ethiopia and Eritrea: Insights into the Peace Nexus” (2020) Belete Belachew Yihun
“Searching for Boko Haram: A History of Violence in Central Africa” (2018) Scott MacEachern
Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (2022) Kathleen Belew
The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict Eldridge A Colby (2022)
The Back Channel: American Diplomacy in a Disordered World (2021) William Burns
The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence (2021) Douglas London
Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could (2021) Adam Schiff
“There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century (2021) Fiona Hill
Beef, bible and bullets: Brazil in the age of Bolsonaro (2021) Richard Lapper
“Drug Wars and Covert Netherworlds: The Transformations of Mexico’s Narco Cartels” (2021) James Creechan
Day of the Assassins: A History of Political Murder (2021) Michael Burleigh
Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet Age Terrorism from Syria to the Capitol Siege (2022) Rita Katz
Disruption: Inside the Largest Counterterrorism Investigation in History (2021) – Aki Peritz
The Suspect: Counterterrorism, Islam, and the Security State (2022) Rizwaan Sabir
“Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” (2016) Joby Warrick
“The Future of Terrorism: ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Alt-Right” (Walter Laqueur)
“Inside Terrorism” (2017) Bruce Hoffman
“Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan” (2019) Steve Coll
“Behind Enemy Lies: War, News and Chaos in the Middle East” (2021) Patrick Cockburn
“The New Heretics: Understanding the Conspiracy Theories Polarizing the World” (2021) Andy Thomas
“War in 140 Characters” (2016) David Patrikarakos
“LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media” (2019) P. W. Singer
Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology (2022) Chris Miller
Offensive Cyber Operations: Understanding Intangible Warfare (2022) Daniel Moore
“The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” (2021) Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, and Daniel Huttenlocher
“This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends” (2021) Nicole Perlroth
“The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics” (2020) Ben Buchanan
“Dawn of the Code War: America’s Battle Against Russia, China, and the Rising Global Cyber Threat” (2019) Garrett Graff and John Carlin
Radical War: Data, Attention and Control in the Twenty-First Century (2022) Matthew Ford and An
Climate Change and Energy
“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need” (2021) Bill Gates
“The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations” (2021) Daniel Yergin
“Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World” (2019) Jairus Victor Grove
“International Relations in the Anthropocene: New Agendas, New Agencies and New Approaches” (2021) David Chandler, Franziska Miller, and Delf Rothe (eds)
Biographies and Memoirs
“Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” (2021) Jim Mattis and Bing West
“Nine Lives: My Time As MI6’s Top Spy Inside al-Qaeda” (2018) Aimen Dean, Paul Cruickshank, and Tim Lister
“Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” (2013) Ezra F Vogel
General Geopolitics and Warfare
Understanding Urban Warfare (2022) Liam Collins and John Spencer
Geopolitics: Making Sense of a Changing World (2021) John Short
The Return of Geopolitics: A Global Quest For the Right Side of History (2022) Kurt Almqvist and Alexander Linklater
The Twilight Struggle: What the Cold War Teaches Us About Great-Power Rivalry Today (2022) Hal Brands
The Politics of Command (2022) Sir Lawrence Freedman
The Power of Geography: Ten Maps That Reveal the Future of Our World (2021) Tim Marshall
Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed or Fail (2021) Ray Dalio
Terra Incognita: 100 Maps to Survive the Next 100 Years (2020) Ian Goldin and Robert Muggah
Geopolitics for the End Time: From the Pandemic to the Climate Crisis (2021) Bruno Macaes
The World in Conflict: Understanding the world’s troublespots (2016) John Andrew
Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans (2018) Admiral James Stavridis
Goliath: Why the West Isn’t Winning. And What We Must Do About It (2020) Sean McFate
Border Wars: The conflicts of tomorrow (2022) Klaus Dodds
“Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags” (2017) Tim Marshall
“The Age of Walls: How Barriers Between Nations Are Changing Our World” (2019) Tim Marshall
“To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change” (2021) Alfred McCoy
“A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2013) Samantha Power
Books That Will Make You A Better Analyst
Thinking in Bets (2018) Annie Duke
Collective Illusions: Conformity, Complicity, and the Science of Why We Make Bad Decisions (2022) Todd Rose
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think (2020) Hans Rosling
Just For Fun
The GCHQ Puzzle Book (2016) GCHQ
The GCHQ Puzzle Book II (2018) GCHQ
The Armchair General: Can You Defeat the Nazis? (2021) John Buckley
Encyclopedia Geopolitica celebrated its 6th birthday last month amid another year full of surprising and interesting developments. Thank you as ever to our loyal, sharp, and engaging readers, who have discussed our work on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. As the site’s editors, Simon Schofield and Lewis Sage-Passant would also like to extend a special thanks to our hardworking analyst team, without whom the project could not continue.
We also launched our new podcast this year; How to get on a Watchlist, in which we interview experts on dangerous activities and how states and organisations can counter them. We’ve been blown away by the success of the podcast, and want to take a moment to thank all of our listeners for their support!
We suspect that 2023 will bring more geopolitical shocks as the international tectonic plates continue to shift. We plan to keep bringing you insightful and informative articles on those niche and under-examined geopolitical developments that we have tried to accurately capture this year.
As this list contains a large number of books, it may be worth considering Amazon’s Kindle “Unlimited” programme as a more cost-effective way to get through the reading list. Encyclopedia Geopolitica readers have access to a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited, allowing them to sample over 1 million ebooks and thousands of audiobooks.
Encyclopedia Geopolitica is a collaborative effort to bring you thoughtful insights on world affairs. Our contributors include Military officers, Geopolitical Intelligence analysts, Corporate Security professionals, Government officials, Academics and Journalists from around the globe. Topics cover diplomatic and foreign affairs, military developments, international relations, terrorism, armed conflict, espionage and the broader elements of statecraft.
Picture credit: The Encyclopedia Geopolitica Editorial Library