A Stratfor Holiday Gift Guide
There's a scene in No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy's stunning, elegiac murder ballad from 2005, that's as funny as it is tragic. In the far reaches of West Texas, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell takes the measure of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. Quickly surveying the bodies and the bloodshed, he quips, "If it ain't a mess, it'll do till the mess gets here." In light of the events of 2016 – a year marked by coups and celebrity deaths and unexpected elections results around the world – the scene now seems eerily prophetic.
Here at Stratfor, we have spent the past 12 months combing through the mess to tell you what it means and what will happen next. But that's not all we've been doing. Along the way, we have been tirelessly consuming books, films and even video games – sometimes even in our down time. We can't help but impose our penchant for geopolitics on everything around us. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 20 recommendations for the holiday season that we hope will sharpen your mind and cast the world in a new light.
Paths of Glory (Film)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1957, 88 minutes
It is little wonder, then, that the film helped to inspire television's The Wire, a study in human agency considered by many to be the best television show ever made. During an interview, creator David Simon said, "If anyone wants to look at Paths of Glory and think it doesn't speak to the essential triumph of institutions over individuals and doesn't speak to the fundamental inhumanity of the 20th century and beyond, then they weren't watching the same film as the rest of us."
The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (Book)
By William McCants, Picador, 2016, 272 pages
Amid a flood of publications, William McCants' book is the best one yet written about the Islamic State movement. It outlines the militant group's combination of tactical and ideological innovations through a deep study of Arabic-language source material, including ancient religious works and unpublished correspondences between jihadist leaders. The book is a must for anyone interested in understanding the near-apocalyptic crisis in the Middle East and the future trajectory of global jihad.
Other standout books on the Islamic State that bear reading are ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan (Phaidon Press, 2015), ISIS: State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger (Ecco, 2015), and The Syrian Jihad by Charles Lister (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Shield of Achilles (Book)
By Phillip Bobbitt, Penguin, 2002, 922 pages
Books like this don't come along often. With Hegelian sweep, consummate erudition and poetic sensitivity, Bobbitt will leave you with a deeper understanding of the play we are all acting out.
Things change. Politics evolve. You'll want this book to penetrate the plot.
Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (Video Game)
Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is an update of this pastime that automates these sometimes tedious steps without sacrificing realism or fidelity to the mechanics of war and statecraft. Although it first came out in 2014, WarfareSims has managed to keep the game fresh by releasing several different packages of extra content, including scenarios based on real-world geopolitical situations: civil war in Ukraine and Syria, competition in the South China Sea and even a Brexit-based NATO-Russia standoff in the Baltics.
Because of the complexity of the simulations, the game has a bit of a learning curve. It is a good gift for the fairly committed war gamer or anyone who wants to develop a deeper understanding of modern military operations.
The Brink (TV Show)
Created by Roberto Benabib and Kim Benabib, 2015, 10 episodes
Centered on a fictional emerging crisis in Pakistan, The Brink largely follows the exploits of a feckless foreign service officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, a pair of devil-may-care American naval aviators and an amorous U.S. secretary of state, played by Tim Robbins. The three perspectives provide a narrative cross section of the crisis, tracking events on the ground, decisions made in the White House Situation Room and the cockpit view of the airmen poised to have a disproportionately strategic effect.
The Brink does a good job of highlighting the fundamental absurdities at play in the international system and shows that, despite the positions they hold, individuals in power are just as fallible and foolish as any human. Anyone who has had experience in the military, political and diplomatic sectors will find moments of The Brink that cut close to the bone. The show also nicely encapsulates the various forces at work in any global crisis, and its satirical bent prevents it from becoming too leaden or judgmental. The times are as dangerous as they've ever been, but the show reminds us that if you lose your sense of humor at the darkest hour, you risk losing everything.
The Cold War: A New History (Book)
By John Lewis Gaddis, Penguin, 2005, 352 pages
Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis has been called the "dean of Cold War history" and has spent his life chronicling the period. Much of the scholarship on the era, he notes, is excruciatingly detailed and impenetrable. Gaddis aimed to assemble a short, comprehensive primer that didn't take "300 pages just to get up to 1962." In well under 300 pages, the book covers the entire conflict from start to finish. Along the way, Gaddis manages to trace the broad trends through the thicket of details and personalities.
This is an essential, quick read for anyone trying to understand the roots of current world dynamics. This book is especially important for anyone born after the heyday of the conflict or Cold Warriors who want a fresh look at the bigger picture.
Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy (Book)
By Moises Naim, Anchor, 2006, 352 pages
Moises Naim explains the pitfalls of imagining that criminal enterprises are centralized, hierarchical organizations. Instead, most criminal networks and terrorist organizations have come to operate as loose networks of individuals, many of them highly specialized and engaged in legitimate enterprise. Criminal markets are melding with legitimate ones, which by extension links them more directly and concretely to recognized political structures. And this, Naim concludes, is a trend we should be worried about. Ten years after its publication, as the nationalist backlash against free trade and terrorism change the course of globalization, Illicit is well worth revisiting.
Who Are We? The Challenge to America's National Identity
By Samuel Huntington, Simon & Schuster, 2004, 448 pages
Though published more than a decade ago, the book could not be more relevant today given the national debates on immigration, terrorism and refugees. Even if one disagrees with some of Huntington's conclusions about the consequences of demographic changes in the U.S. body politic, his framework presents a compelling synthesis of present trends. Particularly notable is Huntington's persuasive account of the growing gap between an internationalist, cosmopolitan elite and the public at large.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Film)
Directed by Werner Herzog, 2016, 98 minutes
Herzog tries to uncover what he calls the "glory" of the internet, speaking with technologists, roboticists, monks, hackers and hermits to understand the "monumental revolution coming at us." He focuses on how this revolution will affect humans and human life, something Stratfor has long covered from a dispassionate, geopolitical angle. With his trademark stunning visuals, Herzog brings this question down to a personal level, exploring a range of topics including cyberespionage, driverless cars, private space travel, automation, artificial intelligence, consumer electronics and the internet of things.
Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War
By P.W. Singer and August Cole, Mariner Books, 2015, 416 pages
Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis, Victoria II, Hearts of Iron 4
Paradox Development Studio, various releases
Doctor Zhivago (Film)
Directed by David Lean, 1965, 200 minutes
Though mostly a romance, the film reflects the breakdown of class and society in Russia, exacerbated by the country's sublime but brutal geography. The film is a timeless reflection on Russia's constant oscillation from strength to weakness to chaos and back. Today, it is perhaps more relevant than ever as Russia is caught in a cycle of weakening under President Vladimir Putin. For a similar, more recent — and Russian — take on Russia's enduring challenge, Stratfor recommends The Barber of Siberia (1998), directed by Nikita Mikhalkov.
The HEAD Game: High-Efficiency Analytic Decision Making and the Art of Solving Complex Problems Quickly (Book)
By Philip Mudd, Liveright, 2015, 288 pages
China: a Macro History (Book)
By Ray Huang, M.E. Sharpe, 1988, 335 pages
In this compact, comprehensive book, Ray Huang frames the 3,000-year sweep of Chinese history and development through major trends and geopolitical themes, and, more important, parallels to the Western world. This book explains in a clear, unbiased manner why it is so profoundly challenging to govern China and, by extension, why Beijing does what it does.
China in Ten Words (Book)
By Yu Hua, Anchor, 2011, 240 pages
A straightforward yet highly affecting and readable reflection on the extraordinary contradictions and imbalances that define China today, China in Ten Words is An important read for anyone who wants to understand how China's recent past echoes through its present and future.