We asked Carnegie experts who joined the organization in 2022 to share the most engaging or memorable books and articles that informed their research this year. To see their favorite leisure reads, go here.

“How Not to War”

By Stephanie Carvin. Published in International Affairs.

My favorite wonky work-read of the year came from International Affairs, in its collection of “how not to” guides. Among them was a piece by Carleton University professor Stephanie Carvin called “How Not to War.”

Her piece critiques the alluring assumption that innovation and technology will supersede the human element in conflict—somehow rendering it both humane enough to be tolerable, while terrible enough to be unthinkable. The quote she offers from John Gatling, inventor of the rapid-fire gun bearing his name, demonstrates her point: “Enabl[ing] one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred . . . would to a great extent supersede the necessity of large armies.”

Relying on similar episodes in American warfighting history, she points out how often we draw faulty lessons, banking on the idea that advances in automation and precision are both inevitable and destined to lead us to the “easy war.” For technoskeptics, restraint-leaning wonks, and would-be strategists alike, Carvin brings the goods in an eminently readable work that recalls some of my favorites in the genre (like Van Creveld). It kept my eyes nailed to the screen—no easy feat in 2022!

Gavin Wilde, Technology and International Affairs senior fellow

A Small State’s Guide to Influence in World Politics

By Tom Long. Published by Oxford University Press.

The New York Times, leading political science journals, and international relations textbooks share one thing in common: they tend to focus on major powers (like the United States, China, India, and Germany) with large economies, powerful militaries, or global geopolitical sway and push aside smaller states (think of Estonia, Nepal, or Bolivia) and their interests.

Tom Long’s A Small State’s Guide to Influence in World Politics does the opposite, recasting small states as protagonist. He suggests that because small states greatly outnumber major powers, students of international relations miss a lot by not carefully considering their independent role.

Long argues that small states can wield meaningful influence and shape the behavior of major powers, but only under specific conditions—for example, where the small state’s preferences are aligned with those of a major power, on issues of high importance to the small state and low importance to the large one, and when small states band together to fill a gap left by major power initiatives. He then offers a range of strategies that small states can use to maximize their influence depending on the context. A set of twenty case studies, instances of small state success and failure across regions and issues, provides the reader with a close-up view of the opportunities and constraints small states face.

The book serves as a reminder that small states not only have agency but also matter a great deal to global outcomes, especially in an increasingly contested world.

Jennifer Kavanagh, American Statecraft Program senior fellow

Nature’s Evil: A Cultural History of Natural Resources

By Alexander Etkind. Published by Polity.

If you want to understand today’s debates on energy resources—where do we get battery metals for electric vehicles? Is it feasible to cap the price of Russian oil?—look no further than Nature’s Evil, Alexander Etkind’s magisterial cultural history of natural resources. Etkind explores the social and political institutions that build on the foundation of natural treasures, not just of energy resources like oil or coal but also of hemp, wheat, fiber, sugar, and more.

It’s the type of book that makes you want to highlight something on every page. Did you know that Europe was barely able to finance its trade deficit with Japan and China until two Christian monks secretly brought back silk moth eggs and mulberry seeds from the Far East? Or that the mercantilist leaders of the British Empire were so concerned about hemp’s psychoactive properties that it was willing to rely on Russian supplies of the hemp so vital to the Royal Navy? Your relatives will ask where you learned it all and whether it’s really all true.

Noah Gordon, Europe Program fellow

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union

By Serhii Plokhy. Published by Basic Books.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union, like the disintegration of past empires, is a process rather than an event,” Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy wrote in 2016, two years after Russia annexed Crimea and launched a shadow war in eastern Ukraine and six years before its full-scale invasion. “And the collapse of the last empire is still unfolding today.”

Plokhy’s 2015 book on the Soviet Union’s breakup, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, should be required reading for anyone who seeks to understand Russia’s ongoing war against its neighbor. He dispels the common misconception that the United States was in the driver’s seat as its former adversary disappeared from the world map. Instead, what emerges from Plokhy’s gripping narrative is the pivotal role the Ukrainians, in their uncompromising drive for independence, played in bringing about its demise and in forging the post–Cold War order.

If that doesn’t suffice, political scientist Paul D’Anieri picks up the story where Plokhy’s narrative ends. His 2019 book, Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, charts the political convulsions, economic interlinkages, and security challenges that the Soviet Union’s two most populous successor states struggled with after independence. Rather than focusing on who’s to blame for the conflict that began in 2014, D’Anieri looks to the structural factors and interests that guided Russian and Ukrainian decisionmaking and behavior toward one another over multiple decades. What his perspective adds that is notably absent from other accounts of this relationship since 1991 is an examination of how the internal politics of both countries shaped the interplay between them. (An updated version of the book that will put Russia’s full-scale invasion into broader context will be published in 2023.)

—Eric Ciaramella, Russia and Eurasia Program senior fellow

The Emergence of EU Defense Research Policy: From Innovation to Militarization

Edited by Nikolaos Karampekios, Iraklis Oikonomou, and Elias G. Carayannis. Published by Springer.

This book is from 2017, but I read it this year and found it useful in light of current events. The collection explores how EU technology and innovation policy evolved to include military research, and it analyses this development from a range of diverse perspectives, including through the lenses of securitization, economic competitiveness, and military capabilities. I was most interested in some of the questions raised by the authors five years ago and how their answers might change (or not) considering developments in the space of European defense policy in the years since then.

Sophia Besch, Europe Program fellow

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