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  • Writer's pictureBecci

Books To Learn More About Our World

Updated: Aug 31, 2019

Ever since I started reading, it was the non-fiction books trying to explain this world to me that captured me most. I love learning about how this world works.

It is a no-brainer for me to answer 'what is your favorite genre?' with non-fiction. If you strip my bookshelf of the novels and plays etc. I read back in high school, almost no fiction remains. Non-fiction books can teach us so much about this world in a fun and different way than school or college classes ever could. I am usually so excited about these books that I wanted to share some of my favorites.

Below is a list of my top reads in the area of politics and international relations. I only added books to this list that I have already read myself and will continue to add books in the future, so if you want to stay up-to-date, subscribe to my blog to hear about any changes being made.

1. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World - And Why Things Are Better Thank You Think - Hans Rosling

"In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has a) almost doubled; b) remained more or less the same; c) almost halved."

If you want to know the answer to this question you either have to read this book or google the official numbers. But let me just say, according to Rosling, chimpanzees answered this question better than the smartest leaders in the political field. Why is that? Because we humans tend to view this world extremely negatively, because - simply put -  we don't know enough of the facts. 

Hans Rosling was a Swedish doctor, who sadly passed away in 2017, but who dedicated his life working for and advising international organisations such as Doctors without Borders and Unicef. His most impactful work is the Gapminder Foundation, with which he aimed to fight global ignorance and bring easy visualizations and access to global data to all people interested. 

His book, which he co-authered with his son and daugher-in-law, focuses on ten instincts that prevent us humans from perceiving the world clearly, such as the fear instict or the generalization instict. Most of his statements seem weirdly obvious, such as that the media only portrays the most negative incidents, and we are therefore exposed to an extremely negative world view. But the way he puts together all the puzzle pieces is extremely convincing. His main message: you can think the world is bad, and that it is getting better - at the same time. Being aware of the clearly positive developments of humankind doesn't mean you have to close your eyes to what still has to be done, but it also does not mean you cannot celebrate how far we've already come.

Dislcaimer: The book focuses a lot on statistics, but that should not be a reason for you to shy away from the book, rather another reason to read it. Rosling makes statistics sound fun and explains complex situations using easy language, and loads of examples.

2. Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everthing You Need to Know About Global Politics - Tim Marshall

I guess there is something about the number ten and non-fiction writers. I am pretty sure I picked up this book at an airport bookstore (where in my opinion you can often find  the best non-fiction selections)! This book is basically a very brief introduction into geopolitics - but a valuable one.

Marshall addresses Russia, China, the USA, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America and the Arctic, by connecting the histories of these countries, regions and continents to their current political situation paired with the influences of geography.

One could argue that looking at geography as the unique factor of political strategy alone is not useful and an extremely limiting worldview, yet I believe it is an incredibly interesting angle to use to try and understand world politics. Plus, if you are/were or will be studying politics and international relations, this is a very common lense to consider, so why not read about it in a fun book instead of dry academic papers.

Quote: "Of course geography does not dictate the course of all events. Great ideas and leaders are part of the push and pull of history. But they all must operate within the confines of geography." (p.280).

3. World Order - Henry Kissinger

My copy of this book is extremely colorful inside, because I once had to analyze it for a university class. This book addressed different regions of the world, or different concepts, and explains how history developed into its current political situation.

For full disclosure, I hardly remember any specifics from this book, but when I read it I was thinking that it was providing a very promising (yet very realist) overview. Also, you don't have to agree with Kissingers political worldview to read this book as a guide into our future's bigger political questions: Is the European Balance of Power Systen at its end? What will happen to the Middle East? How will the relationship between the US and Iran continue? Is Asia the true rising power? And what about the influence of technology on humankind?

4. The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, And Get Things Done Across Cultures - Erin Meyer

Honestly, this is a must read if you are considering working in an international environment - any kind of international environment, be that political or not. In our ever increasingly interconnected and globalized word, we must develop an understanding of cultural differences and similarities, however subtle they might be if we want to successfully work together on an international level. This book takes a look beyond classical stereotypes and preconceptions. 

Did you think about that a Dutch man in China might irritate his local colleages if he cycles to work instead of taking a cab? Or that speaking up in a classroom might be encouraged in Europe, but not in many other cultures in the world? There are so many nuances to learn. And not just about the differences between cultures that live on different sides of the earth. Your neighbors have slightly different habits, etiquette and values that can impact your work life so much.

I had to learn this in an extremely practical way when I moved from Germany to the Netherlands thinking that Germans were a direct people. Until I asked my Dutch friends for their opinions and got all the answers straight to my face, nobody bothered to package them nicely. Something I learned to do over time which made me bump into a few people back in a German work environment.

5. No is not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics - Naomi Klein

Probably the most opinionated and least neutral book of the selection here, but so worth a read! We start out with learning about how Trump and his political success should be regarded under the lense of branding, and how his business empire and political campagin are scaringly similarly run. We learn how this influences not only US politics, but also broader issues such as climate change. The book takes a turn for the worse, when Klein projects what political disasters are yet to hit us. But the book ends on a positive note. Giving us examples of when we as people came together to fight 'superbrands' such as Trump. The book is a pladoyer for the "time to leap", taking a step into political action as the individual a well as collective level.

I forgot this book at a hairdresser once. To be clear, I was at a hairdresser with my friends, a 1.5h drive from my temporary home at that time. I drove back for this book. I needed to finish it so desperately!



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