The Code of Civilization might at first seem to be another in the line of books which includes Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and Samuel P Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations that attempt an overarching view of world history with an aim to model the present and predict the future. This time, however, the author—Vyacheslav Nikonov—is Russian.
Thirty years ago, just before the start of the first Gulf War between the United States and Iraq, Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power was released to widespread acclaim, and was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In that earlier book, Yergin explored the history of the oil industry and its impact on global geopolitics. The New Map is a worthy successor wherein Yergin updates and broadens his analysis of energy and geopolitics in the second decade of the 21st century.
China has started to heavily invest in an icebreaking fleet; Chinese naval strategists have written that “whoever controls the Arctic Ocean will control the new corridor for the world economy.” The Eurasian “heartland” is no longer landlocked. The age of Eurasian sea powers has arrived.
As China grows into a major regional and global power, there are many questions about what this means for the international system. Does China threaten the United States? Does Washington want to aggressively contain China? Are we really facing a “New Cold War”? And what does this mean for everyone else?
The first takeaway from Gilles Kepel’s new book Away from Chaos is the immense complexity of Middle East politics.
During a one-year sojourn in London in the 1970s, my secondary school O-level history curriculum covered about a century from mid-1700s on. A decade into a discussion of the Napoleonic Wars, the history master (for such he was called) mentioned, almost in passing (and, in retrospect, probably for my benefit), that after marching through a swamp, a detachment of British soldiers had burned down the White House. “That’s the War of 1812!”, I interjected, finally twigging to what we had been discussing. “That’s what you call it,” was the reply. The “war” that engendered the National Anthem was to the British a mere police action in a far more important conflict.
The world-weary Giuseppe Lampedusa introduced us to the cynical formulation “for everything to remain as it was, it’s necessary for everything to change.” Empires rise and fall, sometimes swiftly. The papers in Short Term Empires in World History, delivered at a conference held in Germany in 2017, raise the issue of continuity and discontinuity in the context of characterizing empires.