Daniel W. Drezner

Empire is so hot right now

Empire is so hot right now

Your humble blogger is busy enjoying the fruits of last year’s Twitter Fight Club run  with day-job activities this Tuesday, so only a quick blog post. A belated congratulations to Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else for winning the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book in internatonal relations last year. As the head of the Gelber jury noted, "Plutocrats took the prize for its immediacy and authority about the future — the world that we must comprehend and hope to manage in radically new circumstances."

Having been on the Gelber Prize jury this year, I think there was a strong consensus among the panel that Freeland managed two tricky feats in Plutocrats. She wrote a book that was interesting to experts but very accessible to the layman, and she managed to describe the global one percent in a way that did not overly symapthize but still demonstrated some reportorial empathy. That’s no easy feat, and well done! 

It’s a particularly noteworthy accomplishment when one looks at the shortlist of the top five books. Freeland bucked the trend last year, which was that a lot of the best IR books seemed to be about empire. Anne Applebaum’s extraordinary Iron Curtain, Kwasi Kwarteng’s excellent Ghosts of Empire, and Pankaj Mishra’s revelatory From the Ruins of Empire all looked at how great powers tried to create imperial domains in their own image, with devastating consequences to both the imperialists and the subjugated nations. Indeed, the next time someone says that maybe Niall Ferguson had half a point about the virtues of the British empire, tell that person to read Applebaum, Kwarteng, and Mishra (as well as Mishra’s devastating takedown of Ferguson in the London Review of Books). 

Perhaps most important, each of these authors, using their own styles, nevertheless wrote exceptionally clear and engaging books. I’d encourage all aspiring intellectuals to read Mishra’s book as a template, but I doubt most could copy it. I would, however, definitely encourage all Ph.D. students struggling with their dissertations to read Applebaum’s book — it’s an exemplar for clear exposition. 

Congratulations to Chrystia, and I encourage all readers to peruse all of these excellent books at their earliest convenience.