The best books on economics and geopolitics

The Books I Picked & Why

The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy

By Adam Tooze

The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy

Why this book?

Tooze uses his mastery of economic sources to construct a brilliant, often startling, reinterpretation of Nazi geopolitics. He offers a comprehensive economic interpretation of the Nazi drive for expansionism in the 1930s, Hitler’s decision for war in 1939, and the timing and shape of the Barbarossa offensive against the Soviet Union in 1941. The Wages of Destruction also explores the economic dimensions of Hitler’s plans to liquidate the European Jews and other racial enemies. Perhaps his most arresting argument is that the rise of the United States as an economic superpower in the early twentieth century drove the politics of German ultranationalism between the wars.


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Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

By Andrew Phillips, J. C. Sharman

Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

Why this book?

The “company-states” of the book’s title include the East India companies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their peers in other regions, like the Hudson’s Bay Company. These corporations enjoyed many of the powers of states: they hired troops, armed ships, waged war, and signed treaties with foreign rulers. Some came to govern empires. The authors explain how these hybrid geopolitical actors—part capitalist businesses, part polities—came to acquire a key role in global politics, and why they subsequently lost it. Modern multinationals can be geopolitical actors too, we imagine, but Phillips and Sharman show how different the capitalist order of the past was from the world we live in today.


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Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

By Quinn Slobodian

Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

Why this book?

Globalists is the best book I’ve read on neoliberalism. It explores the character and context of neoliberalism’s geopolitical project. Neoliberals believed that markets could function effectively only if “encased” by the right political institutions—legal or political frameworks that would protect them from the forces of economic nationalism, Keynesian planning, socialism, or the democratic aspirations of postcolonial states. Neoliberalism emerged in the decades after WWI as a strategy to restore what its proponents saw as the best features of the nineteenth-century world order: free trade, hard money, and a laissez-faire state. It acquired new urgency as a reaction against the economic nationalism of the 1930s and the quest of decolonized nations for full economic sovereignty.


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Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

By Erik Grimmer-Solem

Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

Why this book?

I appreciate books that challenge my preconceptions. Grimmer-Solem does that by insisting that we understand German Weltpolitik before WWI not as an aberrant or markedly aggressive outlook, but as a normal response to the pressures and opportunities of turn-of-the-century world politics. The German search for colonies, spheres of influence, and a large navy were comparable to other nations—notably the United States. Such policies are unsurprising in a world where globalization has made developed nations dependent on intercontinental trade but where possibilities for future commerce and investment seemed to be closed off by the imperial scrambles of the late nineteenth century, notably Britain’s vast acquisitions in Africa, and by muscular US assertions of the Monroe doctrine.


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Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination

By Adom Getachew

Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination

Why this book?

Getachew brings to life the geoeconomics of the postwar world from the point of view of decolonized nations. The international system into which they were admitted in the 1950s and 1960s was rigged to continue imperial relationships by a different name. “Worldmaking” refers to postcolonial states’ drive to transform the international system and make true self-determination possible. Leaders launched federation projects to reorient trade to other postcolonial nations and away from dependency on former imperial masters. In the 1970s they pressed for a New International Economic Order to change the terms of trade between North and South and unlock economic development. The structural adjustment programs of the 1980s were the rich world’s response.


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