The best books on economics and geopolitics

Who am I?

As a historian, I’ve always been fascinated by the mutual influence of power and economics. I’ve written about the political-economic origins of revolution, war, and the search for world peace. I believe that to understand the sweeping geopolitical transformations that have shaped recent centuries—imperialism, the world wars, decolonization, or the fall of the Soviet Union—we need to consider the deep pulse of economics. The books that really grab me open up the worldviews of people in the past, explain how they believed economics and geopolitics shaped one another, and show how these assumptions impelled their actions in the world.

I wrote...

Trading with the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order

By John Shovlin,

Book cover of Trading with the Enemy: Britain, France, and the 18th-Century Quest for a Peaceful World Order

What is my book about?

The book tells the story of officials, merchants, and intellectuals in France and Britain who worked in the eighteenth century to divert Franco-British geopolitical rivalry away from war into peaceful, if still ruthless, economic competition. Driven by a desire to contain the costs of conflict—exploding public debts and higher taxes—they pursued agreements to share access to contested markets and resources in the non-European world, to neutralize vast zones from future European wars, and to substitute free trade in Europe for restrictions on commerce. They imagined forms of empire-building that would be more collaborative than competitive, prefiguring the nineteenth-century world order.

The book speaks to perennial questions about the stability of geopolitics in a capitalist world, suggesting that eighteenth-century commercial capitalism not only spurred conflict, as historians have long known but fostered efforts to contain war and stabilize global politics.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Adam Tooze,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Wages of Destruction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Masterful . . . [A] painstakingly researched, astonishingly erudite study...Tooze has added his name to the roll call of top-class scholars of Nazism." -Financial Times

An extraordinary mythology has grown up around the Third Reich that hovers over political and moral debate even today. Adam Tooze's controversial book challenges the conventional economic interpretations of that period to explore how Hitler's surprisingly prescient vision--ultimately hindered by Germany's limited resources and his own racial ideology--was to create a German super-state to dominate Europe and compete with what he saw as America's overwhelming power in a soon-to- be globalized world. The Wages of…

Book cover of Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World

Why did I love 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.

By Andrew Phillips, J.C. Sharman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Outsourcing Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How chartered company-states spearheaded European expansion and helped create the world's first genuinely global order From Spanish conquistadors to British colonialists, the prevailing story of European empire-building has focused on the rival ambitions of competing states. But as Outsourcing Empires shows, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, company-states'not sovereign states'drove European expansion, building the world's first genuinely international system. Company-states were hybrid ventures: pioneering multinational trading firms run for profit, with founding charters that granted them sovereign powers of war, peace, and rule. Those like the English and Dutch East India Companies carved out corporate empires in Asia, while…

Book cover of Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism

Why did I love 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.

By Quinn Slobodian,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Globalists as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Louis Beer Prize Winner
Wallace K. Ferguson Prize Finalist
A Marginal Revolution Book of the Year

"A groundbreaking contribution...Intellectual history at its best."
-Stephen Wertheim, Foreign Affairs

Neoliberals hate the state. Or do they? In the first intellectual history of neoliberal globalism, Quinn Slobodian follows a group of thinkers from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire to the creation of the World Trade Organization to show that neoliberalism emerged less to shrink government and abolish regulations than to redeploy them at a global level. It was a project that changed the world, but was also undermined time and again…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Erik Grimmer-Solem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The First World War marked the end point of a process of German globalization that began in the 1870s, well before Germany acquired a colonial empire or extensive overseas commercial interests. Structured around the figures of five influential economists who shaped the German political landscape, Learning Empire explores how their overseas experiences shaped public perceptions of the world and Germany's place in it. These men helped define a German liberal imperialism that came to influence the 'world policy' (Weltpolitik) of Kaiser Wilhelm, Chancellor Bulow, and Admiral Tirpitz. They devised naval propaganda, reshaped Reichstag politics, were involved in colonial and financial…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Adom Getachew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Worldmaking After Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Decolonization revolutionized the international order during the twentieth century. Yet standard histories that present the end of colonialism as an inevitable transition from a world of empires to one of nations-a world in which self-determination was synonymous with nation-building-obscure just how radical this change was. Drawing on the political thought of anticolonial intellectuals and statesmen such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, W.E.B Du Bois, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Eric Williams, Michael Manley, and Julius Nyerere, this important new account of decolonization reveals the full extent of their unprecedented ambition to remake not only nations but the world.

Adom Getachew shows that African,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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