The best books for understanding the coming war with China

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent all of my adult life writing about American foreign policy, especially Chinese-American relations.  My America’s Response to China, the standard text on the subject, has gone through 6 editions. I served as a line officer in the Pacific Fleet, lived in Taipei and Beijing. I also served as chairman of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation and have been a consultant on Chinese affairs to various government organizations. And I cook the best mapo toufu outside of Sichuan. (where I negotiated the Michigan-Sichuan sister-state relationship in 1982). It was probably my love of Chinese food that accounts for most of the above.


I wrote...

East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World

By Warren I. Cohen,

Book cover of East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World

What is my book about?

A common misconception holds that Marco Polo "opened up" a closed and recalcitrant "Orient" to the West. However, this sweeping history covering 4,000 years of international relations from the perspective of China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia shows that the region's extensive involvement in world affairs began thousands of years ago.

In a time when the writing of history is increasingly specialized, Warren I. Cohen has made a bold move against the grain. In broad but revealing brushstrokes, he paints a huge canvas of East Asia's place in world affairs throughout four millennia. Just as Cohen thinks broadly across time, so too, he defines the boundaries of East Asia liberally, looking beyond China, Japan, and Korea to include Southeast Asia.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dangerous Strait: The U.S.-Taiwan-China Crisis

Warren I. Cohen Why did I love this book?

I attended the conference at which papers presented here were delivered. Participants were leading academic and government analysts. The papers were insightful and precise and the information provided created the foundation for current U.S. policy in the Taiwan Strait.

The concluding essay, by Tucker (my late wife) anticipates today’s question of whether the policy of strategic ambiguity (will the United States intervene if China attacks Taiwan?) is superior to strategic clarity. Her affirmative answer remains persuasive.

By Nancy Bernkopf Tucker (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Today the most dangerous place on earth is arguably the Taiwan Strait, where a war between the United States and China could erupt out of miscalculation, misunderstanding, or accident. How and to what degree Taiwan pursues its own national identity will have profound ramifications in its relationship with China as well as in relations between China and the United States. Events late in 2004 demonstrated the volatility of the situation, as Taiwan's legislative elections unexpectedly preserved a slim majority for supporters of closer relations with China. Beijing, nevertheless, threatened to pass an anti-secession law, apt to revitalize pro-independence forces in…


Book cover of U.S.-Taiwan Relations: Will China's Challenge Lead to a Crisis?

Warren I. Cohen Why did I love this book?

The authors are three of the best analysts of Chinese affairs in Washington today. Bush is the leading authority on Taiwan, having been responsible for relations between the U.S. and Taiwan for many years when in government service. 

He and Bonnie Glaser are long-time friends whose judgments have served me well in my own work over the last 20-30 years, especially with recent editions of my book. Glaser is widely regarded to have the best sources in Beijing and her predictions of PRC behavior are constantly on the mark. Hass served on the National Security Council during the Obama years and is now at Brookings.  

By Ryan Hass, Bonnie Glaser, Richard Bush

Why should I read it?

1 author picked U.S.-Taiwan Relations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anxiety about China’s growing military capabilities to threaten Taiwan has induced alarm in Washington about whether the United States remains capable of deterring attempts to seize Taiwan by force. This alarm has fed American impulses to alter longstanding policy, and to increasingly view challenges confronting Taiwan through a military lens. While Taiwan clearly is under growing military threat, it also is facing a simultaneous and intensifying Chinese political campaign to wear down the will of the Taiwan people. This latter line of effort receives less attention, but left unaddressed, has the potential to do far more damage to American interests.…


Book cover of The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State

Warren I. Cohen Why did I love this book?

I’ve known Liz since she was a graduate student and have been delighted to see her rise to become one of the leading authorities on the inside workings of the Chinese state. 

After years as the Council on Foreign Relations’ China expert, she left for the Hoover Institute for a quieter atmosphere for her research and writing, but she was drafted to serve as China adviser to Gina Raimondo, Biden’s secretary of commerce. There’s no better book on Xi’s China today.

By Elizabeth C. Economy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Third Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Third Revolution, eminent China scholar Elizabeth C. Economy provides an incisive look at the transformative changes underway in China today. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has unleashed a powerful set of political and economic reforms: the centralization of power under Xi, himself, the expansion of the Communist Party's role in Chinese political, social, and economic life, and the construction of a virtual wall of regulations to control more closely the
exchange of ideas and capital between China and the outside world. Beyond its borders, Beijing has recast itself as a great power, seeking to reclaim its past glory and…


Book cover of The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power

Warren I. Cohen Why did I love this book?

Tom was a deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the administration of George W. Bush. After many years at Princeton, he now heads the East Asian Institute at Columbia.

I selected him to be the chief editor of the Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and Warren I. Cohen Books on American-East Asian Relations series published by Columbia University Press. He’s written a scholarly and exceptionally thought and balanced book, highly critical of the Obama administration’s public diplomacy, especially the rolling out of the “pivot”. 

By Thomas J. Christensen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Many see China's rise as a threat to US leadership in Asia and beyond. Thomas J. Christensen argues instead that the real challenge lies in dissuading China from regional aggression while eliciting its global cooperation. Drawing on decades of scholarship and experience as a senior diplomat, Christensen offers a deep perspective on China's military and economic capacity. Assessing China's political outlook and strategic goals, Christensen shows how nationalism and the threat of domestic instability influence the party's decisions about regional and global affairs. Articulating a balanced strategic approach along with perceptive historical analysis, Christensen describes how we might shape China's…


Book cover of The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China

Warren I. Cohen Why did I love this book?

When this book was published it was a sensation that divided the world of China watchers. Indeed, my wife, Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, hated it—and I loved it. 

Jim, a close personal friend of ours, was arguing that policies that most in the field endorsed, such as Permanent MFN (most favored nation tariff status), were a mistake; that the theory that as China’s economy developed, as it modernized, it would move toward becoming democratic was nonsense. He was dismissive of the Clinton administration’s policies and of the academics and other analysts who supported it. 

His arguments resonated with me based on my time living in China and my contacts with Chinese intellectuals and officials. There’s little doubt today that Jim was right—his experience as the Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief in Beijing and his research for his About Face and Rise of the Vulcans informed his views.

By James Mann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The book that got China right: a prophetic work on how America's policies towards China led it away from liberalization and further towards authoritarianism, from the bestselling author of Rise of the Vulcans

"[The China Fantasy] predicted, China would remain an authoritarian country, and its success would encourage other authoritarian regimes to resist pressures to change . . . Mann’s prediction turned out to be true." -New York Review of Books, October 2017

"From Clinton to Bush to Obama, the prevailing belief was engagement with China  would make China more like the West.  Instead, as [James] Mann predicted, China has…


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Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Reading was a childhood passion of mine. My mother was a librarian and got me interested in reading early in life. When John F. Kennedy was running for president and after his assassination, I became intensely interested in politics. In addition to reading history and political biographies, I consumed newspapers and television news. It is this background that I have drawn upon over the decades that has added value to my research.

John's book list on who we are, how we’ve changed, and what gives us hope

What is my book about?

It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. When the Republican Party lost five straight presidential elections during the 1930s and 1940s, three things happened: (1) Republicans came to believe that presidential elections are rigged; (2) Conspiracy theories arose and were believed; and (3) The presidency was elevated to cult-like status.

Long before Trump, each of these phenomena grew in importance. The John Birch Society and McCarthyism became powerful forces; Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first “personal president” to rise above the party; and the development of what Harry Truman called “the big lie,” where outrageous falsehoods came to be believed. Trump…

Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

What is this book about?

It didn't begin with Donald Trump. The unraveling of the Grand Old Party has been decades in the making. Since the time of FDR, the Republican Party has been home to conspiracy thinking, including a belief that lost elections were rigged. And when Republicans later won the White House, the party elevated their presidents to heroic status-a predisposition that eventually posed a threat to democracy. Building on his esteemed 2016 book, What Happened to the Republican Party?, John Kenneth White proposes to explain why this happened-not just the election of Trump but the authoritarian shift in the party as a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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